Greybeard’s Corner – January 2011

Where did January go? After the excesses of Christmas and New Year the month seemed to fly by with barely a growl, at least in my corner of the world. There were a few interesting news stories which, for a change, don’t include anything on how China is buying up Bordeaux.

The long running saga of billionaire Bill Koch and his counterfeit wine claims reached partial conclusion with an out of court settlement with Zachy’s, although this is unlikely to be the last we hear of Koch and his crusade against the ambiguous provenance claims of the auction houses.

From old bottles to even older winemaking. The Southern Caucasus has long been viewed as the birthplace of winemaking and new research in the Journal of Archaeological Science described how excavations at the Areni-1 cave complex in south eastern Armenia found 6000 year old “installations and artefacts” which suggest wine production. Although the article was published in November it was only in January that the media got hold of it with Decanter calling it “The World’s Oldest Winery”.

Weather has again been in the headlines with Decanter following up on fallout from the LCB warehouse roof collapse I mentioned last month, with one company losing 80% of the stock it had stored there. More serious to the global business is the significant loss of vines after the recent heavy rains and flooding in Australia, with Wine Spectator reporting on the damage in Victoria with 20% of this year’s crop already lost.

Staying down-under but on a lighter note, Tim Adams, who makes a range of affordable wines that I’ve never been disappointed with, came full circle with his purchase of the Leasingham Winery from Constellation. It was at the same winery in 1975 that Adams started his winemaking career although, as Decanter pointed out in its coverage of the news, the deal was only for the original winery and not the Leasingham brand which is still part of Constellation.

January in the North East had good potential with the visit of Tamra Washington, winemaker for Yealands Estate in Marlborough, to local retailer Carruthers & Kent. I did a piece on Yealands in 2009, Little Sheep and Green Wine, and was looking forward to attending but unfortunately work commitments meant I had to miss the event – instead I point you to the resulting article in the local newspaper.

I did manage to attend the first NEWTS meeting of the year, an enjoyable adventure through wines of the Southern Rhône – a red only tasting to warm us up on a cold January evening. I have a fondness for this area and was not disappointed by a selection of bold, high alcohol wines mostly from the ’06 and ’07 vintages. Sadly I seem to have mislaid my detailed tasting notes and the formal minutes of the meeting have not been distributed yet, but the best and most memorable wines of the evening were;

Xavier Vignon 2007 Vaqueyras Sweet fruit and spicy oak on the nose, a concentrated but elegant and well balanced wine.
– Domaine de Mourchon 2006 Séguret Grand Reserve Sour cherry, smoke and liquorice on the nose, sweet tannins and fruit in a stunning but young mouthful – needs a couple more years.
– Domaine Grand Veneur 2005 Clos de Sixte, Lirac Tar and Garrigue nose and a fresh, lifting wine typical of the South Rhône.
– Raymond Usseglio 2003 Cuvée Impériale Châteauneuf du Pape More cherry and smoke on the nose, but also a touch of spice and cigarbox – a creamy taste with subtle sweetness gave a deliciously integrated 4 star wine.

The wines had two other things in common in addition to their origin in that they were all bought from the Big Red Wine Company (based in Suffolk with mainland UK delivery) and all cost between £5 and £10 less than the guesses coming from the tables (a rare event from my own experience). This is the first time I’ve tried wines from this retailer but on this tasting I’d recommend UK based wine lovers to give them a try.

January was also a quiet month at home, with barely a half dozen bottles moving in or out of the cellar. For drinking only one stood out amongst pleasant but mediocre quaffers – the 2002 vintage of Château Musar from the Lebanon. This is still early in terms of Musar but already displays some of the classic characters which makes it the “love it or hate it” experience it is.
The first glass was straight out of the bottle (I’d normally decant for at least an hour) with a touch of spritz and a disjointed aspect to the nose and taste, but after a few minutes this blew off and very quickly developed into a superb drinking experience. The nose was smoky with a touch of barnyard while in the mouth it was delightfully smooth and warm with integrated flavours, chalky dry tannins and some chocolate with the manure (yes, manure!). Deliciously textured there was a long, earthy finish and an overall quality approaching that of the ‘99.

Incoming bottles were predominantly French with an Alsace Pinot Gris and Sylvaner from the Cave de Turkheim, something pink from Champagne by Charles de Casanove and a Loire Muscadet (although from the Côtes de Grandlieu rather than the more common Sèvre et Maine). The New World exception was the Cono Sur 2008 20 Barrels Pinot Noir as I once more make an effort to trade up in my Pinot Noir purchases to get a better look at what this esoteric grape has to offer.

Normally as I’m writing these diary posts I use my Facebook and Twitter feeds as an aide de memoire in fleshing out the sections, but this time round I barely had anything to work with. I’m hoping that this retreat from the on-line neighbourhood is only temporary and just a symptom of a slow start to a new year, especially as Ken’s enforced absence as his Documentary work progresses has meant a dearth of Reign of Terroir posts recently from either of us.

Keep the faith!

Greybeard

Originally published February 13th, 2011 on Reign of Terroir

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