Wednesday, 31 October 2012

What I take away with me

If, like me, you have amassed a collection of wine far in excess of the number of bottles you can realistically expect to consume in the life of the wines concerned, you will have picked up a few bottles you have changed your mind about since your original enthusiastic purchase and which you consistently snub whenever you are pulling a bottle from the rack.

I have developed a system for using these wines: take them to the in-laws. Not that I want to palm off the undesired on my in-laws, you understand; rather, that when I am there, some 250 miles from home, I am stuck with whatever wines I have brought with me. The local off-licence is unlikely to have anything smarter than Blossom Hill lookalikes so you will believe me that whatever I take with me is going to be preferable.

Having come back from a couple of days there, I can report that the visit was successful, wine-wise at least, with a couple of Bordeaux I had been dreading, a Burgundy which has never impressed and a Chateauneuf which previously seemed over the top all performing well. That said, when we needed an extra bottle to take with us on a visit to the brother-in-law just around the corner, a bottle of Bressy-Masson's 2009 Cotes du Rhone, relieved from a box taken up at my mother-in-law's request, a wine which cost considerably less than any of the stash I had taken for general consumption, was most impressive.

Of the wines I took, the Tour St Bonnet 2003 was less ripe than others from the heatwave year but good with some roast lamb; a bottle of Patrice Rion's 2005 Bons Batons, a vintage which for some reason has consistently failed to hit the spot, seemed richer and more together than ever before. On Monday, a 2000 Bordeaux (I can't even remember which!) which I expected to have fallen apart by now, was still very much alive but the Cuvee du Vatican Reserve Sixtine from 2007 is still in its infancy but coming together very nicely with cherry kirsch dominating.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Beaucastel 2011 allocations just received

The allocation for the 2011 wines, tasted recently in London (see here for my impressions), has just landed in my inbox and the offer is now available to view here. For the first time, we are pleased to offer Coudoulet Blanc as well as the rest of the range from Chateau de Beaucastel and Famille Perrin.

Does anyone notice a face lift?

Despite Google Analytics statistics, I am never entirely convinced that anyone reads this (except for the small number of people who call me to correct punctuation or grammar - you know who you are!) so was there really any point in the hours I put in to change the appearance of some of the pages on the website?

Given what I have written in the paragraph above, I can assume that few will have noticed the changes so I should begin with the information that the pages affected were those that list the estates we work with from the various regions. Out with the tedious alphabetical lists and in with pictures - logos, labels and photos - to make these dull pages more exciting and, if not exciting, more accessible.

For example:

French wines   -   Rhone wines   -   South-West France   -   Languedoc-Roussillon
Italian wines   -   Spanish wines

It should be fairly easy to post a response on the blog so let me know whether you think it an improvement - do the changes make things clearer or not? - or anything else that springs to mind.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Memory lane revisited

Domaine de Cristia produced its first vintage of its 80-year-old vine Grenache grown on the Cristia lieu dit next to Rayas, named appropriately enough "Vieilles Vignes" in 2004. It was an instant hit with critics and consumers alike and, when it was released in 2006, was good value at around £25 per bottle (you can double that today).

At eight years old, the wine has shed its primary character but it hasn't quite got round to the next phase yet. At first there is a hint of varnish on the nose (something that seems quite common for this style of wine at this stage of its evolution) but this blows off with a little breathing. As indicated, the fruit character is not giving its best just now but, having come across this before, I know it is just a matter of time before the secondary glow appears.

What does interest me now is the texture of this wine. In particular, the weight of the wine is excellent. The tannins are smooth and the alcohol is not overly apparent. This is a food wine that can be enjoyed on its own now (given an hour or two aeration) but I think I will keep my other couple of bottles back another five years at least.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Uplifiting Usseglio

OK, so Chateauneuf-du-Pape is not generally a Tuesday night wine but, having endured a vegetarian lunch (with some very good friends so I didn't mind too much!) we had a beef stew which cried out for something majestic. Raymond Usseglio's 2005 promised to hit the spot.

At just seven years old, this wine has now turned the corner to become a wine that could only be Chateauneuf, a real terroir wine. Raymond's (or, rather, Stef's) wines are never the most concentrated in their youth but they grow and grow until, when ready, their mouthfeel is perfectly balanced with the acidity and tannins and the fruit, at seven years old, is beginning to show signs of maturity with some secondary fruit poking its head round the corner.


Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Beautiful Beaucastel 2011

Yesterday saw the annual Beaucastel EP (en primeur) tasting, this year held at the Church House Conference Centre, a stone's throw away from the Houses of Parliament (it's OK, they weren't sitting: it's conference season, remember?).

The line up started, not altogether impressively, with the Vieille Ferme range which I found to have of-putting aromas. Nothing offensive, they just smell cheap (which, of course, they are). Probably OK in the supermarkets but of no interest to me.

The newly named Famille Perrin range, however, is increasingly interesting. The CDR Blanc is a correct wine with a decent enough nose and palate made in an easy drinking style. Pleasant enough. The red has a typical Grenache nose with a good helping of cherry fruit and some spice. It's a lively enough wine. The "Nature" was of particular interest as I used to import it before it was certified organic and before Waitrose muscled in. In those days it was quite animal; not so any more. It has slightly sweet fruit but good balance and nice depth of fruit and weight. There is also a CDR Villages (a new wine?) which was initially quite reserved on both the nose and palate but which showed much better around an hour later when I decided to give it a second chance. Quite youthful on the nose but good enough if the price is right.

Obviously the Crus are the main points of interest. The Perrins own some of these vineyards including those in Vinsobres where the blend is Grenache and Syrah (in more or less equal parts I gather). "Les Cornuds" is the standard bottling which has a deep and dark appearance and a slightly dusty (in a good way), black nose of black raspberry and cassis fruit. A little restrained just now but I think it will emerge with good minerality and there is some spice here, especially on the attractively tannic finish. I preferred it to the blockbuster "Les Hauts de Julien" which was a bit too much for me although given a few years... This has an intense Syrah nose with some of the animal/olive and liquorice character you sometimes get around here. Not too heavy on the palate which follows on accurately from the nose. Too much? For some, I suspect.

The Cairanne "Peyre Blanche" was more appealing than in some previous vintages: plenty of sweet cherry fruit, a respectable feel in the mouth, some spice and a medium finish. A good villages wine. The Perrins' Rasteau "L'Andeol" has often hit the spot for me. This year's bottle was slightly tight and a whiff of wood hit me but it didn't get in the way of the fruit. I think this wine has extremely good potential. Tasted again an hour later, it had opened up rather well. The Vacqueyras "Les Christins" is another reliable wine with good fruit balance and well integrated. The lively tannins are well controlled and there is good length. Similar but bigger but with even better control is the Gigondas "La Gille" with fresh minerality and a more chewy finish but I am confident the tannins will cook in given time. Just as the prestige Vinsobres seemed too much, so did the Gigondas "Domaine du Clos des Tourelles" which seems to be made on steroids. Are these wines made for the Parker palate, I wonder? The nose is intense, the palate is intense with explosive fruit and spice and a hint of rubber. Superb tannins and length though so all is not lost. It probably will come very good in the end but where's the subtlety, the finesse?

Coudoulet Blanc was very welcome after all the above! The Marsanne sings out loudest on the fairly mineral nose although there is no denying the Viognier. It has a lovely fresh palate with fruit and acidity that cuts through all those reds well as any decent southern Rhone white should. Beaucastel Blanc is mineral and crisp on both the nose and palate. It has good Roussanne and Grenache character with a long finish accompanied by good acidity. This seems to be a good vintage for whites.

Coudoulet Rouge is very young but has a clean fruited palate. I couldn't really taste the Mourvedre at this stage although I know it is lurking there somewhere. Well made, as always, and one I would like to try again in 3-8 years.

Beaucastel Rouge is always tasted in component parts at these tastings. The Grenache has excellent ripeness giving a superb nose with sweet but not cloying, mineral but not dilute fruit. There is a hint of oak on the palate not evident on the nose. Excellent mouthfeel, again not cloying at all.The fruit profile is just right; the wine is not trying to show off (unlike a couple highlighted above). Lovely balance. The Mourvedre is more closed unsurprisingly but what is showing is rather good. The Syrah offers good black fruit, quite intense but not as OTT as the Vinsobres HdJ and less animal. Tannic but should blend well (about 10% of the final blend usually). There is a pre-assembled blend of these and other varieties which the Grenache dominates although the Mourvedre is apparent. It is very fruit forward - a  modern style of Beaucastel.

The tasting ended with some bottles brought out to say thank you to everyone who showed up - a 2003 Beaucastel was a pleasant surprise. More evolved than I had expected it to be, browning a little and a mature nose and palate. Whiffs of Bordeaux (in a good way). 1998 Beaucastel has a very evolved nose now with farmyard/animal hints and a hint of rancio on the finish. Lovely but I will be tackling a 2003 this weekend just to confirm today's tasting. I did ask Marc Perrin if he had cheated and opened the bottle yesterday - he said he had included the wine precisely because it is drinking so well now (of course).

Finally, a real treat: 2000 Hommage a Jacques Perrin explodes with youthful fruit on the nose. Quite pastille-like on the red/black-fruited palate with some cigar box lurking. Slightly disjointed at the moment but this is a real baby Hommage. Give it another 15 years then look again!