Posts Tagged ‘Au Bon Climat’

Pinot Noir – home and away

Saturday’s Andover Wine Friends’ fine wine supper was based on a six-bottle case sold by the Wine Society as ‘World Class Pinot Noir’.  The marketing worked perfectly – I duly bought the case and we enjoyed the wines. It was very good value at just under £140.  But ‘world class’?  I don’t think so.  In the New World wines at this price second halflevel are very good indeed, but not the very best.  In Burgundy, bottles at this price can be good, they occasionally can even be very good. Supply and demand make it impossible for them to be world class.  The Côte d’Or is a small area and individual vineyard holdings are tiny.  Our three modern representatives tasted below hold 5.35, 7.09 and, for Burgundy, a decent size 12 hectares respectively. The very fact that hectares are stated to two decimal places tells its own story. There is strong demand for these wines and so prices are high.  World class probably now starts at £50 a bottle and rises to steeply thereafter. You are not going to get that in a £140 half case. 

What the tasting did provide was a splendid introduction to the joys and mysteries of Pinot Noir.  Fortunately, at least for most of our tasters, it skipped the all too common disappointment of the red Burgundy – not just pale in colour as it should be, but lacking in quality fruit, excitement or intensity.

The evening’s wines can be best be divided into home and away, Burgundy and the rest of the world.  Thanks to a generous supply of bonus bottles from participants, we had 13 bottles in all to taste, two sparkling, five still red wines from Burgundy and six from around the world.  We will deal with them in these groups. 


Fortunately our local supply of Pinot Noir rosé which was destined to be the aperitif for the evening was out of stock so we stepped up to a top quality pink Cava and a ‘Blanc de Noir’ Champagne.  They could not be more different in style – one is pink and the other is not, the former is all about ripe red fruit, the latter about yeasty sophistication.  Elyssia Pinot Noir Brut, Freixenet NV has the attractive mid salmon pink colour you can see in the picture, medium intensity cherry and strawberry fruit, with medium acidity and body.  It is clean, very well made and fruity but that is about it.  By contrast, Waitrose Blanc de Noir, Champagne, Brut NV made by Alexander Bonnet, is about the interaction of fruit and yeast:  brioche. savoury notes and sage on the nose over red fruit. The palate reverses the priorities so that the red fruit leads and the savoury notes play the supporting role. Very good length. At £20 a bottle this is a bargain for its complexity, finesse and balance. 

first trioThe’ rest of the world’ category was a bit thin on the ground, especially as the German example I am going to group with Burgundy.  In particular it missed a really big, extracted Californian example and anything from Australia or Oregon – but I plan to make up the last omission before too long.  But what was there was good: Marlborough, Nelson and Central Otago from New Zealand, one choice from South Africa and one from Santa Barbera, California.  The two Wine Society selections in this section showed well.  Neudorf, Tom’s Block, Pinot Noir, Nelson, New Zealand 2009 is characteristically mid ruby, several shades deeper than Burgundy at this level; fine notes of red plum and red berried. It made a good bench mark for the new world examples.  Picnic, Two Paddocks, Central Otago, New Zealand 2010 was a good contrast which was deeper yet in colour, quite powerful and rich on the nose, with medium palate weight, quite tannic and impressively long for the second wine of the estate.  (Disappointingly the top wine is not called ‘Banquet’ or even S Africa & California‘Dinner Party’ but just Two Paddocks Pinot Noir.) Our third Kiwi has a bit of bottle age: Spy Valley, Marlborough, Pinot Noir 2008 and showed it with its moderately intense ruby colour with a touch of orange on the rim; bright red berries and plum now joined by some compost notes, and a rich palate; impressive.  Across the Pacific Ocean, Au Bon Climat, Los Alamos, Pinot Noir, 2007 is an excellent example of relatively cool climate California.  Pale ruby (and thus looks like Pinot, unlike some of Californian examples), this has a very fine approach – fragrant red fruit, subtle oak and smoke effects followed by sweet, ripe fruit (cherry and strawberry) on the palate.  Fine noticeable tannins will give it an ageing ability; overall, very classy.  Across the Atlantic and back in the southern hemisphere we travel to inland but elevated Franschhoek, with vines at 550m making Pinot a possibility: Chamonix Reserve, Pinot Noir, Franschhoek, South Africa, 2010.  Here we have an earthlier, dustier profile, with liquorice, chocolate and tobacco on the nose with the red berries and smoke.  The ageing is 15 months in barrels, 80% new, but the wine has the weight of fruit to go with this.  A good level of complexity but the wine was still a bit rough and ready – those chewy tannins need more time. 

These new world wines are easy to appreciate, recognisable and mostly about fruit.  By contrast the Burgundian pyramid is about subtle differences and nuances of delicacy and texture.  Our five are all either village level wines or premier crus, so we don’t have either generic Burgundy or grand cru, but there is still quite a quality and price range.  The first is from a little known village at the top end of Côte de Nuits, Marsannay, Domaine Sylvain Pataille, 2010. This is from the domaine of a trained enologist who reduces yields for even this modestly three Burgundianspriced wine:   dark cherry in colour with the blue edge of a young wine, pleasant red fruit and a fine textured palate. A few found this pale and unexciting, others liked the light, fresh fruit and refreshing acidity.  And even at the basic level, there was something  of the Burgundian silky texture.  There was a clear step up to the three premier cru wines (two official premier crus and one village wine of the same quality).  Beaune PC Montée Rouge, Domaine Potel, 2007 was pale ruby in colour, with a reticent nose but a taut, clean fruit palate and very good length.  It combined a delicacy of red berried fruit with the structure on the palate.  Gevrey-Chambertin, Mes Favourites, Vieilles Vignes, Domaine Alain Burguet, 2006 is technically a village wine but was completely at home among the premier crus.  While Gevrey has a reputation for being sturdy and full, this was notable for its delicate but concentrated fruit, and for its subtlety and length.  Good but expensive at £39.  The pre-penultimate wine, a bonus bottle from our own cellar, got the closest to the ‘world class’ of the title:  Domaine Louis Boillot, Nuits-St-Georges PC Les Pruliers, 2001.  In its twelfth year, there is the first signs of garnet at the edge of the rim and with the years in the bottle the nose is really beginning to express itself with the seamless combination of refined fruit and a touch of oak.  The palate however was still full of sweet, red fruit and completely belied its age; it could be a five year old.  Marked minerality on the palate completed the picture for a wine that has probably got at least another decade in it. 

four TomlinsonsThe final pair showed Burgundy’s ability to age and how differently Pinot Noir can turn out 500 km north in Germany.  The oldest bonus bottle was from a great vintage and from the year after our youngest taster was born.  It wore its 30 years remarkably well for a minor village:  Savigny-les-Beaune, Simon Bize, 1983.  Vintages are important in Burgundy and so are growers and this wine combines the best of both.  Pale garnet, almost pale orange in colour, it was a fine combination of forest floor notes and remaining red fruit, light on the tongue but still with fine strawberry fruit at the core.  The most unusual wine, and most distinctive expression of Pinot, has however to go to Hommage Sanct Peter, Spätburgunder (ie Pinot Noir), Walporzheimer Alte Lay, Brogsitter, Ahr, Germany, 2006, just north of the 50th parallel and so at the absolute limit of where grape vines – especially with red grapes – will ripen.  A distinctive, almost brown, pale garnet in colour and a nose and palate dominated by oxidative, yeasty notes.  This wine had clearly been aged for a long time in porous barrels with the result that for a relatively young wine, the meaty, savoury notes are more prominent than anything else.  A local style with good complexity, rather than a representative example of Germany’s Pinot Noir renaissance. 

With thanks to all those who brought bonus bottles and made this a tour de force of some of Pinot Noir’s potential …

At last some wines we recognise!

Guest post: Rob

As regular readers of this blog know, the BBC has seen a recent trend of the rise of the “joker”, as some members of the group have sought to test our blind tasting skills by the ever more unusual offering. Did last Tuesday 21st August meeting see the start of the fight back by others offering the blindingly obvious (pun intended!). Well, perhaps.


First up, an attractive sparkling wine that was unanimously agreed to not be Champagne. Well made, good balance with the just off-dryness balanced beautifully by penetrating, but in check acid. Not Champagne, but too good to be too far away, Loire maybe, or Bourgogne. The Jansz Tasmania Premium NV Cuvée (classic Champagne blend with chardonnay at 58%), was of surprisingly good quality and an eye-opener for some. The advantages of blind tasting.
Surely the second wine was as obvious as it seemed on the first sniff. Grassy. Dare I say cat’s pee? New world – and we all knew which country; must be, mustn’t it? Some of us were relieved I must admit to find that it was indeed a very good example of New Zealand sauvignon blanc. The Bell Block, Saint Clair Family Estate, Marlborough, 2011, being exactly as we would expect it to be. IMG_4271


If the New Zealand sauvignon was exactly as expected, surely the third wine was everything Jancis Robinsons described in her excellent “Wine tasting workbook” as “by far the most distinctive and easiest (grape) to imprint on your palate memory for future recognition”? Lychee. Rose petal. Need I say more? Unusually, did this example have a bit of age perhaps? This one worked well we thought with a bit of age, even if it lacked a bit of balancing acid, leaving it a touch soapy and flabby. The Josmeyer, Les Folastries, Gewurztraminer, 2003, was indeed slightly unbalanced by its hot year, but a lovely – obvious – example.

If we were settling into a trend of easy to spot wines, the fourth was set to confound. It was perhaps not as meant to be disguising the wine maker’s intention, and serving as sufficient justification for us not spotting it, though we made a good stab. A bit Maderised, hinting at poor storage perhaps, definitely unintended in the wine, hid what should have been a nicely mature Bonny Doon, 1996 Le Cigare Volant.


IMG_4282 OK, obvious wines definitely over. The next was a well aged red, doing what old reds do, trending towards a common theme that can be reached from any number of starting fruit flavours. Forest floor, animally, red meat even, but too light coloured to be Mourvedre. Lovely, but the 2004 Murdoch James, Marlborough Shiraz, was neither that old, nor obviously shiraz!
The next wine was just a difficult to identify. A lovely wine, liquorice? A lifted perfumed note. Raspberry fruit. Lovely, lively acid. But we should have, but we did not spot the excellent Sangiovese, 2004, Malintoppo, Simonelli-Santi, Orcia. IMG_4293
IMG_4295 Back in obvious territory, and lovely territory at that: cherry, slightly burnt, spicy edge, good acid. New world pinot noir surely? A good example of why the vineyard is renowned: the 2008 Knox Alexander, Santa Maria Valley Pinot, Au Bon Climat being exactly as it obviously should be!
We were lulled by the previous wine perhaps. The next was dense, full bodied, a green edge, spicy; one taster detected orange. No one spotted the 2008, Kennedy Point Syrah, Waiheke Island New Zealand. IMG_4297
IMG_4302 If a New Zealand syrah was difficult to spot, the penultimate wine stimulated quite some debate: not obvious then! Dark, dense, spicy, close-knit tannins, familiar. With all that power new world surely? Old World! Italian then; but where? No one identified the lovely 2005, Villa Medoro Rosso del Duca Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.

If aged reds tend to a common theme, sweet aged reds arguably more so. The best retain that wonderful raisin sweetness still balanced by vibrant acidity. A few spotted that the final wine was fortified rather than noble late harvest, leading to a choice between port or a few southern French appellations. No one did or really could have spotted that it was nearly 60 years old. The Domaines et Terroirs du Sud, Banyuls Grand Cru, 1955 was both obvious of its style and unobvious in its detail.


With thanks to Rob, not only for the guest post, but for the amazing 1955 Banyuls Grand Cru.



IMG_0636Saturday evening saw an opportunity to taste the wines of one of California’s most famous names: Jim Clenenden of Au Bon Climat, Santa Barbara. ‘Wild boy Jim’ – this is California after all – has been making wine for nearly 25 years, concentrating on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. These two grape varieties tell you that this wine maker is in love with Burgundy, but of course has a very different climate to work with. So what are the wines like? 

We tasted seven from a large range of bottlings.  The whites split our tasting group. There was no doubt about the quality – substantial, aromatic wines, lots of oak, intense citrus notes, quite a high level of acidity.  Our Italian visitors were deeply puzzled by the style – ‘it’s not like a wine’! That of course is understandable if you mainly drink wines from the Veneto or Tuscany. White wines in Europe on the whole are not this big, oaked or substantial.  Others liked the style, noting that by Californian standards it is quite restrained.  The Sandford and Benedict Vineyard Chardonnay 2008 gave off waves of caramel and toffee and then those lemon and grapefruit notes. The Los Alamos Vineyard Chardonnay 2008 was less oaked, rather sharper and full of edgy fruit.  Finally, we had the chance to compare these young wines with the Sandford and Benedict Vineyard Chardonnay 2006 – after a further too years in the bottle, there was much better integration of the oak effects and fruit, a long creamy after taste, mushroom and toast throughout. The wine was slightly puzzling as while the oak had settled down the fruit also seemed not just more rounded but less prominent, giving a rather long-aged effect for a wine that was only five year old wine.  I was pleased to try these wines but I’m not sure I will be buying them – too big, chunky and oaky for my taste.

By contrast the Pinot Noir was met with universal acclaim.  These wines had a better balance between clove-laden wood and red fruits. Of the four we tasted, the two stars were the instantly attractive Los Alamos Pinot Noir 2007 with its excellent raspberry fruit, savoury notes and complexity and the more structured and profound Isabelle Pinot Noir 2007.  Also very good were Sandford and Benedict Vineyard Pinot Noir 2006 and La Bauge Pinot Noir 2007

This was a splendid evening of transatlantic exploration and Anglo-Italian friendship. To celebrate we ate Ribollita, the classic Tuscan soup of white beans and Cavolo Nero, a nearly black cabbage.


No palate?

The June meeting of the Overton-based blind tasting group was the usual mix of fine bottles, some disappointments and perhaps the least good wine we have ever had (is that sufficiently polite?). And it was a large tasting – 17 bottles. While it is difficult to concentrate for that long (even for those of us who are committed ‘spitters’), this was partly due to some members bringing interesting pairs of wines to taste side by side.  As always, the food at the Red Lion was excellent. The photos this month are on my IPhone so there are no technical issues to discuss, you will be pleased to hear!


IMG_0722 Wines 1 & 2 we agreed were in the old world.  The Gavi di Gavi (ie Gavi from the commune of Gavi not just the DOCG as a whole), Minala 2009, was mid yellow in colour with a gold tint, quite warm on the palate, pleasant apples/pears fruit, balanced.  Once we knew we were in Italy, I guessed Gavi.  ‘Never more than pleasant’ says Oz Clarke, which is a bit harsh of a wine which can be dull but has some fine examples.
Much more fashionable is the Albariño grape from NW Spain, the Rías Baixas region bordering the Atlantic. Most wines are unoaked, to maximise the Viognier peaches/apricots aromas. But this producer has one barrique for a wine from 100 year old vines right by the sea. Albariño Barrica, Goliardo A Telleira, Albariño Rías Baixas 2009: richness is the key quality, ‘tinned peaches’ someone offers as a tasting note. For me, by the standards of a premium white wine, I am not sure there is quite enough going on.  IMG_0725
Alsace Riesling It was not difficult to spot that this was Riesling – green apples and petrol notes on the nose, high acidity, some residual sugar.  Most tasters thought it was new world, perhaps because of its assertiveness. In fact it was Domaines Schlumberger, Kitterlé, 2005, Alsace Grand Cru. The Kitterlé vineyard has perfect exposition getting sun from morning to night, on a slope of 30-60°, with poor and sandy soil, giving concentrated wines from very low yields.  The wine was mineral and developing those characteristic petrol notes, a good weight, characteristic-ally fatter than the same grape variety across the border on the Rhine. 

It was a great idea to bring two wines from the same Meursault-Genevrières vineyard in Meursault, Burgundy, separated by eight years and produced by two different branches of the Jobard family. 

Francoise and Antoine
Unfortunately, the Francois Jobard 2000 was suffering badly from that Burgundian disease, premature oxidisation – caramel and cardboard is not an attractive combination.  The young wine (Antoine Jobard, 2008) had attractive limy fruit with excellent vitality. 
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A rare moment in this group – a rosé and an unusual one, Harbourne, England, 2001 – and yes that’s not a misprint, it is 10 years old.  Slight strawberry nose and then … ‘appears to lack any form of palate’ … ‘made in Scotland?’ ‘grape juice and Irnbru?’.  Probably the worst wine we have tasted in this group and brought in jest by one of us who has a limitless supply of unusual bottles. Quite instructive nonetheless – we take fruit on the palate for granted until it’s not there.   IMG_0738
IMG_0741 Those with eagle eyes will see that the label still tells us that this is Ch. d’Angludet, AC Margaux, 1974. We of course did not know this at the time. A mushroomy nose, a rather sour palate and still some tannins. After about ten minutes some sweet raspberry/ strawberry fruit began to emerge, so it was well worth the wait.  Impressive for Bordeaux of this level at this age in a poor vintage – the judgement, ‘mediocre’, from Michael Broadbent is quite kind. 
This started with pronounced bottle stink so we parked it for ten minutes. Bottle stink was the consensus, not faulty, just not showing.  Eventually some fruit emerged but this wine did not shine.  Definitely a disappointment from Mommessin, Santenay, Burgundy, 1993.  But there was much better Pinot Noir to follow, not that we knew that.  IMG_0746
IMG_0743 After the struggles with the last three bottles, this was straightforward pleasure – pale and fragrant and pretty obviously Pinot Noir, but quite weighty and structured.  Most went for New Zealand but it turned out to be ‘Knox Alexander’, Au Bon Climat, Santa Maria Valley, California, 2007.  Some of the vines are Burgundian apparently, but the wine is definitely from a warm and reliable climate.  Time for some food and give the note taking a rest.  
IMG_0740 IMG_0747
Two new offerings from Caviste: Ch. Puy Castéra, Haut-Médoc 2008 and Domaine Cheveau, Saint Amour, Les Champs Grillés, Beaujolais 2010.  No notes on either of these – but both good examples of Bordeaux and Beaujolais respectively – I did say I was having a rest from note taking.  IMG_0748
IMG_0753 For me this was the wine of the evening, pale ruby with a brick red edge, fresh on the nose but with a bit of ageing, violets and red fruit, but then a real vitality on the palate, great elegant tannic structure and fine acidity.  I was in Pinot Noir territory thought the ‘pale colour + tannins’ should have pointed me to Nebbiolo:  Barolo DOCG, Castiglione Falletto Scarrone, Bava, 2000 To decoded the label: from the Scarrone vineyard of the commune of Castiglione Falletto, immediately east of the town itself.  The producer is Bava.
Another pair of wines, the first red, the second for comparison … white.  Two young Australian classics just arrived in a very small consignment at Caviste.  I don’t think anyone spotted the producer, Spinnifex with its Lola 2010 and Taureau 2008.  The former is mainly a Rhône blend – Marsanne, Semillon, Roussanne, Viognier and Ugni Blanc – a really intense wine bursting with energy. The latter is Tempranillo, Graciano, Carignan and Cabernet Sauvignon – Rioja meets South and South West France in Australia?  Buy now and do not drink yet!  IMG_0756
IMG_0759 With this final red, I knew what it wasn’t but not what it was.  Ripe fruit, plums and damsons on the palate, deep in colour, rich with excellent acidity. After a few exclusions we agreed on Italy and some wanted to make this Sangiovese.  Tuscany was a good guess but not that grape variety – too dark in colour at the very least.  In fact it was a Super Tuscan Merlot:  Girolami, Castello di Bossi, IGT Toscana, 2001.  Late picked Merlot, 28 days of maceration, oak aged for two years – a powerful, forthright wine.
And finally … a sweet wine with a complex nose of apples, caramel, honey, not very acidic but balanced. No real clues here for Stefano Inama’s Vulcaia Aprés Veneto Bianco IGT, Vino Dolce 2001 – being late harvested Sauvignon Blanc (no less), part fermented in acacia barrels and then matured in barrels for 9 months.  A suitable climax, and along with the Barolo, a favourite wine of the evening.     IMG_0761