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Bordeaux: Time Out

This is just a quick ‘heads up’ to all Winedoctor subscribers that I doubt I will be able to make any further posts this week, as I am flying out to Bordeaux this evening.

When I visit Bordeaux, such as for the primeurs, it is not unusual for me to suspend site updates, but in their place I usually update the Winedr blog instead, writing less formal posts on what I have been up to, which châteaux I have visited, and what I have tasted that day. I usually steer clear of the primeurs party scene, which gives me the time to do this during the evening, even after a full day of driving and tasting. This next trip is different though; I will be leading a group on a tour of Bordeaux, and the schedule is full of tastings, lunches and dinners (possibly long, drawn-out dinners, who knows?), and I doubt I will have enough time to think, never mind update the site and/or blog as well.

For this reason the site may well be quiet for a few days. If I have time I promise I will post something. In the meantime, here’s my rough schedule for the next few days:

September 30th 2014 – St Emilion: Château Canon-la-Gaffelière and Château Angélus (pictured below).

Château Angélus

October 1st 2014 – Graves and Sauternes: Château Haut-Brion, Château d’Yquem, Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte.

October 2nd 2014 – The Médoc: Château Pontet-Canet, Château Pichon-Baron and Château Rauzan-Segla.

October 3rd 2014 – Bordeaux and Graves: Dinner at Château Haut-Bailly, then back home.

Each visit will be long and relaxed, a luxury compared to my swoop, taste and spit primeur tastings. And some will involve lunch, and I expect to be having dinner at La Tupina and the Brasserie Bordelaise, among other places. As some wine writers might say, it is going to be a mind-blowing trip!

Exploring Sherry #4: Lustau Amontillado del Puerto

I continue my exploration of Sherry with another gem from Lustau now. Lustau was the first Sherry bodega that I really got to know, my very basic knowledge helped along by a Lustau tasting dinner featuring many of their wines, ending in the delightful Old East India Solera Reserva, at the Don Pepe restaurant in Liverpool. That must have been at least a decade ago now.

This wine is another from the excellent Almacenista range.

Lustau Almacenista José Luis González Obregón Amontillado del Puerto

José Luis González Obregón was once a cellar-master for a large bodega, but he decided to retire in order to establish, in 1989, a family bodega. The business then passed into the hands of his nephew, Manuel González Verano. There are a large number of soleras here, but one in particular – the Amontillado del Puerto, a tiny solera of just ten butts – is taken off their hands by Lustau. Tasting it, that seems like a pretty smart decision on Lustau’s part.

The Lustau Almacenista José Luis González Obregón Amontillado del Puerto has a rich hue in the glass, a burnished orange-gold. The nose is remarkable, all dried wood and baked earth at first, the dry and dusty suggestion of baking sun on terracotta pan tiles, then suddenly there are notes of orange oil, mint, and liquorice root too. It is, quite literally, fascinating. There follows a glorious texture to the palate, all vinous and savoury, with a dry and spicy-peppery energy. There is flavour complexity to eclipse the nose here, vanilla brûlée, toasty and rich yet dry and energetic. And in the finish, it is very, very long. This is cracking stuff. 17.5/20 (September 2014)

An Elegant Non-Vintage Pinot Noir Champagne

When I first started learning about wine I found it hardly credible that you could tell which varieties contributed to any particular Champagne. The processes seemed just too complex, the blending and winemaking too large a part of the process, for grape-derived characteristics to be transmitted through from the vineyard to the finished wine. But with time I realised it was true, Pinot Noir bringing a rich substance, an apple-on-biscuit character, Chardonnay bringing purity, orchard fruit and elegance.

Here is a wine that tripped me up though. Elegant, defined, lifted and bright, I never would have though it was almost entirely Pinot Noir.

Brigandat Champagne Brut Tradition NV

Brigandat & Fils are based in Channes, in the Côte des Bars, the southern-most reaches of the Champagne vineyard. To illustrate just how far south this commune lies, it sits right on the boundary between the Aube (north), Yonne (southwest) and Côte d’Or (southeast); Chablis sits just 35 kilometres west, while the vineyards of the Côte d’Or are a little further south. This is really Burgundy country.

The cuvée in question, the Brigandat & Fils Brut Tradition NV, is made from 95% Pinot Noir and 5% Chardonnay, grown on the Kimmeridgian limestone soils that stretch westwards through Chablis and Sancerre. The base vintage is 2010, and the bottling for the second fermentation took place in June 2011. In the glass it has a pale straw hue. The fruit on the nose has a very fresh style, with citrus leaf and suggestion of white orchard fruit, herby-crunchy apple in particular, with a little pear and nut complexity. The palate shows a big, foaming, very youthful mousse set against firm acidity and there is a gentle, softening texture from the dosage. On reflection there is some Pinot substance here after all, with tinges of custard apple and nut, dominating the middle of the palate. A lovely character, youthful though, with an elegant edge for an almost exclusively Pinot-based cuvée. Subtle, poised, yet certain of itself. A good wine. 16/20 (September 2014)

Disclosure: This wine was a sample from Carte du Vin.

Checking in on. . . . Haut Rasne 2002

Spend some time exploring wine and you will notice that, every now and again, it will throw you a curve ball. I think the 2002 Haut Rasné, from Eric Nicolas of Domaine de Bellivière, is a fine example of this.

One of numerous cuvées made by Eric, Haut Rasné is named for the vineyard of origin, which is populated with young vines. The site is particularly prone to botrytis, and so despite their youth Eric tends to vinify the fruit from these vines separately, and he tends to bottle the wine separately too. I last tasted the wine seven years ago, when I noted that it was “fleshy rather than sweet”. I thought it would be interesting to check in on it again.

Domaine de Bellivière Coteaux du Loire Haut Rasné 2002

The 2002 Haut Rasné from Domaine de Bellivière, poured from a 500ml bottle, has a remarkably deep colour, a rich orange-golden hue. And the nose seems no less striking, being richly polished, and there is no doubt in my mind that this is largely due to a healthy dose of botrytis. We have desiccated tropical fruit, perhaps even a touch of white raisin, blanched almonds and apricots too. It feels characterful and broad, confident in its complexity. The palate is everything you might expect, except for one thing; as I noted on my last taste, this is far from overtly sweet on the palate, and indeed the level of residual sugar seems to have faded further, the wine now edging more towards dry than sweet. And yet there is no shortage of deep, vinous texture, and it is not lacking in flavour, the palate very much matching the botrytis-defined nose in this respect. A long, lingering but dry finish. Delicious, quirky stuff indeed. 17.5/20 (August 2014)

This is a real curiosity, but a delightful one. I’m not really a fan of botrytis in dry wines, but this is different, evidently a fading sweet wine rather than a botrytis-tinged bone-dry one, and it has all the breadth and complexity you could hope for. Viewed in this context the wine seems really quite magnificent. Nevertheless this will perhaps be a somewhat awkward wine for those who open a bottle unprepared for this drier style, but anybody who happens to open one alongside a platter of aged cheese, especially aged Comte, could find themselves in Coteaux du Loir, Comte-matching, curve-ball heaven.

Blackberry fruit and svelte tannins; a 2012 Bandol

It is always a joy to cast one’s net in different waters, especially Mediterranean waters. I have long loved the wines of Bandol, so much so that when in Nice four or five years ago I drove over to this, the most famous of all Provence’s appellations, to make some visits. On paper it is a two-hour journey, but it ended up taking three, so I arrived in Bandol just in time to find everywhere closed for lunch, for two hours. And I had to have the hire car back by 6pm that day, meaning I would have to leave at 3pm. It wasn’t the most successful of day trips to wine country.

Happily, this bottle caused no such difficulties.

Château Salettes

The blend is naturally mostly Mourvèdre (about 80% I believe) from the estate’s oldest vines, planted in the 1960s, on a terroir of sandstone and limestone. The wine is aged in large oak foudres for 18-22 months in a 17th-century cellar. In the glass the 2012 Château Salettes Bandol has a dark and glossy hue, the colour of black tulip. It is totally dominated by fruit on the nose, all blackberries with a blueberry edge, and there is some oak here too, sweet and honeyed, with a little chocolate-caramel edge, spiced with black pepper. The palate is textured with creamy fruit, peppery like the nose. Structurally the acidity is low-key, and it benefits from a slightly lower serving temperate, while the tannins are svelte and long. It has great ripeness and dark fruit expression, with a tinge of orange oil. A very primary wine, certainly modern in style, with a ripe coating of tannins in the finish, and with potential. Good. 16/20 (September 2014)

Disclosure: this was a sample received direct from Château Salettes.

Checking in on. . . . Les Girardieres 2008

Time to check in on another older wine now, at this time I’m taking a look at the 2008 Vouvray Les Girardières, from Domaine des Aubuisières.

Now I can hear snorts of derision at the bank. Yes, I know the 2008 vintage isn’t an ancient one. And we all know Vouvray can evolve in a positive fashion over many decades, indeed a lifetime. But there is a purpose here, based on my knowledge of this wine, which is the only wine in my cellar with a synthetic closure. It was a complete surprise when I ripped the capsule from my first bottle – I generally avoid synthetic closures like the plague.

Domaine des Aubuisières Vouvray Les Girardières 2008

I promised myself I would check in regularly to see how the wine evolved, as synthetic closures aren’t renowned for maintaining a good seal over many years. But, of course, this thought soon slipped my mind, and I was only reminded of the bottles when I visited Bernard Fouquet a few weeks ago. I resolved to pull and pop another.

Domaine des Aubuisières Vouvray Les Girardières 2008: The colour in the glass is reassuring at least, the wine showing a bright, straw-gold hue. And, happily, the nose is fabulous, revealing layers of golden pear and white peach, with a mineral strength behind, and a delicate touch of thyme too. It feels pure and clean, demi-sec as always, with some honeyed nuances poured over the fresh orchard fruit. There follows a beautiful texture on entry, the middle fleshy but with an enticing liquid-stone character, pithy fruit, yellow plum-skin especially, a great density and substance, a beautiful demi-sec sweetness and a lifted balance. Overall, a superb wine, not a hint of premature oxidation despite the synthetic closure, and I hope this will also be the case with future bottles. 18/20 (August 2014)

Ploughing by Horse at Le Clos de la Meslerie

During a recent trip to Vouvray I learnt that a number of domaines in the appellation, plus one or two in Montlouis, have joined forces to begin working with horses on at least a section of their vineyard. A key figure in the project is Vincent Carême, and joining him are a number of his peers. The list of names and domaines kept changing slightly depending on who I asked, but it seems to include Domaine Huet, Peter Hahn of Le Clos de la Meslerie, a young grower named Tanguy Perrault of Domaine Perrault-Jadaud, Domaine Vigneau-Chevreau, Michel Autran, another young grower named Julien Vedel (all in Vouvray) and Damien Delecheneau of Domaine La Grange Tiphaine (in Montlouis). I apologise if I missed anybody out.

Ploughing at Le Clos de la Meslerie

Rather than buy their own animals, the group have engaged the services of Philippe Chigard, who specialises in working with horses. If contracted he will turn up with his horses, and plough your vineyard as required. Pictured above is one of Philippe’s horses in the east parcel of Le Clos de la Meslerie, with the valley of the Brenne beyond.

Ploughing at Le Clos de la Meslerie

This is Junior, a Percheron draught horse, a breed that originated in the former province of Perche, which once lay between Maine and Normandy, but which was divided up after the Revolution. This is a popular breed for this kind of work; I have seen Percherons in other vineyards.

Ploughing at Le Clos de la Meslerie

Above Philippe Chigard (bending over) and a colleague change ploughs. Philippe is ‘hands on’ in the vineyard, but he also teaches students on the use of horses in the vineyard at the local viticultural school. Other notable domaines outside Montlouis and Vouvray, such as Domaine de Bellivière, also use his services.

Ploughing at Le Clos de la Meslerie

Above, Philippe and his colleague work in parallel rows. If I understood correctly, one is simply scarifying the soil, removing vegetation, while the other is turning the soil.

Ploughing at Le Clos de la Meslerie

And above they are returning up the next row. Junior’s friend is named Mascotte, and is a Comtois, a breed that originated in the Jura. This is another popular breed for this kind of work.

In all cases the participants are ploughing only a section of their vineyard; for Peter Hahn it is his east parcel, while Vincent Carême is now working a section of Le Clos (on the première côte) with horses, and has even gone so far as to remove all the posts and wires to facilitate this work.

I believe other domaines will join the group in the future; I hear others have expressed an interest, but times have been tough in Vouvray and for some in Montlouis in recent years, and I expect they will want to reassess their finances before they take on this new expense. I have no idea whether or not the work makes any difference to the wine, but the horses certainly have a lesser impact on the soil compared to a tractor, are potentially more environmentally friendly (although the horses do have to be transported from one vineyard to the next) and they are certainly a beautiful sight among the vines.

Exploring Sherry #3: Lustau Puerto Fino

Time to check out another Sherry now, and after the wonderful Leonor Palo Cortado from Gonzalez Byass it is time for a shift in style, back to Fino. I think I prefer the haunting complexity of a palo cortado or amontillado to the fresh and tangy bite of a fino, but it’s not really exploring if you stick to what you know and like, is it?

Lustau Puerto Fino

This particular fino, from Lustau, is aged in a solera system in the town of El Puerto de Sainta Maria (on the coast near Jerez, south of Sanlúcar de Barrameda), hence Puerto Fino. The wine, 100% Palomino (nothing unusual there, I just thought I would mention the Sherry grape at least once), is aged in a solera for at least five years before release. It is classically fino in style, having spent its life protected from oxidation by the flor. The cooler coastal climate is said to engender a thicker layer of the yeast than is found elsewhere, and thus a more delicate wine.

This particular half-bottle of the Lustau Puerto Fino is labelled as Lot 3275. In keeping with the fino style it has a pale, fresh, clean hue. There follows an interesting nose, showing first some forward notes of toasted almond, and then there is some good flor character coming in behind. The palate is full, fresh, with a nutty edge, and it shows a very dry character despite the twist of texture it possesses. The spicy citrus nuance running underneath it all, sliding into a peppery finish and a little length, is not without some appeal. A good wine, with a little persistence in the finish. 15/20 (August 2014)

New in. . . .the Loire

One of the joys of focusing on one region is getting to know the stars and keeping tabs on how their domaines develop, and of course returning year after year to taste and report on the latest vintages. It will probably come as no surprise to many that I enjoy getting back to the Loire to taste with Pierre Luneau-Papin, Claude Papin, Philippe Foreau, Jean-Marie Bourgeois and their peers. These guys have been making wine for years and achieve not only great quality but also great consistency. It is rare that a bottle will let you down (not impossible of course, but rare).

Of course, making a new discovery is also a joy; the problem is, it’s not as easy as revisiting the standard-bearers, as it often relies on a degree of serendipity. Nevertheless I have always relished writing about a domaine that is new to me, where I have tasted for the first time. I recall, about five years ago, feeling at a loose end; I noted a slightly bored-looking vigneron sitting at an empty stand in the Saumur-Champigny corner of the Salon des Vins de Loire, and so I wandered up to see what he had on offer. I had just met Antoine Sanzay for the first time, now undoubtedly one of the top names in that appellation. It was a real pleasure to visit him at his domaine a few weeks ago, to see how things have come on (are still coming on) five years later.

New in. . . .the Loire

Nevertheless, I have noticed in the past year of so a new wave of young winemakers in the Loire Valley. There seems to be a new generation taking hold, both at favoured, long-established domaines such as Domaine de la Bergerie and Domaine Ogereau, and also at new start-ups, names completely new to me. So, over the next couple of months I will be casting the Winedoctor spotlight in their direction. It will be difficult squeezing this in among my Sancerre profile overhauls, all my new reports from my recent trip to Vouvray, as well as my forthcoming Bordeaux reports on some recent vintages, but I have earmarked my Friday updates for the foreseeable future to be part of a new “New in the Loire….” series. I’ve started today, with Thibaud Boudignon (pictured above), a new name in Savennières to watch out for.

I will be profiling alongside Thibaud a couple of other domaines new in Anjou, these being Clos de l’Elu where Thomas Carsin is turning out some really interesting wines, and also Nicolas Reau. New in and around Saumur are Mai & Kenji Hodgson, perhaps familiar names to those interested in the ‘natural’ wine scene, but I met them for the first time earlier this year and for this reason they are included. I also met Xavier Caillard, who makes remarkable long-barrel-aged wines under the label Les Jardin Esméraldins. New in Chinon is Jérôme Billard, not exactly on his first vintage but it’s not that long since Jérôme took on the family vineyards of Domaine de la Noblaie and I am sure the name will be unfamiliar to many (but not for long I expect), hence he is included too. Two great new discoveries in Vouvray are Domaine Perrault-Jadaud (home to Tanguy Perrault and Anne-Cécile Jadaud) and Florent Cosme (younger brother of Mathieu Cosme) who are worth knowing about, and I will be profiling both. Up in the Vendômois is retired punk-rocker Brendan Tracy, whose wines will probably also soon be regular features on the ‘natural’ wine scene, while down in the Viticole Sologne I will be profiling Etienne Courtois, who works with father Claude Courtois (so not a new domaine, but a new generation) and the delightful Laura Semeria, who makes some of the best Cheverny I have tasted this year under the Château de Montcy label.

That should be enough to keep me going – there are a couple of domaines I would have liked to add to the list but which I haven’t yet managed to visit, so if I get back to the Loire before the end of the year (which is likely) I will try to rectify this, and I may then slip them in at the end.

One Last Look: Vouvray 2011

Having looked at 2013 Vouvray, and 2012 Vouvray, I want to finish off with a quick round-up of 2011 Vouvray. It is, of the three vintages, perhaps the most complex and the most difficult to understand. In order to explain why, I want first to look back to the vintage in general, followed by my initial tastings in February 2012, before then fast-forwarding to my recent trip to Vouvray.

I am always surprised when I review weather data for 2011, because this was the warmest year ever recorded in France. Yes, even warmer than 2003. The difference in 2011 was that there was no summer heatwave, instead temperatures were way above average in spring and autumn, and actually summer was really cool and damp. Nevertheless the spring and autumn temperatures were enough to push it into the number 1 spot. The warm weather during harvest, especially with warm nocturnal temperatures, brought a risk of rot (and not necessarily the good type). My first encounter with the vintage was with Noël Pinguet of Domaine Huet – it often was – and this tasting would always be a significant one in beginning to understand the vintage. I remember my meeting with Noël in February 2012 with great clarity; he told me that the vintage had been difficult, with only a token amount of demi-sec and moelleux wine, all from Le Mont, less than 1000 bottles of both combined.

So regardless of the details of the growing season, in 2012 I began to form an opinion that 2011 was really a vintage for sec only in Vouvray. And so I was surprised when, during a recent visit to Vouvray, many vignerons spoke quite highly of the vintage. Some reminded me of how warm it had been, and is if to prove the point a number of them they pulled out bottles of 2011 moelleux, showing in fact that there had been success in this regard. And then, suddenly, I would encounter wines – especially drier wines – that felt green and under-ripe. It took a long time for me to figure out why this seeming paradox existed, helped by the ever-charming Vincent Carême with some information about harvest-time decisions, what was going on.

Vouvray 2011

I believe the reason for some dry wines seem to be a bit green and under-ripe, and yet some sweet wines have wonderful ripeness and sweetness, is as follows. As harvest approached, after a cool and damp summer the weather began to improve. In fact there was a long period of warm weather, and under these conditions the sugar levels really began to climb. And yet, perhaps reflecting the cool summer, the phenolic ripeness of the berries, including the skins and pips, lagged behind somewhat. This made picking decisions difficult, but the only way to make dry wines is to pick when the sugar concentration is manageable, and so fruit for these wines were duly picked at this moment; my belief is that some of the more raw, greener phenolic compnents have come through into the wine, influencing the flavour profiles. Those that wanted to make a sweet wine, however, left the fruit to continue developing on the vines, allowing not only for the sugars to rise as required, but also for the grape structures (and the stems) to ripen. This meant that when this fruit was picked, the sweetness was there, but the other flavour components had reached a point where they were much more appealing.

Two vignerons who surprised me by producing a very good sweet wine from 2011, prompting me to reappraise the vintage, included François Pinon, who made a very appealing 2011 Moelleux which, although not as exciting as the rather electric 2008 Moelleux, still held a lot of appeal for me, and Florent Cosme, a young vigneron based out in Noizay, who made a rather delightful 2011 Moelleux Audace in his very first vintage. There are good dry wines to be had in the vintage as well though, including 2011 Le Clos from Vincent Carême, and the 2011 Cuvée C from Domaine de la Fontainerie. By far the best dry cuvée in 2011 though comes from Peter Hahn, of Clos de la Meslerie; his 2011 has all the depth found in his 2010 or 2009, both years where the wine is firmly demi-sec, yet it remains dry and full of clean complexity. This is definitely one to look out for in the 2011 vintage.

That is it for my look back at Vouvray in the 2013, 2012 and 2011 vintages. I will leave you with my picture of the setting sun over the vineyards (above), looking up to the Vallée de la Cousse, where François Pinon resides.