MS White Burgundy 2012 Tasting


white burgundy 2

Some of the finest expressions of wine made from the Chardonnay grape emerge from the region of Burgundy in France. Once tried, they are wines that are hard to forget, if you are the type who refutes the idea of “A B C“, and fully embraces what I believe is the Queen of Wines.

When joining a fine wine society that maintains a cellar, you do it expecting to encounter the finest of the world’s wines from time to time. This was one of those occasions.

RE produced a wonderful set of notes to accompany this tasting:

Last year we tasted six White Burgundies from the 2011 vintage. It’s probably fair to say not all of these were to everyone’s taste – some tasters clearly had issues with reduction and acid, from a lean vintage that seems prone to those criticisms. Of course, others feel the 2011s are lovely, and anything with a pH greater than 3.2 is pretty flabby anyway…

The 2012s we are about to taste should be quite different. I expect them to show good ripeness, and more even acid. Of course, reduction is always part of White Burgundy and those sensitive to Sulphur compounds will no doubt find at least one of the wines “challenging”. It certainly promises to be interesting, yet again.

The region and vineyards

Burgundy sits pretty much a little to the East of central France. It’s quite a large geographic area, with Chablis sort of halfway between the Cote d’Or and Paris. One of our wines is from Chablis and we shall be unsurprised if it tastes a bit different from the others. The next “outlier” will be the Corton Charlemagne, being in the Cote de Beaune but 20 odd minutes by car from Puligny, the Southernmost of the villages we are tasting from. For me, the real magic of the region is right there – Puligny and its neighbours Meursault and Chassagne, where the world’s greatest Chardonnays are made. It’s fascinating how wines grown in such close proximity display quite distinct characteristics.

Pucelles is just north of the Grand Cru vineyards Batard Montrachet and Bienvenue Batard Montrachet. It’s generally considered one of the “best” 1er Crus, but then so are several other ones. Pucelles sits at the bottom of the Cote d’Or slope, where the incline is less pronounced than higher up the hill. Henri Boillot owns 57 ares of vines that are around 50 years old.

Champ Canet is on the northern border of Puligny, next to Meursault. It’s located mid-slope and just above Combettes and on the same sort of line as Perrieres. Geographically, one of the best sites, and Sauzet has some of the oldest vines here (going back to 1939 plantings).

Genevrieres in Meursault is right in the heart of the 1ers there, south of the village. The name of this appellation comes from the juniper trees that used to grow there a long time ago. It is sometimes said that the taste of the flowers of this tree used to be felt in the wine. It is also said, just sometimes, that this is complete nonsense. Latour-Giraud is definitely a strong performer in the village and with Genevrieres in particular. The Domaine’s own website description is too good to pass up:

“The history of Field LATOUR-GIRAUD extends over three centuries and goes up at the end of XVII. The known ancestor oldest is Jean Latour-Boillot born about 1680. At that time the vine was already the principal wages. The presence of the Latour family on the vineyard appears during the French revolution by the person of Jean Latour-Mouquin, born in 1748 and grandson of Jean Latour-Boillot”

Charmes is also in the south of Meursault, right next to Combettes and Referts in Puligny. Charmes is located on a gentle slope at the bottom of the Cote d’Or escarpment, and is not as steep as some of the vineyards on the hill above (e.g. Perrieres). Roulot is one of the “superstar” producers nowadays and wine-searcher provides you with plenty of opportunity to spend over $700 on this wine.

Corton Charlemagne, further north, is on the hill of Corton, a large outcrop of limestone set slightly apart from the main Côte d’Or escarpment. Emperor Charlemagne is said to have ordered the planting of the first white grape varieties on the Corton hillside. The red wines he loved so much stained his long white beard, and one of his several wives is said to have pressured him into drinking white wines instead… Whether true or not, we all appreciate having white Corton Charlemagne. The Henri Boillot wine is from their Maison business.

Preuses in Chablis lies at the northern end of the Grand Cru slope, where Kimmeridgian soils and a sunny aspect make for an excellent terroir. It crowns, or is sandwiched between, Bougros and Vaudesir. It’s actually yet another vineyard that – in a fit of originality – is pretty much called “Perrieres” (old French term for quarry) because apparently Preuses is simply what the original “Pierreuse” corrupted to in this instance. I couldn’t easily find how many vines and how old they are in this instance, but Billaud Simon has been around for 200 years odd.

How was 2012 as a vintage?

2012 was another miserable vintage, with quantities low due to hail damage. A cold wet winter and Wellington-esque weather across April to June. Yet again saved by much better conditions thereafter, except the storms and hail of course. While “professional” opinions were or are somewhat split, my view is that the wines are rather lovely. Good ripe fruit and enough structure to keep things interesting. Of course, as is always the case with Burgundy, producer matters an awful lot, and we are fortunate to be tasting wines from some of the best.

Decanter is probably low-balling in its assessment – 3½ / 5 for Cote d’Or Whites and a more generous 4 / 5 for Chablis: “Drink soon. Hailstorms slashed quantities on the Côte de Beaune, and Chardonnay was badly affected. Yet after a turbulent summer, the grapes were picked in healthy condition, although quantities were, in some places, risible. But there is no stylistic signature to the vintage, and there are skinny whites and fat ones, making generalisations all but impossible.”

Vinous (Tanzer) goes into good detail with a dollar each way and avoiding generalisations while making generalisations: “In fact, 2012 has turned out to be a very good vintage for the white wines of the Cote de Beaune, yielding many flamboyantly rich, concentrated, sexy examples (I will taste the reds in depth later this fall). It’s also an uneven vintage because, as is often the case, weather conditions on the Cote de Beaune were even more extreme than those on the Cote de Nuits. So although there will be many outstanding wines in 2012, buying the vintage will require selectivity. And prices will be high, owing to the very short crop.

… My early look at hundreds of wines suggests that the 2012s are generally very rich, generous, full-bodied wines with a lot of dry extract, very much reflective of tiny yields and small grapes. While some growers consider their 2012s to be classic white Burgundies, others find the wines to be over-concentrated. As I have written in these pages through the years, some of Burgundy’s most intelligent white wine producers are convinced that chardonnays made from tiny yields will never be the most elegant style: they will always have some sort of imbalance reflecting the extremes of their growing season.

Indeed, I found a number of 2012s to be too powerful to be considered classic, often with a tendency toward heaviness. These wines are robust but not austere; with their major levels of baby fat, they still need to be refined during their last months in barrel or tank, and may well benefit from a fining before bottling. Some growers believe that the wines have good inherent minerality but that it’s currently blocked by the wines’ fat. They expect their wines to gain tension in the months leading up to the bottling.

Many 2012 white Burgundies are thick and rich in the way of some of the expensive boutique chardonnays from California. Finally, a white Burgundy vintage that will not be steamrolled by California wines in early blind tastings.

Happily, relative few wines show obvious signs of surmaturite, so the aromas of these wines can be quite fresh and complex. If anything the 2012s are weightier–more outsized–than the 2010s, but they rarely have the tactile, dusty minerality, the density of texture, or the bracing acidity and inner-mouth tension of the earlier vintage, which is looking more and more like a once-or-twice-a-generation vintage. But where the 2012s do have enough acidity, definition and grip, they are extremely impressive and should age very well. The combination of sheer richness of fruit and lively, harmonious acidity makes the best 2012s exceptional. These latter wines will probably outperform their older 2010 siblings for at least the next several years.”

Jancis Robinson appears positive on the vintage, saying: “Generalisations about burgundy are particularly dangerous but I’m prepared to go out on a limb and say that, while there are examples that are too soft, I found some of the whites extremely high in acidity and feel that the best may need a few years in bottle to round out while others may always be a bit skinny.”

My personal view is that the 2012s are yet another fine White Burgundy vintage. Since 1999, there have really only been a couple of weak vintages: 2003 and 2006, with many wines from the latter coming right. Modern approaches and technology have helped significantly – it’s quite possible that 20 years ago the weather conditions we saw in 2012 would have meant a flat out disaster.

What about premox?

Premature oxidation continues to be an issue for White Burgundies. At least, more producers now acknowledge the issue openly and are trying different things – e.g. closures. No doubt some of the wines tonight will show Sulphur compounds and it’s a shame we don’t have copper currency any more.

In Issue 73 of “A View from the Cellar”, John Gilman laments the issue at length, and says he has already seen “a fair bit of premox in 2012s”. His gut-feel is that it’s probably global warming and the horse has bolted – i.e. no matter what steps producers try to put in place, the good old days of White Burgundies peaking at 20 years old are gone. Of course, he then goes into contortions about why the drinking windows he provides in his tasting notes are framed as if premature oxidation didn’t exist.

So in essence, we don’t really know anything more about it than we did last year.

White Bugundy 2007 1

The wines we’re tasting tonight:

I have provided tasting notes and scores from a couple of critics for each of the wines tonight.

2012 Latour Giraud Meursault Genevrieres

“Bright, light yellow. Aromas of yellow peach, orange peel, acacia blossom and spices convey an impression of punch. Then dense and creamy but firm in the mouth, with ripe acidity and dusty extract leavening the wine’s ripeness and extending the ripe, sweet, refined finish. Very fresh and complete Genevrieres, and more complex than the Charmes.” (93, Stephen Tanzer)

“(from 40+ year old vines from a huge 2.5 ha parcel in Genevrières Dessus). Here too the nose is markedly reduced and tough to tease out the fruit composition though again it does seem ripe. The solidly dense middle weight flavours possess excellent intensity and plenty of minerality while retaining a lovely sense of refinement allied with a sophisticated mouth feel, all wrapped in a cool, linear and well-balanced finale. This restrained effort is an exercise in harmony and this too should amply reward 6 to 8 years of bottle age. Recommended. (90-93)/2019+. A Sweet Spot Wine!” (90-93 Burghound)

 

2012 Roulot Meursault Charmes

“From vines planted way back in 1942, the 2012 Meursault 1er Cru Charmes has a very harmonious, intense bouquet with citrus lemon, fennel, mint and orange zest that are all beautifully defined. The palate is vibrant and tense on the entry, a shard of orange peel that is really penetrating from start to finish. Extremely focused but quite flamboyant, this has everything you could ask for in a Meursault Charmes. This is simply fabulous even if it now does come with a hefty price tag. Drink 2016-2030” (95, Neal Martin, Wine Advocate)

“This isn’t quite as elegant but it is even more complex with its expressive nose of really lovely purity that features cool floral, pear and green apple aromas trimmed in just enough wood to notice. The super intense and restrained beautifully precise middle weight flavours brim with an underlying minerality that adds lift to the seductively textured finale that displays outstanding persistence. Despite all of the refinement this remains a powerful and concentrated wine that possesses almost painful intensity and this should age effortlessly for years to come.” (92-94, Burghound)

 

2012 Henri Boillot Puligny Montrachet Pucelles

“White orchard fruit and the hallmark honeysuckle scents give way to punchy and impressively concentrated medium-bodied flavors that possess a highly refined mouth feel if not the sheer depth of the Clos de la Mouchère. To be sure this is a lovely wine that could aptly be described as notably bigger and more powerful than is typical for Pucelles. Tasted: Jun 15, 2014. Drink: 2018+” (91, Burghound)

“Green-tinged medium yellow. Ripe stone fruits, pear, honey and hazelnut on the inviting nose and palate. Fat, rich and chewy; this extract-rich wine boasts terrific solidity and depth of fruit. Finishes with outstanding force and length. Has the palate presence of a grand cru. (Incidentally, there’s no Folatieres in 2012; Boillot only made his domain bottlings from Puligny-Montrachet.)” (92, Stephen Tanzer)

2012 Sauzet Puligny Montrachet Champ Canet

“A sexy note of reduction to the peach, hazelnut and nutmeg aromas. Rich, dense and deep, showing youthfully subdued white peach and mineral flavors. Finishes very long, very dry and broad, in need of time in bottle to reveal more personality. From a crop level of just 21 hectoliters per hectare due to hail, according to Boudot, who noted that he declassified his tiny, hailed-on Hameau de Blagny production into his Puligny villages in 2012.” (92+, Stephen Tanzer)

“**Note: from a full 1 ha parcel of 40+ year old vines though some of them were planted in 1938 at the same time as the Bienvenues; aged in approximately 1/3 new oak with a slightly longer élevage than the prior wines**

Here the beautifully layered nose is openly exotic with spicy aromas of mango, apricot, peach and mandarin orange. The medium weight plus flavors are more concentrated still with a sleek muscularity that contributes to the unctuous but not heavy mouth feel, all wrapped in an extract-rich, suave and beautifully balanced finish. While not nearly as mineral-inflected as the prior two wines there is simply more underlying material and ultimately this should be the better wine and certainly its track record would lend credence to that prediction.” (92, Burghound)

2012 Henri Boillot Corton Charlemagne

“*Don’t miss!* This is aromatically restrained to the point of being almost mute and only grudgingly displays notes of citrus peel, green apple, white flowers and wet stone. There is excellent verve and intensity to the detailed and mineral-inflected broad-shouldered flavors that culminate in a focused, complex and powerfully long finish that is markedly austere and saline. This superbly long effort will need plenty of time to unwind as it’s presently very, very tight but it should handsomely repay extended cellaring.” (94, Burghound)

“Pure aromas of lime, linden blossom, crushed stone and spearmint. Plush and fine-grained but also quite penetrating, offering lovely lift to the concentrated lemon, lime and stone flavors. Very young but already quite suave, this round, rich wine finishes very long, with a youthful metallic minerality. Boillot told me that this was his only Chardonnay parcel untouched by hail in 2012–and the only one affected by hail in 2013.” (94, Stephen Tanzer)

2012 Billaud Simon Chablis Preuses

“This is restrained to the point that aggressive swirling is required to coax even a glimpse of the otherwise very fresh aromas of floral, iodine, tidal pool and soft pear scents. There is superb intensity to the subtly layered medium weight flavors that exhibit an undercurrent of minerality before culminating in a dry and mouth coating but not really austere finish that goes on and on…” (93, Burghound)

“The 2012 Chablis Grand Cru Les Preuses does not quite have the penetration or delineation of the Vaudesir on the nose and I would have preferred more spiciness to come through. The palate is clean and precise on the citric entry, laced with orange peel and saline notes, although again, it needs to develop more personality and spiciness on the conservative finish. Drink 2016-2025.” (89, Neal Martin, Wine Advocate)”

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And so we came, and poured, and here are my thoughts on the wines:

2012 Latour Giraud Meursault Genevrieres – Brilliant pale gold. This had me at hello. Upfront bold and rich hit. Sulphur/reduction, golden stonefruit, peach and mandarin aromas. Essence of Meursault. Sweet attack in mouth. Bold rich body of fruit, with freshness and balanced acid. A “joined-up”wine.  Apple-pip finish. Shows maturity. Gold. My third wine.

2012 Roulot Meursault Charmes – Brilliant pale gold. Wow. Fine and floral, lovely and elegant. Shows such good aromatic intensity. A hint of reduction (I like). Gorgeous fruit weight flavour and silky mouthfeel. Balanced with glorious ripeness and acid. Harmoniou s and long. Gold. My Wine of the Night (WOTN)

2012 Henri Boillot Puligny Montrachet Pucelles – Brilliant gold. Rich and golden, with gorgeous golden fruit aromas, and spice and oak, warmth, sweetness, and slightly reductive. Crisp ripe fruit on palate, balanced, effortless. It had rewarding body, crunchiness, oily-ness, balanced in weight and acid, but showed a thrillingly lively citrus character. Nutmeg. Power and reticence for some, overthinking it. Gold. My second wine.

2012 Sauzet Puligny Montrachet Champ Canet – Brilliant pale gold. Fine, bold, flinty – Seashells? Slight unripe peach character. Complex and layered (I can’t write that without thinking of Shrek and his “layers” J) melon, sweetness, lanolin. Light golden peach flavours, slightly unripe compared to others in this flight. Shows some honey, and gorgous weight with food. Who knows huh? Apple pip on the back, again. A ‘struck match’ character for some. Tension and power without artifice   Gold.

2012 Henri Boillot Corton Charlemagne– Brilliant pale gold.  Fresh crisp aromas, dewy apple, spicy and oaky, deepens on standing. Solid. To taste: fresh, with body. Sweetness and apples. Crunchy mouthfeel. Oaky and hot on the back palate. Simple?  But not.  Silver.

2012 Billaud Simon Chablis Preuses – Brilliant light pale gold. Refined and elegant white peach florals with a hint of honey on the nose. Lively attack, clean entry, crisp green flavours of apple, restrained, somewhat short, dry.  Delicious.  A nice wine. Gold

It was remarkable how the aromas differed across the flight, exhibiting true variations in winemaking approach, terroir and grape clonal variety. Bottle 2c showed Pre-Mox (lean fruit, dying, faulty) which we all sampled to fix in our sense memory what this condition shows as.

The tasting result reminded me of that old football gag, “Football is a simple game played for 90 minutes[ ] , and at the end, Germany wins”.

In this case, for Chardonnay, for me, Meursault wins again!

Thanks to MS and ER for the tasting and guidance.

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MS German Riesling 2007 Tasting


MS Riesling 2018 1

This was a chance for me to expand my knowledge of the fine Riesling wine style from one of the original homes of the grape. Most of my drinking has been at the dry and off-dry end of the Riesling spectrum, so this was also an opportunity to try wines with more sweetness.

AS led the tasting, and prepared some amazingly in-depth notes, which I reproduce here:

“Firstly welcome to the first formal Magnum tasting of 2018. For this we are again exploring the 2007 vintage in Germany with respect to its most noble (and of course indigenous) variety: Riesling. However, unlike last year’s instalment on the 2007s which was principally an exploration of how one producer (Dr Loosen) dealt with the grapes – at various ripeness levels – from specific terroirs (abutting vineyards on steep red slate & red volcanic source material sandstone) this tasting is more a review of how great producers off selected of their signature sites handled the year.

It would be helpful also to recap on the specific nomenclature of how German wines are classified by ripeness. Accordingly, the outline of these levels is reproduced from last March’s tasting preview notes (of Loosen 2007 Urzig and Erden wines).

Kabinett – which literally means ‘cabinet’; the place where the vintner puts his finest (reserve quality) wines: must weight 67-82 Oeschle [Oe]; minimum alcohol level 7%. Fully ripened wines from the main harvest usually crisp and semi-sweet (NB sometimes up to 60-70 g/ltr residual sugar, possibly sweeter than Spatlese from the same site and vintage); occasionally quite dry.

Spatlese – ‘late harvest’; this is literal and not to be confused with ‘late harvest’ as a dessert wine connotation; must weight 76-90 Oe; minimum alcohol level 7%. Grapes have to be picked at least 7 days after main harvest. Normally Halbtrocken (half dry) and sweeter, fruitier (but not always) than Kabinett. Picking late obviously carries increased risk of rain and colder weather. However, the rewards in a warm, dry harvest season in terms of greater richness and expression is clear. From great sites in good years much of the crop can reach Spatlese level.

Auslese – ‘select harvest’: must weight 83-100 Oe; minimum alcohol level 7%. Made from very ripe, hand selected bunches. Typically semi-sweet or sweet, sometimes with a botrytis character. More dramatically, auslesen can be fermented dry (Trocken). However, the Auslesen Trocken designation for such wines from Grosse Lage (great sites) – not to be confused with Grosslage which is term for a wider subregional classification – is now discouraged in favour of Grosses Gewachs (dry wines Trocken from accredited great sites – in essence Grand Crus after the Burgundy and Alsace models; literally ‘great/top growth’ although technically only allowed for VDP members). In any event, Auslese is therefore the Pradikat level that covers the widest range of wine styles: from dry examples as mentioned, through off-dry, sweet-ish, to sweet dessert.

Beerenauslese – ‘select berry harvest’: must weight 110-128 Oe; minimum alcohol level 5.5%. As the name suggests, a berry selection of overripe grapes, often (noble rot) botrytis affected from individual bunches. Very sweet dessert wines. Expensive.

Eiswein – ‘ice wine’: must weight, as with Beerenauslese level 110-128 Oe and minimum alcohol 5.5%. From grapes naturally frozen on the vine. Must sweetness has to be the same as for Beerenauslese, but difference is that botrytis affected grapes are not permitted (by convention if not, strictly, by law).

Trockenbeerenauslese – ‘select dry berry harvest’: must weight 150-154 Oe; minimum alcohol level 5.5%. Made from selected overripe shrivelled grapes, mostly affected by noble rot. Confusingly, the ‘trocken’ in the designation refers to the dryness of the botrytis-affected berries, not the dryness of the wine. Which it certainly is not! Extremely rich and sweet; long-lived; and very expensive! Although on that price front some of the top GGs (Grosses Gewachs) are certainly giving them a run for their money nowadays.

As noted, the sweetness levels in the classification refers to the must weight (brix equivalent), which in turn is dependent on time and mode of harvest. And, as hinted, final sweetness is dependent on producer decision as regards how dry to ferment to. In these 21st century times of climate change, resultant overall warmer temperatures, and more sunshine through longer growing seasons that decision is increasingly being skewed toward dry. Commercial factors also contributing to the push, with market demand especially among the Germans themselves for drier wines. Layered on this again is the vignerons’ resultant propensity/ability to charge more for GGs (than for off-dry styles). The not truly complete dryness of German dry wines

Under EU law the maximum allowed sugar content of Trocken wines is 4 g/ltr unless residual sugar does not exceed acidity by more than 2 g/ltr in which case legally Trockens can contain up to 9 g/ltr of residual sugar. As an example, if a Trocken wine contains 8 g/ltr of residual sugar it will (or should) have at least 6 g/ltr of acidity. Of course with the penchant of the wider German palate for not appreciating wines with low acidity, allied to naturally high levels of acidity in most growing regions, it means that invariably German GG/Trocken Rieslings (and wines from other varieties) do indeed contain as much as 9 g/ltr of residual sugar.

So, having consumed this necessary spoonful of German wine fact, what are the wines (all from great sites) we are actually to taste?

From the Mittelmosel (Middle Mosel):

2007 Dr Loosen Urziger Wurzgarten Riesling Kabinett

2007 Joh. Jos. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spatlese

2007 Willi Schaefer Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Spatlese

From the Upper Nahe:

2007 H Donnhoff Niederhauser Hermannshohle Riesling Spatlese

2007 H Donnhoff Niederhauser Hermannshohle Riesling Auslese Goldkapsel

2007 H Donnhoff Niederhauser Hermannshohle Riesling Trocken Grosses Gewachs

The two wine regions looked at are based on, around, and named after the Mosel and the Nahe Rivers. Both are tributaries of the Rhine. Both were named by the original Celtic inhabitants of the regions: Mosel, diminutive of Moseal Latinised to Mosella which means ‘little Meuse’ reflecting its origins in the Vosges and initial flow parallel with the Meuse River (originally ‘Mosa’); and Nahe, a derivative of the Latin word Nava supposedly based on an ancient Celtic linguistic for ‘the wild river’.

History

In last year’s preview notes I gave a broad sweep history of the Mosel and its development as a wine region (and primacy of Riesling as grape variety). From the initial impetus of Roman settlement (the Mosel being west of the Rhine and therefore part of the empire); through establishment of Winzerdorfer (wine villages) in the Middle Ages, the most prominent of which became Bernkastel (town charter 1291), and dominant ownership of key sites by the Church (Bishopric in Trier; monasteries; with this line contiguous through to the name of the Erdener Pralat (the ‘Prelate’ or ‘Bishop’) vineyard and Dr Loosen’s happy monk on the label of his bottlings from the site); or the names of two formerly Church owned vineyards at Graach (Graacher Domprobst – ‘Dean of the Cathedral’; and Graacher Himmelreich – ‘The Kingdom of Heaven’); plus superior legal status of Riesling over other varieties on great sites; to the commercial (including arrival of powdery mildew and phylloxera from North America which ultimately led to modern viticulture practices – although as a side issue, because the phylloxera louse cannot apparently survive in shallow slate soils, the majority of Riesling vines in the Mosel great sites are still grown ungrafted, enabling the traditional vine training on stakes to continue) plus political changes through the 19th and 20th centuries not only leading to increased production but shaping the style of wines produced.

The history of the Nahe as a wine region – geographically to the east of the Mosel separated by the Hunsruck Upland peneplain block – followed along similar lines, in as much as viticulture was introduced by the Romans and that by the Middle Ages vineyards were Church-run. However, although its vineyards developed a reputation for Riesling in the 19th century, until 1971 when the Nahe Wine Region was first defined under German Wine Laws it was sold as ‘Rhine Riesling’. Indeed, until recent decades the region was held back by its post-WW2 impoverishment and agricultural backwardness relative to the more industrialised Mosel and Rheingau.

The Upper Nahe (where most of the great sites are) is almost exclusively planted to Riesling, often on steep slopes like in the Mosel. The middle of the region, basically the area surrounding the town of Bad Kreutznach, is largely planted to Riesling on the better terraces above the town, with Muller-Thurgau and Silvaner predominating on the Grosslage on the flatter land to the south and east of the urban area (and river). The Lower Nahe, the river by now close to its confluence with the Rhine, and on generally flatter terrain, is planted to a more modern mix of grape varieties including promising Weissburgunder [Pinot Blanc], Grauburgunder [Pinot Gris] and red grapes (e.g. Dornfelder, Spatburgunder [Pinot Noir], Blauer Portugieser).

As a final historical point, it must be remembered that right through the 19th century and up to WW1, German Rieslings were predominantly made in dry and ‘drier’ styles than became the norm through the middle and late 20th century. The 21st century move away from sweeter back toward dry wines in Germany is in essence simply therefore a return to how it was, but with probably greater expertise on the part of the vintners.

Riesling – the facts re plantings

In 2013 there were 23,293ha of Riesling planted in Germany. The greatest dominance of the variety is in the Rheingau where 79% of plantings is Riesling. Next is the Mittelrhein 68% and Mosel 61.6%. Next largest is Nahe 27.9%, followed by Pfalz 24.3%, Franconia 18.5%, Rheinhessen 16%, Baden-Wurttemberg 12% and the Ahr (Spatburgunder territory) with just 8.2%.

Although percentage wise Riesling is a much less dominant variety in the Pfalz, Rheinhessen and Baden-Wurttemberg, just over half of all Riesling plantings in the country (11,750ha) are across those regions. The Mosel has approximately 5,300ha; Nahe 1,150ha. Most of the rest is in the Rheingau (2,475ha). The acreage of Riesling in the great sites we are exploring in this tasting is: Urziger Wurzgarten 62ha; Wehlener Sonnenuhr 45ha; Graacher Himmelreich 55ha; Niederhauser Hermannshohle at a mere 8ha (NB Hermannshohle’s neighbouring vineyard Oberhauser Brucke is just 1ha). Given also that the entire ownership of vines (all Riesling) by two of the producers in this tasting is miniscule compared to Riesling overall in Germany (J J Prum 13.5ha; Willi Schaefer 4.2ha), albeit even those estates are large-ish by Mosel standards where there are approximately 2,400 estates overall with average holding of just 2.4ha. Either way, it is apparent that what we are looking at in our tasting is but a small part of the pinnacle of production.

As a comparison with areas planted to Riesling elsewhere in the world (there is about 50,000ha in total), after Germany, North America is next with circa 8,500ha under vine. Australia has about 4,400ha, Alsace 3,500ha, Austria 2,000ha. New Zealand’s plantings hover at about 1,000ha and may be in decline.

Geology

To recap from last year, geologically the Mosel region is dominated by schiefer (slate), a low grade metamorphic rock derived mainly from the sedimentary rock, shale, and of Devonian age (359-419 million years before present). With the river cutting through this country rock, it has left steep slate slopes with just a thin soil veneer. There are two distinctive slate terroirs covering all the great sites: principally blue-grey slate (weathered to such colouration due to predominance of ferrous iron Fe 2+ oxide) and red slate (contrastingly red due to ferric Fe 3+ oxide). Both terroirs are featured in this tasting: blue-grey slate from the famous ‘great wall’ on the right bank of the river immediately downstream of Bernkastel (covering sites from ‘appellations’ Bernkastel, Graach, Wehlen, Zelting); red slate (plus some interwoven ferric ‘volcanic’ sandstone deposits) from the even steeper Urziger Wurzgarten site next ‘appellation’ Urzig downstream of ‘the wall’ but on the opposite (left) bank at the head of a sharp bend/incised meander in the river. In general, the red slate (rotschiefer) is said to impart a more spicy character to the wines than blue-grey slate (tonschiefer).

By contrast, the geology of the Nahe is more complex. For the most part the river is itself the incised divide between the Hunsruck and North Palatine Uplands, with the chief difference between it and the Mosel region (principal outcropping bedrock for both is slate with schist) being the prevalence of volcanics, mainly rhyolite and andesite, dating from an intense eruptive phase in the early Permian (circa 275-300 Myr BP). Mineralisation associated with this ancient volcanic activity has led to precious metal deposits throughout the region, exploited over thousands of years by human populations from the Celts to the present day. Both the volcanic parent material and mining past are reflected in the ferric (Fe 3+) red andesitic & basaltic soils of the vineyards at Bad Munster (just downstream of the Niederhausen site featured in this tasting), and in the names of the Schlossbokelheim vineyards Kupfergrube (‘copper mine’) and Felsenberg (‘iron hill’) which are upstream but close to Niederhauser Hermannshohle (for which the ‘hohle’ [‘hole’] also refers to a mine). As it happens, the viticultural area of the Upper Nahe surrounding Oberhausen (Schlossbokelheim and Niederhausen are either side) is particularly complex and a single vineyard within the locality can, for example, contain soils derived from a melange of sandstone, slate, porphyry (an igneous rock with distinctive large crystals set in a more uniform silicate groundmass) and melaphyre (a particular basaltic porphyry). Soils for Hermannshohle itself are principally derived from rhyolitic and slate parent material.

Climate

The propitiousness of the Mosel for viticulture is principally due to the shelter provided to the west and north by the Eifel Upland. The warmth of the best sites is further enhanced by the heat retentive qualities of the slate bedrock and the sheer steepness and therefore sun trap quality of the south and southwest facing slopes on which these best growing sites are found. Average July temperature is 18C, and frequently in excess of that for the great sites. Note the name of several top Grosse Lage: Brauneburger Juffer Sonnenuhr, Zeltinger Sonnenuhr, Wehlener Sonnenuhr; Sonnenuhr = ‘sundial’; a large sundial within each of these vineyards (and several others with the Sonnenuhr suffix) is a prominent and permanent feature of them.

This is not to say it does not rain in the Mosel! Precipitation can indeed be sufficiently heavy to make viticulture marginal. However, this where the slate again comes to the vignerons’ rescue as its porosity and permeability allows rapid absorbtion and/or run off of excess water.

The Upper Nahe has a similar climate, sheltered by surrounding uplands, and not only like the Mosel by the Eifel Upland (plus the intervening Hunsruck Upland) to the north and west, but by the Soonwald ranges to the northeast and rocky foothills of the Palatine Upland directly to the east. If anything, it is drier than the Mosel, often said to have a ‘Mediterranean’ climate. As opposed to the Mosel’s ‘Atlantic’ climate.

There is also a school of thought that supposes that the Nahe contains the ideal terroirs for dry (or indeed all) Riesling. Giles McDonagh of Decanter Magazine argues “You can’t plant Riesling anywhere in Germany and expect good results. Riesling likes primary rock and some regions don’t have it. The grape has purity and if you go further south where it’s too warm it loses that. Nahe stands in the middle so a perfect Nahe Riesling will have the purity and lightness of fruit of the Mosel but some of the body of the Pfalz. In a way it’s in the perfect position. It also has these volcanic soils unlike anywhere else in Germany, with these huge boulders all over the place which give their own identity to great Nahe wine. Nahe is the insider’s tip if you want the body of a southern Riesling but the subtlety of a northern one.”

2007 Vintage

The 2007 vintage across Germany was well thought of and eagerly anticipated at the time. In hindsight this view was probably inevitable given the combination of warm spring following the mild 2006-07 winter. Growth was therefore earlier than normal with a good summer – rains offsetting a July heat spike – in which the conditions generally remained dry enough to naturally keep disease pressure (mildew and botrytis) in check. Although as ever, success on this front is also greatly dependent on the vigilance of individual growers. In any event, the largely benign growing season was followed by an almost perfect autumn for Riesling ripening: dry, sunny, warm days counterpointed by cool nights. Remembering also that initial enthusiasm for the vintage was partly because it followed two tricky harvests in 2005 and 2006.

Perhaps, though, the conditions were simply too benign with easy heat/warmth. Healthy fruit was harvested and there was quantity as well as quality. But edgier conditions often create greater wines (famously in recent memory, 1993 Red Burgundies, and potentially what we may yet see in NZ from certain 2017 Central Otago Pinot Noirs). And eleven years on the general verdict regarding vintage for Mosel & Nahe wines is simply “good”. Some commentators think maybe overall lack of balanced acidity (initially quite high but never resolving, reflecting less finesse long term); others noted an oily sheath in the young wines and average-at-best concentration and/or dry extract – too warm?

Hugh Johnson’s 2018 edition pocket wine guide [drafted in 2017] rates the 2007 vintage in both the Mosel and Nahe at 8-9 out of 10. Although additionally it notes that overall the Mosel Rieslings are “now approaching maturity” and that the Nahe’s “dry wines (are) now mature – drink”. Taking up that latter point, in a Decanter article September 2014, Joel B Payne of Gault Millau German Wine guide suggested that 2007’s dry Rieslings had similar balance to those in the subsequent also warm 2009 vintage; but that the 2007 Trockens should be drunk by 2016. On the other hand – relevant given we have one in the tasting – Johnson in an earlier 2012 [i.e. drafted 2011] edition of his pocket wine guide commented that ’07 Mosel Kabinetts were “beautiful … with high levels of acidity”.

Overall theme of this tasting This being a handy point to introduce the theme of the tasting: simply, is the skill of the producers looked at enough for their 2007 wines to rise above the merely “good” tag of the vintage and really create something special? As befits the producers’ long held, and justifiably earned, reputations, are their 2007 wines great? Or, to put it slightly differently, does producer style trump the hallmarks of the vintage? Plus can you find site markers for the different – and supposedly distinct – terroirs?

Wines to taste – details of site and producer

All four vineyards featured in the tasting are very much ‘great sites’, indeed four of the greatest Grosse Lage in all of Germany. Furthermore, the renown of each site is to a large extent tied up the historical skill and performance of the each of the producers concerned.

2007 Dr Loosen Urziger Wurzgarten Riesling Kabinett

Urziger Wurzgarten (‘spice garden’ vineyard at the village of Urzig) was one of the three Dr Loosen red slate vineyards featured in last year’s tasting. (The others were Erdener Treppcen and Erdener Pralat.) Three 2007 Loosen Wurzgartens were tasted (Spatlese, Auslese, Auslese Goldkapsel) looking for a common thread. My notes indicated commonality of a salty, dusty, mineral element with the Goldkap (GK) clearly being the spiciest, richest and plushest of the three, edging it just over the straight Auslese (both attaining gold award from me – and Magnum group as a whole – on the night).

The Spatlese was slightly gawky by comparison, perhaps with a more slatey, flinty edge and only a bronze award. (It was also a wine where Magnum’s customary reserve bottle was needed as the first opened bottle was badly corked.) This lesser performance for the Spatlese (compared to the Ausleses) may reflect the position on the vineyard from where the fruit was drawn. Dr Loosen owns a specific plot within Wurzgarten called Urgluck (‘original luck’) which is sited immediately above the village of Urzig and contains the oldest vines among all Loosen’s vineyard holdings, at circa 120 years old. Loosen Wurzgarten Ausleses typically comprise fruit from 100+ year old vines, i.e. mainly from Urgluck, whereas the 2007 Loosen Wurzgarten Spatlese was from vines averaging at the time about 50 years of age, i.e. mainly from parcels elsewhere in the vineyard.

The 2007 Loosen Wurzgarten Kabinett, like the Spatlese, is made up of wine from (ungrafted) vines averaging about 50 years. Yield for the cuvee typically 70 hl/ha (compared to cropping level of 50 hl/ha for the Spatlese) albeit I have been unable confirm exactly what it was for this particular vintage. As Wurzgarten is the steepest vineyard in the Mosel (the steepest of the steep) it clearly had to be hand-picked. Will need to confirm on night as to the alcohol by volume (ABV) but expect it to be 7-8%.

I have been unable to find any relevant tasting notes via the internet although understand David Schildknecht at the Wine Advocate scored it at 90 points. As a comparative, however, I have recently opened the same wine (Dr Loosen Urziger Wurzgarten Riesling Kabinett) from the 2002 vintage, a similar season albeit more rain/moisture late summer. The 2002 suffered slightly from poor closure (and I note that for more recent vintages than 2007 Ernie Loosen bottles his Kabinetts under screwcap) but nonetheless, after 16 years the 2002 did show mature notes of honey and waxiness of texture, though rather short on the finish.

As already specified, the vineyard has only a thin soil veneer over red slate and red volcanic sandstone, and occupies a broad amphitheatre sweep of the hillside above the village of Urzig, on the north (left) bank of the Mosel River where the river forms a dramatic bend; 62ha planted all to Riesling (unclear what percentage is Loosen’s); south to east-southeast orientation. Dr Loosen is one of 14 owners on the site. Other notable producers include Jos. Christoffel , J J Christoffel-Erben, Monchhof, Markus Molitor and Dr Hermann.

The history of the modern Dr Loosen estate under Ernst Loosen (last 30 years) was detailed in the preview notes from last March. Suffice here to summarise that key modernising changes made when Ernie first took over in 1988, e.g. reduction in cropping levels, Bernie Schug made cellarmaster, remain at the core of the operation. Bernie still heads up the winemaking. Viticulture practice is dominantly organic. Although, as also noted last year, it is not clear whether their organics regime is simply no more than sufficient to comply with minimum German environmental and sustainability regulations. The trick for this tasting is – if you were present and can recall the Loosen Urziger Wurzgarten wines from last year – to try and see whether there is more a specific Wurzgarten marker or Dr Loosen style thread running through this wine (especially in comparison to the Spatlese)?

2007 J J Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spatlese

Wehlener Sonnenuhr (‘sundial’ vineyard at the village of Wehlen) is a very famous ‘great site’ stretching up high on the ‘great wall’ within the Grosslage Munzlay (the Grosslage name is a reference to the slate terroir). It is actually on the opposite bank of the river (right bank) from the home village of Wehlen (on the left bank) but adjacent to the bridge that spans the Mosel from Wehlen. Weathered blue-grey slate with a south-southwest facing aspect, rising steeply – up to a 70% gradient – from the road along the riparian flat, it sits neatly between Zeltinger Sonnenuhr (downstream) and Graacher Himmelreich (above and upstream) and Josephshofer (Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt monopole, also a Graach site, which too is immediately upstream).

Although the vineyard is very old, the term ‘sundial’ was only used orally until the first Erste Lage classification and map in 1868. And indeed it was not until 45 years later in August 1913 that it was formally approved as a name and the vineyard’s size precisely defined – then at only 10ha, later increased in 1953 to 35ha and (after a ten year legal dispute 1970-80; the municipal council wanted to increase its size to 58ha!) it was finally settled at 45ha exclusively planted to Riesling (J J Prum’s holding is 5ha). The actual sundial in the vineyard was created in 1842 by Jacodus Prum (to, er, give his workers a better awareness of the time it took to complete activities while toiling on the steep slopes among his vines) although at that time the site was as much referred to as Lammerterlay as Sonnenuhr. There are currently 17 owners/producers of parcels within the vineyard: aside from J J Prum and estates of other members of the Prum family (S A Prum, Studert-Prum, Dr Weins-Prum), these include other producers featured in this tasting (but for other vineyards), Dr Loosen and Willi Schaefer, plus also notably Max Ferd. Richter, Markus Molitor, Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt, Schloss Lieser, Kerpen, Wegeler and Dr H Thanisch.

The four Prum estates are all based at Wehlen, as the family has been since the 16th century. Going farther back, the Prum family’s history in winemaking in the Mosel dates to 1156. However, it was only in 1911 that Johann Josef Prum (1873-1944) founded the eponymous J J Prum estate. Dr Manfred Prum (grandson of Joh. Jos.) has led the estate since 1969, initially assisted by his brother Wolfgang, and since 2003 by his daughter, Dr Katharina Prum, with Katharina fully taking over in the last 4-5 years. In total the estate owns 13.5ha across four sites (Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Zeltinger Sonnenuhr, Graacher Himmelreich, Bernkaster Badstube) with 70% of their vines ungrafted.

Hugh Johnson: “J J Prum wines are legendary for being delicate but extremely long-lived with astonishing finesse and distinctive character”. It was Joh. Jos.’s son (& Manfred’s father), Sebastian Prum, who from the 1920s onward largely developed the J J Prum style and built its reputation. Unsurprisingly, that style and quality is mostly due to work in the vineyard: great sites, old vines (at the time of the 2007 harvest, Prum’s vines from Wehlener Sonnenuhr were from a 50-60 year old parcel around the sundial), the lowest yields, very late harvesting and selection of only the best berries. This careful vineyard work followed up by a classic non-interventionist approach in the winery. Not only do the wines live a long time, they also typically need a number of years to show their best, albeit, as noted by Hugh Johnson and others, can then live and improve for decades. The question is how much of this longevity and house style is due to the heavy/obvious application of sulphides (SO2 inoculation) during vinification? And also therefore, the degree to which individual drinkers may be put off by the sulphur when the wines are still young. I’m not, although nonetheless personally still prefer to see them at their best with significant age. Further inquiry for this tasting is therefore just how unevolved the 2007 J J Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spatlese might be? And will it matter? Do you even like the style? – the sulphuring; late harvest.

2007 Spatlese note: ABV 8.5%; no information on residual sugar (information released by the estate is sparse) but likely 50+ g/ltr. Critically well received: Jennie Cho Lee 96; Wine & Spirits Magazine 95; Wine Spectator 93; Wine Enthusiast 92; Falstaff 92; estimated drinking window now-2025+. Joe Czerwinski (Wine Enthusiast), January 2009: “Shows some characteristic Prum stinky notes, but there’s plenty of fruit lurking underneath. Pear, honey, melon and citrus flavors give an impression of great ripeness, amplified by the creamy texture and custardy mouthfeel, but there’s also enough crisp acidity for balance.” Jennie Lee Cho, March 2012: “Very intense late harvest Riesling with well integrated sweetness and ripe nectarine and peach notes. The finish is floral and delicate. This wine has the depth and layers of a great Mosel Riesling with decades of aging potential. Very long finish.” Wine-Beserker blog note from Jayson Cohen, February 2018: “Aromas … vibrant though there is an overarching slight hint of petrol that comes in and out. The nose is leaning toward ripe Granny Smith, unripe peach and orange blossom, with wafts of caraway seed, anisette, mustard seed and coffee bean. It is heading toward tertiary but still shedding some baby fat. A rich mouthfeel with integrated acidity is slightly thicker than normal for this wine – again the baby fat of the vintage is still present – but acids keep ripeness in check and the finish is long with a refreshing quinine/lime bitterness that again indicates this is still adolescent. I love it. Still a long road ahead.”

Further note: in addition to Kabinett and Auslese bottlings, at Spatlese level in 2007 J J Prum did three separate Wehlener Sonnenuhr bottlings – a regular Spatlese; AP11; AP24 reflecting the degree of ripeness/late picking/which pass through the vineyard (refer notes on Spatlese regulation at commencement of these notes). I will confirm which bottling we have for the tasting on the evening.

Lastly, it should be borne in mind that the J J Prum estate and the Wehlener Sonnenuhr are intrinsically linked. The perfect Riesling growing conditions of the site combined with exemplary handling. It has repeatedly been said that above all, Wehlener Sonnenuhr wines should possess excellent structure, have ripe aromas and flavours (typically, as picked out by Jennie Lee Cho above, stone fruits such as peach, nectarine, apricot). While as Stuart Pigott has written: “J J Prum’s Sonnenuhrs are classic examples of the way in which the best Mosel wine’s natural sweetness magnifies, rather than obscures, their character. These are the perfect marriage of Riesling’s peach-like, floral and mineral aspects. White wine cannot be fresher, more vivid and delightful.”

2007 Willi Schaefer Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Spatlese

Graacher Himmelreich (‘the kingdom of heaven’ vineyard at the village of Graach) is also a famous ‘great site’ high on the ‘great wall’ within the Grosslage Munzlay. It ‘overshadows’ the small village of Graach, which unlike Wehlen is properly on the right bank of the river. Again blue-grey slate with a southwest facing aspect, it is less steep (although this is relative) and has a deeper soil horizon that its neighbour Wehlener Sonnenuhr. It also abuts Josephshofer and, partly, Graach’s other noteworthy site, Graacher Domprobst.

The deeper soils of Himmelreich act as good reservoirs of moisture, and as a consequence it is often said that especially in hot, dry years the vineyards’ wines challenge Wehlener Sonnenuhr’s for supremacy. There is some very recent research in viticulture (Dr Andrew Pirie in Australia) hinting that distinctive regional character in wines may be related to humidity level and soil moisture. In any event, compared to its neighbour, Himmelreich wines generally possess racier acidity, more pronounced minerality (crushed rock?) and fruit aromas, and flavours more in the citrus spectrum. Furthermore, Himmelreich wines are normally both deliciously mouthwatering when young and accessible/mature earlier.

The vineyard area is 57ha planted mainly to Riesling. However, two estates, Markus Molitor and Gunther Steinmetz also grow Spatburgunder . Altogether, there are 16 owners/producers of parcels within the vineyard: in addition to Willi Schaefer, the leading lights are J J Prum, the other three Prum family estates, Dr Loosen, Max Ferd. Richter, Markus Molitor, Kerpen and Wegeler . The Willi Schaefer estate owns 2ha, comprising numerous parcels with varying slope character.

Like the Prum family, the Schaefer family also has roots in Mosel viticulture going back to the 12th century. The Schaefers believe their forebears have been in Graach since 1121; documented as such since 1590. The current winery has been in family hands since 1950, Willi Schaefer taking over its running in 1971. He is still there, assisted now by his son, Christoph and Christoph’s wife Andrea. In addition to the 2ha held in Graacher Himmelreich, the estate holds 2ha in Graacher Domprobst and a tiny 0.2ha allotment in Wehlener Sonnenuhr. In fact although we are tasting Willi’s 2007 Himmelreich Spatlese, a number of wine writers (e.g. Stephen Brook and Stephan Reinhardt) are of the opinion that the estate’s best wines are instead from the Domprobst site. Again, like most top producers, the majority of the Schaefers’ vines (60-70%) are ungrafted ; oldest around 60 years.

With a high proportion of older vines, yields are naturally low. When harvesting particular care is made to avoid botrytis; Willi certainly does not like its influence in his wines, even in the sweeter styles. As regards vinification, the estate champions six months of fermentation and maturation on lees in old 1,000 litre foudres. Just 2,000 to 3,000 cases per year, with only a small amount fermented dry into Trocken/GG bottling. For Himmelreich in 2007, Willi Schaefer bottled wines at Kabinett, Spatlese, Spatlese Feinherb (bottling at 10-20 g/ltr of residual sugar) and Auslese levels.

For the 2007 Willi Schaefer Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Spatlese: ABV 8%; again residual sugar unknown but assumed 50 g/ltr or more (contrast with the much drier Feinherb). Critic notes and scores: Wine Spectator 91; 22 separate postings on CellarTracker averaging out at 91. Most recent posting on CellarTracker, August 2017: “Golden yellow, oily nose, delicious stony dry Riesling.” Previously from two separate posters in December 2016: “This is ripe, not so much a racy acidity and minerals style, this has lots of Riesling flavour, excellent with food”; and “Man, Willi does not disappoint. We all swooned at those (sic) nose – so light, crisp and clear. Beautiful aromas of apple, lime, spice, minerals, and some grass/herbs/mint, and honey. The palate wasn’t quite as good or consistent: some tastes were excellent, but some were a touch sweet/heavy. Lots of apple, some honey – the best sips had that electric zing showing lime and minerality, Also some herbal notes. The finish varied like the palate. Maybe with another 5 years this would (sic) have locked into place in the lighter and more racy vein.” Those last notes remind me of what I think of as a Willi Schaefer wine marker: a limey, minty, herbal streak. We shall see. Something to look for in the tasting, along with vintage character, and Graacher Himmelreich typicity.

2007 H Donnhoff Niederhauser Hermannshohle Riesling Spatlese

2007 H Donnhoff Niederhauser Hermannshohle Riesling Auslese GK

2007 H Donnhoff Niederhauser Hermannshohle Riesling Trocken GG

Oz Clarke: “Helmut Donnhoff is the quiet winemaking genius of the Nahe, conjuring from top sites some of the most mineral dry and naturally sweet Rieslings in the world. The very best are the subtle, long-lived wines from the Niederhauser Hermannshohle (literally, ‘Hermann’s Hole’ vineyard at Niederhausen village) and (its neighbouring; and Donnhoff monopole) Oberhauser Brucke (‘the Bridge’ vineyard at Oberhausen village) vineyards.”

Hugh Johnson: “(Helmut Donnhoff has) fanatical commitment to quality, and a remarkable talent for winemaking.”

Helmut Donnhoff: “Riesling has to be like rock water or a mountain stream. It can be shy to start with but should have length and acidity that dance across the palate.”

Based at Oberhausen, the Hermann Donnhoff estate dates back to 1750, although global acclaim for its wines has largely been over the past 2-3 decades due to the leadership and work of Helmut Donnhoff who first inherited the reins in 1971. Helmut has in fact been retired for 4-5 years and his son, Cornelius now controls all matters in regard to the estate including viticulture and winemaking. However, Helmut was very definitely still in charge for the 2007. There is the suggestion from Hugh Johnson, among others, that Cornelius favours a slightly drier style of wine than his father, although this might just be a reflection of wider commercial and/or climate trends. Of up to 24 separate cuvees that Donnhoff may at present make in any given vintage, 13 are Trocken, and unlike three of the sweeter styles which are dependent on vintage conditions to make, those 13 are made every year. Six of the dry wines are estate bottlings of Weissburgunder, Grauburgunder , Chardonnay, and blends of these varieties. The rest (18 different wines) are Riesling at various ripenesses and fermentations: Trocken, Trocken GG, Kabinett, Spatlese, Auslese, Eiswein (and very occasionally in the past, BA and/or TBA). Altogether the estate owns 25ha of vines, with holdings in nine separate sites, from each of which at least one single vineyard Riesling is produced, at dryness or sweetness to match terroir character.

One of the jewels in the Donnhoff crown, perhaps the jewel, is the Hermannshohle vineyard, which since the early 20th century has been revered as perhaps the Nahe’s top site, although a case could probably be made for either of the Schlossbokelheim great sites. Hermannshohle is not an especially large site, just 8ha, although Donnhoff is the major owner. I am aware of at least two others: Jakob Schneider and Weingut von Racknitz.

The vineyard slopes steeply up from the river (on the left bank side) right on a bend the Nahe takes northwards after flowing downstream from Schlossbokelheim, and before it twists through a gorge to Bad Munster a little further downstream. Orientation is south facing and slope lies between 130 and 175 metres above sea level. Soils are derived from a patchwork of blackish-grey slate, rhyolite, porphyry, and even limestone slivers. Exclusively a Riesling vineyard, vine age of the Donnhoff vines is up to 65 years of age. The Donnhoffs themselves are unequivocal in pronouncing that the wines from Hermannshohle are truly Grosse Gewachs/Grand Cru, delivering power and elegance.

Re the vineyard’s name: the ‘Hermann’ prefix is totally unconnected to the Hermann in the Donnhoff estate’s full name. It is much, much older, maybe 2,000 years or more, ‘Hermann’ being a derivation of Hermes, the Roman god of messengers and travellers, hinting at the site being an ancient pre-Christian place of worship. Similarly, the ‘hole’ as in ‘Hohle’ is not just any old extraction or hideaway, but a reference to old mine workings in the middle of the vineyard.

2007 was typical for Donnhoff over the last 15 years for Hermannshohle in that three separate Riesling bottlings were produced. We will taste all three:

2007 Donnhoff Niederhauser Hermannshohle Riesling Spatlese: ABV 9.5%; based on recent tasting comments (below) residual sugar probably touching 100 g/ltr, if not higher; cropping typically at 40 hl/ha; selective hand harvested; fermented and matured in stainless steel vats. Critics notes and scores, universally praised: The Wine Advocate 96; Wine Spectator 94; 69 notes on CellarTracker averaging 94; Stephen Tanzer 93. Most recent two postings on Cellartracker: ‘BamBam’ November 2017 “Showing age and the residual sugar shows. Deep golden color, no secondary flavours yet. Thick in the mouth, red delicious apples and honey. Tastes more like a dessert wine today.” (93); J Erhardt September 2017 “Golden yellow; I’m surprised how mature this is looking. Quite rich and sweet for this level. At the very early stages of secondary development. Will last a long time, when to drink just depends on your preference.” While preparing these preview notes I have in parallel been drinking a bottle of the 2007 Donnhoff Oberhuaser Brucke Riesling Spatlese, i.e. the equivalent wine in the same vintage from the vineyard (Donnhoff monopole) that immediately abuts Hermannshohle upstream (in the riparian strip next to the river). This wine was also featured in a previous Magnum German Riesling tasting in March 2016. I report on it here as a calibrator for the Hermannshohle Spatlese: Striking gold colour; plush, wrapped with citric and flinty, chalky hints; seemingly weighty, sweet palate with citrus of all varieties plus autumn fruits; taut, exciting acid spine with long, drier and dancing, lifted finish. Plenty of life left; pleased I have two more bottles from an original six pack! Cannot now wait to compare with the Hermannshohle on the 25th!

2007 Donnhoff Niederhauser Hermannshohle Riesling Auslese GK: ABV 8.5% (to be confirmed on evening of the tasting); residual sugar probably at least 150 g/ltr, possibly way more; cropping typically at 20 hl/ha; an extreme selection hand harvest as befits a goldkap bottling; fermented and matured in stainless steel vats. Critics notes and scores, universally praised: The Wine Advocate 95; Stephen Tanzer 94; Wine Spectator 93; 36 separate postings on CellarTracker averaging 93. Most recent two separate postings on CellarTracker: T Stephanos June 2017 “Excellent Auslese, tropical fruit, unctuous texture with high acidity balancing it and making a delectable and refreshing sweet wine” (94); L Edwards August 2016 “Mouth puckering peach with hints of apricot. Streak of acidity runs throughout” (93).

2007 Donnhoff Niederhauser Hermannshohle Riesling Trocken GG: ABV 13.5%; cropping typically at 40 hl/ha; selective hand harvested; fermented and matured in stainless steel vats and oak barriques. Critics notes and scores, universally praised: The Wine Advocate 95; Stephen Tanzer 95; 58 separate postings on CellarTracker averaging 93; Vinum 18.5/20; estimated drinking window now-2020. Most recent two separate postings on CellarTracker, February 2018: M Hensel “Dark yellow, red shimmer. Nose saline and vanilla vapour, sea breeze, citrus notes, very appealing. Palate fresh, acidic, silky, yellow fruit, citrus fruit, dried apple, some orange peel, minerals, nice tartness, green aspects, red grapefruit, some flint stone. Finishes pretty long on on (sic) fruity aspects, so elegant tartness and minerals. Ageless, a beauty, elegance and vivacity, very tasty and approachable.” (94); T Stephanos “Sublime dry Riesling. Nose full of ripe fruit, peach, orange peel and floral notes. On the palate it was very smooth, rounded, with acidity hidden beneath the fruit but still mouthcleansing. Long, tasty and very satisfying. At a very nice point to drink, smoothed out but nowhere near decline.”(95).

It is therefore quite possible, based on the reception these three wines have received to date, that ultimately this coming Magnum tasting might just collapse into a lovefest for Donnhoff and Hermannshohle. Wow, I hope so.”

MS Riesling 2018 2

And to the wines:

2007 Dr Loosen Urziger Wurzgarten Riesling Kabinett – Light gold colour – Delicate nose of citrus and apple and wet stone. Crisp sweet attack, freshness, raciness, notes of mandarin. Balanced. Hint of kero.  I scored this Gold

2007 Joh. Jos. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spatlese – The palest wine at pale gold – reductive at first. Notes of citrus and apple. Open. Acid and sweetness to drink. Balanced, long and gorgeous golden fruit. It builds with purity and intensity. Razor sharp. I scored this Gold, as did 18 others.

2007 Willi Schaefer Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Spatlese – light gold – light citrus, slight kero note. Dumb in this company. Sweet attack, showing fruit over acidity, but overall a pleasant balance. Smooth rich and silky. I scored this Gold, as did 14 others.

2007 H Donnhoff Niederhauser Hermannshohle Riesling Spatlese – light gold – bouquet of honey, apricot, rich spice, pine resin, developed. Sweet and elegant to drink, composed, ripe apricots, minerality, a hot finish. Really nice. I scored this Gold, as did 23 others, and it was my WOTN.

2007 H Donnhoff Niederhauser Hermannshohle Riesling Auslese Goldkapsel – gold, deepest colour of the flight – honey, confected, Turkish delight, comples. Sweet liquid honey in the mouth, with mild acid. Short, ripe and intense. Viscous. Silky. Lacking in acidity, almost syrupy. I still scored this Gold, as did 11 others.

2007 H Donnhoff Niederhauser Hermannshohle Riesling Trocken Grosses Gewachs – gold colour – oxidative, flat, brown, developed ripe stonefruit aromas. Sherry-like, with an acid finish. Thinning fruit, somewhat flat, metallic, disjointed. I scored this Bronze.

The wines had been opened and decanted about 6 hours before the tasting. They suffered a little though warming up over the evening past their optimum temperature, and this was remarked on.

Five of the wines were between 8% – 9.5% ABV, with the GG at 13.5% ABV. I thought they underwhelmed as far as their aromatics were concerned, and had muted florality, but this could have been a function of the serving temperature.

I found them hard to tell apart, to be honest. Not a style I much like either. I think I much prefer the lean, austere and bone-dry styles of Riesling.

 

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.

Vineyards

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.

Vintages

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


20170625_173124

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

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.

Pomerol

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:

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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.

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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…

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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:

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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


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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.”.

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…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.

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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


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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.

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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.

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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.

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

MS Tasting – White Burgundy


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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:

Chardonnay

“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.

Producers:

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:

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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.

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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:

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MS Tasting – 2007 Brunello di Montalcino


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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.

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Fuligni

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.

Costanti

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

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.

Uccelliera

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.”

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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.