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The Alsace wine region is one of the smallest in France, making about 2% of all French Wine. It is a narrow strip running 90 miles North-South parallel to and between the Vosges mountains to the West and about 15km from the Rhine to the East. The Vosges mountains also shelter the vines and provide a rain-shadow over what is actually quite a cool continental-climate area. This leads to long warm dry autumns that give the area its ability to ripen grapes. These conditions combine to make vineyard site very influential in the wine.

It’s near to Germany so there is significant Germanic influence on the region, the architecture, the culture and the wine. It is, in general, a rather “comfortable” region, but one of the charms of Alsace wine is that it is rather more radical…

  • Alsace has a strong emphasis on varietals and unusually for France, the grape name appears on the label.
  • It has the highest proportion of bio-dynamic growers of any wine region in the world, including some big names [Humbrecht , Josmeyer, Marcel Deiss, Weinbach, Barmes Buecher, Bott Geyl, Albert Mann, Cave de Ribeauville…].
  • Most significantly the region’s (mainly) dry wines complement “world” and “fusion” cuisine so well. The aromatic qualities, the varying levels of acidity and the clarity and precision of good examples set off complex flavours in – especially oriental and even Indian – food very well.

The wine area starts near Strasbourg and reaches down towards Mulhouse, but the 40km central section near Colmar is where the great wines originate. Grapes are grown on the lower slopes of the Vosges up to about 400m altitude. So the strip is only a few miles wide and the general orientation is East facing. However the landscape is widely varied, twisting around to give slopes of all aspects and giving over 20 different soil compositions. If you visit the region it’s clear to see that the GC sites are often South facing, departing from the general East facing lie-of-the-land – and at altitudes near the middle of the range (i.e. about 100m-250m or so).

The wine is over 90% white (the rest is Pinot Noir based) and almost irrespective of grape the white wines has an aromatic, usually floral, quality. It often couples sweet notes with dry acidity which makes it go well with spicy food.

There are only 3 Appellations: Alsace; Crémant d’Alsace and Alsace Grand Cru – comprising (approximately) 72%; 24% and 4% of production, respectively. However it is the last that has the biggest influence on the way we think of Alsace. Alsace Grand Cru wines are only allowed from the 4 noble grapes: Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris and Muscat. These may grow side by side in the same vineyards, but each Grand Cru vineyard is designated for each of these grapes separately – for example a climat may be GC for Riesling but not for Gewürztraminer. In addition the sweet classifications (Vendange Tardive and Sélections De Grains Nobles) only permit these four noble grapes. Priority is also given to them in the top blended wines, labelled Gentil, which must have >50% of these noble varieties [other blends, often field blends, are called Edelzwicker].

Thus Alsace wine gives the impression of being about these 4 grapes – “the usual suspects” – even though they only make up 60% of Alsace plantings.

Other grapes include Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay, most of these find their way into Crémant and blended wines – although some of the former is found in varietal wines. The other interesting grapes are Pinot Noir for reds and the whites less seen: Sylvaner; Auxerrois and Chasselas.

Other = Auxerrois, Chasselas; Chardonnay                        – From Wine Folly

We’ll concentrate the July Tasting on these (relative) rarities, and one other – although it is made from one of the usual suspect: Vendange Tardive. This is made from a Late Harvest of drying grapes  requiring a minimum must weight equivalent to producing 13.5% (Gewürztraminer & Pinot Gris) or 14% (Riesling and Muscat) if fermented to dryness. That makes it a bit richer than Auslese in Germany (a style with guaranteed botrytis called Sélections De Grains Nobles is equivalent to Beerenauslese). VT also has to have a physical check of the grapes before picking and be submitted to blind tasting 18 months after making. It will be rich but not necessarily that sweet, we will see.

So we will taste Crémant; Sylvaner; Pinot Blanc; Auxerrois; Pinot Noir and a VT Gewürztraminer. Notes should be with you in about 4 or 5 days…

À Bientôt

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On Monday 9th July Janine showed the WING Tutored Tasting Group wines from DOMAINE GAUBY.

This is a biodynamic Domaine of around 45 hectares of vines near Calce in Roussillon. They are mostly between 150 and 200 meters of altitude in wild, arid, steep and hilly terrain, with some influence from the sea – less than 20km to the East. The geology is composed of limestone, marl and shale – with limestone more in the North and primary schists further south, they are sometimes intimately mixed, arranged in vertical strata, which allows a deep rooting of the vine. The wines are hand picked, low yielding and only use indigenous yeasts.

Janine showed us 3 whites and 3 reds.

Here are my notes:

LES CALCINAIRES BLANC 2015
This IGP Côtes Catalanes is made, with low yields, from Muscat 50% (15-50 yo); Macabeu 20% (30-50 yo); – Chardonnay 30% (20 yo) grown on limestone soil. It has 8 months in vat before bottling.
The nose is slightly spirit with floral and citric hints, quite clean and linear. The palate has a chalky feel underneath some lighter touches – acidity and stone fruit. Fresh and with developing interest

LES CALCINAIRES BLANC 2011
This has a much deeper nose with citrus and an oily perfumed nut element. Both higher acidity and more richness on the palate, more interesting than the 2015 and showing both subtlety and secondary characteristics. Good

LE SOULA BLANC 2011
This is made principally from Sauvignon Blanc, Vermentino and Grenache Blanc but there are eight varieties in total, grown at even higher altitude on poor more granite soils.
This shows oak and a slightly oxidised note reminiscent of old Burgundy. Palate is creamy with a spicy melon hint and some sherry-ish notes and goes over a little into white Rioja territory. Long and interesting but rather too many secondary-flavours for great versatility.

LES CALCINAIRES ROUGE 2015
This is a Côtes du Roussillon Villages made from 10-20 yo: Syrah (50%); Mourvèdre (25%);  Grenache (15%) & Carignan (10%) grown on Limestone, clay-chalk and shale soils aged 10 months in barrels (20%) or vat (80%).
This has rather a Syrah nose with blackberry slightly hot fruit. Palate is quite simple with a tannic undertow and spicy woody elements too much to the fore IMO. Rather like a Syrah-heavy Southern Rhone from (say) Cairanne?

LES CALCINAIRES ROUGE 2014
This has a more perfumed nose with oak showing through, but not as prominently as the younger wine. The palate is better integrated with some cinnamon hints. More supple than the 2015 but a little less acidity.

CÔTES DU ROUSSILLON VILLAGES ROUGE VIEILLES VIGNES 2004
This is made from 125 yo Carignan (35%); 55 yo Grenache (25%); 25 yo Mourvèdre (10%) and 20 yo Syrah (30%) grown on sedimentary limestone and shale. Aged in barriques for 24 months.
Nose is mature with slightly sour plum with some sous-bois notes. Palate is well structured with a long acidic and slightly jammy plummy fruit, some start of leather and non-fruit hints. Rather nice but again seemed rather like a good Southern Rhone – Gigondas for example at almost Chateauneuf price.

An interesting tasting – these are well made wines with some poise, but the whites speak of the area more eloquently than the reds, and were – in general, much more interesting. The reds although enjoyable, especially the last, seem more generic Southern France: Rhone; Languedoc… rather than anything specifically Roussillon.
My favourite was the 2011 Calcinaires Blanc.

Thanks so much Janine

À Bientôt

The next Wine Dinner (the fourth – or was it fifth?) of our indulgent week in France took place in Bourgueil. One of a series of 12 through the summer in Bourgueil where a Wine Maker and a Chef collaborate to offer a 4 course meal at one of 5 participating hostelries.

On Tuesday 3rd July this took place at the Hôtel l’Ecu de France with wine presented by François Duvernay of Domaine de la Lande. This property is in the North of the Bourgueil commune, less than 2 km North of the town centre. The winery is based on the Coteaux, the ridge running east-west right along the top of the appellation, with a more tuffeau  in the soil and a South facing aspect. The Domaine is Biologique (organic) certified by Ecocert and Argriculture Biologique. All their Bourgueil are 100% Cabernet Franc, hand-harvested and sorted.

We started by sampling their Bourgueil Rosé on the terrace with a variety of meat and vegetable amuses bouches. The wine is made from young (<20yo) vines grown on clay-limestone soil. It showed pretty red fruit with a slight herb hint, very refreshing on a very hot early evening.

We then sat at the table for the starter: Profiteroles with mushroom and escargot with tiny red peppers in a Burgundy sauce. With this we had the Domaine’s Bourgueil “Les Pins” 2015, made from 35 to 45 years old vines grown on a clay-chalk  soil.

This had a very typical Cabernet Franc nose. The palate had red fruit but mostly notable for its herby and lively, grippy shape, with a hint of the mineral I think of showing limestone in Cabernet Franc. This went well with the substance of the dish but the baby peppers had such sharpness and the reduced Burgundy sauce such pronounced richness that almost any wine would have difficulty with the range. IMO this wine did better with the sharpness – less well with the richness!


We moved on to the main dish – a stuffed chicken dish with great, very slightly gamey, depth of flavour. With this we received Bourgueil “Prestige” 2014, made from 60 to 85 years old grown on clay-limestone soil. This fermented in wooden vats and raised in foudre.

This was a great match, the wine had darker deeper, but still a very Cabernet Franc, nose – tending to more earthiness. The palate was rounder with more plum notes and a more tannic package, spice elements near the bigger finish help with the food.


The next course was a cheese course including a creamy goat cheese. With this we were served Bourgueil “Prestige” 1989! This was staggeringly good, the nose showed mushrooms and sous-bois, compost and earthy notes with some fruit and Cabernet underneath, with a perfume developing later. The palate was balanced between depth and lightness showing, amazingly, a fresh red fruit blooming at the finish. A great wine.

We concluded with a raspberry based dessert, rather a challenge for Bourgueil. We were served Bourgueil “Les Graviers” 2017, made from 35 to 50 years old vines from gravel-on-clay soil.

This is quite an interesting wine showing red fruit and herbs then a round palate with soft tannins, obviously young but with real raspberry fruit  – but, of course nothing sweet.


The matching was interesting and mainly successful,  I’d score the matching, by course including the amuses bouches:  17/20 ; 15/20 ; 17/20 ; 19/20 ; 12/20…  but overall a lovely evening with good wines and food… and Happy Birthday Kim!

As it was near her Birthday holiday week, Kim and I took ourselves off to a wine weekend (29th June – 2nd July) in Bordeaux organised by 3D wines [for more information on 3D wines see below].

The attractions of a wine tour are obvious: appointments already made; no driving; food and accommodation organised… However those advantages only apply if the itinerary is well organised, the food and accommodation good; the planning done by knowledgeable wine-enthusiasts; and – above all – the wine any good!

The 3D tour (you can see the Programme by clicking<) was definitely all those things, and our general impression of the whole tour was of having a great time.

Andrew Bennett gave a witty and informative commentary to the trips, enlightening us on the geography and geology; the classification systems; the architecture; the influence of critics (esp Parker); consultant wine makers, garagistes … in an entertaining well paced fashion. Another advantage is – from the vantage point of an air-conditioned coach (essential since it was mid 30s outside) it was much easier to get an idea of the geography and geology of the areas than ever possible when driving.

The whole schedule worked flawlessly thanks to the organisation of Debbie Bates, and – as normal with wine lovers – the group (about 30) was convivial and friendly. The accommodation was excellent and the meals very good, showing many of the copious amounts of wine to good effect.

In fact for someone who likes to keep track of the wines (at least for a while) and write notes, I confess I was swept up in the pleasure of the meals a little too much to do that properly. (*Note to 3D, a tasting sheet, or just a little list – even approximate – of the wines to be tasted at each visit or meal ––  as an aide memoire, would be a great help). As it was I think (roughly) we tasted (drank, usually) something like 23 wines plus some repeats (at the winery and then at a meal later, sometimes with different vintages). I only have written notes of a few, some general impressions of most and only a hazy recollection of the rest.

Here’s my – rather uneven – account of the weekend:

The trip started with an early evening visit to Château Monconseil-Gazin. This Blaye estate is run by  run by Jean-Michel  and Françoise Baudet and is situated well: the limestone escarpment of Blaye on the hill above the village of Plassac

Clay-limestone soils and stony subsoil give excellent drainage and allow the vines to develop deep root systems, protecting against dry summers and encouraging complexity. The estate,which is TERRA VITIS certified has 35 hectares planted with Merlot (60%), Cabernet Sauvignon (25%), Malbec (10%) and Cabernet Franc (5%) and 2 hectares of Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon.
Welcome to Monconseil Gazin
After a short viewing of the vines we looked through the winery and had an aperitif tasting of the Estate’s Classic Sauvignon Blanc [fresh, not so in your face as NZ examples but with mellower fruit (apricot?) smoothing out the SB acidity – rather good] and dry Rosé.

We then repaired to a hall for dinner: a Lobster mousse with the estate’s Prestige Blanc. A SB / Semillon (80/ 20) blend, raised in oak (a third new) for 6 months. The wine and food interplay was brilliant and the increased depth of the wine showed some complexity, spice and exotic notes but integrated into the breadth of the palate.

I confess the rest of the evening is increasingly hazy as different reds of the estate’s and the 3D 2014 blend arrived at the table with the stuffed chicken and cheese courses. As was to become a feature of the weekend it seemed that one could easily consume a bottle at the table… I do remember thinking that the Estates own basic 2015 went brilliantly with the chicken and I since looked up it technical details [Merlot (60%), Cabernet Sauvignon (30%), Malbec (10%) on clay/limestone soils and stony subsoil; 12 months in French oak barrels (25% new)]. However the 2014 (3D blend) maybe due to age, helped with the creaminess and acidity in the cheese…

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The Second day began with the short Ferry ride from Blaye on the Right Bank, to Lamarque on the Left Bank. Then a coach tour starting North through the famous Communes of the Medoc, St Julien and Pauillac and into St Estephe before circling back through Moulis to Margaux. Several things struck me, including how relatively flat and featureless the terrain is, compared to the Right Bank. In addition the size of the Estates is clearly large. In fact Andrew informed us that the average Estate size in this part of the world is around 70 hectares, roughly ten times the average on the Right Bank or in Burgundy! Finally how near all the famous names are to the Gironde. Château Leoville Las Cases is an example…

Glimpse of the Gironde over the vines of Leoville Las Cases

Our original sweep North took us past many famous Châteaux (Beycheville; the Ducrus; the Leovilles, Baron and Comtesse Pichon-Longueville; Latour; the Bages’ Chateaux; Mouton and Lafite and turning round near Cos…) we circled back passing Poujeaux to the Margaux Commune for a tasting at the 3D partner producer Château Mongravey, and then lunch with their wines. As the Mongravey tasting was in the morning I was able to make some (semi?) coherent notes, those are below…

After some time mellowing… we returned, taking in Château Margaux to complete a pretty full set of impressive-Châteaux-which-we-can’t-get-in – here are some pictured (Petrus was actually the following day).

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Château Mongravey
We were greeted at the winery by the owner Karin Bernaleau, who showed us round the vat room – where each parcel of grapes are vinified in stainless steel with exact temperature control.  Then into the cellar where they have 450 barriques from 10 different coopers and led us to the tasting room.

The Estate have holdings in 3 places:

13ha in the Margaux appellation, on gravel soil from which they they make 2 wines: the Cru Bourgeois Château Mongravey wine which is blended and aged in oak (60% new) for about 16 months; and a Cuvée Spéciale –  the best selections raised in 10 new oak barrels, 1 from each cooper, for 2 years.

7ha in the Haut Médoc also on gravel soil where they make 2 wines: Château de Braude which is blended and aged in oak (45% new) for about 18 months and a cuvée spéciale, “Fellonneau” –  made from the best parcels raised in new oak for 2 years.

1 hectare in the Moulis appellation, on gravel soil with some clay. Château Galland has more Merlot planted and raises the wine for 16 months in barriques – 45% new.

We tried 5 wines – the 2015 vintage of each

Château de Braude, Haut Medoc (75% CS, 25% M) had a floral nose but slightly dried fruit, the palate is rather tight atm, with a lot of acidity and a slightly rustic quality. Very young seeming

Château Galland, Moulis. Similar blend as the previous wine but Merlot seems more upfront on the slightly lighter nose, with a much softer palate with fruit more prominent, the tannins also show more against this background, by way of contrast.

Château Mongravey, Margaux Cru Bourgeois (65% CS, 23%M, 2% CF) had a floral delicate nose with subtle fruit – cherry and damson. Palate is round with a spirit lift, good structure and long – very promising for 5-8 years time!

Château Braude Fellonneau (70% CS, 30% M – all new oak) Darker both in colour and fruit, heavier nose and flavour, palate is closed and the oak is showing – needs time

Mongravey Cuvée Spéciale (65% CS, 23%M, 2% CF) This is also quite closed atm sharper darker fruit hints. Palate also has high acidity with a brooding structure of power and body waiting to unfold. Right now – not as “Margaux” as the Cru Bourgeois but one for the future – 10 years?

We came away having bought the Cru Borgeois 2015, to approach in a few years time…

We then repaired for a lunch with Karin on a (hot) terrace of a nearby Country club, where we were served another 4 or 5 wines, a white that escapes me but went very well with Gravalax and older vintages (2011 I think) of the first 3 wines to accompany a brilliant lamb dish, which did indeed show off the wines very well. In particular the grip in the older Braude showed very well I thought…

This lunch was so indulgent I remember much less of the evening meal, a vague recollection of a white wine going well with a cod dish… and a refreshing thunderstorm about the time of dessert!

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On Sunday we set out to St Emilion and a Tasting at Château Franc Mayne, a Saint Emillion Grand Cru Classé. Where we were given an interesting and polished tour of the whole facility.

We then tasted some wines in the Tasting room, a current vintage of the their Medoc holding, a Haut Medoc Cru Bourgeois, Château Paloumey; and their second wine made from younger vines – Les Cedres de Franc Mayne. Finally we tasted the Grand Vin, (hand picked, vinified mostly in oak, raised in new barriques) in the 2007 version. Now I’ve tasted in this Château before, in 2000 or 2002 I think. On a little jaunt trying the 1998 (a fabulous year) along the plateau where the various Grace Dieu wineries, Laniote and Laroze are also located. I found Franc Mayne a little tight (not too bad a thing with the opulence of St Emilion) and a bit woody (less to my taste), and we ended up buying the Grace Dieu Les Minuts, and Laniote… Now the 2007 (90% M 10% CF) showed better balance with age, still some plum fruit and wood, a grainy tannin and liquorice hints but still had a slightly narrow impression, IMO… So as you’ll see later we picked a slightly bigger, less oak influenced year…

After time dodging the blistering sun in St Emilion, helpfully achieved by visiting the catacombs, we returned to the hotel to cool off before…

… A fabulous concluding dinner at the hotel. Showcasing the wines of the 3D Côtes de Bourg partner Château Rousselle. Before we got to that we reprised the very first pair of wines of the weekend – the Monconseil-Gazin white and Rosé. The latter wonderfully accompanying the pastry wrapped vegetable starter. Then a wonderful slow-cooked beef dish with the Rousselle wines… I think there were 3, but I found the basic wine a wonderful accompaniment with the beef. There were other vintages, other cuvées, wines in Magnum, wines with more – and more still – Malbec in the blend, some – I think – from Monconseil-Gazin again… and I remember finding one particular that went with the cheeses course, but – of course – not what it was!

Conclusion

A fabulous weekend when on several occasions the pleasures of wine and food, and general bonhomie overtook analytical interrogation of the wines – a very good thing. When my analytical faculties were still engaged, the wines showed very well – I can’t recall anything I disliked and several I thought very desirable – at all price points. The other factor was increased estimation of 3D. They are, in effect, in a curatorial role with these producers, and the wines they choose to offer. The examples we had showed a lovely balance between typicity and character, and Andrew’s taste seemed very trustworthy to me. Over 8 years of tasting the wines on offer I think I might be half a notch (on, say, a 20 point scale) more inclined to leaner, more delicate wines but that’s a tiny amount in the grand range of wines. I found the approach, very heartening and the weekend superbly enjoyable. I would recommend it to anyone

Post Script –  While at Franc-Mayne Kim decided to buy a mature bottle to celebrate her upcoming Birthday. I remembered we had once conducted a 2000s Vertical Tasting of Château Moulin-Saint-Georges, a GC but definitely of GCC quality (it had in fact been excluded from promotion entirely on the grounds that they didn’t use their own equipment for making the wines – which are in fact made by Ch. Ausone as the same people own both Châteaux). That tasting had picked out the 2006 from the 6 we tried – so we made off with that…


A few days later the Birthday arrived and we opened the bottle with a leg-steak of lamb. Much more opulent than the 2007, the wine showed a spirity damson nose, with a slightly undergrowth element so typical of Right Bank Claret. There were mushroom/truffle hints too. The wine seemed soft on its own with a restrained grainy soft tannin and acidity entirely in the fruit, which reappeared at the finish with more loganberry hints. With the food though the wine took on more dimensions: the sweetness of the lamb showing both more acidity and more grip in the wine, as if the structure had been hiding under the opulence! We followed with a cheese course with the rest of the bottle and the reverse happened, the acidity in the cheese brought out the chocolate finish in the wine. Fantastic, and a wonderful rounding off of the Bordeaux experience.

3D Wines
3D Wines is basically a wine buying Club. It is run by Andrew Bennett from a base in Lincolnshire and covers wines from 30 producers: right across France with 3 in Tuscany and 2 in New Zealand.
When I joined in 2011 the idea was you notionally hired a row of vines for a year from one producer, this granted you the right to buy wines from that producer at as good or better than cellar door, often with a Members’-only Cuvée 3D.
Now the wine-makers are grouped, usually 3 together, in regional sets. One can buy wines to collect from the winery, at Calais (at a little more) or directly Imported. In addition if one selects one regional group one year and another the next one can still be offered the wine from the previous year’s area as well.
I have stayed a member since I joined, finding the wines of good quality and value (even when factoring the annual subscription), and visiting 3D-selected Vignerons an almost universally convivial and informative experience. For more info click here.
I recommend them with increased confidence following this trip.

On Thursday 17th May the ICC Group to taste some wines from Provence.

We tried wines from 3 famous small appellations: Cassis, Bellet and Bandol; a top Côtes De Provence Rosé and a Rosé and a Red from the slightly more International area of Aix.

Here are my notes:

CASSIS   CLOS VAL BRUYERE 2015 (Chateau Barbanau)   –   12½%   –   Wine Society (£12)
This is Marsanne, Clairette and Ugni Blanc with a little Sauvignon Blanc. Light soft fruit and floral nose, quiet but complex! Slightly herby and salty notes on the palate – almost vermouth, some fruit behind too and the many flavours pan out into a long, quite persuasive wine – rather good.
Ratings:        Quality:  16.5/20   Value:  17.5/20

CÔTES DE PROVENCE ROSÉ 2016 (Domaine De Rimauresq – Cru Classé)   –   13%   –   Virgin Wines (£15)
This is Cinsault and Grenache based with about 8% – 10% each of 4 other grapes. Prickly nose with strawberry and slightly cherry fruit and a higher perfume. Palate is lively and fresh with a red fruit middle and a long line of acidity coming to a mineral finish, Structured and dashing this would make a good food wine, with fish, salad or even something spicy.
Ratings:        Quality:  16/20   Value:  16/20

COTEAUX D’AIX EN PROVENCE ROSÉ 2016 (Chateau Vignelaure)   –   13%   –   Wine Society (£13)
This is Grenache, Cabernet and Syrah and has a pinker, slightly darker colour… the nose is simpler but more powerful with citrus and cherry fruit. The palate is rounder and heavier-seeming than the previous wine, mainly though through a shorter, warmer profile. Well made, but lack the dash of the previous wine…
As I write these notes 6 days later I have also tasted another 5 Rosés at home or in the Loire, including a Sancerre (Pinot Noir), and 4 other Loire: two from the Bourgueil area made with Cabernet Franc (at a quarter of the price!), one from Pineau d’Aunis, one a sparkler. The Sancerre was the clear winner, the Rimauresq next best and this, Aix, the least interesting!
Ratings:        Quality:  14/20   Value:  14.5/20

“HARMONIE DE PROVENCE”  COTEAUX D’AIX EN PROVENCE ROUGE 2014 (Domaine des Oullieres)   –   13%   –   Yapp (£19)
This is a similar (more Cab less Syrah) grape mixture to the previous Aix Rosé. Nose is rather Southern Rhone Garrigue, slight twist of red berry fruit. Blackberry and black cherry, slightly jammy, fruit a little too sweet and the tannins a little too soft for balance IMO – good for initial gulping but lacking complexity or shape… In many ways a parallel to the other Aix!
Ratings:        Quality:  14/20   Value:  13.5/20

BELLET: DOMAINE DE LA SOURCE ROUGE 2013   –   13½%   –   Yapp (£27)
Very intriguing nose of vegetal, smoke, spice, forest floor, dark berries… Open, succulent palate without being cloying, with fruit and a long line of warm acidity intertwined for a long complex wine. Very balanced and complete – many people made it favourite but a high price. Excellent though!
Ratings:        Quality:  17/20   Value:  15.5/20

BANDOL LA BASTIDE BLANCHE 2014   –   14½ %   –   Waitrose (£15)
Slightly brackish but fresh nose, with some high notes, over a brooding dark fruit element. Palate is powewrful and full bodied with sweet briar, blackcurrant fruit, and non-fruit component – liquorice (?). Big-boned, long and involving but lacking the lightness and charm of the previous wine. A good, not dazzling, Bandol, but very good value.
Ratings:        Quality:  16.5/20   Value:  16.5/20

Quite an interesting tasting, I think. For me the star was the Bellet, but close behind – and a real surprise – the white Cassis.  The first Rosé and the Bandol were very good, as expected. In fact all the wines were enjoyable, but I found – in this company – that the two Aix wines were… not bad but a bit pedestrian… chacun à son goût as they say in the Government (!?).

Talking of which… the group were very amused at receiving a letter advising on democratic processes from a certain  Pridirka Putat’, answering a query about American democratic “innovations”, from the Kremlin. I have tried to establish this person’s identity and bona fides… with little success. However transliterating the name into Russian characters, translating to English and using a Thesaurus gives a clue… ’nuff said!

À Bientôt

Provence is a relatively small wine area, producing under 300m bottles a year, compared to about 1bn from the Rhone, but it has about twice the production of Alsace or Beaujolais and about 30% more than Burgundy.

Provence is the home of Rosé, over 80% of the wine is pink!  The majority of the rest is red (over 13%), in fact white wine only makes up 5% of the total.

Apart from a few obscure traditional grapes in the fringes (see below) the main grapes are similar to those in Southern Rhone, the big 5 reds: Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah, Cinsault, Carignan; and on the white side: Grenache Blanc, Rolle (Vermentino), Clairette, Roussanne and Marsanne.

Most Provence wine, 68%, is AOP (AOC) while 30% is IGP (Vin De Pays). At this top (AOP) quality level Rosé is even more dominant: 87% Rosé; 9% Red and 4% White. In fact nearly 40% of all French AOP Rosé  comes from Provence.

That makes it a niche area – in two different ways: it’s a big player in the Rosé world (but that’s rather a small world (less than 10% of all still wine worldwide); and a very small player in the overall French Red & White wine world (about ½ of 1% of the total).

So to sum the region up: a lot of Rosé – usually based on Cinsault and Grenache; reds a bit like Southern Rhone, but with some specialties; unusual and rare white wines… Any further general assessments about styles is difficult – it seems to be more about very particular growers or small appellations…

There are 9 AOP areas, they are:

Côtes de Provence
The largest AOC /AOP, producing over two-thirds of Provence AOP wine. The most varied regional also, with soil and climatic differences across the area…
There are four geographical “Sub Regions” in the Côtes de Provence: Sainte-Victoire (Some of the better Reds); La Londe (Cinsault based Rosé); Fréjus (at the eastern edge – bigger wines); Pierrefeu (near Toulon, focused on Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault. producing Garrigue inflected reds and rosés).

Coteaux d’Aix en Provence (nearly 15% of AOP wines)
There is more red here (up to 10%!) and more influence of Cabernet and Syrah – carrying over to the Rosés.

Coteaux Varois de Provence (9%)
Rosés, mainly from Cinsualt, Mourvedre, Grenache and Syrah are in the majority, but there’s even more red (a third) here, it’s relatively cool and even Pinot Noir is grown.


Bandol (5%)
On the coast in the South West corner of Var is the most famous Provence area of all: Bandol. Home to some white (from Clairette and Bourboulenc) and Rosé, the main attraction is the Red. Based mainly on the Mourvèdre, with a little Cinsault and Grenache, the best wine combines subtle fragrance, delicacy, power and longevity.

Cassis (1%)
Along the coast, West of Bandol, is the rare white-dominated AOP of Cassis. Marsanne is the main grape, with Clairette, the wines have a reputation for intense aromas of citrus, peach, honey and dried herbs.

Les Baux de Provence (1%)
This is predominately red – fitting to this very hot enclave within Aix en Provence, with Granache, Syrah, Cinsault and Cabernet Sauvignon common, and more unusually Tibouren and Calitor. It’s home of the most famous wine – outside Bandol at any rate – the (£60 ish) Domaine de Trevallon!

Pierrevert (1%)
Pierrevert is the newest (1998) and the most northerly of the Provence AOPs, next to the Luberon,  and has a S. Rhone style. Rosé here differs from the other parts of Provence: the rules dictate that a minimum of 50% of the wine must be made in the ‘saignée’ method, the only place in Provence where this technique is allowed.

Bellet (0.2%)
Bellet is set on the steep hillsides surrounding the city of Nice, so it’s tiny and expensive. Cooled by the sea influence the area produces Red and Rosé from interesting Italian-ish grapes like Braquet and Folle Noir – at a price!

Palette (0.2%)
Nestled below Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence and coming in at only 100 acres, Palette is the smallest AOP of Provence. The vineyards were planted on the limestone and clay soils by the Romans around 100 BC and the area is now home to over 25 grape varietals (some obscure), all hand harvested and subject to specific blending rules and aging requirements. Very esoteric, and expensive!

Is there an overall Provence style? Well the Rosé could be called a style of its own – the best examples are fresh, herby, dashing and food-friendly. There are also, certainly, unique reds: Bandol and Bellet are styles that one won’t find elsewhere. However many other reds are versions of the Southern Rhone formula with a Cabernet twist. Are they truly distinctive?

We’ll see – the May tasting will be a Cassis white; two very highly-rated Rosé; and reds from Aix, Bellet, and Bandol.

My notes will be published next week…

À Bientôt

May this year is a strange Month: the end-of-Month Sock Party will be on June 1st; and the beginning-of-Month Tutored Tasting actually took place (due to an English Bank Holiday) on April 30th! Rest assured the middle-of-the-month May ICC Tasting will be indeed be in May….

So it was the WING group met to taste Mosel Rieslings guided by Andrew. Andrew had been partly inspired by a travels to Traben-Trabach very near the centre of the Mosel wine area. I too have stayed there and we both heartily recommend the area.

Regular readers will know my liking for Riesling, it’s probably my favourite white grape – especially in its traditional form from Mosel (or Mosel-Saar-Ruwer as the overall region was known until 2007). Andrew had noted the increasing propensity for Trocken and Feinherb (=Halbtrocken, sort of) wines in the area. When I first went there in 2001 only perhaps 10% of production was so labelled – last time (2015) I also had noted the change, then nearly half were.

(See my reflection on these issue in my post of September 17th 2015 – below>).


Andrew sought to explore the differences by showing 3 trocken wines  the first of each pair) against 3 more “traditional” wines with some residual sugar…

Here are my notes:

FINESSE TRABENER KRÄUTERHAUS RIESLING SPÄTLESE TROCKEN 2015 (Weingut Trossen)
Rich oily nose with elderflower and peach, and a later honey hint – all classic Riesling notes but seems a bit dull, by that classic standard. The palate has a zingy acidity, quite rounded by soft fruit – but a little short.

RICKELSBERG STEILLAGE TRABENER WÜRZGARTEN RIESLING AUSLESE FEINHERB 2015 (Weingut Trossen)
This is an interesting wine, with 26 g/l residual sugar and 12% alcohol…so right in-between a traditional Auslese (50 -75 g/l and 9% ish) and a trocken (1 g/l and 13.5%). So, IMO, if the “Feinherb” styling means anything this is it! This had spicy hints on the nose, I would say Fenugreek, with citrus and peach. Palate has warmth, some sweetness and a mineral note with a citrus peel, slightly bitter tinge. Longer and more satisfying in my opinion than the previous wine. This has the acidity / sweetness balance of a traditional Kabinett but over a much richer fulcrum.

 

VON BLAUEM SCHIEFER RIESLING TROCKEN 2013 (Heymann-Löwenstein)
This is an artisan curiosity from the very North of the Mosel, near its confluence with the mighty Rhine. This pays little service to the old style classifications and is just crafted to make a dry wine with depth added by a proportion of botrytis-affected berries in the press. It shows hints of diesel already and orange peel (from botrytis) and some herb notes… Palate is gingery and rather dry, with the acidity rounded and softened by the complexity and depth of flavour. Similar weight to the previous wine and successful on its own, less-well-trodden path…

GRAACHER HIMMELREICH RIESLING KABINETT 2012 (Joh. Jos. Prum)
This is a traditional style and probably has a bit more sugar than the previous Feinherb. However the nose is dumb and the wine a little recessed too, so this sweetness sticks out rather at the moment – especially when slightly warmer than optimum… Against this the acidity is stunning:  piquant, lip-smacking and very, very long – leading to some mineral, slate tones… Unbalanced right now (some traditional Rieslings do seem have a “dumb” period from 3 or 4 – 7 or 8 years from vintage) but give it 3 or 4 years to open up again ….

 

ABTSBERG RIESLING ALTE REBEN TROCKEN 2012 (Maximin Grünhaus)
This is a basic Qualitätswein fermented to dryness, but ripeness must have been between Kabinett and Spätlese levels. The nose has diesel and orange peel hints with some peach, but quite restrained. The palate seems a bit astringent – a thinner, more bitter acidity. This shortens the experience. Well made, clean… but my least favourite in this company.

ABTSBERG RIESLING SUPERIOR FEINHERB 2012 (Maximin Grünhaus)
This is a Große Lage wine and the Feinherb finished product is very like a dashing old fashioned Spätlese. So in many ways this is a counterpoint of the very first wine. Nearly diesel, vaguely furniture polish hint, some fruit blossom and herb hints. Palate has warmth, good supple acidity with soft fruit, long and lip-smacking it is well balanced and very pleasurable now.

I found this an incredibly interesting tasting. First I love this grape, and even my least favourite wine tonight would beat many other wines from many other areas – including, probably, the majority of New World Rieslings!

However the tasting re-enforced an issue I’ve had with German dry Rieslings since it began its forward march 20 years ago – I call it the trouble with trocken. This is the apparent effect of fermenting Riesling to dryness, particularly in cool areas like Mosel, doesn’t just reduce the sugar, but in some way also reduces the rounder flavours in the wine and the acidity. True the acidity, with less counter-balance, seems more fierce, cooler and more bitter – but those long, lip-smacking, zingy, zesty lines of warmer acidity seem curtailed.

This was aptly illustrated by the last trocken (my least favourite)… which seemed shorter, aggressive and bitter in comparison to the wines with some sweet impression, The very first wine suffered a little, much less, from the same syndrome. The middle trocken is – eccentrically – made with 10% – 20% botrytis-affected grapes in the press… and balanced the acidity with the flavour-twist that is thereby imparted: orange peel, ginger…

In contrast the acidity in the Prum is exceptional, long (the most enduring by far), round, warm, lip-smacking, dashing, dazzling… The wine is currently unbalanced by a closed nose and the higher sugar “sticking-out”; although I would guess that, after 4 more years’ development and served a couple of degrees cooler, it could be the best wine of the six?!

However right now the middle trocken and the two  Feinherb wines were lovely – with the last just shading it, IMO.

Thanks so much Andrew for a captivating tasting!

À Bientôt

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