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Notes from a Wine Dinner

Some notes from a recent wine dinner, the bottles all pulled from my cellar.

Before dinner….

Domaine du Clos Naudin Vouvray Brut 2011: I normally restrict myself to Philippe’s réserve cuvée, so it was fun to check in on this, his straight brut cuvée. It has a rich golden hue in the glass, looking ripe, with a delicate bead. The nose is all crushed apples, confit pears, tarte tatin, praline, toasted nuts and smoke. There follows a fresh and bright palate, but also a rich flavour profile, sweetly ripe confit fruits, candied apple and dried pear, showing a pithy depth, a very fine-boned mousse and correct acidity. It is a wine which seems to me to convey the very sweet and rich nature of the vintage, 2011 being the first year in which Philippe made a sweet Goutte d’Or cuvée since 1990. 92/100

With dinner, from the Loire Valley….

Régis Minet Pouilly-Fumé 2006: This is one of those bottles with the power to upset popular beliefs such as (a) Sauvignon Blanc doesn’t age well, or (b) if Sauvignon Blanc ages well, it is only the Dagueneau family who can achieve it. This has a polished, lemon-gold hue. The nose is beautifully poised, filled with the scents of dehydrated fruit, dried peaches, lemon zest and blanched almond. It has a fresh (yes, fresh) and textural character on the palate, carrying notes of peach stone, apricot and citrus fruits, all pithy and slightly bitter. A charming wine, a little pithy, showing some grip, with a lightly bitter length. I came back to the bottle the next day and it was even better. 94/100

Philippe Alliet Chinon Vieilles Vignes 2004: At nearly fifteen years of age this has a surprisingly fresh hue, showing a dark core, with a tinge of oxblood to the rim. The nose is quite curious, starting off with the scents of desiccated coconut, although this yields to toasted cherry fruit with time. It presents a chalky, full and fresh palate, supple, but also grippy and tense, with a firm, chalky backbone and a peppery base. There are some classic notes of dried cherry stone and tobacco in what is a rather grippy finish. It is long and still substantial, with good potential here yet. 92/100

Philippe Alliet

An interloper….

Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe Châteauneuf du Pape 1988: Now thirty years old, this not-quite-final bottle from my cellar has a rather pallid appearance, and is clearly aged, with a dusty orange-red hue. There follows a classically evolved nose, showing leather, orange peel, rolled tobacco and cigar ash. The palate feels supple though, fresh and correct, showing the same tobacco and ash notes, along with a peppery spice, all wrapped up in a supple and taut frame, the finish spicy and acid driven. An intriguing wine, characterised by notes of orange peel and leather, with a faded but still present frame of chalky tannins. For its age, this is delightful, showing great structure, the wine having barely moved in style or evolution since its last outing from the depths of my cellar. Delightful. 94/100

With dinner, from Bordeaux….

Château Pontet-Canet (Pauillac) 1994: Now not-quite 25 years old, this wine is holding up well. I took one to a wine dinner with friends in London back in February, and it seemed to go down well, as did this bottle. It still has a very dark core, with just a thin mahogany rim. The aromatics are initially marred by a little warm and gamey note, but happily this seems to be just a little bottle stink, as it blows off with another half hour in the decanter. From then on it is all perfumed smoke, blackcurrants, green peppercorn and bay leaf, with a touch of currant. The palate is cool and energetic, with piles of dry and fading tannin and acidity, with a taut, acid-framed and gently succulent texture, laced with little veins of blackcurrant and black olive fruit. Fresh, sappy and long in the finish. 94/100

Château Haut-Bailly (Pessac-Léognan) 1996: Great colour, dark, central black tulip core, with a thin raspberry and mahogany-tinged rim. The nose is one of classically evolved Graves, with none of the curious tomato leaf notes seen previously (admittedly, that was three bottle ago, so maybe I should just let go), just the very typical aromas of tobacco, gravel, rose petal, currant, dried blackcurrant and juniper berry, and a lightly meaty-peppery spice. It has a fabulously correct palate, cool and relaxed, elegant, very reserved and with a rather tense, vinous texture, not generous, more of a middleweight, but with a fine definition, bolstered by a backbone of dry and peppery tannin, fading very slowly over the years, but still undeniable. Beautiful typicity, and a long, dry, tense and rather serious length. 95/100

After dinner….

Domaine des Baumard Quarts de Chaume 2001: From a half bottle, one of a dozen purchased after I tasted this wine in its youth, when I was taken by its sweet caramel tones. It has an appropriately rich burnished golden hue in the glass. Aromatically, this is a wine of caramel (it’s still got it), macaroon, vanilla, orange and peach cream, with toasted almond praline and macadamia nut. The palate feels beautifully fresh, pure, cool and sweet, a very complete picture, plush and yet harmonious. It as a fine and pithy substance, textural, with some nicely evolved botrytis character too, it should be said. Lovely balance, with undeniable energy, a great acid freshness, and a great long pithy finish. Well done. 95/100

Château Climens (Barsac) 2005: Expect to see more tasting notes for this vintage in future, as I seem to have ended up with a bin-full of half bottles. Happily, drinking Climens is no hardship. It has a golden-orange hue in the glass. The aromatic profile is tense but easy to get into, with marmalade, barley sugar, apricot and bitter orange notes, with a rich and somewhat lactic note to it. There is a beautifully creamed concentration on the palate, bitter and wonderfully sweet at the same time, precise, quite fresh with super botrytised character and fresh acidity. Fabulous. 96/100

Even later….

Warre’s Unfiltered Late Bottled Vintage Port 2003: A perennial over-achiever, this doesn’t disappoint. It has a dark and glossy hue. The nose is similarly dark, rich too, with dried fruits, figs and dates, a rather roasted character, veering a little into raisin, with a hint of toasted cashew nut too. The palate is rich and voluminous, with a baked blackcurrant and fig character, loaded with sweet and peppery tannin. It is bold, grippy, peppery, with plenty of sweetly rich energy, the only contrary note that holds it back a little being those slightly raisined, baked, figgy notes. Overall, rich, charming but a rather sweet, nutty and figgy style. 94/100

Taylor’s Quinta de Vargellas Vintage Port 1991: A maturing hue here, with a lightly caramelised touch to the pigment. The nose is full of roasted fig, toast and baked black cherry, with a little raisined note and dried black olive too, although it remains very fresh, a sensation previous helped by the notes of rosemary and peppery sandalwood spices. It has a solid, impressive, upright structure on the palate, with piles of peppery bite, a swirling core of tannins and rapacious acid energy. Overall a sumptuous, and yet fiery wine, with plenty of charming character, although again it has a little raisined edge which I have seen in other bottles. All the same, a very good wine. 94/100

A Dozen Random Wines

A handful of notes on a dozen random wines recently tasted:

First, six from the Loire Valley…

Domaine Sylvain Gaudron La Symphonie Triple Zéro 2009: A sparkling cuvée made presumably along the same lines of Jacky Blot’s Triple Zero, with no chaptalisation, no added sugar in the liqueur de tirage, and no dosage. From a warmer vintage, this has an appealing nose of ripe fruit, white peach and sweet grilled pears, quite perfumed with nuances of white pepper and saffron, pâté d’amandes and orange zest. The palate has a quite soft and plush character, peach cream lifted by notes of orange leaf, but with bitterness and acidity for balance. It has a bright mousse, and it remains long, fresh and energetic through the finish. Good. 16/20 • 92/100 (May 2017)

Domaine Huet Vouvray Pétillant 2009: A pale straw hue in the glass, with a plentiful bead. The nose speaks of the ripeness of the vintage, with poached pears and preserved lemons, quite exotic in style, with little touches of saffron, honeyed cashew, white pepper and mineral. The palate shows a creamy minerality and bright acidity, wrapped within the same exuberant fruit, giving it a supple character. It remains fresh and pure, with orange zest and sweet pear vitality, but underneath that little touch of nut is moving more into a lightly caramelised note of gingerbread. A bitter Chenin bite in the end, a gentle and sweet texture, and a prickling pétillance leading into a dry and pithy finish. Very good indeed. 17.5/20 • 95/100 (May 2017)

Château de Varennes Savennières 2010: One of the grandes dames of the Savennières appellation, along with Château de la Roches aux Moines, Château de Chamboureau and others, this is an estate I have encountered less often than its peers. It is in the same ownership as Château Belle-Rive in Quarts de Chaume, and Château Yon-Figeac in St Emilion. The 2010 has a confident if rather pale straw hue. That is one of the more appealing features of the wine, which has rather dry, bitter, baked-lemon nose. The palate follows this lead, showing a bitter, lemony acidity, a loose and strident character, with lean fruit and a short and bitter finish. 12/20 • 84/100 (May 2017)

Patrice Colin Coteaux du Vendômois Rouge 2013: This has a very pale hue, quite typical of Pineau d’Aunis. There are no real surprises on the nose either, which kicks off with scents of dry and grainy red-cherry fruit, spiced with some decidedly green notes of pepper, menthol, cherry leaf and angelica. This theme continues on the palate, with a lean and tense style, a chalky composure, with tart redcurrant fruit. It has a sappy substance and a fresh, acid-bright, sour-fruit finish. It lacks a little harmony and charm. But it was a very difficult vintage for reds. 13/20 • 86/100 (May 2017)

Domaine M. & S. Bouchet Le Sylphe (Vin de France) 2012: This domaine is run by Matthieu Bouchet, the son of the late François Bouchet, who could easily be regarded as the godfather of biodynamics in the Loire Valley. It has a good colour, dark with a slightly dusty and claretty rim. There follows a nose of grilled cherries, softly degraded and a little warm and diffuse, with an increasingly apparent note of game which hints persistently of Brettanomyces. It has a rather cool entry, lightly silky, maintaining a nice texture through the middle, but with more Brett character here, flattening out in the finish, and ultimately turning a little sour. 13.5/20 • 87/100 (May 2017)

Clos des Quarterons St Nicolas de Bourgueil Les Quarterons 2013: From one of the most unreliable vintages in recent memory, this wine – from a domaine certified biodynamic in this vintage – has an unsurprisingly translucent hue. The nose offers up a little cooked raspberry and waxy candle smoke. In the mouth it is soft, lightly peppery, delicate in terms of its tannic structure, overall rather relaxed, loose and open. It is clean though, which is something, and there are some touches of spice and energy, but it shows more structure than fruit or substance. And there is a little waxy-oily note to it, matching the aromatic profile. All I can say is that, for the vintage, it’s a good effort. Tasted at 28-50. 13.5/20 • 87/100 (May 2017)

And six more from other regions….

Bruno Paillard Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru NV: Made using only Chardonnay from the Côte des Blancs, with reserve wines from 25 vintages, dating back to 1985, this wine spent four months sur lattes, with a further ten months after disgorgement before release. It has a lemon-gold hue, with a fresh and plentiful bead. The nose is all dried orchard fruits, presented in a very pure style. There is a light touch of ground almond to it but on the whole it remains very fresh and primary. The palate is rich in orchard fruit flavours, matching the nose, but with a citrus vivacity here, wrapped within a vinous substance coming from those reserve wines, lightly minerally at the end, with fine acidity and a plentiful mousse. Beautifully direct, with a fine, pithy confidence and acid definition to the finish. 17/20 • 94/100 (May 2017)

Bollinger Grande Année Rosé 1999: From a mix of 82% grand and 18% premier cru vineyards, using 63% Pinot Noir and 37% Chardonnay. This was then topped up with Pinot Noir from the Côte aux Enfants. It has a gloriously confident sunset-pink hue. I find a richly polished character on the nose, all strawberry and raspberry cream, intertwined with soft biscuit and vanilla macaroon. Aromatically this is a reassuring and confident wine, nevertheless it still steps up a gear on the palate which is pure and confident, with a vibrant acidity and lively but still quite fine mousse. This is evolving nicely, showing vanilla-coated summer fruits, pure, deliciously elegant, poised and composed, with a long and confident finish. Absolutely top drawer. 18/20 • 96/100 (May 2017)

Domaine de la Grand Cour Fleurie 2013: It’s a long time since a glass of Fleurie was last raised to my lips. This one doesn’t have an inspiring visual impact, with a cherry-red, loose and lightly hazy appearance. In keeping with this the nose is very open and bright, with scents of strawberry leaf, crystallised cherry, red liquorice, angelica, nettles and fennel. This is followed by bright and grainy strawberry and red cherry fruit on the palate, rested on a gravelly substance, within a very light and juicy texture. Lean, with a firm acid frame, it culminates in a sour and sappy finish. It is bright, sappy and direct, and would work well with a plate of finocchiona. 15.5/20 • 91/100 (May 2017)

Trimbach Pinot Gris Sélection de Grains Nobles 1986: The last of a handful of half bottles from my cellar, encountered by chance when excavating long-buried bottled. This is a rich gold with a tinge of green in the glass. On the nose I get bacon and baked orchard fruits, with white pepper, grilled oranges, ginger and clove. It is sweet and polished, with a grippy texture, and a touch of coffee and walnut. It focuses down into a gentle sweetness on the palate, with a quite charming style. This is a wine that has faded somewhat, but it remains convincing, with plenty of spice and energy, as well as a savoury, pithy-peppery succulence. It holds up well even into the finish, which has a beautiful texture, drying out a little perhaps, but with a good sense of balance. This is fading and yet still nebulously delightful. 17/20 • 94/100 (May 2017)

Henriques & Henriques Madeira Malvasia Ten Years Old NV: This wine has a really roasted-walnut brown appearance, with a wide green rim. The nose is all walnuts and raisins, and toast spread with axle grease, and yet despite this richness it remains quite bright and pure. A fresh style, sweetly polished but with vigorous lifted acidity, giving it a sense of cool demeanour. It has raisined fruit though to the finish, all caramel and walnuts, yet it remains so fresh and vivacious thanks to that acidity. A long and warming finish completes the picture. 16/20 • 92/100

Dow’s Crusted Port NV: This wine has a wonderful appearance in the glass, showing a dark black core with a crimson rim. The aromatics are just charming, with scents of black raspberry, sweet cranberry and black cherry, spiced up with cigar tobacco and rose petals. The palate is textured, with creamed fruit, grippy and bright and admittedly lightly spirity, but there is plenty of character and charm here. It is bright, with raspberry rubbed in charcoal, lifted cherry skins, sweet fruit and scented rose petals. A punchy, fragrant, fruit-rich style. 16.5/20 • 93/100 (May 2017)

A New Vinho Verde

I’m a sucker for a little bit of spritz. Wines with a tingle on the tongue might not be the most sophisticated of libations, but they sure can be refreshing and easy to drink. The classic example of the style is Vinho Verde, a wine that was traditionally bottled young (the ‘green’ verde refers not to the colour – the wines can be red, white or rosé – but to their youth) with a little carbon dioxide spritz from the fermentation. Today, however, true ‘just-fermented’ spritz is perhaps more likely to be encountered at RAW or the Real Wine Fair; in modern, whistle-clean Vinho Verde today it is more likely to be the result of a little carbonation. That, I think, removes a little of the magic; I’m not such a sucker for that kind of spritz. Stylistically, it seems to me to be something of a strait-jacket; I would think it difficult for a producer to say “I’m making serious/rich/flavoursome/ageworthy wines”, styles which might allow them to raise prices a little, when still pumping carbon dioxide into the wines.

Some Vino Verde producers also seem to have recognised this and today there is a broad array of more serious single-variety wines available. Of the Vinho Verde grapes Alvarinho seems to be a popular choice for this treatment, the locals perhaps spurred on by the success of Albariño (the same grape variety) in Rias Baixas in northern Spain. It’s not admittedly a new phenomenon – the first varietal Alvarinho wiens appeared in the 1980s, but moving away from spritz to substance is perhaps more recent. These new wines seem to have more substance and depth of flavour, and they seem to want to impress with form rather than froth. These are interesting wines and I have taken advantage of my time in Portugal to taste a few. As my notes show, though, picking out which wines follow the new mantra, and which retain the older spritzy style, is difficult.


Dona Paterna Vinho Verde Alvarinho 2013: From vines cultivated on terraced vineyards in the proximity of the region’s ancient monastery and church. This is the first wine I tasted which seemed very different to the ‘traditional’ view of spritzy Vinho Verde. An extra year in bottle may also have helped of course. A touch of gold to the hue. A nose rich in confident fruits, pears and apricots. The palate has substance and real presence in the mouth, and the expressive fruits are backed up by succulent acidity, wonderful for Portugal’s warm climate. Good depth to this one. A real success. Alcohol 13%. 16/20 (July 2015)

Reguengo de Melgaço Vinho Verde Alvarinho 2014: The Reguengo de Melgaço is an ancient manor house built on the orders of Queen Dona Leonor in the 16th century. In the 1990s it was acquired by the Cardadeiro family, and 7.5 hectares of Alvarhinho were planted (and the manor house converted into a hotel). This has a much paler hue than the Dona Paterna. The fruit character on the nose leans towards a greener style, greengage and apple. The palate has a lovely freshness and lift, with bright acidity, and in part this is also down to a little spritz here. Despite the use of a single variety and very modern packaging this still nods towards the traditional Vinho Verde style. A good refresher though. Alcohol 12.5%. 15/20 (July 2015)

Quinta da Lixa Vinho Verde Alvarinho 2014: This seems to be a very large operation producing a very broad range of wines. This wine has a pale hue. The nose seems dominated by ripe banana, which to me always suggests the use of cultured aromatic yeasts. With time the aroma seems to fade, or perhaps I simply become accustomed to it, in the same way one doesn’t notice the stench of chlorine at the public swimming baths after a while. The palate seems rather innocuous, although banana still rules here. It feels very commercial in character. Alcohol 12.5%. 13.5/20 (July 2015)

Via Latina Vinho Verde Alvarinho 2014: The Via Latina label belongs to Vercoope, a Vinho Verde co-operative. High hopes here were not realised sadly; the nose gives a sense of freshness but it feels somewhat anodyne. The palate has the same character, showing a slightly steely backbone but no real character or depth of fruit. It has the spritz of traditional vinho verde, as well as a plumpness of texture that suggests a gram or two of residual sugar. Nice acidity gives it freshness, and that spritz brings a somewhat salty edge, but ultimately this is one of the less appealing wines tasted here. Alcohol 12.5%. 14/20 (July 2015)

Palácio da Brejoeira Vinho Verde Alvarinho 2013: The Palácio da Brejoeira is an imposing neoclassical manor house that dates to the early 19th century, while the vineyard is a more recent (1970s) addition. Bottle number 36577. A pale-gold hue in the glass. The nose is full of orchard fruit notes, with a bitter frame, peach skin and pears, with a good bite to it. The palate shows moderate depth, nicely lifted by fresh, confident acidity which carries along the fruit flavours very nicely. The fruit here has an appealing bitterness, recalling orange pith and almond husk. Straight, quite long, nicely composed, clean into the finish. Very good, an enticing wine. Alcohol 13.5%. 16.5/20 (July 2015)

Soalheiro Vinho Verde Alvarinho 2014: The original varietal Alvarinho – the vines were planted in 1974, and the first Alvarinho released in 1982. A pale golden hue. The nose is full of soft orchard fruits, ripe pears and dessert apples, with a fresh citrus twist. Everything seems in place on the palate, which has a nice depth of fruit matching the nose, fresh acidity, and a bright sense of harmony and confidence which few of the other wines tasted here seem capable of matching. Impressive, a very polished style, very complete. Alcohol 12.5%. 16.5/20 (July 2015)

A Summer Break: Sunshine & Saumur

Now summer has arrived (in the northern hemisphere, anyway) I will be taking my customary break from Winedoctor updates for a few weeks. I am currently packing two bags in preparation; bag one will be coming with me for two weeks of sunshine and poolside relaxation in Portugal. Then, immediately after my return to the UK, bag two will be accompanying me as I return to Saumur again for a week. This is my second time in Saumur this year as I was there just a few weeks ago (tasting in the cellars at Clos Rougeard, pictured below, among other places).

Clos Rougeard

As is usual this break means there will be no behind-paywall updates now until July 27th. It has been a hectic six months so far, with more updates, reports, profiles and blog posts than ever, and I am looking forward to the break. I am also (weirdly – this is an obsession though) looking forward to getting back into it when I return, especially publishing a huge pile of Saumur tasting reports I have lined up, for Clos Rougeard, Domaine Guiberteau, Château de Targé and Château du Hureau among others, as well as some Vouvray and Montlouis reports (getting to grips with some lovely 2014s) and a string of new Sancerre profiles for Domaine Thomas-Labaille, Pierre Morin, Clos la Néore, Vincent Gaudry, Vincent Grall and others. I will also revisit 2013 Bordeaux, 2011 Bordeaux, and I have other trips to the Loire (again!) and Bordeaux planned.

Happy summer (or winter) holidays, whatever you have planned, and thanks for supporting Winedoctor. Subscriber numbers are at their highest ever, ensuring Winedoctor (a) keeps going and (b) remains as indepependent and transparent as possible. I have some significant news on the issue of independence coming later this year – so watch this space!

Best wishes – Chris

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)