Cellar Dozen: No Dry January

I have maintained tradition this year, once again ignoring the concept of ‘Dry January’. Aren’t the cold and dark days of January bad enough already without more self-induced misery? Covid-19 and Brexit haven’t done much to lift the spirits either.

Here are some tasting notes on a dozen wines recently plucked from the cellar. Some are old and familiar friends, wines I am drinking at the moment, or which I thought I should check in on. Others are from domaines and cuvées new to me.

No Dry January

Tasting Notes

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Sparkling Wines

Vincent Carême Vouvray L’Ancestrale 2014: A delightfully fresh, pale straw-gold hue with a plentiful and very fine bead. The nose is no less delightful than the wine’s appearance, with delicate but confident scents of dried peach slices, apricot stone and citrus zest, with touches of honey and elderflower, white peonies and subtle vanilla flowers, while the stronger vanillin elements expressed in its youth (in some bottles, at least) has certainly faded. The palate is just superb, a delicate blend of citrus fruits, floral elements, chalky minerals which seem to take on more energy with air, and a very precise frame of acidity, so beautifully composed, elegant and complete. There is a little twist of that vanillin note here, delicately intertwined around a delicate thread of toasty hazelnut, and it is long and bright. A brilliant example of the méthode ancestrale style in Vouvray. 96/100

Château de la Grille Touraine Rosé Méthode Traditionnelle Extra Brut NV: A sparkling Cabernet Franc, in an extra brut style, aged sur lattes for more than twelve months, this comes in an attractive Gosset-like bottle which displays its pale, gris-like onion-skin hue very nicely. A plentiful and youthful bead in the glass, and a nose of sugared summer fruits, raspberry and cherry stone especially, fresh with a little floral perfume. It certainly feels very true to the variety. This is followed by a deceptively textured substance at the start of the palate, which tightens up to a dry, acid-framed middle, with cherry stone fruit, with the acidity ruling in the finish. Crisp, with no troublesome dosage, and a little energy in the finish. 90/100

White Wines

Domaine des Galloires Muscadet Coteaux de la Loire Fleur d’Automne 2014: A nice vintage for the region, from a domaine I do not know well. On inspection this has a pale straw hue and a charming nose, light and loose, but effusive, with orange zest, peach and apricot fruits, scented with lychee and rose petals. The palate is, like the nose, loose but fresh, with bitter apricot stone fruit backed up by pithy phenolic elements, with a supple and lightly sinewy texture. Fresh acidity as we would expect with this vintage, and fruit-rich through to the finish. A nice, easy-drinking result. 90/100

Château Bel Air Perponcher Blanc Réserve (Bordeaux) 2017: A blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle, the former variety dominates on the nose, which is all perfumed grapefruit, rose petals and Turkish delight, with edges of sand and quartz. The palate is softly textured, plush and perfumed, blending bitter citrus fruits with rose petal notes. It has attractive acidity, adding freshness, but otherwise it majors in perfumed fruit rather than anything more minerally. Short and a touch bitter in the finish. Unfussy drinking. 89/100

Domaine du Clos Naudin Vouvray Sec 2016: One of the best examples of sec to come out of Philippe’s cellars in more than a few years, this has now shaken off that reductive character it was showing only a year or two ago. It has a pale straw-tinged hue in the glass, and it starts with pithy fruit on the nose, citrus and apricot skin, in a tense and minerally style, edged with bright lemony notes. No less tense and pure on the palate than the aromatics suggest, loaded with energy, pithy structure, substance and a saline minerality. A truly great dry Vouvray, and while it does not have that enticing reductive character seen on release it still has superb tension and great density. Well done. 95/100

Pithon-Paillé Anjou Blanc Coteau des Treilles 2008: I thought I should check in on these bottles, to see how they are holding up. Happily the result was a good one. This has a rich golden hue, and a nose of roasted pear, dried apple and golden raisins, certainly showing an evolved dried-fruit character, with a fresh lift. A polished style on the palate, broad with a full and grippy structure. It feels robust, fully loaded with substance and structure, and brimming with golden orchard fruits, yet it has energy and freshness, coming from the acidity at its heart, along with a with a saline and granular mineral streak. Polished, integrated, bold and long, and showing very well. 94/100

Red Wines

Yannick Amirault St Nicolas de Bourgueil La Source 2018: An entry-level cuvée from alluvial soils just above the village. The colour is dark with a vibrant crimson rim, and the nose is rich a little lightly smoked dark fruits, redcurrant and red cherry, with a griddled and leathery edge. It doesn’t feel as fresh and as perfumed as I would like. The palate continues in the same vein, showing a stretched-out substance of grilled fruit within a grained tannic structure. This second look confirms my opinion described in a recent tasting report; the vintage was clearly difficult for these more sandy soils. 89/100

Olga Raffault Chinon Les Picasses 2014: This cuvée comes from a highly regarded terroir close to the domaine. In the glass it displays a moderate density, with a fresh, cherry red hue. The nose is very traditional in style, rather old-school, with notes of leathery cherry and smoke, dressed with more herbal nuances reminiscent of grilled green capsicum, mint and sage. The palate feels medium-bodied, with an equally herby flavour profile, with broadly grained green-edged tannins, and bright acidity. It is taut but it has a sense of suppleness, leading into a bright, peppery and minty finish. I have seen older vintages of this cuvée come good with twenty years in the cellar, and maybe that is what this one needs too. 91/100

Château Morillon Blaye Cotes de Bordeaux Merlot 2015: From a certified organic estate, this cuvée of pure Merlot has a fresh cherry red hue in the glass, and a nose of red cherry, tobacco, toast and coffee bean. It takes quite some time to open out on the palate but when it does it shows gently spiced red cherry fruits, wrapped in tobacco and leather notes, underpinned by a fresh energy and grippy tannins. Supple, but cool, with a limestone freshness alongside the evolving fruit. It all feels a little unfocused though, and it lacks a little tension or frame. Unfussy drinking, for now, and not for the cellar. 88/100

Sherry, Sweet and Fortified Wines

Sánchez Romate Amontillado Olvidado 1/5: From a half bottle, sealed with a handy screwcap. The origin of the wine is allegedly five butts from the Sánchez Romate cellars which had been overlooked (olvidado translates as forgotten). This has a rich, burnished, toasted orange-gold hue in the glass, with a faint green tinge at the rim. The nose is all baked earth and green olive, and it shows the oxidative side of the style but with touches of nut and old wood. The palate has beautifully broad texture, but a nice energy, giving it a supple and succulent feel. It is savoury, complex as per the nose, with a saline vivacity. It feels long and charged, quite dry and certainly delicious. A touch rustic in its structure perhaps, but still a delight. 93/100

Château la Varière Bonnezeaux Les Melleresses 2014: At the time this under-rated Anjou estate, situated near Brissac-Quincé, was in the hands of Jacques Beaujeu. Sadly the next year the family sold the estate to the négociant Ackerman, so this might be regarded as the family’s final vintage. It has a polished golden hue in the glass. There are scents of dried fruits, apricot and lemon zest, with a mineral energy, all very bright and pure. Polished and plump on the palate, with sweet apricot, grilled yellow peach, with a pithy weight, backed up by plenty of mineral and acid-bright veins. Long, with a dried-fruit intensity, an incisive mineral finish, flinty and long. Very good indeed. 95/100

Domaine de la Rectories Banyuls Cuvée Leon Parcé 2010: An old favourite; I don’t usually give much thought to Banyuls, Maury or similar styles, but this cuvée is often worth a punt. At ten years this is fading a little, showing a lightly translucent hue with plenty of fresh red pigment. An intriguing nose, complex with scents of leathery roasted cherry, black truffle, olive too, a little baked edge, with nuances of bay leaf, liquorice, violets and cinnamon. Rather more delicate than I was expecting on the palate, light-to-medium-bodied, but seamless and svelte, with evolved fruit, a peppery energy and spiced violets. Chalky but attractive tannic grip still. A second bottle was the same. 93/100