Vine Diseases are not my specialist subject, in fact before last week I knew practically nothing about them, but for some reason a casual reading of a blog post from Jim Budd set me off on a major tangential internet sortie.
Jim’s post was entitled “Bourgueil and Saint Nicolas de Bourgueil: the fight against eutypiose, BDA and esca”, and it was Bourgueil that hooked me, since I spent 10 wonderful days in that quaint Loire town in 2006 on a family holiday (which explains my fondness for Cabernet Franc). The fact that most of the piece was a transcript of a French article almost dissuaded me from continuing (I am nowhere near fluent in the language) except for an intriguing picture of a dying vine and Jim’s reference to “Fatal Wood Diseases”. I therefore clicked on the link to Vitisphere.com.
The post begins describing the disturbing development of ESCA, BDA (Black Dead Arm) and Eutypiose since the ban on the use of the controlling chemical Sodium Arsenite a decade ago. The accompanying picture shows a necrosis (canker) caused by Eutypiose.
The local viticultural body, FAV37 (la Fédération des Associations Viticoles d’Indre-et-Loire et de la Sarthe) completed a study in 2010 showing that in Indre-et-Loire alone damage from these diseases came to €12-14 million ($16-18 million) and are increasing their activities to dispose of the dead and diseased wood to try and prevent the spread of the disease.
The piece finishes stating that 30-40,000 vines were collected by a Chinon based wood company to recycle as barbeque fuel, but that this was only a small part of all the vines that actually died this year – a sobering thought.
So that was the story, but all it did was raise more questions than it answered; what exactly are the three diseases mentioned?; what causes them?; how prevalent are they?; Apart from a brief mention of sodium arsenite what else is being done to combat the disease other than making barbecue fuel?
The more sites I visited in trying to answer these starting questions, the more secondary questions (plus some ambiguity & contradiction) appeared, which sent me into yet more searches which eventually spat me out after 2 days with a glimmer of understanding and enough words to put together this piece – even though I may never get firsthand exposure to the topic.
Eutypiose (Eutypiosis) is the French term for Eutypa dieback, first identified in the 1970s and since confirmed worldwide (Californian losses to the disease are estimated in excess of $260 million a year). The disease is caused by infection with the fungus Eutypa lata which results in stunted development and internal V-shaped necroses and external cankers. Leaves may show chlorosis, deformations and tattered edges.
In the 1970s the disease Dead Arm, made famous to consumers by the d’Arenberg Dead Arm Shiraz, was identified as really being two diseases, with the combined symptoms of Eutypa dieback caused by Eutypa lata and those of Excoriosis (Phomopsis Cane & Leaf Spot) caused by the different fungi Phomopsis viticola.
Black Dead Arm (BDA) is caused by yet another fungi, or to be accurate several species of the Botryosphaeriaceae, first described in 1974 in Tokaji, Hungary – giving the diseases alternative name of Botryosphaeria (Bot) canker. Over 12 species have been isolated from diseased vines globally and, while early research believed they were opportunistic pathogens that only caused symptoms in stressed vines, the current data suggests that certain strains are strong primary pathogens.
Symptoms include V-shaped necroses similar to those caused by Eutypa lata, brown necrosis along the length of the affected tissues. Confusingly, occasional stunted growth, leaf discolouration and damage adds to the similarity with Eutypa dieback, meaning the two diseases are often difficult to accurately diagnose.
In France the disease was also known as d’apoplexie lente (slow apoplexy) prior to its classification as BDA in the Medoc in 1999.
Esca (La Yesca in Spain) is another complex disease with variable symptom expression. Although first classified in Italy in 1900 it seems to have been around much longer with similar symptoms described in medieval works such as the influential Arabic agricultural tome Kitab al-Felahah by Ibn al-Awam, a 12th Century Moor from Seville, and earlier Latin and Greek texts. The name is Latin for food or bait (used by several Italian restaurants around the world including New York) and may be a reference to the fruiting bodies of the fungi responsible resembling bait lures as they sprout from the wood. A Wine Spectator article from 2008 reported that 5% of the vineyard surface area in France was affected by Esca, although later reports suggest that by 2010 this was as much as 10%.
The fungal pathogens are Phaeomoniella chlamydospora and various species of Phaeoacremonium which cause chronic symptoms of stunted growth, shoot tip dieback and internal wood decay of the trunk and larger branches. Leaf necrosis results in a “tiger stripe” pattern while berries show dark spots or “measles”, leading to the disease’s alternative name of Black Measles.
Primary symptoms predispose the vines to wood (white) rot caused by higher fungi such as Fomitiporia punctata, Fomitiporia mediterranea and Stereum hirsutum.
Esca affected vines may show chronic symptoms one year and the next appear perfectly normal, but the disease will reappear, each time causing an overall decline.
Eventually an acute form of the disease called vine apoplexy occurs, typically in mid-summer when rainfall is followed by hot, dry weather, where rapid withering of apparently healthy leaves and the death of vine organs, including grape clusters, happens in only a few days – the vine usually dies in the same year.
The main feature in common with all these diseases is that they affect vines at least eight years old or that may have been subjected to stress. It is clear from reading the reports and research papers that there isn’t always a clear diagnosis because of the similarities in symptoms; V-shaped necroses; longitudinal brown streaking in the stems; leaf chlorosis and patchy discolouration; stunted shoot growth; external cankers. In the absence of one exclusive diagnostic indicator much of the disease reported in the vineyards is probably a combination of two or all of the above.
It is also worth mentioning Petri Syndrome, named for Italian Lionello Petri who first published the symptoms in 1912. Also known as Young Vine Decline (Young Esca) the primary infectors of Ecsa, Phaeomoniella chlamydospora, Phaeoacremonium inflatipes and Phaeoacremonium aleophilum come together to cause disease in younger vines of 2 or 3 years. The disease stunts growth and leads to tissue decay with leaf chlorosis and necrosis. Internally, black spots or streaks are seen in the xylem tissues and the sap of infected plants can turn dark brown or black, giving the alternate disease name Black Goo.
Although common around the world this disease has been heavily researched in California since the late 1990s due to the high economic impact and the realization that infected nursery stock was the main source of diseased vines – vines pulled up for whatever reason were being replanted with plants already inoculated with the causes of the disease.
It would be easy to continue veering off into new areas by including other diseases such as Syrah Decline, Phomopsis or Black Foot, however the causes and mechanisms of these diseases are different or, in the case of Syrah Decline, still not fully understood, so we’ll put them to one side, at least until the end.
The key pathogens described above are all species of Ascomycetes (sac) fungi which produce spores in sacs (asci) which develop until the pressure within the asci shoots the spores out. Direct spore dispersal is up to 30cm but they travel further due to rain splash and wind – Eutypa ascospores are known to be able to travel as far as 30 miles (50km).
The exceptions are the Basidiomycete (higher) fungi such as Fomitiporia punctata, Fomitiporia mediterranea and Stereum hirsutum involved in Ecsa white rot, arguably a secondary symptom of the chronic form of the disease.
With BDA, Ecsa and Eutypa dieback fungal spores colonise the vine through open wood vessels, the result of pruning, frost, mechanical or graft wounds – although an Australian study shows that soil-borne infection should not be ignored. The spores develop, invading the xylem vessels where fungal growth results in the interruption of sap-flow which may induce a host defense reaction, resulting in further blockage. Wood necrosis and rot impairs the flow of nutrients leading to vine decline and slow death, while fungal phytotoxins weaken the vine causing associated symptoms.
Petri disease is more likely due to nursery vines infected by the fungi prior to planting, as opposed to infection through wounds, but the effects are similar.
There is no reliable means of eradicating a pathogenic fungus once it becomes established within a vine, so removal of diseased wood or the entire plant is necessary (remedial surgery with disposal or burning of the wood debris). The best control is to protect vines from infection in the first place, but this can be challenging since the fungi are common in nature and considering the number of wounds made on each grapevine in a year with the extended period of wound susceptibility (which, for E. lata, is up to 7 weeks from pruning and greatest in early winter).
By timing any pruning as late as possible in the winter/early spring (Feb/Mar in the Northern Hemisphere) sap is flowing more freely which helps with wound healing. Spore release from infected vines is closely correlated with rainfall so new pruning should be avoided until at least 36 hours afterwards. Prof. Doug Gruber of UC Davis has championed a double-pruning technique where initial mechanically pruning leaves long spurs in early winter followed by hand-pruning to short spurs in late winter.
Application of fungicidal wound protectants in spray, paint or paste form should prevent fungal access through pruning wounds. Although spray-on liquid formulations are easily washed off with rainfall they are more feasible in large vineyards since application of paint or paste is labour intensive and only economically viable for high-value vineyards. However, which chemicals to use is the subject of intense research and contentious debate.
A 2009 study showed that Topsin M, aka thiophanate-methyl, was the best overall product across the Ascomycetes – yet a mixture of active ingredients is more likely to handle the spectrum of different fungi found in the vineyard.
Different cocktails reported include;
— MBC fungicide (Benomyl, Carbendazim, Topsin M) & chlorobutinol
— Biopaste (boric acid), Garrison® (cyproconazole and iodocarb) and Topsin M
— Carbendazim & prochloraz (-manganese)
— ATCS® acrylic paint (alone or mixed with Bavistin® or boric acid)
The biggest likely problem is that many of these fungicidal chemicals are likely to be removed from the market due to environmental and human health concerns, as happened with Sodium Arsenite (the only product that kept all main disease symptoms in check). This carcinogen was banned in Europe in 1991 (with extensions for Spain, France and Portugal until 2003), a fact that French viticulturalists claim is the direct cause of the relentless increase in Grapevine Trunk Disease over the last decade and has some calling for its re-introduction.
In reality biological & ecological control methods may be the only long term options available to growers, something which is starting to become understood.
Biological control agents include the fungi Trichoderma and Fusarium lateritium and the bacteria Bacillus subtilis, which have been shown to control infection by E. lata in trials, although results were variable. Researchers are also looking at garlic extracts and lactoferrin as wound protectants.
Biological control agents available today are based on Trichoderma species: BioTricho®, Eco-77® (both based on single strains of Trichoderma harzianum) & Vinevax®™ which is based on a mixture of five strains of T. harzianum and T. atroviride. Another agent, Trichodex® (Trichoderma harzianum T39) is also used as a treatment to prevent Botrytis cinerea (grey rot).
Some strains of Trichoderma work better than others, and are more effective on some varieties, such as Chenin Blanc, compared to others, such as Cabernet Sauvignon & Sauvignon Blanc. This may be why the French report poor results with Trichoderma as both these grapes seem more susceptible to Esca, BDA and Eutypa dieback (with Merlot and Semillon less so) and may be why Esca is especially prolific in southwest France and the Loire.
For Petri Syndrome then treatment to account for possible nursery stock infection is advised. Hot Water Treatment (HWT) at 50°C (122°F) for 30 minutes & then cooling to 2-3°C (36-37°F) for rootstock and scion wood is effective in controlling Phaeomoniella. This is similar to the method oif controlling Black foot Disease.
Also I came across tales of more organic remedies that are worth recounting. The first was from a Loire grower who uses companion plants (wild leek, Allium ampeloprasum) to “re-mycorhize the under-soil” which he believes has been sterilised by over use of the weed killer Roundup. In the Wine Terroirs article “Experimental cure of Esca in the Loire” the grower, Didier Barrouillet, claims he has seen vines recovering from esca.
In the same vein the 7th International Workshop on Grapevine Trunk Diseases, held in Chile last year, reported some success using soil bio-fumigation with mustard (Brassica juncea). Although used here for Black Foot Disease research the idea of bio-fumigation, using companion crops or “green manure” from Brassica species looks to be bearing fruit (!).
Those last two topics brings home the message to me that viticulture at its simplest level is only agriculture, and growing anything in the soil requires a healthy respect for that soil and the complex eco-system it harbours – something that the ever increasing use of pesticides, fungicides and herbicides can only disrupt.
The pathogens and symptoms of Grapevine Trunk Diseases mirror this, it would be wrong to fixate on a single cause or cure when they are a complex interaction of numerous fungi acting on genetically distinct sets of vines. A vine can, and probably does, become infected by multiple pathogens many times and while susceptibility to the effects of BDA, Ecsa and Eutypa dieback varies between grape varieties there is no sub-species of Vitis vinifera that is immune.
I should also reiterate that during my time reading and re-reading the different papers and presentations I encountered repeated ambiguity & contradiction both on disease naming, symptoms and causes. I endeavoured to filter through the pages to ensure as much consistency as possible, but I have no doubt that the current view of these diseases is still incomplete with more interactions awaiting to be discovered. Syrah Decline is a case in point – but I’m not going to go down that tangent just yet!
Grapevine Trunk Diseases in California and Control Strategies (UCD Presentation)
Emerging diseases of vine in the central part of Spain, Vicente González and María Luisa Tello, of the Madrid Institute for research and Rural Development, agriculture and food (Imidra)
Abstracts from the International Workshop on Grapevine Trunk Diseases (next in Valencia, Spain, 18-21 June 2012)
The year is winding its way towards the Christmas and in the northern reaches of England winter’s icy touches are already starting to be felt, but as Europe and America’s wine now sits in tank and barrel there’s still plenty of news and views to look at in the wine world.
Towards the end of November a controlled burn of bush in Western Australia’s Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park suddenly became uncontrolled and advanced on the Margaret River area. The enquiry into the fires has just begun in Australia and, while there was understandable concern in the initial reporting on how this may affect vineyards and wineries in the region, in the end the damage was contained mainly within the National Park and only a few hectares of vineyard were “scorched or singed” as detailed in the recent Margaret River Wine Industry Association media release.
Also at the end of November Tim Atkin penned a thought-provoking piece on his website entitled “Who pays wine critics?”. Although a good article in its own right he briefly mentioned the controversy surrounding Jay Miller’s $15,000 lecture fee during a Spanish tour, broken by Jim Budd on his blog in August. That story resurfaced and then exploded a few days later into what is now being called by some as Murciagate, by others as Campogate (after Pancho Campo, the Spanish MW with his own history of controversy, who many view as being more deserving of the criticism) when it was announced that Miller was leaving the Wine Advocate. It has since become clear that the retirement had been planned for many months but the badly judged timing of the announcement has just re-fuelled the controversy – go to Jim’s Loire to see a whole series of posts on this ongoing saga. It should also be pointed out that Miller’s palate was not always appreciated and that his departure has been regarded as a positive step by some.
As for the Wine Advocate, on the back of Robert Parker’s frank review of his reputation at Wine Future Hong Kong from early November, Neil Martin replaces Miller’s Spanish and South American tasting roles, while David Schildknecht covers Washington and Oregon, bringing an end to a hectic year at the office for Robert Parker which began with Antonio Galloni taking over California duties from man himself.
Elsewhere in the world and South Africa producers are looking to ensure the future quality of Cap Classique Sparkling wines by formalising a new quality charter with lees ageing guidelines and introduction of “Superieur” for top examples- funny how they like the French terminology! Meanwhile Swiss researchers at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne have dissected what every wine lover does without thinking – swirling the wine in the glass to release the aromas – with their detailed investigations of orbital agitation and wave dynamics. It seems that this type of fluid shaking is critical in large scale cell culture bioreactors so the research isn’t as daft as it first sounded!
Over here in the UK and the newly resurrected Oddbins (albeit trimmed down with less National coverage than before) is courting media attention with innovative consumer events and marketing. The Drinks Business reported on the revamp to their wines. I, like many, wish this new Oddbins well although a lot of UK consumers still associate the it with the business that closed earlier in the year, even though the name and most of the remaining stores were completely bought out by Raj Chatha’s European Food Brokers (EFB) Group who have no links to the previous disgraced administration (run by Simon Baile). It would also appear that Baile’s own venture, ex-Cellars, is not doing so well either, with Jim Budd’s recent posting showing a close-down of at least two of the stores it bought on Oddbins deathbed.
On a lighter note it seems that twice as many UK consumers are happy with wines under screwcap compared to 8 years ago, according to a Wine Intelligence press release which goes on to confirm that natural cork is still the preferred closure. The report summary doesn’t mention the figures for that abomination that is the plastic cork.
As for myself, recent weeks have been relatively kind. Two local retailers have held comprehensive supplier tastings; first Carruthers and Kent with their 1st Annual Wine Fair and then Morpeth store Bin21 with a Remembrance Day event which, when combined, gave me over 120 tasting notes to work through. I also feel like I’ve been stalking Marta Mateus of MartaVine as we’ve now met up at both of those tastings plus the Durham Food Festival, Living North Christmas Fair and Hexham Christmas Fair! With the Festive Season upon us it’s never a bad idea to know a Portuguese Wine merchant and her Lágrima white Port from Quinta do Portal will definitely be appreciated over the holiday period.
As for the NEWTS then the last two meetings have been very heavy on the reds beginning with Grenache blends, where France went up against Australia in a closely matched and very enjoyable evening which saw the extracted yet elegant & complex John Duval 2007 Plexus come out as overall favourite and the meaty yet subtle Domaine De la Janasse 2004 Terres d’Argile Cotes du Rhone Villages taking best QPR at £12.95. The next tasting was a Bordeaux blends theme, with wines sourced from Majestic, which saw three French wines (including two Pauillacs) up against a selection of Old and New World. France fared less well here, with Spain and South Africa showing more character at the price points, and Australia’s Petaluma taking the group vote with the spicy, rich and smooth 2007 Coonawarra Red.
The first Christmas event of 2011 was also a NEWTS affair with the usual BYO dinner at the Newcastle College Chef’s Academy restaurant, where some delicious food was matched by equally delicious wines from the Society members. At our table a crisp Frédéric Mochel 2008 Cuvée Henriette Alsace Riesling was alongside a rich, oaky Catena Alta 2008 Chardonnay from Mendoza; the young and fruity Domaine de la Janasse 2005 Terres d’Argile Cotes du Rhone Villages contrasted to the aged, chocolate tannins of the Barossa Valley Estate 1996 E&E Black Pepper Shiraz; and the smooth, raisined Terre di Zagara 2004 Passito di Pantelleria offset the sharply acidic but immensely sweet Magnotta 2006 Vidal Canadian Ice Wine.
Of the 5 or 6 such Chef’s Academy evenings we’ve had with NEWTS this was the by far the best by for the quality of the food and the wine, not to mention some intelligent conversation along the way.
At home and with the last 15 wines I’ve bought recently my shadowing of Marta Mateus shows, with 4 from Portugal – a still white and red plus White & Tawny Ports. Another 4 bottles hail from France; a Provence Roussane, a Mâcon-Villages and a Touraine Sauvignon Blanc for the whites; a Crozes-Hermitage for the reds. The remaining 7 are scattered around the world – Spain, Italy, Austria, Australia and New Zealand – including an intriguing Piave Raboso from the Veneto, a Wagram Grüner Veltliner and a Kiwi Gewürztraminer.
This compares to the 16 wines which were opened in the equivalent time period, predominantly from France (6) and Italy (5) with the remaining 5 from the USA, Canada, Chile and Australia, yet only 4 stood out from the crowd; 2 French whites and 2 reds, one each from California and Australia.
The first white was the Domaine de Palejay 2008 Le Sablet Roussanne, a creamy wine with aspects of sweet melon, a full, rich texture and a honeyed finish. The second was the Couly-Dutheil Blanc de Franc, Cabernet Franc but made in a white style. This curiosity had a slight hint of peach colour in the glass and was richly flavoured with floral and grapefruit notes, a touch of honey for good measure.
For red the Ravenswood Lodi 2006 Old Vine Zinfandel punched well above its £8 price tag with a meaty nose with concentrated plum fruit and oak, fine grain tannins and warming finish. I originally bought this more than 2 years ago but deliberately kept hold of it as I’d previously had the ’03 of the same wine with 5-6 years bottle age and it was delicious. With the ’06 has proving to be same I think it’s time to but the ’09 for drinking sometime around 2015!
The last red was another with some age on it, Tim Adams 2004 The Fergus Grenache which I’ve been sitting on for nearly 5 years. This was smooth with a little liquorice and cherry fruit, gentle acidity and tannins – a joy to drink and a beautiful example of patience amply rewarded.
With more whites bought and more reds opened there was a slight shift in the overall colour of my cellar, which now has 28% white, 53% red and the remaining 19% a selection of Rosé, Sparkling, Sweet and Fortified. Of course whites get the fastest turnover, typically within 6 months of purchase while it is extremely rare for me to open a red so soon after I’ve got it home.
That’s another Greybeard’s Corner review over, much like the year. Like a lot of you I’m about to enter into this food and wine fest that is Christmas, so I’ll hopefully see you on the other side in 2012.
By the time you read this harvests all over the Northern Hemisphere will have ended or be well on their way to finishing. 2011 has been a challenging harvest in both Europe and America but for different weather related reasons.
In Europe vine development was accelerated by as much as 5 weeks due to a mild Spring which, by the end of June, had German and French growers cancelling their August vacations in anticipation of a ripe, full crop. Then the weather changed; with Northern Europe going through a wet, cool and downright stormy couple of months while Southern Europe experience a heat-wave, neither scenario optimal for gentle grape ripening and threatening to ruin the 2011 vintage. Finally an Indian Summer at the end of September recovered the quality, if not the quantity, in the North with the harvest ending up 2-3 weeks ahead of normal.
Italy looks to be about 10% down in volume with the heat meaning higher sugar levels and potential alcohol needing management. Wines from Spain report an inconsistent vintage with low yields (Rioja down by 20%) and CataVino include some reports from Portugal indicating good quality from what’s been harvested so far.
Inconsistency sums up France as well, especially Bordeaux where The Drinks Business (db) also uses “Challenging” and calls it “A Winemakers Year” (code for “you’d better know what you’re doing in the winery”). At least we won’t be getting another “vintage of the century” out of the Bordelais for 2011. There is a similar prediction for Germany as well, with Rupert Millar’s db article saying this year “will separate the men from the boys”. As if contending with the weather wasn’t bad enough one Pfalz winemaker saw €100,000 of Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) grapes stolen overnight – grape rustling is sadly becoming a more common event!
England seems to have fared better (summer storms were less destructive here) with the recent hot weather just in time to ripen the grapes, as reported in The Telegraph. The English harvest is going to be down on 2009 and 2010 (both good years for quantity) but with possibly the ripest grapes in a decade.
Over in North America and the summer hardly got started – “the summer that never was” – with minimal sun leading to delayed ripening and lower sugar levels, followed by persistent wet weather as autumn arrived. Jon Bonné wrote a good overview piece on SFGate; in Oregon Dana Tims writes of a stoical yet optimistic view of the harvest; while in California the concern is whether enough grapes will survive rot to make it into the bottle, as discussed by Tim Fish and Augustus Weed in the Wine Spectator. At least Mexico seems to have had a smoother time of it!
Jancis Robinson’s recent FT piece “No one forecast this …” summarizes some of this in her own inimitable style, but of course we won’t really know what this means for 2011 wines until they come out of the tanks and barrels into bottle.
Wine News: It would be wrong not to mention the passing of Daniel Rogov, Israel’s foremost wine critic. As the internet becomes the go-to resource for most wine consumers Rogov took that one step further and effectively posted his own obituary on his wine forum hosted by WineLovers Discussion Group. It will be interesting to see if a forum so closely aligned to the life and tastes of one man can continue after his death, a snapshot of the future for everyone’s on-line presence.
September also saw 11 new Masters of Wine announced taking the total number of MWs to 300 worldwide.
The rights of whether wine made in Beaujolais can be labelled as Burgundy or not was (partially) resolved by an INAO ruling at the beginning of October as reported by Decanter. The net result is that 43 Beaujolais communes who could previously label their white wines as Bourgogne Blanc can no longer do so, having to use Beaujolais Blanc instead.
While some things change in France some things stay the same over in Italy as “Montalcino says no” to proposals to allow up to 15% of other grape varieties in Rosso di Montalcino, a 100% Sangiovese wine from Tuscany. Victoria Moore added her comments on “Pleasing the Purists” in The Telegraph.
North East wine: The biggest news has to be the 1st Northumbria Food and Wine Festival which finally came together over the 7-9th October weekend after the year-long saga surrounding whether the 2nd NorthEast Wine Festival would be held at all (it wasn’t). It was a great gathering of local wine retailers and professionals – a chance to catch up with a host of people met over the years – plus a showcase for some of the best food and wine available in the region. Saturday was the busiest day with a constant stream of visitors, although the Sunday was quieter than most people would have liked, not helped by less than perfect weather (although for October it could have been worse – a 2012 summer slot should help).
I was asked to give a talk so put together a piece on Unusual Grape Varieties that seemed to go down well and which I’m planning to put into a future piece for the blog.
October’s NEWTS tasting was on Celebrity Wines, something I’ve touched on back in the early days of Reign of Terroir. Stars of the night were the classically styled 2008 Two Paddock’s Pinot Noir from Central Otago and the remarkably complex Terre Inconnue 2008 Guilhem from the Languedoc – more details of the tasting and the other wines tried can be found on my North East Wino blog.
Going into the cellar recently includes a pair of Saint-Georges-Saint-Émilion from Château St. Georges, the delicious Bunan 1997 Bandol tasted at the Wine Festival and immediately bought, an ‘09 Chapoutier Crozes-Hermitage, the delicious 2006 Falcoaria from Ribatejo and my first Vin Santo (del Chianti Rufina) by Villa di Monte, their 1995.
Passing these on their way out of the cellar and into the glass were the excellent pear & honey Rebenhof 2010 Ürziger Würzgarten Kabinett trocken (Von wurzelechten Reben) that I bought on my trip to the Mosel in June; a bargain Wither Hills 2005 Marlborough Pinot Noir on bin end at a local supermarket; the superb Jorge Ordonez & Co. 2007 Malaga Seleccion Especial No. 1 (nectar of the gods!); a honeyed Roussane by Domaine de Palejay (2008 Le Sablet); and a light, chocolate tannin & raisined finish 2004 Chinese Cabernet Franc from Château Bolongbao, opened in homage to the Chinese Wine that won top honours at the 2011 Decanter World Wine Awards.
Less encouraging was the Château Musar Jeune 2009 red I tried last month. Although I am a big fan the Musar Rouge, Blanc, Rosé and Hochar Pere et Fils labels that I’ve tasted before the Jeune, made from primarily Cinsault with a touch of Cabernet Sauvignon, was a young wine with simple fruit flavours, slightly green tannins and little complexity. I’ll stick to its older siblings for Musar in the future.
Cellar Trivia: If you didn’t already know then I’m not a big buyer of Bordeaux due to a combination of budget, mistrust and my international sense of adventure. The very good wines are too expensive while it’s often difficult to tell the very bad wines (of which there are many) from the rest of the affordable offerings. Since I don’t want to spend large parts of my life researching which producers are consistent when I can be exploring what the rest of the world has it means that I only end up with Bordeaux wines as gifts or very random purchases. The 2 incoming bottles of Saint-Georges-Saint-Émilion take my meagre stock of left & right bank wines to just under 10% of my cellar total – with the Château St. Georges nearly half of that (the wine is not readily available in the UK but I get some thanks to a French colleague).
Looking Forward: The European Wine Bloggers Conference has just finished in Franciacorta, Italy and the Wine Events calendar is winding down for the year with most of the major expos and competitions done and dusted, but there are still a few events to look forward to in October and November;
—– October 21st-23rd. Paso Robles Harvest Wine Weekend.
—– October 23rd. Pinot on the River in Healdsburg, California.
—– Ocober 24-27th. Simply Italian, Great Wines U.S. tour; Chicago, San Francisco & Las Vegas.
—– November 9th-13th. Ottowa Wine & Food Festival.
—– November 16th-20th. San Diego Bay Wine and Food Festival.
Summer’s end has come and as the northern year slips towards shorter days and colder nights it’s time for my monthly roundup of the greater wine world and my miniscule corner of it.
Wine News: South Africa hit the headlines for the wrong reasons with the release of a report from Human Rights Watch, an international non-government organisation. The detailed report, entitled “Ripe with Abuse” is based on research conducted between September 2010 and May 2011 in the Western Cape, where most of South Africa’s wine industry is based. The reading is grim, with claims of appalling living conditions for farm workers, unsafe practices at work, including pesticide exposure, and institutionalised discrimination of farm workers. It ends with a comprehensive list of recommendations to the SA Government Departments and Industry organisations, but also for international retailers and consumers to (amongst other things);
*** “put pressure on suppliers to improve … conditions”
*** “ Inquire into the conditions on farms that grow the products they purchase”.
*** “Push retailers to only purchase from farms with (ethical) working conditions”.
The take home message for consumers is pragmatic, “The answer is not to boycott South African products, because that could be disastrous for farmworkers”.
News of the report and its obviously negative description of sectors of the South African wine industry quickly spread through the International media and was picked up by bloggers and social networks. In counterpoint Wines of South Africa (WOSA) questioned bias in the report and defended the effectiveness of Wine Industry Ethical Trade Association (WIETA) and other organisations in actually improving conditions across the country’s Wine Industry.
Interestingly, within a week of the news, I saw two unrelated and markedly more positive pieces on South African winemaking; first in the Guardian with its piece A fairer Cape – the rise of South Africa’s black winemakers, which references the HRW report but states “there is a wind of change blowing through the staunchly Afrikaner wine business.”; then on Palate Press with How the Swartland Crew is Bringing Up South African Wine. Both paint a more upbeat view of South Africa, different sides of the coin.
The end of the month also saw terrible weather in Northern Europe, with massive hailstorms in the Middle Mosel which hit on Friday 26th. “Golf ball” sized lumps of ice damaged houses and cars in areas around Wehlen, Filzen, Lieser, Kinheim, Maring-Noviand, Brauneberg, Wintrich, Mülheim, Veldenz, Bernkastel-Keus, Graach, Neiderberg, Zeltingen and Kröv. Apparently there was also hail damage farther afield in Rheinhessen and Baden, although other Mosel areas such as Ürzig and Erden were spared, as were the Saar and Ruwer. Video of the ferocity of the storms can be seen on a host of YouTube uploads (search for Mosel + Hagel).
With traditional media slow to pick up on the weekend story twitter proved its worth with updates from those near to the affected areas. This allowed Reign of Terroir’s own twitter feed (@ReignofTerroir) to put out regular updates, including news that; Christian Klein in Kröv feared the loss of half his harvest; Johannes Selbach in Zeltingen was expecting 40% crop loss; Willi Schaefer in Gaach feared the loss of 50% of his fruit and his new warehouse. Whilst actual vine damage was shocking the risk of rot is now a bigger concern as the 2011 harvest starts in earnest.
The mainstream media finally caught up on the 31st with Adam Lechmere’s Decanter piece “Hailstorms decimate Mosel“, although few others seem to rate the damage to some of the world’s greatest white wine vineyards as worthy of a report.
Many thanks to @DREI_Riesling, @moselriesling, @larscarlberg, @Eurocentric, @RieslingandI and @RieslingAC for those first reports, and to Gismondi on Wine for the first written piece.
Thankfully it seems that Hurricane Irene was more gentle on East Coast vineyards with the exception of a small amount of tornado damaged at Paumanok Vineyards, as reported by Lenn Thompson on the New York Cork Report.
Elsewhere the European Harvest may be underway (although a cool July meant not as early as previously anticipated) but for California, and Napa especially, it was still a waiting game for the grapes to ripen, as reported in the Napa Valley Register.
The recurring “100pts system, right or wrong” debate reared its head again, with Steve Heimoff and Jon Bonné adding lengthy pieces to the portfolio. I preferred Jancis Robinson’s two word response (no, not those two words!) in the all-too-brief Tom Wark interview on Fermentation.
Also raising controversy (mainly on the various Wine Bulletin Boards in the UK and US) was news of a $15,000 lecture fee for Jay Miller’s recent tour of Navarra, Spain, first blogged by Jim Budd and then Chris Kissack. A UK wine forum debated a $15K payout raising doubts of independence and objectivity, while one US forum briefly debated the information and seemed to be more forgiving. eRobertParker’s own boards suffered again from the heavy handedness of its administrator with an allegedly vocal discussion being locked before it got too outspoken, even though its behind a subscription pay wall where you’d think the participants would be allowed some freedom of speech.
And finally for the news we turn to internet wine maestro Gary Vaynerchuk, who announced his retirement from regular video wine blogging on the last DailyGrape piece, less than 6 months after Wine Library TV’s 1000 show. It didn’t come as a surprise as most people are amazed he lasted so long in the first place, with the overwhelming feedback positive and congratulatory for the impact Vaynerchuk has made over the last 5+ years. Although I’ve been only an infrequent watcher for the last couple of years I saw a part of my own wine life disappear in that final episode, as it was “The Vaynermeister” who led me to the WLTV forums in 2007 where I started my rough-and-ready education to internet wine writing. No doubt Gary will reappear in the future, but I found it quite emotional when he finished with a variation on his trademark sign-off “You, with such a smaller part of me than you realise, we have changed the wine world”.
North East wine: “Enough about the rest of the world” I hear you yell, “What about North East England?” Hush, hush I say, here come the tales of my small corner of Wineland!
August was relatively eventful, starting with the news that we will be having a regional Wine Festival, just not the one we were expecting! After the success of the 2010 North East Wine Festival in Corbridge over a sunny June weekend I know there was a strong intention from the organisers to carry the momentum through to 2011 with the same event planned for June. Sadly that never materialised with, as far as I can tell, a combination of factors (including illness) meaning it was first postponed and then cancelled completely. Luckily for wine lovers in the region whatever was going on in the background seems to have resulted in a completely new event rising from the ashes, with the 2011 Northumbria Food and Wine Festival announced over the weekend of 7th, 8th and 9th October. The format looks to be the same, with local retailers, pop up restaurants, music and a smattering of educational talks over the 2 and a half days. All that we need now is an Indian Summer to appear, as October is traditionally one of the wettest months in our famously wet country!
August NEWTS was a delightful evening wandering amongst some of the weird and wonderful grape varieties available in the UK. Fellow member Elaine presented a range of 9 wines, mostly from The Wine Society and Waitrose, made with Malagousia, Pecorino, Godello, Rotgiplfer, St. Laurent, Susumaniello, Xinomavro, Saperavi and Negroamaro.
All were enjoyable, but it was Heinrich Hartl’s complex 2008 Rotgiplfer, Racemi’s value for money Susumaniello (the Torre Guaceto Sum 2007) and Orovela’s restrained 2004 Saperavi which grabbed my attention. Additional details can be found on my North East Wino blog, “A most Unusual Tasting” Part I and Part II.
Richard Granger Fine Wines also had an August tasting, this time of Aromatic Whites with a starting glass of Sauvignon Blanc to bed in the taste-buds, 3 Riesling, 2 each of Pinot Gris and Viognier, and a rich Gewürztraminer to close the event. Domaines Schlumberger in Alsace was the Old World standard bearer with a Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer from their classic Les Princes Abbés range, each showing typical varietal characteristics and all very drinkable. There was also a traditional, off-dry Bernkasteler Badstube 2007 Riesling by Mosel producer Dr H. Thanisch and the superb (if expensive, at £34.20) Domaine Louis Chèze 2008 Pagus Luminus Condrieu with fresh complexity and a pleasant salty aspect. In comparison the New World match-ups were less memorable, although the Crawford River 2005 Riesling from Victoria, Australia, stood out with its sharp acidity, elegant strength and smooth finish. It’s rare to attend an exclusively white wine tasting but I’d love to see more such themed events as none in the room showed any signs of red withdrawal symptoms!
Of course a visit to Richard Granger wouldn’t be the same without adding to my collection and I left with the Schlumberger 2007 Gewürztraminer plus an unusual Loire Cabernet Franc that I spied on the shelves, the Couly-Dutheil Blanc de Franc. This is a “white” Cabernet Franc made without skin contact but also against the Chinon Appellation rules, meaning it can’t even display the vintage on the label, but it’s exactly this sort of wine that intrigues me and guaranteed that I’d be taking a bottle home.
These two bottles added to the meagre purchases for the rest of the month, including what should be my last (of three) Château Musar 2003 (time to plan for the 2004 now) and an older Marlborough Pinot Noir from Wither Hills, their 2005 Wairau Valley which was a bin-end at a local supermarket.
Home drinking was less exciting with a batch of inoffensive but equally unmemorable quaffers. A pair of Rioja wines by Izadi had some character; the 2008 white a barrel fermented blend of 80% Vuira and 20% Malvasia; the 2006 red a fruity Crianza , 100% Tempranillo with a classic flavour profile, but it was an Australian Riesling that gave most drinking pleasure, the Tim Adams 2006 Clare Valley Riesling. This complex wine had razor sharp acidity, fresh citrus flavours and a dash of petrochemical which I love on a Riesling with a little bottle age.
Cellar Trivia: Tim Adams wines are only available in the UK from corporate behemoth Tesco, which got me looking at how much of my current stash came from that area of the wine trade regarded by many segments of the wine cognoscenti as the evil empire of retailing – Supermarkets. I am a firm believer that it is still possible to get hold of a decent bottle of wine whilst doing the weekly grocery shop, with one in three of my bottles rescued from a supermarket shelf. What surprised me a little was the average price working out at £10.83 ($17.50) – although if you drop M&S and Waitrose from the calculations that does fall to £9.54 ($15.50) – proof that it’s not all cut-throat price promotions and bulk brands. However, what surprised me even more was looking at the other two thirds, sourced mainly from independent retailers, and seeing the average price jump to £16.11 ($26) – far removed from what the majority of UK supermarket consumers would consider paying except on the most special of occasions.
Looking Forward: So to September, the start of a new season and that crazy month for grape growers and winemakers alike. It is also California Wine Month as proclaimed by Governor Jerry Brown, the seventh year a month has been dedicated to the California Wine Industry – a list of coinciding events is available from the website.
- September 10th & 11th is Portland’s Pinot in the City with over 100 Willamette Valley wineries and local restaurants hosting food and wine experiences on one city block (NW 9th and Marshall).
- September 23rd – 25th sees the (Trade Only) 10th Miami International Wine Fair with wine producers from over 20 countries showcasing their wines to retailers, distributors and restaurants, including the 7th annual Florida International Wine Challenge.
- 23rd September sees another “Grape Day”, hot on the heels of Tempranillo and Cabernet we now have Grenache Day. Unlike 2010, when The Grenache Symposium managed the event, it’s been difficult to see the guiding hand behind this year’s date. I know many in the industry dislike such contrived days as a marketing ploy, but I don’t mind having an excuse to open a decent bottle of wine, especially for such a soft, fruity, easy to drink grape!
With few standout events the regular review of the wine world’s recent happenings is a mixed bag of topics including broken Shiraz, green wineries and melting bloggers .
Wine News: Let’s start with the curious tale of the broken Mollydooker, as a shipping container holding 462 cases of the Velvet Glove Shiraz heading for the US was dropped during transport. Initial media reports suggested all of the bottles were lost – a third of the entire production of this cult wine and worth over $1 million – but a revised press release suggests that the number of broken bottles was much less, with the winery uploading a video onto YouTube with more information and showing some of the damage.
Another strange story to appear was that of Péter Uj, a Hungarian wine critic who was successfully sued by the state owned producer Tokaj Keresked?ház for decrying the quality of its wine, only to have the conviction overturned by the European Court of Human Rights, as described in Decanter’s “Hungarian Vin de Merde conviction quashed” (and also in Alder Yarrow’s Vinography a day later). I know many would like to see a few other critics taken to court for their actions, but the story is a reminder that words often have unforeseen effects and also that Justice sometimes needs a second chance!?
The next 2 stories have a name theme, first with Italy getting a new DOC approved; DOC Sicilia replaces the old IGT Sicilia (with the IGT category now being used for a generic Terre Siciliane instead). Gabriel Savage in the Drinks Business included some “cautiously optimistic” comments from Francesca Planeta, one of the islands largest producers.
Over in the U.K. it’s not so calm as there’s a heated debate ongoing on proposals for a generic brand for English Sparkling Wine, with Merret and Britagne leading the naming suggestions. Controversy reigns, however, with a large group disliking either name or even the whole concept. Decanter reviewed the story so far while Guillaume Jourdan, and Jamie Goode added their personal touches – the comments on Jamie Goode’s post sum up the debate perfectly!
I mentioned last month the advanced state of vine growth in much of Europe and July saw the Loire Valley adding to the list, with Harpers Wine & Spirit reporting on forecasts of a record breaking vintage. As with many regions, harvesting is expected to begin in mid-late August and I suspect many winemakers have already rearranged their holidays!
I also read with interest the news in The Independent on the “2011 International Award of Excellence in Sustainable Winegrowing” being awarded to Parducci Wine Cellars, America’s first Carbon Neutral winery and a Reign of Terroir favourite. The award, hosted by the Botanical Research Institute of Texas, is only in its second year with last year’s winner also from California – Hall Wines of St. Helena (I only hope this “International” award doesn’t end up only being won by North American wineries, as New Zealand is renowned for its environmentally friendly wine industry).
Parducci has a detailed section on their website including references to Climate change and Global warming, but this topic caused its own controversy last month on the release of data from Stanford University which alarmingly predicted that Northern California could lose 50% of premium wine growing land by 2040. Of course news like this was bound to be well publicized, with a host of media and twitter posts kick-starting the usual “Climate change is real vs Global Warming is a hoax” debate. A CBS video report and The Napa Valley Register gave more restrained summaries with winemaker views.
Finally to the Blogosphere, which gathered in Virginia for the 4th annual North American Wine Bloggers Conference, held in Charlottesville with wine guru Jancis Robinson in attendance. I followed much of the conference through twitter and the many blog posts which appeared quickly afterwards, with the sweltering heat being a consistent theme! Cyril Penn of Wine Business.com posted a good report on Robinson’s keynote speech, but it seems it wasn’t always a happy time amongst the blogging family, as shown in Dave McIntyre’s WineLine post “Whine Blogging..” and Swirl, Sip, Snark’s “Virtual Slapfight..”. Whingeing aside, Virginia Wine Time presented one local blog’s view of the proceedings as a whole in their series of posts on the conference. The 5th NAWBC will be held in Portland, Oregon over 17th -19th August, 2012.
North East Wine: July was a busy month in the soggy North as well, with The Wine Society coming to Newcastle for a Loire and Beaujolais tasting hosted by Joanna Locke MW and Marcel Orford Williams (TWS buyers for the respective regions) and including several of the producers of the wines on show.
I was most impressed by the Domaine Seguin 2010 Pouilly-Fumé, a subtle, multi-layered Sauvignon Blanc (which, if you know my tastes, is a variety I tend to be harshly critical off, especially when from New Zealand).
A week later was our regular NEWTS tasting, with wines from 3 local retailers focussing on 4 styles; German Riseling, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc (!), Toscana Sangiovese and Argentinian Malbec. The Selvapiana 2004 Chianti Rufina Riserva and Michael Schäfer 1991 Dorsheimer Pittermänchen impressed me the most and overall this was a superb tasting in a format we haven’t tried much at NEWTS (both in the sourcing and tasting of the wines), one I hope will be repeated.
It was trying to decide on how much of my notes from these tastings to include in this month’s diary post that led me to finally put together my own blog site concentrating on my wine experiences with a focus on the northeast England. Initially I called it Greybeard’s Corner (for obvious reasons!) but then quickly decided on a rebrand using one of my twitter handles, and North East Wino was born. The Wine Society tasting and NEWTS meeting reviews quickly went up and I’ve also started to backfill some of my earlier writings plus some personal and local posts which have too much of U.K. slant to be appropriate for Reign of Terroir.
And so to my own wine dabblings for the month, with the purchases a typically modest range from around the world including a 2001 Sauternes from Château Filhot, the Ara Composite 2008 Pinot Noir from New Zealand and Dr. Loosen’s 2009 Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett.
Of those opened and drunk the best included the perfectly balanced Glen Carlou 2003 Grand Classique, a savoury Bordeaux blend from South Africa, the light and fruity Cave du Château de Chénas 2009 Fleurie and two Rieslings; Rebenhof’s textured, off-dry 2009 Ürziger Würzgarten Spätlese feinherb Von alten Reben and the lime & kerosene Cono Sur 2008 Riesling Reserva.
Cellar Trivia: One Riesling in, two out last month and a look at the database sees that this is easily my favourite grape variety with 18 bottles still to hand; 11 from Germany (all but one of those from the Mosel), 4 Australian, 2 French and a lone New Zealander. As befits this most versatile of grapes these cover the gamut of styles from bone dry to immensely sweet.
Looking forward: August will see Northern Hemisphere winemakers preparing for harvest at the end of the month and into September, but for consumers it’s a bit quieter;
- August 13th & 14th for the 3rd annual Finger Lakes Riesling Festival at Canandaigua, N.Y. with over 20 Finger Lakes wineries taking part.
- September 1st is the first International Tempranillo Day, a new initiative hosted by The Tapas Society with the hope that everyone, everywhere will “open a bottle of Tempranillo, enjoy the fun, and share their experiences online” (I already have a something from Ribera del Duero lined up!)
- September 1st to 5th sees the Bernkastel-Kues Middle Mosel Wine Festival, the largest of the many Mosel wine fests throughout the summer from this picturesque town. ??Time marches inexorably onwards, summer moves closer to autumn and I’ve reached the end of this post.
Johannes Schmitz isn’t your typical Moselian, his Rebenhof winery on the southern edge of Ürzig is testimony to that. In contrast to an otherwise traditional Mosel village his glass, steel and concrete monument to the 21st Century proudly pronounces the establishment as a “Riesling Manufaktur”.
As a self-confessed Riesling lover I’ve known about Ürzig and its Würzgarten (Spice Garden) vineyard for many years, so I was thrilled when I saw the name appear on the Sat-Nav screen as I drove up the Mosel, heading for the town of Bernkastel-Keus. The scenery matches much of the region – slopes with impossible angles rising from the riverside, carpeted with vines – but stands out more than most with gashes of red on the cliff-face as the river loops past the village of Erden, on the opposite bank (famous for its Prälat and Treppchen vineyards).
It’s the rock colour that helps make Ürzig wines distinctive from the neighbours; the Würzgarten grows on Permian (299 to 251Mya) sandstone, volcanic rhyolite and red Slate, contrasting the primarily Devonian (416 to 359Mya) blue-grey slate that much of the Mosel (-Saar-Ruwer) sits atop. The dark, iron-rich soil retains heat well and affects Riesling’s flavour profile, giving an earthy spiciness that explains the vineyard name.
A short walk around the village initially didn’t throw any surprises;
— Steep Riesling vineyards … check
— Quaint, old-style houses, narrow streets and alleyways … check
— Traditional, Gothic script “Weingut” frontage signs … check
— Everything looking shut even though it’s Saturday afternoon … check!
After a good hour wandering we ended up on Hüwel street, on the southern edge of the village, and the last building suddenly came into view with banner-flags flying, a patio-style seating area out front and framed by vines on the slopes behind. Intrigued by this sharp contrast of modernity plus the fact that it was clearly open for business (people visible at the tasting bar confirmed this, a bonus of glass fronted buildings!) I walked in and let the tasting begin.
A charming woman obligingly poured a first glass and we exchanged pleasantries in her broken English and my broken German, but when I started asking some more involved questions she hesitated, clearly not completely comfortable with the language, and called over a man to take her place at the bar. This turned out to be Johannes Schmitz, the owner and winemaker of Rebenhof (the woman was Doris Schmitz, his wife) who was more confident with English and we quickly got talking about each of the wines he poured, as well as the winery and winemaking.
Rebenhof (literal translation, Vineyard) was founded in 1875 or 1884 (depending where you read) but it wasn’t until 1990 that its current incarnation began when Johannes took over from his father, Paul. There are 4.4 hectares producing 35-40,000 bottles of Riesling with an average vine age of 60 years, although some are over a century old. 80% of the plantings are on original, ungrafted rootstock with average yields of 65hl/ha – the Kabinett often comes in at 80hl/ha while the Alte Reben (Old Vine, from 80+ y.o. plants) is less than 40hl/ha.
Normal harvest time is late October, however, in line with other European wine regions, the 2011 harvest is likely to be early with the Riesling grapes already 4-5 weeks ahead of normal development, as discussed in my last Greybeard’s Corner post.
I asked about the new building we were standing in, only opened last year, and the obvious difference to the rest of the village. Johannes is happy to admit he is not enough of a romantic to blindly follow tradition and practicality won out when expanding from the old building just down the street (which now doubles as a guesthouse). This modern business attitude is carried through into the winemaking and general running of the winery as well with the use of Stelvin closures and a high export rate of wines outside Germany. Unfortunately things like this haven’t made him too popular amongst his Ürzig peers – one can almost imagine the older generation gathering behind closed curtains complaining of this “upstart” and his new fangled ideas!
Unsurprisingly Johannes doesn’t shirk away from media attention either. Along with the likes of Ernst Loosen, Markus Molitor and others he is an outspoken critic of the controversial Hochmoselübergang bridge which will be painfully visible as it crosses the river just upstream from Ürzig. German speakers can read more of Schmitz in this anti-bridge article from the Stuttgarter Zeitung and see him talking about Rebenhof on a YouTube clip from earlier this year.
As for the wines, we tasted our way through a dozen different styles and vintages of Riesling starting with a dry Kabinett, the 2010 Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Kabinett Trocken, Von wurzelechten Reben (from ungrafted vines, 12% abv). This was the only reference in print to the 80% of all the Rebenhof vines being on original rootstock, a key marketing point for some other wineries but not for Schmitz who lets the wine quality speak for itself.
This had a creamy nose with a little perfume, a rich texture, a dry mid-palate with a little spice and a strong honey finish – a solid 3 star wine.
The 2009 Ürziger Würzgarten Spätlese Trocken (12.5%) had a similar nose to the Kabinett with more concentration and a richer texture, a spritz at the front, more minerality and a long finish with a touch of honey at the end.
The 2010 Ürziger Würzgarten Spätlese Trocken Alte Reben (13.5%) had a deep, dark nose with dense flavours and an earthy rawness to it – a truly delicious 4 star wine. At 13.5%, it was a full percentage point higher partly due to the old vine grapes but also the 2010 vintage itself, something of an aberration in the region producing ultra low-yield wines compared to previous vintages. This was recently highlighted by Jon Bonné in his SFGate post “Germany’s Bizarro 2010 vintage” (memorable for the line “a vintage that wants to Taser me into appreciation”).
Next we moved up in residual sugar to the 2009 Vom Roten Schiefer Riesling Kabinett Feinherb (11%). Without the Würzgarten provenance Schmitz identifies the soil type as the wine’s selling point, Roten Schiefer being the famous red slate of the area. The wine had a clean yet creamy nose with good acidity to balance the increased sugar and a marked minerality.
Feinherb is simply a term used to denote wines of approximately 9 to 18g/l of residual sugar, replacing the less fashionable Halbtrocken (half-dry) in today’s marketing conscious world.
We stayed with that style with the 2009 Ürziger Würzgarten Spätlese Feinherb Alte Reben (11.5%) which had a warm, buttery nose with a sweet lemon & lime spritz at the front. This was a well balanced 3+ star wine with restrained sugar, a dry mid-palate, classic minerality and a grapefruit finish.
The vintage contrast became apparent with its younger sibling, the 2010 Ürziger Würzgarten Spätlese Feinherb Alte Reben (13%). This was golden in the glass with a honey and candied tropical fruit nose, a big wine with more noticeable sugar to go along with the hike in alcohol. Unfortunately it didn’t have the elegance of the ’09 with the fuller flavours not marrying together, give it a few more years though and this could be superb.
We moved away from Ürzig as Johannes poured a taste of 2010 Grauer Schiefer Riesling, grown on the grey slate of the Lösnicher Försterlay vineyard further downstream. This was intended to contrast the Würzgarten and indeed showed a different fruit profile, sweeter and in a more easy drinking style, almost a palate cleanser for the high sugar wines about to follow, starting with
the 2009 Ürziger Würzgarten Spätlese Alte Reben (9%).
This was much richer with a smoky nose and a pleasant fresh apple aspect along with its delicate sweetness.
Delicate was not an apt descriptor for the 2010 Ürziger Würzgarten Spätlese Alte Reben (8%) which continued the theme of this vintage having extra depth. It was beautifully complex with a perfumed nose and a honeyed richness – another 4 star wine.
Then came the 2008 Ürziger Würzgarten Auslese (9%), although, as the grapes were picked at -10ºC on 30th December, it met all the criteria for an Eiswein (but Schmitz didn’t want to label it as such, only putting “Kleine Eiswein” on the back label). This was a very dense wine with a sweet baked honey nose and a very long finish, another 4 stars.
The 2010 Ürziger Würzgarten Auslese, Fass Nr. 12 (7.5%) was a more traditional Auselese with a tropical fruit nose. It was good, but I felt it suffered in comparison to the little Eiswein as it had a simpler sweetness.
Following the principle of saving the best until the end the final wine poured was simply superb, as long as you don’t mind a bit of sugar! The 4 star 2009 Ürziger Würzgarten Beerenauslese showed candied fruit on the nose, deeply sweet but beautifully balanced with gentle elegance and preserved fruit flavours on a long finish. The wine had a long life ahead of it where it would develop greater complexity, but for now it coated the mouth with rich, sweet fruit.
Unfortunately for €45 a half-bottle this was too rich for my budget, almost twice the price of the ’08 Auslese (€24.50) and over three times as much as the various Alte Reben bottles (€13.50). Still, I happily put together a mixed 6 bottle case from these as I finished off interrogating Herr Schmitz for a few last facts.
I mentioned earlier that Rebenhof is unusual for many Mosel wineries as it exports the majority of its wines, 65% to be precise as far afield as Beijing and Shanghai. Schmitz shows common sense here as well as he keeps each individual allocation small and spread over many countries to shield against the normal market fluctuations. It’s a principle that has saved him a lot of pain as, in 2002 & ’03, his US importer (based in Chicago) offered to take the entire production but Schmitz declined, which was just as well as the same importer hardly ordered a case in ’07 and ’08.
I finally closed my notebook, paid for my wine and left Johannes and Doris preparing for the arrival 100 guests that evening for a wine & dine party, another good use of that polished new building on the edge of Ürzig.
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 publicize 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.
Though 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 all the 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 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;
—5th August is the closing date for the 2011 New Zealand International Wine Show, with the judging on 15th- 17th August.
—The 2011 International Wine & Spirit Competition (IWSC) still has its Southern Hemisphere section to do, with August closing dates for the South American, Australian and New Zealand section (entries for the South African judging are now closed).
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.
With the Rapture due to decimate the world on May 21st it hardly seemed worth researching this article, but luckily the end of the world has now been postponed until October 21st so we have a few more months to enjoy the fruits of the vine and the worldly pleasures associated with it. Sadly there were several news pieces that initially followed the themes of Disease, Death, Devastation and Destruction.
May got off of to a poor start with the Cancer Council of Australia damning drink with the doom-laden “alcohol is clearly one of the most carcinogenic products in common use” and launching TV ads in Australia where a spilled glass of red wine symbolises the spread of cancer (the beer and spirits more usually associated with alcohol abuse obviously don’t have the same visual impact) – all of this prompting a written response by the Winemaker’s Federation of Australia. Wine Spectator reviewed the fallout a few days later.
Less than a month after the death of Jess Jackson another Californian great passed away when Mike Lee of Kenwood succumbed to a heart attack while playing Golf, the Wine Enthusiast paying tribute to his life and times.
There was devastation from the elements in Germany and California as Spring frost hit both side of the globe: Decanter reported on -5oC (23oF) temperatures at the beginning of May hitting Pfalz, Rheinhessen, Franken and Württemberg vineyards with their worst frost for 30 years while California’s Central Coast gets the same treatment less than a week later, with Paso Robles most severely affected and subsequently Wines & Vines reporting on up to 30% crop loss in affected areas. The California frost actually hit in April, but it wasn’t until May that the media started reporting the news.
Man-made destruction also made the headlines as German politicians pushed the controversial Mosel Bridge plan forward – Decanter summarised the sage so far while Jancis Robinson, a vocal opponent of the plan, re-posted Sarah Washington’s emotional blog piece to the greater wine world. Regardless of the wine world’s distaste it seems inevitable now that the bridge will be built, the vineyards affected will have to adapt and all that is left is to observe.
Luckily there were some less depressing stories to be found as well, starting with the shock news that Vintage 2010 in Bordeaux is very good! UK merchants Berry Bros place it at least the equal of 2005 and superior to the lauded 2009, as reported by Harpers Wine & Spirit.
In the monthly Decanter Magazine their 2011 Power List was published on the 50 top movers & shakers in the Wine World. In a sign of the times I applaud the 16th placed “Amateur Wine Blogger” and 38th placed Eric LeVine of CellarTracker as recognition and acceptance of Social Media and the internet in 21st Century Wine.
More controversial was the furore surrounding the supposed comments of Rhône wine guru Michel Chapoutier who has expanded his interests into Alsace with the setting up of the Shieferkopf label. Decanter sensationally headlined “Petrol smell in Riesling ‘a mistake’” in their short article which lit the fuse for a host of parry & riposte comments (36 to date on Decanter.com, something of a record for them) and in subsequent articles and social media. But how many delved deeper than the inflammatory title to find out that Chapoutier was apparently referring to his views on young Riesling? (which came to light in an interview on Drinks Media Wire – “If some, following my comment on this defect in young Riesling wines, understood that I was talking about old Riesling wines: it has never been the case”). Whether Decanter deliberately omitted the “young” in their article to raise debate, or Chapoutier himself forgot to clarify in the knowledge it would generate significant attention to him (and his wines) I can’t speculate – but someone was definitely playing a PR game.
However if more proof was needed on the joys of Life after Rapture then where else to look but the heart-warming news of the twin girls born to Gina Gallo and Jean-Charles Boisset (both of whom appear in the Decanter power list at positions 15 and 25 respectively) announced in Wine Spectator as the month drew to a close – I’ll raise a glass to the continuing health of both daughters and parents.
And so to my little corner of the world where one local retailer dominated proceedings – Richard Granger based in the Jesmond area of Newcastle. Manager Alastair Stewart prepared a thoroughly informative tasting for the May NEWTS meeting focussing on North East Italy, before hosting a Spanish tasting at the store the following week.
For the NEWTS there was a representative range from Trentino Alto Adige, Friuli Venezia Giulia and Veneto with both indigenous & international varieties covering modern and classical styles, starting with a just-interesting-enough Prosecco Donna Trevigiana from Valdobbiadene as an aperitif. Out of the 8 red and white wines tasted there was an example in each colour of a great value drinking wine and a superb wine but at a price most would walk away from.
QPR in white was represented by the Monte del Fra Custoza 2009, a mixing bowl of Garganega, Trebbiano Toscano, Tocai Fruilano and Cortese (with a soupçon of Chardonnay, Riesling Italico and Sauvignon for good measure). This wine was the well balanced sum of its many parts; herbal and floral aromatics, medium-full bodied with good structure, a little oily, a little sweet, a little dry and a little bitter, leaving a textured finish on the palate. It was exactly my style of interesting and unusual for only £9.42.
The Pieropan La Rocca 2008 Soave Classico, on the other hand, was an example of a great Italian white at an equally “great” price, £23.82. This single vineyard gives late harvested Garganega is fermented and aged in large oak casks, giving a long-finishing, citrus themed, multi-dimensional wine with layered complexity and texture over flavour. Comparisons to Condrieu were made, which seemed appropriate for the price as well!
QPR in red went to the Tenuta Lena di Mezzo 2007 Valpolicella Classico Superiore Ripasso (also from the Monte del Fra stable). This had a mature nose suggesting acidity and a rich, slightly sweet taste with a hint of raisins. Mocha tannins quickly become evident and on the mid-palate a bitterness joins in through to the finish, but in good balance with all the other components. At £13.86 it may seem pricey for a good value wine, but for me this was into 4 star territory and therefore a bargain!
Also in that 4 star zone was the final wine of the night, the Ripasso’s big brother – the Tenuta Lena di Mezzo 2005 Scarnocchia, Amarone della Valpolicella Classico. I adore Amarone so this was always going to be popular with me, but the quality shone through as soon as I took a sniff of the beautiful enamel, smoke and baked chocolate aroma. In the mouth it was luscious; perfectly balanced with well integrated bitter tannins offset by a dense richness. This was a powerful, taught wine although still young – I’d give it at least 3 more years before trying the inky black juice again – however, as you’d expect from a single vineyard Amarone aged for over two years in oak, then another year in bottle before release, this was never going to be cheap and the £44.58 price tag meant that everyone in the room would have taken 3 bottles of the Ripasso instead with change to spare.
I met Alastair again in his compact but cosy store just over a week later for one of the regular Richard Granger tasting evenings, this time trying 9 dry wines from Spain accompanied by Spanish themed nibbles to reinforce the sound principle that most wine is made for enjoyment with food.
2 delicious Albariño from Bodegas Martín Códax (who was a 13th century Galician minstrel) showed the quality of this grape and region; both wines giving a creamy mouthfeel with a clean citrus taste but with the 2008 Organistrum (named for a curious 2 person musical instrument) raising the flavours to a higher level and showing a deeper honeyed nose with richer, longer finish. The Organistrum has a 3 month malo-lactic fermentation in oak which makes it my first ever wooded Albariño, although the use of oak was well handled and not overtly evident in the taste. Unfortunately both wines suffer from the effect of Albariño’s popularity and rarity: a price that often doesn’t match the relative quality. Here £11.52 and £19.80 were just about defendable as good examples of the style, but there are many other whites I’d put my money towards first.
Onto the reds and all 5 we tried were well structured wines with generous fruit, each backing up my own feeling that Spanish reds are a relatively safe bet in the £7-£25 range. My favourites were;
— Museum Real 2005 Reserva from Cigales (£16.02); the archetypal Spanish nose of dark red fruit and sweet oak which was a surprising foil for spicy Chorizo,
— Marqués de Murrieta 2004 Reserva from Rioja Alta (£18.60); a restrained nose that developed in the glass and an elegant taste with plenty of smooth tannins,
— Mas la Moia 2006 Priorat (£26.40), more smooth elegance with chocolate tannins and a dash of sour funk” which I appreciated.
The final wine was the Hacienda Monasterio 2005 Reserva from Ribero del Duero, a gentle wine that caressed the palate with subtle textures, but had a fundamental lack of fruit which couldn’t live with its £47 price.
Now on a normal month that would be the end of my local tales, but May continued to give! It was my partner Sarah’s birthday mid-month so a long awaited trip to the award winning Feathers Inn was called for, given that it is less than 10 miles from where I live the fact I haven’t visited before is somewhat criminal. Along with delicious afternoon lunches the pub has a solid and reasonably priced wine list which saw the Chamuyo 2009 Argentinian Malbec match my lamb’s liver main, while Sarah proved patriotic with a glass of Three Choirs “The English House” white with her lasagne – the food and the wine were significantly superior to a meal at the Italian-American Frankie & Benny’s Diner a couple of weeks earlier (where the wine was practically undrinkable).
Good food continued at the end of the month with the NEWTS Spring dinner at the Newcastle College Chef’s Academy, where the three courses were washed down with the member’s own selection of BYO bottles. Although my own offering, the 2005 Château Pesquie Quintessence Blanc, was horribly oxidised there were more than enough bottles to share around and we finished off with a delicious Quinta do Noval 20 year old port bottled in 1973. Even though 20 year old tawny port is ready for drinking when bottled this one had aged gracefully and its hot, rich raisin, caramel and toffee flavours were savoured by all at our table (and a couple of passersby!).
On the home front and I managed to buy in 13 new bottles for the collection, as much as in March and April combined. I’m particularly looking forward to seeing if there’s any life left in a Borgo San Michelle 2000 Taurasi, how the 2008 Au Bon Climat Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir and the 2007 Van Volxem Alte Reben Saar Riesling compare to their earlier(and delicious) vintages, and whether the 2009 Château Musar Jeune shows any of the character of its more venerable siblings. However, it was mainly a month of sweeties with a 2001 5-Puttonyos Tokaji Aszu, a 2004 Passito di Pantelleria, the Lustau PX San Emilio and Torres Floralis Moscatel Oro all promising sweet and unctuous enjoyment over the coming year or two.
As for home consumption, 11 bottles contributed to the local glass recycling scheme, sadly two of them spoiled (along with the oxidised Pesquie a decidedly corked South African red from Noble Hill). Luckily two bottles stood head and shoulders above the rest, both from California.
First was the Destino 2007 Late Harvest Viognier from Lodi, a divine dessert wine with a nutty, baked fruit aroma, a strong butterscotch flavour with a little honey, candied stone fruit and a thick textured which coated the mouth leading to a very long finish. Four stars all the way this was in 92-93pts territory and easily the best sweet wine I’ve had, sadly relegating a Tokaji Aszu into second place!
Our second notable Californian came from Mr Eclectic himself, Randall Grahm, in the guise of the Bonny Doon 2003 Cigare Volante, but is also a lesson in the mysteries of wine development. On first opening this had a funky, slightly sweaty nose with a little stewed fruit (it also had a thick plug of sediment in the neck which required scooping out with a spoon handle!) and a lean, almost green taste with alcohol heat on the finish. My first reaction was that it was over the hill by a year or two, and it didn’t really change much over a couple of hours. Fast forward 24 hours later (a large part of that with the bottle in the refrigerator) and suddenly the whole thing had opened up; the nose was an enticing light tobacco and spice while sweet fruit and much calmed tannins caressed the palate (yes, I know I’ve already used that once already, but it is as apt here as well). I could scarcely believe it was the same wine, now heading towards 4 stars – what a difference a day makes!
Cellar trivia alert! Drinking the Destino and Cigare Volante have reduced my Californian wines to 6 bottles (including the Au Bon Climat just bought), three of which were purchased at the cellar door during my trip to the Golden State last year. This makes up barely 4% of my collection and suggests I need to do something about this, even though decent US wines are relatively expensive in the UK.
Time to polish my crystal ball and peer into the temporal ether. I predict that early readers of this article will have time to consider visiting San Francisco for Pinot Days between June 13th – 18th featuring wines from more than 200 Pinot Noir producers. Nearby and the 31st annual San Francisco International Wine Competition will be going on over June 17-19th, although you probably won’t recognise any of the judges in the street. June 14th – 16th also sees Southern California host the 8th annual California Wine Festival in Santa Barbara (remember your sun-block).
Over in Europe and the big trade event is in Bordeaux, where Vinexpo 2011 runs between 19th and 23rd June. This year Italian wine seems to be getting the lion’s share of exposure in the programme.
Moving into July and back to California when the 16th sees Passport Day for the Wineries of the Santa Cruz Mountains, with more than 50 wineries in the passport program from Half Moon Bay to Gilroy.
If you’re planning on attending any of these events I wish you a safe journey.
A True Taste of Germany
Over a year ago I put my name down to give one of the monthly tastings at the North East Wine Tasting Society (NEWTS) and chose Germany as my theme. If you mention German wine to a random group of people you’ll likely get one of the following negative responses;
—“Never touch the stuff, I remember the 80s; cheap and tacky!”
—“The most incomprehensible wine labels in the world; can’t read them, can’t pronounce them, don’t buy them!” or maybe
—“Eugh, Riesling! Smells and tastes like sweetened engine run-off!”
The stereotypically negative responses are all the more painful if you are aware of Germany’s rich wine history stretching back over a thousand years. During the 18th and 19th centuries the top German wines were more sought after (and more expensive) than those from Bordeaux, but vine disease, economic depression and war all took their toll so that by the 1980s the German fine wine industry had collapsed and been replaced by an expanse of low quality grapes producing cheap, sugary offerings such as Liebfraumilch, Piesporter Michelsberg and Blue Nun. Although these do not feature further in this piece I urge you to read TheWineRambler post from earlier this year where this infamous trio go head to head in a blind taste-off!
The good news is that most of the best vineyard sites are still there creating some of the world’s greatest white wines and, if you’re lucky, you will find a like-minded soul who has had their Riesling epiphany – but what about taking the question further and asking about that most mythical of beasts, German Red wine?
Give the most hardened naysayers a few minutes to recover from fits of laughter and then collect the answers;
—“Did you mean to say red?”
—“I prefer tannin to sugar you know!”
—“There’s only so much thin, acidic wine I can drink”
Maybe, just maybe, you’ll get “I hear they make the odd decent bottle of Pinot”, which is something I’ve touched upon in my 2008 post Better Spät’ than never, but that response will be limited to the more informed wine enthusiast, even though planting in Germany increased in the 1990s and 2000s so that now about 35% of the country’s 100,000 hectares (247,000 acres) of vineyards are devoted to red grapes.
To make my first ever tasting even more difficult I’d vowed that it wouldn’t just be a night of Riesling but would be a representative range from the world’s 8th largest wine producing nation covering the key styles, regions and grapes yet keeping within the constraints of a limited budget and 10 bottle maximum. My challenge, therefore, was to find wines that could stand up to the critical palettes (and stereotypes) of the massed ranks of the NEWTS (famed for their suspicion of whites and thin reds).
In sourcing the wines I was lucky that business trips to Germany last year meant I quickly had the core of the tasting ready but, by the beginning of April, and with only a few weeks to go, I still needed four or five to make up the numbers and provide a backup in case of any faulty bottles. What surprised me was exactly how involved it was to source these final bottles, confirming just how difficult it is to buy interesting German wine in the UK – especially if it’s not Riesling from the Mosel.
I was especially disappointed by my local Majestic store when I walked up to the large “Germany” sign in the corner only to find 5 Rieslings and the rest of the space taken up by bottles from Alsace, Austria and Hungary (the only time those areas were grouped with Germany was during both World Wars, so let’s not analyse that any further!).
Oddbins was not much better, but it did have the excuse of limited shelf-stock due to being in the process of going out of business, and even then it had the Villa Wolf 2009 Pinot Noir which was my last ever purchase from the Newcastle store before it finally shut its doors.
Wine Dancer.com was required to add a bit of sparkle to the evening with the Michael Schäfer Sekt, although his Lieblich Dornfelder sweet red didn’t make it into the starting line-up. Finally a local retailer, Dennhöfer Wines (hidden away in the wilds of Northumberland) came to the rescue providing a quality Pinot Noir and a refreshing Rosé.
So to the evening itself, and we started with an aperitif in the form the Cabinet Gold Trocken Sekt from Weingut Michael Shäfer in the lower Nahe. This been a family business since 1732 and Alfred and Karl-Heinz Shäfer operate a modern winery outside Dorsheim, although the original cellars in Burg Layen are still used for tastings. Like nearly 95% of Sekt this was made by the Méthode Charmat, where the wine undergoes secondary fermentation in pressurised steel tanks (autoclaves) as opposed to bottles, creating a fruitier style than those made in the traditional-method. Frenchman Eugène Charmat championed this on a commercial scale in 1907 with a move away from earlier, wooden tank techniques and the process is also known as Martinotti-Charmat Method or the Metodo Italiano, as it is a common technique for Prosecco production.
The Cabinet Gold Trocken was an unidentified blend, probably of Riesling, Müller-Thurgau, Silvaner, Weißburgunder and Scheurebe varieties which are grown on the 15ha Shäfer estate. At 11% abv we expected it to be simple and sweet, so were pleasantly surprised by a satisfying fruity wine with some depth and dryness, compared to a good Cava by some in the room. It was described as “not really Trocken” and some thought the bubbles disappeared quite quickly, but even then it was pleasant enough to drink and was generally liked by the group, especially at £8.96 (from Wine Dancer in the UK).
We then moved onto the 2004 Ockfener Bockstein Riesling Kabinett from Weingut Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt, an estate with a history spanning more than 650 years since the von Kesselstatt dynasty migrated to the electorate of Trier in the 14th century – the first documented vineyard purchase dates from 1349.
Although based in Morscheid in the Mosel the Weingut has 36ha of vineyards spread evenly over the Mosel, Saar and Ruwer river valleys, 98% which is Riesling –it doesn’t come any more traditional than this with their range embracing the Prädikat system and tending towards the off-dry styles.
The Ockfener Bockstein vineyard is one of the Saar’s steepest south facing slopes stretching upwards from a height of 180m (590ft) to 320m (1,050ft), its Devonian slate soils protected by a forest at the top of the valley which acts as a natural irrigation system to reduce vine stress in dry weather.
2004 has been described as benchmark for a normal, classic German vintage, with high ripeness levels and lively acidity, prime for ageing. At 8.5% abv the 100% Riesling Kabinett had a wonderful honeyed nose, slightly floral with typical petro-chemical aspects. There was a richly textured, oily mouthfeel, slightly sweet with some apple and maybe a hint of noble rot. Although it could have done with a touch more acidity it was well balanced and well liked by the group, “it reminds you of how good German wines can be”. What raised more comment was the price, only £7.49 from the local Co-operative supermarket (although that was reduced from £9.99, but even then a ridiculously low price for such a good wine).
We stayed in the Saar for the next wine, the 2006 Alte Reben (old vines) Riesling from Weingut Van Volxem in Wiltingen, just downstream from Ockfen.
The estate is located on the site of a Jesuit monastery and owned by Roman Niewodniscanski, the half-Polish heir to the Bitberger brewing dynasty who purchased it in 1999 after four generations of Van Volxem family management. His 42ha of organic vineyards are also some of the steepest in the Saar (as is the man himself, standing nearly 7 feet tall) growing Riesling and a small amount of Weißburgunder. Grapes for the Estate Riesling come from 30 year old vines, mere babes compared to the 50-100 year old vines used for the premium labels – there’s even a small amount of ungrafted, 120 year old, pre-Phylloxera Riesling.
The story goes that Niewodniscanski bought some of the best terroir in the area using 19th century tax maps which showed the top vineyards, many of which had been forgotten about, and he claims to be guided by such wines as Henri Jayer Burgundies and those “made in Germany a century ago when our wines were worth three times as much as top red Bordeaux”. Unlike von Kesselstatt he’s given up on the Prädikat system, instead making low-yield wines from late-harvested grapes using natural yeasts and spontaneous fermentation through to relative dryness. The results are “harmonic dry” wines – ripe and low in acidity, never over 12.5% abv and completely different to the classic Mosel style with extended lees contact and oak barrel maturation.
2006 is known as the year of botrytis in the Mosel with an early harvest and a small crop, with better acidity levels and higher sugar readings than previous comparable vintages.
At 12% abv the 2006 Alte Reben we had (simply labelled as Saarweine GrossLagen) and had a slightly closed nose of lychees and honeyed raisins, but in the mouth was wonderfully complex; clean, dry with creamy apricots and stone-fruit bitterness. A popular wine with the group this came from local retailer Richard Granger at just over £14 a bottle.
A change of region, grape and style next, with the 2007 Illusion Eins by Weingut Meyer-Näkel from Dernau in the Ahr, the smallest of Germany’s 13 wine regions (Anbaugebiete). The original Meyer estate was founded in 1870 but it wasn’t until 1950, when winemaker Willibald Näkel married Paula Meyer, that the Meyer-Näkel name was created, quickly becoming a pioneer for a new breed of German dry red wines. Although trained as a teacher Willibald’s son Werner took over winemaking in 1983 and has developed the 15ha estate so that it now is probably one of the most famous Ahr producers and has an international reputation for award winning Spätburgunder (aka Pinot Noir).
The wine we tried was a Spätburgunder, but not a red one – instead it was a Weißherbst (white autumn) where single variety, Prädikat quality red grapes are gently pressed and fermented without skin contact. This creates a light, delicately coloured wine often described as a type of Rosé and popular in Germany, although the Illusion Eins had barely a hint of colour.
Although 2007 has been described as a classic Ahr vintage producing elegant wines unfortunately the group were quick to pick up on hints of oxidation and an excess of sulphur reduction. I quite enjoyed its tart, lemon biscuit aspect, but comments of a hollow middle and a short, dry finish showed I was in a minority here.
This was the first of the wines I’d bought in Germany last year from Weinhaus Fehser in Heidelberg at €15 (£13).
We shifted regions again and moved onto a more traditional Rosé next with the Villa Wolf 2009 Pinot Noir Rosé by Weingut J.L. Wolf of Wachenheim, Pfalz.
Founded in 1756 by Johann Wolf, the estate flourished in the 19th Century but mirrored the fall of the German wine industry in the 20th until 1996, when renowned Mosel winemaker Dr. Ernst Loosen took over the winemaking and halted the rot. The 16ha vineyards are predominantly Riesling with 10% of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Gewürztraminer and Silvaner.
2009 was a great German vintage in the Pfalz, Germany’s largest Anbaugebiete, producing ripe wines. This showed through in the Villa Wolf Rosé which had a sweet, red berry nose with a little toffee and spiced cinanamon, while the flavour had some forest fruits and a creamy mid-palate. The wine was purchased from Northumberland based Dennhöfer Wines at £7.82 a bottle and comments from the room were favourable, with comparisons to a Provençal rosé, although I found the fruit a little confected and there was a noticeable harshness on the finish which detracted.
Our first red was a Schwarzriesling Spätlese Trocken by Wein & Sektgut Bernd Hummel of Malsch in northern Baden, Germany’s warmest wine region. This is the only German Anbaugebiete situated in the warmer E.U. wine growing zone B and stretches 125 miles from just above Heidelberg in the north down to Basel on the Swiss border.
Economist Bernd Hummel took over his father’s estate in the Kraichgau, south of Heidelberg, in 1984 after travelling the world, focussing on reduced yields and organic viticulture. He has 9ha of vineyards with 50% Spätburgunder and a mélange of other grapes including Weißburgunder, Schwarzriesling, Lemberger, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Riesling, Auxerrois, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Mitos, Dornfelder and Regent! 70% of his production is red, typically with oak cask fermentation and 2 year barrel ageing before release.
We tasted mixed vintages (2005 and 2006) of Schwarzriesling, which literally means black Riesling but is actually Pinot Meunier (aka Müllerrebe) — not typically seen as a single varietal red. This was an interesting and well received wine with a smoky, cherry nose and a light but elegant flavour including cherry, caramel and a little tar. There was not a great deal of difference between the 2 vintages apart from the alcohol; with the 2005 coming in at 13.5% and the 2006 at 12.5% reflecting that years comparatively shorter harvest due to autumn rains.
This was another of my Heidelberg purchases from Weinhaus Fehser, this time for €12.10 (£10.50).
We stayed in North Baden for the 2008 Heidelberger Herrenberg Spätburgunder S from Weingut Hans Winter in the suburb of Rohrbach, inside the old town of Heidelberg where the family has lived since the middle ages. Although vineyard documentation only dates back to 1749 the Winters consider themselves the oldest winery in Heidelberg with 15th and 16th Century cellars – the ancient Heidelberger Herrenberg vineyard itself is said to date back to the year 766! Although managing 14ha of vineyard only 4ha goes to produce their own label wines, primarily white varieties such as Riesling, Müller-Thurgau, Weißburgunder and Grauburgunder. For their red grapes traditional winemaking methods are used with fermentation on the skins and ageing in old oak casks or barrels.
At 14% abv the dry Spätburgunder had a touch more body and depth to the previous wine, showing a lovely fruity nose with a hint of spice. It had a good mouthfeel with juicy fruit at the front, a mid-palate of bitter cherry and a tannic finish with claims of beetroot from some in the room – a popular wine and the last of my Winehaus Fehser selection at €12.50(£10.99).
Baden had one more red to offer the tasting, although this time we moved much further south to the town of Vogtsburg-Bischoffingen and Weingut Johner, with their 2007 Estate Pinot Noir.
Karl Heinz Johner studied Oenology and Viticulture at Geisenheim before becoming winemaker at Lamberhurst Vineyard in Kent, where he experimented with sparkling wine production. He returned to Germany in 1985 to set up his own winery and continued to experiment, making concentrated, barrique aged wines so different to the norm that the they could only be sold as table wine. Since then Johner has avoided the traditional Prädikat system with all wines bottled with a screw-cap closure and no references to vineyard site, although the reserve wines are identified with „SJ” (Selektion Johner). He then felt the need to challenge himself further and set up Johner Estate in New Zealand where he now spends most of his time, leaving the running of Weingut Johner to his English-born son Patrick.
The 16.5ha estate grows similar amounts of Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc along with some Müller-Thurgau, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc on the terraced vineyards on the edge of the Kaiserstuhl plateau on the opposite bank of the Rhine from Colmar in the Alsace.
2007 was a very good vintage for Baden and this showed in the complexity and balance of the wine. It had a savoury, mushroom nose and a creamy texture with some redcurrant fruit and a clear burst of acidity throughout. The quality of this wine stood out and comments included “a classic Pinot” and “a delight to taste” – many admitted that they would not have considered it from Germany if tasted blind. This wine sparked an interesting discussion in the room, however, the price tag of £19.54 from Dennhöfer Wines was still a surprise to some even though it was served at a recent Ambassador’s dinner In Newcastle.
The final red of the night was a first for everyone in the room, the Chapeau vom Dalberg No. 19 2008 Acolon by Weingut & Sektkellerei Dalbergerhof Strauch in the Rheinhessen, our 6th and final Anbaugebiete of the night.
The winery is based in Osthofen on the river Seebach, a very short river that flows for only 9 km before emptying into the Rhine just downstream of Worms. There is very little information available on the producer other than it owns several stores across Germany which sell only Dalbergerhof wines, this bottle I’d got from the Weinhaus am Grindl in Hamburg for €20 (£18).
In case you haven’t figured it out Acolon is the grape variety, an early ripening cross of Blauer Lemberger (aka Blaufränkisch/Kékfrankos) and Dornfelder created in 1971 and officially recognised in 2002. Although initially limited to 79ha of experimental sites it is becoming established as an option both in and out of Germany, with the variety used in Belgium (Château Bon Baron) and also authorised in England (New Hall Vineyards in Essex has about 2.8ha).
2008 was not a good vintage in the Rheinhessen but this organic wine still managed a ripe 14.5% abv. On the nose there was some sweet fruit, plum (guava was shouted across the room) and raspberry but also a hint of acetate making it a little medicinal. It was easy drinking with fine yet persistent chocolate tannins and syrup of figs in the flavour. A scathing “international fruit driven wine” was heard, although many enjoyed its simple pleasures.
And so to the final wine of the night, again from Rheinhessen but this time another switch in style to the late harvested 1999 Huxelrebe Beerenauslese by Weingut Schales of Flörsheim-Dalsheim. This is another family business going back 8 generations to 1783 and something of a sweet wine specialist, having seen a record 56 Eiswein harvests in their 228 year history.
Their 60ha of vineyards include Riesling, Grauburgunder, Müller-Thurgau, Weißburgunder and a mix of other varieties including the Huxelrebe, which is another grape creation, this time by the famous Dr Georg Scheu who crossed Gutedel (Chasselas) and Courtiller Musqué (Muscat Précoce de Saumur) in 1927. It was named after viticulturalist Fritz Huxel who was the first to cultivate it extensively and received varietal protection in 1969, being grown primarily in the Rheinhessen and used for sweet white wines that typically reach Auslese standards in average vintages – 1999 was such a vintage with September rains diluting acidity and quality.
The Beerenauslese had a mango nose and I enjoyed its tart tatin acidity, although some questioned its freshness and said it was “a bit flabby”. Overall though it was a decent sweet wine to finish the night on, especially with a price tag of only £11.99 for the 500ml bottle from another local supermarket, Robbs of Hexham, back in early 2010.
So there we have it, a whistle-stop tour with 10 wines from 6 Anbaugebiete, 5 grape varieties and 7 styles covering much of what Germany has to offer. The most impressive wine of the night by far was the K.H. Johner 2007 Pinot Noir, but even the simpler wines had many in the room questioning why they don’t drink more German wines. I think some prejudices were broken, although the biggest hurdle remains the lack of availability of all but a handful of Rieslings in the UK, something that won’t change until the average consumer starts to see beyond the sweet sugar water wines from last century.
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’s 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 wines in 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 Svir?e 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!
“Oddbins, the Demise” would be a fitting sub-title to this month’s post, for what a month it’s been for arguably the most popular wine retailer in the UK. Founded in 1963 by Ahmed Pochee, run through the 1970s by Dennis Ing and Nick Baile, Seagram from 1984 to 2001 and then by French group Castel from 2002 to 2008 it was finally purchased by Nick Baile’s son Simon in 2008. Unfortunately Baile number 2 also inherited the poor debt, range and management decisions from Castel and, with hindsight, left it too late to do something about it.
News of Oddbins troubles first went public at the beginning of March with the closure of over a 3rd (39) of its stores, unfortunately it soon became clear this was too little, too late and by the 18th the wine media were reporting on the company’s attempts to enter into a CVA (Company Voluntary Agreement) with its creditors as the next step in their attempt to stay afloat. Victoria Moore wrote an upbeat piece in The Telegraph with Baile giving his side to the saga (interestingly using the same photograph as an equally complementary piece in the same paper only a year ago by Jonathan Sibun) but a close look at the comments section revealed that there was a lot of tension and unhappiness below the surface which seems to have included the largest creditor as well when, less than 2 weeks later, the CVA was vetoed by the UK taxman (HMRC are owed £8.6 million out of the company’s £20 million total debt) – the company went into administration. Tim Atkin wrote an excellent piece on the saga to bring the month to a close with a telling comment – “HMRC clearly had little or no confidence in the future of the business under its current owners.”
It promises to be another busy month as administrators Deloitte look for potential buyers, so next month’s Corner post will no doubt include an update to the tale and whatever twists still remain.
Elsewhere in the wine world Bill Koch’s complaint against Christie’s, originally filed in March 2010, was finally dismissed by a New York Judge. The Christie’s litigation was latest in a line of legal actions by Koch in his crusade to expose Counterfeiting and Fraud in the fine wine trade – summarised in an excellent article in The Slate by Mike Steinberger from last year – it was only in January that Zachy’s and the Chicago Wine Company settled with him out of court.
Victoria Moore caught my attention again with her article in The Telegraph on alcohol in wines, a current theme as May’s Decanter magazine (delivered in March!) includes, for the first time, alcohol levels for all the wines reviewed. At least the magazine isn’t still pushing ridiculous filler articles questioning whether fine wine can be made above 14%, as they did last year.
The last news I’ll review here hit an emotional chord as the last ever Wine Library TV episode was aired; episode 1000 saw Gary Vaynerchuk sign off with his trademark catchphrase “You, with a little bit of me…” after a week which included some of the oldest WLTV Forum members. The WLTV Forum was where I cut my teeth in the art of “free wine speech” (arguing would be another appropriate term!) before Reign of Terroir, and, although I now rarely get time to join in on the discussions, I still have a soft spot for the people and the Video Blog. Of course that wasn’t the end of GV and his pieces to camera as he announced the start of a new site, The Daily Grape, intended to be a more relevant, focussed and (the clue is in the title) regular wine video show. I’ve caught a few of the episodes and it’s comforting to see Gary keeping most of the enthusiasm that made WLTV so unique in the realm of wine reviews.
Oddbins demise was evident across the Northeast of England as well with the quick closure of the Darlington, Durham and Whitley Bay stores (plus the new “Oddies” convenience store in Gateshead which Decanter.com discussed in December). I talked with local Oddbins staff who were saddened by so many store closures and job losses affecting friends and colleagues, but understandably relieved that the main Newcastle and Gosforth shops were still going, while after the CVA failure the mood is “wait and see” (something that seems to be a job requirement working for Oddbins) but business as usual in the meantime, although the number of bottles on the shelves is looking thinner.
NEWTS this month was the AGM where the discussions went on for an age before the first wine was opened, followed by something of a tasting sprint to get through 8 wines in just over an hour. It was a quartet of reds which filled most of my notes for the night, starting with the Chilean Cousino-Macul 2007 “Finis Terrae” Cabernet-Merlot blend, a strong, herby nose with plenty of juicy blackcurrant fruit and soft tannins . Next was Australia’s Barrossa Valley and the Yalumba 2007 M/G/S with a very smooth herb nose & palate, although a touch one dimensional , not something that could be applied to Le Vieux Telegraph 2003 “La Crau” Chateauneuf du Pape which had smooth complexity – both wines initiated debate on the relative merits of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre blends from Old and New World, each having its supporters (I was leaning towards the Yalumba). Finally to the Barossa again for the palate pleasing St. Hallet 2006 “Old Block” Shiraz, a well made wine which showed good complexity, balance and integration but just needed a few more years of maturity to really shine.
The next NEWTS meeting is my own, first, presentation, a tasting showing a cross-section of German wine grapes, styles and regions to a group that has not shown much enthusiasm in the past to white wines or thin reds – I expect a “tough gig” but will let you know how it went next month!
Traveling kicked off again at work with a 2 week visit to Guangzhou in the south of China. The scale of the city is truly awesome – 14 million people stacked together in an endless high-rise skyline – a major culture shock for someone more used to the rolling green Northumberland countryside! Although I was in China for nearly two week a winery visit was not forthcoming so I made do with a visit to Grace Vineyard’s store in central Guangzhou where I tasted their Tasya’s Reserve Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon (both 2008 vintage), both solid wines with plenty of fruit and structure. Grace Vineyard looks to be making a name for itself as one of the leading Chinese producers focussing on quality above quantity and I may follow up with a more detailed piece in the future, but don’t go looking for a bottle with your local merchant – exports are rare, like the 2008 Tasya’s Reserve Cabernet Franc that came home with me!
That leads me nicely onto this month’s review of my own drinking and buying, a lean month on both fronts.
Along with the Chinese Cabernet Franc only two other bottles were added to the home collection; Tim Adam’s 2007 “The Fergus” Grenache blend joins its 2004 and 2006 siblings, whilst a favourable TV review from Olly Smith encouraged me to get the Paul Mas 2010 Marsanne from the Languedoc, the first wine I’ve bought with the new IGP labelling I discussed on Reign of Terroir in 2009.
I also took advantage of my flight to Guangzhou routing through Dubai and, in anticipation of a “lean” 2 weeks in China, picked up 2 Château Musar wines for drinking; the 2006 Rosé was my first experience of this style from Musar and was a fresh, savoury wine which blossomed over 3 days (even a pink Musar seems to improve with air) while the 2002 Château Red was simply a joy to drink (especially after 10 days in China!) and further suggests to me that the ’02 is on a par with the delicious ’99 after relatively disappointing ’00 and ’01 bottles.
I also managed to try two other Chinese wines in Guangzhou, the 1998 Great Wall and 2003 ChangYu, both Cabernet Sauvignon and both mildly corked (although not enough to be undrinkable, and faced with the choice of that or nothing then drink I did!). I had serious suspicions on both the claimed vintage and variety of the Great Wall while the marginally better ChangYu at least showed some Cabernet character – these retailed for between £5 and £10 so are at the cheaper end of what is available in local wine stores (the Grace Vineyard Cab-Franc I brought home came in at just over £20).
It was a Rosé and Red which provided the most enjoyment at home as well as abroad; the 2009 Domaine de la Garenne Bandol Rosé (Comte Jean de Balincourt) proved a hit with fellow NEWTS at a March dinner with its smooth strawberries & cream profile and a “grown up” texture on the palate, while the inky 2006 Montes Alpha Merlot showed a powerful blackcurrant nose with balanced, savoury tannins and a chocolate mint finish, perfect for quiet evening drinking at home.
Looking forward and with the start of Spring, the world wine diary is beginning to fill out. VinItaly has just come to a close in Verona, and California hosts the next two major events the end of April with the 19th annual Hospice du Rhône in Paso Robles on the 28th – 30th and the 2nd annual California Wine Festival in Orange County on 29th & 30th.
May then sees the start of the UK’s National Wine Month, an initiative run by the Wine & Spirit Education Trust under the slogan “Make Time for Wine” with the headline act of the London International Wine Fair on 17-19th May.
Even if, like me, you’re not able to make any of these events then I trust you’ll still find some time to open a bottle of something special and toast the end of Winter.
I thought January was quiet, but February passed by with barely a whimper here in the North East of England, as can be seen by the world wine news making up most of this piece!
Every month I try and read a range of wine related blog posts, news stories, press releases etc. and there’s always a section that I categorise as “and now for something completely different”, usually light hearted, quirky, niche or off-piste. For February this includes;
- the news that in England half of all vineyard area is dedicated to Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier while more than half of all grapes harvested went towards the production of sparkling wine.
- Tim Atkin’s “An agnostic’s view of natural wines“ an interesting read on a style of winemaking I’ve not really tried.
- The story of the 237 year old bottle of Vin Jaune sold for $77,000 to a group of a group of wine lovers who say they will drink it. Nick Stephens goes into great background detail on the wines of the Jura, although I should mention that Savoie & Jura expert Wink Lorch (@WineTravel on twitter) has been at pains to correct the story saying it was a 1774 vintage and not 1773 as widely reported!
Robert M. Parker, Jr. was in the news last month with the announcement that he was passing the Wine Advocate’s Californian wine review duties to Antonio Galloni, although he would still dabble in California with “…a series of horizontal and vertical tastings of perfectly stored California wines”. Seeing Parker pull back from reviewing duties, especially for California, made the headlines and initiated a batch of media stories and blog posts discussing the implications – in particular Jon Bonné’s insightful article. Alder Yarrow over at Vinography published a copy of Parker’s e-mail posted to Wine Advocate subscribers breaking the news.
Also initiating some robust debate on both sides of the Atlantic was the Wine Intelligence press release suggesting that Wine Bloggers aren’t a trusted source of wine advice. Robert McIntosh at Wine Conversation put up a stern defence of Bloggers while Harpers Wine & Spirits polled a selection of opinions for their more sober reflection.
Unfortunately the month had its share of sobering news as well. Winemaker and owner of Bogle Vineyards Patty Bogle Roncoroni died after a 4 year battle with leukemia, the Sacramento Bee publishing a full obituary and winery history. In the Southern Hempisphere an earthquake measuring 6.3 on the Richter scale caused devastation for the city of Christchurch in New Zealand. The wine regions of Canterbury and the Waipara are nearby but a statement from the New Zealand Wine web site confirms no reported damage or injuries to anyone in the industry.
My section on North East England will be painfully short this month – not because there’s nothing going on, but because I didn’t go to it! The NEWTS meeting was on the wines of Chilean producer Montes, but unfortunately I was on a business trip to the US and missed out – and in case you’re wondering it was to the tourist hot-spot of Schaumburg, Illinois, where I spent the whole 4 days in the hotel & conference centre and didn’t get a chance for even a single shopping trip (and don’t even ask about the wine)!
Moving quickly on and it was a Supermarket month with France and South Africa battling it out for my meagre purchasing powers. France just won with a brace of White Burgundies (Jean-Baptiste Béjot 2005 Puligny-Montrachet & Nicolas Potel 2008 Montagny 1er Cru) going for less than £10 each and adding to a 2009 Fleurie from Cave du Château de Chénas, all courtesy of my local Co-op. The South Africans were a Voor Paardeberg Roussane – made for Tesco and bottled by Boschendal – and the Meerlust 2006 Rubicon Bordeaux blend which will disappear into the cellar for a few years (I still have a 2001 to open!).
Simple everyday drinking was the name of the game for February, cycling through some red bottles I’ve probably been holding too long. The Roches Noir 2004 (Saint Chinian Roquebruin) was starting to show its age but still had enough life to provide drinking enjoyment and food accompaniment, while the 2005 Southern Point was a smooth, fruity McLaren Vale Shiraz which provided routine sipping pleasure.
On the whites my favourite was a bone-dry 2009 Jurançon Sec from De Nays – Labassère – a steely wine with lemon, bitter orange and some herbs. My better half couldn’t take the steely acidity though, and much preferred two Italian whites which were much easier on the palate; a light, banana dominated 2009 Falerio dei Colli Ascolani by Saladini Pilastri and the fuller, citrus flower freshness of the Pieropan 2009 Soave.
I also opened an Oloroso Sherry to provide a glass of something thought-provoking to finish off the evenings with (including tonight, as I finish off this piece, since it’s lasted more than 2 weeks!). This was the Don José Oloroso Reservas Especiales by Romate whose website offers up some haunting Spanish choral music on the intro page!
You definitely have to be in a “certain place” to consider opening a bottle of Sherry (this one was originally earmarked for Christmas), but as I sip away on a glass I’m always amazed at the depth of flavour and complexity in these wines – the Don José had a smoky, sweet caramel, tang to the nose with a nutty flavour, dry but not astringent leaving the palate fresh and quite enlivened at the end.
So that was February, gone and almost forgotten. Looking forward and a few events are appearing in the Wine Calendar for March and April;
- 18-20 March. 19th annual Zinfandel Festival in Paso Robles, California.
- 27-29th March. ProWein 2011 International Trade Fair for Wine and Spirits, Düsseldorf, Germany.
- 28th March – 3rd April. 33rd annual Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival
For me March includes another visit to China (although this time south, I’m still investigating whether there’s any vineyards nearby) and a return to NEWTS ahead of my own tasting in April (more to come on that).
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!
A warm welcome to 2011 from Reign of Terroir and there’s a whole new year ahead to look forward to 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.
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The great Greybeard 2010 road trip continues with some serious tastings in Sonoma at wineries with Italian, Croatian and French heritage. Read about all 625 miles of how I ended up in Santa Rosa in California Dreaming, Part I.
So, it’s a Thursday evening and I’m in a Santa Rosa motel room sipping on a very fine Syrah blend by Clos Tita (their 2007 La Sierra Azul, which is well worth a try) and trying to decide where to visit on my “Sonoma day”. Luckily I had an excellent guide book, Tilar Mazzeo’s Back Lane Wineries of Sonoma which I got from Ken Payton a few days earlier. A quick read suggested that Russian River may be the place to try, heading on up to Healdsburg if time permits.
Santa Rosa looked like it would be a good place to stay on Friday night as well (motel rooms were in my budget range here, unlike Sonoma itself) but unfortunately this one was full so I had to pack the bags again before hitting the road, although this time the intention was to keep the driving to a minimum.
I’d used the motel Wi-Fi to satisfy my Social Media addiction and just before leaving I got a tweet from @SonomaWineGuy (Jim Morris at Michel-Schlumberger) inviting me up to the winery in Dry Creek Valley, so I added them onto my rough schedule and headed on out the door.
First up was Balletto Vineyards on Occidental Road, just west of Santa Rosa, as I’d loved the simple picture in the guide book of a Wine Tasting sign on a dusty roadside (turns out that sign had been stolen and a shiny new one was in place as I turned off the road onto the long driveway to the winery and tasting room).
Founded in 2001 by John Balletto they have multiple vineyards in Russian River, the largest being the 280acre (113ha) plot around the winery itself. Of all the grapes they grow 90% are sold to other wineries in the area, with the pick of the crop kept for the Estate labels. Lacey Hunter was my pourer on a beautiful sunny morning and we talked our way through the 9 wines while I made full use of the spittoon.
The 2008 Pinot Gris was a pleasant enough opener with a rose petal nose but a bit too light and delicate to be memorable. The smooth 2008 Teresa’s Chardonnay, named for John’s wife, was clean and full of tropical fruit although finished quickly, unlike the 2007 Estate Chardonnay which had similar characteristics but was a much more rounded wine having spent 10 months in French oak (25% new) – any more oak would have overwhelmed the delicate fruit, overall a well made wine. We finished the whites with an easy drinking ’07 Gewurztraminer with a waxy lychee nose, good balance of sweetness to acidity and a pleasing viscosity, although the finish was too quick.
Three Pinot Noirs were then poured for comparison; the 2008 Winery Block, 2009 Estate Pinot and 2008 Burnside Vineyard, all hovering at approximately 14% abv. For immediate gratification it was the Winery Block and its warm, red berry nose and cherry finish, just enough tannin to keep you interested and very smooth – a crowd pleaser. The younger Estate Pinot had an interesting cherry menthol nose and fresher tannins, also with cherry on the mid-palate, but finished a bit too quick, while the Burnside showed an extra level of complexity with a gentle smoky nose, wonderful mouthfeel with acidity, tannins and red berry fruit balancing each other well leading to a caramel aspect on the finish – out of the three this is the biggest one, drinking well now but happily able to develop for a few more years.
Two more reds brought the tasting to a close, starting with the 2006 Estate Zinfandel at 14.2% abv which had a sweet Port-like, almost cooked aspect to the nose suggesting hot fruit. Flavours included some stewed rhubarb and ginger, which was intriguing, and the Port flavours also carried through from the nose, but without an obvious alcohol kick. Finally Lacey poured the 2006 Syrah, a low production wine with only 660 cases made. This was very perfumed with dark berries on the nose and good tannins in the mouth, some tar and Garrigue herbs with a pleasant austerity.
Before leaving I took a short walk around the back of the winery to see the adjacent Laguna de Santa Rosa wetlands which Balletto helps maintain as a habitat for local flora and fauna, a heron was standing on the far side viewing the water. I also heard about, but didn’t get to see, the four acre baseball field built amongst the vines for the field workers and winery staff, Balletto’s very own Field of Dreams!
I then moved on a couple of miles up the road to Suncé on Guerneville Road, mainly thanks to the Back Lane guide book highlighting the winery’s Croatian links which pulled at my own Eastern European heritage. As it turned out I couldn’t have made a better choice, as they proceeded to troop out 18 different wines for me to try over two very enjoyable hours, details of which can be reviewed on my earlier Reign of Terroir piece. So it was much later than anticipated when I finally turned onto Dry Creek Road and into the Michel-Schlumberger grounds. This winery wasn’t initially on my list as the guide book said tastings were “by appointment only”, but after Jim’s twitter invitation I guess I now had that appointment!
The property is beautiful, with a Mission style courtyard focussed on the Moorish window design (also the corporate logo) at the far end, with the winery itself behind.
Jim gave me a warm welcome and a brief introduction to the history of the place and people, sadly including the death only 2 days earlier of Javier Acevedo Sr., the Estate’s Vineyard manager since 1979 when the first vines were planted (a memorial table was set up to “The Patron” in the tasting room). The mood lightened somewhat when winery Labrador Shae wandered through with all the menace of a Teddy Bear (Guard Dog ability – she’ll lick you!) and after an appropriate wuffle Jim & I sat down and talked wine.
Michel-Schlumberger is named for Jean-Jaques Michel, who founded the original Domain Michel in 1979, and Jaques Pierre Schlumberger who took over leadership in 1993, the same year that winemaker Mike Brunson joined.
The winery is fully organic and runs following sustainable principles over its 87 acres (75 planted to vine) but is unusual for Dry Creek Valley in that it doesn’t specialise in Zinfandel, instead focussing on Bordeaux varietals, some Syrah and the Valley’s only Pinot Noir Vineyard (who’s grapes go into the aptly named “Le Fou”). However, we started the tasting session with the 2009 Pinot Blanc, the only Estate wine not to use wild yeast, instead it is inoculated with one specially imported from Alsace. This had a fresh, floral nose with some honey and cream, moving into a medium bodied texture with a dry herbal finish. Honey and cream were also evident in the finish of the buttery La Brume Chardonnay 2007, with a rich blossom/pollen perfume. An even more aromatic nose was on the 2009 Viognier which gave a spicy tickle on the sinuses! I really enjoyed the oily, viscous wine which had some stone fruit (unripe peach?) and a slightly bitter finish, although Jim said that this fuller style was different to previous vintages and had a mixed reception with wine club members.
We then moved onto the reds with a taste of Le Fou, the “crazy” Pinot Noir that isn’t meant to grow well in Dry Creek Valley! This 2007 vintage had a smoky nose with some spice, but I found it disjointed at the front of the palate, acidity and tannin were initially out of balance although they merged on the mid-palate into a long strawberries and cream finish. Should the start of this wine get itself together this would be a delicious wine.
Then we moved onto Cabernet, 20% of the Estate’s acreage, with the 2007 La Cime; a big wine with spice, herbs and tar on the nose and heady, dark fruit struggling to get out from behind palate coating tannins – a baby of a wine which I’d give 3 years at least before approaching again, but if the elegant, almost understated finish is anything to go on this will definitely improve.
It was at this point that Francesco (stupidly I didn’t get his last name), responsible for Wine Education, introduced himself and took me on an impromptu behind the scenes tour. He confirmed the organic principles of the Estate and also the commitment to local wildlife habitat (which includes sheep for trimming the weeds and encouraging the bird of prey population which help keep rodents away from the vines). Then we walked through the barrel room and I was amazed to see hundreds of oak barriques from dozens of different producers – Francesco said they use mainly French oak and buy from as many coopers as they can for the subtle differences in grain and toast characteristics which they deliberately use when crafting each vintage and label.
I returned to the courtyard as it was filling up with guests for the evening’s al-fresco dining and musical entertainment, mostly wine club members and other local winemakers . We talked to one small grower whose entire Zinfandel crop was lost after he’d thinned the foliage in an attempt to speed up ripening after the dull summer, only to see the clouds clear and have the baking sun shrivel them to raisins (while in the next plots other growers who’d held out saw a beautiful harvest). This sounds like it summed up the Californian vintage; a difficult summer saved by great weather just before harvest, but only if you’d made the right calls in the vineyard.
Back to the tasting table and two more impressive reds completed my time at Michel-Schlumberger. A 1991 Cabernet Sauvignon, simply labelled as “Table Wine” came from pre-Phylloxera vineyards (replanted after 1993 once the louse had done its worst) and didn’t look it’s age as I swirled the glass. It had a settled, earthy nose with some herbs and was delicate to sip, remarkably fresh, with some raisin on the finish. Tannin was still evident around the edges, holding the textures and flavours together –a complex, layered wine which I’m not going to try and describe any further as it will only highlight my inexperience of such mature bottles.
The end came with the 2006 Deux Terres, the Estate’s flagship Cabernet Sauvignon grown at 1200 feet and predominantly from low yielding Clone 6, the Jackson or Heritage clone – more of which can be read on the winery’s own Benchland Blog. Everything about this wine was big; a spice and smoke nose, dark but juicy fruit with very fine tannins, a peppery oakiness and sweet liquorice on the tip of the tongue. A few more years will do miraculous things with this, but the inherent quality was obvious and, of all the wines I tasted over the week, this was the one that met my preconceptions of a big, bold “Californian Cabernet”.
Unsurprisingly Michel-Schlumberger wines are not exported, all sales are direct and they always sell out, something that Jim was justifiably happy about, if only to steer clear of the Distribution and Retail system – although they still have to deal with the bureaucracy of interstate shipping regulations.
Before I left I had a short walk through the picturesque vineyards at the back of the property and watched the sun dip behind the nearby hills. I’d had a wonderful day and told Jim as much before I left, that afternoon alone is recommendation enough for the power of Social media, and twitter especially.
Then it was back to Santa Rosa again for the evening and a fourth motel just across the road from a textbook American Diner, which meant an enjoyable dinner of clam chowder followed by ribsteak and mash washed down with a bottle of Samual Adams, just what the Doctor ordered after a hard days tasting! Back in the room the last of the Clos Tita ensured a good night’s sleep.
And so to Saturday, the last (half) day with my flight out of San Francisco in the afternoon. I was either going head to the coast then down Highway 1, or turn inland for a quick view of Sonoma itself. Morning fog and a misty rain confirmed the decision so it was onto the Sonoma Highway through Kenwood and Glen Ellen and into brilliant sunshine, the contrast in weather remarkable after only a few miles driving.
Sonoma itself is a really pretty town with evident history centred around Sonoma Plaza, where the City Hall building flies the flags of all the previous colonial nations who settled in the region. I strolled around the square looking for a wine shop for a final taste or purchase but it was still early and nothing seemed open, then I chanced on the Roche Tasting rooms on West Spain Street where Harry Miller was in the process of opening up. Explaining I had a ‘plane to catch he poured me a taste of their 2008 Carneros Pinot Noir and sealed the deal; this was a dark and savoury Pinot with a meaty nose, fresh tannins and a pleasant acidity, more texture than fruit and with a minimum of 2-3 years ageing potential. This was a hit with me and I happily purchased a bottle to squeeze (just) into my bag – finally I had a wine to bring home that matched the California stereotypes of a big Cab or a sublime Pinot.
So that was it, the drive back down to SFO was uneventful and I boarded the Air France 747 with a much better idea of California, both geographical and oenological. Obviously I barely scratched the surface of what is out there, 2 weeks would have given me a chance of doing that, not 4 days. Nevertheless I have a better appreciation of California, especially Sonoma, which I preferred to the more overtly commercial Napa.
Within 2 weeks of my return home I attended two separate California themed tastings which built on the experiences of my road trip and which I’ll expand on in my next post.