Greybeard’s Corner – June 2011

The 2011 harvest in both hemispheres dominates the recent wine news while Germany fills up a large part of my own wine experiences in this month’s Corner post.

Wine News: Let’s get the bad news out of the way first. When I first heard of the shocking vandalism at the Terroir Al Limit winery in Priorat it was hard to believe, with tanks opened to let wine drain away and bleach added to others. CataVino were one of the first to publicise the news from the Blogoshpere on the 19th June (the deed was carried out on the 13th) but other than the expected round of condemnation from the wine world (and speculation on the wine forums) it looks as though there is no idea who did this or why. For me and many wine lovers this is akin to book burning and I hope that justice will eventually catch up with the perpetrators.

New Zealand released figures showing the 2011 harvest was 23% up on 2010 coupled with a healthy increase in global sales over the last year. The potential quality of 2011 is high, adding to the positive spin given by the New Zealand media with South Island and Sauvignon Blanc contributing most to the growth – Marlborough itself saw a 34% rise in the harvest.

Harpers also reported on Australia’s bumper (sic) harvest – a rise of 1% on 2010. While not as dramatic as New Zealand’s figures it is accepted that Australia has an oversupply problem which won’t be helped by the news.

While the 2 New World neighbours share harvest increases the two original old world neighbours, France & Italy, traded places in 2010 with the Italians now the world’s largest wine producer.

Although French production may be falling the 2011 grapes are doing their best to get here faster than normal with Decanter reporting on Bordeaux and Burgundy producers preparing for harvesting to begin at the end of August, while in Champagne there is even talk of mid-August if the clement weather continues.
The same seems to be true of England and Germany as well, the latter I can personally testify after my mid-month visit to the Mosel where one Ürzig winemaker confirmed the grapes were 4-5 weeks ahead of their normal development and an August harvest is on the cards.

The Mosel also got a mention in the media with Wine Spectator running a piece on the controversial Hochmoselübergang. The Spectator has joined the debate late in the day and as the dust is starting to settle – Decanter have been running the story since January 2010 and, sadly, the green light for construction has been given – but at least that means they can cover the all pertinent facts of the story.

Finally in France the Saint Emilion debacle looks to have been resolved with the French government finally approving the revised  classification system 6 months after the INAO (Institut National des Appellations d’Origine) initially announced the new regulations and a full 5 years after the disastrous 2006 classification which saw bitter infighting between Saint Emilion producers and compromised the whole system.

The new classification will be managed by an independent panel (i.e. not from Bordeaux) and includes evaluation of Chateaux reputation, terroir and production methods but will be heavily based on blind tasting of recent vintages. Nick Stephens review on his Bordeaux Undiscovered blog provides plenty of additional information.

June for me meant Germany…. to be precise the small town of Wetzlar, near Giessen. I was encamped there for 2 weeks on business and managed to expand on my German wine education in the process. Central to this was a weekend in the Mosel, driving from Koblenz on the Rhine along the river road stopping at Cochem, Ürzig and Bernkastel-Keus.

This is an intensely beautiful part of the world with ancient riverside towns watched over by Medieval castles, insanely steep vineyards and a relatively relaxed take on life. Riesling was at the heart of the wine experience, the region favours this noble variety with 50% of total Mosel production, but far higher for the Quality wines and almost 100% for many producers with prime vineyards. The Spring frosts that decimated many German wine regions didn’t affect the steep vineyards, so quantity is good along with the early growth already mentioned – by late June some of the Riesling bunches were beginning to hang, the weight of the grapes too much to resist the pull of gravity.

The short visit was crowned with a superb tasting at Ürzig producer Rebenhof, where winemaker Johannes Schmitz poured and talked through a dozen of his different offerings from the Ürziger Würzgarten vineyard, including a sublime 4-star 2009 Beerenauslese. I’m preparing a separate post on that tasting.

Back in Wetzlar and local restaurant Malcomess provided a broad range of German wines to accompany a delicious tasting menu (especially the trio of Kid). The restaurant is run by husband and wife team Kai & Manuela Malcomess and it was Kai who gave a brief description of each wine served, including a creamy 2009 Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris) by Weinhaus Jochim and a young, but structured, 2008 Spätburgunder by Markus Schneider. What was also intriguing was that all the wines were served in The Gabriel Glas, the first time I’ve seen this “one for all” wine glass (made by the Austrian glass manufacturer Quatron) which is meant to enhance the aromas and flavours regardless of wine style or colour. Kai brought out one of the previous glasses they used to use in the restaurant (a Schott Zweisel) for a quick comparison test and I have to admit the Gabriel Glas(s) did give a fuller nose, bringing out the fruit more.

An enjoyable bookend to the trip were the lounge wines on offer at Amsterdam Schiphol airport during my transfers between Newcastle and Frankfurt. On the way out the Villa Maria 2009 Pinot Noir was light and fruity with just a touch of smoky vegetation, a more autumnal colour than I’d have expected for an ’09 with light forest fruit flavours, but true to the variety.
Coming back and it was across the Tasman sea to Australia with Ben Glaetzer’s 2008 Heartland Cabernet Sauvignon; a dense, syrupy wine with immense fruit (predominantly cassis) and a touch of mint. This was almost too much for me, a big wine with a slightly confected feel to all that dark fruit, only a basic tannin structure and a 14.5% abv which gave a warm finish – pleasant enough, but only for a small glass or two and it would struggle with food.

North East Wine: Unfortunately while I was away I missed the monthly NEWTS meeting – a Spanish tasting given by venerable member Harry Rose, whose previous tasting on the red wines of the Western Languedoc was my first ever meeting. Luckily local retailer PortoVino had their summer tasting at the end of the month where I could catch up with fellow North East oenophiles over a glass or three of Portuguese vinho – the 2006 Falcoaria by Quinta do Casal Branco was my favourite red of the evening.

A weekend in the Mosel meant that my purchases were always going to be dominated by Riesling and I returned home with 5 bottles in my luggage; a selection of Ürziger Würzgarten all from Rebenhof, including their 2008 Auslese which was harvested to Eiswein standards.

There were only 4 other incoming wines bought in the UK over June; Dow’s 1999 Quinta do Bomfim Port, California’s Seghesio 2009 Arneis & Bogle Vineyards 2008 Petite Sirah, and yet another Riesling with the Cono Sur 2008 Riesling Reserva from Chile.

Drinking at home was also reduced, the most notable being a La Motte 2005 Shiraz from the Franschhoek Valley in South Africa, a wine which blossomed after being opened for 24 hours with spicy tar, fine tannins and juicy acidity. Also worth mentioning was the Cave de Turckheim 2008 Pinot Gris Reserve from Alsace, with classically rich, not-quite-sweet grapefruit aspects and a great waxy texture.

Cellar Trivia: The arrival of the batch of Riesling got me looking at the breakdown of my home collection (currently standing at just over 150 bottles) compared to a couple of years ago. White is now up from 21% to 26%, while reds are down from 63% to 53%, confirming my thoughts that I’m not buying as much red as I used to. Biggest change is the doubling of fortified and sweet wines from just under 7% 2 years ago to just over 13% now, with a similar increase in Sparkling and Rosé (but they only make up 3% of my current stash). I don’t know if it’s a typical phase, but I’m definitely enjoying more non-red wines than ever before.

I’ll bring this month’s post to a close with the usual look forward to key wine events coming up, which are pretty much U.S. dominated;

  • July 14-16 sees the California Wine Festival hit Santa Barbera  showing a range of wines from all over the state.
  • July 15-17 jumps over to the East Coast for the Finger Lakes Wine Festival in Watkins Glen, New York, showcasing 600 wines from 80 wineries.
  • July 22nd-24th and it’s the 4th (North American) Wine Bloggers Conference  in Charlottesville, Virginia, safe journey and well wishes to all those attending
  • July 29-31st is the 2011 International Pinot Noir Celebration from McMinnville, Oregon, with over 70 international Pinot noir producers at this 25th anniversary festival.
  • August 13th and for anyone in Northern California you could do worse than head to the 19th Annual Winemakers’ Celebration in the picturesque town of Carmel for a taste of Monterey Wine with 40 local wineries on show.

Otherwise August looks remarkably quiet (well, maybe not for the European grape growers!) although there are a couple of wine competitions which have entry closing dates;

We’re well and truly into summer now and, for the Northern Hemisphere, the 2011 harvest is fast approaching (faster than usual in many places). For everyone getting ready for the start of the “mad period” in the vineyards and wineries I wish you a few more weeks of relative calm.



Also published on July 12th, 2011 on Reign of Terroir

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