Posts Tagged ‘Hermitage’
Following last month’s highly successful tasting on Bordeaux grape varieties around the world, this month’s fine wine supper focused on the Rhône varieties. In fact this turned out to be too big a subject matter, but we had such great wines from the northern Rhône that it became a matter of ‘home and away’. The other big difference is that Rhône varieties are all stars grapes in their home territories. Unlike Bordeaux there are no varieties which are minor at home and have become stars in another place. Syrah and Viognier strut their stuff at home, Marsanne and Roussanne do well too and the key grapes of the south are originally from Spain anyway and have hit the world stage from an adopted home: Grenache and Mourvèdre, originally Garnacha and Montastrell/Mataro. Cinsaut and the minor whites are not really stars anywhere unless you think of the former’s role in the best rosés of Provence and, anyway, according to Jancis & co, it is likely to be from Languedoc anyway. So perhaps ‘home and away’ is the correct theme. On to the wines!
The aperitif for the evening was provided by the southern Rhône. The south of France is famous for its rosés, whether elegantly pale or full bodied and structured. ‘La Dame Rousse’, Domaine de la Mordorée,Tavel AC, 2010, 14.5% is certainly in the latter camp with 14.5% alcohol by volume: cherry, boiled sweets and marzipan on the nose, still very fresh with a fine, substantial palate of red fruits, medium to high acidity and weight in the mouth. Would go brilliant with food too.
Our first ‘home and away’ pair featured the now well travelled Viognier, famously rescued from near extinction by Georges Vernay (see the penultimate red wine below) in the then tiny appellation of Condrieu after the second world war. Our pair showed how differently it can turn out. Domaine Christophe Pichon, Condrieu AC, 2009 is really trying to be a big white Burgundy with its restrained, structured elegance and weight in the mouth, with buttery and candied fruit flavours. Half the wine does time (nine months) being matured in barrels which are only 10% new but the effect is to tone down Viognier’s attractive fruitiness. Meanwhile the outstanding fruit from a very unusual and tiny plot of Viognier in Marlborough, New Zealand is 50% fermented in oak. Viognier, Churton, Marlborough, New Zealand, 2010, 14.8% does the obvious really excellently: powerful aromatics of new oak and luscious fruit with the quintessentially Viognier apricot and peach to the fore. It was similar on the palate with the fruit heading in an even more exotic pineapple direction. Most people much preferred the Marlborough offering.
The second ‘home and away’ pair focused on what has come to be known as GSM, Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre. This trio are the work horses of the massive Côtes-du-Rhône appellation, France’s biggest wine export to the UK. The wines can be anything from mundane to marvellous and this is a very good example from Lirac which has an appellation of its own. The mix for Château d’Acqeria, Lirac AC, 2009, 14% is 50% Grenache and 25% each Syrah and Mourvèdre and it was a bundle of berry fruit, spice and vanilla with a structure held together with fine tannins. The style is a bit too modern (new oak) for me but there is no denying the quality and poise. By contrast our ‘away’ wine was Red (that’s original!), Eben Sadie, Sequillo, WO Swartland, South Africa, 2009, 14.5%. This was a big, powerful, number with those berries again but this time balsam and cedar wood, a fruit-ripe sweetness on the palate, long and outstanding. It was very young indeed but shows great promise. From an unspecified blend of Syrah, Mourvèdre, Grenache accompanied by the southern French duo of Carignan and Cinsault.
Three Syrahs marked the climax of the evening, two from the northern Rhône’s top two appellations and one from the Barossa Valley which has developed a world-beating style of its own. The hill of Hermitage, rising above the left bank of the great southern river, produces what was the greatest French red wine in the world in the eighteenth century, long before Bordeaux was classified. It produces dark, intense Syrah which can age for decades. Our example was very young but impressive:
Les Miaux, Ferraton Père et fils, Hermitage AC, 2007, 14%. Farmed biodynamically, this spends no less than four weeks macerating on the skins to extract all that colour and the tannins for the long haul. It was already showing red berry, pepper, smoke and meat notes with great concentration and length … and it has barely begun to develop. The second Rhône example had some of that bottle age: Maison Rouge, Côte Rôtie AC, Domaine Georges Vernay (of Condrieu fame), 1997, 12.5%. There was a marked contrast here between the fully mature nose of balsam, cedar, mushroom and red fruit and the remarkably young, super sweet fruit palate with its long, supple tannins. And it was not a big alcoholic number – note that 12.5% alcohol.
The final wine of the evening was big – but big, complex and satisfying. Powerful dried figs and caramel to start with, then black fresh and dried fruit, excellent acidity to shore it all up, mouth filling and balanced. Basket Press Shiraz, Rockford, Barossa Valley, South Australia 2003, 15% is a tribute to the monumental Shiraz of dry farmed Barossa – but had all the complexity and depth of a great wine just getting into its stride after a decade or so. The producer tells you nothing about how it is made but that the fruit comes from very old vines – between 60 years and staggering 136 years. It is one of the ironies of the so-called new world that most of the oldest vines still in production are to be found there.
This was a great evening marked by the outstanding quality of the wines. We may not have had time for the Marsanne/Roussanne duo or the minor southern blending varieties but there was no shortage of quality, nor contrasts in styles – whether the Rhône grape varieties were home or away.
February’s meeting of Andover Wine Friends was a spectacular lunch at The Harrow Inn, Little Bedwyn. They put on a great show for 17 of us, while running the front half of the restaurant as usual. I was seriously off duty – too much good food, company and excellent wines – so there are no detailed notes this month. However, here are a selection of photos of some of the seven or so courses plus cheese, almost entirely from these islands. And a brief note on some outstanding wines.
The approach in this restaurant is easy to describe – genuinely warm hospitality, outstanding sourcing of ingredients, perfect timing in the kitchen, innovative combinations and a profound love of wine. What a great combination! The event started well with Ruinart Blanc de Blanc Champagne, being poured above left.
And the wines? Some were bought at the Harrow and some came from people’s own collections. To pick out some unfairly:
- the Ruinart is wonderfully balanced and very refined
- Didier Dagueneau Pouilly-Fumé Silex, Loire – great, concentrated mineral Sauvignon Blanc … because there is a tradition of drinking this great wine at the Harrow
- a stunningly good, moderately priced Semillon from Australia which the Harrow stocks: Mount Horrocks Semillon, Clare Valley, Australia
- a wonderful white Grenache (not a phrase you can often employ!) from Catalan Spain – Ctonia, Masia Serra
- three Rieslings to compare – Eden Valley, Australia; classic Mosel; Schlumberger Grand Cru from Alsace
- decent Condrieu from Christophe Pichon and Cornas from Domaine de Rochepertuis
- sadly another ‘drink at the Harrow’ tradition here did not come to pass as the 1985 Hermitage from Jaboulet was over the hill – I suppose in this case it just rolled gracefully down the hill
- Spinnifex’s Indigene and Shiraz-Mataro from the Barossa, big fruit numbers but beautifully structured and complex, especially the latter
- there were quite a few others which probably deserved a mention …
- and finally, a brilliantly concentrated and only moderately sweet Banyuls: Coume del Mas Quintessence Banyulus Rouge
- some people found a little space to try two different Grappas
With many thanks to the whole crew at the Harrow – you deserve your success.
Blind tasting sounds a slightly terrifying prospect. The phrase itself is slightly worrying, like ‘deaf skiing’ or ‘mute horse riding’. It’s not entirely accurate in that you can still use visual clues in the colour or viscosity of wine, but obviously not read the label. But it is a remarkably different experience. Rather than interpret what you taste in the light of what you know and what you expect, you are forced back on to your basic senses and wine knowledge. But it’s a great way to extend your experience and can be very convivial.
The formula is simple. A group of friends or colleagues each bring a bottle of something that is worth savouring, carefully wrapped in tin foil, decanted into another bottle or somehow covered up. Each bottle is then tasted in turn. A first taste is poured and mused over – appearance, aroma, taste, finish – but no information is given. You immediately realise how much you depend on your preconception of what a wine is and how much it cost. More tasting and musing. Sometimes you just know what it is, sometimes you can make an intelligent guess, often you have no idea. Questions can be asked, especially to see if the group can agree some basics: is it Old World or New, warm climate or cool, a single grape variety or a blend? Of course the person who brought the wine doesn’t have to answer or confirm anything. Then comes the great unveiling. If you get it right, you feel (quietly) elated, if you get it wrong … you are in good company. And my did we get some of these excellent wines wrong! In a way it’s very reassuring … even the professionals get it wrong, so it is a genuinely difficult and revealing task.
Stanley Park, Berkshire, England, quality sparkling wine: this had been decanted into another bottle for disguise and so wasn’t as sparkling as it once had been. Good colour, heavy legs, slightly oxidised nose. Nobody guessed England!
Engelgarten, Marcel Deiss, Bergheim, Alsace, 2003: it you are going to set a test, it might as well be a bit of a tease too. This wine puzzled people, with its strangely deep yellow/gold appearance and disappearing ‘petrol’ nose. Most plumped for Riesling initially - that nose, the substantial texture – then the aroma seem to fade or transmute. Lots of appreciation and head scratching. As I had brought this wine I was in the Jeremy Paxman/University Challenge position – I had all the certainty that knowing the answer in advance gives you. Yes it’s 50% Riesling but the rest is a field blend, a mixture of three Pinots (Blanc, Noir, Gris) and Muscat, and hence the disappearing trail of the Riesling/non-Riesling nose.
Domaine de Montbourgeau, L’etoile, Jura, 2006: another real puzzle, big oxidized nose, sherry like almost; again quite a mid yellow colour, appley fruit, much bewilderment over the grape variety. It turned out to be Chardonnay of all things but made in an oxidative style, rendering it interesting but completely unrecognisable. But a wine of real character and in a old-fashioned style.
Christian, Chenin Blanc 2007, Barossa Valley, Australia: mid pale gold, excellent fruit, some floral notes, decent acidity, long persistence. A moment of triumph as I guessed the grape correctly … and we all remembered that we had drunk this wine quite recently during Dennis Canute‘s visit from Rusden vines. Yes, tasting blind does make for a level playing field.
Chateau du Tetre, Margaux, 2001: this fabulous claret pretty much fooled us all. Everybody got the presence of Cabernet Sauvignon with the menthol and blackcurrant nose but its bright, full-on fruit had most of us in the New World or Italy. It turned out to be from this classed growth, a tribute to what Bordeaux can now do. Incidentally, the Chateau is owned by Eric Albada Jegersma who owns not only a second Bordeaux chateau but also the excellent Caiarossa on the Tuscan coast.
Ch. Cantemerle 1971 - sadly had passed away, very tired. It could have been a great experience but this wasn’t to be.
Hermitage, Monier de la Sizeranne, Chapoutier, 1999: a great depth of strawberry/raspberry to plum fruit, nice mineral streak and sour like so many Rhône Syrah. Big debate over whether New or Old World. Happy to say I spotted the Rhône Syrah. But for each one you get right, there’s a following one you have no idea about. The ageing of Syrah is also a much subtler process than some grapes – it was quite difficult to spot this was more than a decade old.
Cornish Point Pinot Noir, Central Otago, New Zealand, 2005: probably the biggest surprise of them all. A deep ruby colour, complex fruity almost porty nose, big in the mouth, rich and dense. One brave soul plumped for Pinot Noir and was roundly met with disbelief from the others – it’s too dark, too fruity, too big … but it was. An amazing feat of extraction in the winery, by the company now known as Felton Road. An excellent wine and quite an eye-opener.
This was a great evening with excellent wines of real personality (£20+ per bottle), a good meal at the Red Lion in Overton, and great company. We all learned something, had a stab in the dark and were often wrong … and enjoyed one another’s company. And appropriately enough the evening ended in the dark. We had a lift back home but sadly we broke down and ended up waiting for the excellent bus service on a dry, warm and starry night.
But how many places have thatched bus shelters? Very classy, Freefolk, Hampshire.