On Monday 9th January the WING group welcomed 2017 with two, 3-year vertical tastings. Ralph stepped in at short notice to show us 3 vintages each of both a Pessac-Léognan Blanc and (rather superior, single plot) Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. Many thanks to Ralph – both for stepping in, and for what proved to be a very interesting tasting.

First the Pessac-Léognan. Ralph chose Château Lamothe-Bouscaut Blanc, a Château from the Cadaujac on the East, Garonne, side of the Appellation which is just South of the city of Bordeaux. The property has 70% Semillon and 30% Sauvignon as its base-line blend, although vintage variations are likely – and indeed apparent. The wine is barrel fermented and aged for 8 months, around 30% of the oak is new. I am guessing, but I imagine that the new oak is confined to the Semillon…

The years we tasted were 2013, 2011 and 2010 and, at the age we are tasting (3, 5 and 6 years) the relative age of the wines is a significant factor, although the difference in the vintages may well be more important.

Here are my notes:

2013
This year in Bordeaux is noted for difficult conditions: a very cold start, low fruit set, generally cool and damp and a very wet storm in July… August helped to dry the crop but variable weather didn’t help the harvest. Rot and fear of rot challenged the growers and – one way or another – volumes were down about 25%… a challenge indeed.
This wine shows sharp, greenish aromas, that become more nettley with time, there is an oily floral hint too – respectively indicating Sauvignon and Semillon. The palate has a woody early note and a ripe citrus acidity tending to grapefruit and pith. Fresh and lively but not a 70% Semillon character…

2011
This vintage was a bit “upside down”. The Spring was warm and the summer cool: April was the 2nd hottest for over 100 years; July the coldest for 30! Generally conditions were dry and the early start to the season resulted in harvest up to 2 weeks earlier than usual.
This wine is much heavier than the previous example – with more wood and oily hints on the nose. Palate is drying – even though the acidity is lighter. Warmth, showing higher alcohol, and even tannic hints are prominent, and a toasted nut character. This is a very different wine, obviously more Semillon and more wood… and a bit low in fruit, but would stand up to – say – a smoked fish dish….

2010
2010 was a very good, some say “classic” vintage. Dry, sunny but not too hot (was 2009 too hot in the end?).
This wine shows evolved notes of honey and perfume with hints of vanilla and stone fruit. The palate has hints of wood, acidity and a soft fruit (over-ripe apricot?). There is some of the non-fruit character of the 2011 but better resolved and integrated, more complex, longer and very classy…

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Next – onto Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, which in my mind is long associated with rather soupy, cheap offerings at Supermarkets or low on Italian Restaurant wine lists – usually to be avoided…

Ralph had chosen an Estate pretty well bang in the centre of Abruzzo, near Popoli which around 50kms SW of Pescara. Valle Reale produce several wines from their mainly organic Estate, which is south-east facing at an altitude of 350m, with poor pebbly soils noted for cool nights. 5 different vineyards produce 5 different crus in good years, and the oldest, highest and coolest is the example we tried: San Calisto. The grower says “The ripening of the grapes is very slow and the harvest is unlikely to take place before the beginning of November. The winds are cold and particularly strong in this corner of the uplands. The temperature difference from day to night, which occurs during all four seasons, gives rise to high levels of acidity. This means that the wine is best consumed after many years of aging in the bottle.”

Here’s what I say:

2011
A sunny summer after early wetness, leading to fewer grape bunches, likened locally to 1997.
Blackberry fruit, hints of baking spice, a perfumed lift on the nose. Palate has a bay-leaf herby dryness, plum fruit, warming spice and a grainy chocolate finish, with a long line of acidity. Overall a bit like a Right Bank Claret dosed with Syrah flavours. Very unlike my pre-conception of Montepulciano (thank goodness?) and rather good.

2009
Reduced by hail in June the year had high temperatures (though not as high as 2003) with 40°C+ through August.
Sharper, red-fruit nose with cherries coming to mind, then a set of bigger, more Italianate flavours, prune and liquorice. Palate is softer than the ’11, with balancing elements provided by grainy tannin rather than acidity. The flavours echo the palate – focusing to a liquorice finish…

2007
Again, lastly a very good vintage – with excellent growing conditions.
This is darker – a brooding dark fruit and leathery nose with a high floral hint floating over it… Palate has a sweet black cherry hint with a prune and tar acid frame. Structured and long with complexity – the lighter notes drifting over the brooding body of the wine. Very good now and still with time to go… An even bigger surprise than the first wine – Impressive.

A very interesting tasting, showing a clear message for each wine: How variable vintages can be in Bordeaux, and how interesting and, if you avoid disasters, rewarding that is; and how good sites and careful winemaking can produce a very worthwhile wine in areas associated, at the other quality end, with – well – plonk!

Thanks so much Ralph

Until next time…

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