Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Raymond Usseglio's "Part des Anges" 2007 - Part 2

The wine has been opened. The colour is a deep cherry red, very bright. There is more sediment than I expected but since that is (generally) no bad thing and I have a suitable funnel with a mesh to catch it, I have poured the wine into the jug to let it open up over the next several hours. At this stage the nose is more profound than I recall it being a couple of months ago - black fruit and earth dominating - but it is early so I'm going to (try to) resist temptation for a little while at least!

7pm - giving myself a pat on the back for waiting so long. One sip reveals so much about this wine: it is packed with potential. The fruit is concentrated but not too big or sweet - there is much to be gained from ten years in the bottle. There is some oak which glosses over things; I would like to see this fade away a little which, of course, it will. This will let the fruit sing out a little more on its own. But the main thing that stands out about this wine for me at this time is its texture. People sometimes refer to a wine having a texture of liquid velvet and this wine reveals why. It has body, not too heavy though but it's not just about glycerin (think Australian wine in particular but a lot of CDP too); there's something else here, something more real, more substantial. Maybe the clue is on those fine tannins that I filtered out earlier. The wine was clear after this but there was a slight "creamed potato" quality to the texture which, to me at least, rendered it as near to perfection as possible. I will be looking out for this a lot more.

Raymond Usseglio's "Part des Anges" 2007 - Part 1

"La Part des Anges" (the angel's share) is the winemaker's term for the wine that evaporates out of the barrel during the elevage. It has little to do with this wine though as there is plenty left for us here. Instead, Stef Usseglio has named the wine to highlight that this really is the very best his vineyard has to offer. Too much for some, perhaps, although in true Raymond Usseglio style, it is in no way overblown.

I first tasted this at the estate from barrel and was overawed by the wine. Towards the end of last year, we finally shipped the wine with the rest of the estate's 2007s. Whilst most of this cuvee (and all the "Imperiale") was pre-sold, I was pleased to have a few cases spare of this wine to play around with.

I opened a bottle soon after it arrived - I know it was wrong but I just couldn't wait! My first reaction was to kick myself for being too hasty. The wine was completely closed. All I got was a mass of tannins masking a bit of background fruit. Poured into an open jug and left for three hours, though, and it completely transformed. Massive black fruit character with superb structure, the oak at last showing through (but not too much). In other words, the baby had become an adolescent.

Now, having given the wine a suitable amount of time to rest after its journey, and with several people suggesting that 2007s are drinking well already (that's another blog!) I am succumbing to it again. This time I am opening the wine now (11am) and it will have up to 8 hours in the jug. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

2008 en primeur - Southern Rhone

The 2007 campaign was the most successful to date but should you buy the less successful 2008 vintage?

White wines are often very good indeed so, if you like white Rhones don't dismiss them at all. Reds from better producers are decent enough but why bother? Don't forget that next year there will be the fabulous 2009s to buy and there are still some (not many) superb 2007s available, some even at sensible prices (especially standard cuvees from CDP growers - the luxury cuvees are, by and large, all gone now).

There are some very good wines from including Beaucastel and, a perennial favourite, Raymond Usseglio (exceptions to the "why bother" question). My point is really that most 2008s will still be around when they are ready to drink so, whilst as an importer of these wines, I should be pushing them, as a consumer/wine lover first and foremost, I would recommend people not to buy them except for "allocated" wines. If you like Beaucastel then you do need to get it now, I guess.

Domaine de Mourchon did not produce a Grande Reserve in 2008 as it was felt the grapes were not good enough and they wanted to ensure the Tradition was up to standard. That said, they have creamed off the very best for their micro-cuvees, the "Family Reserve" wines (don't believe everything Parker writes, by the way; there are two cuvees of this: one Grenache and one Syrah). However, Mourchon also downgraded some of the CDRV grapes to produce a decent CDR in 2008 which is quite admirable.

The question about whether wines benefit from the grapes normally destined for luxury cuvees is interesting. The answer should be "yes" (assuming they are of higher quality even in the poor vintages) although the impact can be quite small when you consider the miniscule quantities produced of such wines.

However, when I visited Raymond Usseglio to taste his 2002s, I was prepared to say "thanks but I'll see you next year" (in French, of course: neither Raymond nor son Stef speak much, if any, English). We tasted the red which displayed all the characteristics of a bad vintage of Bordeaux (lean, unripe, herbaceous, stalky etc) and Raymond looked at me in agreement. He told me it had been bottled early for the American importer (presumably trying to sell it before Mr P released his verdict) but there was another, later bottling which also included the grapes normally destined for the "Cuvee Imperiale". This was probably the best 2002 CDP I tasted, a little lighter than usual but it still had some depth and good CDP character. I supported him in that vintage and my customers knew I would not sell them a bad wine so they, in turn, supported me. Everyone seemed quite happy with the results.

Whilst we must demand certain minimum quality levels, we cannot cherry pick all the time if we want the high quality in the top vintages at reasonable prices.

So, what will I be offering in 2008? All depends on what I taste when I visit later in the spring. If wines are good enough, then it doesn't matter that they come from a supposedly inferior vintage. If not, I will work with the estates to put together an attractive offer in any case. As always, I will not recommend (much less, buy) wines I would not like to drink myself.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Cahors wines and oak

In discussion with someone about the various levels of Cahors wines, I maintain the standard cuvees are always going to have more typicity at an early stage. But the prestige wines are more concentrated and absolutely pure Malbec which is, perhaps, why they sometimes come across as atypical. Give them time!

The "Le Cedre" (and I would guess prestige cuvees from other estates, certainly Lamartine's "Expression" and Haut-Monplaisir's "Pur Plaisir") wines are typically more concentrated and oakier than their junior counterparts although, for example, the 04 is more classic than the 05. Even then, I decanted a bottle of the '04 at lunchtime (a few days ago) and by 6.30 it wasn't exactly ready (still very much enjoyed though) so don't rush into any of these prestige cuvees.

The oak question seems to be quite divisive. As far as I can see, the oak barrel is a traditional means of ageing wine before bottling/consumption but in the modern era when there are other alternatives for the elevage, there are certainly too many using oak as a flavour component which, I agree, should be avoided. However, like any really good wine, oak is used in Le Cedre, for example, to assist with the elevage and contribute to the textural profile. If aged sufficiently, there will be little or no oak influence on the flavour of the wine but you will notice the leap in quality between, for example, Cedre's "Prestige" (now renamed simply "Chateau du Cedre") and "Le Cedre". A bottle of Lamartine's "Expression" in 2002 or 2004 has no discernible oak on the nose, only when it hits your mouth is it at all apparent and then only in the texture.

So, whilst I agree that oak is too often over-used, it does have its place.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Mas de Daumas Gassac

Having read numerous posts on a wine forum about this wine (in particular the 2000 vintage which I have been enjoying recently), I am curious to hear your views about it - no need to post if you don't want to.

The 2000 has good colour for a Cabernet-based wine, just beginning to show signs of maturity. The nose is quite Cabernet too (you'd hope so, given it's 80%) with a little extra sweetness to the black and blue berries (rather than currants) and mint with some hints of the forest. Altogether a decent variation on the Bordeaux theme, clearly a quality wine and one that can be enjoyed now (as I have been) or, being quite firm and tannic still, kept a few more years.

The 2001 was always an advanced wine although, as this was the first year they made the special "Emmanuel Peynaud" bottling, I have always wondered what impact this would have on the regular wine. Probably very little as quantities of the Peynaud were relatively small so, even though all the best grapes went into that, there was plenty of good wine left for the straight "Mas".

Anyway, a cork was pulled last night revealing another classic Daumas Gassac. Not a "wow" wine but very solid. Similar to the 2000 but, possibly, slightly more forward and with more orange peel on the nose and, I thought, gentler tannins. Bearing in mind my ambivalence towards much Bordeaux, this went down without any complaints.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Happy New Year

No posts in December (except a brief one to praise Paul Strang's book on South West France which has had the inevitable effect of making me want to return this summer to check out all things I missed last year). Things got hectic - as always - and I thought people would prefer to receive their wines than read my rants.

Most things went OK. There was the odd wrong delivery, of course, and always the ones that are most difficult to put right (a case of Monte Rosola's "Crescendo" delivered to Ireland in place of their "Corpo Notte" was by far the worst example) but I think (hope) everyone had the wines they wanted on their table over the holiday season. We did!

We have been drinking through some of the more mature wines on the list and in our own cellar such as Raymond Usseglio's superb 2000 Chateauneuf-du-Pape. This is everything I want a Chateauneuf to be: spicy but smooth, rich and complex but not so heavy I need a knife to slice it with. On NYE, we opened (from the same vintage) a magnum of Pegau and bottles of Beaucastel and Vieux Telegraphe. The Beaucastel showed extremely well (as it has from a relatively young age) although I would like to see what it is going to be like at the next decade's end; the Pegau classic. VT was, as I too often find, a big disappointment with a little too much oxidation (the last bottle of 2003 was so ghastly that I am finding it difficult to open another!). Raymond - or, rather, Stef - Usseglio's wine held up extremely well in this exalted company. I wouldn't particularly rank them as they are quite different; only the VT was below par.

For Christmas Day, with twelve at the table (OK, so four of them were under 12 years old), I decided against the very best (apart from anything else, some of them might not know a decent wine if it bit them) but still had to have something good enough for us to enjoy. The day started early: our oldest woke up at 3.15 although it was three hours later when we said they could all come through to show us what was in their stockings. By 11am, the first family members arrived so we cracked open a Rasteau Rancio from Domaine Bressy-Masson which struck me as a very sophisticated way to get into the day: sweet but with a dryness about it that left you searching for the bowl of nuts that we had overlooked.

A bottle or two from Champagne Michel Rocourt for those who don't like Buck's Fizz (personally I prefer their music, and that's really saying something!) with the traditional brunch then a break before lunch where the wine choice was Pascal Perrier's Domaine de Gachon 1999 St Joseph. This wine has been sitting around for seven years and has finally come together. Almost Burgundian in its finesse but with classic mature Northern Rhone Syrah fruit including a whiff of the bacon fat associated with Cote Rotie. Several bottles later, we completely forgot about pudding wines although this was more than remedied on NYE with a bottle of Domaine Bernardins' Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise "Hommage", a Rancio of sorts which tastes more like Christmas than some of the mince pies pushed my way over the last few weeks. Actually, as someone who usually finds Muscat rather insipid, I have to confess a liking for their regular Muscat. I only hope some of the people who bought this by the case recently will let a few bottles mature (don't let anyone tell you that fortified Muscats don't age; it's a lie to keep you off track and keep all the best wines for the person giving you this misinformation!)

Happy New Year - and I will try to be more observant about posting this year (note, this is not a resolution).