Posts Tagged ‘Cabernet Sauvignon’
Unfortunately I could not attend the Bring a bottle club this month due, on this occasion, to a work commitment. But every cloud has a silver lining: here is a guest blog from Rob:
For the second notable birthday of the month, attention was focussed on a region known by reputation by all of us and especially by our birthday boy. Through the BBC’s association with Caviste we have a fondness for Australian wines, but more so perhaps for the Barossa. Nonetheless we all felt confident of spotting a cooler climate Margaret River chardonnay or cabernet sauvignon: so how would we fair with all of Western Australia to go at?
Two themes emerged. Firstly, in an interesting twist on the excellent Two Ronnies’ “Mastermind” sketch, an ability to identify the next wine and how wines age differently in Western Australia (and classically the whole of the New World) than the old.
First up, four whites of excellent calibre and unanimity of order of preference from the group.
We started with a lively fresh, limey, just-the-right-amount-of-petrol, well, riesling surely? “Chardonnay” declared one member of the group. The 2009 Plantagenet, Great Southern, Riesling was a good example of cooler climate new world riesling.
The second wine was as predicted by our Ronnie Barker, a chardonnay. The Umamu Estate, Margaret River, Chardonnay, was everything we had hoped it would be: creamy, rich, lovely buttery oak well integrated with tropical fruits and, suggested one of us, Greek yoghurt. Everything a well aged Margaret River Chardonnay should be. However, does a 2006 count as “well aged”? The old world would need 10+ years to be as rich; this was lovely at half that age.
The third wine was just as easy to spot: waxy, good palate-weight, lovely balance, tell-tale lanolin. Mid aged semillon surely? “I know what this is!”, one member confidently declared, “McHenry Hohnen’s 3 Amigos”. The Moss Wood Vineyard, Margaret River, Semillon, 2010 was neither a Rhone blend nor mid aged.
The final white was indeed the McHenry Hohnen, Margaret River, 3 Amigos, marsanne, chardonnay and rousanne blend. Creamy, rich, lovely buttery oak, well integrated (I refer to the previous description!): chardonnay surely, but with even more of that richness of which the old world would be proud. 2000 maybe? No, too old; learning how the whites age, a tad younger, 2004? No, 2008!
The four reds offered a different perspective: do Western Australian reds have a closed phase at the same age as the whites are beautifully showing tertiary characteristics?
The first red was unanimously declared as wonderful. “One of the best wines I have had in quite some time”, thought one. Dense, but feminine: burnt pepper and floral notes of a Coti Rotie; silky but rich; pale cherries and roses. The richness and the density of colour showed the Wignalls, Albany, Pinot Noir, to be some distance from an old world cousin, but unlike the whites, from 2007, it was still an energetic teenager.
Bramble jam! Rich, succulent, sweet, brooding, blackberry, damsons, blackcurrant, tell-tale mint and green leaf. Classic Margaret River cabernet sauvignon. One member spotted the blended merlot in the Cape Mentelle, Margaret River, Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot. We were even not too far away from 2004.
If the 2004 was showing its fruit wonderfully well, the Cullen, Mangan, Margaret River, 2006, a blend of merlot, petit verdot and malbec, was still relatively closed. The nose was not giving much away, although the palate opened up nicely showing violets again (is this a Western Australia theme?) and pepper against a dark, brooding background of dense red fruit. Lovely, but still young.
The final red was even more impenetrable, but then a 2007, Plantagenet, Great Southern, Cabernet Sauvignon would be expected to be more closed than a pinot noir of the same age. Lovely tannins and suggestions of fruit hinted at more to come with time.
A final sweet concluded the evening and returned to the white aging theme. A lovely rich amber colour, suggesting the wine making processes involved, underlined by the rich orange marmalade balanced by lighter apricot. Mid aged, botrytis semillon? Botrytis semillon sure, but the 2009, Vinelane, Noble Botrytis Semillon followed the theme that at three years it showed a depth which a good Sauternes would envy at six years.
The Overton BBC (bring a bottle club) has a cheerfully random air about it. This is particularly the case with ‘BBC1’. As the idea is to taste the wines blind, there is no plan about who will bring what. Usually this works absolutely fine and often some fascinating themes emerge. By chance three people will bring bottles from a single Burgundy village or there will be a couple of wines from the same vintage and comparisons can be made.
October’s meeting was a bit unusual. There were more people present than in recent months with a resulting 14 bottles to taste and, of these, one was a sweet wine, no fewer than 11 were red, with just one white and, unusually, a rosé. With all the benefits of hindsight we had a fair selection of the important red wines of the world with the following areas being represented:
- Burgundy – Savigny, Volnay,
- Languedoc – Corbières
- Tuscany – Chianti Classico, Montalcino
- Spain – Rioja
- Lebanon – Bekaa Valley
- South Africa – Swartland
- Australia – McLaren Vale
- mandatory off-piste region: Morocco!
We will make up for the missing Bordeaux in a themed tasting next month and no doubt California will get its chance to shine sooner or later. Let’s deal first with the white and the rosé minorities. The white had people fairly foxed – warm climate certainly but then Southern France, Spain and Italy were all canvassed. In fact it was La Forge Vineyard, Paul Mas Estate, Languedoc, 2010: bright citrus fruit, light oak notes, fullish in body, with a creamy texture. A good start, followed a bit later by an outstanding rosé, and you can’t often say that: pale salmon pink in colour, attractive strawberry notes, outstanding freshness, just a hint of leafiness. To add to the pleasure, this wine was bought at the winery by one of our members who had visited it recently, Ch. de Pibarnon, AC Bandol 2010. The reputation of Provence for top rosé from high inland sites continues.
To bring some order to the evening, here are the two red Burgundies together, both slightly surprising in their own way. First up was Savigny-les-Beaune ‘Les Talmettes’ Premier Cru, Domaine Chenu, 2007, a pale ruby; most guessed straight away it was Pinot Noir and some were in Burgundy. Quite savoury on the palate, but rather leathery and not really fresh – the relatively poor 2007 vintage has aged very fast. By contrast 2001 seemed quite spirity and hot, some good savoury fruit, a good depth of flavour if a bit rustic. This turned out to be Volnay AC, Nichoas Potel from 2001.
La Tour, Chateau Grand Moulin, Jean Noel Bousquet 2009 moved us to a hotter climate, with its rich, plummy and forward fruit, dense and compact on the palate, with medium length. 40% Syrah, 40% Carignan, 20% Grenache.
On a roughly similar latitude, we move to our Tuscan trio, starting with a 100% cru Sangiovese, Reciso IGT Toscana 2006, created by Pietro Beconcini by massal selection from old vines present on his family estate, grown on soil rich in fossils and white clay. It is made a in a very traditional way: fermentation in cement vats, using indigenous yeasts, five weeks of skin contact and 18-24 months of ageing in a mixture of French tonneaux and large Slavonian oak barrels. It has a richness in the fruit which is not typical of more classic, austere Sangiovese. Rancia, Beradenga, Chianti Classico riserva 1999 led with coal dust, tar, some sweet leathery and floral notes which had some of our number thinking this was Barolo, if without the imposing tannic structure. There was no shortage of tannins in the third example, Tenuta La Fuga, Brunello di Montalcino riserva, 1995. Dusty, tea leaves and herbs on the nose, some fruitiness still, lively, mildly aggressive tannins.
The Tuscan wines can be followed by Mediterranean West and East – better known as Spain and Lebanon. Contino Rioja Reserva 2007 was much appreciated by people, even if only one person got close to identifying it. Some smoke, liquorice and quite a lot of vanilla on the nose points to American oak in combination with French oak, with fruit from a single vineyard of 66 hectares. Very good depth of flavour – though some thought not enough for a Reserva quality – perfume, good acidity, highly drinkable and elegant. At the other end of the Med is to be found Massaya Gold, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, 2000, a fascinating blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Mourvèdre and10% Syrah. Plums and raisins and orange peel on the nose, very good density of fruit, persistent tannins – with all that Mourvèdre.
From one of the oldest civilisations of the old world to the so-called new world of South Africa and Australia. A.A. Badenhorst’s Family Red, South Africa, 2007 is a Rhone blend: Shiraz (80%), Mourvèdre (10%) , Cinsault or Cape Hermitage (7%) and Grenache (3%). Heavy weight, deep flavoured with high tannins – we claimed that they there was 10% Mourvèdre and 10% Mataro, but at that stage we thought we were in Australia! Actually in Australia, Willunga 100 Shiraz Viognier 2007 also takes its inspiration from the Rhone, if on this occasion further north: 97% Shiraz with 3% Viognier which is co-fermented with the red grapes. Good fruit, cool climate in style with a slightly flat middle. Perfumed with some nice softness.
Every blind tasting needs a somewhat unusual bottle: Domaine de Mayole Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah 2007 Beni M’Tir, Meknes, Morocco fitted the bill. A 60/40 blend, it had sweet plumy fruit, some of it perhaps a bit stewed, with lots of mouth-filling glycerol, and rather drying tannins. However, no ‘essence of rubber’ as some one remarked!
A sweet and rich conclusion to the evening. Following our excellent ‘every style of Sherry except Fino’ evening of a few weeks ago, we enjoyed this moderately luscious, coffee, liquorice and walnut scented Moscatel from Lustau, 2007. A few more white wines next time? I expect so, but it is northern Italy so we will see.
In his introduction to a tasting for Andover Wine Friends, Martin Hudson, Master of Wine, summarises the key points about Cabernet Sauvignon with masterly (of course) clarity:
- Cabernet Sauvignon only became significant in Bordeaux at the end of the eighteen century, i.e., despite its worldwide fame it is a very young variety
- it is the result of a crossing between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc and so is, unusually, perfectly named
- a thick skinned, late budding, late ripening grape which needs a hot climate and free-draining soil
- it makes highly coloured, tannic wines with fresher acidity and less alcohol than Merlot but with greater ageing potential
- Blackcurrant is the key fruit character with some green pepper and herbaceous notes in cool climates, and richer dark chocolate and coffee notes in hotter areas
- It has a great affinity for oak
- It is blended in Bordeaux (principally with Cabernet Franc and Merlot), but stands alone elsewhere
The tasting which followed illustrated these points and perfectly showed the range of outcomes with this grape variety around the world. This is case worth making as the perception is that because Cabernet is such a dominant character and so reliable in suitably hot climates, the wines are basically the same around the world. But read on …
I can remember being told years ago that there are basically two schools of thought about the importance of the right glass for individual wines. There are those who think that reaching for the right glass – the size and shape, the quality of glass ware and the feel of the stem – is part of the art of wine. And then there are others who say that the only thing that matters is that the glass has a hole at the top and not at the bottom … The Austrian glass-making firm, here represented by CEO Maximillian Riedel, grandson of Georg, has done an amazing job of persuading dedicated wine drinkers of the merits of attention to glass ware. There is now a glass for all the world’s main grape varieties, three quality levels of crystal and a range of spectacular decanters to go with your glasses. Probably enough stuff to keep the wine lover in birthday presents for a few years and to lead to one enormous storage problem.
I started this Riedel demonstration as something of a fan. Janet and I have Bordeaux glasses (for claret and most Italian reds, used all the time), red Burgundy (which elevate what should be a great treat anyway), a couple of Grand Cru Chardonnay (not used enough for obvious reasons), Chablis (which do service for most whites and light reds), and Champagne flutes. For the wine group, we have the excellent, all-purpose (sorry Maximillian) Riesling/Sangiovese glass in the tough and inexpensive Restaurant range – how could I not buy a glass named after two of my all time favourite grape varieties? So it’s quite a modest collection of glasses by Riedel standards, but the joke is still that we had to move house to accommodate the glasses. Having moved we have now filled up again, so we are planning an extension for a new tasting room … Our glasses are all machine blown. The hand blown ones are incredibly beautiful but I prefer my bottle of wine to cost more than the glass I am drinking from. But you can’t deny the joy of drinking out of beautiful, fine, glasses and we should try to think about the total wine experience and not segment it. Even the machine blown glasses are a joy to hold: satisfyingly substantial, a piece of engineering, a thing of translucent beauty. They announce that this drink is something special, to be attended to; it is something to be celebrated, savoured and thought about.
But the big question is: do these glasses really make a difference? The Riedel tasting I attended, on this occasion for invited wine bloggers, was set up to demonstrate this. There were just two main wines, an excellent mature Chardonnay and a Cabernet Sauvignon, both new world. Unusually the actual wine details on this occasion were not the point. Maximillian talked us through the exercise. Swirl, smell, taste, savour … the same wine was tasted first in its dedicated glass, then in a contrasting glass, then in a plastic throw away beaker (a glass beaker would be better to eliminate the feeling that the plastic makes a difference), then back to the dedicated glass. You can do this at home … in fact it’s better done at home as you can exercise your own judgement in a more neutral space and have the same amount of wine in each glass simultaneously. I was politely but firmly discouraged from splitting my wine between two glasses at this tasting … Riedel is a very powerful brand and Maximillian wanted us to do it his way.
There are two key bits of theory, one which we spend some time on, the other which is implied but is worth stating first:
- The aromas of wine are released more powerfully if you swirl the glass and there is potential for greater aeration with a good sized volume of air in the glass. The ‘volumes’ point is made visually – Riedel glasses having been getting bigger in order to do justice to the fruitier, more alcoholic, wines now being produced. The glasses we tasted from were in the Vinum XL range, which is obviously a bigger version of the standard Vinum line. Incidentally, the experienced wine educator I sat next to is of the ‘non swirling’ school of tasters, but that’s another story. It’s a good reminder that virtually every ‘rule’ relating to taste and smell is contested. You simply have to test the rules yourself.
- The shape of the bowl of the glass, particularly as it reaches the rim, affects which parts of your mouth and tongue first meets the wine and therefore your experience of the wine. You can clearly see the different shape of approach in the two glasses below, on the left the rounded Chardonnay glass and on the right in a new style Pinor Noir glass with a sharp cone of wine. The theory is that that the rounded approach of the Grand Cru Chardonnay glass delivers the wine in a way that avoids the tip of the tongue (sweetness), bringing out the balance of fruit and its acidity. Meanwhile the Cabernet is best in its own glass which emphasises the sweetness of the fruit; if served in the new style, pointed Pinot Noir glass, you are more aware of the alcohol and the spice but not the fruit.
As it happens, the ‘tongue map’ theory about tasting wine (sweet at the tip of the tongue, bitter at the back, salty and sour at the sides) is itself strongly criticised nowadays, for example, by Linda Bartoshuk of Yale. Critics now say that you can perceive the four tastes anywhere in the mouth where there are taste buds, with the differences being small around the mouth. For a summary by Jordan Ross, click here. Be that as it may, we are there to try the glasses in our experience.
We try the Chardonnay in the various glasses and the results are clear enough. The wine is much more expressive in its Chardonnay glass. In the tall and thin Riesling glass there are less aromatics, with a loss of the creaminess you get in good Chardonnay. In the plastic cup, the wine dies. According to our guide this is nothing to do with the material the beaker is made from but all to do with its shape and size. Pour the same sample of wine back into the Chardonnay glass and all is restored – it’s like magic. We try the big 15º Cabernet in its designated glass and then in the Pinot Noir shape, then in the rounded Chardonnay glass, then in the much ridiculed plastic cup. It does taste less balanced in the Pinot glass, drier and more bitter; and rather dumb in the Chardonnay. The powerful fruit does survive the plastic cup but the wine tastes green and tannic. So there are real differences.
Perhaps the most interesting outcome – apart from needing yet more space to store more glasses – is the way that initial perception affects the whole experience. The standard theory is that our ability to smell is far more developed that the four basic ‘tastes’ and that, therefore, what we call taste is really a combination of smell and taste. From this it would follow that the initial perception of aroma on the nose could affect the taste in the mouth. What was surprising is that the initial perception also appears to affect the aftertaste. This is the case even if you swill the wine around your mouth. I had assumed that the experience of having wine in the mouth would lead to the aftertaste being perceived in the same way irrespective of the glass it had been in. But not so: the initial aroma and the way that the wine initially meets the palate has a real affect not only on the taste in general but on the aftertaste.
This was a fascinating experience of the best sort – that is, it raised more questions than it answered. As usual the only way forward is more research and, in this case, more research means more glasses and more bottles …
Grant Phelps, chief wine maker of Casas del Bosque, Chile, summarizes the amazing list of advantages which that country enjoys. He himself is not in the best of shapes, having flown in from the other side of the world and picked up some sort of bug on the way. But he quickly warms to his task of describing a country which is close to a wine maker’s paradise:
- great range of possible vineyard sites in this vastly long and thin country, a strip of land between the Andes and the ocean
- some areas with ancient soils because of the lack of rivers in the valleys, enabling wine producers to chose between rich, tropical styles on new soils and more mineral, reserved styles on the old soils
- highly reliable climate with virtually no rain in the growing season but plenty of water available from the snow melt of the Andes
- the lack of rain means very dry conditions and therefore virtually no disease; the country could easily go organic if it put its mind to it
- season-long sunshine, with a particularly high level of luminosity, which leads to good photosynthesis and excellent ripening conditions
- no phylloxera and very old Cabernet vines: 50 year old vines, producing beautifully concentrated fruit, are common for wines that cost well under £10
- inexpensive labour
There is one disadvantage: you have to budget for the winery to be destroyed by an earthquake perhaps every twenty five years, but he doesn’t seem too concerned. His brief is to produce the best possible wine without bankrupting the company.
Grant is pretty new in his current job, though he has made wines from the grapes of this estate before, as well as having previous experience in Chile, Argentina and his native New Zealand. What really inspires him are the possibilities for cool climate wines in Chile. In this part of the Casablanca valley they are between the coastal mountains and the Andes but the critical point is that they are only 18 kilometres from the sea. As he drives to work in the morning it is typically misty, again cooling the vineyards, though the reliable sunshine soon burns that off. The Humboldt current brings cold water up from the Antarctic and cools the areas close to the sea. It’s great for winemaking if not for swimmers. In the hottest month, January, he has measured a maximum of 30º and a minimum of nearly 1º. As a result the biggest challenge is actually frost. 24 giant windmills have been built to mix up the layers of air, preventing the coldest air settling on the vines and killing buds in spring and leaves in autumn. They are expensive to run at about £13,000 per night and you might need them for 25 nights a year but they are essential.
The resulting wines of the Casas del Bosque estate are classy and great value. They typically show excellent, if reserved, fruit, are very clean in the modern manner and are balanced. They are all around the 13 or 13.5º alcohol mark but have good counterbalancing acidity. Grant helpfully explain that the reserva, gran reserva, etc designation in Chile means simply what the individual estate wants it to mean. So all their entry level wines, available at Grape Expectations for about £8, are ‘reserva’. This may point to a problem about the meaning of words but there is no doubt that the wines are special. We tasted:
from the Casablanca Valley:
plus from the warmer Rapel Valley, two and a half hours away:
Of these I particularly enjoyed the Pinot Noir with its good cherry fruit and some complexity and the Gran Reserva Chardonnay – a fine combination of moderate oak and lively citrusy fruit. The Cabernet, as with all the reservas, is exceptional value for money. The Syrah is unusual being grown at the limits of temperature tolerance – yes, it is genuinely cool in parts of Chile. But the point is they are all good.
Thanks to Grant and to Tim Pearce of Grape Expectations for putting on this excellent and highly informative tasting. You couldn’t really have more information, short of going to the winery itself. And that is high praise.
When you are in a wine zone it makes sense to concentrate on the wines of the region itself. But of course there are interesting wines to be tasted or drunk from adjacent zones or indeed from completely different parts of the world. Here are a few from our stay in Massa Marittima, Southern Tuscany.
Most of Massa’s numerous restaurants are good or very good if in a typically rustic Tuscan style. The town is near enough to the sea to have the benefit of both a fish and a meat-based cuisine, though there is more carne than pesce. In a holiday and festival town, there is no shortage of places to eat. However, Era Ora has gone for a much more sophisticated take in its kitchen and its wine list is quite unlike anyone else’s with its multiple choices of Champagne and quality Italian sparkling wines from other regions, the best of the local wines of course and even a few still wines from other parts. It opened last summer and I can well remember the thrill, even shock, of drinking a glass of Champagne here. The sharply profiled acidity of this quintessentially northern wine was amazing in the Tuscan Maremma, home of warm climate wines.
The search for great or even very good white wines in Tuscany is a lot more demanding than finding excellent reds. There are good if expensive Chardonnays (of course), good Vermentino, and light and highly drinkable Ansonica on the coast. Then there are unique experiments with international grape varieties, for example Elisabetta Geppeti’s Poggio Argentato, a blend of Gewurztraminer and Sauvignon Blanc. The great discovery of this trip has been Villa Capezzana’s barrique-fermented Trebbiano which I have written up elsewhere. A well known name in Tuscan whites is the Vernaccia di San Gimignano which can be very ordinary but there are some excellent examples. A new one to me is Isabella, Vernaccia di San Gimignano riserva 2004, stocked by the restaurant, Era Ora. The San Quirico on the label is going to mislead a few, as there is a famous San Quirico d’Orcia in Tuscany, but of course this wine has to come from the San Gimignano DOCG area. The wine is unusual in that it is fermented and aged for five full years in medium sized botte, in this case 25 hectolitre casks. That is quite a large container and so the ratio of wood to wine is quite low, resulting in little obvious oak influence. The wine is a fairly dense mid-yellow in colour (as in the picture), with a dense nose which balances white fleshed fruit, herbs and even olives and a lovely yeastiness. The texture in the mouth is excellent, simultaneously refined and powerful, overall with great intensity. Definitely one to look out for.
A second, very special bottle indeed was brought to dinner by Fiorella Lenzi, friend, passionate supporter of Fiorentina football club, president of the local wine road and wine producer at Serraiola winery. The bottle was Robert Mondavi’s Cabernet Sauvignon from far away Napa, vintage 1998. This bottle came to Fiorella via the Antinori family who some time ago collaborated with Mondavi at the world famous Ornellaia at Bolgheri. It was great to have this comparison as we had been to Bolgheri earlier in the day and visited Angelo Gaja’s fabulous winery, Ca’Marcanda. His Bolgheri wines are a blend of Merlot and the Cabernets, and while they are impressive on release, the top wine, Ca’Marcanda is certainly also one for the cellar. The 2006 is very good but a mere baby; it needs time to develop. After a prolonged struggle with the Mondavi cork, the only solution was to destroy it and then decant. The 12 year old wine had certainly matured in the intervening years, demonstrating classic cedar box aromas along with lovely mature plummy fruit; altogether a very civilized glass. Those of us who normally stick to Europe should take note!
In fact in all this contributed to a memorable occasion. Our hosts Costanza Soprana and Gianpaolo shared not only their table but their fabulous skyline flat on the top floor of a historic palazzo right in the centre of Massa. It is so central that we had to persuade the people at the ticket barrier for the opera performance that evening that they should let us go to our meal while others went to the second performance that week of Tosca. Costanza has created a beautiful home, ancient and contemporary by turns, with Travertine marble in every bathroom. At the same time she has dedicated part of the building to two separate apartments for friends and paying guests, one to note for the future. We ate Gianpaolo’s excellent celery risotto (typical of the Veneto from which he comes) and then a really fine piece of Cinta Senese, a rare breed pig. With this we had various bottles from our travels – tropical and lively Chardonnay from Capua and the seriously dense and energetic Syrah from Casavyc. And, as is so often the case, it turns out there is a personal and professional connection. Casavyc and Capua are both advised by the enologist Fabrizio Moltard, who also consults to Fiorella’s Serraiola winery. Reflecting on this, the particular speciality of all three is making distinctive wines from international grape varieties here in the Maremma.
Massa in opera week is a simply a great place – the buzz, the people, three operas in this 25th anniversary year, the food, the wine. This year even the weather has a pleasantly English touch with some cloud and refreshing breeze, alongside brilliant blue skies. But that’s a subject for another post – wine moments in Massa Marittima’s 2010 opera season!
Writing in the middle of the World Cup in South Africa it is just as well this is about the country’s wine and not about football. Along with most of the other African teams, the home team could not get out of the group stage of the competition. Meanwhile England played poorly and departed in the most spectacular fashion. By contrast, South African wine has much of which it can be proud.
The history of wine production in South Africa is long and varied. Initially famous 300 years ago for the sweet white Constantia, the trade came to be dominated by the production of huge quantities of cheap wine destined for the distillation plant. But in recent decades a crucial section of the business has been concentrated on quality. And as this Andover Wine Friends tasting showed, that quality is available in everyday wines as well as in more expensive bottles. These wines were sourced from a Wine Society offer.
Bon Cap Viognier 2009 (£11.50): nice pale gold colour, rather neutral on the nose, not obviously fruity but full of flavour including a slightly salty note on the palate, decent silky texture.
Villiera Chenin Blanc 2009 (£6.75): an inexpensive example of South African’s star white grape variety. An excellent complex nose, floral and fruity the apples and especially pears register. An excellent wine at this price level.
Sequillo White 2008 (60% Chenin Blanc, 20% Grenache Blanc, 10% Viognier, 10% Roussane; £15.50) This classy white blends Chenin with some white Rhône varieties to produce a mid gold in colour, a fine expressive nose (honey, nuts, a bit of oak), lovely silky texture combined with real structure, fine and long. Outstanding.
In the Rosé department, we tasted Circumstance Cape Coral Mourvèdre 2009 (£8). This was many people’s favourite wine – a lovely pale salmon pink, nice perfumed nose, substantial and rounded in the mouth, slightly strawberry fruit, moderate to low acidity.
The reds were somewhat atypical as they were heavily weighted to top quality. While they were all more than drinkable, the last three would have a lot of development in them.
Douglas Green Shiraz Viognier 2008 (£5) – fully ripe rich fruit (cherries and plums), good balancing refreshment, easy drinking but with real depth of flavour and interest. You can’t really ask more for the price, assuming of course that you like the style.
Impressive levels of concentration here!
Kanonkop Pinotage 2007 (£17): a big price jump here in a top example of South African’s own grape variety, Pinotage, a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault. Deep purply red in colour, complex berry nose, brilliant sweet fruit on the nose and depth of flavour in the mouth, great acidity for keeping and development in the bottle, some good bitter notes. Excellent.
Boekenhoutskloof Chocolate Block 2008 (mainly Syrah with Grenache, Cabernet, Cinsault and Viognier; £18) Brilliant strawberry/raspberry/oak nose, the fruit-oak balance just right on the palate as well, full on and substantial in style, rich texture, excellent.
Meerlust Estate Rubicon 2005 (69% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc) Super rich Cabernet nose, very ripe and full of blackcurrant and red fruit, mint, very substantial but balanced.
Congratulations to South Africa. The football team might need a bit more work, though perhaps not as much as England’s, but the wine already has star quality.
After the Capezzana tasting, the riches of Decanter’s Italian day at the Landmark Hotel. This has to be the best one-day introduction to the Italian quality wine scene in the UK and maybe beyond. It’s big – with 86 listed producers – and pretty representative, 13 out of 20 regions present, with Sardinia a surprising absence. A third of producers are from Tuscany with 16 from Chianti alone, but then we all know about that English love affair.
Faced with these riches, you have to choose. Janet and I concentrated on filling in a few gaps from our recent Piemonte trip and of course some Tuscan friends. Here are some of the highlights.
This winery, between the communes of Barolo and La Morra, has a great range of wines and of single vineyard cru. It is particularly pleased to be expanding its holding in the important Cannubi vineyard from two to ten hectares, leasing the additional land from Marchesi di Barolo, which will give them 60% of the cru. The investment is eye-watering, with one hectare of Cannubi in the €2m range. And so is the responsibility of moving from 9,000 to 50,000 bottles of this wine per year.
Of the wines we particularly enjoyed Barolo Cannubi 2005, squeezed between two great vintages, now showing better than most expected, with a very rich, complex nose and dense fruit. But a good word has also to be put in for the Barbera d’Alba 2007 in a modern oaked style (40% new barriques), but a good depth of fruit and quite luxurious.
Michele Chiarlo, while being based in the Monferrato region, has important wines from many key areas of Piemonte – whites from the Roero and Gavi, Moscato, an interesting sparkling wine which we drank when we were in Alba, quality Barbera and of course Barolo and Barbaresco. The highlights included the premium Barbera, La Court, Barbera d’Asti Superiore ‘Nizza’ 2006. This wine, which from the 2008 vintage has acquired DOCG status, is treated like the top wine that it is – low yields of only 1 kg of grapes per plant, harvested late in the middle of October, half fermented and aged in larger 650 litre barrels, half aged for 12 months in barriques and then for a year in bottles. It shows brilliant dense fruit, complexity and typical great acidity, a powerful but balanced food wine. The wine received the Gambero Rosso’s top grade of ‘three glasses’ in this excellent vintage, as well as in 2000, 2001 and 2003. It’s great value too at €26 – just over half what you would expect to pay for a Nebbiolo based wine of similar quality. All the wines we tasted here were very good or excellent: Arneis Le Madri 2009 and Gavi di Gavi Rovereto 2009 were very good, Barbaresco 2006, Barolo Tortoniano 2005 and Barolo Cerequio 2005 were excellent.
So, so far on this football day, an early 2-0 lead to Piemonte.
Marchesi di Frescobaldi
In the Tuscany room, I noticed that Frescobaldi had bought a fine range of wines including top Brunello and Chianti. But there was also the chance to taste two Super Tuscans, which draw on the cultural and religious symbolism of the Mediterranean, Lucente and Luce. From these bottles beams the sun rays in embossed golden splendour – can the wines live up to this? Lucente 2007 – the affordable option – has very good medium weight fruit, good counterbalancing acidity, a decent second level Super Tuscan. Luce 2006, a 50/50 Sangiovese/Merlot divide, spends two years in barriques and emerges with deep, dense, colour and aroma (prunes and cherries, balsam), great fruit (the Merlot of course to the fore) and lively acidity (Sangiovese makes its mark). Perhaps a wine for tasting rather than drinking, but an excellent achievement nonetheless.
Having tasted this company’s top Vernaccia di San Gimignano at Vinitaly, I was keen to catch up with at least the other whites in the range from this producer. Maria Elisabetta Fagiuoli introduced the wines herself and fully justified the company’s slogan Sono Montenidoli – ‘I am Montenidoli’, or rather less likely, ‘They (the wines) are Montenidoli’. This part of Tuscany is the product a great prehistoric salt-water sea, a land of fossil filled limestone which can produce whites of real character.
The Vernaccia tradizionale 2007 is the product of long maceration on the skins and has very good complexity on the nose though it is rather flatter on the palate. I love this style but if you prefer something cleaner, more fruit led, then there is Vernaccia Fiore 2007, with freshness and even delicacy, some fruit, pleasurable drinking. Il Templare 2007 is a real marmite wine (Gambero Rosso agrees: these wines don’t leave you indifferent …): 70% Vernaccia, 20% Trebbiano gentile, 10% Malvasia bianca, a distinctly cheesy opening, then herbaceous notes, nice texture, good lemon and melon fruit. We also enjoyed Canaiuolo 2007, the unusual rosé made from Canaiolo, a Tuscan grape usually relegated to being a blender with Sangiovese. Here it produces a nicely balanced, quite floral wine for summer drinking.
Dutch investment, French know-how and biodynamic agriculture is the package at this very contemporary venture, near Riparbella close to the Tuscan coast. Dominique Génot remembered us from our visit on a tempestuously rainy day in May 2007 and judging by the wines, since then things have gone from strength to strength. A fine sweet wine and a dry white have been added to the entry level if excellent Pergolaia (90% Sangiovese) and the top wine, Caiarossa. The grape mix for the latter sets new standards for a multi-grape wine in Tuscany – you could be in the southern Rhône: around 20% each of Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc and Merlot, plus 12% Cabernet Sauvignon, with small amounts of Alicante, Syrah, Petit Verdot and Mourvèdre. Or to put it another way, that’s 40% Bordeaux, 30% Rhône and 30% Tuscany. The show offered three vintages:
Caiarossa 2004: is now beautifully knit together, with a fabulous nose of ripe fruit and savoury wood, rich in texture, complex, satisfying.
Caiarossa 2005: squeezed between two great vintages, this shows more herbaceous notes but still very creditable.
Caiarossa 2006: do not drink this wine yet! Not that there is anything wrong with it but it is going to be outstanding with its great depths of fruit, zippy acidity, so much potential – currently very young.
Oro di Caiarossa 2006 and 2007: late harvested Petit Manseng, slow strong pressing of whole bunches, two days of cool maceration, then barrel fermented for eight months. A delicious sweet white with apple and nut flavours. The 2006 shows some oxidation (there are risks in that long slow fermentation), the 2007 is exactly what the maker intended: a sweet wine with freshness, notes of acacia honey, good fruit, very good.
We left the tasting early – me for football reasons, Janet heroically filled in the time shopping. The cup final, which looked like it could be a mismatch between the top and bottom teams of the Premier League, exceeded expectation with a match full of incident and interest: competitive, lots of goal mouth incident, bad tackles, two missed penalties. Chelsea ran out 1-0 winners but somebody ought to explain to them that the ball is supposed to go between the posts, you don’t get any points for hitting post or bar. To complete the perfect Italian weekend in England, the winning cup final manager was of course an Italian.
As the saying goes, if Mohammed won’t come to the mountain, then the mountain will have to come to Mohammed. The past weekend not only offered not only the ending of the English domestic football season with the show piece of the FA Cup final, but also a Tuscan wine tasting in Hungerford, Berkshire and Decanter’s Great Italian Fine Wine Encounter in Marylebone in central London. Apparently the Chelsea team were staying at the Landmark Hotel for the final, venue of the tasting, but we saw no sign of them expect for a large police presence.
The evening tasting at the wine merchant Caviste’s new Hungerford branch was a great opportunity to learn about Tuscany’s smallest fine wine area, Carmignano. What it lacks in size (only 14 producers), it makes up for in history, location and interest. 10 miles NW from Florence, the area is marked by the presence of the Tuscan nobility and especially their hunting villas and lodges. While the Medici are critical to the history of wine in the area, recent research has found documentary evidence of wine making in 804, a remarkably early date. The Etruscan presence in the area makes it highly like that wine making was going on centuries before the Christian period.
What really marks Carmignano out in wine terms is the custom of growing at least some Cabernet Sauvignon alongside Tuscany’s Sangiovese. This has become commonplace in Tuscany since the success of the so-called Super Tuscans in the 1970s and 1980s, often to the detriment of the lighter, more characteristic, local grape. However, in this area the Cabernet was introduced by the Medici in the 1700s from Bordeaux – aristocrats were talking to each other and wanting to be like each other back then, just as the Super Tuscan classic, Sassicaia was the result of an aristocrat wanting to ‘grow his own’ Bordeaux after the second world war.
I approached these wines with a mixture of anticipation and trepidation. They have a great history but I rarely like the Sangiovese ‘plus French grape variety’ wines. You have to agree that Sangiovese is normally not a big, bold wine, but if you want big and bold there is no shortage of them either from Italy or from other countries. The recent increase of allowed ‘other grapes’ in Chianti Classico is a case in point – there comes a critical tipping point, certainly above 15%, at which the more imposing French varieties drown out the particular charm of fresh, acidic, sour cherry Sangiovese.
But I have to say that Carmignano has got this more or less right. The quality appellation (DOCG) calls for at least 50% Sangiovese, 10-20% of Cabernet Sauvignon or Franc, up to 20% Canaiolo nero (another local grape) plus other minor varieties. Leading this tasting, Beatrice Contini Bonacossi explained that her family wines at the largest of the Carmignano estates, Capezzana, have stuck to the rule of 80% Sangiovese, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon (the twentieth century ones from Ch. Lafite no less) and 10% Canaiolo, or an 80/20 split between the two main varieties in the top wine.
We start by tasting a good rosé, Vin Ruspo 2009 with a sweet, juicy nose, rounded with good fruit in the mouth, quite weighty and very food friendly. Particularly good is the wine made for everyday drinking, Barco Reale 2007, named by Beatrice’s father after the noble hunting enclosure. Here the Cabernet contributes to a wine of mid ruby colour, darker than if it were just Sangiovese, but still clearly Tuscan in style. A good nose of violets, plum and cherry is followed by dense plummy fruit, a little bitterness and typical, if by Tuscan standards, mild acidity. Beatrice says this her everyday bottle and you really could not complain about that!
The premium wine is Villa di Capezzana, in this case, 2006. The wine, 80% Sangiovese, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, is aged in tonneaux for 12-15 months, a compromise between the larger traditional barrel and the smaller French barriques. Only 30% are new each year, so the new oak aromas are not pronounced. It is a more powerful wine, which comes at you out of the glass, with aromas of darker red fruits and some toast and perhaps even a chocolate note. It has superb acidity and dense fruit, but the wine, even at this young age, is balanced and drinkable. It has a long, long life ahead of it; from this great vintage it would be outstanding in 10 years time and long after that.
The penultimate wine is a proper modern Super Tuscan, ‘pebbles of the stream’ or Ghiaie della Furba, 2006, now 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 10% Syrah, aged in small French barriques. It has great fruit, from blackcurrant to plum, and an intriguing bitter, tannic finish, very Italian, the land battling back against the non-Tuscan grapes.
After a light supper, we taste another great treasure of the estate, its Vin Santo, 2003. It is made in the traditional manner by drying of the grapes on racks for months before making wine and then long slow fermentation and maturation in very small barrels (caratelli) of a range of woods for five years. The anticipation/anxiety must be something when you finally open those barrels with their much diminished content – is it going to be the nectar of the gods or is it going to be five years leading to nothing? This example was definitely the former, on the drier side, one of the subtlest I have ever tasted with very grown up chestnut, raison and even herby dimensions. Very refined, it coats the mouth and lasts and lasts and lasts.
Capezzana have fairly recently introduced a top quality Trebbiano – not a combination of words you can often use in Tuscany! The old war horse, the peasant’s favourite for its productivity, rarely produces anything more than a basic white accompaniment to food. I am looking forward to tasting it, hopefully at the estate.
This was a great introduction to Carmignano, to Capezzana, and a fine start to the Italian weekend.
It’s not often that you have the privilege of welcoming a leading wine producer to your own home. But here’s a picture of Dennis Canute opening bottles in our little conservatory, know affectionately as the lean-to. Dennis co-founded the Rusden estate in the Barossa Valley, Australia, some years ago, initially as a hobby farm. He had to continue his day job as a teacher for quite a few years. His first vintage was 1992, though he would be the first to say that ‘vintage’ is definitely not the right word. They didn’t start bottling until 1994 but it was no big deal until Robert Parker, the hugely influential wine critic, rated a couple of their bottles as 92 points that the world suddenly took notice. This is not the time to rehearse the merits and demerits of Parker, but one thing is very clear: he can give an unknown small producer an enormous lift. For the little family farm it can be a godsend – the judgement is authoritative, it’s free and people take notice.
Rusden is very much a family firm, with Dennis’s wife in charge of the vineyards and winery and their son, Christian, the wine maker. Christian wanted to be a chef as a youngster (until he discovered what working in a kitchen with split shifts was like, according to his dad) but fortunately he discovered the ‘bottle shop’ (Australian for off-license). In his case this was a very positive find for a young man and led to him working and learning at Rockford before he came back to his parents’ farm. As Dennis says, in his charmingly self-deprecating way: it just made such a difference when you have a wine maker who knows what he is doing!
The first wine and only white from Rusden is appropriately enough called Christian Chenin Blanc 2007 (£19.50). I don’t really need to write about how it is made as they have done that for us on the label.
The really unusual thing is that it is Chenin Blanc at all in the Barossa. Riesling would be more typical but for Dennis that doesn’t really produce great wine on the valley floor until the vines are very old. By contrast the Chenin has done well. When young the nose has a strong banana flavour which fades quite quickly to be replaced by a pleasant and complex nose of fruit including some citrus, nuts and honey, and grassiness. It has a typical Chenin seam of acid though not as pronounced as from cooler areas.
However, the real focus of interest at Rusden is the red wines. The principal grapes for the quality wines are Cabernet Sauvignon, Mataro and of course Shiraz. What is immediately obvious is that all the reds shows some strong common themes. They are full-flavoured as you would expect but not in an over-rich, obvious sort of way. All the wines showed a good level of acidity, making them genuinely lively and even supple, despite the typical 14? or more of alcohol. Further, they all had a strong salty, iodine, streak, which Dennis puts down to the ‘soil’, if that’s the right word, which is basically non-wetting sand over clay. the pictures on the Rusden web site show vines, old and new, growing in what appears to be a desert!
First up was Ripper Creek 2006 (£21.50), 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Shiraz, aged for 15-18 months in old barriques and hogsheads. This is a serious wine, said to be at its best after 10 to 12 years, with a bold nose of green pepper, some sweet Shiraz fruit and some pepperiness. On the palate it combines a great structure with the zip of decent acidity. The latter comes from a combination of the relative coolness of their location (2-3? degrees cooler and greater day/night difference because of the gully breezes) and judicious and entirely legal adding of acid to the final product.
Next up was a real ‘marmite’ wine, Full Circle Mataro 2005(£26.50): 100% Mataro or Mourvèdre if you prefer. Dennis muses on the origin of the name of the grape in Australia and then repeats the old joke: why is the grape called Mataro in Australia? Because Australians couldn’t say Mourvèdre. But then he notes it’s called Monastrell in Spain. The wine itself sparks off a further digression on words for tasting. Some don’t like this wine because its too ‘feral’ (untamed, not super clean as most modern wines are) ‘blousy ’ (you decide), says Dennis. This one is both both highly vegetal and salty, a stand out wine if you like strong character and distinctiveness – which I love. The wine starts with a great barnyardy smell (hence ‘feral’), then green peppers plus the iodine notes commented on. ‘Great palate weight’ adds Dennis. There is great depth of flavour and super silky tannins. There was some disagreement on this in the group, but no one seemed to mind that much. On the general issue of what we mean when we speak about wine, see the post on ‘Talking about wine’.
Rather more recognisable is Boundaries Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 (£36.75) A good ruby colour, but not black, great big fruity nose of red and blackcurrants, but not jammy, counterbalancing acidity again, slightly sweet notes (rum and raison according to Dennis) which comes from the 20% American oak used for this wine. Supple and velvety.
Rusden’s most celebrated wine is named with Aussie bravado, Black Guts Shiraz (£46). We tasted two years, 2005 and then 2003, the second a hotter year. Rusden’s philosophy of using older barrels continues with this top wine, with only 20-30% new barrels. Basically they are looking for the maturation of the fruit and for the wine to come together over its 30 months of ageing, rather than adding new flavours through the use of much new oak. The 2005 leads with dense, black fruit, a certain smokiness and has great length to go with it. Its simu
ltaneously robust and highly civilised, balanced as with all these wines through its acidity. 2003 is rather more tarry, characteristically ‘burnt rubber’ of Syrah and the acidity has dropped a bit. These are a remarkable achievement for a relatively small (4,000 cases a year) family winery.
Through all is this Dennis is a friendly, informing presence. It’s quite clear how much he cares about his wife and family, his company, the wines, the people he has met. It didn’t seem surprising that we finished the evening with someone else’s wine: Gregg Hobbs Viognier 2005 (£14.50 for 50 cl bottle). In a piece of new world inventiveness, this is a sweet wine made by an accelerated grape drying method and the vinified. So instead of simply allowing grapes to shrivel for three months (as in the making of traditional Amarone and Recioto), these grapes are air-dried in a week.
The result is beautiful to behold – a rich deep orange-gold colour and a nice green and gold wine label to go with it. (I wonder how many wine label designers think about the needs of photographers when they knock up those labels – will the label relate to and complement the wine?) The nose is a powerful apricot, with good fruit and refreshing acid again. Very good indeed.
Rusden is a model for great new world wines – combining balance and drinkability with a depth of flavour and complexity. If we were in the old world, we would be talking terroir as the wines do speak of the particular place from whence they came. And in Dennis Canute they have an friendly, approachable and informative ambassador.
Many thanks to David Thomas of Caviste (where you can buy these wines) who arranged this tasting and to Stafford for his company and help.