Posts Tagged ‘Chianti’
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.
The thirty miles between Florence and Siena takes you through one of the most famous landscapes in the world of wine. But while the landscape has enduring appeal – gently undulating hills, now smart renovated farms, vineyards, cypresses, woodlands, more vineyards, medieval towns and castles – the wine is little understood.
This is because the second half of the last century saw this famous name go down all sorts of blind alleys. It is an undoubtedly an historic wine but one that has only recently begun to settled down with a clear identity. The debate has focused on:
- the zone: the classic area was given its first designation by Cosima III de’ Medici back in 1716 but in the 1930s the name of Chianti was bestowed on a vast area of central Tuscany between Pisa and Arezzo and well south of Siena. It was not until 1996 that the Classico zone was redefined as the historic area between the two historic Tuscan cities. But how many consumers know the difference between Chianti Classico and Chianti?
- mass market or quality wine? The 1970s and 80s saw subsidised expansion of land under vine at the lowest cost and with no regard for quality and the result. The result was a lot of mediocre wine. By contrast the Chianti 2000 project undertook research into clones of Sangiovese and has enabled Chianti Classico to head in the quality direction. It was spurred on of course by the fame and fortune that was being made by those creating the Super Tuscans, wines made from French grape varieties especially on the Tuscan coast.
- the blend: at least since the later nineteenth century this has been Sangiovese plus secondary additions of other grapes to soften the wine. Up to 20% of the other local grape varieties (usually Canaiolo, Malvasia nera, Colorino) gives you one result; 20% of Merlot, Cabernet or Syrah a completely different one. So should Classico be a defined Tuscan style or a international red with a Tuscan twist?
- oak ageing: should the wines be aged in small French barriques, older or newer, or in traditional, larger Slavonian oak barrels? Or in other words should the fruit have a suave aroma of vanilla and tobacco or the more neutral if perceptible notes of balsamic, cloves and leather?
These questions were given a pretty clear answer in a blind tasting of Chianti Classico wines from the very good 2006 vintage, mostly sourced from the Wine Society. The selection may of course simply reflect the preferences of their buyers but it showed that Classico does now have a clear identity:
- pale to mid ruby red
- distinctive aromas of sour cherry, fresh and dried fruit plus a moderate veneer of oak ageing
- an absolute maximum of 10% of non-Tuscan grapes. More than that and the wines may be good but they won’t be Chianti Classico in style, whatever it says on the label
- good fruit on the palate (but certainly not fruit led) with moderate to high acidity and tannins. The wine at this quality level is no longer either thin or tough as it was in the past, but it is no pushover either – it is quite rightly a wine of medium intensity, complex, lively and refreshing.
- an excellent wine to accompany food including fatty/salty food such as prosciutto or tomato based sauces; good persistence.
Chianti Classico seems to have found its proper and distinctive place in a world awash with big, fruit led, wines – and long may it continue in this style.
Monteraponi 2006, £14
90% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo, 12 months 70% in 23hl casks of Allier oak and 30% second passage barriques. Pale ruby, medium intensity aromas, nice pretty palate of cherry leading in the raspberry and strawberry direction, lowish acidity, subtle. Good plus.
Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Chianti Classico 2006, made by Cecchi from the Villa Cerna estate, £7.50 Sangiovese, Canaiolo and Colorino grapes, but the proportions not declared. Mid ruby, not a fruity nose but spices, eg cloves, good fruit on the palate which faded in intensity quite quickly but then persisted at a lower level, good plus. Worthwhile introduction to the style and held its own with wines up to nearly twice the price
Villa Calcincaia 2006, £11.25
80% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo, 10% Merlot, 18 months in Slavonian oak. Initially muted nose which then opened up, quite perfumed, slightly intenser than average of this field, greater acidity, powerful, quite long if not very complex finish. The relatively substantial amount of Merlot does not dominate the wine.
Brolio 2006, £13 The website unhelpfully says: Sangiovese with small addition of other grapes, but probably with some French grapes in the mix because of a deeper colour with a continuing purple tinge. Very good fruit but not a clear Sangiovese profile (?Merlot), good persistence. Very good if heading towards an international style.
Fonterutoli 2006, £16. 90% Sangiovese; 5% Malvasia Nera and Colorino; 5% Merlot. Purply red, denser colour; rich, clove nose; velvety dense fruit, more obvious tannins, very good if slightly international in style
Villa di Vetrice, Chianti Rufina Riserva 2006, £8.50: 90% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo. Not Classico of course but from the Rufina area directly East of Florence. The most traditional wine in this tasting. Quite a dense ruby, rich and demanding, Sangiovese very dominant, more tannic than acidic, very good plus if very traditional
An older wine for comparison’s sake, with thanks to David Thomas of Caviste: Castello dei Rampolla, Chianti Classico riserva 1998, generally viewed as a decent but not outstanding year in Tuscany. No grape variety breakdown available. Colour very similar to the 2006s, lively pale to mid ruby red, no signs of ageing; complex nose, cloves, some red fruit, leather, fading fruit on the palate but still quite drying tannins. Drink up.
The clear favourite of the tasting group was the Monteraponi with its subtle ripe fruit. Then came Brolio. My choice was the traditional wine from Vetrice in Rufina – but that’s just a matter of which style you prefer.
Aged wines are something of an acquired taste. They set up all sorts of conflicts. Unless you are very fortunate or rich, laying down wines for the future is only for the patient. Buying something that will be at its peak in 10, 20 or more years is extremely counter cultural. Then of course there is the big decision on when to drink the wine – unless you have bought a case, it’s all or nothing. Finally, there is the matter of taste – do you actually prefer young fruit-led wines or the bready aromas of aged champagne, the distinctly farmyard smells of old Pinot Noir or oxidized styles of old sherries and Vin Santo?
A few recent bottles illustrates some of these dilemmas.
Selvapiana Bucerchiale Chianti Rufina riserva 1998 This bottle illustrated the adage that simply ageing a wine will not make it great. Most wine is best drunk young. This riserva from one of Rufina’s best growers may have been one of them despite its pedigree from an excellent winery in one of Chianti’s most northerly (and usually age-worthy) areas. But if it’s a poor year to start with, the wine may just not have the fruit to develop, and that was the problem here. Despite several hours in a decanter during which cleaned up a slight off smell in the bottle, it never really sang. Remaining refreshing acidity but mono-linear. Disappointing.
As commented on in the previous post, the expensive (£120) Taittinger Comtes des Champagnes 1998 still tasted rather closed – so in this case ‘old’ probably means a twenty year weight, rather than ten. By contrast, 1999 Pannier Egerie is now ready to drink being in that fascinating state of tension between youth and decline, freshness and bottle age. The sharp apples of the fruit were complemented by mushroomy notes and nice weight in the mouth. To add to these treats a very generous host recently shared Nicolas Feuillatte Palmes d’or 1998 with us. Feuilatte is widely available as a entry level Champagne in supermarkets but also has prestige lines of which this is the top offering. Quite a lot of money had gone on the packaging – special plastic outer capsule, then a honeycomb style bottle. The wine itself showed real class in the glass with a persistent mousse of ultra fine bubbles. On the nose it was in mid-life, pastries and yeastiness and then rounded and civilized on the palate. Probably the right time to drink it – limited prospect of further development.
Red Burgundy certainly repays ageing, again if it is of sufficient quality to start with. At a recent Caviste tasting a Vallet Frères Gevrey Chambertin 2000 was superb – the lovely raspberry and redcurrant fruit now accompanied by a perfect accompaniment of earthly, composty goodness … Not old but perfectly mature. As we like to think of ourselves.
Finally, there are a small handful of wines made for the very, very long haul – they make all the preceding wines seems like children in the nursery. Chenin Blanc can make almost every sort of wine from supermarket shelf-filler, to fizz, to grand white to off-dry or sweet wine that will outlast most of us. Richard Kelley, an expert on the wines of the Loire, showed a range of these marathon wines for a Caviste tasting of the wines of Domaine Huet in Vouvray, Loire, France. The reasons for their extreme longevity is the high level of malic acid in Chenin Blanc and then the northern latitude of the Loire. All the acidity is retained and the wines are aged for decades in bottles; most will have residual sugar to offset the acidity. Though I didn’t get to the full tasting, Richard still had a precious few drops of:
1947 Le Haut Lieu Moëlleux – as I tasted these wines in the hurly burly of a crowded shop, I am going to quote Richard Kelley’s own tasting note to give some idea of the complexity of these old wines:
1947 Le Haut Lieu Moëlleux (original cork)
The most highly respected Loire vintage of the 20th Century and in Gaston Huet’s own words ‘The greatest vintage I ever made’. The harvest commenced on the 19th September. Polished. Complex appearance with orange bronze moving to olive green at the rim. A mature nose with some positive oxidation. Complex and smoky with aromas of brown sugar and cinnamon. Beautiful on entry, it has poise and perfect balance. It is delicate, elegant, textured with a fresh, pure apple purée nose combined with toffee apples, crème brûlée and pommeau. There is a pure, racy acidity that contributes to the incredible length and persistence. This will continue to age indefinitely. A perfect wine. (08/04)
1938 Haut Lieu Demi-Sec – it’s difficult to believe that this bottle is more than 70 years old and still going strong, but it is. You might be relieved to hear that it is beginning to plateau! Kelley says:
Mid-full and polished appearance. Yellow/orange. Exotic nose with dried oranges and a mineral edge. Some mushroom, but retains good fruit to the palate. Bone dry on entry and finish with severe, but not unpalatable acidity. Quite simple. Drinking now or soon. (07/06)
1990 Clos du Bourg Moëlleux 1ere Trie.
By comparison, a babe in arms: easy to appreciate, lush, sweet, ripe apples, excellent acidic finish. In this company the strapping 19 year old comes over like a mere youth.
There are many yet older wines still available – port, madeira, claret. Michael Broadbent’s classic Vintage Wine. Fifty years of tasting over three centuries of wine is an excellent guide. But these few bottles at least begin to open up the complex question of how old is old – at least in terms of wine.