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Fizz from Francois Pinon

It’s been a while since I caught up with the fizzy Vouvrays of François Pinon. Here are notes on two older (but not old – good sparkling Vouvray can age just as well as the tranquille stuff!) bottles from the cellar. Having said that, these two seem to be on a plateau at best.

François Pinon Vouvray

François Pinon Vouvray Brut Non-Dosé 2006: Purchased Summer 2008, at the domaine. A pale straw-golden hue, and after a gently effusive start a rather lazy bead. The nose has evolved here, not surprising as it seems to be three years since I last took a look at this wine. There are scents of toasted hazelnuts now, and a little brioche, although it may sound rich it actually still feels bright and lightly minerally. The palate has a nice substance, and doesn’t display its non-dosé character too plainly, although the end of the palate does feel pretty dry. Rather gentle, attractive, with a firm and defined texture. An attractive wine, although nothing much to be gained here by keeping longer I think. 16.5/20 (May 2013)

François Pinon Vouvray Brut NV: Despite previous bottles having a ‘sparse’ bead, this one seems quite confident. The nose suggests rich apples and coffee, slightly sweet in terms of depth, but also slightly grainy. The palate has the same character on the start of the palate, showing some evolved, honeyed, bitter character, suggestive of coffee grounds, and caramelised apples, mirroring the aromas on the nose. It feels much softer and more integrated than previously, with a burnt sugar twist, but with a flavour that has lost some of its freshness and defined zip as a consequnce. 16/20 (May 2013)

Loire Misunderstood #1: Herbaceousness

It was only yesterday that I came across a curious opinion on the wines of the Loire. Where I came across it, and what that opinion was isn’t important (right now, anyway) but it started me thinking about other beliefs that exist regarding these wines. Some beliefs make perfect sense, but I could also think of some that are blatantly false, or at the very least open to question. In this post, and in a series of future posts (which will no doubt be published at erratic and seemingly random intervals – in other words, whenever I get the time), I will look at some of these beliefs – or misconceptions as I have called them – with a focus on those that, essentially, wind me up the most.

In this first post, herbaceousness in reds.

In particular I am referring to Cabernet Franc in Anjou and Touraine. Clearly there are other varieties planted here (Grolleau, Gamay, Pinot Noir and others) but it is Cabernet that is foremost in my mind, mainly because this variety is the backbone of the Loire ‘heartland’, including Chinon, Bourgueil, St Nicolas de Bourgueil, Saumur and Anjou Rouge. Cabernet Sauvignon also plays a role here of course, notably in Anjou Rouge where it produces (from the likes of Yves Guégniard and Vincent Ogereau) some magnificent wines.

I don’t mean to delve too deeply into a tangential scientific discourse, but it is worth looking quickly at the story of methoxypyrazines, a major cause of the greener aromas and flavours that can be found in Cabernet Franc (pictured above….in Bordeaux, admittedly) and Cabernet Sauvignon. If the word methoxypyrazine sounds vaguely familiar to you, that’s probably because from time to time it crops up in tasting notes for Sauvignon Blanc, as early-picked grapes are still rich in methoxypyrazine when harvested and it is seen as a characteristic (and by some desirable) feature of Sauvignon Blanc. Cabernet Franc is another variety with a tendency to methoxypyrazine production, and so too is Cabernet Sauvignon (hardly surprising when we remember that the latter variety is the progeny of the first two).

Methoxypyrazines exist in high levels in raw vegetables (as well as ‘raw’ unripe grapes I suppose) and their presence lends a vegetal aroma which can veer away from herbaceousness into the vegetable box; green capsicum is classic, but I have sensed everything from green bean, celery and celeriac (quite common) to beetroot, courgette and aubergine (less common). All can be put down to the presence of methoxypyrazines, in particular 2-methoxy-3-isobutylpyrazine.

Methoxypyrazines are synthesised by the grapevine, and levels increase until véraison. Work by Hashizume & Samuta in 1999 demonstrated that once colour change and ripening was underway, however, levels fall rapidly, then continue to slowly decrease as harvest approaches. This occurs under the influence of light, so leaf plucking to increase exposure can help. The key point here for me, though, is that detectable levels of methoxypyrazines (in excess of 15 ng/l) indicate unripeness (although late rain promoting vine growth can also be important). Pick later, you get ripe grapes, and no herbaceous, leafy, green pepper or other vegetal aromas.

Now look at these extracts from decanter.com’s online guide to grape varieties:

On Cabernet Franc:…[o]utside Bordeaux it’s the major red grape of the Loire, where it’s more herbaceous in style…

On Cabernet Sauvignon:…[i]t tends towards herbaceousness when not fully ripe with capsicum and grassy undertones…

This approach mystifies me. For one variety in one region, a wine is regarded as under-ripe when herbaceous. For a second variety in another, it is a matter of ‘style’. As you might imagine, I disagree. I taste a lot of wines from the Loire, and those that are green (celery, green pepper or otherwise) are not expressing a Loire ‘style’, but are in my opinion demonstrating classic Cabernet signs of under-ripeness. We do not define Bordeaux, Burgundy or indeed any other famous wine region by the lesser, under-ripe wines that can be found there, made by uninterested growers or the result of wetter and weaker vintages. We do not drink English red wines, content that the greener flavours are part of the English ‘style’. Why, then, do some insist on doing the same with the Loire?

Taste the wines of a grower who seeks out quality and ripeness – Matthieu Baudry, Yannick Amirault, Antoine Sanzay, Vincent Ogereau to name but four – and you will not, on the whole, find green is a character of the wines. You will find purity, definition, clean fruit, vibrant structures, occasionally soft and welcoming textures. As delicious as any ripe Bordeaux or Burgundy, but still displaying lots of real Loire style, which reflects the terroir, not the ripeness of the fruit.

Terroir is a topic for another day though. For the moment, can we please stop judging the Loire by unripe wines made by co-operatives and bored vignerons, and peddled by those with a perhaps distorted, certainly outdated view of the wines of the Loire?

Further reading: Grape maturity and light exposure affect berry methoxypyrazine concentration, Am J Enol Vitic, 1999, 50:194-198, Hashizume K, Samuta T

Pierre Gaillard, 2011 Vintage

I’ve already written up a couple of Gaillard wines this year, led by the delicious 2012 Condrieu from Pierre Gaillard, and also this week’s ‘Weekend Wine’, an appealing 2012 Collines Rhodaniennes Syrah from Pierre’s daughter, Jeanne. Here are notes on three other wines recently tasted, all barrel samples sent over to the UK:

Pierre Gaillard St Joseph 2011: Fresh and smoky character on the nose, scents of blackberry and raspberry on toast, quite pure, bright and defined, with a slightly crystalline but ripe edge to the fruit. Cool and fresh on the palate, bright, pure, a lightly chalky edge to the texture, with good grip and savoury bite. Great freshness to it. Plum skin and cherry stone notes. Cool, with restrained texture, and a sappy, savoury finish. Really appealing but speaks of a very cool style. 15-16/20 (May 2013)

Pierre Gaillard, 2011 Vintage

Pierre Gaillard St Joseph Clos de Cuminaille 2011: Fresh, fairly dark hue here, and a smoky berry fruit with nuances of oaky, chocolate-tinged coffee. A gentle texture though the middle, the fruit playing second fiddle to the wood here. This shows a slightly medicinal cherry character, with nuances of smoky bacon. A fresh and rather dry finish, with some woody, slightly bitter grip to it. I think I might prefer the more restrained fruit character of the St Joseph, but maybe this will absorb the oak given time. 15-16/20 (May 2013)

Pierre Gaillard Cote-Rotie 2011: A matt, rather claretty hue, with a moderate concentration of pigment. The nose opens out to reveal some classic young Syrah fruit, blackberries with that very typical twist of brown-sugar sweetness, nuanced with thyme, liquorice and fennel, and also a little floral perfume. The palate carries some lightly spiced, cedar-tinged fruit, with a lightly crunchy edge. Fresh, and showing early oak-tinged complexity. Some good potential here. 15.5-16.5/20 (May 2013)

Sauternes #6: Chateau Lafaure-Peyraguey 2007

Take a straw poll of favourite Sauternes vintages and I suspect 2001 will come high up the list, and it would most probably come out on top. It is certainly one of mine, and this is why I have been featuring many wines from 2001 recently.

Next, we might have 2009, 2010 or 2011. Although these are very young, those who have tasted them (and I know that is going to be trade and press only for those still in barrel) know these are three very fine vintages.

Where next? Actually, there are many recent vintages I would happily buy, including 1999, 2005 and 2007. The latter is of some interest because my tasting impressions go right back to my primeur assessments. And although early on they impresed with vibrancy and purity, more recent tastings – such as this IMW 2007 tasting – indicate that the wines (a selection, at least) have taken on some weight and substance since those early first tastes.

Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey 2007

The 2007 from Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey is one very fine example of this……

Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey (Sauternes) 2007: A rich golden hue. Very pure, bright and aromatic character, with apricot, quince, pear and peach, along with some overt, fragrant, floral overtones. The fruit feels rich, and it is undercut by a very incisive, effusive, sherbetty vein, with a slightly high-toned suggestion. The palate is broad, fleshy, seductive, much more so than you would expect from the reputation of the vintage. Underneath there is a really vibrant feel to it, a stony cut, with bitter fruit elements framing the rest of the palate. Good acidity too. Sweet, rather primary fruit, oranges, but matched by promising sensory elements that suggest botrytis. 17.5/20 (May 2013)

Decanter Judging: Grand Variety

Wednesday was another day of judging on behalf of Decanter, on the Decanter World Wine Awards, and sadly this was my last day here this year, as I have commitments on Thursday and Friday that I simply can’t break. That’s a shame, as the Loire judging led by Jim Budd is continuing on for another two days, and no doubt there are many good wines yet to be tasted.

Today’s panel was only slightly different to that of yesterday. Myself and chairman Jim Budd were again joined by Loire expert Richard Kelley MW, pictured below in a similarly serious pose as that struck yesterday.

Decanter World Wine Awards
Replacing Véronique Rivest, who was judging on a different panel today, was Nigel Wilkinson of the RSJ restaurant. Nigel is a stalwart of the Loire panel and he has been tasting, buying, drinking, serving (his restaurant is renowned for its Loire-focused wine list) and judging the wines of the Loire far longer than I have.

Decanter World Wine Awards
There was joy in the variety of wines today, as although there was a fair amount of Sauvignon Blanc in the middle of the day, from almost every Loire appellation you could care to name, there were plenty of other styles too. We started with some sparkling wines and then Muscadet, and finished up with a sequence of flights featuring Chenin Blanc (mainly Savennières, Saumur and a little demi-sec Vouvray), red wines (mainly Touraine Pinot Noir, Gamay and Côt) and then a flight of sweet wines, from the Coteaux du Layon and Bonnezeaux appellations. Quality was up and down (isn’t it always) but there were certainly some gold medal opportunities here today.