Tag Archives: Chardonnay

Christian Moreau at Caviste

Rather like the the first cuckoo of the spring or the changing of leaf colour in the autumn, the IMG_0145 spring tastings of the new wines are a marker of the time of year.   Caviste’s Burgundy festival is an opportunity to taste the latest offerings, in this case from the 2008 vintage.   Eight growers, nearly all there in person, showed 37 wines in the comfort of the splendid games room at Ashe Park.  I say comfort because Caviste had taken the wise step of cancelling the marquee and sheltering from the unseasonably cold spell indoors.

In contrast to the enormous trade tasting at Lord’s which I attended in January, at this smaller sample it was the whites which really stood out. Bruno Colin’s St Aubin is an excellent value white, 100% Chardonnay like all the rest.  The Premier Cru La Charmois, at £140 per 6 bottles (all prices per 6 bottles duty paid), shows the continuing value of this appellation.  Vincent Bouzereau’s wines also shone: simple, unoaked Bourgogne Blanc shows lovely, lively and quite complex fruit with a bit of minerality at a very reasonable £78 per 6 bottles. The village level Meursault has a great balance between freshness and richness (£145), while the two Premier Cru, Les Gouttes d’Or (amazing concentration, the density of fruit currently only showing in the after taste) and Charmes, both £225 are correspondingly grander.

But the highlight of the day was undoubtedly meeting Christian Moreau himself and of Christian Moreau with Janet course tasting his great wines from Chablis.  The family firm which carries his name is now run by his son, Fabian, but Christian genially presides over the wines as though they were his own grandchildren.  His seems a happy lot. After many years of putting his name on the map, he can simultaneously take pride in the wine which continues to be of the highest quality and have the relaxed look of a man who knows that somebody else is reliably doing the hard work.

Having tasted the 2007s at the London Chablis trade tasting earlier in the year, this was a chance to check out the 2008s.  Both are very good vintages in the whites, 2008 if anything even better than 2007, certainly more approachable and so can be drunk earlier.  Four quality and price levels:

  • basic’ (but floral and mildly mineral) Chablis, £80 (all prices per 6 bottles duty paid)
  • more restrained, dense fruit in Premier Cru Vaillons, oak aged, needs time, £118
  • lemon and lime fruit, great minerality and length in Grand Cru Valmur, 40% vinified in oak barrels of which only 2% is new, £195
  • similarly Grand Cru Les Clos, more rounded, oak more evident, £195
  • and from the historic heart of Les Clos, Grand Cru Clos de Hospises, rich, exotic, floral and fruit notes on the nose, gorgeous fruit, so complex, £260
    And yes, there were some reds, but not that many.  The wine to drink now is Lignier-IMG_0151 Michelot’s Gevrey Chambertin with wonderful accessible fruit (Cuvée Bertin, £178).  And then there was the chance to taste the otherwise unreachable. Although it seems a shame to reduce the already tiny numbers of bottles of Grand Cru wines by tasting them years before they hit their prime, few are going to turn down the opportunity to try Clos de la Roche (Lignier-Michelot, superb texture, sweet ripe fruit, £450) or indeed the white, Lequin-Colin, Batard Montrachet (very closed but with an amazing rich texture, £615).   The 2008s are well and truly launched.

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Multi-faceted Vajra

Planning a week’s tasting in a region is a mixture of thorough preparation, chance meetings and recommendations, and sheer persistence.  And there is the question of whether to visit wineries which you already know and whose wines are available in the UK as opposed to those you can only taste in situ.  Our final day in the Langhe region of Piemonte had  a large gap in the final afternoon but after a few phone calls, we arranged a visit to G.D.Vajra (pronounced VAI-ra), a very well established name, located above the village of Barolo since 1972.  All the planning had paid dividends as this was also the only time in the week that we had to drive from our morning tastings in Barbaresco, wellIMG_4882 to the east of our base in Alba, to a visit at the opposite end of the region, via a very good if hurried lunch and a near disaster at a self service petrol station.

Vajra’s substantial winery has a workmanlike feel about it, with the exception of the charming stained glass windows which throw a slightly surreal glow over proceedings.  But this is clearly a place of work, of focus on the goal of a quality across a largish range of wines.   For whites they have a Chardonnay from the Luigi Baudana company which they are now directing and a surprise package in Pétracine, the Riesling which they have been making since 1986.  They also have quite a serious Dolcetto from the two vineyards, Coste and Fossati, which can be aged for up to 10 years, a denser more structured wine with nice cherry and almond notes.

The use of barriques is interesting here.  Usually expensive new  wood is dedicated to the most important wines but here the new wood is matched up IMG_4901-1 with the forceful Barbera grape and it is only when the wood has mellowed that it is used on the prized Nebbiolo.  This means that you get the mild oxidising effect of small barrels for Nebbiolo but without the vanilla and toast aromas of new barriques.  Very clever.

Barbera comes in two shapes, normale 2007 and riserva.  The former comes from the younger IMG_4887-1vineyards and a part of it is matured in new oak for six to eight months.  It has a gorgeous, fruity nose which covers the new wood – it needs to express itself, like an  adolescent, says our host Sabrina. The Barbera riserva (or superiore) 2007 comes from 50 year old vines from the famous Bricco delle viole vineyard, the source also of one of the cru Barolo.  However, the law being what it is, you can only put the vineyard name on the back label of Barbera, whereas of course it is allowed to be on the main label of the Barolo!  This wine is aged in large traditional barrels and tonneaux for 18 months. It has a super concentrated nose of dark fruit and some oak ageing, wonderfully ripe, sweet fruit on the palate and is extremely long.  An outstanding wine which makes the case for great Barbera.

After Barbera comes Nebbiolo of course, though in this case we could have gone next to that other native, Freisa, of which more anon.  With the addition of Luigi Baudana wines, Vajra now has four Nebbiolo wines, the simpler Langhe Nebbiolo 2008 (quite a complex perfumed nose, no wood, quite tannic) and three Barolo.  Grapes from three vineyards, La volta, Fossati and Coste di Vergne go into Barolo Albe 2005.  IMG_4905-1 These are relatively young vines, 20-25 year olds, though the wine making is very traditional – maceration of the skins in the young wine for 30 days followed by three years in traditional large botti.  The label reflects the youthfulness of the vines rather than the traditional winemaking and seems a very loud statement next to the traditional main label. You can see the density of the ‘legs’ in this glass – 14.5˚ of alcohol and lots of extract.  This is a good Barolo – structured, perfumed, with spicy notes, beautiful.

The final two Barolo are from the respective houses of Vajra and Baudana.  Barolo Bricco delle viole 2005, that vineyard IMG_4911again, is the flagship wine getting the full 40 days of maceration and 40 months in large traditional barrels.  It is rich and delicate simultaneously, already beautifully knit together, with layers of fruit, spice, balsam and further spice on the nose.   By contrast the Baudana offering, Barolo Serralunga d’Alba 2005 has a much more obvious use of oak ageing (balsam, cloves), quite velvety in the mouth but still tough and tannic, typical of the Serralunga area.

Having tasted the heights of Barolo we are definitely on the descent from the tasting mountain, but there are various points of interest as we return.  First off is Kyè 2006 (a play on words on chi è, who’s this?), made from the local grape, Freisa.  Vajra are one of ten producers of this wine, though there is still, not the more conventional light, sparkling red wine.  Sabrina says its a wine for the autumn, perfumed and tannic (it must be something in Piemontese soil that produces this combination), good acidity, could last 10 years.  Then there is a version of Pinot Noir, called PN Q497, 2006, though our bottle had been open a while and IMG_4915 IMG_4916 perhaps wasn’t a fair test (slightly odd caramelly notes).  Of course there is also Moscato d’Asti, all 5.5˚ of it, but delicious none the less. And finally – thirteenth in line – our first taste of Barolo Chinato, a digestivo, which is Barolo infused with herbs and beefed up with added alcohol.  This had lovely bitter notes, a complex cocktail of herbs and counterbalancing sweetness.

This comprehensive tasting was a fitting climax to our week.  As we drove back to Alba we enjoyed for a final time the great views across the ridges of the Langhe, this time around La Morra bathed in spring sunshine.

Many thanks to Sabrina and all at Vajra.  The wines are available in the UK via Liberty Wines, eg Caviste.

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Ca’ del Baio – rapporto qualità prezzo buonissimo!

This winery is appropriately enough near ‘three stars’ (Trestelle), itself a sort of mid point between IMG_4860 the three Barbaresco communes – Treiso, Neive and, of course, Barbaresco itself.  But the three stars could also refer to the three daughters of the family or indeed to the excellent quality of the wine in relation to price. 

The winery covers all the bases – four Barbaresco, one other Nebbiolo wine, a Dolcetto, two Barbera and then, somewhat surprisingly, three white wines.  Paola, who showed us around, gives the simple explanation that this is because of her father’s love of white wine, in an area basically given over to reds.   We are in the last gasp of the Moscato d’Asti zone so one of them is of course Moscato.  The other two are different takes on Chardonnay. 

The family story runs like a thread through the IMG_4865 IMG_4864

wines.  ‘Moscato Trefie’ is a reference to the three daughters.  Paola and Valentina work here and Federika makes patisserie – for which of course the delicious, slightly sparkling wine, sweetish but with a herby tinge, is a perfect accompaniment.  The two Chardonnays are unoaked (Luna d’agosto 2009, with a bit of native Cortese in it) and oaked, Sermine 2009, extremely good value at €5 and €8.50 respectively. 

For the Barbaresco a range of oak is used.   The simpler Langhe Nebbiolo is matured in the traditional large oak barrels, Barbaresco IMG_4876Marcarini and Asili see a divide between large barrel and barrique treatment, while Barbaresco Pora is raised in tonneaux – a sort of half-way house in terms of size.  Is there a profound wine making reason for this?  No, it’s because there isn’t much of it. 

In many ways, Ca’ del Baio is a near perfect winery to follow for the wine lover.  It’s got that real family feel, they seem relaxed about their success; there are no airs and graces, just a great range of wines at good prices.  The Langhe Nebbiolo 2008, Bric del Baio, spends 12 months in large barrels, has a lovely perfumed nose and good fruit. Elegant every day drinking at €8 – if you live in Italy of course.  Equally good and good value are the prize winning Barbaresco:

  • Valgrande 2006, which gets the traditional treatment of two years in the large botti.  Still very young and slightly rustic but full of fruit.
  • Asili 2006: from a hillside which gets the sun all day, 10% matured in barriques for a little added richness, great nose of fragrant red fruit, a little bit of spice, typical high tannins and acidity which will carry it into a glorious maturity (here’s hoping for the rest of us).  Tre bicchieri in the Gambero Rosso 2010.  All this for €20 at the winery. 
  • Pora 2005: quite restrained on the nose, does not have the opulence of the 2006s but still good. 

Thank you to Paola and Valentina for a great visit. Sadly the wine is not available in the UK.  Thanks also for the recommendation for the fabulous La IMG_4878Ciau del tornamento, super sophisticated restaurant in  Treiso with food and a view da morire!    And I learn from the web site, a 30, 000 bottle cellar … fortunately we only had time for one excellent course and left refreshed and with wallets intact. 

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Vinitaly 2: mainly bubbles

As Janet and I had been in Piemonte but not got to the Gavi area, we made beeline for the home of the Cortese grape at the wine fair.   As I wrote in the previous post, Vinitaly allows you taste some of the real specialities (and peculiarities) of Italy – and that includes some little known sparkling wines.  Here the focus will be on two little known sparklers, from Gavi and Franciacorta areas.

Generally, Gavi has a reputation a bit like Soave – rather a basic, mass produced white wine, popular in the past with IMG_5024 Italian restaurants, with a few good exceptions which only wine buffs know about.  La Scolca, or Soldati La Scolca to give it its full name, have always held out for quality and especially for the steep rise in interest which bottle ageing brings to good Gavi.  The company has just celebrated 90 years so it clearly has done some things right.

All of La Scolca’s whites are made exclusively from the native Cortese grape.  The entry level Gavi 2009 is a fresh, moderately fruity wine, well made without being very attention seeking.  Gavi di Gavi 2009 must come  from the commune of Gavi but is not itself a big jump up in quality.  But this wine is much more persistent in its flavour.  By contrast the selection Gavi di Gavi D’Antan 2000 is a revelation.  First of all it is made from the best grapes in good years only, secondly it has the benefits of a decade of ageing.  It has a pronounced nose of pears and melon fruit, then a strong lime streak.  In the mouth it is a quite a  big, structured wine, with great persistence.  The company has these older bottles to sell, in this case at €35.  You can suddenly taste what all the fuss is about.

La Scolca have also made a speciality of sparkling versions of Gavi.  The great majority of Italian sparklers are tank fermented which is a cheaper process and preserves the freshness of the fruit for wines for drinking young. By contrast La Scolca’s wines are all metodo classico, ie second fermentation in the bottle, like Champagne, and all are from individual vintages. The Metodo Classico 2006 has a honeyed nose with IMG_5019 good fruit and fairly modest yeast notes.  It  has a noticeable bitter finish – highly prized in Italian food and wine but not to everyone’s taste.  The Metodo Classico riserva 2002 is a pale straw colour with a green tint and has really benefitted from its seven years on the yeast in the bottle – a much more complex nose, lovely yeasty, patisserie notes followed by plenty of delicious fruit.  Better again is the D’Antan riserva 1998, which has spent a full eleven years on the yeasts of the secondary fermentation in its bottle.     The nose is yet more sophisticated and the wine is beautifully smooth in the mouth – a real treat.

Brief aside – all wine bottles are difficult to photograph successfully because of the light reflecting off the bottle. But this bulbous shape takes the biscuit.   Every single one of my general ‘whole bottle’ shots has my reflection in it – just to prove I was there! Low angle next time.

Finally we tasted the rosé.   True to their own, this is basically white Cortese grapes but with a 5% component of the skins only of Pinot Noir for colour.  IMG_5025 IMG_5026

This starts out as a pale salmon pink and ages to this rather lovely apricot.  D’Antan rosato 1998 shows the influence of even this tiny addition of Pinot Noir with some more (now very rounded out) raspberry fruit, altogether a class act.

Just over one hundred miles North East, the other side of Milan is the Franciacorta area.  I was cheered to read in Tom Hyland’s Vinitaly blog that one of the reasons he gives for going to this wine fair is Franciacorta.  Where else can you try these quality sparklers, so prized in knowledgeable Italian circles, so unknown elsewhere? Basically the wine comes from a zone in Lombardy, near Brescia, is made from the same grapes as Champagne, by the same method, and costs much the same price.  But the style is rather different, no doubt because of the geology plus the warmer weather.  There is a market out there for a Champagne style wine but with richer, more mature fruit, but cracking it will be a huge challenge.  In the meantime it is one to search out.

This time we tasted wines from just two growers, the first of whom makes just one wine.  Santus is a new venture between two agronomists who pay tribute to their vine/wine consultant, Alessio Dorigo, who they charmingly describe as rigoroso spumantista!  With their ‘precision bubble maker’ the two of them have done a great job in producing something really rather distinctive, in comparison with the fresh, subtle but fruity, sparkling wines, typical of the zone.  A key difference is their practice of keeping the grapes on the vines for 10 days or so after full maturity.  10% of the wine has been aged in old barriques and all the wine is kept in its bottles on the lees for 21 months.  This produces a wine strawy yellow in colour with a rich, extracted palate and a dry finish.  A very promising debut and we look forward to the rosé which will appear in the future.

We then enjoyed the wines of Bredasole, a more typical Franciacorta company with five sparkling wines.  These are classic Franciacorta – around two years in the bottles during the second fermentation producing nice yeasty flavours above ripe fruit (Brut 2007).  By contrast the Satèn (2007) style is  made from white grapes only (in this case 100% Chardonnay) and has slightly less pressure.  It has a delicate nose, and lovely subtle fruit.  The most ‘serious’ of the five, is Nature 2006, which is a blend of Chardonnay (50%), Pinot Nero (30%) and Pinot Blanc (20%), spends an impressive three years in bottles in the second fermentation stage and has no balancing sugar/alcohol added at the end.  The yeast notes are beautiful and pronounced as is the excellent fruit.  Two party pieces follow – a rosé and a medium dry version.  The former – Rosé 2007 – is the palest apricot pink, the product of the freshly pressed grape juice being held with the Pinot Noir skins for just 2-3 hours.  Nice raspberry fruit, entirely dry finish.  By contrast Demì starts out life as a rather more acidic base wine but with higher dosage, so more sugar added to offset the acidity.  In the mouth the sweetness-acidity balance is good, definitely sweet but not at all sickly.  Would be excellent with patisserie.  This is a really good range at decent prices – but sadly not available in the UK.

And finally, a part of the Piemontese wine scene that is massively undervalued, the lovely, quite sweet, sparkling Moscato. It’s a classic which gets little attention because IMG_5018it’s not ‘important’, ie at least one of expensive, fashionable, or in need of long ageing. But it is straightforwardly delicious, full of flavour (it actually tastes of grapes, how strange is that) and low in alcohol.   Perfect for tea time (how English!), for picnics, for celebrations, for desserts.

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The world’s Chardonnay

IMG_4361A generation ago ordinary wine drinkers did not know the names of the grapes from which their wines were made.  Now a days, that’s probably the main thing that they do know.  Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Merlot and Cabernet all have their mass of followers, they have become brands in their own right. And of these, its probably Chardonnay which leads the field as a brand, mainly on the back of Californian success in the 1980s and 1990s.  Conversely, many regular white Burgundy drinkers have no idea that their favourite glass is made from Chardonnay grapes.  It’s as though Chardonnay the bar wine and classy white  Burgundy occupy different mental compartments.  And certainly most ordinary drinkers do not known that the big C is a staple component of Champagne or, in this case, of Cremant de Loire.  

But every fashion has its time.   Many drinkers and certainly the wine press has long had enough of over-oaked, over done Chardonnay – the flavour of ‘sugary, barbequed bananas’ according to Victoria Moore.  What happened to the neutral, mildly fruity style of Chardonnay, brought on with a bit of oak?  And in the bar, the sharper, more neutral Pinot Grigio has become the default white wine and has suffered the same fate of overproduction.  In its case this leads to characterless wine.

Following the Chardonnay over-dose, the world’s winemakers have had to rethink Chardonnay.  What style are they looking for, should the flavour aimed at be ‘apples and pears’ or come from the more exotic fruit shelf – guava, papaya, mango?  Should they mature the wine in oak or not, and if they use barrels, how dominant should the oak-derived flavours be?    How sharp should the wine be or how rounded in the mouth?  Finally, is the customer looking for a complex, weighty wine to be admired on its own account or for a food wine? 

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Andover Wine Friends had a chance to see what is going on in the quality Chardonnay market at its recent monthly tasting.  The selection was based around the Wine Society’s Chardonnay Champions half-case, complemented by additional wines.  It kicked off with the Blanc de Blanc, ie 100% Chardonnay, sparkling wine from the Loire, marketed as Aureus (see the picture of the label above), a single vintage wine from 2002, aged in the bottle for an impressive seven years.  All this for less than £10?  An amazing bargain – creamy, yeasty nose, fine and persistent streams of bubbles, good if ripe apple fruit, more rounded than entry level Champagne and a refreshing finish. 

IMG_4377Two better quality supermarket wines followed.  Wente’s Morning Fog 2006 shows what has happened to Californian Chardonnay since the bad old days.  Half the wine is barrel fermented, but equally significantly, the wine is kept on its lees for 7 months, to add some yeasty, slightly mushroomy complexity. The finished wine had a pleasantly creamy quality and only showed its Californian background in the relatively low acidity, very rounded in the mouth.  At a similar price point (£8-9 in Waitrose) was the Chilean Encantado Reserva 2007, which had a clean fruity nose, peaches and melons, and some mild nuttiness from the oak.  The key characteristic in both cases is the aim to make balanced, fruit led wines, with decent acidity, supported by the effects of ageing in oak. 

Of course there are still the traditional styles, especially in Chardonnay’s home territory of Burgundy. To show a definitely distinctive style we tried a good, standard Chablis, from William Fevre.  IMG_4370 Chablis’s northern latitude and soil derived from the ocean floor of generations ago leads to sharp, chiselled wines of mineral character (see: Chablis – all flints and fossils).  This example did not disappoint even it also had good Granny Smith fruit.  Too sharp for some, a perfect entry to this classic style for others. 

On this occasion we did not try a classic example from the Côte d’Or, the heartland of Burgundy, where the trick is good fruit complemented by judicious use of oak.  The recent post on the trade Burgundy tasting at Lords had lots of excellent examples from the new 2008 vintage.  Rather we continued our tour around the world with two fine bottles at the £16 mark.  These wines were so good that they were close to closing the gap on those that cost twice as much.

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IMG_4378North of Auckland in New Zealand, Kumeu River (2005) produces a Chardonnay which has been dubbed ‘the best in the world at the price’ by Robert Whitley.  In the glass the wine is a deeper yellow in colour than earlier wines in this tasting, with a green tinge again. Certainly it was a big jump up in complexity on the nose with some tropical fruit, baked apples and citrus, followed by great acidity.   Wow!  Hamilton Russell’s Chardonnay 2006, close to the sea in South Africa’s Cape province, was between straw yellow and gold in the glass, with dense guava and mango on the nose, then oak emerging, very long.   (Incidentally, the bottle itself was massively heavy, as though it were a wine to be laid down in a war zone for 20 years.  Is this really necessary? – wine’s environmental footprint is mainly in the volume of glass used + transportation.)  These are two excellent wines, both New World in approach, with pronounced fruit, but clearly owe a great deal to European notions of elegance and poise.  They show, in fact like all the wines in this tasting, that the Chardonnay prototype has changed. Whether from Burgundy or the New World, all are looking for a combination of good fruit flavours, counterbalancing acidity and judicious use of oak.  It makes one almost nostalgic for an old fashioned ‘barbequed banana’ bomb!

The two top wines on this occasion both came from Australia and indeed both from Margaret River, the promontory which juts out into the ocean in Western Australia.  Indeed, all these wines – with the exception of the very inland Chablis – come from maritime regions and all showed the freshness that the cooling effect of oceans can bring.  They also all had had the benefit of four of five years in the cask or bottle, quality wines at their peak. 

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The biggest single difference at this level is the weight of the wine in the mouth, bigger, more structure, mouth-filling.  But this isn’t created by over oaking or over-extraction of fruit.  The alcohol level is between 13.5 and 14˚ but the wines are perfectly balanced.  Of the two, the Pierro 2006 is much more fruit led, with a complex nose, but with an excellent mineral streak.  Leuwin 2005, by contrast, has a more obvious oak notes, good fruit with a bit of toast, even smoke, to follow.  Shall we finish with the full blown wine-speak tasting note on the Leuwin?

Almost the perfect chardonnay, this sublime wine is astonishingly intense and concentrated; also seamlessly balanced and measured.  Its opulent expression of pineapple, grapefruit, guava and mango-like fruit knits effortlessly with creamy, bacony, vanilla and slightly smoky oak, while it’s underpinned by a chalky mineral texture and punctuated by a chiselled, citrusy acidity.  While there is a hint of spirity heat and sweetness at the finish of its exceptionally long and complete palate, it’s a stunning exercise in power and control (Jeremy Oliver, The Australian Wine Annual, 2009)

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‘Is that a “hint of spirity heat” I detect?’

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