Greybeard’s Corner – April 2011

Spring takes hold in the wine world with the unsurprising news that Bordeaux is superb again, Oddbins goes through its final death throws and California sees the resurrection of an historic name.

The big news of last month was En Primeur in Bordeaux; the usual circus of scoring wine designed for years in the bottle based on a taste of some embryonic barrel sample barely finished fermentation. The general consensus seems to be that 2010 is an excellent year for White Bordeaux and the Cabernet grapes, Sauvignon and Franc, but merely very good for Merlot and the Sauternes (with Barsac outperforming its more famous neighbour). Alcohol levels are up and the 2010 reds will probably need more ageing compared to the ‘09s with high tannins but balancing acidity.

My pick of the reviews includes James Suckling’s succinct summary, Wine Enthusiast’s four part diary posting and  Decanter on-line’s breakdown of the right-band and left-bank plus 5 year vintage comparison of the major Châteaux.

Over the English Channel and the demise of Oddbins was completed when Whittal’s, part of Raj Chatha’s European Food Brokers (EFB) group, bought 37 stores in Scotland, London and scattered middle & south England sites as April drew to a close – Jim Budd posted the “Welcome aboard” letter to the lucky survivors on his blog. At the same time the much reviled Simon Baile, Oddbins previous owner (and many would say instigator of its downfall) was looking to buy a small number of stores in the South of England from Administrators Deloitte. Unfortunately, for the remaining stores, the end had finally come and, over the long Royal Wedding weekend, they closed their doors for good with Twitter providing a range of images showing the emotions in play across the country, as shown by the montage image.

As I’ve managed to sneak in a reference to the nuptials of Prince William and Kate Middleton then I can also link to Eric Asimov’s positive piece on English Sparkling winesin The Pour, although his prediction was off as it was Pol Roger NV Brut Réserve Champagne served at the wedding reception.

Over to the US and Inglenook is set for a comeback as the Coppola  Estate announced the purchase of the name from Constellation Brands. Inglenook Vineyards was founded in 1879 by Finnish sea-captain Gustave Niebaum and acquired an international reputation winning medals at the turn of the (20th) Century. Although Coppola has been making his Rubicon wines at the Niebaum property since 1975 the reclaiming of the name finally reunites all the original parts and signals a shakeup of the brand as the announcement also confirmed Chateau Mârgaux’s Philippe Bascaules as Estate Manager and Winemaker, replacing Scott Macleod who retired last year.

Sadly April in California also saw Kendall-Jackson founder Jess Jackson succumb to cancer at 81 – Tim Fish for The Wine Spectator posted a thorough euology on the man and his legacy.

There were two major wine competitions last month with the Decanter World Wine Awards (DWWA) and the International Wine Challenge (IWC) both running at the same time and seeing 85 Masters of Wine (out of the 290 MWs worldwide) descend on London (with approximately a 2:1 ratio for DWWA). Both events were well represented with tweeters and internet wine pundits; the DWWA included Anthony Rose (@antrose33), Robert Giorgione (@robertgiorgione), Jim Budd (@jymbudd) and Jeannie Cho Lee (@JeannieChoLee); the IWC included Tim Atkin (@TimAtkin), Jamie Goode (@jamiegoode), Ollie Smith (@jollyolly), Neal Martin (@nealmartin) and Charles Metcalfe (@thewinesinger). The results of both competitions are to be announced at the London International Wine fair on 17th May.

Back to the UK and a new Budget saw alcohol duty rise 2% above inflation, adding at least another 15p per bottle and meaning that, over the last year, wine prices have increased by about 15%  (including VAT increases) making the UK is the highest-taxed in Europe. To help keep track of how much goes on tax I found an interesting app for the iPhone called “UK Wine Tax Calculator” which shows how much of your purchase is left for the winemaking, marketing and distribution.

With wine prices rising the financial rewards of counterfeiting wine are becoming more lucrative, but it’s not just affecting French wine as Victoria Moore in the Telegraph recounts with the news of Jacob’s Creek being ripped off. Apart from discerning consumers noticing something not quite right with the taste, the fakers didn’t do themselves any favours with the back label declaring “Wine of Austrlia” (sic).

As usual I’ll move the focus up to the North East of England and my monthly wine dabbling. The Oddbins saga had local ramifications as the 2 remaining stores in Newcastle and Gosforth weren’t part of the last minute buy-outs and both closed. Window art this time turned into an advertisement, with Gosforth retailer Carruthers and Kent (run by an ex-Oddbins store manager) benefitting from now being “the only wine store in the village”!

Along with Carruthers and Kent, Newcastle and its environs still has a decent share of independent wine stores scattered around and one I’ve been meaning to visit for a while is “The Wine Chambers” based in North Shields. I’d first heard about young Ben Chambers at a North East Wine Tasting Society (NEWTS) meeting last year and am hoping he’ll do a presentation for us sometime soon, especially after belatedly reading an encouraging article by local wine journalist Helen Savage.

Personally April was also a busy month, including 3 family birthdays and my first ever tasting presentation to the NEWTS as I attempted to show the members that there’s more to Germany than Mosel Riesling. The tasting was well received and can be read about in more detail in my next Reign of Terroir piece, but by way of a teaser we tried 10 wines from 6 Anbaugebiete, 5 varieties and 6 styles covering most of what Germany has to offer, with the most impressive wine of the night a Pinot Noir by Baden producer Karl H. Johner.

As well as buying (and drinking) a fair amount of German wines for the presentation the month also saw a modest increase in both purchases and consumption at home as well, not hard after the very frugal start to the year.

Four reds provided enough interest to mention, starting with the Coppola Votre Sante 2009 Pinot Noir from California – an appropriate choice given the news about Inglenook (although this entry level Pinot will not be wearing that label!). This was a fruity,  thirst quenching wine with a dry finish, but there was a confected aspect and a slightly green edge to the finish – enjoyable if a little simplistic.

Moving up in complexity was the Svirče Winery 2007 Plavac Hvar from Croatia which showed a warm nose with some creamy oak. Smooth and balanced, this was a light-medium bodied wine whose fine, dry tannins had a touch of bitterness but was compensated by strong fruity flavours.

Italy next and another step up in flavour with Sainsbury’s own label “Taste the difference” 2006 Amarone della Valpolicella made by Cantina Valpantena, a Decanter Regional Trophy winner in 2009. This was thinner than some Amarone I’ve tried and a touch too bitter on the finish, but there was a pleasant hint of almonds, a good balance of acidity and plenty of sweet cherry and oak.

Finally another supermarket own label, with Tesco’s Finest Viña Mara 2000 Rioja Gran Reserva made by Baron de Ley. This was a classic Rioja; a nose of sweet fruit, vanilla oak and a little tobacco – a lot of complex flavours were bouncing around the glass all the way through the long finish.  It was a little coarse on its own, but great with food with a taught balance of acidity, astringency and chocolaty tannins.

As for the bottles that made it into the cellar, a business trip back from China via Dubai airport started off the month’s purchases with the Château Musar 2001 white (a unique blend of Obaideh and Merwah grapes which was unlike any white I’ve ever tried when I first tasted it a couple of years ago) and the 2006 Rosé (a Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault and Carignan which I’ve never seen in the UK). These take my Musar collection to 19 bottles covering 7 vintages, nearly 15% of all the wine I have and a continuing reminder of my fondness for this country first started at the beginning of my wine journey nearly five years ago.

My birthday also generated a few bottles, with some promising early drinking from La Villasse Côtes du Rhône and Izadi Rioja (a bottle of red and white from each) plus an intriguing Bodegas Castaño 2008 Dulce Monastrell sweet red to ponder over. Finally the d’Arenberg d’Arry’s Original 2008 Shiraz Grenache should provide some drinking pleasure in the next 2 or 3 years (another useless stat is that my total number of bottles of Australian wine is only 18, one less than my Musar hoard!).

Looking forward into May and June and the 2011 London International Wine Fair runs from 17th-19th May with tastings, seminars, those awards I mentioned and over 20,000 wines on show – it’s just a shame I can’t make the relatively short journey on those dates.

A few days later and 20th-22nd sees the 29th annual Paso Robles Wine Festival in California featuring more than 140 area wineries.

May moves into June with English Wine Week, starting on the 28th to raise awareness of English Vineyards and wines, while in China the 6th Shanghai International Wine Trade Fair runs from 1st-3rd June.

Peering a little further into June and the 9th & 10th sees Brock University, St. Catharines, Ontario host the 2011 Riesling Experience in Canada, bringing together producers, trade and media from around the world to showcase this sublime grape.

Until the next time, Slainte!

Greybeard

Originally published May 16th, 2011 on Reign of Terroir

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