Greybeard’s Corner – Winter 2010/11

A warm welcome to 2011 and there’s a whole new year ahead but, as we move into a new decade, here’s one final look back to 2010 as Greybeard’s Corner reviews the run up to Christmas and New Year.

Winter hit the UK fast and hard, so much so that one of London’s bonded wine warehouses, London City Bond’s premises in Purfleet, had its roof collapse under the weight of snow resulting in significant loss of stock. Luckily no one was in the building at the time but 100,000 cases of wine were stored in the warehouse by several merchants and initial recovery efforts only amounted to 40%, with sub-zero temperatures a worry for those bottles not destroyed.
Staying in the UK and The Wine Gang, a collaboration of 5 wine writers and critics, reshuffled their line-up with the departure of arguably their most famous members, Tim Atkins and Olly Smith, to be replaced by David Williams and Jane Parkinson. It would seem that Tim and Olly had too many other projects vying for their attention to dedicate enough time to the Gang.
Atkin’s December article on The World Beyond Bordeaux is yet another argument that there is more to wine than the celebrity French region – unless of course you’re in China, where Bordeaux wine is the status symbol above all others. Château Mouton Rothschild nearly doubled in value after its new label, created by Chinese artist Xu Lei, was unveiled and then came the news that a Chinese billionaire had purchased Château Chenu Lafitte in the Côtes de Bourg.

Keeping the focus on Asia and Decanter magazine announced that Hong Kong based Jeannie Cho Lee MW would be a Contributing Editor for Asia. The wine business must be good in Hong Kong as it was Cho Lee who successfully bid for an enormous white truffle at a charity auction in Italy, sharing the news with the world on her twitter feed in November,
“Just became the owner of the lrgst wht truffle (900gm) for 105,000 Euros, shared among friends. We will have a wht truffle feast in 7 days”

However 2010 came to an end with a darker side of Chinese wine industry, as a counterfeit scandal surfaced. The fact that China produces fake wine shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, but that shouldn’t detract from the developing legitimate fine wine business in the country as I saw when I visited Château Bolongbao in November.

A couple of other stories kept my scientific curiosity piqued. Hot on the heels of upsetting Jamie Goode, Dr Pascal Chatonnet released more research into wine faults, this time with an alternative to TCA for tainted wine – MDMP. Interestingly this research points to oak chips and untreated cork as a source of the contaminants, as opposed to oak barrels that caused the previous controversy. Finally one of the original wine evils, Brett, got another review in Victoria Moore’s Brett, friend or foe? piece in the Telegraph.

Moving closer to home and the last NEWTS meeting I wrote about was in October when we had a wonderful Californian themed tasting which was going to be a hard act to follow, but I needn’t have worried as November’s meeting was equally enjoyable and somewhat educational as well.
The theme chosen by the presenter was “The Jefferson Tour”; wines from the regions Thomas Jefferson visited during his three month tour of the southern part of France and Northern Italy between February and June 1787.
Jefferson began in Burgundy travelling from Dijon down to Lyon, then through the Rhône to Orange and Nimes, east along the Cote d’Azur into Italy and Turin, Milan and Genoa, before backtracking to Monaco and Nice, down through the Languedoc to Toulouse, then to Bordeaux, up the coast into Brittany then back along the Loire Valley to Orleans before returning to Paris. During the 1200 mile tour he compared red and whites wines and wrote in his journal of the soils, cultivation and commercial aspects of the winemaking.

Our tasting homage to Jefferson began with a bottle of fizz, the Château Rives 2008 Blanquette de Limoux made from the local Mauzac grape with green apple, a little bitterness and a hint of oxidation. Burgundy was next with a textured white from Nuits Saint George, Jean Bourguignon’s 2007 Mersault. This was concentrated; a thick oily nose, perfumed with some banana, and very smooth and creamy with oak in the mid-palate going into a long finish, although the flavour drops off. The final white was from the Rhône, the E. Guigal 2007 Condrieu, a thick wine with an oily nose and taste. The flavour was intense, if a little one dimensional, with some zestiness and a floral, creamy nose which improved in the glass.
For the reds we mimicked Jefferson’s route, starting in Burgundy with the Pommard 1er cru Les Épenots 2001 from Francois Parent. It was brown in colour with a nose of slightly stewed fruits and had a lean taste, not too much fruit but good secondary flavours. It was well textured with subtle tannins, although lacking acidity and a touch dilute. I’d describe it as a “happy wine”, but it did elicit a heated discussion in the group, some arguing it was delicious, others that it was past its best.
For the Rhône a special Hermitage was poured, La Chapelle 1995 by Paul Jaboulet Aine. Also browning this had tar and liquorice on the nose with herbs and smoky meat. There was a herbal bitterness at the front which, once accustomed to, was very pleasant and the wine was dry with plenty of smooth tannins. This was a delicious wine with a lot of integrated complexity, flavours and textures and I managed to salvage the remnants of a bottle at the end of the tasting to enjoy at home.

Moving into Provence we tasted the Dalmasso 2004 Domaine de la Source from Bellet, one of the most unusual Appellations in France as it is completely surrounded by the city of Nice on the Côte d’Azur. The Domaine de la Source red was made from FolleNoir and Braquet grapes with some Grenache and had a smoky ash nose, sweet and a little vegetal but the finish dropped off disappointingly. There was a dry bitter undertone and not enough acid to carry the tannins through.

Then into Italy and the Giuseppe Mascarello 2003 Barolo Villero from Piedmont. This was an all round 4 star wine with an epoxy/enamel nose which developed into cherry menthol with a little tar. It was supremely balanced with sweet fruit throughout, smooth tannins starting in the mid-palate and remaining strong through the fruity finish, an elegant and savoury wine.

In Bordeaux Jefferson enjoyed Château Haut-Brion but unfortunately our tasting budget couldn’t run to that so we settled for the 2005 Château Larrivet Haut-Brion from Pessac Leognan instead. This 50/50 Cabernet and Merlot blend had a complex, smooth nose with mint and a balanced texture with tannins developing on the mid-palate. This wine was 4 star but still too young, its moderate acidity and strong tannins giving it great potential for further development.
The final wine was a Muscat de Frontignan from Château de la Peyrade, which was sweet, smooth and dangerously easy to drink, although not particularly complex. “Nice” was used as a criticism and bottles of this stuff could disappear quickly which, at 15% abv, is not always a good thing!.

After the superb excesses of November December’s meeting was an informal pre-Christmas tasting of a range of wines provided by the committee, three of which stood out – although one for the wrong reasons. We started with a bottle of sparkling served blind and various suggestions came to the fore but the truth was stranger than fiction with the English Ridgeview Bloomsbury 2007 revealed, an award winning wine in 2010 but a disappointment to many in the room. It was very frothy and a touch simplistic with citrus acidity, lime and apple fruit – maybe a year or so of bottle age would improve it (I hope so as I have a bottle myself!).
The most interesting red of the night was the Bodegas Ochoa 2002 Reserva from Navarra; an oaky, spicy nose with some liquorice, very smooth on the palate with a mixture of flavours including black olives, cherries and plums.
Finally the Royal Oporto 1977 Vintage Port was something special; a delicious raisin and alcohol nose which suggested it had some “bite” to it, while in the mouth it was a smooth, rich mix of fruit and tannins surrounded by the alcohol spice. This was the oldest Port I’ve tried and I found it truly exceptional, but some of the more experienced members confirmed that this would improve further with more age, taming the alcohol that was still pronounced on the palate – I only hope I’ll have a chance to try more mature Ports in the future.

Two local retailers also make it into my last report for 2010. PortoVino hosted a tasting of new Portuguese table wines, Ports and Madeira looking to make it onto their retail lists. All the Madeira’s were from Pereira D’Oliveira (Vinhos) and I found their style very dry across the range. I wasn’t overly impressed with their younger wines, all from the Tinta Negro Mole variety, as they were too dry for my palate, but some of the older ones were delicious, especially an unusual Terrantez from, I think, the ‘70s. Unfortunately I managed to leave my notes on a ‘plane during my Chinese trip so I can’t recall any specifics of the wines that night.

In the middle of 2009 I wrote of the Wine on the Tyne tasting in Newcastle where newcomers Carruthers & Kent exhibited for the first time. Although taking on-line orders they were expecting to open up a shop in Newcastle’s Gosforth area in November ’09, but, due to a range of factors, this had been delayed by a year and so it was only in November 2010 that the doors finally opened. Their Facebook page contains plenty of photos of the shop and they have a great range of wines including the excellent Patricius Dry Furmint from Hungary. I intend to buy a selection from them over the coming months, I’ve already started with the new 2009 Boekenhoutskloof The Chocolate Block which they had in just before Christmas.

And so we come to a close with my usual ramblings of what I’ve been buying and drinking at home.
A much appreciated Christmas present from my parents was the Krohn 1978 Colheita Port while another 2009 Beaujolais joined the collection with Louis Latour’s Brouilly from my local Costco. More from 2009 around the world were Ata Rangi’s Crimson Martinborough Pinot Noir, Pieropan’s Soave and Saladini Pilastri’s Falerio dei Colli Ascolani (yes, I’m still buying Italian whites!).
On the drinking front there were some seriously good wines opened, not that surprising as this covered the Christmas and New Year break.
The Dr. Wagner Saarburg 2007 Riesling and Cossetti 2008 Roero Arneis fought it out for best white; one a classic, deliciously sweet and oily Riesling, the other floral with lemon biscuit and honey.
For red it was a Chilean stand-off with the dense, extracted Terrunyo 2006 Carmenere from Concha y Toro and the elegant menthol and blackcurrant Miguel Torres 2001 Manso de Velasco Viejas Vinas.

Cheese and desserts were accompanied by a trio from California, Australia and Portugal; the Suncé 2008 Sweet Zora Cabernet Franc was in a rustic sherry style with sweet and salty flavours, Pertaringa Vineyards Full Fronti 20 year old Frontignac had a dark nose of cinder toffee and sweet raisins with nuts and toffee on the palate, while the Quinta do Infantado 2004 LBV Port was a balanced and complex with maybe a touch too much alcohol burn in what was otherwise a stunning Port.

So, the decade has ended and after finally shaking off the bout of ‘flu I picked up over the holidays I finally got round to finishing this piece and can start to look forward to what 2011 has to bring.



Originally published January 16th, 2011 on Reign of Terroir

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