Tag Archives: Pinot Noir

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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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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How to do wine in restaurants

Wine in restaurants is a whole subject in itself.  The obvious gripes are mark-ups and uninspiring choice.  Some mark up is entirely reasonable – a restaurant rightly charges for the cost of holding stock, providing clean glasses, service and, sometimes, a knowledgeable and trained person.  On the other hand, there is nothing more off putting than seeing a decent supermarket bottle on a wine list and knowing that the  £5 ‘per glass’ price is the same as the bottle price in the supermarket.  Equally, I can vividly recall returning from Tuscany – where, at least outside of big cities, the mark up is the odd euro added to the retail price – to a smart hotel in Gloucestershire and having to search and search for something that wasn’t going to require taking out a second mortgage.  As often in England, something from Chile was the answer.

Hard pressed restaurateurs need to make some money from wine. It is perfectly reasonable to charge a decent mark up if you really do something for it – spend some time finding good and interesting bottles, whether off-the-beaten-track or main stream, laying down wine for years to get some maturity in the bottle, providing a good range and informed service.  The most enterprising establishments have flat or at least reducing mark ups, meaning that they could well tempt the punter to trade up to something better.  But that requires either knowledgeable clients who can see the added value in more expensive bottles or good staff who can inform the customer in a pleasant manner – again the restaurant is really doing something for its money.

But there are two things that really makes a difference to the quality of experience of wine in restaurants, one obvious, the other perhaps not so.  The first is that the restaurateur or sommelier needs to be a wine lover.  ‘Passion’ is a an overworked word in this and other walks of life but it’s absolutely appropriate.  If the service and the wine list are basically an expression of someone’s love of wine, you are in for a treat.   ‘Here is something amazing that I have found, come and share the experience’ needs to be the deal, just as much on the wine list as in the kitchen.  If this is the attitude, then you won’t be offered an uninspired choice.  Last Sunday, Janet and I arrived a bit earlier than the friends we were lunching with at the splendid Harrow Inn, Little Bedwyn, Wiltshire and spent a riveting twenty minutes reading the wine list.  Every page of a considerable tome says, ‘here’s a good selection of interesting wines from region X’ and then at the bottom third of the page is serious temptation – for example, a range of vintages of something very special.  And if that is too intimidating, they have a one page list of wines by the glass including Premier Cru Burgundy.  How good is that.

And that brings us neatly to the second thing that sets a restaurant apart.  Unlike the wine drinker at home, it has the opportunity to have a good number of bottles open at once.  Among its many strong points, the Harrow thinks about how it promotes its wine and offers a range of menus each with matched glasses of wine.  The four of us plumped for the healthy seafood menu with five courses (clever that: indulgence and virtue combined) and half of us (Ok, it was the male half) had the the five matching wines and promised to share them with our loved ones.    While we can all enjoy one or even two interesting bottles at home, a restaurant can – if it has the imagination – regularly offer its guests a range like this.

The advantage to diners of courses matched with wines are multiple.  First of all, nobody has to choose anything from that enormous and wonderful/ intimidating  list if they don’t want to.  Secondly, the flow of dishes is further enhanced by the interest of the number of glasses that accompany them.  In this case we enjoyed the subtlety of Marc Hebrard champagne, followed by excellent Australian Riesling (‘Mesh’ I think), then the multi-layered complexity of excellent New World Chardonnay, then wonderful Pinot Noir (of which more anon) and finally a good ‘sticky’ with the pud. ‘Finally’, that is, if you don’t add a glass of Madeira from a selection of five – the youngest offering being 1989 –  or  something from  a range of cognac or grappa.  Thirdly, in addition to the interest in the wines themselves, there are the wine and food matching combinations.  The Riesling would have been an obvious ‘through the meal’ wine and went brilliantly with the smoked salmon and ginger second course.  It was also fine with Thai bouillabaisse but by comparison the hint of sweetness in the Chardonnay did much more for the subtle Thai spices.

And of course there is the joy of discovering something new and of exceptional quality or quality-for-price.  The fourth wine, with a brilliant sole and mushroom risotto combination, was Kayena Vineyard 2005, Pinot Noir from Tamar Ridge, Tasmania.  This was everything good Pinot should be – some fragrance, excellent red cherry fruit, savoury on the palate, good texture.  It’s a real find.  This glass came as a bonus ‘upgrade’ from an attentive front of house – we had showed interest in the wines, she responded by giving us something special, we rewarded her initiative by buying a bottle to take home.  Here the Harrow scores another top mark by offering some of its wines at value-for-money retail prices to take home, £14.50 in this case.  And so we had a memorable meal and the wheels of commerce turned.  Roger and Sue Jones’ Harrow Inn is exceptional.  When you think of how many restaurants charge high prices for ordinary wines, they show how it should be done, in equal measure delighting and broadening the wine horizons of their customers.  And in case I didn’t make it clear enough, the food is as outstanding as the wine.

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Particularly Alsace

After the anticipation, the tasting.  Ten members of Andover Wine Friends gathered to try two of Alsace’s great white grape varieties followed by a simple supper.  We settled quickly to the task after a taste of Aureus, Cremant de Loire, a bottle-aged single vintage Chardonnay, 2002.  Toasty, decent acidity if slightly milder than much Champagne, must be the best under £10 sparkler with bottle age? 

 IMG_3792Hugh Johnson speaks of the secretive sect of Riesling lovers, a great grape whose public perception is tarnished by memories of poor quality mainly German examples of the 70s and 80s.  In fact, both Gewürztraminer and Riesling are little understood in a wine world full of Chardonnay in various guises, neutral Pinot Grigio and big, muscular reds.  By contrast, Gewürz’s style takes some getting used to, with its combination of low acidity, modern high alcohol level (despite Alsace’s northerly latitude, it is one of the sunniest place in Europe) and off-dry taste which tastes sweet to those who only drink bone dry wines. Full details of the wines are given below – we tasted three Gewürztraminers.  An obvious difference was between the pale yellow of the 2007 with the tell-tale streaks of youthful green still visible and, by contrast, the yellow to gold of the 2000.  What was apparent to all was the outstanding aromatic qualities of Gewürz, some floral and mineral notes, kiwi and especially lychees, then honey and weight in the mouth in the better bottles. The surprise was that Ostertag’s 2006 tasted an older wine than the Hugel 2000.  How can this be? Our most knowledgeable taster suggested low intervention wine making and minimalist use of sulphur dioxide could lead to the fast ageing of the 2006.    

 The colour contrast in the three Rieslings was even more marked, the first two pale to the point of colourless on the rim of the glass, the third, older, wine, much darker and pale gold.  Rather less immediate sensation on the nose, floral and petrol in even the younger wines, honey, toasty, ‘floor polish’ (but only the best) on the older wine.  But then an explosion of flavour in the mouth, borne along by great acidity, refreshing to some, demanding to others.  For most of us, quality did reflect price.  Hugel’s wonderful Jubilee 2005 is very pale in the glass but a wine of good fruit and superb balance, while Zind Hubrecht’s single vineyard Heimbourg 2001 was bold and complex, bottle ageing producing the toasty notes otherwise associated with oak ageing, a wonderful balance between still good zinginess (many years to go if you hadn’t drunk it!) and great persistence, the sensations lingering in the mouth for what seemed like minutes. 

IMG_3791

 Over the supper that followed we had a further treat, Zind Humbrecht’s Pinot Noir from the same Heimbourg vineyard.  This is a brilliant example of Pinot, fragrant, a clarity of fruit and balanced acidity presumably reflecting its northern latitude.  Not cheap but a fine accompaniment to pork and prunes.  Multiple conversations buzzed.  The evening concluded with a bottle from nowhere near Alsace – Pietratorcia’s one-off dessert wine from Ischia, one of the islands off Naples.  This 2002 was bought at the family winery after a particularly good lunch with the wine maker.   A product of the passito method, by semi drying the grapes before vinification, this was a mildly eccentric bit of Italian creativity, the grapes here being Viognier and Malvasia Aromatica.  The former presumably contributes some silkiness and apricot tones, all now knitted together in a pleasant if not outstanding pale orangey-brown sticky.  It’s not just Alsace that can do the particular. 

IMG_3797

 Gewürztraminer

The Society’s Exhibition Gewürztraminer, made by Hugel, 2007, (Wine Society £14)

Domaine Ostertag, 2006 (Berry’s £17)

Tradition, Hugel, 2000 (WS, originally £10.50)

 

Riesling

Collection, Kuentz-Bas, 2005 (WS £11)

Jubilee, Hugel, 2005, (WS £19)

Heimbourg, Domaine Zind Humbrecht, 2001 (Caviste £25)

 

Pinor Noir

Heimbourg, Domaine Zind Hubrecht, 2005 (Caviste £22.50)

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Searching for older Alsace bottles

taller than thou!

taller than thou!

Half the fun of putting a tasting together is in the search.  We will all have our favourite places to start – in your own cellar (under the stairs), your local supermarket, on the web or in a local shop.  I had already put together a tasting of Gewurztraminer and Riesling from Alsace and could draw on some bottles already. These included some 2003s, more 2005s for Riesling, some 2007s recently acquired and the odd bottle of 2000 waiting for an occasion such as this.  But I didn’t want to use up all my older bottles in one go, so I went to see what Caviste in Overton (www.caviste.co.uk) might have tucked away. 

The day was made by finding two quite grand bottles from Zind Humbrecht, one white and one red, the latter to go with the accompanying supper.  First, the perfect find in the shop was its last bottle of the single vineyard Riesling, Heimbourg, from 2001, which should have developed in the bottle over the last eight years.  Second, to complete the day, a quality Pinot Noir.  A nice touch is that both bottles come from grapes from the same 4 hectare vineyard.  The tasting awaits on Tuesday, but the satisfaction of the successful search already.

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