Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Multi-vintage blends - article by Ant Rose in Decanter

They've never been regarded as a bad thing in Champagne but multi-vintage blends (MVBs) have rarely been taken seriously in still, unfortified wines. Ant Rose, in an article for Decanter, has attempted to point out that this is not always justified. I think it's fair to say that the vast majority of non-vintage wines are of low quality, the emerging MVB category is trying to do something rather more exciting.

What's the difference between NV and MVB, you may ask? Legally, nothing as far as I can see. They are simply designations conjured up by winemakers and wine critics (and, of course, wine merchants) but, as a rule of thumb, NV wines are probably going to look cheap - thin bottles, dull labels etc - and taste it. MVBs are prestige bottling with price tags to match. If nothing else, that's one way to measure the pretensions of the winemaker.

Xavier Vignon, with whom we have been working for about 15 years, is a pioneer of the style. His 'Debut' cuvee, a long-time favourite (why wouldn't it be? At well under a tenner, the wine inside the bottle blew many prestige wines from top Chateauneuf estates out of the water) was a MVB from a range of grape varieties, some of which ordinary consumers such as you and I have probably never heard of, from both the Rhone and the Languedoc. The three or four expressions of Debut that were produced in the first decade of the millennium were generally sourced from three different vintages. The resulting wine was amazingly complex and one of the longest-lived sub-£10 wines I have encountered. Sadly for us consumers, Xavier has stopped making this for the time being, at least. Instead, he has focused on new cuvees to keep his interest levels up.

A few years ago, we offered 'Sacrilege' which was a 'multi-region blend' of Syrah from Cote Rotie and Grenache from Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Because of the inclusion of the latter grapes (which cannot be declassified to anything other than Vin de France), the wine was denied its original Cotes du Rhone 2012 classification and was, instead, bottled as NV. It's developing into something rather special now so the authorities should stop clamping down on innovators and embrace change, perhaps - or, at least, create new premium categories as the Spanish have done with their Vino de Pago wineries and wines.

Other wines have followed but the new star wine in Xavier's portfolio (and the one with the highest price tag) is a MVB of his Anonyme cuvee, itself a multi-estate blend of grapes/wines sourced from several of the top estates in Chateauneuf-du-Pape with which he works as oenologist (estates he works with include Raymond Usseglio and Grand Veneur but he is understandably coy about revealing whose wines are in his bottlings). A couple of years ago he introduced a MVB Anonyme called 'VII IX X' which, it doesn't take a genius to work out (no, Kenny, even I got there!) means it comes from 2007, 2009 and 2010. This has been followed by 'X XII XV'. Both wines are fabulous as Ant Rose attests in his reviews.

The wines are blends of old-vine grapes from La Cru, Les Galets Roules, Les Urgoniens and Les Sables and, as Ant writes, the use of MVB is "aimed at combining signature vintage elements - 'saltiness' in 2007, 'opulence' in 2009 and 'acidity' in 2010) - to achieve a sum-of-the-parts richness and complexity with no loss of terroir focus".

His reviews of the two wines are as follows:

'Fragrant red fruits and classic spice. Lovely complexity, full-bodied with richness, great concentration and texture. Very complete. Still full of youthful vigour but almost ready. Drink 2018-2025. 14.5%'

Xavier Vignon, La Reserve X XII XV, Chateauneuf-du-Pape 94/100
'Rich and concentrated blackberry fruit with a ripe, sweet middle. Full-bodied and opulent red fruits with real vigour and youthful muscle. Needs time to soften. Drink 2019-2030. 15%'

The earlier bottling is available from stock but the more recent one is to be shipped later in the year.

Monday, 26 February 2018

Joblot 2016 - another year in which the Chalonnaise superstar betters its northern rivals?

Pound for pound (or should that be euro for euro), I doubt there is an estate in Burgundy producing higher quality wines at such (comparatively) low prices as Givry's Domaine Joblot. Year after year, this is a producer that makes wines that are better than many in the more illustrious Cote d'Or but, at around £25 or so a bottle, there is little - beyond basic Bourgogne Rouge - that can match these wines for price.

Now, don't get me wrong, Bourgogne Rouge can be very good indeed when it comes from some of the better producers' stables but they are always north of £20 these days and don't often match the most basic wine in the Joblot range which, from 2016, bears the moniker 'Preface'. This is their village Givry and its youthful, pretty nose offers good fruit weight and perfume. The length is good for this level and there is no reason to doubt that this wine will develop extremely nicely. Definite notions of stewed plums here and a hint of cinnamon perhaps with plenty of high notes. Good acidity. I would prefer to revisit this later next year.

Moving up a notch (actually, several), to the two wines that normally vie for the top spot: 'Clos du Cellier aux Moines' and 'Servoisine', both Premier Cru Givry. The former is generally the more elegant of the two whilst the latter offers more structure and power. This is true in 2016: Servoisine is a little shy to begin with but, with a little coaxing, reveals sweet fruit albeit tightly defined. From 2022? The monk's cellar is quite dark and has deep fruit character and undeniable tannins but it is more generous than the Servoisine at this stage though still slightly shy. Some new oak is evident in both and they both finish a little short now but they will lengthen as the tannins integrate. The fruit on the Cellier is prettier and will probably always be - from 2021.

Juliette Joblot has crafted a new cuvee in 2016 from a blend of all the Premier Cru Givry wines the family owns (the above two together with Clos Marole and Bois Chevaux). This 'Empreinte' is bigger, richer and the tannins seem more in check here. Very fragrant. Lots going on here. Quite forward: I will look forward to more of this from 2021. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts!



Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Oseleta - what is it?

Oseleta is a grape variety. 

That's straightforward then. Go to Jancis Robinson's website to find out more. After all, she and her colleague Julia Harding MW, wrote what must be the definitive guide to grape varieties. 


It's not there. Never mind, a good search comes to the rescue. Oseleta has a 'more tannic structure, minerality and dark berry notes and is very different to the light, more gentle, low tannin of most Valpolicella grapes' according to thedrinksbusiness.com in an online article entitled 'Rare variety adds backbone to Valpolicella'.


So now you have a clue as to my interest. I have been keeping quiet about a new range I have just brought into the UK from a rather interesting outfit called 'i Campi' (which my 'O' Level Latin translates as The Fields). I came across them following a discussion about Soave wines in which I became convinced that there were some seriously good ones out there somewhere (in the Soave zone, obviously). Sure enough, i Campi, which makes two Soave wines, has one - 'Campo Vulcano' (Volcano Field) - which seems to have a permanent Tre Bicchieri award from Gambero Rosso. Even my Italian friends think it is rather good. 


They also make a Valpolicella Ripasso 'Campo Ciotoli' which seems to win the Tie Bicchieri year on year - indeed, this year it is the only wine of this designation in the guide, I am told. Their Amarone 'Campi Lunghi' (Long Fields) is somewhat sublime too, inevitably.

campo-prognare-500
There will, of course, be more information about these wines just as soon as half-term is over and I can spend a little more time on this.


Back to Oseleta. It doesn't feature in the Ripasso or Amarone (both wines are: Corvina and Corvinone 85%, Rondinella 10%, Croatina: 5%) but in a super cuvee bottled as Rosso Veneto called 'Campo Prognare', 


Why is this wine a mere Rosso Veneto?


Looking at the rules, wine-searcher.com states that 'the grapes used to make Valpolicella are Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara' . Elsewhere, I discover that Amarone must be 50-100% must come from Corvina (or Corvinone) and Rondinella with a possible 15% other regional varietals with a maximum of 10% of any one variety. That lets out the 'Prognare' then as it is one third Oseleta (the other grapes are Corvina and Croatina).


I am looking forward to trying this wine from the 2008 vintage but I know one or two of you will castigate me for writing about it when I am not offering it for sale. To you I say, if you want a bottle, I may be able to spare it from the box I have but it is not cheap. Think Amarone and double the price! 


The i Campi website offers the following notes:


The top end of our production is produced at 550 m. a.s. l. on a marly fossil ground.

It has an extremely deep ruby color, almost impenetrable. Very intense and persistent to the nose and palate; scents of small red forest fruit such as raspberry, wild strawberry, redcurrant. Pleasant cherry notes and spicy tertiary aromas are harmoniously combined to enhance the complexity of this iconic wine. The tannins are already “softened”, but with no doubt they can still promise a very long life. It would be certainly interesting (and deserving) to stand for a tasting in a few years.


Austere and imposing wine but always nice and elegant, a true champion!


I will confirm whether or not I agree with this as soon as I have tasted the wine.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

St-Peray - what's that?

The southernmost appellation of the northern Rhone is not a name that many wine enthusiasts know or a wine that is commonly seen on the shelves. There are some decent sparklers bubbling out, and have been since the 1820s, but now the still whites are making a name for themselves in this tiny appellation - different sizes abound on this font of all knowledge, the internet, but it seems that it is between 55 and 90 hectares (by way of contrast, Chateau Lafite claims 112 hectares).

Earlier this year, I visited Pierre Gaillard, one of the northern Rhone's great risk-takers, who was clearly very pleased with his St-Peray (indeed, he has reason to be pleased with the whole range but the St-Peray seemed to be one he was especially proud of) and it was easy to see why. It is a wine grown just south of Cornas on clay and chalk, giving acidity and tension to the wine. The Marsanne/Roussanne blend give the wine delicate floral characters, complexity and balance.

Yesterday, I was flicking through the September issue of Decanter when I spotted an 'Expert's Choice' review of wines from St-Peray. Matt Walls is quite a good reviewer, of Rhone wines anyway, so it was pleasing to see that he awarded 93 points to Gaillard's St-Peray, one of the highest scoring and, certainly, the cheapest in the line-up.

'Majority Marsanne. Bay leaf and pine needles on the nose, almost peppery - very lively and inviting aromatics. A squeeze of citrus over the rich apricot fruit; very long and perfectly balanced. Good tension in the wine; this is very well done.' (Matt Walls, Decanter 09/17)

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

New arrivals tasted and a scientific experiment

It's been a while since my last post as the arrival of the British summer saw me de-camp to the continent for several weeks where wines were enjoyed but rarely intellectualised. I found that I still don't get on with Loire reds but I did find a Beaujolais I really liked, albeit one given a traditional, whole cluster fermentation followed by ageing in barriques (so, nothing like BoJo). Other wines came and went: a Ruche impressed me at lunch in Alba but, generally, I drank either wines which I import or, otherwise, wines of little consequence. Summer wines.

Arriving back in the UK, it was time to start the post-arrival tastings of 2015s that have been sitting quietly in the warehouse since late June. Several wines from the northern Rhone's Pierre Gaillard and Domaine Ste-Anne  in the south have been opened in the last week and, youthfulness aside, all have impressed greatly. From the latter estate, the St-Gervais 'Les Rouvieres' is surprisingly approachable although, clearly, it has much more to give. The Cotes du Rhone Blanc is a cracker too (as are the others, of course, but this bottling flies so far under the radar it is worth mentioning it!).

Gaillard's Cornas is so good I may have to withdraw the remaining bottles from sale. The same applies to his 'Asiaticus' from the Seyssuel vineyards just up from Cote Rotie. I love his whites too which are more ready to drink now. I have shied away from opening a Cote Rotie at this stage as, given the prices of these wines, it would be sacrilege but the two StJo's have given good insight with 'Les Pierres' more striking now than six months ago when I last tasted it.

Now onto my experiment. I was sent a can of argon to product test. It's an inert gas which is being used for wine preservation and useful if you have an opened bottle which you don't want to deteriorate or, at least, that's the idea. I am going to test it and report back.

My plan is to try it out on three different wines - a Grenache, a Nebbiolo and a white (not sure which) - to get a proper feel for it. Grenache is rather more prone to oxidation than Nebb hence this selection. The wine has to be stored in a cool dark environment (such as a cellar) so the white will be the most problematic if I want to try it chilled, I suppose.

Otherwise, the plan is to open six bottles of each wine (so I won't be testing all three at the same time) and draw a glass from each to check there are no flaws and that they are all the same. Then they will be numbered 1A, 1B, 2A etc with the 'A' bottles being ones that gas is sprayed into and the 'B' bottles being the controls. Bottles 1A and 1B will have a glass a day poured until they are empty at which time bottles 2A and 2B will be compared with the last drops of the first set. These will then be poured, a glass at a time, once a week until they are empty at which time the third set of bottles will be re-examined, approximately a month after they are first opened. If, at that point 3B is still drinkable (it will have had a month of exposure to air), I will probably just be grateful that no wine has gone to waste and enjoy it. I may keep 3A going much longer out of curiosity though. Realistically, I would not expect any preservation system to work for longer than a month although there is no real reason why it shouldn't. It is extremely unlikely that I would keep a bottle open that long, of course. That is why I am doing this in the interests of research!

Friday, 30 June 2017

Southern Rhone whites decantered

Today sees the release of Decanter's August edition with the publication of the results of its Southern Rhone Whites tasting. We have a whopping seven wines in the line-up! As the notes show, Viognier is very much back in vogue.

Chateau Juvenal, Ventoux 2015 'Ribes de Vallat'
Another scoop for Juvenal, following its recent Wine of the Week (for the 2016) on jancisrobinson.com, now recognition for the 2015 - there's very little left but at least the follow-on comes highly recommended! The Juvenal Blanc is a blend of Clairette and Viognier.

'Calls to mind summer Mediterranean meadows and freshly mown grass. Peach, apricot and mango fruits dominate the palate, complemented by a rich, oily texture' (90/100, 13.5% ABV)

Domaine Brusset, Cairanne 2015 'Esprit de Papet'
One of two whites from Laurent Brusset and, if that's not enough, his 2015 Cairanne 'Chabriles' also scooped a Platinum Trophy for Best Value Rhone Red in the Decanter World Wine Awards. This first white is dominated by Roussanne and Viognier.

'An unashamedly hedonistic wine, this is fulsome and honeyed with patisserie-lie character. There's an extra layer of refined, smoky fruits and a fresh, citric finish, leaving the palate cleansed' (90/100, 14% ABV)

Xavier Vignon, Cotes du Rhone 2015
Usually better known for his full-bodied reds, Xavier's Grenache/Viognier blend is also rather good!

'Attractive apricot and peach flavours in the mouth. It's certainly not the most elegant; however, a lovely wine with food, matching with andouillette served with lentils and caramelised onions' (90/100, 14% ABV)

Domaine Brusset, Cairanne 2016 'Travers'
The regular (and lower-priced) white from this estate is a slightly more traditional blend but, as above, with a twist of Viognier.

'This wine has lots of orchard fruits, elderflower and limes. The palate is reminiscent of fresh bread dough, with a lifting mineral edge' (89/100, 13%)

Domaine des Anges, Ventoux 2014
'Opening with lime blossom, pear and almond on the nose, there's a soft, fruity palate with mellow acidity, mango fruit and good length' (86/100, 13.5%)

Also commended: Christophe Coste, Cotes du Rhone 2014 'Dame Blanche' and fair: Raymond Usseglio, Cotes du Rhone 2014


Friday, 9 June 2017

2006 revisited in Chateauneuf-du-Pape

Jancis Robinson has revisited 2006 Chateauneuf-du-Pape making two of our wines her Wines of the Week. She writes:

'I was reminded of how well the 2006 Châteauneufs are showing now when tasting a couple currently on offer from The Big Red Wine Company in the UK. I opened Raymond Usseglio 2006 Châteauneuf-du-Pape (£24.50, 14.5% alcohol on the label) at the same time as Domaine de Cristia 2006 Châteauneuf-du-Pape (£23, 15%) and enjoyed how they played tag in the glass. At first the Raymond Usseglio wine was the more impressive – much denser and richer – but then the Cristia came up on the outside lane and overtook it, offering more elegance and staying power, despite the alcohol level, and making the Usseglio look a little grainy and tired after an hour or so.

'But the main message is that this vintage of Châteauneuf is drinking very well at the moment and, for serious, ageworthy wines that have had almost 10 years in bottle, they are not desperately expensive.'
2008 review: Blackish crimson. Meaty molasses notes from what is obviously a very concentrated cocktail. One of the spiciest, most arresting noses among these 2006 regular bottlings. Big boned with a hint of yeast extract/Marmite. Serious, lots of effort in here. Still some drying tannins on the finish. Very serious wine. 18- Drink 2015-27
2017 review: Lively ruby. Strong garrigue aromas. Very rich and warm. Sweet start with freshness on the finish initially and good fruit concentration in the middle. In the glass it became heavier and heavier and lost its refreshment value. 16.5 Drink to 2023

Our tip: enjoy this wine over half an hour or so after opening!

2008 review: Thick and dense with an element of stewed fruit about it. Pretty good but lacks a little bit of zip. Lots of pleasure if not too expensive, though I do wonder whether it wasn't picked just a little bit too late? Grenache with an admixture representing just 10%. 17.5 Drink 2015-27

2008 review: An odd metallic note on the nose. Quite feral notes(10% Mourvèdre and 10% Syrah plus Grenache) and masses of drying tannins on the finish. Some heat on the finish too. BIG! But for the moment it's a little formless. Bit of a hole in the middle. 16 Drink 2014-20

2017 review: Medium ruby. Big and round with tannins well in retreat. Rich tamarind flavours. In the glass it looked fresher and fresher. Admirable purity considering the alcohol level. This vintage is showing very well currently.  16.5 Drink to 2025