Saturday, 16 July 2011

A Blanc Expression

An interesting one ce soir, a 2010 old vine Grenache Blanc by Domaine du Clos des Fées (14.5% ABV). I’ve been a big fan of this estate’s reds for ten years or more, but for some reason I never got round to trying its sole white. It always seemed rather pricey, even when Oddbins (R.I.P.) was interesting enough to stock it, and, at €18 from the cellar door, I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d feel the same today. €18? For a Grenache Blanc?

Domaine du Clos des Fées
Grenache Blanc Vieilles Vignes 2010
A very pale lemon colour suggested the absence of new oak, although legs that rivalled an aquaduct’s also hinted at what was to come. The nose was gently floral, with a stony and herbaceous garrigue quality, pithy citrus fruit and a peppery warmth from the alcohol. Ripe and rich on the palate with a candied grapefruit character kept fresh by a slightly bitter, pithy/zesty nervosité. As on the nose, the alcohol was a little too prominent for my taste, but it finished very pleasantly and was not at all unbalanced. From the outset, this couldn’t have been anything other than one of those all too easily dismissed, quirky white Southern French oddities, but with grilled chicken on a summer’s evening it all made perfect sense.

Later, when I read the producer’s cheat sheet, things became rather clearer. Although 10% of the cuvée was matured in third fill barriques and was kept on its lees for around eight months, malolactic fermentation was blocked. Had a wine such as this been made elsewhere, I’m sure the temptation would have been to add lashings of new oak and to allow at least a partial malolactic fermentation to occur. Fortunately, Hervé Bizuel is not at all that way inclined and has pulled off the difficult feat of making a complex, interesting and balanced white wine from a relatively uninspiring grape, just a stone’s throw away from the Mediterranean.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Gonna Party Like It’s My Birthday…

Dönnhoff Oberhäuser Brücke
Riesling Auslese Goldkapsel 2003
I need to preface this post by pointing out that it was my birthday, this was not exactly everyday fare! A half bottle of Dönnhoff’s Oberhäuser Brücke Riesling Auslese Goldkapsel 2003 (8.0% ABV) is a great way to start any evening, and tonight was no exception. A bright mid-lemon colour with a sensuous viscosity, it had aromas of pear syrup, ripe peach and the barest whiff of kerosene. The palate had a grace and poise that belied its richness. Medium bodied and medium sweet, it showed honeyed mirabelle and peach fruit, a firm minerally character and fresh acidity in spite of the vintage. In no way tiring, this had plenty of life left in it. The finish was as plush as the palate, its sweetness fading to emphasise the drying minerality. Delightful and moreish.

Bonneau du Martray
Corton-Charlemagne 1985
Next up was a Bonneau du Martray Corton-Charlemagne 1985. This is a wine which I was fortunate enough to pick up for a song at auction and which is nothing like the museum piece its vintage (or its label!) might suggest. I’ve tried this on several occasions and I always forget Clive Coates’ advice to decant it. Not so this time, although I was rather nervous about how far in advance to pull the cork. As it was, I double decanted it about half an hour before it was poured, but as we finished the bottle an hour later it had just about opened up completely. A 26 year old white wine! Needing an hour and a half to breathe! This wine never ceases to amaze me!

A deep lemon colour was about the only element of this wine that gave a hint to its age; the lemon and saline, gently toasty nose suggested maturity but showed no signs of tiredness or oxidation. As it opened up, I thought I detected a vegetal nuttiness that reminded me of roasted cauliflower - although I’m quite prepared to accept that this was auto-suggestion, given the cauliflower purée that accompanied the fish! Dry and toasty, faintly waxy lemon-scented fruit gave flesh to the skeleton of firm acidity and salty/oyster shell minerality. There was the touch of toffee that an aged, oaked Chardonnay develops, and maybe it was beginning to dry out a little, but the finish rang as clear and bright as a crystal bell.

Armand Rousseau
Charmes-Chambertin 1999
If these two weren’t enough, the main course accompanied another amazing bottle, a Charmes-Chambertin 1999 from Armand Rousseau (13% ABV). Now twelve, this Grand Cru should have been coming in to its own and it certainly didn’t disappoint. It even looked fabulous: a medium garnet hue with a captivating satin sheen. A soft red fruit and slightly horsey nose also showed floral, orange zest and dusty oak spice notes. Ethereal yet persistent, I could smell it from the glass on the table. Deceptively delicate, cherry and red fruits were balanced by beautifully judged talc-fine tannins, just a whisper of oak spice and no lack of acidity. The finish lasted minutes. Absolutely faultless; the essence of red Burgundy and Pinot Noir and utterly beguiling.

These were wines that exemplified great vineyards and great winemakers, their memory will stay with me for a very long time. As soon as I win the lottery, I plan to drink their like rather more often!

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Happiness Is A Warm Grill

It was Independence Day recently, although I had forgotten all about it until I sat down to write this (sorry Heather, I hope you had a good one!). Entirely by coincidence, I had been in an American state of mind the previous weekend, having collected some well-aged short ribs from the world’s greatest butcher . The dilemma I was wrestling with that night was how best to cook these: did I go low and slow or did I slap them on the barbecue and to hell with consequences? In the end, it was a lovely evening, I wanted to try the short ribs, I couldn’t be bothered cooking them for hours and the barbecue won the toss. As you would expect from such a cut, the meat was chewy but not tough and six weeks of hanging had allowed it to develop a beautifully rich, savoury flavour. I loved the taste and the texture and I’m really looking forward to the next batch!

Ravenswood Lodi
Old Vine Zinfandel 2008
Pretty much any combination of fire and meat is all the excuse I need to indulge in my vinous guilty pleasure: Zinfandel. I’ve always had a soft spot for Joel Peterson’s Zinfandels and, even after falling under the wheels of the Constellation juggernaut, Ravenswood still produces a consistent and pretty convincing range of wines.

The barbecued short ribs had me reaching for a handy bottle of Ravenswood Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel 2008. Deeply coloured, its sweet black and blue fruit nose had a whiff of tar, a dusting of cocoa and a lick of vanilla oak rounding things off. As full bodied as you would expect, pleasingly fresh acidity balanced vanilla and coconutty oak notes and woody spices, juicy blackberry and blueberry fruit and a touch of cherry pie. Tannins gave a blackcurrant bitterness and the alcohol (14.5% ABV) was neatly housed in all of the fruit. A couple more years wouldn’t have hurt, but this was far more harmonious and complex than most £10 Zinfandels and I’m not ashamed to say that I really enjoyed it.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

A Couple Of Malbecs

I like Malbec: it’s one of those grapes that, until quite recently, was rarely given the chance to spread its wings and fly solo. I like Argentinian wines: they tend to be more European in style than those from her neighbour across the Andes. A good Argentinian Malbec puts a smile on my face and a steak on my barbecue.

Cateña Malbec 2008
I thought I’d revisit an old favourite, Cateña’s Malbec (13.5% ABV), which, back when it was made solely from Lujan de Cuyo grapes, was one of the best £10 bottles around. Nowadays, Lujan de Cuyo fruit is only around 10% of the blend and its price has inevitably crept up to £13, but it’s still a winner with a steak dinner. Inky dark and purple hued, with sweet, rich black and blue fruits, hints of white pepper and clove spice. Full bodied, judiciously oaked and with soft, grainy tannins, it had a definite balsamic acidity which was a touch overwhelming. It was easy to drink and enjoy but lacked a degree of its former complexity, now being closer in style to the everyday Alamos Malbec than to the top Zapata wines.

Château du Cèdre,
Le Cèdre 1998
I opened the 2008 Cateña by way of a contrast. Two nights earlier I had opened its older cousin: a 1998 Château du Cèdre, Le Cèdre Cahors (13% ABV). Now thirteen, it retained a respectably deep ruby colour whilst sporting the violet highlights of a rebellious teenager. The nose had fleshy black fruit, smoke, gentle oak spices and an intriguing minerally/pencil lead character. Pleasingly firm acidity was balanced by supple blackberry fruit and by deftly judged powdery tannins.

Such is the Verhaeghe brothers’ talent, the use of all new oak simply rounded things off, adding a silky viscosity without swamping the fruit. Smoke and oak spice flavours mingled with a savoury, almost salty, minerality and a lovely floral quality that lasted and lasted. The hugely long, chewy finish was a thing of beauty.

Pascal & Jean-Marc Verhaeghe
The Cateña ticked all the boxes of a good modern Malbec, but the Cahors was an altogether more complex and alluring creation. Unfortunately, I only had one bottle, although I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for more.