MS Tasting – 2004 Brunello di Montalcino

MS Brunello 1

The last Magnum tasting of the year, with a great line-up of 2004 Brunello’s.

Introduced once again by the extremely knowledgeable DB, I reproduce some of his excellent tasting notes here:

The Consorzio de Vino Brunello di Montalcino awarded itself 5 stars for the 2004 vintage. After a virtual write-off in 2002, and an extremely hot, low yielding 2003, everyone was in the mood for some good news. Today, with 13 years of hindsight, several highly respected writers (O’Keefe, Galloni, Belfrage et al) have lowered their assessment to 4 stars. Others, eg Bruce Sanderson from Wine Spectator and James Suckling, hold to their original vintage assessment of 97 points.

Everyone agrees that the weather couldn’t have been better. Ample sunshine right across the region and just enough heat with refreshing rains at just the right times did the trick. September and October featured warm days, cool nights, dry weather, and no pressure on harvest.

So, why do some now believe 2004 was less than great? It comes down to the same old issue – variability, but with a twist. Variability – strong sub-regional differences across Montalcino; the impact of human decisions…use of wood, house style, the different preferences of different markets; tradition versus modernity; and the twist of the scandal which was to hit Montalcino four years later.

But before we discuss all that, let’s go back a couple of years. Such was the reputation of 2004 in Tuscany that our Cellarmaster wisely acquired two sets. One was a set of Brunello which we are about to taste. The other was a set of various reds from the Chianti Classico region which we tasted in April 2015. Our findings at that tasting are relevant to the coming event.

At the 2015 tasting I emphasised that Chianti Classico has always been about blending on an at least 80% Sangiovese base. While there has been a move back to native Tuscan varieties as blending partners, several wineries have preferred to use Merlot, Cab Sav or Syrah. This use of French varieties often comes at the cost of the wine’s identity, and regional typicity. What can emerge, however is a new wine of fine quality eg Solaia and d’Alceo, although these wines bear no resemblance to Chianti Classico. But then they are not called that, and no one has any problems with it.

This is in complete contrast to the Brunello di Montalcino model which requires 100% Sangiovese, and there have been problems. If you want to blend, you can use the DOC San ‘Antimo, or the IGT Toscana. Problem….San ‘Antimo does not command the reputation nor price of Brunello. And the IGT market is overcrowded offering everything from Vino Rosso to the most expensive Super-Tuscans from anywhere in Tuscany including multi-site blends. Many of these wines have anonymous labels and providences, and variable quality, and prices. Some are stunning; several are ”boring” (O’Keefe, and me). Also, there has been a recent market shift away particularly from the monolithic examples as buyers are taking more interest in a wine’s purity of expression.

Brunello has remained the epitome of quality and the price definer in Montalcino. That is one reason why some producers have wanted to blend to beef up their slightly austere Sangiovese to make it more appealing at an earlier age, but they have also wanted access to Brunello’s label, pricing and marketability for what clearly would not be Brunello.

If Montalcino is such a blessed area, and the Brunello clones of Sangiovese are its ultimate expression, as we are told, then why such variability, and why would anyone want to blend in French varieties?

Several reasons. Firstly terroir. Montalcino is a very varied territory. High and rugged in the north and east, and lower, more open and rounded in the south and west. There is more rain in the hills and more Mediterranean influences in the South. Sea breezes in the west, not in the east. North and eastern wines are more Chianti Classico Riserva look-a-likes. Southern and western wines are riper, more rounded, and softer. Soils vary as do micro climates. In a colder year, when wines may be austere, a splash of Merlot would be tempting. In a year like 2004, it shouldn’t have been an issue.

Secondly, availability of land. In 1990, about 3.1 million bottles of Brunello were produced. In 1999 there were 3.5 million. In 2004 5.6 million, and in 2008 6.9 million. Plantings have expanded into all sorts of areas hitherto considered unsuitable and the Consorzio has been pressured to license those for Brunello production. Galloni asserts that really, only 25-33% of available land is suitable for first class Sangiovese. So, a lot of young Brunellos rushed to the market in 2004, coming from the new territories, with relatively low vine age and little acquired wisdom of the new sites’ viticultural requirements. Again, you could compensate for some of this if allowed.

Thirdly, human choices. Some companies are very focused on the American market, and the USA does take about 60% of each year’s total Brunello production. The American palate favours the south/west group of producers being riper, softer, richer. And new oak barrique flavours seem to attract further. Traditional makers prefer larger format, older oak, Slavonian by choice. The resulting two wine styles can be hugely different. In younger vineyards, overconfidence in the fruit’s strength can lead to overworking in wood and if there is any perception of unripeness, this can produce serious imbalance. Blending in up to 15% of licensed Brunello from other vintages is legal. In 2004, this facility anecdotally enabled several companies to quit some hard-to-sell, overripe, 2003 stocks which could be why some wines have been criticised for bakey notes.

Fourthly, there is no clear definition about what “good” Brunello actually is. This is not unique to Montalcino but it underlines much of the ongoing differences between the traditional and modern makers. Ironically, in the Consorzio’s first attempt in defining the style in 1996, allowance was made for blending up to 15% of other black grape varieties, but that didn’t survive the final cut. In the most recent review, in late 2008, the Consorzio voted virtually unanimously to maintain strictly the 100% Sangiovese rule. So, the rules are crystal clear, but what defines “good”? Quality assessment has often been clouded by personal perceptions of what Brunello should be. There has been any amount of scope for debate with misunderstanding, bias, and commercial pressure playing their part. All give ample room for perceptions of “variability” year in, year out. One man’s prize stallion is another’s donkey.

With all the debate, suspicion, innuendo and gradual appearance of more and more darker, richer, Brunellos showing unusual (non- traditional) characteristics, plus the well- known existence throughout the region of 800ha of non Sangiovese red wine varieties (for use in IGT, VDT, etc), plus some “information received”, in 2008 the Italian authorities impounded several million litres of 2003 Brunello on suspicion of illegal blending. Nearly 100 companies were investigated including four of the biggest, most prominent. The issue was thoroughly stirred by several eminent writers and experts who publically opined along the lines of “I have long suspected this” and “I’ve been saying this for years.” In the end, there was no clear outcome. Substantial stocks were re-classified to IGT just to get the stuff out of embargo and on to the market (without prejudice to the makers’ cases that the wines were entirely legal.) The Consorzio, and authorities, received much needed lessons in record keeping, audits, and the ability to test for the presence of alien juice in the wines. All in all, the region was left shocked and paralyzed by the experience as the reputation of Brunello, rightly or wrongly, had been very severely damaged.

While the matter of the 2003s did eventually fade away, there remained a serious issue for the 2004s. Between 2003 and 2008 when the scandal broke, there had been the 2004,5,6, and 7 vintages, and the 2004s were all in their bottles. The argument went that if people had “clearly” cheated in 2003, and this had been long suspected for previous years as well, why wouldn’t they have continued cheating in 2004? A big cloud of suspicion descended on the 2004s and the investigation was expanded to include them. But by that time, the authorities had a much better idea of what the truth was. Several companies were investigated regarding their 2004s but to my knowledge, no wine was embargoed.

Even so, it took a long time for the conspiracy theorists to lie down and biases appeared in some reviews of the 2004s. A classic example is World of Fine Wine’s review of the 2004s in Issue 27, 2010. I give you only two quotes that amply serve to illustrate:

“…the influence of Bordeaux was apparent to all three tasters”

“There was ample evidence of grape varieties other than Sangiovese”

To give them credit, they tried to be positive throughout the tasting and a wine- by- wine check of the seven wines we shall be tasting showed them all to be in the top echelon.

Decanter in August 2009 focused on inconsistence and the arrival of new young-vine wines. There was only one hint at the scandal but the speaker was described as being cynical, and there it rested.

Wine Spectator has remained solidly of the view that 2004 is one of Montalcino’s greatest vintages and that everyone should be more patient. James Suckling agrees.

Another American, Ed McCarthy of Wine Review opined that while 2004 is a ‘top notch year’, it is too early to call it an ‘all-time great’. He discusses variability as a probable cause of the scandal.

Vinous Media expressed the view that 2004 falls into the camp of 4 to 4.5 stars; they marginally preferred 2001. They thought that the warmth of 2004 did not help vineyards in the lower southern region.

Interestingly, Antonio Galloni (who is Vinous) has said himself the South did better than the North in 2004. He picks on a theme of “the continuing emergence of the differences between Montalcino’s various terrains and microclimates.” He welcomed increased numbers of “new style” Brunellos, being more aromatic and expressive of Sangiovese but felt some others needed filling out. He concludes “a solid, classic vintage but I’m not convinced it’s a home run.”

Again, the individual wines we shall taste were all reported highly. I am sure we will be pleased with the seven in the flight:

Poggio Antico Brunello A farm turned vineyard/winery in the late 70s located about 6km south of Montalcino at about 450m facing southwest. Exposed to sea breezes. Calcareous soils, clay and rock. 33ha in mature vines at 3300vines/ha, and another 17ha planted 1997-2001 at 6000 vines/ha. Hand harvested. Yields 5T/ha, two passes over sorting tables. 16 days ferment in stainless steel. 36 months in large Slavonian oak 370-550lts in size. 12 months in bottle.

Lisini Brunello Lisini is about 8km due south of Montalcino at 300-350m, just to the northeast of Sant’Angelo down a dirt road through dense scrub. The soils are soft, sandy, volcanic with some stones and the site is exposed to sea breezes. 20ha under vine. Lisini is one of the district’s historical producers and remains one of the more traditional. The family have been farming here since the 16th century. Mainly massale selection with some vines up to 75 years old. There is one small block remaining of pre-phyloxera from the mid 19th century. Wines are aged in large 1100-4000lt Slavonian botti for up to 3 years.

Costanti Brunello 2km southeast of Montalcino, only walking distance from Fuligni ( see below). A very old family property which first exhibited its Brunello in 1870. Vineyards face southeast on quite a steep slope at 310-400m. 12ha under vine. Soils are blue-grey chalky marl. Costanti uses new BBS clones 5-25 years old. Wood ageing is mixed with 18 months in new and used 350-500lt French tonneaux, and 18 months in 3000lt Slavonian botti.

Fuligni Brunello 2km east of Montalcino on quite open rounded hills facing east-southeast at elevations 0f 380-450m. 11ha under vine. An old Tuscan family but making wine since only 1923. Tending towards a traditional style: aromatic, elegant, and subtle rather than fruit forward. Aged in 500lt French tonneaux for 4-5 months in an old convent on the property, then for 30 months in large Slavonian botti deep underneath the family’s 18th century palazzo in the centre of town.

Il Poggione Another one of Brunello’s pioneers of 100-120 years ago. This is a big estate (530ha total with 140ha in grapes). Located on the southern edge of Sant’Angelo in Colle with large blocks spreading down a long south facing slope right down to the Orcia river. They have made extensive use of new clones since the 1990s but also take cuttings off their oldest block Paganelli (see below). We have two wines from this estate:

Il Poggione Brunello A blend from the four main vineyards on the slope. Typically spends 3 years in 300-500lt French oak.

Il Poggione Riserva Vigna Paganelli A single vineyard wine from the oldest section (1964) of the property. 200m. More alluvial soils. This block relies on its own cuttings for replants. Usually spends 4 years in 300-500lt French oak before bottle ageing.

Argiano Brunello One of the most well-known and visited of Montalcino’s estates. A story-book palazzo built in 1581-1596 on a 120ha plateau in the southwest corner of the region. 50ha of Brunello certified vineyards at 300m. Substantial plantings of French varieties for its two super-tuscans for which it has a high reputation. Owned for some time by members of the Cinzano (drinks) family but sold in 2013 to Brazilian interests. Its first Brunello was 1888. Usually fermented in stainless steel, then a year in French barrique and tonneaux, then a year in large Slavonian botti, then stored in concrete tanks prior to bottling.

MS Brunello 2

And so to the wines:

2004 Costanti Brunello di Montalcino – Browning dark ruby colour. Sweet, floral and aromatic. Scents of pink roses, lanolin, richness, vegemite. I thought quite thinly fruited on the palate, almost skeletal. It improved 100% with supper, which helped ’fill in the corners’, but this wasn’t a balanced example to start. My least favoured wine. I scored this Bronze.

2004 Argiano Brunello di Montalcino – Dark ruby colour. Tainted? Dry, thin fruit on the nose. However, the wine revealed good fruit flavours, richness and smoothness on drinking. Primary fruit, strong tannins, a sour-ish spine. Long hot finish. Gold

2004 Poggio Antico Brunello di Montalcino – Darkest ruby colour, faded edges. Great fruit aromas, with intensity and complexity. Dark plums, prunes, herbs, a savoury character. Lovely balanced fruit and acid. Fine grained tannins. Moderate density with a fresh and long finish. A gorgeous wine, and my third wine of the evening. Gold.

2004 Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino – Dark ruby colour, tending brown. Funky and developed, which tendered to smother the fruit aromas, so seemed ‘dumb’. Gorgeous fruit flavours, with a real burst of intensity and acid in the mouth. Pepper, herbal, sour cherries, fine tannins. Silver.

2004 Fuligni Brunello di Montalcino – Brilliant dark ruby colour. V attractive. Bright and elegant nose with engaging fruit aromas and finesse. Rich dark fruit flavours, again I noted finesse, great acid and breadth of fruit concentration, and a hot finish. My second wine of the night. Gold.

2004 Lisini Brunello di Montalcino – Dark ruby colour, tending brown. Started slightly repressed on the nose, but opened up on standing to reveal a very lovely bouquet – poised, with concentration, fleshy and succulent, fruit driven and still quite primary. Elegant texture in the mouth, fruit-rich flavours, brilliant beautiful and classy. Such a young wine still. My wine of the night (WOTN). Gold.

2004 Il Poggione Riserva Vigna Paganelli – Dark ruby colour. Funky and somewhat oxidative, thinning fruit and that vegemite character again, and licorice.  Intense acid texture to drink, bracing and sharp. Herbal with a varnich note. The wine balanced out with food, and I scored this Silver.

To my taste, a mixed bag this. Three great wines, one ok wine, and three that made up the numbers. Easy to see why the commentators who DB referred to wrote what they did about this vintage, and illuminated the wider issues with Brunello and variability.

That is the beauty of wine and terroir and the handmade nature of the finer examples I guess!

MS Brunello 3

Nice to take a few examples home to look at again at the kitchen table, and collect my thoughts.

Thanks to DB and Magnum for another fine and informative tasting. Thanks also for the delicious supper by TJ – a treat in itself!


MS Tasting – Felton Road with Blair Walter

MS Felton Rd 2

I really looked forward to this tasting of Felton Road wines in the company of Blair Walter, the house’s long-time winemaker.

I hadn’t had much chance to taste many wines with the Society this winter – all the tastings had coincided with a family ski weekend away, and thus I have missed out on Loire whites and red Burgundies amongst others – but this was one tasting I was determined to attend. Cos NZ wines, etc, plus I have tasted and bought Felton Rd wines previously.

Blair kindly provided some introductory notes to the tasting which I reproduce here:

It was 26 years ago that Stewart Elms founded Felton Road, beginning with acquiring the land called The Elms Vineyard on Felton Road in Bannockburn. At that time, there were only about 20 ha of vineyards planted in Central Otago and none in the entire Cromwell basin, where now around 70% of Central Otago’s 1896 ha are now planted. When Nigel bought the winery in 2000, there were three vintages released and the 2000 in barrel, 11 hectares of vines, and the start of a global recognition. Seventeen years on, the core team of myself, Gareth and Nigel have settled down to the long game of turning precocious ambition into a classic fine wine.

There are now 32 hectares in the estate across four properties, all certified biodynamic and all in Bannockburn. The vineyards have been under an organic and biodynamic farming regime commencing in 2002, and the general vineyard and soil health is now inherent and immediately obvious. As the vine trunks grow slowly thicker, our understanding of how best to farm in our unique growing conditions continually builds: resulting in wines which we believe are now showing increasing precision, finesse and sense of place.

Along with the biodynamic viticulture, there are some other fundamental principles that have contributed to Felton Road’s consistent quality that are worth mentioning. We have always been 100% estate grown and never purchased fruit. We see this as absolutely vital in our cool and unique growing environment. There is a modern and unique three level gravity flow winery with that treats the wines very gently, efficiently and respectfully. There are also four underground barrel cellars that provide the required space, temperature and humidity controlled conditions for the elevage; without having to rush wines to bottle. The wines have always been bottled onsite (very unique in Central Otago) with a bottling line that we now own. All of these ensure utmost respect to quality throughout the entire process.


Most of the attention to our Pinot Noirs has been traditionally to either Block 5 and/or Block 3. This has mainly been due to historical reasons: the Block 3 has been produced as a single vineyard wine since our first vintage in 1997, with the Block 5 added in 1999. They are produced in smaller quantities, usually around 6000-7000 bottles, have always been on very strict allocation and are priced higher (2016 vintage is $86). We introduced single vineyard bottlings from Calvert in 2006 and Cornish Point in 2007. We are now bottling around 11-13,000 bottles of each of these two wines and they are both priced at $65 for the 2016 vintage. The fifth Pinot Noir that we make is the Bannockburn ($54) which is a blend of our four vineyards and we produce around 50-64,000 bottles annually. All the wines receive exactly the same viticulture and winemaking. The only exception is for slightly more new oak for the Block 3 (high 30’s compared to 25-33% for the others) and usually around 3 months longer in barrel for the Calvert and Block 5.

One of the question’s we are beginning to ask ourselves is: what are our best sites? (our Grand Crus, if we may!).

The geology and soils of Bannockburn are very complex. There are 10 described soil types along the 3km length of Felton Road alone, and most are dramatically different: from pure, deep, angular schist gravels on the fans; to pockets of ancient clay lake bed sediments; to sandy alluvial gravels closer to the Kawarau River; to deep heavy silts; and fertile wind-blown loess loams; even manmade soils as a result of the gold mining in the late 1800’s. While there are no marine derived limestone soils found in Central Otago, our soils all contain high levels of dendritic lime: pure calcium carbonate that is derived from incomplete leaching due to our very low rainfall. Generally the soils of the lower lying areas are more homogenous with the compound slopes sometimes providing variation that can prove frustrating to farm.

Such is our growing understanding of what the different soils are providing us; just a few months ago we ripped out 0.44 ha of 25 year old Pinot Noir vines in Block 2. We recognise that on these deep schist gravel soils; that we can make far more interesting quality Chardonnay than the lighter and relatively inconsequential Pinot Noirs that result from these soils. Also helping the decision, was that the vines were vulnerable on their own roots and we also wanted to get some more Block 2 Chardonnay planted on phylloxera resistant rootstock.

Another example of our growing understanding and commitment to farming the best soils is that several years ago we had the chance to purchase 10 ha of plantable land just to the east of Block 5 – a veritable gold mine you could say! Digging several soil pits confirmed the soil map of the same schist gravels as Block 2, so we respectfully declined and opted to purchase 6 ha from the original Calvert property (less than 1km away). This new property named MacMuir contained very different, deep, heavy silt soils that we had had 10 years experience farming and making wines from the adjacent Calvert vineyard. These soils provide a wine character and texture we preferred over Pinot Noir on schist gravel. We were even able to decide on the property boundary after digging soil pits and determining where the soils became more shallow and gravelly.

Climate varies slightly across the Bannockburn sub-region from the winds that funnel up the Cromwell Gorge and temper our Cornish Point vineyard so that it doesn’t hold the summer heat for as long into the evening. But then its lakeside location (water on three sides), means it doesn’t get as cold in the evening as the other sites only 6 km away to the west on Felton Road. Altitude plays an effect with the lower lying sites like Cornish Point and Calvert (200-220m) – both being slightly warmer and usually ripening earlier than the higher elevation Elms Vineyard (250-330m), which also loses the sun earlier being situated close to the western hills.

Out of interest and as a way of comparison, there are currently 325 ha of vines planted in Bannockburn – about the same as the communes of Pommard or Nuits-St-Georges. The appellations of the Cote de Nuits have slightly less vineyard area over its compact and narrow 20 km length compared to Central Otago’s 1896 ha which spans up to 70km with over 1800 m of elevation gain between sub-regions. We are not aware of any other wine region in the world which has such dramatically geographically distinct sub-regions.

Up until now, Block 5 and Block 3 have been enjoying the older vine age (planted 1992/93, so 24 and 25 years old). Calvert and Cornish Point are now 16 and 17 years old. Our experience is showing that the difference in vine age between the Block 3 and 5, and Calvert and Cornish Point, is becoming less significant.


Due to the generally low annual rainfall and low relative humidity, variation in rainfall in Central Otago does not play a major role in vintage variation. It varies from the average of 18% less to 27% more (224 to 347mm during the 7 months of the growing season). In fact, the wines we usually like most usually come from our wetter seasons and interestingly from a wetter end to the season (February and March). To follow are our harvest dates for the last several vintages which highlights the fact that we experience little variation in overall growing season heat summation. It’s the variation of actually when we receive the warmer and cooler periods that influences wine style and charater.

I have focussed the wine selection more on our recent releases, as these are wines and stories that we feel are more interesting and significant to share. Great wine is, more than anything, about patience. Enjoyment is the end of the journey, but patience is the path.

Au vins:

Arrival: Felton Road 2012 Chardonnay Block 2

Flight 1

  1. 2016 Felton Road Pinot Noir Cornish Point – our 20th vintage
  2. 2015 Felton Road Pinot Noir Cornish Point
  3. 2014 Felton Road Pinot Noir Cornish Point
  4. 2014 Felton Road Pinot Noir Calvert
  5. 2013 Felton Road Pinot Noir Block 3

Flight 2

  1. 2012 Felton Road Pinot Noir Calvert
  2. 2012 Felton Road Pinot Noir Block 5
  3. 2010 Felton Road Pinot Noir Block 5
  4. 2008 Felton Road Pinot Noir Block 5
  5. 2003 Felton Road Pinot Noir Block 5

To finish: 2007 Felton Road Riesling Block 1

MS Felton Rd 1

2012 Felton Road Block 2 Chardonnay – This was a great start to the tasting. Off schist soils down 3+ metres. Whole bunch ferment. Brilliant clear gold colour. Sleek, citrus, mineral. Like a Chablis. Grapefruit pith & flinty. Aging beautifully. Flavours of feijoa and nettle. To hold and savour.

2016 Felton Road Cornish Point Pinot Noir – A hot year. Picked early, with low acidity in the vineyard. Dark carmine colour. Fruity/fruit forward. Like a Gamay. There was an underlying slightly savoury character, with primary lusciousness, but simple, shallow. Fruity flavours of strawberries. A jammy, hot finish. Hard to find a lot of good things to say about this wine. Think Beaujolais. However, a site ripe for terroir expression and individuality.

2015 Felton Road Cornish Point Pinot Noir – Dark carmine colour. A lovely perfume to this wine. It’s finer, less fruity; a dense core, more earthy and savoury than the first examples. Black fruits. Luscious (obv the Cornish Point expression showing through). Brusque, and spicy. Lovely extract.

2014 Felton Road Cornish Point Pinot Noir – Dark carmine brownish colour. I’m seeing an evolution to this wine. Perfumed. Hine, light fruit. A delicacy and poise that I like very much. There is a richness  here with dark cherries, spice, and persistence Hot finish. An interesting wine.  Three stars, and marked as my Wine of the Flight (WOF)

2014 Felton Road Calvert Pinot Noir –Dark carmine browning colour. Dense fruit on nose. Muscular. There was oak, malo, cardboard, herbal characters. Lighter that the Cornish Point wines, lean, with herbal and celery takes. To drink, I took red fruits, cherries, savouriness, concentration, and silky tannins. Nice.

2013 Felton Road Block 3 Pinot Noir – Dark carmine colour. The first of the noted ‘Block’ wines. Fine, dense, lifted nose, with spic. Very attractive, Gorgeous deep fruit weight and profile to drink. Such heft, and spice. Long. Dark cherries. I say again, muscular, broader, and also chunky. Softened with lavender notes. Three stars again!

2012 Felton Road Calvert Pinot Noir –Dark carmine browning colour. Perfumed roses, rich, sweet and savoury. Slight varnish note. Lean, light, warm, and dry in the mouth, spice finish. Persistent.

2012 Felton Road Block 3 Pinot Noir – Dark carmine browning colour. Warm and savoury nose, elegant and poised, clean, dark, complex and complete. A long wine. A lovely pinot ‘tickle’, with fine grained tannins, showing elegance and purity. Two stars.

2010 Felton Road Block 5 Pinot Noir – Dark carmine browning colour. Beautifully dusty and dappled, exhibiting primary characters of fruit and secondary development of lanolin and herbs. At a new level. Monumental. Sweet entry on palate, really deleicious. Lovely acidity and fruit. Red cherries, highly extractive. Very long. Lovely heat on the finish. Sumptuous, complete. Three stars.  A candidate for WOF.

2008 Felton Road Block 5 Pinot Noir – Dark carmine browning colour. Gorgeous development: savoury, rich, earthy, leathery. Violets. Lively acidity, great fruit weight and power, minerality, and a bright lifted finish for this older wine. Two stars.  Another candidate for WOF. My Wine of the Night (WOTN). It was so sumptuous!

2003 Felton Road Block 5 Pinot Noir – Dark carmine browning colour. Most developed of the flight, secondary tending tertiary – almost port-like. Dark violets, dried fruits, figs, involving complexity. Nicely integrated on palate, with good acidity, red and black cherries, earthy and brambly, light tannins, terpenes. Very interesting. Held up fantastically. Two stars.  

2007 Felton Road Block 1 Riesling – Pale green gold colour. 10% alcohol. A lovely fragrance: apples,  very clean. Slight terpene note. Sweet and cordial-ly to taste. There was a complimentary and contrasting freshness and complexity about the wine that gave a lot of interest. Balanced. Fantastic.

MS Felton Rd 3

I took a few of the wines home in Gladwrap to have another look at my kitchen table. It was really good to enjoy them at leisure.

Thanks to Blair Walter and the Society for putting on such an enjoyable and informative evening.


MS Tasting –Bordeaux 2008


There does not arise many opportunities where I can taste a first growth.

This Magnum tasting traversed six Bordeaux’s from the ’08 vintage, and included a Mouton Rothschild. Its rarity in the Society’s cellar will only increase as the en primeur price climbs for it and its like.

JC led the tasting, and produced the following notes to accompany the flight:

 “This was a challenging year for Bordeaux. The world economic crisis was imminent. China had become the principal buyer of premium Bordeaux following disenchantment in USA and Europe with the quality and price escalation of the 2006 and 2007 vintages. The overall weather pattern was cool and damp throughout the growing cycles. Early expectations for the wines were reserved. Robert Parker elected not to participate in the scheduled en primeur tastings. Without his endorsement the Chateaux offered the wines at lower prices but sales still languished despite being the “last affordable vintage”. (Robinson)

Climatically the winter was mild, spring was wet and early summer was cool and damp, only to be miraculously saved by a late Indian summer. Budburst was late, setting a pattern for the season. Protracted and uneven flowering followed leading to poor fruit set while the cool temperatures and rain produced mould and mildew infestations. Fortunately July was warm and dry, curtailing vegetative growth and allowing the vines to ripen tannins. More rain ensued during August and early September until a radical change in the high pressure systems brought cool, dry air into Bordeaux with warm days and cool nights extending through to late October.

Why then is the vintage rated very good, or (Parker) “excellent with a number of superb wines that are close to, if not equal to, the prodigious 2005 or 2000 vintages”? The benign harvest was a critical factor. More significant were the long, slow growth cycles and the low production. Seasons usually average 100 days between flowering and harvest in Bordeaux; in 2008 the hangtime extended from 120 to 160 days. “The slow vegetative cycles allowed the grapes to ripen effectively, gradually and inconspicuously” (Blatch) providing “far more nuance of flavour intensity than anyone expected” (Parker). This was also a low yielding vintage due to an imperfect flowering and mildew (and consequent necessity to green harvest over summer) and the dehydration leading up to harvest, enabling the vines to fully ripen the residual fruit.

The wines are typically dark and opaque in colour with fragrant red fruit aromatics, fresh acidity, pristine, nuanced fruit and sweet, supple tannins. The extended hangtime favoured the Cabernet Sauvignon in the Northern Medoc producing dense and vibrant wines combining both flesh and firmness. On the Right Bank the low yields have endowed the wines with intense aromas and opulent flavours. “The best are beautifully balanced, effortless, mid-weight clarets, ripe in core fruit with a splendid aromatic complexity that fills the mouth and then coats the throat on the finish. Their individuality and quality stem from an aromatic intensity and tenacity of flavour rather than a fruit concentration”. (Schuster).

The vintage was particularly successful in Pauillac, St Julien and Pomerol and it is from these communes that our cellar master has selected the wines for this tasting:

  1. Chateau Mouton Rothschild (83% cs 17% m) (Parker score: 94)
  2. Chateau Pichon Comtesse de Lalande (63% cs, 29% m, 5% pv, 3% cf) (Parker 96)
  3. Chateau Pontet Canet (65% cs, 30% m, 4% cf, 1% pv) (Parker 96-98)
  4. Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou (85% cs, 15% m) (Parker 96-98)
  5. Chateau Hosanna (80% m, 20% cf) (Parker 95)
  6. Chateau La Fleur Petrus (90% m, 10% cf) (Parker 92-94)


Pauillac is the most prestigious commune of Bordeaux with three first growths. It comprises two distinct plateaus of deep gravels over sand, marl and limestone with a greater concentration of clay in the southern plateau. Cabernet Sauvignon is the predominant variety followed by Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. The wines are quintessential claret in style; dry, intensely aromatic and flavoured, and renowned for their vigour and longevity. Flavours include blackcurrant and berry, earth, spice, lead pencil and the oak derived cedar and cigarbox.

Chateau Mouton Rothschild

Owned by generations of the Rothschild family since 1853. Baron Phillippe Rothschild’s enterprise elevated the Chateau to first growth classification in 1973. The 75 hectares vineyard is located on the higher plateau consisting of deep (up to 5 metres) gravels over sand and limestone and is planted 81% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot, vines averaging 45 years. The grapes are fermented in oak (predominantly) and stainless steel vats and then matured in 100% new French oak for 19 to 22 months.

Chateau Pichon Comtesse de Lalande

Now owned by the Rouzard family (Roderer champagne) following the sale by the formidable ambassadress of Bordeaux, May-Eliane de Lencquesaing in 2007. The Chateau has since undergone a complete renovation. The vineyard comprises 89 hectares of which 74 hectares are in production and is planted 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc and 8% Petit Verdot with an average vine age of 45 years. Soils are deep gravels over clay and limestone. Vinification takes place in concrete and wood vats and the wine is then matured for between 16 and 20 months in 60% new French oak.

Chateau Pontet Canet

Owned by Cognac merchant Guy Tresseron since the wine scandal forced the sale of the chateau by the Cruse family in 1975. Michel Rolland was appointed consultant in 1999. Viticulture is organic/biodynamic. The vineyard comprises 81 hectares of deep gravels over clay and limestone and is planted 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot averaging 45 years in vine age. The grapes are fermented in wood vats followed by 16 to 20 months maturation in 60% new French oak.

St Julien

Smallest commune of the Medoc but with the highest ratio of classified terroir of any region in Bordeaux. Soils are a mixture of gravel, (but with less depth than in Pauillac), sand, limestone and clay. Cabernet Sauvignon is the predominant variety followed by Merlot and lesser plantings of Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec. The wines exemplify subtlety and balance. Aromas and flavours are similar to Pauillac, perhaps more floral, and not as intense nor as concentrated.

Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou

This Chateau has been owned by the Brest-Borie family since 1941. The family also owns Chateau Grand Puy Lacoste in Pauillac. The vineyard comprises 75 hectares of well drained gravels covered with substantial stones. The vineyards are planted 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot with an average vine age of 50 years. Vinification takes place in stainless steel vats with malolactic fermentation transferred to concrete vats. The wine is then aged in 75% to 90% new French oak for between 18 and 20 months.


This is the smallest region of Bordeaux situated west of St Emilion. The prime estates are located on the plateau which consists of a complex amalgam of clay, gravel, sand and iron ore deposits. Merlot is the predominant variety followed by Cabernet Franc and the occasional Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec. Wine style is determined by site and producer but in general tends to be rich and sensual with aromas and flavours of plum, chocolate and exotic spices.

Chateau Hosanna

This Chateau was originally part of the Certan property (then Chateaux Certan-Giraud), acquired by the Giraud family in 1956 (renamed Chateaux Grand) and then sold to Jean-Pierre Moueix in 1999. Renamed Chateau Hosanna, the vineyard is a mere 4.5 hectares and is planted 70% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Franc. The vineyard, located at the top of the plateau, has gravel and red clay soils. The grapes are vinified in stainless steel tanks and then aged for 12 to 14 months in 50% new French oak.

Chateau La Fleur Petrus

This Chateau is also owned by the Moueix family. The vineyard is situated on the northern edge of the plateau adjacent to La Fleur and Petrus. The vineyard comprises 18.7 hectares and is planted with 91% Merlot, 6% Cabernet France and 3% Petit Verdot on gravelly, clay soils. Stainless steel vats are used for fermentation/maceration. The wine is aged for 16 to 18 months in 50% new French oak.”

Other points to note from the opening discussion – Mouton used 100% new oak; the Pontet was Parker’s wine of the vintage on the Left bank; while Hosanna was the superstar from the Right Bank.

And then on to the tasting itself, with all the wines customarily served blind in 60ml pours:


2008 Chateau La Fleur Petrus  – Deep dark carmine. There was some bottle variation across the group, but I saw a lightly scented, somewhat reticent wine. Aromas of purple fruit, cedar shavings, spice and vanilla. The longer it sat, the more of a late bloomer it was. In the mouth, a sweet and crisp attack, mouthcoating, with a fresh finish. Bright fruit flavours through the mid-palate, densely-packed. Vibrant and primary.  I scored this Gold. I liked this wine. Who could not?

2008 Chateau Hosanna – Deep dark carmine. A beguiling scent on this wine. Rich, layered and complx. Dark fruit, ripe smoky and opulent, dense. Savouryness and spice. Touch of sous bois. Sweet attack in the mouth, smokey, spicy and long. Heat on the back palate. Meaty. Some cocoa and tobacco. The sweetest wine of the flight.  I scored this Gold.

2008 Chateau Pichon Comtesse de Lalande – Deep dark carmine. A lean and metallic note on the nose. Bright red fruit. Pink roses, sweet floral. Shows prominent oak and quite lifted. Lean on the palate too. Red fruits, quite short. Floral. Leafy. Some cassis, and pencil-lead. Others saw green olives, which was interesting, if somewhat unappealing.  I scored this Silver. I kinda disliked this.

2008 Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou – Deep dark carmine. I saw cardboard box, elegenat spice and warming characters, then some fellow tasters declared the bottle faulty so we swapped to another. The wine I had a second look at was sweet, perfumed, with vanilla and sweet red fruits and lanoline. Quite delightful and fine. Youthful and exuberant to taste, with crisp red fruits. An crisp finish, quite long. Violets.  I scored this Gold, and it was my second wine of the night.

2008 Chateau Mouton Rothschild – Deep dark carmine. Forward, rich and developed on the nose. Unique. Complex, with oak, pencil lead and dark fruit. Structured, dense and brooding. Some forest floor characters, cassis and cocoa. To taste the wine was lean and long, with a fresh acid profile, quite developed, with the softest texture of the flight. Additional flavours of charred oak, sous bois, olives, plums and smoke. Twenty two tasters rated this as their favourite wine. But not me, to my embarrassment.  I just scored it Gold.

2008 Chateau Pontet Canet – Deep dark carmine. This was why I came, it seemed. Rich dense fruit on nose. Quite tight. I smelled currants. There was oak. Very powerful. Some blood and road dust, as you do, and firm. On drinking, there was richness and density up front, and well structured fruit throughout.  Fantastically integrated tannins with the fruit. Primary still. Poised and absolutely delicious. I scored this wine Gold and it was my Wine Of The Night (WOTN)

On review, there was so much elegance across the lineup. More impressive that the ‘05’s tasted last year.


I took the wines home to have another look at the kitchen table, along with some of the empty bottles. Some faded on the trip across town, but the La Fleur, Pontet and Mouton stayed the course for deliciousness and engagement.

A fantastic education in fine wine!

MS Tasting and AGM – Barolo 2009

This promised to be a great tasting. I love Barolo. It is sooo expensive though, so I don’t get to drink anywhere near enough of it.

First up was the Society’s AGM, however. To accompany the business section a small selection of “conversation wines” from the Society’s collection was provided to lubricate the meeting, ahem.

Magnum AGM

I tried the Australian 2002 Grosset Riesling Polish Hill which was lovely, linear and minerally; a 2001 Fourrier Gevrey Chambertin Combe aux Moines  (a gift from the Estate of a supporter of the Society); a 2001 F. Esmonin Ruchottes Chambertin (from the same estate) which was tender, floral, and fine, with gorgeous fruit and structure, and a sweet finish;  and a 2010 Terres Dorees Beaujolais Village, Moulin a Vent which was delicious, floral, light and aromatic and fruitful. A fantastic way to get the palate working.

The business was over and done in 23 minutes, longer that the previous year (due to a few questions from yours truly), then it was on to the Barolo’s…

Magnum Piedmont 2

As usual, a society member led the tasting, and produced the following notes to accompany the flight and provide pre-reading background to the wines. Here is what AH wrote for us:

 “It is usually possible to recognise Barolo or Barbaresco when they are served blind, particularly if they follow Red Burgundy. “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore,” is often the call. Michael Garner, co-author of Barolo – Tar and Roses says it is the only wine that smells like you have walked into an old church. The structure is distinctly Italian, with unrepentant tannin and acid, and that characteristic tarry goudron element often shows in older examples. These stereotypical descriptions fail to account for the fascinating variation in style that is seen among these wines, which are every bit as diverse as Red Burgundy.

What are the key determinants of style and quality in Barolo?

  1. Soil. The soils of the Barolo region can be divided into two main types that are separated geographically by a diagonal line running through the town of Barolo and up towards CastiglioneFalletto. The communes of Barolo and La Morra to the northwest of the line are located on soils formed in the Tortonian era; consisting of calcareous clay and blue-gray marls. Wines from this part of the Barolo region tend to be more elegant and approachable earlier than their Serravallian counterparts.

Southeast of the line, the communes of Monforte d’Alba and Serralunga d’Alba are on silty marls dating back to the Serravallian era and are comprised of clay, sandstone and, in particular, calcium carbonate, which renders wines that are more structured, tannic and take longer to reach their optimal drinking window.

Parts of Castiglione Falletto have a third soil type; the Arenarie di Diano d’Alba. This has a higher sand content than the soils across the valley in Serralunga d’Alba and may explain differences in structure between Serralunga and Castiglione wines, and differences between vineyards within the Castiglione Falletto commune.

  1. Aspect. The direction a vineyard faces is fundamental to the quality of the cru. The tongues of the Barolo hills are rippled with hills and valleys, producing enormous variability in microclimate, and a vine planted on a south or southwest-facing slope will see more sun than vines on the northern side of the hill. Elevation is also important, the best parts of the vineyard being on the mid to top part of the hill; the so-called bricco. Traditionally, the best sites for vines were identified as the a reason the hill where the snow melted first in spring. In recent years, global warming and the rise in prices of Barolo have made it possible and desirable to replant with Nebbiolo areas that were previously considered suitable only for Barbera, Dolcetto and hazelnuts.
  2. Winemaking style. Up until the late 1960s, Barolo was made by blending wines made from different vineyards to achieve a balance of elegance and structure, and aging them in ancient large format oak botti, probably inherited from ones grandfather. In the 1970s, a new generation of winemakers began to question their forefathers’ practices. These ‘Barolo Boys’ visited Burgundy and came back with ideas of making individual crus and aging them in barriques. In 1983, in a fit of pique, Elio Altare took to his father’s botti and fruit trees with the chainsaw that was heard around the world; this act being a symbolic turning point in Barolo winemaking history.

While the move from the traditional winemaking practices to the modernist approach undoubtedly brought long-overdue improvements in cellar hygiene and consistency of quality, many felt that the flavours imparted by high speed fermentations in roto fermenters and aging in oak barriques obscured the essential form of Barolo and Barbaresco; with leather, tar and roses giving way to espresso, chocolate and vanilla.

These days the distinction between traditionalists and modernists is less clear-cut. Producers like Bartolo Mascarello stick to a hard line traditionalist approach; a fax machine being the most high tech device in that cantina, whereas others like Domenico Clerico take great pride in their vast halls of French barriques, but many combine elements from both approaches, or use roto fermenters only for turning the cap once or twice a day, or have a low percentage of new oak.

Of the producers we will be tasting, Brezza and Marcarini and perhaps Vietti could be regarded as traditionalists, Baudana under the ownership of G.D. Vajra would be leaning towards traditionalism, Sandrone somewhere in the middle and Mauro Veglio more in the modernist camp.

Vintage 2009

A wet spring led to delayed flowering and the summer was dry and hot, causing a rapid maturation cycle and an early harvest for most producers. Complexity in Nebbiolo relies on a long maturation time, which 2009 did not provide. Galloni describes the 2009 Barolos as light to medium-bodied wines, with radiant fruit but only modest concentration. He says that “overall, this is a fairly average vintage with many good wines, a few superstars and a bevy of Barolos that will drink well right out of the gate. But the visceral thrill of the truly great vintages, sadly, is not there.”

Kerin O’Keefe describes 2009 as a buyer-beware vintage, with exceptional wines being few and far between. Scathing heat caused uneven ripening and if the grapes were picked in a single harvest the presence of overripe fruit led to cooked flavours.

Here are the wines we will be tasting:

2009 Vietti Barolo Lazzarito (Serralunga)

2009 Brezza Barolo Bricco Sarmassa (Barolo)

2009 Sandrone Barolo Le Vigne (Barolo)

2009 Mauro Veglio Barolo Rocche dell’Annunziata (La Morra)

2009 Marcarini Barolo Brunate (La Morra)

2009 Luigi Baudana Barolo Ceretta (Serralunga)

And then on to the tasting itself, with all the wines customarily served blind in 60ml pours:

Magnum Piedmont 1

2009 Mauro Veglio Barolo Rocche dell’Annunziata – Deep dark carmine. I was very impressed with this wine.  Dense savoury nose of cinnamon, aniseed and vanilla, dark fruits, fig, plum, a chemical character, and tarry. So expressive. The wine was sweet and ripe to taste on entry, with intense gorgeous primary ripe fruit flavours, harmonious oaking, tar, and a gentle drying finish.  I scored this Gold. A great start.

2009 Marcarini Barolo Brunate – Brick carmine. A classic Barolo.  Sweet and lifted nose. Thinner fruit than the Muro, almost sour. There where notes of lanolin, strong bush honey, and quite angular. Again the wine drank as sweet, ripe, intense, and powerful. It was long. It was hot. Tasting superbly with honey and tar. Quite evolved.  I scored this Gold.

2009 Brezza Barolo Bricco Sarmassa – Brick carmine. There were a few suspended solids in this wine. Didn’t affect the taste. Quite dumb aromatically at first, with cardboard box and funky characyers. Spicy hot and sharp to taste. Sweet entry. Lean. A hot finish. (they were all hot, to be honest). This one was lighter, perhaps faulty. A simple wine, compact and complete to some.  I scored this Silver.

2009 Sandrone Barolo Le Vigne – Deep brick carmine. Another classic Barolo.  Quiet on the nose, but a step up in quality. Lightly fruited, not much in the way of expression at first. Tarry, showing some leather an tomato sauce. It was a big changer through the night. Powerful in the mouth. Dense and sharp. Tarry, powerful. Grunt.  Balance. Then a dry finish. Harmonious when all considered. No flaw, gorgeous. My second favourite wine of the night.  I scored this Gold.

2009 Luigi Baudana Barolo Ceretta – Deep brick carmine. Yet another classic Barolo.  Quiet nose, with elegant fruit, then revealing savoury qualities and density. Some described ‘roasting-tray scrapings’. I saw roses in a broody, reserved wine. To taste, the wine wasvery  powerful, with depth and tannic thrust, full-on, grunty and hot.  Menthol character.  A fruity finish, long, and quite sweet. A bruiser of a wine. I scored this Gold.

2009 Vietti Barolo Lazzarito – Deep brick carmine. Floral, with rose and quinine, sweet vanilla, ripe fruit, lanolin, quite confected. There was a fantastic savoury and spicy hit at the back of the nose. So expressive. The wine tasted sweet and ripe. There was great tannin structure, density and opulence. Mouthsmackingly good . I scored this Gold and it was my Wine Of The Night (WOTN)


MS Tasting – Rioja Gran Riservas


It was with real anticipation that I looked forward to my first MS wine tasting of the year.  It was a full house for the event, and as customary, DB – a very knowledgeable member – supplied us with some excellent notes to presage the tasting, and added to my own slim knowledge of Rioja:

“What we think of today as traditional Rioja wine is in fact the product of a dramatic mid-19th century vinous revolution. Before then, Riojan wine was mainly a rustic version of carbonic maceration. Whole bunches were fermented in stone lagares and often foot trodden. The wine was stored in large well used wooden casks and only bottled as it was sold. It was cheap and easy to sell. In 1785/86, Manuel Quintano went to Bordeaux and learned how they did it up there. He brought some barrels back to Rioja, made his wine a la bordelaise, and put it on the market for a higher price. The uproar forced him to cease and desist. Quality winemaking was seen as a novelty and it would be 1858 before the next chap tried it again. But by then, the situation was dramatically different and massive change was underway…

In the 1860s, France was hit first by phylloxera and then by mildew imported on American rootstock designed to solve the phylloxera problem. Bordeaux growers, seeing their sources of fruit dying, travelled south looking for alternatives and rediscovered the vineyards of Rioja. Within a few years, several Riojans had been to Bordeaux and learned their ways, and several Bordelaise had settled in Rioja which together transformed the industry. As the “methode Bordelaise” took hold quality quickly improved and Rioja’s reputation grew so much that a lot of Spain joined the revolution. Grapes were fermented in large oak vats and aged in 225lt barrels. Unlike Bordeaux, however, the Riojans continued to store their wines in those same barrels until the wine was needed in the market rather than bottling them at the appropriate time in the wines’ development, and storing them in bottle in cellar. This practice led to inevitable long storage of wines in barrels, not always for the better. American wood was preferred as it imparted what many thought of as a complementary sweet vanillan touch to the robust flavours of the raw wine. A down-side of not bottling the wines until they were sold was several bottlings and much variation. “Vintage” was a concept not expressed.

While the world waited for Bordeaux to recover, they discovered this new-found substitute.

Many of today’s “old traditional” companies were established over that period. Unfotunately Phylloxera finally hit Spain in the 1890s and by 1901 most of the vineyards were dead. By then, Bordeaux was back and the French had gone home. It took a decade for Rioja to recover.

It was not until 1926 that the Consejo Regulador was established. By then, Rioja’s style had pretty well defined itself and the Consejo largely legislated this into place. The most predominant variety was Garnacha, then Tempranillo with Mazuelo (Carignan) and Graciano in lesser quantities. Later, Tempranillo gradually assumed the dominant position it holds today. The French had tried to introduce Bordeaux varieties but experience showed them to be less productive than native varieties and they never made the mainstream. The vineyard area was also pretty well defined although it did (rather inconveniently) cross some important political boundaries. Best vineyards were on slopes and the grapes were dry farmed. There was consensus on what an ambitious bodega needed to offer to the market: a Crianza, Reserva and a Gran Reserva although young, lighter, fruity wines for immediate drinking were still allowed.

Crianza: A minimum of two years’ageing with at least one year in oak.

Reserva: A total of three years’ ageing including at least one year in oak

Gran Reserva: At least two years in oak followed by at least three more in bottle.

In practice, many of the classic old wines received more than the minimums defined above. Some famous old Gran Reservas routinely received five to twelve years in oak. Releasing a wine as much as twenty years after its harvest was hardly rare.

These classifications clearly emphasised the ageing process but placed little constraint on such things as cepage, labelling laws, definition of “vintage”, and gradations of quality of the wine itself. However there is an implied quality measure particularly for Gran Reserva. Obviously, if you are planning on subjecting fruit to the ravages of several years in oak, it must be of the highest quality in order to integrate with the vanillan, the wood tannins, oxidation, and potential bacterial spoilage and/or brett that linger in old wood. This means a very low cropping level in order to give density and concentration, ripeness to preserve flavour, and acid to keep the wine “alive”. This was going to be costly. The fruit would be grown at uneconomic yields, capital would be tied up for several years, and the risk of spoilage somewhere along this lengthy process all meant the wine was going to be expensive when released, so in order to preserve its value, there could not be much of it available at any one time. In Spain, wine was considered a relatively cheap commodity with only a very small “fine wine “market. So, when a Gran Reserva appeared, by definition it had to be of the very best quality. That meant that serious bodegas produced Gran Reservas only in the very best years.

Unfortunately, some later-day Riojans just didn’t get this. In the 1960s and 1970s there was an explosion in plantings and new companies which lead to inevitable shortcuts. High yields, expansion into unsuitable areas, use of young vines and higher production clones, proved to be a recipe for disaster when coupled with extensive ageing in American wood. Even shorter times in oak could not help thin wine. Gran Reservas were being made almost every year and were relatively affordable. A huge amount of mediocre wine was made which came close to destroying the reputation Rioja had built since the 1860-1870 revolution.

It was the old original bodegas who performed the best during this time of mediocrity as they had never stopped making improvements when required. Contrary to some of their reputations as being the most conservative and traditional, quietly and gradually over the years they had renewed their vineyards, cleared out their cellars, educated their staff, introduced technology as appropriate and vastly improved hygiene. They introduced modern techniques to improve their wines without betraying their Riojan authenticity, and without massive sudden change. The Gran Reservas are dense yet not over-coloured, they smell of leather, oranges, autumn flowers and not coconut. They are concentrated and long and exhibit no bacterial/bretty undertones, nor reek of old wood. They are works of beauty that demonstrate the outstanding quality of their fruit and the care and attention it has received.

We will be tasting wines from several vintages: 1994, 1995, 2001, 2004, 2005. Every year, the Consejo publishes an official rating of the latest vintage. While this is hardly the most rigorous of references it is interesting to note that since 1960, the Consejo has awarded itself a rating of “Excellent” only eight times. All the vintages we shall taste are among those eight.

So to the wines:

CVNE Imperial Gran Reserva 2004

CVNE was founded in 1879 during the peak of the boom. The company was considered one of the more forward looking from its startling original, innovative cellars to its emphasis on bottling wines mostly for export. Still owned by its founding family, CUNE (as it was re-named for ease of reference) has always moved with the times quietly modernising the traditional. For a very long time, its top labels have been Vina Real and Imperial. (CUNE’s other company Contino has always been a separate entity). Imperial took its name from the imperial pint bottle which was used for the English market. But it has evolved to much more than that now. The vineyards, once head pruned, are now trained a la bordelaise, use of Tempranillo has markedly increased, and 30% of barrel stock is French. Once, the Gran Reserva was aged in wood for 10-12 years; nowadays, 3-4 is the norm. The 2004 we shall taste was Wine Spectator’s 2013 Wine of the Year. It is 85% Tempranillo, was grown mostly from a single vineyard near Haro in the Rioja Alta, bottled in October 2008 and released in 2012.

Muga Prado Enea Gran Reserva 2005

Muga was founded in 1932 and has always been a classic illustration of Rioja’s relationship with oak. Muga has spent a huge amount of time and effort over many decades in pursuit of the right mix for each wine, and do all their own cooperage (which is a huge enterprise in its own right).

They use three different types of French oak as well as American, Hungarian and Russian. I have read one report which claims there is no stainless steel at Muga at all. While Muga has long been considered one of the more traditional bodegas, they have in fact been among the leaders in searching for more modern expressions of the classical styles. These have been very successful for them but they maintain that the very classical Prado Enea Gran Reserva is their flagship. The wine is 80% Tempranillo, 20% Garnacha, Mazuelo and Graciano. It was fermented with natural yeasts in large oak vats, aged for one year in 16,000lt casks, then three years in barrel, egg white fined, bottled then held back for a further three years before release.

La Rioja Alta

In the boom years, many French investors built wineries in Haro. Albert Vignier was one of them. In 1890 he sold to a group of five Spanish families who began making wines in the Bordeaux style. A year later, they changed the company’s name to La Rioja Alta. In 1904, they substantially expanded their holdings. Today, while a publicly traded company, the fifth generation of those families is fully engaged. The company enjoys a reputation of one of the very few who fastidiously pursue “traditional” Rioja but there have been several updates over the years and experimentation is ongoing. In 2012, the company Chair acknowledged that pure tradition had become a trap “I think that 20 years ago our wines were too evolved, too mature when they were released. Now we are trying to avoid that.” In 1995, they returned to the practice of building their own barrels. All wood comes from the US. Later, they retired their very old wooden fermenters and introduced stainless steel. While most of La Rioja Alta’s wines are named after the original five families’ vineyards, (Arana, Ardanza etc) the Grand Reservas are named 890 and 904 being shortened expressions of what they believe were the two most critical years in their history, 1890 and 1904. These are the two La Rioja Alta wines we will taste:

Gran Reserva 904 2001 90% Tempranillo 10% Graciano. Four years in four year old US oak, bottled June 2006, released 2012.

Gran Reserva 890 2001 95% Tempranillo, 3% Graciano, 2% Mazuelo. Six years in 20% new, 80% four year old US wood. Bottled March 2008, released 2014.

Both wines draw their fruit from the same vineyards with minor differences in selection. The 890 is considered to be their flagship and only appears 3-4 times a decade on average.

Lopez de Heredia

Founded in 1877 and still owned by the same family. Widely thought of today as the most traditional bodega of all but in the beginning, Don Rafael Lopez was very modern–almost radical-as he resolutely set out to create a Bordeaux chateau in Rioja. He put in an enormous amount of energy in establishing the cellars and vineyards needed to achieve his vision. Having thus set their course, the family has fastidiously kept to it “not deviating an inch from these ways” but always with a long term attitude of gradual, incremental improvement.

The early focus was on the vineyards and their replanting after phylloxera. Some of these went on to become some of Spain’s most revered sites. Tondonia, for example, on the south bank of the Ebro river, became so famous that for decades the word Tondonia formed part of the company’s name. Other sites such as Bosconia, Cubillo, Zaconia and Gravonia had lesser but just as intense followings. From this focus on site arose the policy of producing single vineyard wines which, to this day, aim to replicate the style of the site while suppressing “vintage irregularities”. For decades, no vintage information was given on the label although the duration of ageing quite often was, for example “ano”. Today, vintages are displayed but are not emphasised; “we produce Tondonia – not Tondonia 2000 or Tondonia 2001.”

Of course, as wine laws have evolved Heredia’s ability to “correct” their wines each year to produce the desired style and suppress the effects of vintage, are much reduced. They would say, however, that as the sites have matured, and been managed by the same custodians the same way for so long, radical intervention is never needed. Some reviewers disagree explain that differences become quite clear the longer you age your bottles.

We will be tasting their top two wines:

Tondonia Gran Reserva 1994 – Tondonia was and still is the flagship wine, made in a Bordeaux style and presented in a Bordeaux bottle. 75% Tempranillo 15% Garnacha 5% Graciano 5% Mazuelo. Gobelet trained. 10 years in barrel, released in 2010. 18,000 bottles made. The current release is the 1995.

Bosconia Gran Reserva 1995 – Once, Bosconia included some Pinot Noir and was a softer style, and was thus and still is released in a Burgundy bottle. Today, more Tempranillo is used and Bosconia is sometimes thought to be the stronger of the two. 80% Tempranillo 15% Garnacha, the rest Graciano and Mazuelo. Gobelet trained . 10 years in barrel, ten years in bottle. 8,500 bottles made. This is the current release.

So there you are. This is a stunning set of one of the world’s most unique wine styles. While they may look conservative alongside some of the Riojas the Magnum Society has enjoyed in recent years, just remember that these wines were actually born out of revolution. They were very radical once; now they are “century-old modern.”.


…Then on to the tasting itself, with all the wines customarily served blind:

Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Gran Reserva 1994 – This wine presented tawny crimson red. Delicate, raisin-y and savoury and meaty bouquet. Lovely.Fresh and bracing, lean yet sweet, sweet with food, long, some heat on the finish, fruit falling away. Ready to drink now.  I scored this Silver.

Side Note: A few years back I managed to secure a dinner reservation for two at Ferran Adria’s restaurant el bulli. Unfortunately, before we could get to Spain to experience his cuisine, my wife announced that she wanted us to separate.  We therefore cancelled all the flights flights, holiday bookings etc, and I gifted my ‘like-gold-dust’ reservation to a work colleague who was travelling to Spain around that time, who in turn gifted me a bottle of Tondonia GR 1995 when he returned. Like the meal I missed out on, the wine was very nice.


Lopez de Heredia Vina Bosconia Gran Reserva 1995 – This wine presented tawny red.  Angular, earthy and lightly scented nose, with mushrooms, cardboard box, and emergent sweetness.  Fresh again on the palate, with bracing bright acid and fruit intensity. Sweet. Harmonious texture and flavour. A very nice wine.  I scored this Gold.

La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 890 2001 – Dark plummy red.  This quickly became my favourity. Very arresting on the nose. Sweet ripe fruit, vanilla, and orange peel. Yum. Sweet on entry, and delicious to taste.  Mouthwatering, crunchy, salty and long, long. Some way off being ‘joined-up’ but showing huge promise for future development.  I scored this Gold and my WOTN.

La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 904 2001 – Dark red, tending brick. Sweet, powerful and dense ripe fruit  and cassis characters on the nose. Broody, and with thickness. Intense sweet fruit flavours, with vanilla and fresh acidity. Delicious and balanced.Unfolding fruit and flavour. Improved with food. Heaps of length.  I scored this Gold.

CVNE Imperial Gran Reserva 2004 – Bright dark plum. Bright and rich fruit aroma. Soapy and spicy, a bit repressed and broody. Deep and smooth rich fruit to drink. Big and soft, with great fruit weight. Significant tannins, creamy, with bitter chocolate. Mouthfilling and integrated. I got better in the glass as the evening progressed.  I scored this Gold, and this wine was second top score across the attendees.

Muga Prado Enea Gran Reserva 2005 – Deep  dark plum. A gorgeous nose – complete, rich, broody, sweetly fruited, with cloves and spice. To taste, I saw an intense, powerful wine with heaps of flavour. Big plum flavours, impressive, with a strong line of acidity. Youthful, supple and lip-smaking. Long.  I scored this Gold, and this wine was second top score across the attendees.

This was another hugely successful, enjoyable and educational tasting for me. In summary, these wines could be described as ‘monsters’. DB was of the opinion that only the two Lopez  de Heredia wines were anywhere near ready to drink, and all the others had at least five more years in front of them before they would start showing the character that graces good Gran Riservas. I saw strong acidity and freshness across the flight, and wonderful purity of fruit intensity and flavour. Effortless wines.


I didn’t finish my glasses, so I sealed them with cling film, and took them home to have another look. Just delicious they were. Flavoursome and long.  If this is what GRs are all about, then count me in for more. With power and fruit and aroma, they kick it in so many ways. Very, very fine wines, these Riojas!

Side Note: On the strength of this tasting, I took along a bottle of Muga Prado Enea Gran Riserva 2006 with me to share over a pot luck dinner with friends and fellow cyclists competing in the just-completed Kaikoura 170km Coastal Classic cycle event. While not ready, we all enjoyed the quality and special character of this great and delicious wine.


MS Dinner 2017


L and I went to the wonderful Matterhorn for the annual dinner with fellow members of the Magnum Society. Encouraged to raid our cellars for suitable bottles of wine to bring along for sharing, we would be assured of a taste or two of some very good drops from fellow diners. And so it was.


I brought a brace of older Craggy Range wines, along with an aperitif Prosecco. The Les Beaux Cailloux Chardonnay 2011 was amazing and totally delicious. It lived up to GK’s billing as one of NZs best Chards. The Aroha Pinot Noir 2007 was less good. It had not aged well, and was showing thin and confected.


Of the wines I got to taste, the Volnays stood out as very good. I don’t remember much of the rest. I must say one table had a very impressive selection of Gevrey Chambertins. Not jealous, much.


The meal was fabulous, and I hope we eat there again next time.

MS Tasting – White Burgundy


2011 White Burgundy

The first white Burgundy I ever drank was while having lunch with my sister at Gordon Ramsay’s eponymous Michelin three-starred Restaurant Gordon Ramsay on Hospital Road in London in 2010. It was a Meursault, possibly the house wine, and sold by the glass. They don’t sell muck: it blew me away. This remains, along with the 2007 Sacred Hill Rifleman, one of my two touchstone Chardonnay wine experiences…

So to have the chance to try a horizontal of white Burgundies, including two Meursaults, was not to be passed up. And I wasn’t alone, the tasting was packed out….

The wines we were to try:

2011 Henri Boillot Puligny Montrachet Clos de la Mouchere

2011 Henri Boillot Corton Charlemagne

2011 Latour Giraud Meursault Genevrieres

2011 Henri Boillot Puligny Montrachet Combettes

2011 Blain Gagnard Chassagne Montrachet Caillerets

2011 Roulot Meursault Charmes

There were some excellent notes compiled by AM to accompany the Society tasting:


“By nature, this great grape is non-aromatic to the nose, full-bodied by mouthfeel, and lively in acidity. Chardonnay is relatively easy to grow, and to make into ordinary wine. These features leave scope for many things to influence the character of the finished wine, from first glimpse through to finishing resonance, and perhaps even to produce extraordinary wine. These factors include: the nature of the vintage, the character of the soil and site, and methods of vinification and maturation. Especially as expressed in white Burgundy, chardonnay has a natural tendency to produce wines of some power. In good hands, it can also produce wines of finesse and complexity.

Issues & Trends

The stellar reputation and high price of a good white Burgundy depends partly on its track record of maturing and developing long and gracefully. This reputation has been complicated and somewhat qualified by the premature oxidation (a.k.a. ‘pre-mox’ or ‘pox’) that has afflicted too many bottles from the late-20th century to the early 21st century. When this affliction began, how prevalent it still is, and what its causal specifics are, remain frustratingly ongoing points of uncertainty and controversy.

One consumer response to premature oxidation has been to mitigate risk by drinking white Burgundy younger than previously. One producer trend, part response to premature oxidation, but perhaps also partly of independent stylistic origin, is to increase the levels and prevalence of reductive sulphides in bottles. These sulphidic notes, with their flinty notes of struck match – ‘le matchstick’, some call it – are associated with ‘reductive wine-making’, where exposure of wines to oxygen is deliberately limited during ageing. Techniques amenable to this style of wine-making include: minimizing new-oak influence, limiting lees-stirring or dropping it altogether, minimizing movement of wine from one barrel to another or making such moves in the absence of oxygen, and completing ageing in tank rather than in barrel.

Some wine-makers claim that reductive character is simply delivered to them by their soils. Other commentators share Jancis Robinson’s view that: “It is only very rarely shaped by what goes on in the vineyard … but usually it is the decisions a wine-maker makes in the cellar that make the difference”. Here is the summation of Jean-Marc Roulot, whose much-admired Meursault wines feature in tonight’s line-up: “there has definitely been a change in the way that producers, and consumers, view reduction, which, thanks to premature oxidation, is now seen as something more positive. There are also some widely admired producers of white Burgundy who have opted for marked reduction so that reduction has come to be perceived by consumers as a sign of quality”.

Jancis Robinson counts Domaines Leflaive and Coche Dury amongst the most influential producers that have moved, through a series of small steps, in a more reductive direction. The trend is widespread, both in Burgundy and throughout the wider world of chardonnay.

A traditional complaint against reduction in wines is that it tends to deaden freshness and flatten or even obliterate natural fruit character, producing wines that are boring and wearying to smell and taste. This line of criticism has been renewed or continued by some current commentators. Perhaps with a mix of empirical observation and wishful thinking, for example, Jancis Robinson claimed in early 2015 to: “sense the creak of a pendulum beginning to swing in the opposite direction”, especially in the most influential producers. There are also influential producers who actively oppose to le matchstick in wines. Dominique Lafon puts this into a rhetorical question: “Why should I start making reductive wines just to avoid the premox problem?”.

These notes do not comment on where tonight’s producers sit on matters of oxidation or reduction, but please do attend closely to what the content of each glass tells you.

Vintage 2011

The white Burgundy vintage of 2011 was more challenging than the ripe 2009 or the more classical 2010. Here is Jancis Robinson’s two-sentence summary: “Less ripe than the previous two vintages, needing chaptalisation in many cases. Chaotic weather made this a tricky vintage overall”. As always, even a glance at thoughtful reviews of particular wines by leading writers confirms that many able producers handled this tricky vintage beautifully. Let us hope our senses deliver this message to us also on the night, through this tantalizing set of wines.


Domaine Henri Boillot. This domaine was formed in 2005, when Henri bought out shares of his father’s domaine from other siblings. According to Henri, his “white wine is all about vinification”. The grapes are whole-bunch pressed, clarified fairly thoroughly, then vinified without any batonage. Elevage is in 350-litre barrels from Francois Freres, using a balance of new and one-year-old barrels. Morris comments (2010: 367): “The white wines are very pure, with a little crisp toastiness … but no sense of being over-oaked. They are supported by good acidity – an essential part of great white burgundy for Henri”.

Domaine Guy Roulot. At this outstanding Mersault domaine, Jean-Marc Roulot has been in charge since 1989. Morris (2010: 412-413) comments: “he has since brought a fine domaine into the very top league. He is one of the few producers who has managed to move from heavier to purer wines but not lose anything of the potential quality and complexity”. Where grape skins are healthy, Roulot prefers to crush before pressing, saying he finds a greener juice that way, with a degree more acidity without changing the pH. No more than 20 percent new wood is used for village wines, and 25-30 per cent for the crus. About the Charmes bottling, Morris comments: “Rich yet pure and balanced: a classical lower-slope Mersault”.

Latour Giraud. Apologies: no information sourced. Knowledgeable members – please fill the gap here verbally on the night.

Domaine Blain-Gagnard. Most of the premier cru whites are from Chassagne Montrachet. The grapes are crushed then pressed, debourbage, fermentation in barrel, lees-stirring, one racking, and blending in tank. Jean-Marc Blain pursues elegance rather than power, and selects his coopers and forests carefully (Minier in Chagny is a favourite). He uses just 10-15 percent new barrels for village and premier cru wines, and 30 percent for grands crus. About the Chassagne-Montrachet bottling, Morris comments that the (2010: 456): “plot runs the full length of the vineyard: the marl above gives weight to the wine, the white soil lower down provides elegance and finesse … a very complete wine, with subtleties of flavour despite its evident power”.

And to the wines:


2011 Blain Gagnard Chassagne Montrachet Caillerets – Pale gold colour. Honeyed, rich, with notes of caramel and light florals. Sweet entry on palate, crisp acidity and freshness, lean & minerally. Good plate weight. A lovely wine to start. One taster smelled Acacia flowers. I scored this Gold, and it was my 3rd Wine of the Night.

2011 Henri Boillot Puligny Montrachet Clos de la Mouchere– Pale gold colour. Oaky, soft and round, with spice and ripe stonefruit characters. Some reduction/ touch of sulphur. Tight acid on entry, salty and sharp. Fine mouthfeel, freshness, balance and length. A lovely leanness to this wine. I scored this Gold, and was my 2nd Wine of the Night

2011 Latour Giraud Meursault Genevrieres – Pale gold colour. Somewhat mute to start, then showed light fruit, butter & lemons, and white peaches. Minerality, lemons, ginger  and spearmint in the mouth. Piercing acid is underlined in my notes. It finished sweeter and softer. I scored this Silver. This wine lacked a bit of age.

2011 Henri Boillot Puligny Montrachet Combettes – Pale gold colour. Reductive, flint on the nose. Flat, steely and fresh in the mouth. Salty, linear and crunchy. Apple seed finish. Interestingly angular this wine, with great length and persistence. I scored this Gold.

2011 Roulot Meursault Charmes – Pale gold colour. Complex, beguiling, perfumed and opulent. Poised and tense, layered, and  fleshy with a touch of spice. In the mouth was depth and power and finesse. Showing lemon freshness and acidity and lingering persistence. Fruit cake! And showed TIME. I scored this Gold and my WOTN (wine of the night).

2011 Henri Boillot Corton Charlemagne – Gold colour. This is what we all came for. The heavyweight on the bill. Serious, heavy, complex, burnt matchstick reductive and chalky characters. Great palate weight, fruit and sweetness, huge and long. The biggest and richest Chardonnay of the flight. A true Grand Cru. I scored this Gold. A majority in attendance saw it as their WOTN.

My impressions over the flight was that the wines started off quite mute, but opened up over time. And when they did, I saw quite a beguiling perfume. Another feature over the flight was the piercing acidity. More than what I was expecting, and I think masked any great complexity (with the exception of the Charmes). Meausault wins again!

A wonderful opportunity to try some rare wines with a hefty price tag on this side of the world. Many thanks to our guide and host and our cellarmaster.


And as it was our last meeting for the year, we finished with a piece of Christmas Cake and several sweet wines to taste. Yum:




MS Tasting – 2007 Brunello di Montalcino


2007 Brunello di Montalcino

This was another style of Italian wine I have not had a chance before to try and appreciate. Again, an opportunity to taste, listen and learn, under the guidance of Italian wine fan and Society member DB.

Brunello di Montalcino, from Wikipedia, is a red Italian wine produced in the vineyards surrounding the town of Montalcino located about 80 km south of Florence in the Tuscany wine region. Brunello, a diminutive of bruno, which means brown, is the name that was given locally to what was believed to be an individual grape variety grown in Montalcino. In 1879 the Province of Siena’s Amphelographic Commission determined, after a few years of controlled experiments, that Sangiovese and Brunello were the same grape variety, and that the former should be its designated name.

The wines we are trying tonight:

2007 Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino – $60.00 (historical cost)

2007 Costanti Brunello di Montalcino – $100.00

2007 Lisini Brunello di Montalcino – $100.00

2007 Fuligni Brunello di Montalcino – $100.00

2007 Voliero Brunello di Montalcino – $68.00

2007 Uccelliera Brunello di Montalcino -$80.00

There were some excellent notes compiled by DB to accompany the Society tasting:

“Brunello has been called “Classico on steroids”. In hot years like 2003, Classico can outperform Brunello at a much lower cost. But, putting the price difference aside, it is very easy to contrast Montalcino’s physical aspects with those of Classico, and when you come to taste the wine, the impact of those differences becomes clear.

The Montalcino region is lower in altitude, closer to the coast, more rounded in terrain, less wooded, more exposed to sea breezes, and is warmer. The vineyards seem larger today despite Montalcino having a history of small holdings. The plots have less variety in their aspects and their soils than Classico and mostly they achieve a higher degree of ripeness. Brunello can be richer, warmer and more powerful than Classico, (but this can be overdone) while Classico is usually fresher with higher acid.

Very simplistically, there are two basic terroirs in Montalcino. To the north, around the town, the vineyards are higher, steeper, and cooler. The soils are stony with lime and sand. The wines are very similar to Classico Riserva being more aromatic and elegant than other Brunello. In the South along the hills which slope down to the Orcia river, an area known simply as the Colle, the vineyards are bigger, more broad sloped, southward facing, with more clay in the richer soils, and produce more powerful, riper, heavier wines which can be harvested as much as two weeks before those in the north. In a good year, Montalcino will take advantage from all its terroirs. In a cool year, the Colle will do better, and in a warmer year, fruit from the north provides freshness and a foil to what can easily be over ripeness in the Colle. This latter point – potential over ripeness in the lower, warmer sited Sangiovese has proven on occasion to be Brunello’s bane.

 Brunello has three levels of classification:

Rosso: Aged for one year with 6 months in wood

Brunello (normale): Aged for four years, minimum of two years in wood and 4 months in bottle

Riserva: Aged for five years, minimum of two years in wood and 4 months in bottle.

We will not be able to contrast Normale with Riserva and form our own opinion, as all six wines are Normale. It will be interesting to consider, however, that if we see a spectacular wine (I’m sure we will see more than one!) just how it might have been “improved” if it had been given Riserva treatment. Another dimension for us to think about is the contrast between the northern and the Colle wines. We have two from the area around the town, and four from the south. Will we see a difference?

Regarding the vintage, this from Antonio Galloni:

Vintage 2007 is more than a worthy follow-up to 2006. It is hard to remember two consecutive vintages of this level in Montalcino. For most growers, 2007 was a warmer overall year than 2006. Temperatures remained above average pretty much the whole year, but never spiked dramatically as they did in 2003. Cooler temperatures and greater diurnal swings towards the end of the growing season helped the wines maintain acidity and develop their aromatics. Overall, the 2007s are soft, silky wines that are radiant, open, and highly expressive today. My impression is that most of the wines will not shut down in bottle and that 2007 will be a great vintage to drink pretty much throughout its life. I tasted very few wines that were outright overripe or alcoholic. Many of the best 2007s come from the centre of town where the higher altitude of the vineyards was critical factor in achieving balance. Overall, I rate 2007 just a notch below the more structured and age worthy 2006, but in exchange the 2007s will drink better earlier.



2km east of Montalcino on quite open rounded hills facing east-southeast at elevations of 380-450 metres. 11ha under vine. An old Tuscan family but making wine since only 1923. Tending towards a traditional style: aromatic, elegant and subtle rather than fruit forward. Aged in 500lt French tonneaux for 4-5 months in an old convent on the vineyards, then for 30 months in large Slavonian botti deep underneath the family’s 18th century palazzo in the centre of the town.


2km southest of Montalcino only a few hundred meters south of Fuligni above. A very old family property which first exhibited its Brunello in 1870. Vineyards face southeast on quite a steep slope at 310-400 meters. 12 ha under vine. Soils are blue-grey chalky marl. Costanti uses new BBS clones 5-25 years old. Wood ageing is mixed with 18 months in new and used 350-500lt French tonneaux, and 18 months in 3000lt Slavonian botti.


Lisini is about 8km due south of Montalcino at 300-350 meters, just to the northeast of Sant’Angelo, down a dirt road through dense scrub. The soils are soft, sandy, volcanic with some stones and are exposed to sea breezes. 20ha undervine. Lisini is one of the region’s historical producers and remains one of the more traditional. The family has been farming here since the 16th century. Mainly massale selection with some vines up to 75 years old. There is one small block remaining of pre-phyloxera from the mid 19th century. Wines are aged in large 1100-4000lt Slavonian botti for up to 3 years.

Il Poggione

Another one of the Brunello pioneers of 100-120 years ago. This is quite a big estate with large blocks spreading down a long south facing slope above the Orcia river valley. Once, it was even larger but in 1958, half was split off to form Col D”Orcia. The vineyards are spread between 150 and 450 meters. They have made extensive use of new clones since the 1990s but the only major change in the cellar is to move from large Slavonian wood to large French. Typically, this wine spends 3 years in these 300-500lt formats. Belfrage calls Il Poggione archetypal because, as he says, it is the Brunello you go to when you want to demonstrate a benchmark. There are better wines, in his view, but none more authentic.


We have two wines from this producer: their own normale Brunello and a regional blend called Voliero. Uccelliera, founded in 1986, is on the southern limits of the town of Castelnuova dell’Abate atop a series of gently undulating slopes which continue right down to the banks of the Orcia. The vineyards face south-southwest and are at 150-350 meters. 7ha are under vine and vine age varies between 8 and 35 years old.

Brunello di Montalcino – The wide altitude range does give some small variations in ripeness levels, and therefore winestyle which enhances blending options. This wine is aged for 36 months in Slavonian and French botti. It is known for its heady aromas, succulent fruit and density. A typical Colle example.

Voliero –  In 2006, Uccelliera started a new project along with some other producers, friends of theirs in the area, with the aim of taking advantage of the different aspects of each terroir. The contributing vineyards have various features but are between 250 and 450 meters high, and vine ages are between 10 and 20 years old. The resulting blend is traditional in style with the wine ageing for 30 months in large Slavonian and French casks. The wines are made at another winery but bottled at Uccelliera.”


And to the wines, all Normale:

2007 Voliero Brunello di Montalcino 14.5% alc. Tawny dusty carmine colour. An excellent start – perfumed hot and spicy, with vanilla and wood smoke. Bold. Scents of cut dates and blackberry. Minty. Bright fruit attack in the mouth, sweet and rich, good acid, fresh and powerful, with a long hot finish. Off young vines too. I scored this Gold.

2007 Lisini Brunello di Montalcino Tawny dusty carmine colour. Perfumed and floral. Higher in volatiles than the first, with scents of vanilla, pencil shavings and graphite. Hot. Bright fresh fruit and acid on attack. Fine tannins. Power and linearity. Minty. Hot finish. Very traditional in style I was told. I scored this Silver.

2007 Fuligni Brunello di Montalcino Tawny dusty carmine colour. Lighter and dumber that the first two, from the cooler north was my pick, dusty and dry. Linear, less acid and intensity, earthy, more tannin and drying. Sweet up front, a taste of dried figs. I scored this Silver.

2007 Uccelliera Brunello di Montalcino Deep tawny dusty carmine colour. Funky and sweaty, but this blew off. Dominant warm fruit characters. In the mouth I loved the richness of the fruit, the complexity, the crunchy mouthfeel, the drying tannins and hot spicy finish. It was delicious with thw supper, and showed savoury, meaty, shroomy. Some lanolin also. I scored it Gold and my WOTN (wine of the night).

2007 Costanti Brunello di Montalcino Tawny dusty carmine colour. Fruity bright and intense, with vanilla. Somewhat 1-dimensional after the Uccelliera, but showed drying characters, more wood, and high alcohol. Dates and dried fruit in the mouth. Blackberries, dried plums. Grippy and tight. Some thought austere. I saw depth and focus. I scored it Gold. A large number in attendance saw it as their WOTN.

2007 Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino Tawny dusty carmine colour. Light-ish, lean-ish and dumb-ish. Clean fruit, some cherries. Lighter and leaner to taste, drying, with attractive complexity and layers of flavour. Fine. Sweeter with food. Length went on and on. I scored it Gold. Lots of attendees saw it as their WOTN.

As a novice on all things Italian/vinous, my overall impressions were that the wines showed remarkable homogeneity of style. They were perfumed, with bright acid (after 9 years age), possessed a clean clear structure and had a deep underlying fruit intensity.

These wines retail for over $120 nowadays. It was a pleasure and instruction to enjoy them tonight. Thanks to the host and the cellarmaster.


MS Tasting –Barbaresco

Magnum Barbaresco 2007 2

2007 Produttori del Barbaresco

An unknown for me, Barbaresco. So I was very keen to attend this month’s Society tasting.

It provided the very rare opportunity to taste an cellared horizontal of wines from one fine producer – a co-operative – from across each of the Barbaresco crus, with the exception of Pajè. Our Cellarmaster was kind enough to round out the flight with Rabajà from his own cellar.

As usual, the notes provided were excellent, this time by AH:

The current cooperative was founded in 1958 by the Reverend Don Fiorino Marengo as a countermeasure to the urban drift that was gradually depleting his congregation. It was effectively a revival of a previous cooperative, the Cantine Sociali, started by Domizio Cavazza, a Barbaresco resident and head of the Royal Enological School of Alba. The original cooperative went into decline during World War I and closed in 1923 after failing to survive the harsh economic conditions under the fascists.

The Produttori del Barbaresco currently comprises 51 growers, led since 1991 by Managing Director Aldo Vacca, son of the founding Managing Director Celestino Vacca, who retired in 1984. Gianni Testa has been the winemaker at Produttori since the late 1980s and under the current management the cantina sociale has earned a reputation as one of the world’s best best cooperatives, certainly as far as value for money is concerned. Production is around 550,000 bottles per year. In years when the riserve are made they are divided among Barbaresco (50%), single vineyard Barbarescos (30%) and Nebbiolo Langhe (20%).

At harvest the farmers bring their grapes to the piazza where they are analysed for parameters such as sugar, phenolics and tannins, which determines the amount each producer is paid. This ensures that quality does not take a back seat to quantity. The grapes are sent down a chute to the cellar, which makes use of the steep hill on which the town sits to permit gravity feeding between the three levels for fermentation and racking before the wine is taken to another facility next to the nearby Ovello vineyard for aging in 22 – 55 hectolitre botti.

The Barbaresco “normale” spends two years in botte. In good years the cooperative may decide to produce individual riserve from each of the nine Barbaresco crus, which spend three years in botte. The decision on whether to bottle riserve is made, not so much on the quality of the riserve in good years, but on the quality of the normale in poorer years. In other words, if higher quality fruit is needed to maintain the standard of the normale, the riserve will not be made.

As with every vineyard in the Langhe, aspect and position on the hillside are important determinants; the south facing sites on the mid to upper producing the best wine. When asked to describe each of the nine Produttori crus in one word, Aldo says Pora is approachable; Rio Sordo, elegant; Asili, austere; Pajè, bright; Ovello, lively; Moccagatta, floral; Rabajà, complete; Montestefano, powerful; Montefico, austere. I usually find that the crus starting with “p” are softer, more elegant expressions, whereas those starting with “m” are more structured, especially Montestefano. Asili and Rabajà usually stand out in the line-up for their balance and complexity. Whereas Aldo would be no more likely to rank his children in order of preference than rank the Produttori crus, my personal order of preference would look something like Rabajà, Asili, Montefico, Ovello, Montestefano, Rio Sordo, Moccogatta, Pajè, Pora.

On the quality of 2007 vintage the opinions of critics vary. Jancis Robinson says simply…”Hail and arid conditions resulted in a low-yielding year, but of good quality fruit”….but she is referring to Piemonte as a whole and what is true for Barolo is not necessarily true for Barbaresco, thanks in part to the influence of the Tanaro river. The Galloni and Tanzer web site Vinous rates 2007 as the best vintage in Barbaresco since 1996, giving both these vintages 96 points. Here is their description of the 2007 vintage: “The 2007 Barbarescos possess dazzling aromatics, silky tannins and generous, at times explosive, fruit. Although 2007 was a warm year, temperatures were remarkably stable throughout most of the summer, which allowed for full ripening, even in less well-exposed vineyards. As a result, many entry-level Barbarescos are unusually delicious. One of the defining characteristics of the vintage is that the differences from vineyard to vineyard are more attenuated in 2007 than they were in more typical, cooler years such as 2001 and 2004. Because of the unusually warm weather in the spring, the entire growing season was moved up in the calendar, but the cycle from flowering to harvest turned out to be close to normal. These conditions resulted in wines that combine elements of warm and cool vintages to an extent I have never seen previously.

We would be tasting all but one of the nine riserve; Pajè missing the cut on this occasion

2007 Produttori del Barbaresco Riserva Montestefano

2007 Produttori del Barbaresco Riserva Asili

2007 Produttori del Barbaresco Riserva Rio Sordo

2007 Produttori del Barbaresco Riserva Montefico

2007 Produttori del Barbaresco Riserva Muncagotta

2007 Produttori del Barbaresco Riserva Ovello

2007 Produttori del Barbaresco Riserva Pora

2007 Produttori del Barbaresco Riserva Rabajà

Magnum Barbaresco 2007 1

And to the wines:

2007 Produttori del Barbaresco Riserva Pora – Deep tawny red colour. Florals, roses, vanilla, oak, almonds, lifting. An excellent start. To taste I saw raspy acid, tannic dryness, bright red fruits – plums and cherries. Refreshing. It softened in the glass, and was transformed by food. I scored it Silver.

2007 Produttori del Barbaresco Riserva Rio Sordo – Deep tawny red colour. Vanilla pod notes, somewhat reticent to begin with. There was engaging suppleness in the glass, refreshing, with a good tannic backbone. Deep red fruits. Lively acid finish. Lovely length. Charming. I scored it Silver.

2007 Produttori del Barbaresco Riserva Asili – Deep tawny red. Vanilla notes on the nose, softer than the previous wines, with elegance, spice, almost dusty. Brambly red fruit to taste, bright entry, delicious complete marriage of acid and fruit. Ripeness and persistence. A drying finish. Ticked my box. I scored it Gold. One of my two Wine of the Night(s) WOTNs.

2007 Produttori del Barbaresco Riserva Rabajà – Deep tawny red. Dusty, with boxwood, tannins, & superb concentration. A step up in intensity. It showed lighter and sweeter in the mouth than the previous wines. Delicious again, ripe gorgeous fruit, svelte balance, complete. I scored it Gold.

2007 Produttori del Barbaresco Riserva Muncagotta – Deep tawnier red. Aromatic, and dusty. With oak, vanilla, roses and varnish. Sweet entry on palate, mouthcoatingly textural, with red fruit flavours. Some hint of dryness and austerity on a long finish. I scored it Silver.

2007 Produttori del Barbaresco Riserva Ovello – Deep tawnier red. Slightly dumber than previous. Some vanilla, baking spice, cloves, dry straw and oak. Grippy dense black fruit, austere, slight body, sinewy and drying. I scored it Silver.

2007 Produttori del Barbaresco Riserva Montefico – Deep tawnier red. Spice, pepper, violets, volatile acids, deep perfume and roasted meat on the nose. Layered, intriguing, complex. In mouth I saw this as a complete expression – ripe red fruit, acids, texture, length and bosy. It was made in a bigger style, almost full throttle. Power and balance. I scored it Gold. My second WOTN.

2007 Produttori del Barbaresco Riserva Montestefano – Deep tawny red. Dusty, with phenols (whiteboard cleaner), most primary. Admirable flavour and grip. Great balance and structure, drying finish. I scored it Silver

The wines were all dusty on nose, with bouquets of roses and cloves and vanilla, and textural on palate. There was great concentration of fruit. The acid and tannin profiles point to years and years of life ahead for these wines

This had to be one of the most enjoyable tastings I have attended. It was a new variety (for me) and the similarities and subtle differences between the wines really made me work hard and think.

Here we had the same winemaker, same grape, same winemaking, and same vintage. All the same, yet differences emerged.  Fascinating, illuminating.




Bordeaux 2015, in anticipation

Bordeaux 2015

The wine society I belong to buys wines and cellars them until the date that our Cellarmaster think the wines will be drinking at their peak, at which point they then get hauled out blinking in the lamplight for our tasting and appreciation and discourse.

I was looking through the latest newsletter, and idly noting the latest acquisitions to our cellar, when I noticed a few of the wines had got a write-up in my latest copy of Decanter….

The June issue (a bit late arriving down these parts, something about shipping delays etc) covered the 2015 vintage of Bordeaux. Steven Spurrier was quoted as declaring that “Bordeaux is back” in 2015, with “a sure-bet vintage that ticks all the boxes, producing great wines across the region”. He said, “Some great wines have been made, and I feel that 2015’s reputation will grow”.

He and his crack team of drinkers were sent forth to wrap their laughing gear around a whole bunch of classy wines, and report back their findings. And I must say some of the wines looked rather good. And I think we bought some. So I checked.

We bought:

2015 Ch. Rauzan Segla Margaux 2CC, $103.00ea – Decanter sez 95 points

2015 Ch. Belair Monange St Emilion 1GCCB at $152.00ea – Decanter sez 94 points

2015 Ch. La Fleur Petrus Pomerol at $205.00ea – Decanter sez 93 points

2015 Ch. Trotanoy Pomerol at $225.00ea – Decanter sez 96 points!

2015 Ch. Haut Bailly Graves at $133.00 – Decanter sez 97 points, and Graves Wine of the Vintage!!

2015 Ch. Vieux Chateau Certan Pomerol at $310.00ea – Decanter sez 97 points!

Good news! We bought enough to go around.

Bad News! We won’t be tasting these bad bois until 2028.

F**n hell. Best keep passing those open windows, then.