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Exploring Sherry #15: Bodegas Hidaldo Oloroso Faraon

Back into the Sherry seat now, with a look at this wine from Bodegas Hidalgo. Every Sherry drinker (and some non-drinkers too I suspect) knows La Gitana, one of the best known Sherry brands in existence, with its instantly recognisable gypsy label. Less widely appreciated, I suspect, are the other wines in the premium range from Hidalgo. They have similar branding, but they can’t match La Gitana’s ubiquity (it accounts for 70% of Hidalgo’s production).

Bodegas Hidalgo is a long-established bodegas, having been founded in 1792 by José Pantaleón Hidalgo, who hailed from Santander in northern Spain (much closer to Rioja than to Jerez). Six generations later the business remains in his family’s hands, and his descendents have about 170 organically-managed hectares in the Balbaína and Miraflores vineyards.

Bodegas Hidaldo Oloroso Faraon

La Gitana is a gypsy woman, whereas Faraon is essentially a patriarch, the male head of a family or gypsy clan. The oloroso so named comes from a solera where it is aged for seven years (at least) before bottling.

In the glass the Bodegas Hidalgo Oloroso Faraon shows a golden, toasty-caramel hue, with a faint but broad green tinge at the rim. It has a very classic nose, showing a faintly oxidised oloroso character, with a touch of dusty-dry baked earth, baked orange, dried fruits, walnut wood and clove spice. There is a rather full presence on the palate, a fairly substantial wine here, showing lots of impact but also a cutting energy to it, with plenty of tingling, peppery, spicy sensations around the edges. It feels quite polished, firm and robust rather than elegant or silky, but still a very full, warm, pleasing style, and it has length too. Overall, good. 16/20 (January 2016)

Winedoctor 2015 Disclosures

Is there any more eagerly awaited blog post than my annual disclosure statement? Well, to be honest, the answer is probably yes. But I will carry on regardless.

Independence and transparency is important. On independence I maintain my position that wine writers should always avoid conflicts of interest, write for their subscribers or readers and not the producers or winemakers, and avoid being duplicitous or even being ‘economical with the truth’ at all times. I also believe to be credible writers should avoid being sucked into the wine marketing machine, a big risk when the region you are writing about is wealthy and well-positioned to encourage that sort of behaviour through boozy lunches and pouring lots of old vintages.

On these issues, relating to independence, I have not shifted, but where I have shifted is on the issue of transparency. I think today that this is more important than ever. This is because to write about wine in an informative manner it is pointless trying to cut yourself off from the people who make it. Writers have to interact with producers (importantly, in the region the wine is made), and that can incur costs, from travel, accommodation and dining. Not boozy lunches or parties, just the costs of living. Rather than trying to cut this cord, feedback given to me in 2015 is that readers seem to value transparency on such matters more than any attempts to reduce the interaction/dependency to zero. I found that really interesting and something of a surprise.

Will this little nugget encourage others to be more transparent about their wine writing work? Who knows. It is no doubt a daunting thought, to bite the disclosure bullet. While I ponder that, here are the details of my disclosures for 2015:

Salon des Vins de Loire: The Salon has been struggling in recent years, and contemporaneously with this change InterLoire has cut funding for visiting journalists. No formal funding was received. It’s a sign of the times. I did accept two dinner invitations though, one with Loire courtier Charles Sydney, and one from new association Loire Latitude. In the interests of transparency, this latter group includes Pierre Luneau-Papin, Le Rocher des Violettes, Nicolas Grosbois, Henry Pellé and Le Clos des Quarterons. Other expenses I met myself (see below).
Bordeaux primeurs: I stayed in Bordeaux for seven nights, and I accepted accommodation for some of these. I began with one night in Château des Vigiers, and I also had four nights uncatered accommodation in Château Preuillac, courtesy of négociant Yvon Mau. The night at Vigiers (a bit off the beaten track) was to facilitate attendance at a tasting of Château L’Église-Clinet, held at Château Thénac, in Bergerac. I also accepted dinner at Château Thénac, and stopped in at Château Sociando-Mallet to take advantage of their buffet lunch. Other expenses I met myself (see below).
Loire Valley, Saumur & beyond: I covered most costs for my trip to the Loire Valley in June myself (see below), but I did accept two nights accommodation from a generic body, the Bureau Interprofessionnel des Vins du Centre.
Bordeaux Harvest Visit: I visited in October to taste 2013s, and also to learn about the 2015 vintage. I accepted accommodation in Château Le Pape for three nights, Château Clément-Pichon for one night, and Château La Dauphine for three nights. I accepted three dinner invitations, from Château Haut-Bailly, Vignobles Fayat and Château La Dauphine. I also attended an end-of-harvest lunch with Jonathan Maltus, and on another day had lunch after tasting at Château Le Gay. Other expenses I met myself (see below).
Gifts received: A case of wine from Château Brown was received as a token of gratitude for having organised half of the Oaked Sauvignon Blanc tasting. The highlight of the year, however, was the receipt of my ‘Château Teyssier 2015 Harvest’ t-shirt. In order to confuse my neighbours I wear this when I go out blackberry picking.
Samples received: Only a small number of wine samples were received, where the wines have been written up this has been declared. Most wines written up on Winedoctor are encountered at open tastings, or purchased.

This concludes the ‘support received’ section of my 2015 disclosures report. I try to keep support received to a minimum, and where taken I prefer more ‘generic’ support from associations, négociants or regional bodies nevertheless (in Bordeaux in particular) some suport received during 2015, in the form of dinners and accommodation, did relate to individual châteaux. Where appropriate, such as at Château Clément-Pichon, this has also been disclosed on relevant reports and profiles.

Winedoctor 2015 Disclosures

As is customary, I also like to balance this information with a report on which tastings and trips have been funded by me, or to be more precise by my subscribers.

Angers, Salon: All travel and accommodation expenses for the Salon des Vins de Loire were met by me; this included flights, rail fare in France, six nights accommodation in Angers and subsistence on all nights but two.
Loire Valley, Saumur & beyond: In June I spent three days visiting in Savennières, Saumur and Sancerre, checking out Clos Rougeard and other top domaines. I covered most of the costs myself; this included flights to Paris, car hire, accommodation in Saumur and all subsistence costs, not to mention the fine from the car hire company for exceeding the agreed mileage on a short rental. That’s the last time I forget to read the Europcar small print.
Loire Valley, More Saumur: In July I returned to the Loire for the third time in 2015. I spent a week based in Parnay. I covered all costs, including flights to Paris, car hire, accommodation in Saumur and all subsistence costs myself. No excess-mileage fine this time, but a speeding ticket instead, plus the car hire firm’s ‘handling fee’ for shopping me to the French traffic FBI. I really am going off Europcar now.
Portugal: My only non-Loire-non-Bordeaux trip of the year, I spent the best part of two weeks checking out Portuguese wine. There is a single-variety revolution in Vinho Verde that is very exciting, with some delicious wines – almost as good as Muscadet in some cases. I covered all costs, including flights, accommodation, car hire and subsistence myself.
Bordeaux, Primeurs: I met my travel costs myself; this includes transport to airport, flights to Bordeaux, and hire car for eight days. I paid for two nights in a budget hotel in Libourne, previously endorsed by Neal Martin. I paid for all my own subsistence except for the lunches and dinner described above.
Bordeaux Harvest Visit: For this eight-day trip to Bordeux I met my travel costs myself; this included transport to airport, flights to Bordeaux, and hire car for eight days. I accepted assistance with accommodation. I was hosted at dinner three times, but paid for the remainder of my subsistence myself.
London, Bordeaux Grand Cru Classé tasting: I was already in London judging at the Decanter World Wine Awards, and took a day out of my judging schedule to attend this. I thus covered all my own travel costs. I also had dinner at Terroirs with Daniel Primack, UK Zalto rep. We split the bill, but I did come away from the evening one Zalto wine glass better off, which if you believe in karma at least makes up for that speeding ticket earlier in the year.
Other London tastings: These were numerous, and included the Bordeaux Index 2005 tasting, the Loire Benchmark tasting, the Real Wine Fair, the Union des Grands Crus tasting of the 2013 vintage at Covent Garden, the Oaked Sauvignon Blanc tasting (where I was both organiser and taster) and the IMW Bordeaux tasting of the 2011 vintage. In each case I paid for my entry fee where applicable, and flights and transfers. On most occasions I also benefited from a free lunch (which I guess disproves the relevant adage). The one exception was the IMW tasting where lunch is not provided, so I scoffed a cheese sandwich I had cunningly secreted in my rucksack; it went surprisingly well with 2011 Lafite-Rothschild.
Chester, High Time with Haut Brion: I covered my own costs for this Friday-evening tasting of wines from Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion, including parking, entry fee, rail fares and the cost of an over-priced hotel room in Chester city centre. I was back in Edinburgh the next morning before any thought of a free lunch even entered my head.

That’s all for now. I am anticipating many more great tastings in 2016, as the 2015 vintage holds much promise in both Bordeaux (pictured above – 2015 budbreak in April) and the Loire Valley. Thanks to all my subscribers for making all of the above possible.

Have a Happy New Year!

And so 2015 draws to a close….

It has been a great year for Winedoctor, now with over one thousand subscribers. As far as updates go, I have written more words during 2015, updated more profiles, added more new tasting notes, written more new profiles, and written more on the latest Loire and Bordeaux vintages (as well as some older vintages) than ever before. I really enjoyed looking back through my ten Wine in Context posts – it reminded me what a super twelve months 2015 gave me. Thanks to all my subscribers for making it possible, and for giving me the reason to do it all.

I would count up all my words, posts and tasting notes as proof of how Winedoctor has grown, but in all honesty I have better things to do – right now I can hear corks popping, and I don’t have a glass in my hand yet. Shocking, I know.

I will take New Year’s Day off (I took Christmas Day off too – I am such a sloth!), but normal updates will resume January 2nd. I have to start again soon, I have a lot of updates, articles and reports piling up. And there is my annual disclosure statement, providing full transparency on support received throughout the year, to pull together as well – I wouldn’t want to forget that, especially as I know some out there look forward to it with baited breath and more than a hint of trembling anticipation.

I am looking forward to getting to grips with the 2015 vintage, both from the Loire and Bordeaux, in the next few months. Both sound very promising. I will start with the Loire, with my first tasting planned for January, then it is off to the Salon des Vins de Loire in February.

For now though, it is time to chill out with family and fizzy fermented juice. My best wishes to all for your New Year’s Eve celebrations, and all the best for 2016.

Wine in Context #1: Clos Rougeard

I had originally planned to publish this yesterday morning, but with the news of the death of Charly Foucault breaking it just didn’t feel right. Now, as the news has sunk in, it feels inappropriate not to publish it…..

Looking back over 2015, at my favourite wine-related moments of the year, whether they be best bottles, best wine dinners, best tastings or otherwise, there was one visit-and-tasting-combined which was my obvious number-one choice for the year. In June 2015 I visited Clos Rougeard, and enjoyed a fantastic tasting in their new cellars with Nady Foucault (pictured below). It was the runaway highlight of the year.

Some visits disappoint, the wines or even the mood of the proprietor perhaps serving to dampen the experience in some way. Some are good, where everything goes well, and while no long-term memories are formed the wines are fine and the write up is appropriately positive. Some visits, though, are truly great, and this visit to Clos Rougeard certainly fits into this category. After descending three levels into the new Foucault cellars I spent the best part of three hours (I think – I wasn’t exactly clock-watching) in the cool and dimly-lit subterranean palace, tasting barrel samples and bottled wines, from all manner of vintages, most recent, one or two a little older.

Clos Rougeard

What made the visit such an experience was firstly the quality of the wines. I have tasted and drunk (mostly the latter, to be honest) a fair amount of Clos Rougeard over the years, and while the wines are often exemplary, every domaine has its ups and downs. But the wines tasted on this occasion were just breathtaking. Great vintages helped, because I tasted several bottles and samples from 2010, 2011 and 2014, all very favourable years. Tasting the different components in 2014, from barrel, also helped lift the experience. The barrel components of 2014 Le Bourg, for example, were just tear-jerkingly complex and intricately woven. I came away with the feeling that, regardless of the prices asked these days, I had to have some of those wines. That doesn’t happen that often these days, even at some very famous addresses (most that I am thinking of here are in Bordeaux, as it happens).

It wasn’t just the wine though; Nady proved himself a congenial host. For all the distance Nady and his late-brother (it feels strange writing that) Charly put between themselves and those that loved their wines, here in his presence it was clear he had the ability to charm. He clearly loved leading a tasting, and he clearly enjoyed the opportunities for humour it presented. He may appear to be a wiry, athletic, suffer-no-nonsense individual, but he clearly enjoys a joke as much as the next guy, and despite his ‘no pictures’ reputation, he also enjoyes playing the fool for the camera when it appears (even if all my pictures are along more serious lines!).

Clos Rougeard

This was a tasting that filled my head with scents, sounds, tastes, experiences and ultimately memories, thanks to Nady’s hospitality and their wines. Charly wasn’t there of course – there was nothing unusual in that though. It was a couple of months later that I learnt he was ill. And just a week or two after that – yesterday in fact – that I learnt of his passing. It means my memory of this tasting is now tinged with sadness, but nothing like the sadness that must exist in Chacé and Chavignol today. My condolences to Charly’s wife Françoise, their son Antoine of Domaine du Collier, brother Nady and sister-in-law Anne Vatan of Clos la Néore.

This post concludes my Wine in Context review of 2015. If you are new to Wine in Context, a glance at Wine in Context #10: Return to Thieuley might be helpful. If you want to contribute, feel free to add your favourite moment in the comments below – or if you have a longer report from a great wine dinner, wine trip, wine tasting or other wine moment during 2015 you can email it to me, and I can host it on the blog for you.

Wine in Context #2: Oaked Sauvignon

I think in any other year the Oaked Sauvignon Blanc tasting that I arranged with Richard Bampfield MW in November 2015 would have been my favourite wine event of the year; there was, however, some very stiff competition in 2015. I learnt a lot through arranging this tasting, and I developed a great appreciation of the generous nature of eight vignerons in the Loire Valley, as I sourced almost all my bottles direct from the eight domaines (the only exception being a couple that came through Justerini & Brooks).

For me the tasting came just at the right time. I know there are more than one or two wine drinkers out there who are allergic to the combination of oak and Sauvignon Blanc. It is easy to pick holes in such a belief, for example Pavillon Blanc du Château Margaux is heavily reliant on oak, and plenty of drinkers go ga-ga over Silex from Didier and more recently Louis-Benjamin Dagueneau without realising that it is raised almost exclusively in new and nearly-new oak. But that’s not the point, because I understand the ‘allergy’. These two famous names are exceptions to the rule that do it well, and until a few years ago I also had the Sauvignon-oak allergy. The typical Sauvignon fruit character in combination with buttery oak just seemed to jar. I couldn’t understand why a number of domaines in Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé and Menetou-Salon persisted with what seemed to me to be a winemaker’s folly.

Oaked Sauvignon Blanc

Then I tasted couple of examples with a few years of bottle age, and I suddenly realised the purpose of these wines. It was a revelation, like the first time I really ‘got’ Sherry, or the first time I tasted 19th-century Madeira. Oaked Sauvignon Blanc is not a wine to drink young, and thus we must put our entire understanding of this variety – the wines of which are almost universally touted for drinking young – in the bin when it comes to the oaked wines. These are wines for the cellar, and when you come back to them with 8-10 (or sometimes more) years bottle age you suddenly realise their purpose. And the style is completely different, not at all like aged unoaked Sauvignon Blanc. It was like a veil had been lifted from my eyes. Even after years of researching the wines of the Loire, it was only now that I finally understood what this select group of vignerons who combined oak and Sauvignon were up to. And this was the phase I was in when Richard Bampfield’s invitation to co-host the tasting popped into my inbox.

Oaked Sauvignon Blanc

Those domaines that sent wines were La Tour Saint-Martin (best wishes to Bertrand who is reading this from his hospital bed – courage Bertrand, get well soon), Alain Cailbourdin, Masson-Blondelet, Didier Dagueneau, Lucien Crochet, Alphonse Mellot, Vincent Pinard and Henri Bourgeois. Any fears that the wines would be green, over-oaked, weedy or otherwise soon dissipated once the corks were pulled. My only disappointment was that one of the bottles of 2002 Silex was corked, leaving just one bottle for the entire tasting. This was something we planned for by having three bottles of each wine, but there were only two of this wine available to us.

So what did I learn here? First, I learnt that putting on a tasting, even a small one such as this, is hard work. First you have to beg for bottles (thanks to the eight domaines again!). Then you have to arrange to have them shipped over, and generally feel like a nuisance by emailing the same people again and again for an update on where the bottles are (my nightmare was for tasters to turn up to half a tasting!), then there is the logistics of serving temperatures, venue, glasses and so on. Thankfully Richard Bampfield took care of most of this, but there was still a lot of checking and chasing to do. And I learnt a lot by meeting some of those who came to taste; I could explain why I chose those domaines, and those vintages, they could explain why they were there, and what their interest in oaked Loire Sauvignon Blanc was. In fact, meeting some new faces and talking about the wines was probably the most rewarding aspect of the day, and so I resolved at any tastings I go to in future to always put aside a minute or two for the host, if nothing else to say thanks for all the hard work.

There will be more Wine in Context moments over the next few days. If you are new to Wine in Context, a glance at Wine in Context #10: Return to Thieuley might be helpful. If you want to contribute, feel free to add your favourite moment in the comments below – or if you have a longer report from a great wine dinner, wine trip, wine tasting or other wine moment during 2015 you can email it to me, and I can host it on the blog for you.

Wine in Context #3: A Day at Dagueneau

I’m now onto my top three wine moments of the year. Number three took place back in June 2015 during a tasting trip to the Loire Valley. Having spent a couple of days mooching around Savennières and then Saumur, I headed upriver towards Sancerre. I had plans to visit a couple of domaines where I hadn’t tasted before, my schedule for the visit taking in Domaine Thomas-Labaille, Pierre Morin and Anne Vatan. In other words three very strong domaines. My fourth visit, however, which involved a short drive across the river to Pouilly-Fumé, was the icing on the cake.

It wasn’t the first time I ever visited the Dagueneau family in Saint-Andélain, and it was certainly not the first time I ever tasted their wines. I did so here when I visited, and I also met Charlotte Dagueneau at a tasting in London a few years ago (and of course I have had one or two bottles in restaurants and at home over the years). But this was still a special tasting, for a number of reasons.

Dagueneau

First, there was the sheer quality of the wines of course. Just getting your lips to a glass of Silex or Pur Sang is likely to be the highlight of your day, so to taste the entire portfolio of wines across a fine vintage such as 2012, and finding every wine to be superb, was a real delight. Second, when I say entire portfolio, I really mean entire portfolio. This was my first chance to taste the cuvée Astéroïde, which is sourced from a few rows of ungrafted vines planted at the end of the Pur Sang vineyard. It is perhaps one of the rarest wines I ever tasted (not including that rosé a friend of mine made from Scottish-grown Black Muscat a few years ago of course) with just 100 bottles produced. Indeed, I was tempted to give this post the title “A Celestial Event at Dagueneau” such was the significance of this bottle.

Dagueneau

I chose not to though because this tasting wasn’t a favourite simply because of just one bottle. It was a great tasting because of the warmth and approachability exhibited by Charlotte Dagueneau, daughter to the late Didier Dagueneau, and also her generosity in opening not just the 2012 Astéroïde but also many older vintages, including the 2008 Les Monts Damnés, 2007 and 2002 Silex, and 1996 Pur Sang. Not to mention a number of experimental bottles not actively commercialised, a chance to have a little glimpse behind the scenes chez Dagueneau.

Most of all, however, it was about recognising the talent of Louis-Benjamin Dagueneau, who has been in charge here since Didier’s death in 2008.

The problem is, as I wrote in my report on the visit and tasting, that with Didier in the background he always gave such an easy hook for a journalist. Consequently, even after his tragically early passing, when writing about the domaine it is still too easy to just trot out a few Didier anecdotes and to overlook the new generation in charge. But it is now eight years since Louis-Benjamin had to step into his father’s shoes, and thus it is Louis-Benjamin (and his sister Charlotte) who should be positioned centre-stage, in the full glare of the spotlight. They are responsible for the success of this domaine today, and they deserve credit for what they have achieved. Of the wines I tasted during my visit six were made by Louis-Benjamin, eight if we include those he vinified within weeks of his father’s death. Only three were from Didier’s era, the trio of older wines mentioned above. Louis-Benjamin’s wines were on the whole delicious, indeed some were outstanding in their poise and precision. They are no less compelling than any other Dagueneau wine I have ever tasted. He and his sister have achieved something remarkable here, and that is why this visit and tasting was my number three top wine moment of 2015.

There will be more Wine in Context moments over the next few days. If you are new to Wine in Context, a glance at Wine in Context #10: Return to Thieuley might be helpful. If you want to contribute, feel free to add your favourite moment in the comments below – or if you have a longer report from a great wine dinner, wine trip, wine tasting or other wine moment during 2015 you can email it to me, and I can host it on the blog for you.

Wine in Context #4: Bordeaux 2005

I’ve been a regular attendee of the Bordeaux Index annual tasting of ten-year old Bordeaux for a few years now. To me, Bordeaux has always been about wine in maturity; I realise there are many wines made in the region that are great to drink young, but the region has a place in my heart not because of these wines, but because of experiences with mature bottles from which emerge wines that twist and turn in the mouth, revealing layer after layer of confidence and complexity as they do so. This is why I buy and cellar Bordeaux.

Over the years I have cast my eye back to older vintages, sometimes wines tasted with a tasting group, sometimes a collection of wines from my cellar. This is fun, and I plan to continue doing it for that very reason; I have some 2003s lined up at the moment, as much because I have a feeling we need to be looking more closely at whether some wines from this vintage need drinking up as much as exploring their “confidence and complexity”, and after that I think I may take a look at the 2000 vintage again, as I didn’t touch on these wines in my recent 2000 Fifteen Years On tasting. But these tastings will only ever give us a glimpse of a vintage, ten or fifteen tasting notes from which we can extrapolate to other wines, other communes or appellations even. There are obviously some pitfalls with this premise; all such extrapolations have to be taken with a decent pinch of salt.

Wine in Context #4: Bordeaux 2005

That’s why tastings such as the one held by Bordeaux Index are so useful; this is a more comprehensive look at the vintage, taking in the left-bank first growths, as well as big names from the right bank including Petrus and Le Pin, with perhaps 50 or 60 wines up for tasting. I wrote up my report of the 2005 tasting here: Bordeaux 2005 at Ten Years.

So why is this tasting one of my wine highlights for 2015? Simple; revisiting these wines, with the benefit of eight-or-so years of bottle age, and also the benefit of a few more years experience since I last tasted them (which, in any number, was six years ago, back in 2009) this vintage is clearly, for my palate at least, the real deal. Of course, it is one of several vintages anybody could trot off if asked to list their favourites from the last two decades. Everybody would throw 2000 into the ring, even though many wines have a methoxypyrazine freshness which I personally find very appealing, but it surprises me that wines which appear to major on green freshness and acidity rather than ripe texture and richness were so highly rated in the early days. Some would also throw 2003 into the ring, but this is in fact a really mixed vintage, with some great wines but also some dead and dying disasters (hence my intention to revisit it – there’s nothing like a bit of wine autopsy to while away the hours on a winter’s night). Nobody is going to argue with 2009 or 2010, even though they are very different vintages, 2009 a bit of a turbocharged 1982, while 2010 is a supercharged version of 1986. Or maybe 1988? Or maybe 1996 left bank? That one is, admittedly, a bit more difficult to tie down.

The 2005 vintage though has measured texture, balance, harmony, the aforementioned confidence although the complexity of maturity has yet to come I think. Most of all the wines have purity, they are fresh, the flavours defined, the tannins substantial but ripe and pristine, the acidity spot on for the wine that is built around it. They are very complete wines. It is I think the most charming and delectable of recent vintages, and as I sat in the Bordeaux Index offices, tasting with joy, I was glad that I had been able to put a few bottles away in the cellar (even if some wines, such as the one pictured above, were somewhat beyond my price range). It is a little like my older tasting companions telling me, twenty-or-so years ago, how glad they were to have put away some 1982s. The 2005 vintage is at that sort of level, one of the true greats of our lifetime, and I feel privileged to have been able to experience it.

There will be more Wine in Context moments over the next few days. If you are new to Wine in Context, a glance at Wine in Context #10: Return to Thieuley might be helpful. If you want to contribute, feel free to add your favourite moment in the comments below – or if you have a longer report from a great wine dinner, wine trip, wine tasting or other wine moment during 2015 you can email it to me, and I can host it on the blog for you.

Wine in Context #5: Haut-Brion

Heading down from Edinburgh to Chester to join Chester Claret Club, a tasting group I used to attend, in their 30th anniversary celebrations in May this year was a real blast from the past. The focus here has always been – as the name suggests – almost exclusively Bordeaux and I blame them, in part at least, for my continued focus on this region, even though having long left Chester for Edinburgh I haven’t attended a tasting in a decade.

Thirty years of monthly tastings is quite a feat! I was far from being a long-standing member (I think I toddled along to these tastings for about five years) so I was really grateful for being invited back as a ‘one-off’ special. First, because it was great to see some old faces, and because the trip brought back some fine memories of dashing to catch the train to Chester after a busy day in the office, and dashing to catch the last train home again afterwards. But most of all it was for the wines, eight vintages of Château Haut-Brion and Château La Mission Haut-Brion, including some very smart years with 1990, 1988 and 1986 Haut-Brion and 1986 La Mission Haut-Brion being some of my favourites.

Château Haut-Brion

As a contrast to what I wrote yesterday on the importance of being open-minded and making new discoveries, and the significance of talented vignerons such as Vincent Caillé, this tasting proved the staying power of great domaines such as the two featured here. Although I have been to some great tastings this year (such as those yet to come in this year’s Wine in Context round-up) I think for sheer quality, complexity, maturity and drinkability these wines would win out. There were wines I tasted on other days I found no less breathtaking, but I am not sure everybody would feel the same way. Judging by the response to a few pictures from the tasting I posted on social media, there are a lot of people out there who would have liked to have come to this tasting. And having spent an entire evening savouring the wines, I don’t blame them! My full write up, for subscribers, is here: A High Time with Haut-Brion.

I can only hope 2016 throws up something just as special. I don’t suppose there is anyone hosting a vertical tasting of Le Pin before December 2016, is there? I’m willing to dress up as Neal Martin if it helps.

There will be more Wine in Context moments over the next few days. If you are new to Wine in Context, a glance at Wine in Context #10: Return to Thieuley might be helpful. If you want to contribute, feel free to add your favourite moment in the comments below – or if you have a longer report from a great wine dinner, wine trip, wine tasting or other wine moment during 2015 you can email it to me, and I can host it on the blog for you.

Wine in Context #6: Vincent Caille

The problem faced by any wine writer, critic or blogger is finding something new worth writing about. There is the old adage that the world of wine constantly renews with every new vintage of course, and that has some merit, but there has to be more to it than that.

Part of the problem is that wine has been written about for centuries. Take a long-established region such as Bordeaux and there is thus a long-established hierarchy. There is a reason domaines such as Château Haut-Brion, Château Latour, and Château Ausone are so well-known and so obsessed over; although they (like any other domaine) may have had their ups and downs, the recognition that they have some of the best terroir is not a new one, and their wines have been highly regarded for a very long time.

There are hierarchies in other regions too, even Muscadet. When I started out looking at this region in more detail, it seemed to me that the main players were well established in the minds of the region’s fans, and the one or two writers who bothered to taste these wines. They were Pierre Luneau-Papin, Domaine de la Pépière, Jo Landron and André-Michel Brégeon. Others were rightly popular, but these were the names that seemed to appeal to Loire geeks the most. Tasting the wines, it seemed to me that they all deserved the recognition they already received, and thus we had the top tier of a Muscadet hierarchy.

Vincent Caillé

This is why meeting Vincent Caillé back in May 2015 was such a delight. I vaguely knew his name, through his project Vine Revival with Christelle Guibert, but this was only the second opportunity I had been presented with to taste his wines, and my first time meeting Vincent himself. The wines were superb, in particular two crystal-pure expressions of the Gorges and Monnières-Saint-Fiacre crus communaux, both in the 2012 vintage, were absolutely stunning. These wines immediately catapulted Vincent up to the top of my personal Muscadet hierarchy.

Perhaps one taste is really too soon to judge, but the quality was breathtaking, and I was immediately sucked in. I will taste them again one day, so I should be able to reassess them, and maybe refine my opinion. But the key message here, for me, is this; the more I delve into the different regions of the Loire Valley, the more I uncover new domaines, really some good, but every now and again I come across a domaine that makes truly striking wines, like Vincent. Wines that seem to transcend the appellation and their origins. Didier Dagueneau did that. François Chidaine still does. I wonder if Vincent Caillé isn’t another who should be considered in the same light. One thing is for sure, he is proof positive that any taster, critic or writer should remain open-minded to new discoveries, and that no hierarchy should be regarded as set in stone.

There will be more Wine in Context moments over the next few days. If you are new to Wine in Context, a glance at Wine in Context #10: Return to Thieuley might be helpful. If you want to contribute, feel free to add your favourite moment in the comments below – or if you have a longer report from a great wine dinner, wine trip, wine tasting or other wine moment during 2015 you can email it to me, and I can host it on the blog for you.

Wine in Context #7: Eglise-Clinet Extravaganza

Sometimes the dream invitation crops up. Well, I suppose for me, the true ‘dream invitation’ would be a tasting in Philippe Foreau’s cellars of every moelleux and moelleux reserve he or his father André and grandfather Armand ever made, back to and including the 1947 Goutte d’Or. Not forgetting the 1990 Goutte d’Or on the way. This is an invitation that I would only receive in a dream, so I’m not holding my breath in aniticipation of receiving the invitation.

Happily, even in the absence of such an invitation landing on my doormat, 2015 hasn’t been short of tastings that are just as special. One of the most envy-inducing invitations I received this year was to join Denis Durantou (pictured below), proprietor of Château L’Église-Clinet, for a retrospective tasting of his grand vin from 2005 back to 1995, with several vintages poured both from bottle and from magnum. The venue was Château Thénac, a very pretty estate in the Bergerac appellation where Denis consults. The date was a Saturday evening in late March, on the eve of the primeurs.

Denis Durantou

It was a pretty small affair, with fewer than a dozen tasters gathered around the table. I was able to kiss the hand of Jancis Robinson, and gave Neal Martin the secret BB (‘before blogs’) handshake known only to those who began writing about wine online prior to July 31st, 2003 (it’s a secret society thing – sorry I can’t disclose any more about it). But it was not the attendees who shone, but the wines, with some particularly fine efforts. I was most impressed by the 2005 vintage (from magnum and bottle), then 2000 and 1998, then the 1995 and 2001 vintages. But there were plenty of good efforts from ‘lesser’ years too; it was a ‘no-gap’ warts-and-all tasting which included 1996, 1997 and 2002, all of which showed well. If subscribers want to refresh their memory, I wrote the tasting up here. Afterwards we all had dinner together as guests of Château Thénac (which reminds me, I must also write my 2015 disclosure statement soon) which was good fun.

Many of my Wine in Context moments feature times I learnt something new, or when I realised something about myself, poignant or instructive ‘wine moments’. In the case of this tasting, however, it was really the wines, plus a few hours in the company of Denis (another of Bordeaux’s good guys) that makes the evening stick in my mind. It was a great tasting. Here’s hoping 2016 will bring out one or two more tasting opportunities like this.

There will be more Wine in Context moments over the next few days. If you are new to Wine in Context, a glance at Wine in Context #10: Return to Thieuley might be helpful. If you want to contribute, feel free to add your favourite moment in the comments below – or if you have a longer report from a great wine dinner, wine trip, wine tasting or other wine moment during 2015 you can email it to me, and I can host it on the blog for you.