Posts Tagged ‘Chardonnay’
One of the quirky charms of Overton’s ‘Bring a Bottle Club’ is the practice – usually followed by one of the regular members – of bring a joker bottle to be tasted blind, like all the wine. There are not many other places where you could taste a 10 year old English rosé, a Maltese red or a white Nero (that’s the clue) di Troia. However, as there is no conferring before the tasting on what people will bring, the ‘joker’ factor will spread to the usually more conventional choices of others. When this happens, blind tasting becomes a somewhat random series of increasingly desperate guesses. It is still possible to comment on the ripeness of fruit, the weight of the wine and much more, but identification becomes mission impossible. And so it proved on a pleasant summer’s evening when the chance to be inside out of the rain belied the fact that this was the July meeting of the ‘BBC’. You could say that the most recognisable alcoholic beverage of the evening was the one in the first picture below. Plus a fine picture of post-Kilimanjaro beard …
|This first wine is a major classic and should have been recognisable. Slightly oxidised, pale gold, floral, sharp apples and honey, some sweetness. But there was a long debate over Riesling v. Chenin Blanc, the majority wrongly favouring the former: Le Haut-Lieu, Vouvray Sec, Huet 2002. When you don’t spot the most distinctive wine of the evening, you know you are in trouble.|
|Having started with Riesling on the mind, here was another perhaps more obvious Riesling. But there was still something strange about it – trying to locate it in the world’s Riesling zones was not productive … Edgy acidity, some mineral notes, but then ripe apple and stone fruit … What nobody had in mind is a Riesling /Albarino blend grown at 1000m of altitude in NE Spain: Ekam, Castell d’Enclus, 2010. Much praised by Jancis Robinson and stocked by Caviste.||
|OK, this one should have been easy and most got the grape correct: fairly austere if oaky nose, some concentrated citrus fruit, medium acidity, good length. It turned to be the oaked version of a fine NZ producer’s Chardonnay. But even those who drink Kumeu River regularly thought that the oak overwhelmed the fruit in this example: Maté’s Vineyard, Chardonnay, Kumeu River 2004.|
|On an evening of unusual wines, this was – deservedly – the official, full on, joker. And yes, it does say Barossa Valley Gewurztraminer on the label. My note says ‘light, quite floral, lime [fruit]’ but nothing that might suggest its grape variety as grown in more typical locations: Goldilocks would have needed more forensic questioning to lead her to 4 Bears, Gewurztraminer, Barossa Valley, 2008.|
|Another oaky number if again in a subtle and expensive way, then good rounded fruit, all pointing to barrel fermentation, but where? As Caviste has become something of a N Spain specialist, this would be a fair surmise but trying to place this blind was impossible: made from 100% Verdejo, Naiades, Naia Viña Sila, Reuda DO, Spain, 2007.|
|This was the Rosé which I brought, partly to make the point that there are pink wines that will stand up in this company. So the cloud of unknowing briefly lifted at least for me. Fragrant strawberry fruit, excellent structure, unusually for a rosé, fermented in a barrel, good length, most thought it was Provencal. In fact it is from further south: Le Rosé, Domaine Gardiés, Côtes-du-Roussillon, 2011.|
|Oh dear, seriously off-piste again. Dense colour, minty and a touch burnt on the nose, dried fruit and black cherry, medium tannins, medium length …. no idea. It was bought as a joker. I think it is fair to say that no one had tasted (a powerful and slightly clumsy) Cretan Syrah before: Diamantopetra, Diamantakis Winery, Crete, 2009. Made from Syrah and the local grape Mandilari.|
|My wine again and one that has been taking up a space in the rack for a few years. Quite dense in colour and texture, probably at its peak with delicious, perfectly knit together red and black fruit, some leather notes and the slightest touch of green leafiness. People were really surprised at the weight and density of this quality Cabernet Franc: Coteau de Noiré, Phillipe Alliet, Chinon 2003.|
||Petit Verdot … Sicilian Petit Verdot of course! PV to its friends is a minor but spicy Bordeaux variety which the adventurous experiment with in hotter climes. Here the nose was restrained and hinting at the powerful black fruit dominated palate. Chianu Carduni, Baglio di Pianetto, IGT Sicilia, 2004 is late picked at the end of October, and is the product of heat and long hang time on the vine in the Palermo district of Sicily.|
|To complete this mission impossible, another unusual wine: bold new world fruit, hugely extracted plus lashings of fine oak; chocolate, red and black fruit, but no one obvious varietal clue. This turned out to be made by Masi from the Veneto, northern Italy, produciing wine from Amarone-style semi-dried ripe grapes but with a blend of Corvina and Malbec … in Argentina: Masi Tupungato, La Arboleda, Argentina 2008, 14.5% abv.||
We are now looking forward to BBC2 on Austria (plus Germany as necessary) when at least there will be a theme – and no doubt a joker, but hopefully not five!
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.
Saturday 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.
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!
Rather like the the first cuckoo of the spring or the changing of leaf colour in the autumn, the spring tastings of the new wines are a marker of the time of year. Caviste’s Burgundy festival is an opportunity to taste the latest offerings, in this case from the 2008 vintage. Eight growers, nearly all there in person, showed 37 wines in the comfort of the splendid games room at Ashe Park. I say comfort because Caviste had taken the wise step of cancelling the marquee and sheltering from the unseasonably cold spell indoors.
In contrast to the enormous trade tasting at Lord’s which I attended in January, at this smaller sample it was the whites which really stood out. Bruno Colin’s St Aubin is an excellent value white, 100% Chardonnay like all the rest. The Premier Cru La Charmois, at £140 per 6 bottles (all prices per 6 bottles duty paid), shows the continuing value of this appellation. Vincent Bouzereau’s wines also shone: simple, unoaked Bourgogne Blanc shows lovely, lively and quite complex fruit with a bit of minerality at a very reasonable £78 per 6 bottles. The village level Meursault has a great balance between freshness and richness (£145), while the two Premier Cru, Les Gouttes d’Or (amazing concentration, the density of fruit currently only showing in the after taste) and Charmes, both £225 are correspondingly grander.
But the highlight of the day was undoubtedly meeting Christian Moreau himself and of course tasting his great wines from Chablis. The family firm which carries his name is now run by his son, Fabian, but Christian genially presides over the wines as though they were his own grandchildren. His seems a happy lot. After many years of putting his name on the map, he can simultaneously take pride in the wine which continues to be of the highest quality and have the relaxed look of a man who knows that somebody else is reliably doing the hard work.
Having tasted the 2007s at the London Chablis trade tasting earlier in the year, this was a chance to check out the 2008s. Both are very good vintages in the whites, 2008 if anything even better than 2007, certainly more approachable and so can be drunk earlier. Four quality and price levels:
- ‘basic’ (but floral and mildly mineral) Chablis, £80 (all prices per 6 bottles duty paid)
- more restrained, dense fruit in Premier Cru Vaillons, oak aged, needs time, £118
- lemon and lime fruit, great minerality and length in Grand Cru Valmur, 40% vinified in oak barrels of which only 2% is new, £195
- similarly Grand Cru Les Clos, more rounded, oak more evident, £195
- and from the historic heart of Les Clos, Grand Cru Clos de Hospises, rich, exotic, floral and fruit notes on the nose, gorgeous fruit, so complex, £260
- And yes, there were some reds, but not that many. The wine to drink now is Lignier- Michelot’s Gevrey Chambertin with wonderful accessible fruit (Cuvée Bertin, £178). And then there was the chance to taste the otherwise unreachable. Although it seems a shame to reduce the already tiny numbers of bottles of Grand Cru wines by tasting them years before they hit their prime, few are going to turn down the opportunity to try Clos de la Roche (Lignier-Michelot, superb texture, sweet ripe fruit, £450) or indeed the white, Lequin-Colin, Batard Montrachet (very closed but with an amazing rich texture, £615). The 2008s are well and truly launched.
Planning a week’s tasting in a region is a mixture of thorough preparation, chance meetings and recommendations, and sheer persistence. And there is the question of whether to visit wineries which you already know and whose wines are available in the UK as opposed to those you can only taste in situ. Our final day in the Langhe region of Piemonte had a large gap in the final afternoon but after a few phone calls, we arranged a visit to G.D.Vajra (pronounced VAI-ra), a very well established name, located above the village of Barolo since 1972. All the planning had paid dividends as this was also the only time in the week that we had to drive from our morning tastings in Barbaresco, well to the east of our base in Alba, to a visit at the opposite end of the region, via a very good if hurried lunch and a near disaster at a self service petrol station.
Vajra’s substantial winery has a workmanlike feel about it, with the exception of the charming stained glass windows which throw a slightly surreal glow over proceedings. But this is clearly a place of work, of focus on the goal of a quality across a largish range of wines. For whites they have a Chardonnay from the Luigi Baudana company which they are now directing and a surprise package in Pétracine, the Riesling which they have been making since 1986. They also have quite a serious Dolcetto from the two vineyards, Coste and Fossati, which can be aged for up to 10 years, a denser more structured wine with nice cherry and almond notes.
The use of barriques is interesting here. Usually expensive new wood is dedicated to the most important wines but here the new wood is matched up with the forceful Barbera grape and it is only when the wood has mellowed that it is used on the prized Nebbiolo. This means that you get the mild oxidising effect of small barrels for Nebbiolo but without the vanilla and toast aromas of new barriques. Very clever.
Barbera comes in two shapes, normale 2007 and riserva. The former comes from the younger vineyards and a part of it is matured in new oak for six to eight months. It has a gorgeous, fruity nose which covers the new wood – it needs to express itself, like an adolescent, says our host Sabrina. The Barbera riserva (or superiore) 2007 comes from 50 year old vines from the famous Bricco delle viole vineyard, the source also of one of the cru Barolo. However, the law being what it is, you can only put the vineyard name on the back label of Barbera, whereas of course it is allowed to be on the main label of the Barolo! This wine is aged in large traditional barrels and tonneaux for 18 months. It has a super concentrated nose of dark fruit and some oak ageing, wonderfully ripe, sweet fruit on the palate and is extremely long. An outstanding wine which makes the case for great Barbera.
After Barbera comes Nebbiolo of course, though in this case we could have gone next to that other native, Freisa, of which more anon. With the addition of Luigi Baudana wines, Vajra now has four Nebbiolo wines, the simpler Langhe Nebbiolo 2008 (quite a complex perfumed nose, no wood, quite tannic) and three Barolo. Grapes from three vineyards, La volta, Fossati and Coste di Vergne go into Barolo Albe 2005. These are relatively young vines, 20-25 year olds, though the wine making is very traditional – maceration of the skins in the young wine for 30 days followed by three years in traditional large botti. The label reflects the youthfulness of the vines rather than the traditional winemaking and seems a very loud statement next to the traditional main label. You can see the density of the ‘legs’ in this glass – 14.5? of alcohol and lots of extract. This is a good Barolo – structured, perfumed, with spicy notes, beautiful.
The final two Barolo are from the respective houses of Vajra and Baudana. Barolo Bricco delle viole 2005, that vineyard again, is the flagship wine getting the full 40 days of maceration and 40 months in large traditional barrels. It is rich and delicate simultaneously, already beautifully knit together, with layers of fruit, spice, balsam and further spice on the nose. By contrast the Baudana offering, Barolo Serralunga d’Alba 2005 has a much more obvious use of oak ageing (balsam, cloves), quite velvety in the mouth but still tough and tannic, typical of the Serralunga area.
Having tasted the heights of Barolo we are definitely on the descent from the tasting mountain, but there are various points of interest as we return. First off is Kyè 2006 (a play on words on chi è, who’s this?), made from the local grape, Freisa. Vajra are one of ten producers of this wine, though there is still, not the more conventional light, sparkling red wine. Sabrina says its a wine for the autumn, perfumed and tannic (it must be something in Piemontese soil that produces this combination), good acidity, could last 10 years. Then there is a version of Pinot Noir, called PN Q497, 2006, though our bottle had been open a while and perhaps wasn’t a fair test (slightly odd caramelly notes). Of course there is also Moscato d’Asti, all 5.5? of it, but delicious none the less. And finally – thirteenth in line – our first taste of Barolo Chinato, a digestivo, which is Barolo infused with herbs and beefed up with added alcohol. This had lovely bitter notes, a complex cocktail of herbs and counterbalancing sweetness.
This comprehensive tasting was a fitting climax to our week. As we drove back to Alba we enjoyed for a final time the great views across the ridges of the Langhe, this time around La Morra bathed in spring sunshine.
Many thanks to Sabrina and all at Vajra. The wines are available in the UK via Liberty Wines, eg Caviste.
This winery is appropriately enough near ‘three stars’ (Trestelle), itself a sort of mid point between the three Barbaresco communes – Treiso, Neive and, of course, Barbaresco itself. But the three stars could also refer to the three daughters of the family or indeed to the excellent quality of the wine in relation to price.
The winery covers all the bases – four Barbaresco, one other Nebbiolo wine, a Dolcetto, two Barbera and then, somewhat surprisingly, three white wines. Paola, who showed us around, gives the simple explanation that this is because of her father’s love of white wine, in an area basically given over to reds. We are in the last gasp of the Moscato d’Asti zone so one of them is of course Moscato. The other two are different takes on Chardonnay.
wines. ‘Moscato Trefie’ is a reference to the three daughters. Paola and Valentina work here and Federika makes patisserie – for which of course the delicious, slightly sparkling wine, sweetish but with a herby tinge, is a perfect accompaniment. The two Chardonnays are unoaked (Luna d’agosto 2009, with a bit of native Cortese in it) and oaked, Sermine 2009, extremely good value at €5 and €8.50 respectively.
For the Barbaresco a range of oak is used. The simpler Langhe Nebbiolo is matured in the traditional large oak barrels, Barbaresco Marcarini and Asili see a divide between large barrel and barrique treatment, while Barbaresco Pora is raised in tonneaux – a sort of half-way house in terms of size. Is there a profound wine making reason for this? No, it’s because there isn’t much of it.
In many ways, Ca’ del Baio is a near perfect winery to follow for the wine lover. It’s got that real family feel, they seem relaxed about their success; there are no airs and graces, just a great range of wines at good prices. The Langhe Nebbiolo 2008, Bric del Baio, spends 12 months in large barrels, has a lovely perfumed nose and good fruit. Elegant every day drinking at €8 – if you live in Italy of course. Equally good and good value are the prize winning Barbaresco:
- Valgrande 2006, which gets the traditional treatment of two years in the large botti. Still very young and slightly rustic but full of fruit.
- Asili 2006: from a hillside which gets the sun all day, 10% matured in barriques for a little added richness, great nose of fragrant red fruit, a little bit of spice, typical high tannins and acidity which will carry it into a glorious maturity (here’s hoping for the rest of us). Tre bicchieri in the Gambero Rosso 2010. All this for €20 at the winery.
- Pora 2005: quite restrained on the nose, does not have the opulence of the 2006s but still good.
Thank you to Paola and Valentina for a great visit. Sadly the wine is not available in the UK. Thanks also for the recommendation for the fabulous La Ciau del tornamento, super sophisticated restaurant in Treiso with food and a view da morire! And I learn from the web site, a 30, 000 bottle cellar … fortunately we only had time for one excellent course and left refreshed and with wallets intact.
As Janet and I had been in Piemonte but not got to the Gavi area, we made bee-line for the home of the Cortese grape at Vinitaly 2010. This massive wine fair allows you taste some of the real specialities (and peculiarities) of Italy and that includes some little known sparkling wines. Here the focus will be on two little known sparklers, from the Gavi (South East Piemonte) and Franciacorta (Lombardia) areas.
Generally, Gavi has a reputation a bit like Soave – rather a basic, mass produced white wine, popular in the past with Italian restaurants, with a few good exceptions which only wine buffs know about. La Scolca, or Soldati La Scolca to give it its full name, have always held out for quality and especially for the steep rise in interest which bottle ageing brings to good Gavi. The company has just celebrated 90 years so it clearly has done some things right.
All of La Scolca’s whites are made exclusively from the native Cortese grape. The entry level Gavi 2009 is a fresh, moderately fruity wine, well made without being very attention seeking. Gavi di Gavi 2009 must come from the commune of Gavi is not itself a big jump up in quality but is much more persistent in its flavour. By contrast the selection Gavi di Gavi D’Antan 2000 is a revelation. First of all it is made from the best grapes in good years only, secondly it has the benefits of a decade of ageing. It has a pronounced nose of pears and melon fruit, then a strong lime streak. In the mouth it is a quite a big, structured wine, with great persistence. The company has these older bottles to sell, in this case at €35. You can suddenly taste what all the fuss is about.
La Scolca have also made a speciality of sparkling versions of Gavi. The great majority of Italian sparklers are tank fermented which is a cheaper process and preserves the freshness of the fruit for wines for drinking young. By contrast La Scolca’s wines are all metodo classico, ie second fermentation in the bottle, like Champagne, and all are from individual vintages. The Metodo Classico 2006 has a honeyed nose with good fruit and fairly modest yeast notes. It has a noticeable bitter finish – highly prized in Italian food and wine but not to everyone’s taste. The Metodo Classico riserva 2002 is a pale straw colour with a green tint and has really benefitted from its seven years on the yeast in the bottle – a much more complex nose, lovely yeasty, patisserie notes followed by plenty of delicious fruit. Better again is the D’Antan riserva 1998, which has spent a full eleven years on the yeasts of the secondary fermentation in its bottle. The nose is yet more sophisticated and the wine is beautifully smooth in the mouth – a real treat.
Brief aside – all wine bottles are difficult to photograph successfully because of the light reflecting off the bottle. But this bulbous shape takes the biscuit. Every single one of my general ‘whole bottle’ shots has my reflection in it – just to prove I was there! Low angle next time.
This starts out as a pale salmon pink and ages to this rather lovely apricot. D’Antan rosato 1998 shows the influence of even this tiny addition of Pinot Noir with some more (now very rounded out) raspberry fruit, altogether a class act.
Just over one hundred miles North East, the other side of Milan is the Franciacorta area. I was cheered to read in Tom Hyland’s Vinitaly blog that one of the reasons he gives for going to this wine fair is Franciacorta. Where else can you try these quality sparklers, so prized in knowledgeable Italian circles, so unknown elsewhere? Basically the wine comes from a zone in Lombardy, near Brescia, is made from the same grapes as Champagne, by the same method, and costs much the same price. But the style is rather different, no doubt because of the geology plus the warmer weather. There is a market out there for a Champagne style wine but with richer, more mature fruit, but cracking it will be a huge challenge. In the meantime it is one to search out.
This time we tasted wines from just two growers, the first of whom makes just one wine. Santus is a new venture between two agronomists who pay tribute to their vine/wine consultant, Alessio Dorigo, who they charmingly describe as rigoroso spumantista! With their ‘precision bubble maker’ the two of them have done a great job in producing something really rather distinctive, in comparison with the fresh, subtle but fruity, sparkling wines, typical of the zone. A key difference is their practice of keeping the grapes on the vines for 10 days or so after full maturity. 10% of the wine has been aged in old barriques and all the wine is kept in its bottles on the lees for 21 months. This produces a wine strawy yellow in colour with a rich, extracted palate and a dry finish. A very promising debut and we look forward to the rosé which will appear in the future.
We then enjoyed the wines of Bredasole, a more typical Franciacorta company with five sparkling wines. These are classic Franciacorta – around two years in the bottles during the second fermentation producing nice yeasty flavours above ripe fruit (Brut 2007). By contrast the Satèn (2007) style is made from white grapes only (in this case 100% Chardonnay) and has slightly less pressure. It has a delicate nose, and lovely subtle fruit. The most ‘serious’ of the five, is Nature 2006, which is a blend of Chardonnay (50%), Pinot Nero (30%) and Pinot Blanc (20%), spends an impressive three years in bottles in the second fermentation stage and has no balancing sugar/alcohol added at the end. The yeast notes are beautiful and pronounced as is the excellent fruit. Two party pieces follow – a rosé and a medium dry version. The former – Rosé 2007 - is the palest apricot pink, the product of the freshly pressed grape juice being held with the Pinot Noir skins for just 2-3 hours. Nice raspberry fruit, entirely dry finish. By contrast Demì starts out life as a rather more acidic base wine but with higher dosage, so more sugar added to offset the acidity. In the mouth the sweetness-acidity balance is good, definitely sweet but not at all sickly. Would be excellent with patisserie. This is a really good range at decent prices – but sadly not available in the UK.
And finally, a part of the Piemontese wine scene that is massively undervalued, the lovely, quite sweet, sparkling Moscato. It’s a classic which gets little attention because it’s not ‘important’, ie at least one of expensive, fashionable, or in need of long ageing. But it is straightforwardly delicious, full of flavour (it actually tastes of grapes, how strange is that) and low in alcohol. Perfect for tea time (how English!), for picnics, for celebrations, for desserts.
A generation ago ordinary wine drinkers did not know the names of the grapes from which their wines were made. Now a days, that’s probably the main thing that they do know. Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Merlot and Cabernet all have their mass of followers, they have become brands in their own right. And of these, its probably Chardonnay which leads the field as a brand, mainly on the back of Californian success in the 1980s and 1990s. Conversely, many regular white Burgundy drinkers have no idea that their favourite glass is made from Chardonnay grapes. It’s as though Chardonnay the bar wine and classy white Burgundy occupy different mental compartments. And certainly most ordinary drinkers do not known that the big C is a staple component of Champagne or, in this case, of Cremant de Loire.
But every fashion has its time. Many drinkers and certainly the wine press has long had enough of over-oaked, over done Chardonnay – the flavour of ‘sugary, barbequed bananas’ according to Victoria Moore. What happened to the neutral, mildly fruity style of Chardonnay, brought on with a bit of oak? And in the bar, the sharper, more neutral Pinot Grigio has become the default white wine and has suffered the same fate of overproduction. In its case this leads to characterless wine.
Following the Chardonnay over-dose, the world’s winemakers have had to rethink Chardonnay. What style are they looking for, should the flavour aimed at be ‘apples and pears’ or come from the more exotic fruit shelf – guava, papaya, mango? Should they mature the wine in oak or not, and if they use barrels, how dominant should the oak-derived flavours be? How sharp should the wine be or how rounded in the mouth? Finally, is the customer looking for a complex, weighty wine to be admired on its own account or for a food wine?
Andover Wine Friends had a chance to see what is going on in the quality Chardonnay market at its recent monthly tasting. The selection was based around the Wine Society’s Chardonnay Champions half-case, complemented by additional wines. It kicked off with the Blanc de Blanc, ie 100% Chardonnay, sparkling wine from the Loire, marketed as Aureus (see the picture of the label above), a single vintage wine from 2002, aged in the bottle for an impressive seven years. All this for less than £10? An amazing bargain – creamy, yeasty nose, fine and persistent streams of bubbles, good if ripe apple fruit, more rounded than entry level Champagne and a refreshing finish.
Two better quality supermarket wines followed. Wente’s Morning Fog 2006 shows what has happened to Californian Chardonnay since the bad old days. Half the wine is barrel fermented, but equally significantly, the wine is kept on its lees for 7 months, to add some yeasty, slightly mushroomy complexity. The finished wine had a pleasantly creamy quality and only showed its Californian background in the relatively low acidity, very rounded in the mouth. At a similar price point (£8-9 in Waitrose) was the Chilean Encantado Reserva 2007, which had a clean fruity nose, peaches and melons, and some mild nuttiness from the oak. The key characteristic in both cases is the aim to make balanced, fruit led wines, with decent acidity, supported by the effects of ageing in oak.
Of course there are still the traditional styles, especially in Chardonnay’s home territory of Burgundy. To show a definitely distinctive style we tried a good, standard Chablis, from William Fevre. Chablis’s northern latitude and soil derived from the ocean floor of generations ago leads to sharp, chiselled wines of mineral character (see: Chablis – all flints and fossils). This example did not disappoint even it also had good Granny Smith fruit. Too sharp for some, a perfect entry to this classic style for others.
On this occasion we did not try a classic example from the Côte d’Or, the heartland of Burgundy, where the trick is good fruit complemented by judicious use of oak. The recent post on the trade Burgundy tasting at Lords had lots of excellent examples from the new 2008 vintage. Rather we continued our tour around the world with two fine bottles at the £16 mark. These wines were so good that they were close to closing the gap on those that cost twice as much.
North of Auckland in New Zealand, Kumeu River (2005) produces a Chardonnay which has been dubbed ‘the best in the world at the price’ by Robert Whitley. In the glass the wine is a deeper yellow in colour than earlier wines in this tasting, with a green tinge again. Certainly it was a big jump up in complexity on the nose with some tropical fruit, baked apples and citrus, followed by great acidity. Wow! Hamilton Russell’s Chardonnay 2006, close to the sea in South Africa’s Cape province, was between straw yellow and gold in the glass, with dense guava and mango on the nose, then oak emerging, very long. (Incidentally, the bottle itself was massively heavy, as though it were a wine to be laid down in a war zone for 20 years. Is this really necessary? – wine’s environmental footprint is mainly in the volume of glass used + transportation.) These are two excellent wines, both New World in approach, with pronounced fruit, but clearly owe a great deal to European notions of elegance and poise. They show, in fact like all the wines in this tasting, that the Chardonnay prototype has changed. Whether from Burgundy or the New World, all are looking for a combination of good fruit flavours, counterbalancing acidity and judicious use of oak. It makes one almost nostalgic for an old fashioned ‘barbequed banana’ bomb!
The two top wines on this occasion both came from Australia and indeed both from Margaret River, the promontory which juts out into the ocean in Western Australia. Indeed, all these wines – with the exception of the very inland Chablis – come from maritime regions and all showed the freshness that the cooling effect of oceans can bring. They also all had had the benefit of four of five years in the cask or bottle, quality wines at their peak.
The biggest single difference at this level is the weight of the wine in the mouth, bigger, more structure, mouth-filling. But this isn’t created by over oaking or over-extraction of fruit. The alcohol level is between 13.5 and 14? but the wines are perfectly balanced. Of the two, the Pierro 2006 is much more fruit led, with a complex nose, but with an excellent mineral streak. Leuwin 2005, by contrast, has a more obvious oak notes, good fruit with a bit of toast, even smoke, to follow. Shall we finish with the full blown wine-speak tasting note on the Leuwin?
Almost the perfect chardonnay, this sublime wine is astonishingly intense and concentrated; also seamlessly balanced and measured. Its opulent expression of pineapple, grapefruit, guava and mango-like fruit knits effortlessly with creamy, bacony, vanilla and slightly smoky oak, while it’s underpinned by a chalky mineral texture and punctuated by a chiselled, citrusy acidity. While there is a hint of spirity heat and sweetness at the finish of its exceptionally long and complete palate, it’s a stunning exercise in power and control (Jeremy Oliver, The Australian Wine Annual, 2009)
‘Is that a “hint of spirity heat” I detect?’