Posts Tagged ‘Sancerre’

Classic, regional, new world?

November’s Bring a Bottle Club was a somewhat random affair – two French classics (Sancerre and a Loire Cabernet Franc), some good regionally important wines (Friulano from Friuli, Grenache from Roussillon, Treixadura from Ribeiro, a Xarel-lo/ Riesling blend from Penedes) and a brace of New World wines (Californian Merlot, White Bordeaux blend from the Cape).   Each of the wines was worthwhile in its own right but, as sometimes happens when wines are brought by individuals without a theme, it is difficult to make sense of the whole.  From a blind tasting point of view, those regional specialities, with the exception of the Grenache, are well off the radar!  But as usual, the wines, the company and the excellent steaks of the Red Lion, Overton, did a lot to make it a good evening. 


Faced with an unknown glass of wine, there is that moment when you recognise something about it but then don’t build on your perception and work out what it is.  A touch of something perfumed here, green fruit, and a sour palate all pointed to Sauvignon Blanc … but I didn’t then locate it in central vineyards of the Loire.  The logic should have been: if Sauvignon Blanc, and not New World, then … Sancerre? Domaine Hubert Brochard, AC Sancerre, 2010 and a good, well balanced example.  Homage to the flinty soils on the label.
I brought this wine out of curiosity.  I like the quite classy, if neutral Friulano (Sauvignonasse) and wanted to see how this example from Waitrose would stand up against other wines of some quality when tasted blind.  In short: it showed well.   People thought it was old world Chardonnay, reasonably enough,  attractive medium intensity apple to pineapple fruit on nose, fine acidity, lively and drinkable and with a clean finish of good length:  Luisa, Friulano, DOC Isonzo del Friuli 2010, N E Italy. A decent price at £13.50 as it comes from a lesser DOC than say Collio.  Friuli
Ribeira As we know that local wine merchant Caviste stocks a lot of interesting new wave Spanish wines, Northern Spain was a reasonable guess here – correctly.  You could have had extensive bragging rights if you guessed that it was made with the Treixadura grape from the Ribeiro DO, called The Flower and the Bee, 2011.  Needless to say, no one did.  The most marked feature is the pure lemon fruit on the palate, with (another) medium intensity nose, good concentration, balance with its 13.5% alcohol and honouring wine’s first duty to be refreshing. 
Some of us should perhaps have been more confident that this was a white Bordeaux blend from a warm place as we had tasted Cullen’s version from Margaret River only last Saturday.  This good example was from South Africa: Ghost Gum, Stony Brook, Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc, Western Cape, 2010.  Medium impact on the nose but then a fine, rich palate of ripe fruit and a certain herbiness, the Sauvignon being used to give the weightier Semillon a lift and some natural freshness. Western Cape
Penedes The final white definitely came into the ‘regional speciality’ category, verging on the regional eccentricity for its choice of blending grape:  medium in weight, high in acidity, citrus, green apple, a honeyed edge, refreshing and attractive, but what was it?  Terraprima, Massis del Garraf, Penedes 2011.  It is made from one of the Cava grapes (Xarel-lo since you ask) and Riesling.  It is the sort of wine in which you can spot the Riesling once you know it has Riesling in it!  Very smart, contemporary label. 
Another wine with a connection with the previous post on Bordeaux grapes on their travels.  The first of our reds may not have got the analytical attention it deserved because of the arrival of the aforementioned steaks. It showed dense black plum fruit, subtle cedar and leather notes from the well integrated oak  (21 months), supple tannins and quite a bit of bottle age.  This shows the potential of Californian Merlot, which is what it was:  Merlot, Clear Lake, Roumiguiere Vineyard, Deerfield Ranch, 2000.  Sonoma
Chinon Another recognisable classic followed, though we rarely drink Loire Cabernet Franc of this age – and therefore don’t factor in that this high acidity wine seems to age extremely slowly, retaining its freshness.  The fruit rounds out and is less obvious time, but the wine does not taste old.  A fragrant, mid weight example, with intense knit-together blackcurrant fruit and some leafiness, balanced by the high acidity and fine tannins.  Clos de l’Echo, AC Chinon, Couly-Dutheil, 1997 take a bow! 
The final wine was a bit of a block buster, inky in colour with dense super ripe prune and black cherry fruit and fairly powerful tannins.  Some liquorice, earth and herb notes filled out the picture. We tend to think of Grenache as juicy and approachable but there are big, mouth–filling versions too.  It could be from Priorat but in fact it hails from the other side of Pyrenees: Clos du Romarin, Thomas, Côtes-du-Roussillon Villages 2007, based in the village of Maury – known for its sweet wines but increasingly doing a good job with dry ones as well.  Roussillon

The next blind tasting is on the theme of Portugal … home of countless local varieties as well as internationals.  The wine better be good as our chances of success are slim! 

Birthday bubbles, streams of Syrah


IMG_1222 One birthday at the Overton blind tasting group, marked by the last of three bottles of a special wine. Lively, bubbles, youngish tasting bright fruit, mild nuttiness, noticeable acidity, balanced and attractive – but not really giving its origins away.  One member in the group in the trade thought it was very, very good Cava – which would make Cava makers very happy indeed: Champagne Dom Pérignon 2000. Very good if slightly underwhelming 
My immediate thought on this was ‘Sauvignon Blanc with attitude’ because of its mildly gooseberry fruit, attractive greenness and high acidity.  From the Mont Damnés, Chavignol, Sancerre, this comes from a micro production: La Fleur de Galifard, Thomas-Labaille, Sancerre 2010: concentrated rather than highly mineral, perhaps because it is made with very ripe grapes.  IMG_1224
Taleia Not many clues on the nose here but then waxy and full on the palate, medium acidity and good length.  Subtle use of oak to give some structure but not flavour.  This is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon but not from Bordeaux.  North West Spain was a good punt: more North East: Castell d’Encus,  Taleia, Costers del Segre, 2009, Spain
This is the sort of wine you want in a blind tasting: green apples, lime spritz, petrol notes, low alcohol, off-dry with obvious residual sugar.  German Riesling we all thought rightly (except one experienced member of the wine trade – but that is the joy of blind tasting).  Beautifully balanced and complex: Forsterer Jesuitengarten Riesling Spätlese, Pfalz, 1999 IMG_1229
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IMG_1231 This was announced as  ‘light red’ which it wasn’t.  The colour was not that deep, but then good dark plum fruit, coffee and some slight stalkiness on the finish.  Once we established we were were in Australia, the question was: ‘Which island of Australia are we in?’ ‘The big one’ was the answer.  A good quality Australian Grenache from the Barossa: Thiele Road, Schwarz Wine Company, Grenache 2006
Chakana Reserve Bonarda Old Vine 2009 from Argentina is not a wine or even style I have come across before. As with Malbec, it is an example of Argentina doing something remarkable with a grape variety which is not seen as a major player in its (in this case) north Italian homeland.  In this wine it presents a bit like Malbec – good dark fruit, chocolate notes, the richness offset by by sharp acidity, very worthwhile.  IMG_1234

By contrast, here is a great red grape variety doing what only it can do in its homeland – and living up to its big name:  beautiful richness and balance, complex dark sour cherry fruit, liquorice and tobacco notes, herbs, excellent length and precise reflection of where it comes from: I am delighted to say that some spotted that this was indeed Brunello from the Montalcino plateau, one of the great versions of Sangiovese which (only?) Tuscany does: Castiglion del Bosco 2007
The key here was the weight – full of rounded, developed fruit but medium in weight, not a really hot climate wine,  In fact with age, this has developed a sort of elegance not often associated with its appellation.  Some experienced tasters even flirted with the idea it might be Burgundy …  but one person was spot on further south and actually named the producer correctly!  Jaboulet, Crozes Hermitage, 1999 IMG_1238
IMG_1241 This is turning into a stream of Syrah … this one showing good red and black fruit, soft tannins, very drinkable … and, big clue (use all the available evidence!) a very heavy bottle.  From California’s Central Coast: Syrah, Bien Nacido Hillside Estate, Qupé, Santa Maria Valley, 2004.  
And another … a beautiful young Syrah, old world this time … Terres Blanche, AC Saint Joseph, 2007.  The name comes from the steep, low yielding patches of limestone and clay, which produce greater concentration that the domaine’s standard St Joseph.  Very impressive. IMG_1245
IMG_1288 Definitely not Syrah … gorgeous amber brown, a nose of classy old furniture – beeswax – nuttiness, deliberate oxidation and then searing refreshing acidity on the palate. A bit of a debate on Madeira v. Oloroso Sherry, but he who was certain it was the former was absolutely correct:  Justino’s Malmsey, Broadbent Selection, 10 years old: old school and fabulous. 
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Sancerre meets Roussillon

IMG_0543Andover Wine Friends’ September tasting featured a comparison between two very different French wine regions: Sancerre very much in the middle of this large country in the aptly named ‘Central Vineyards’ and Roussillon, 600 kilometres further south and on Spain’s Mediterranean border. 

The contrasts between the two regions are marked:



  • historic vineyard with a recognisable name, famous for a century for its white wines
  • bulk wine producer for much of the twentieth century now trying to establish a profile for excellent value and increasing quality
  • moderated continental climate, with short hot summers and cold winters, with a risk of frost in spring; nearly 1,900 hours of sunshine a year (Oxford has 1,500), and an overall average temperature of 11.8° C (Oxford is around 10° C). 
  • highly reliable sunny Mediterranean climate with low rainfall which mainly falls in winter.  2,500 hours of sunshine a year and an overall average temperature of 14° C
  • overwhelmingly white wine from Sauvignon Blanc, around 80% of production, and the rest is Pinot Noir, mostly of local interest
  • mainly red blends, but with important production of rosé, sparkling wine in Limoux, some interesting whites and sweet vin doux naturels – the full range of wines!
  • an internationally recognised style of Sauvignon Blanc – not aggressively ‘green’ and grassy, but grapefruit flavours, mineral, potential for complexity; capable of being made in unoaked and oaked styles and, unusually for this variety, age-worthy. 
  • typical modern wine styles  – full-bodied, moderately high alcohol, fruity, clean, highly drinkable, mostly not intended for ageing
  • the vin doux naturels have a whole style catalogue of its own: read more

The wines tasted were mainly from two estates Janet and I visited in October 2010 and June 2011: Henri Bourgeois in Chavignol, Sancerre and Domaine Gayda, near Bugairolles, just in Languedoc but with vineyards in Roussillon as well. This was a great opportunity to reassess the wines away from the ‘bonus’ factor of being at the winery. 

Bourgeois’ Sancerres more than stood up to the test – they are wines with a great sense of place, full of flavour, and with a great balance between their fruit, the mineral notes IMG_0557and the characteristic acidity of grapes in a fairly northerly latitude.  The fairly basic ‘La Bougeoisie’ AC Sancerre 2007 has sophisticated gooseberry and grapefruit fruit, with just a hint of lime and more exotic fruit and a good refreshing length.  Jadis, Sancerre 2008 is a much more substantial affair: made with the fruit of old vines (50 years and more) like the other wines it is part fermented in stainless steel and part in oak.  It is still extremely young but has a powerful nose and palate of melon, asparagus/grass, some enticing floral elements with some as yet unintegrated blockiness.  Great persistence.  By contrast, Etienne Henri, Sancerre 2002, manages to hold together the sweet roundedness of the oak (this is fermented in oak barrels) and the rich fruit, ranging from melon to grapefruit to lime peel. The ageing means there is less immediate attack but a big bonus in terms of complexity and completeness. 

We stayed in central France briefly.  Unfortunately our bottles of simple Sancerre Rouge had somehow mysteriously been drunk  before I put this tasting together … Pinot Noir does not stand much of a chance in our house unless it is carefully secluded in the fairly impenetrable depths of the wine store.  So we made do with a bottle of Pinot from Chablis producer, Vignoble Dampt, just a 100 kilometres away in the most northerly part of Burgundy – pale, mild cherry and savoury notes.  I like this style because it is clearly Pinot from a cool site but many others were underwhelmed. 

Meanwhile down south, Domaine Gayda shows a typical southern eclecticism: a white made with the local grape variety, Maccabeo, a single variety Grenache and IMG_0556then a Cabernet Franc.  We tasted these with a much more typical southern blend from Les Vignerons de Lesquerde: Grenache, Syrah and Carignan. These showed the vitality of the wine scene down here under the sun. 

First the three wines from Domaine Gayda.  The Figure Libre, Maccabeo, Pays d’Oc IGP, 2009 is a  really excellent effort – Maccabeo is more known for dull, rather acidic wines, rather than this lively palate of peach, citrus and some leafiness.  Jancis Robinson found honey and granite – quite an interesting combination!  The Grenache Vin de Pays d’Oc IGP, 2008 is the vivacious, delicious substantial quaffer which Gayda serve at lunch times in their roof-top restaurant.  Figure Libre, Cabernet Franc, Pays d’Oc IGP 2009 is beautifully judged – great depth of ripe fruit, herbs, some chocolate notes: ‘chocolate digestive biscuits’ was the snappy description of one professional taster!  This is rich without being sickly or jammy. 

The wine from Lesquerde’s excellent co-operative was Hesiode, AC Côtes de Roussillon Lesquerdes, 2008.  This is a special selection of the three varieties mentioned above, from very low yields of 17-25 hectolitres per hectare, half those that are typical of quality producers. The Grenache here on the village’s granite soils producing a great palate of strawberry and balsam, ripe fruit of course, then black pepper and structure from the Syrah.  Excellent quality for about £8 at the co-operative in France. 

We finished the evening on with a bottle of, I thought, rather undistinguished vin doux naturel from Domaine des Soulanes, Maury 2008, but it was certainly pleasantly moderately sweet with some fruit.  Although an unconventional pairing, Sancerre and Roussillon showed the richness of winemaking styles in France.  Sancerre – I hasten to add of this quality – showed why it is one of the great names of French viticulture and Roussillon demonstrated variety,  vivacity and value-for-money. 

The guessing game

Blind tasting line-up – with a few interlopers (shop samples)


Ah, the monthly challenge of blind tasting … can you tell your Chardonnay from your Chenin, your Syrah from your Sangiovese? This month there were a couple of easy numbers, some real surprises and some that were completely off the wall. It all makes for a great evening!


Sancerre 2009, Cuvée G.C.  Jean-Max Roger

Phew, an easy start. All eleven of us (I am pleased to report) recognised the old world Sauvignon Blanc and so headed for the Loire.  The grapes in this wine are mostly from the Le Grand Chemarin vineyard in the village of Bué, with stony, clay-limestone based soils.  Moderate gooseberry notes, a good mineral streak, very long … from one of the premier ACs, Sancerre, in a warm year, so lots of body and ripe fruit.  Very good. 

IMG_7410 Not so simple.  Allende 2006, Rioja blanco. Lovely colour, dense mid yellow with gold hints.  Most of us thought this was old world – but had forgotten about white Rioja, here 50/50 Malvalsia and Viura grapes.  Very rich, tasted as if it were almost off dry, hugely oaked, fruit somewhere in there.  Good length. 
Meursault Premier Cru Les Charmes, Vincent Bouzereau, 2002, which had us all foxed.  A great year, a great producer, very assertive nose, some toffee apple in there, but amazingly fresh on the palate without being obviously acidic.  Perhaps not typical Meursault but impressive. No one I think spotted the Chardonnay from this classic region and village.  IMG_7423
IMG_7425 After we had learned what this was I asked after the vintage – which is written in huge letters on the label!  So blind tasting can be blind in more than one sense.  Argilo, Vouvray Sec, Bourillon-Dorléans, 1999.  Very attractive flowers and apple on the nose, lots of development, very good acidity (which was the clue that this is Chenin Blanc), rich and delicious.  Although technically dry, some residual sweetness.
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First of an (unplanned pair of wines) made with Pinot Noir. Savigny-les-Beaune Premier Cru, Cuvée A. Girard, Hospices de Beaune 2004. Quite a deep colour for Pinot, not very obviously Pinot nose but that’s what the consensus was (rightly), fine velvety texture.  Some thought it was New World, but in fact it was red Burgundy.  The second Pinot, promoted in the batting order for the sake of comparison, everyone thought was New World and indeed most thought New Zealand, correctly: Felton Road Pinot Noir 2004.  Rich, deep and fresh, a completely different style from the red Burgundy.  IMG_7429
IMG_7454-1 Most thought wine this was Italian – because I had brought it – a drawback of a tasting which was not truly blind.  The further thoughts were either to place it in the North (Piedmont) or the South, which just left the Tuscany of the famous areas.  Cloves and sour cherries and dark plum fruit, in fact Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Boscarelli, 2002 (bottle on the right of the picture on the right). 90% Sangiovese, with some help from Mammolo, Canaiolo and Colorino, a  blend of traditional Tuscan grape varieties, aged in old and large barrels. Very classic.  
On the left in the picture above was a complete mystery, after an initial punt on a very warm part of Beaujolais was ruled out.  Spicy, dense fruit, good palate, some complexity but rather short, what could it be?  Most were in the New World, which was a reasonable deduction.  Azamor Petit Verdot, Alentejano, Portugal – an unusual example of the minor blending grape from Bordeaux being given a star role.  IMG_7434

I have only a very weak memory of this wine. But that could be due to palate or just social fatigue – it was wine number nine, or rather number twelve as there were three other shop samples not written up here.  We got the continent right, but no one had the correct grape variety: lots of mint and menthol on the nose, dense red and some black fruit, impressive, say my notes.  In fact it is Ridge 1996, Lytton Springs, California, 78% Zindfandel, then Carignan and Petit Syrah. 

OK – this was a lot easier, especially in contrast to Portuguese Petit Verdot!  Most plumbed straightaway from Shiraz and for the Barossa and were right, more or less. Typical densely packed black fruit, pepper, some richness, good refreshing finish.  ?migré, The Colonial Estate, Barossa Valley, 2003, Australia, is a blend of predominantly Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre. One final red to go!  IMG_7437
IMG_7440 And the last red was a complete mystery!  Initially this wine was not very expressive and then gradually red fruit and some oak began to appear, but what was really noticeable was the high tannin levels.  We thought it was in the Old World, correctly and were offered Italy as a clue – so that’s just down to 500 or so common varieties then.  Let’s cut to the quick: Toar 2005, Masi, Veneto, Italy. It is mainly Corvina (as in Valpolicella) but is cut with Oseleta, which I am happy to admit I have never heard of before. It produces tiny berries for wines of great concentration and must be massively tannic to beef up the normally tame Corvina to this extent. The name Toar refers to the volcanic soil of the region. 
The first sweet wine proved to be a star and therefore merits two pictures, one for the  bottle and one for the splendid colour, in real life a mid salmon pink turn towards orange.  ‘Bright copper’ says another commentator.  Domaine des Aubuisières Vouvray, Le Marigny, Sélection de Grains Nobles, 1990 was rich, luscious and balanced, our friend Chenin Blanc again – see the dry Vouvray above.   You can see the texture in the impressive ‘tears’ on the glass, but it is so brilliantly set off by continuing acidity which keeps this 21 year old in healthy mid-life.  A treasure probably best shared with a group of friends! IMG_7450IMG_7446
IMG_7456-1 And finally – a technically sweet red wine which people tried to place in Italy and finally got to the South of France.  Cirera, Domaine Madeloc, Pierre Gaillard, Banyuls 2005, was not that sweet in fact and slightly spirity, as benefits a Vin Doux Naturels.  Made from Black Grenache, it is surprisingly tannic.  Overall it is certainly robust and no push over. Not sure it would do well with chocolate as per the classic match.