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2013 Reflections: Other Great Wines

In all honesty, beyond the Loire and Bordeaux, so focused is my attention on these two regions, the list of truly ‘great’ wines from other regions is rather short. Some wines do stick in my mind though, usually for the different experiences they offered. The 2008 World’s End Crossfire is one good example of this; I taste and drink very little from California, if indeed anything at all, so any bottles that come my way are bound to be of interest. This particular wine was all the more noteworthy for being a Jonathan Maltus wine, and I think there were traits within that I also see in his wines from closer to home, in St Emilion.

The 1998 Domaine Tempier Bandol La Tourtine I encountered a month or two ago was also fairly smart, but without a doubt the best non-Loire non-Bordeaux red wine experience of 2013 was the 1983 Chave Hermitage, which I drank at dinner with Jim Budd, Claude Papin, Vincent Ogereau and Yves Guégniard (it was Jim that brought the wine to dinner). Not only was this an excellent example of Hermitage (and it’s not that long since I last visited this particular part of the Rhône – was it 2012?) but it also brought back lots of memories of Chester Claret Club, a tasting group I once frequented, one where I learnt a lot from some very knowledgeable palates. This was just the sort of wine that would have cropped up in a Chester tasting. This bottle was in excellent nick, and was certainly one of my top reds of the year, full-stop.

2013 Reflections: Other Great Wines

Interestingly, the Rhône also yielded a very memorable white this year, the 2012 Pierre Gaillard Condrieu (above), a wine which spoke more of minerality and precision than most Viogniers could dream of doing. And Alsace also did fairly well, as I really enjoyed the 1993 Trimbach Riesling Cuvée Frédéric Émile – proof that Riesling really is immortal, regardless of whether or not the wine has residual sugar, as well as the 1998 Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris Heimbourg. Not even one of Olivier Humbrecht’s top wines, this was a lovely example of why this domaine is so famous.

Some white wines for which I had high hopes managed to disappoint, including two from a trio from Domaine Cauhapé from the 2003 vintage. Only the 2003 Domaine Cauhapé Jurançon Noblesse du Temps really impressed, although even here I would have enjoyed more acidity I think. Well, that’s 2003 for you (I keeping saying this, I know).

2013 Reflections: Other Great Wines

Alright, so there are some decent wines here, but if there is one vinous theme I will forever associate with 2013 it is fortified wine, especially a burgeoning appreciation of Sherry, as well as some great fortified wine discoveries in Madeira. From Spain, the Cayetano del Pino (above) wines impressed greatly, especially the Palo Cortado. Being honest, I actually wrote about this wine on New Year’s Eve 2012, so I mush have drank it before 2013 began, but I’m including it here anyway. Well, why not? Also pretty good was the Osborne Sibarita Very Old Rare Oloroso, a rather full-on style for a 30-year old wine, but pretty good with it.

Things got really serious with Madeira this year when I visited the island during the summer. I was besotted with the Barbeito Madeira Colheita Canteiro Verdelho 1996, which I have since added to the cellar, but was blown away by the Barbeito Madeira Sercial 1910, closely followed by the Barbeito Madeira Malvasia 1834 (below). These wines have such fabulous vigour and life, it was impossible tasting them to believe they were 103 and 179 years old respectively. And from Blandy’s there were other memorable wines, including the Blandy’s Madeira Colheita Verdelho 1995 and particular the Blandy’s Madeira Bual 1968. None could match the Barbeito wines though. Getting an appointment at Blandy’s was pretty difficult, and eventually their UK importer set one up for me. This was more successful than my appointment at Henriques & Henriques, which I arranged myself, only to be stood up when I turned up on time, hence the absence of a Henriques & Henriques report after my return. Did somebody say the Madeira producers were struggling?

2013 Reflections: Other Great Wines

Returning to Spain for a moment, I discovered a new region named Lebrija thanks to UK wine merchant Warren Edwardes. Lebrija lies next-door to Sanlúcar de Barrameda, and seems – in my limited experience, admittedly – to have the potential for top quality wines which are apparently sold at rock-bottom prices. The González Palacios Lebrija Old Oloroso was my favourite of the two wines I tried. I know the wines of the Douro far better than I know any of these aforementioned regions, and yet I have had few memorable Ports this year, the only noteworthy bottle being the 1983 Warre’s Vintage Port. To be honest though, although this was a very fine bottle – 1983 was a good vintage, but not a remarkable one – I don’t think I would regard it as truly ‘great’, although the older Madeiras described above certainly were. I have, perhaps, been converted.

That’s enough looking back at 2013 I think. Tomorrow I will publish my disclosure sheet for the year, then it’s on with 2014. I can think of plenty of other Sherries I want to try.

A Few from the 1980s

After my recent review of the wines of the ever-popular Barsac estate Château Climens, featuring vintages back to 1981 and 1979, I was reminded that one of the aims of buying and cellaring wine was that, eventually, you’re supposed to retrieve the bottles from those dark and dingy corners of the cellar where they slumber, and drink them. With that in mind I pulled a few more bottles from the 1980s (I’m a bit short on representation from the 1970s, to be honest) in the past few weeks.

Two red wines first, beginning with an old favourite from my early days of wine exploration when I think I probably knew a lot more about the Rhône Valley than I do now. I’ve enjoyed a few bottles of this vintage of Vieux Télégraphe over the years, and happily I have one or two bottles still remaining. This one showed very well, on a par with the very appealing 1989 Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial from Marqués de Murrieta. Having said that, I think I would choose the latter over the former on most occasions; there’s just something very special about older Rioja. As for the 1989 Chasse-Spleen, I approached this with caution, as my last bottle had been rather off. This one, however, was just singing.

Three sweet wines follow, again from the 1988 and 1989 vintages. The 1989 Coutet has to be my favourite of the three, although I was very impressed by the 1989 Coteaux du Layon Les Coteaux from Domaine de la Roulerie. The wine over-performed for the appellation I think, even if the style was quite tertiary and unusual. I asked modern-day proprietor Philippe Germain about Les Coteaux and he didn’t have a clue which part of the vineyard it came from. The property was in the hands of the previous owner in 1989, and it doesn’t seem that very good records were kept. The 1988 Quarts de Chaume from Château Bellerive was also showing well, although perhaps not at the level I have experienced with other bottles. Perhaps this vintage is just tiring a little now. Perhaps, being honest, I have changed my expectation of what Quarts de Chaume can and should be. I have a few left; they should perhaps be drunk up, but I think I will keep them for some time yet, as an academic investigation into the plateau and decline of aged Quarts de Chaume if nothing else.

The final wine, from Warre, is still going strong even at over 30 years. It is a long way from the most highly regarded of vintages, but these bottles prove a consistent source of pleasure.

Tasting Notes

Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe Châteauneuf du Pape 1988: For the appellation this has a surprisingly pale hue, showing moderate depth at its core, but fading out to an orange-tawny rim. The nose is evolved and expressive, and more interesting than I recall from previous tastings, with rich black truffle aromas, and sweet leather notes on top. There are faint tinges of game as well, but it is somewhat brighter than this description suggests, as there is also bay leaf and juniper berry to be found here. This is fleshy on the palate, so there is no suggestion that this might be drying out, and there is still quite some grip and spice to it; there is quite some energy here in fact. Long and savoury. Showing a slightly more convincing character than my poor memory tells me it has done before, although looking back at previous notes I said very similar things. A good wine indeed, and clearly very long lived. 17.5/20 (September 2013)

Marqués de Murrieta Rioja Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial 1989: My last bottle of this, unless I am mistaken. Still plenty of colour in the decanter and glass, and as we would expect after prolonged wood-aging very little sediment too. The nose is really quite bright and feels a little lean at first, and it takes a couple of hours to really open up. Nice charcoal-tinged and cranberry-cherry fruit character on the nose, with the sweetness of fresh leather, scented with notes of sage, rosemary and black olive. Dark and slightly introverted, and yet defined and bright, like a slightly sour black cherry, to be more precise. Certainly an interesting nose here, captivating now, but with potential still. Some of these elements come through on the palate, with piles of fresh acids, gentle and rather reserved substance and a firm, bright, acid-bound character. A middle-weight wine, still with a savoury extract and substance, and plenty of fresh structure though. Still very good indeed. And very long too. 18/20 (September 2013)

Château Chasse-Spleen (Moulis) 1989: The last bottle I had of this, probably about three years ago now (where does the time go?) was obviously not showing well; this wine is absolutely singing on this occasion. The colour in the decanter and glass is confidently dark, with a nicely pigmented although certainly maturing rim. But it is in the nose that the wine truly reassures, with perfumed black fruits laced with hints of violets, and as it evolves in the glass also black tea leaves, bloody iron filings and even a hint of game. The palate shows a lovely harmony, and gentle sweetness, some really appealing grip and substance, and in the finish tangible extract and fresh structure. There’s a little length to it. Hugely convincing despite the wine’s age, with complex tertiary nuances of citrus alongside the more classically evolved character. On the whole, this is quite lovely. 17.5/20 (September 2013)

Château de la Roulerie Coteaux du Layon Les Coteaux 1989: This wine has a gentle, burnished gold. The nose is intriguing, opening out slowly over the course of an hour or so, showing scents of coffee and orange cake, with crunchy fruit. Overall it is fairly intense, with tertiary nuances of baked ham and cigar smoke. Despite this overly evolved character on the nose there is no suggestion that this wine is at the end of its life on the palate. There is still a glorious substance to it, a gently fleshy character with subtle hints of Demerara sugar, coffee, roasted plantain, baked corn and even a touch of sage. This is certainly complex and multi-faceted, although to be fair as the wine is given more time it does seem to tighten down into a lightly chewy, tangerine and peach sweetness, with a gently mellifluous texture. Overall, a lovely wine. 17/20 (September 2013)

Château Bellerive Quarts de Chaume 1988: A moderately rich orange-gold hue. The fruit on the nose is rich although certainly tempered by an organic and savoury edge to it. There is a seam of straw, desiccated fruit, dried apricot and lightly baked oranges. Does this latter element suggest a little oxidation on this particular bottle? The palate has a beautifully polished character, still showing a rich and deep sweetness despite the wine’s age, Very harmonious, with gentle acidity. Certainly no oxidation here, the fruit rich and concentrated, with a firm phenolic substance to the wine giving it a really appealing pithy grip towards the end, finishing up with some spice and a really fine length. Still showing the straw and sweetness of previous bottles, but not the caramel tinges I have noted. Overall, still delicious, but perhaps not at the level I have scored some bottles previously. 17/20 (September 2013)

Château Coutet (Sauternes) 1989: In the glass this has a rich, really quite fabulous orange-golden hue. The aromatics are no less remarkable than its rather radiant appearance, the fruit character redolent of bitter oranges, but this is more than matched by the scents of almonds, hazelnuts and praline also in evidence. It feels very lightly high-toned as well though, a sensation swirled with touches of quince and more of that bitter orange. The palate shows all of these flavours, with roasted botrytis character, carried along by a fabulously sweet, polished texture. There is also a layer of caramel underpinning it all, a great texture and obvious residual sugar. This is still going strong; no rush here. 18/20 (September 2013)

Warre’s Vintage Port 1980: A very fine, pure hue here, still with plenty of pigment and life to it. A very fine, savoury but pure and rather fragrant fruit on the nose, with some slightly sooty notes under the violets, but it is the fragrancy that dominates. This sense of purity comes through on the palate, which is very harmonious at the start and it maintains this character through the middle, and although it has grip and spirit to show here it remains appealing, composed and fresh. A wine of substance and light structure, more perhaps the texture and approachable sweetness is more prominent. There are figs, a fine macerated fruit character, and a firm, spicy backbone. The vintage is not regarded as a great one, but this is still a very fine and approachable wine. 17.5/20 (September 2013)

A Top Ten on Madeira

Fresh from Madeira, here is a personal “Top Ten” on the island and its wines, ten facts I know now that I didn’t know three weeks ago:

1. Discovered in the 15th century by the Portuguese (although this is perhaps controversial – there is some evidence that mariners knew of the islands long before this ‘discovery’), the island held immediate appeal for agriculture. Wheat was planted first, quickly followed by sugarcane, but grapes – particularly Malvasia – were there from the outset as well. Touring the island today, the most obvious crop is bananas, but there are still plenty of vineyards to be seen. I didn’t see much sugarcane though!

2. There are only eight producers of Madeira still in existence; some are recent creations, e.g. Barbeito which was ‘born’ in 1946, while some are ancient companies (or the amalgamation of several ancient companies), such as the Madeira Wine Company, now led by the Blandy family, which can trace its origins back to the arrival of John Blandy from the UK in 1811. John Blandy was a banker who sought employment in a “counting house” on the island, but within a few years of his arrival he was established as a shipper and trader of wine.

3. Despite this there are hundreds of growers of grapes. The figure most commonly touted during my visit was 800, and they all sell their grapes to the producers. Some growers are very large, but others are very small, back-garden affairs.

4. Ask about terroir on Madeira (I did!) and you might just receive a quizzical look in response. The island is largely volcanic basalt, the soils rich in minerals, and further examination of the soil types seems to be unnecessary. Madeira is more about the grape, and the winemaking, than the terroir.

5. There is no flat land on Madeira; every square foot of land is a slope, or the peak of a slope. This may be a slight exaggeration of course, but it is true that all agriculture I saw – whether grapes, bananas, or other fruit – takes place on terraces perched on the side of sometimes steep, mountainous slopes.

1988 Boal, Madeira

6. Madeira is really about Tinta Negra (a red variety – in case tinta didn’t give it away!), in terms of quantity, but the other five grapes are more interesting when it comes to the search for top quality. These are Sercial, Verdelho, Bual/Boal, Malvasia/Malmsey and the rather rarely seen Terrantez. The appeal of Tinta Negra, for the growers, is disease resistance – Madeira can be very humid, engendering rot.

7. There are table wines produced on Madeira, as I indicated in my post on the 2012 Vinha da Defesa from Herdade do Esporão, but they remain a minority interest. Verdelho and Malvasia are common choices for the wine, but I also saw (and tasted) some made from Arnsburger, a Riesling x Riesling cross dating to 1939. The appeal of this variety is no doubt its rot-resistance. Stick with Verdelho and Malvasia is my advice.

8. The north-west of the island is wet and cool, the south-east dry and hot; in order to facilitate agriculture – including the vine – in the south water is transported by levadas, water channels which criss-cross the island.

9. All Madeira wine is fortified, heated and oxidized to some extent or another. Alright, to be honest I already know this, but seeing it all in the flesh has really cemented this knowledge in my mind. Cheaper, entry-level three-year old blends are likely to be heated in estufas over three months, but higher up the quality ladder the heating occurs in barrel, in lofts. The cycles of humid heating and cooling produces curiously warped ends to some barrels, the wood having expanded and contracted in situ.

10. Madeira is a beautiful island, full of friendly people. And when you get bored of wine, or of walking the levadas, you can take a trip out to sea, to go dolphin and whale-watching. Highly recommended!

Perhaps most importantly of all, my view of the wines of Madeira has changed completely. My mental image of Madeira was of a sweet, dark brown liquid, smelling of Christmas and probably a good match for a festive slice of the requisite cake, but ultimately lacking the precision and energy that makes wine, for me, truly interesting. I have learnt that this belief was erroneous, as I have discovered that Madeira can be vibrant, cerebral and exciting. I have learnt that single-vintage colheita wines can offer excellent value and quality combined, and are no less worthy than the greatest wines of Jerez. And I have learnt that ancient Madeira, wines more than a hundred years old, are not the decrepit but venerable old drops I imagined them to be, but are in fact rich, vinous and very complex, and are no less exciting than their counterparts from the Douro (and they hold up much better). In short, I will keep an eye out for Madeira for adding to my cellar in the future; these are not wines to be ignored.

Over the next couple of weeks, I will publish reports on my visits to Blandy’s and Barbeito, and then – perhaps during a mid-point breather in my regular Sunday Bordeaux Guide updates – I have a four-page guide to Madeira to publish, with rather more detail than presented in my ten-point guide above.

Henriques and Henriques

Later on this year I will be exploring Madeira. Not vicariously, although that would perhaps be easier (and less expensive); I will in fact be planting my feet on the soil of this sub-tropical (sounds good!) Atlantic island for the first time in my life.

Naturally, a little Madeira-orientated experimentation and initiation is called for. I started off with two entry-level ten-year old wines from Henriques & Henriques, one a Sercial and the other a Malvasia. The Sercial is pictured below – if you think the picture looks unusually ‘stretched’, it isn’t. The wine comes in very slim, stoppered bottles.

Henriques & Henriques

Henriques & Henriques Madeira Ten Years Old Sercial: A golden hue in the glass, lightly toasted, with a faint green tinge to the rim of the wine. The aromatics are redolent of toasted nuts, with little peaty, wood-smoke tones, but more prominently a clean citrus tang. The palate is fleshy and rich, and although described as a dry wine, it is certainly not bone dry, as there is a generous feel to it all. Good grip underneath it though, and wonderfully freh and invigorating acidity which, with the very direct and well defined nutty flavours, combine to give this a real energy on the palate. I think would prefer a little less fat on the palate, perhaps a less plump feel to it, but otherwise this is certainly well composed and full of character. 15.5/20 (March 2013)

Henriques & Henriques Ten Year Old Malvasia: A rich, walnut-brown at its core, this wine fades out towards the rim to a rich, toasty golden hue. The nose does not suggest great sweetness, but does call to mind the scents of caramel, walnuts, dates and raisins. The sweetness certainly shows on the palate though, the start very textured and fleshy, and this sensation continues through the middle and finish. From within the wine there wells up a great spicy grip, with flavours of nuts and brulée, but also a keen, charged acidity, not especially fine or precise but certainly with enough energy to cut through the sweet midpalate and finish. There is a lot of vigour here, and it does well to carry along the sweet substance of the wine. 16.5/20 (March 2013)

Well, it’s not a bad start. Hopefully I will encounter one or two more bottles before I board the plane this summer.

More from Herdade do Rocim

I featured one wine from Herdade do Rocim as my wine of the week yesterday, this being the Vale da Mata Reserva 2008. Although that wine was undoubtedly my favourite from all the Herdade do Rocim and Vale da Mata samples I have tasted recently, the others are certainly worthy of a mention.

First, a little background on Herdade do Rocim; if you take the Rocim literature at face value the driving force behind the estate seems to be Caterina Vieira, and this impressive project was all inspired by her grandfather, a onetime vigneron who relinquished his vines many years ago. While Caterina studied winemaking, an impressive and no doubt expensive winery of very modern design sprang up in Alentejo. With my more sceptical hat on, what we see at Herdade do Rocim today – including not only the ultra-modern winery but also the meeting rooms, restaurant, shop and wine bar (they’re just missing the health spa I think) – is the result of massive investment from owners Terralis Lda, an agricultural machinery specialist that purchased the estate in 2000.

Most of the wines are from Alentejo, although there are also vines to the west in Lisboa, where (back now to the dreamy literature, infused with black-and-white images of vines and handsome young pickers, oak barrels and wizened old vignerons – so much nice than pictures of tractors and muck-spreaders) her grandfather once made wine. The varieties featured include locals such as Antão Vaz, Aragonez, Trincadeira and the better-known Touriga Nacional as well as the rather more international Syrah.

The labelling, I have to say, I find a little confusing, but here’s my take on it. The Rocim range (in white and red) appears to give us the entry-level wines, described as ‘youthful and fruity’. There is also a straight Herdade do Rocim bottling (in red). Then there are the Olho de Mocho wines (red, white, rosé), which seem to be made from selected parcels each vintage, and so should be a step up from the Rocim/Herdade do Rocim wines. Finally, top of the tree is the Grande Rocim, the flagship wine which features Alicante Bouschet. The aforementioned Vale da Mata wines are a separate line, made from fruit grown in Lisboa to the west.

First up, two white wines.

Herdade do Rocim ‘Rocim’ Branco (Alentejano) 2010: A blend of Antão Vaz, Arinto and Roupeira. Fresh, lean, lightly chalky fruit character on the nose, with a touch of citrus zest. Also a little white-peach stone. Light, with slightly pithy fruit in the middle of the wine, showing decent freshenss, nice acidity, and appropriate substance. Clean, lightly steely fruit. Gently attractive. Alcohol 13%. 14/20 (May 2012)

Herdade do Rocim Olho de Mocho Branco Reserva (Alentejano) 2010: This is 100% Antão Vaz. A pale straw coloured hue with a faint hint of green. The nose is dominated by oaky characteristics, as evinced by notes of fennel, with citrus fruit tones underneath. An attractive palate if you are oak tolerant, because the flavours certainly speak of the wood to a large extent, as do the light grip of oaky tannins in the finish. Bright structure underneath, with freshness and nutty tones. Nice acidity, with a bitter, pithy edge to the fruit. Long, grippy, slightly sour finish. Alcohol 13%. 14.5/20 (May 2012)

One rosé wine.

Herdade do Rocim Olho de Mocho Rosé (Alentejano) 2010: A blend of Touriga Nacional, Syrah and Aragonez, this wine has the deep, richly coloured pink hue that many Iberian and southern European rosés seem to possess. The fruit character on the nose is simple, with plump strawberries to the fore. The palate has the same character, rather solid, with a foursquare style and bold flavour. For uncomplicated drinking. Alcohol 13.5%. 13.5/20 (May 2012)

And finally a selection of Herdade do Rocim reds.

Herdade do Rocim ‘Rocim’ Tinto (Alentejano) 2008: This is a blend of Aragonez, Trincadeira, Alicante Bouschet and Touriga Nacional. It has a bright cherry red, with a pale intensity and a pink rim. Soft and rather reserved, slightly dusty fruit character on the nose, with a touch of violet perfume. The palate has more expressive fruit thought, the restrained texture sitting behind some baked raspberry fruit cut through with overt notes of black liquorice. There are elements of smoke to it, but is that dark, liquorice vein that really dominates here, along with little related nuances of coffee bean. Some very soft grip to it, but attractive acidity, but the overall feel is of a soft, easy-going wine. Those aromatics are certainly interesting though. Alcohol 14%. 14/20 (May 2012)

Herdade do Rocim Tinto (Alentejano) 2009: This is Syrah, Touriga Nacional, Aragonez, Trincadeira and Alicante Bouschet. Just a little more vibrant than the 2008 Rocim, but a similar cherry-red hue. Again very reserved on the nose, with a chalky suggestion to the fruit, a lightly floral character too, but otherwise not really very expressive. A very soft and fruit-rich start to the palate, with light pepper through the midpalate. A fairly soft, plump but certainly well filled-out texture here, with a little seam of soft tannins which remain very low key, and perhaps a slightly gentle acid profile. An attractive wine, a sweeter, richer fruit profile than the 2008 Rocim too. More supple and full, with some grip. Alcohol 14%. 14.5/20 (May 2012)

Herdade do Rocim Olho de Mocho Tinto Reserva (Alentejano) 2009: Three varieties here, Syrah, Touriga Nacional and Alicante Bouschet. Deeply coloured, with a bright hue at the rim but a dark core. Aromatically this is showing a lot of oak lactones on the nose at present, and lots of peripheral oak related notes, with coconut and caramelised sugars too. The fruit certainly takes a back seat at present. A really attractive texture here from the outset, and this is maintaining a very broad and flattering character though the middle of the wine. Thankfully the oak flavours come through less on the palate, although there is certainly an oaky grip coming in at the end. Nice sweet fruit to it here as well though, and I suspect this will come through more in time. Attractive wine, certainly modern and polished in style, but one that needs to spend a couple of years in the cellar for everything to come together here I think. Alcohol 14%. 15.5/20 (May 2012)

Vale da Mata Tinto (Lisboa) 2008: A blend of Aragonez, Syrah and Touriga Nacional. A fairly dusty red core here, with even a faint tinge of oxblood to it. The fruit character on the nose is certainly less expressive than the Reserva (see my note on the Vale da Mata Reserva 2008), although there are bright floral tinges apparent at times, as well as more gamey and autumnal notes, plus tinges of mint and tobacco. A moderate texture immediately apparent, runing into a slightly leaner and drier palate that expected, with some robust structure underneath it. A rather firmer underpinning than I expected considering the substance of the wine I think. And in the finish, little tinges of caramelised fruit, giving a lightly toffee-like edge to it all. Reflecting the climate, or the toast on the oak, I wonder? Alcohol 14%. 15/20 (May 2012)