Saturday, 12 May 2018

A magnificent magnum

It is a rare dinner - other than with just the family - where I am one of the older people but the average age of the people around the table last night was very slightly lower than mine. An Italian theme seemed to fit the mood but I can never decide what to serve with asparagus, even when wrapped in prosciutto and sprinkled with parmesan before being baked so I went with the simple solution of encouraging everyone to continue with their pre-dinner drink which, in most cases, meant more of i Campi's rather fun Prosecco (I had, by this time, moved on to a delightful Mosel Riesling brought back from a trip there a couple of summers ago).

The main course was more straightforward: egg yolk pasta with a wild boar sauce (NOT ragu). This was to be followed by a simple cheese course of 36-month matured parmesan so this seemed a good opportunity to crack open a magnum of Enrico Nada's 2007 Barbaresco 'Casot' which sports the black label normally reserved for Reserva wines. 2007 was a very warm vintage with wines that gave a lot from the outset but, perhaps, lacked a little finesse because of this. Not so this bottle which was absolutely stunning! What more needs to be said? The weight and depth were pitched perfectly with the fruit pulling the drinker into the glass. A good job it was a magnum (and even better that three of the people around the table were driving!).

Subsequent drinking was curtailed by the zabaglione semifreddo which, whilst a winner, is perhaps too delicate for most dessert wines. A bottle of vin santo did call for some cantuccini dunking afterwards though. The wagon ensues.

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

A brief word about new vintages in Piedmont and the Rhone

Recently returned from our annual trip hopping across the Alps (we managed the journey over the top of the Colle Madelene/Col d'Arche which affords stunning views and around 22 hairpin bends on the Italian side - not good if you get stuck behind a camper van) having visited lots of wineries both in Piedmont and the Rhone.

As every enthusiast knows, 2015 was an exceptional year throughout Europe (certainly all the major wine-growing regions of France and northern Italy where we work) with wines that often need a bit of cellaring but have the capacity to age magnificently. In the main, these are the wines we offered 'en primeur' this time last year. Now it is the turn of the 2016s.

In Piedmont, I was struck by the explosion of fruit in the Langhe Nebbiolo wines I tasted from 2016. Actually, it was probably more the acidity levels in these wines which kept the fruit very much alive on the palate. Fantastic food wines. Of course, it is only the basic Nebbs that are currently available, along with Barbera and Dolcetto (both also good with, perhaps, Dolcetto especially so in this vintage for me). Barbaresco and Barolo wines are not yet available.

At Nada Giuseppe, I did get an early taste of the 2015 Barbaresco 'Casot' which is all too drinkable even at such a young age, as it Enrico Nada's way. There is no doubt that it has the capacity to make reasonably old bones (at least 20 years) but I somehow doubt there will be much of this kicking about for more than a decade at most. The 2013 Riserva is, as always, rather good and, for me, the best since 2010. Enrico has made one of his ad hoc grape swaps with a friend in Serralunga so he is able to offer a 2013 Barolo which is rather lovely, made very much in his forward, approachable style but with a little more Barolo depth and warmth.

Across the Tanaro river in Roero, Fabrizio Battaglino's 2017 Arneis and 2016 Barbera and Nebbiolo are all quite approachable- for me, the Barbera perhaps needs six months or so to get to a place where I would want it to be - but the 2015s were showing their strength with the Roero Sergentin clearly a star in the making. The Colla was slightly shy on the day though. I will have to try it again soon! After that, we tasted the 2014 Roero Riserva which follows on well from the 2013, perhaps a little more friendly at this stage. Finally, a new 'vintage' of the technically non-vintage Bric Bastia, Fabrizio's passito Arneis, a delicious late-harvested dessert wine and one of my own favourites.

On the other side of the Alps, there was clear excitement about 2016 with the line-ups at Domaine Brusset (Gigondas and Cairanne), Raymond Usseglio (Chateauneuf-du-Pape), Xavier Vignon (various appellations) and Ste-Anne (St-Gervais) all showing wonderful purity and expression. All the 2016s seemed quite drinkable, the more so when compared with some of the 2015s which, not closed, had more explicit tannins than their younger siblings. The biggest disappointment for me was the lack of a cuvee 'Rouvieres' at Ste-Anne because there wasn't enough Mourvedre in 2016 to warrant a bottling of this wine. Still, 'Rouvieres' loss is 'Notre Dame des Cellettes' gain!

More soon, including the offer just as soon as I have all the tariffs!

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!