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Summer Break

This is just a quick post to point out that now summer has arrived (in the northern hemisphere, anyway) I will be taking my break from Winedoctor updates. I’m off to Vouvray (where, so I’m told, they make wine) for a few weeks. I have a couple of visits lined up, and of course I will be making a few more appointments once I set my feet on the ground.

Although I won’t be making any formal Winedoctor updates over the next three weeks, I may make a blog post or two (maybe), or perhaps a few Twitter posts (more likely), but on the whole I will be focusing on visiting, tasting (reports on my return), imbibing and relaxing. With the latter in mind, I might take a boat down the Cher one day; here’s hoping for a sunset like the one below, taken one evening last October.

The Cher, at sunset, October 2013

When I come back it will be full steam ahead with my reports – there is plenty more to come on Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé (new profiles on Château de Tracy, de Ladoucette, Masson-Blondelet, Tinel-Blondelet and more), and a huge number of updates and new profiles in Nantais, Anjou and Saumur (Jérémie Mourat, Fosse Seche & Nicolas Reau, to name just three of many). And obviously, I might have a few new words on Vouvray to publish. As for Bordeaux, to follow my recent Bordeaux 2004 report I have new mini-reports on 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 coming up, as well as some château and visit reports to publish.

Thereafter, it won’t be long before I get on to the autumn Bordeaux tastings, on the 2010 and 2012 vintages. Of course I will visit Bordeaux to taste the 2010s in bottle, but I will also be there to lead an open trip to Yquem, Haut-Brion, Pichon-Baron, Troplong-Mondot and the like. There are just a couple of places left now, so if you’re interested in coming along, check out this blog post.

Happy drinking to all, thanks for reading, and huge thanks to all my subscribers – Chris.

Another from Minna Vineyard

After a recent look at the 2009 Minna Vineyard Red, this week I decided to check in on the Minna Vineyard White, in the 2010 vintage.

Whereas I have reasonably strong opinions on how the wines of the Loire should taste (at the same time remaining open-minded and enjoying a variety of styles), I don’t have such a strong feel for the France’s most southerly vineyards. So, to my mind, anything goes, especially when you look to unfamiliar regions such as the Bouches du Rhône where, in this case at least, the varieties used are Vermentino (which sounds Italian, but it is perhaps better known locally as Rolle, a grape long-established on Corsica and in the Var region of Provence), together with Roussanne and Marsanne (perhaps rather more familiar, especially to Rhône-o-philes).

Minna Vineyard White 2010

This particular wine is made from low yields, just 29 hl/ha, vinified in small 15-hectolitre stainless steel cuves, each variety fermented separately by indigenous yeasts. The malolactic fermentation is not inhibited, and the élevage is mostly in steel, with just 30% going into barriques, on the lees, for aging with bâtonnage. The wine was bottled in July 2012.

The 2010 Minna Vineyard White has a pale, lemon-straw hue in the glass, and an appealing and interesting nose, full of chalky minerals, lemon-sherbet tones, with little tinges of tropical fruit behind it, cut with a leafy, peach-skin bite. I think the Vermentino is showing through here quite strongly, and in terms of style and aroma I find it vaguely reminiscent of some of the high-quality Portuguese whites I have tasted over the last few years, with all their lemony fruit and perfumed, chalky minerality. The palate is cool and reserved, yet broad and fleshy, with plenty of tension and a cool, grippy fruit substance. A long pithy finish completes the picture. There is a nice minerally cut here. This has a really reserved, introverted, slightly leafy style, and provides some good drinking. 15/20 (July 2014)

Exploring Sherry #2: Leonor

Back to Sherry now, and the world of Palo Cortado. As proper Sherry buffs (i.e. not me) know, the palo cortado style traditionally originates with wayward behaviour in a fino solera. With fino, the wine in each barrel has a coating of flor, the layer of yeast that protects the wine from oxidation (and yet, confusing to my palate, laces it with acetaldehyde, adding an aroma that is otherwise a firm feature of oxidation, while the wine remains pale, pure and fresh).

In the occasional barrel the flor would die before its time, exposing the wine to oxygen, and thereby altering how it aged. In this case the cellar master (could you use the word almacenista here? …. probably) would remove the barrel bearing its palo, a downward mark indicating it belonged to the fino solera. This would then be crossed (or cortado) with a second mark to identify the barrel, which is now palo cortado.

Gonzalez Byass Leonor

These days I suspect the production of palo cortado is left less to chance than the traditional description above. It is a very popular style (well, I adore it, anyway) and it seems fairly widely available, often at a good price. As with many sherries I drink, even fino, I find the wine is never at its best on the first day; a day or two open seems to bring it all together with a greater sense of harmony. This was certainly the case here.

The palo cortado style is rather vaguely described as half-amontillado (wines which age protected by flor, initially at least) and half-oloroso (wines which age without flor, i.e. oxidatively). I find it often has a very elegant, poised precision which can be missing from other styles, yet it has the same haunting scent complexity. This bottle, the latest in my Sherry adventures, is a fairly recently-introduced wine from Gonzalez Byass, a palo cortado aged (on average, it will be a blend of different wines) at least twelve years.

The wine, christened Leonor, has a very fine, convincing, toasty hue, with a golden rim. The aromatics seem fairly full on at first, as if they are all jostling for attention, but after some air – by which I really mean a few days of stoppered rest – this really comes together to show a much greater sense of harmony. The nose is one of baked earth, dried citrus zest, white raisins and pepper, with a fine, nutty seam underneath. The palate now feels polished, certainly harmonious, textured with a supple substance, and a dry and complex middle. Importantly, there is great energy to it, with evident zip on the finish. This is long and punchy, and just lovely to drink. 16.5/20 (July 2014)

Images from the Climens Tisanerie

I report today, on Winedoctor, on a visit I made earlier this year to Château Climens (subscribers only). As well as tasting a number of recent vintages, including Cyprès de Climens (the second label) back to 2010, and Château Climens itself back to 2005, I was also able to take an impromptu tour of the tisanerie. If you had asked me a year or two ago what a tisanerie might be I am sure I wouldn’t have had a clue; but now I could at least hazard a guess. If you have ever finished a dinner in France with a tisane, a tea or herbal infusion, rather than a coffee, then you will at least be familiar with the origin of the word tisanerie.

Indeed, the tisanerie is where proprietor Bérénice Lurton dries and stores the plant material she needs to make the herbal infusions so important to biodynamics. Here are a few more images, to complement those in my Climens report, of some of what Bérénice has stored.

The Climens Tisanerie

This is osier, which is willow (osier also translates as wicker, which can have many different plant origins, but in this case it is certainly willow). A tisane made from willow is one of several that is said to stimulate the vine’s natural defences, and thus it is useful against mildew and oidium.

The Climens Tisanerie

A sack of dried fenouil, or fennel. This is another commonly encountered tisane, used as far as I know in the same manner as willow.

The Climens Tisanerie

This is laurier, or bay leaf, which is also regularly used in the making of biodynamic tisanes at Château Climens.

The Climens Tisanerie

Here we have soucis, in other words dried marigolds, consoude, which is comfrey, a good base material for making a liquid fertiliser, as all gardeners worth their salt will know, and genièvre, which gin drinkers will know well, as this is juniper.

The Climens Tisanerie

Finally we have prêle, a staple in the production of biodynamic tisanes, as this is horsetail. It is used in much the same way as willow, as described above, being sprayed on the vines to ward off mildew and oidium. I have plenty of these in my garden, should any budding biodynamicists wish to come round and pull them up for me.

Read my full report on my visit to Château Climens here (subscribers only).

In Bordeaux: Day Two of Two

I continued making a nuisance of myself in Bordeaux on Wednesday with some more right bank visits. Kicking off at Château de la Gaffelière, I took a look at the very pretty chai before a walk around the vineyards with Alexandre Malet. Afterwards I retasted a barrel sample of the 2013, which was very typical for the vintage on the right bank, with freshness aplenty, ripe fruit character, but the generally rather fruit-led, supple texture with a light tannic structure. It was a great surprise to find in the tasting room a tesseri mosaic that was excavated nearby (detail from a small section below); I have long known of the existence of the Gallo-Roman villa near La Gaffelière, thought by some to have been the residence of Ausonius, but I had not realised the entire floor had been excavated and placed on display in this manner.

Tesseri at Château la Gaffelière

Next up I went out to Château Laroque, which is still on the limestone plateau but to the east of the town of St Emilion, on the way out to Castillon. There is no denying the ancient grandeur of this estate, and the wines are attractive, showing a very classic savoury and pencil-straight St Emilion character which is a world away from some of the rather sweet, concentrated and over-extracted wines made by some of the best known names in the appellation. This was a fairly detailed visit, looking first at the vineyards and then a vertical tasting back to 1998, as well as a very interesting tasting of five barrel samples of the 2013 vintage, each barrel from a different tonnelier. This was an interesting experience as in each case the fruit profile was the same (although the wood obviously impacts on the flavour as well), but each showed a subtly different tannin structure.

During the course of the afternoon I visited Château La Fleur de Boüard, run by the Boüard de Laforest family of course, and then Château La Patache, a Pomerol estate. La Patache can be found at the western end of the commune, on more sandy soils, but which also owns some vines up on the plateau, where there is more gravel, and also directly opposite Château Clinet, where there is more clay. Until recently the different plots have been blended, but since 2012 the plot opposite Clinet has been held separately and bottled as a special cuvée. The wines were good, and this is certainly an estate to watch in this appellation.

Roots at Château Les Grands Murailles

There then followed a whirlwind tour of several St Emilion estates in the ownership of Sophie Fourcade, including Château Côte de Baleau, Clos St Martin and Château Les Grands Murailles; this was a fascinating eye-opener to these estates, in the case of the latter two both tiny estates, each with a single parcel of vines, nestled close to famous names. Although I knew of all three domaines (especially as all three were elevated to grand cru classé status in the 2012 St Emilion classification), I haven’t visited any of them before. Château Côte de Baleau lies to the north-west of St Emilion, close to Château Fonroque, Clos St Martin lies in the shadow of L’Église St Martin, next to Château Beau-Séjour Bécot, and the vines of Château Les Grandes Murailles are directly adjacent to the ruins of the cathedral at the top end of St Emilion, very close to Clos Fourtet. A descent into the cave of the latter, to see the vine roots (pictured above) penetrating the limestone roof (just 2.5 m of rock, and about 80 cm of soil above my head), is not an experience I will quickly forget.

Grapes at Château La Patache

The day finished with dinner at Château La Dominique, where the team behind La Brasserie Bordelaise – perhaps everybody’s favourite Bordeaux brasserie – have set up a very fine restaurant with an excellent view across the very western periphery of the St Emilion appellation and Pomerol, taking in the cellars of Château Cheval Blanc (or a little of them at least) as well as Château la Conseillante, Château L’Évangile and others. I rolled back to my hotel close to midnight, serum foie gras levels at a 2014 high.

Today (which I have finally decided must be Thursday) I fly back to the UK. Which is a shame, as the weather in Bordeaux is great, and the vines are certainly lapping it up, with plenty of tiny berries appearing already (as above, in Pomerol). I have a good feeling about the 2014 vintage.

In Bordeaux Again

I’m in Bordeaux again, outside of the hubbub of en primeurs. It’s important to visit when the focus isn’t just barrel samples followed by more barrel samples. Last year I also visited in October, to look at bottled wines too. This year, October is planned, but I am out here in June to visit some properties and taste wines old and young, as well as getting a deeper feel for the soils and the vineyards.

Château Hannetot

Landing in Bordeaux at about 10:45 yesterday I hot-footed it over to Château Hannetot, in the Pessac-Léognan appellation; a rather bijou operation (the rather pretty ‘château‘, above, is in fact a converted stable block). This is effectively a new start-up, the vines only planted seven years ago, the first vintage 2010, the quantities small (2010 was the first vintage). It was an interesting visit and it is an estate I will have to look out for in the future.

Olivier Bernard

Then it was on to Domaine de Chevalier to meet Olivier Bernard (pictured above). I tasted the 2013 vintage from Clos des Lunes, his new venture in Sauternes here, as well as updating my Chevalier tasting experience with a mini-vertical of five recent vintages. Olivier is a great guy, clearly an individual passionate about wine, who buys, cellars and drinks wine from across the world, which is not that common in Bordeaux. This includes the Loire, and I came to realise during the course of our conversation that he has tasted more old vintages of Vouvray than I probably have.

Then it was a whirlwind tour of several properties in St Emilion, looking at soils and vines, before a tasting at Château Cantin, a very pretty château clearly aiming, with the Michel Rolland team on board, for grand cru classé status. The day then finished with a visit to the space-age winery of Château Faugères (pictured below). It has been a long time since I paid this estate any attention, and it was good to get to grips with its effective dissolution into three estates, the two St Emilion properties Faugères and Peby-Faugères (once really a super-cuvée but now an estate in its own right) and the Castillon estate Cap de Faugères.

Château Faugères

Today (which is probably Wednesday, but I have lost track a little, so maybe it’s Tuesday – we have had the weekend, haven’t we?), I am off to Château La Gaffelière, Château Laroque, Château La Fleur de Boüard, Château La Patache, Clos Saint Martin and Château La Dominique. Each property has some story to tell, I think. It promises to be a busy but very informative day.

Chateau Preuillac: 80% Hail Damage

I was saddened to learn today that, yet again, Bordeaux has been hit by hail in the past 24 hours. This time the affected area was in the northern Médoc, affecting a relatively concentrated zone just to the east of Lesparre-Médoc, well into the Médoc appellation. Some vignerons are reported to have lost everything, the vines shredded by the hail.

Château Preuillac

Several notable properties have vines here, including Château Preuillac (pictured above) and just across the road are vineyards belonging to Château Potensac. I spoke to Jean-Christophe Mau, proprietor of Château Preuillac, who told me “I have lost more than 80% of the harvest at Preuillac“. Clearly dejected, he concluded “it is very sad, but that’s life“.

I am deeply upset that once again Bordeaux has been hit by hail. Once again it has wiped out entire vineyards, and once again it has hit little, less well-known domaines hardest. All we can hope is that we don’t have a repeat of 2013, when the first storm was only an opening act.

Exploring Sherry #1: Lustau Papirusa

I have dabbled with Sherry for a long time now, but for many years never really ‘getting’ it, if you see what I mean. But over the last couple of years I have really fallen in love with these wines, with their sometimes haunting aromas and their fantastically complex characters.

Sherry remains undervalued, and is therefore underpriced on the shelves. This brings many benefits for consumers, one of which is that here, in the UK, the big supermarkets can source their wines from some of the very best names in the region. Many own-label supermarket wines are made by Lustau, which is a little like having you own-label claret made by Denis Durantou, or your own-label Sancerre made by François Cotat.

I have been drinking some of these own-label wines, and will continue to do so, but I thought I should also branch out and try some other names, and other styles. First up, Manzanilla.

Lustau Manzanilla Papirusa

Manzanilla comes from Sanlúcar de Barrameda, which lies a short distance along the coast from Jerez, the beating heart of the Sherry landscape. The town sits at the mouth of the Rio Guadalquivir, as I discussed in this write up of a Lebrija, from González Palacios. The style is traditionally bright and breezy, and that certainly comes across in this wine.

The Lustau Manzanilla Papirusa is aged 4-5 years in an American oak solera before bottling, and it seems like a very good example of the style. This appears to be, according to the back label, Lot 3333. A pale and bright hue here. The nose is very appealing, showing a salty sea breeze intertwined with the pungency of flor. It has a very dry palate, nevertheless it also has a full and substantial presence, with crisp, defining acidity. It shows breadth and yet remains light footed, a sensation reinforced by a dry, tingling energy on the finish. There are touches of citrus leaf and blanched almond to complete the picture. A good start to this Sherry exploration. 15.5/20

A footnote: I couldn’t help wondering where the term papirusa came from. It seems to be a Spanish word meaning “beautiful woman”; it is derived from papiros, the word for cigarette, but it took on a new meaning when many beautiful, chain-smoking Polish immigrants arrived in Spain. They became known by the papiros they smoked, and eventually this evolved into papirusa. So this wine is a “beautiful lady”. Of course, this could all be apocryphal, so any Spanish speakers who want to put me straight, feel free to get in touch.

Restaurants: Vinous Misdemeanours

I’ve just returned from a four-day dining trip in London; I had great fun, drinking and eating my way round this capital city, not least because thanks to the intelligence of some of London’s sommeliers I was able to almost exclusively drink from the Loire. I did go slightly off-piste with a glass of Champagne here and there, and seriously off-piste with a Hungarian Kekfrankos (what was I thinking?!) but otherwise it was Saumur, Sancerre, Montlouis, Pét Nat and more, all the way.

Although it was fun I also met some old bêtes noires, and I encountered some new ones too. I will be writing about each restaurant individually over the next few weeks, but I can’t help put a few words down about the vinous misdemeanours I witnessed. Think of it as my therapy.

Wrong Vintages
I know, this is an old one, but it still happens. The list says 2011, but when the bottle comes it’s a 2010. In this case it didn’t really matter, the only issue being I was drinking from a domaine I am keen to get to know better, and whereas I had tasted the 2010 before I was really interested in tasting the 2011. Both vintages were fine for the region in question though, so I just accepted the wine with a nod, and it was just as delicious second time around. But I woudn’t have been so keen if it were a 2013 Bordeaux instead of a 2012 (very different levels of quality) or a 2011 Muscadet instead of a 2012 (the latter vintage was magnificent, the former stuffed with grey rot). If you really can’t manage the vintages, which are important, perhaps you should cut back your 120-page list a little?

The Heavy Pour
This is another old one, but I encountered it in two different forms. The premise is simple; the more your glass is topped up, the more likely you are to get onto a profit-inducing second bottle. The problem is it brings me out in hives. On the first occasion, one restaurant I dined at saw my table visited more than twenty times during dinner (bringing a new meaning to overbearing service) in most cases to keep dribbling the wine into my glass. On one occasion a waiter would walk away having topped up my glass only for another to appear moments later to do the same, without me even taking a sip between visits.

The second heavy pourer was working with a bottle of mineral water, rather than wine, at a two-star establishment. Having filled my glass at the start of the meal, I was only at the stage of nibbling the hors d’oeuvres (before even the amuse bouche proper arrived) when the second heavy pour almost drained the bottle, leaving less than a half inch of water at the bottom. The waitress clearly considered this close enough to be empty, and was quick to suggest she should bring another bottle. I declined, at which point my nearly-finished bottle was whisked away. It was the start of a very strange evening, and on reflection this moment was perhaps not that unusual when considered in context!

Nicolas Joly

Big Name Wine Lists
If you have a sommelier, they should (I would have thought) be expected to put together a wine list with interesting names and choices, some familiar, some less so. Unsung regions should get a look in, including lesser regions of Italy, Spain, Eastern Europe and so on. And the Loire of course. This is usually the case (and is exactly why I managed to drink my way up and down the Loire at every dinner) but at one restuarant I was surprised to see the Loire section consist of almost nothing but Didier Dagueneau (good, but expensive of course, especially with restaurant mark-up), Domaine des Baumard and Nicolas Joly (pictured above). None of which (for reasons of price, or otherwise) interested me. But honestly, anybody who reads the Wine Spectator could have put together that list, comprised purely of ‘break-through’ domaines who have made it into the mainstream wine consciousness. Really, a sommelier put that together?! It’s a bit like a Bordeaux list of only Latour, Le Pin and Cheval Blanc. Very pricy, and more than a bit obvious. Thank heavens for four lonesome and more interesting bottles (on a list that went over more than 80 pages) tagged on at the end, which was where I found something more to my taste.

The Thieving Sommelier
The last misdemeanour I witnessed was very questionable. Sitting in a London wine bar I had the perfect position to watch the sommelier at work, opening and decanting some nice-looking bottles for the bar’s clientele, including (during my short stop there) a seven-year old Cornas, and a ten-year old Nuits-St-Georges. For each bottle, the sommelier would take a tiny pour to sniff and taste, to check the wine. Fair enough – that’s her job. Then she would take a much more handsome pour – a small glassful, perhaps 100-125 ml – and put that to one side, before decanting the rest of the wine which she or one of her colleagues would pour at table. Remarkably, the glass put aside then went to a nearby table of her friends/colleagues, who she presided over; I guessed they were trainee sommeliers, from the way she stood over them as they blind-tasted the wine. What’s really important though, is not exactly why they were taking the wine, but the fact that both wines (and, I suspect, others later in the day) were paid for by an unknowing third party. When you consider that the combined price of the two bottles I saw was just shy of £140, and that this probably continued on after I left the restaurant, that’s certainly very dodgy practice.

Checking in on a maturing Vouvray

We all know Vouvray is immortal. Well, at least I hope we do. I was certainly reminded of this indisputable fact when checking in on the 1996 Cuvée Moelleuse from Domaine Champalou recently. This has always been a very elegant style of moelleux Vouvray, pure and floral, very much in the Champalou style. I recall about a decade ago opening a bottle with a sweet-salty stilton from the Cropwell Bishop creamery; it was one of the most heavenly food and wine matches I have ever encountered. It wasn’t long before the cheese wrapper was empty and the bottle was dry. More than ten years on, I can recall the sensation of the combination with absolute clarity, it was so striking.

Champalou Vouvray Cuvée Moelleuse 1996

Right now the Domaine Champalou Cuvée Moelleuse 1996 shows a polished straw-gold hue in the glass, quite a rich colour for this cuvée, which tends to have a somewhat paler hue than other sweet Vouvrays, which to my mind reflects the more delicate, floral nature of the wine (and the Champalou style). The nose here, however, is not floral but is rich in honeyed quince, sweet yellow plum too, but this is presented in a taut rather than fat or exuberant fashion, and it is nicely balanced by contrasting notes of smoke and mineral on one side, but hints of even richer praline on the other. The palate is beautifully defined, cool and bright, taut and with plenty of crisp, lively fruit behind the grip, acid freshness and richer nuances. There is perhaps a touch of sorbet-like purity and intensity here which really appeals, especially when mixed with the more smoky nuances. It is fabulously long, and yet always taut and precise. Divine to drink now (with or without stilton) but this has decades ahead of it. 18.5/20