Posts Tagged ‘Viognier’

White Rhône

IMG_0911The Overton BBC followed up its recent north and south Rhône tasting with a white Rhône evening.  But we started with a very welcome interloper brought by one member who generously contributed a bottle of Krug Grande Cuvée Brut to start the evening off.  Some rules are made to be broken!  It’s not from the vineyards which are named after the great southern French river; it is white; we didn’t struggle with its identity, we just enjoyed this magnificent Champagne.  Reportedly made from 10 different vintages, this showed fine persistent bubbles, beautifully refined toasty notes on the nose and then a remarkably complex palate – herbal, fruit and saline themes finely knit together, an amazing texture, a long refreshing finish, brilliant.  The backstory includes fermenting much of the wine in oak and the use of Pinot Meunier as well as the usual Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in a special cuvée. But this was an occasion for doing what apparently most people do all the time: just drink and enjoy! 

Our Rhône whites fell neatly into three groups: 

AC Condrieu and therefore Viognier

two colours of whiteCondrieu x 2
The light in the pub we meet gives an unpleasant yellow cast to photos. Even so you can see the difference between the medium minus lemon of the young wine on the left and the darker tone of the 13-year old Viognier.  Condrieu, Domaine Christophe Pichon 2009 is classic youthful Condrieu on the point of leaving that phase:  peach, apricot, blossom and something herby (mint?) with a texture which manages to combine true Viognier fatness with a metallic touch.  By contrast, Condrieu, Domaine du Chene, 2000 follows its orange amber colour with marmalade and concentrated apricot cordial notes, the same rich mouth feel and a dry, clean finish.  Condrieu has a mixed reputation when it comes to ageing but this was a success. 

Variations on Roussanne and Marsanne

If Viognier is the Johnny-come-lately of white Rhône which has gone on to conquer the world, Roussanne and Marsanne are the characterful varieties which are less in the spot light but which produce some of the finest, age worthy whites of the region – and have gone in for a bit of globe-trotting too.   It certainly produces fine wines in both the northern and the southern parts of the valley. From the south, and from a famous Châteauneuf-du-Pape producer comes Ch. de Beaucastel, Vielles Vignes, Châteauneuf-du-Pape AC, 2005top white RhonesThe ‘old vines’ of the label are properly vielles at 70 years and produce a wine of great concentration made from 100% Roussanne:  pale peach in colour but sadly rather oxidised – a hint of varnish and rather too much orange rind for a youngish wine though the quality can still be sensed under the oxidation and on the long finish.  Croze-Hermitage AC, Marc Sorrel, 2004 was in much better condition and was our 50/50 Marsanne/Roussanne blend:  this really opened up in the glass with rounded melon fruit, initially quite austere but then revealed a fine floral and fruit palate and excellent acidity.  The third of this trio was the (Rhône) wine of the evening: mostly Marsanne from the great E. Guigal:  ‘Lieu Dit’, Saint-Joseph AC, E. Guigal, 2009:  floral and surprisingly delicate to start with it then revealed a fresh taut palate of stone fruit with excellent concentration and length.  For those who like old wines, there is a still a great debate to be had about intense freshness v. complexity in very good and great wines. 

White Rhône blends

Presage, Doamine de la Graveirette, Julien Mas, 2011 – currently this is classified as a lowly Vin de France but once the vines have reached the age of consent it will be Châteauneuf-du-Pape, blend unknown:  the most aromatic of this group of four with simple fully ripe fruit.  The predominantly Grenache Blanc blend (50%) showed restrained citrus fruit and a fatness with good acidity: Domaine de Janasse, Côtes-du-Rhône, 2011.  Wine three showed similar restrained lemon fruit and a leafiness and very good length: Vacqueyras, Domaine Le Clos des Cazaux, 2005 with 60% Clairette, 20% Grenache Blanc and 20% Roussanne.  Finally there was the tease: Shelleys Block, Rutherglen, 2009, a Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne.  There was little agreement on which was the outsider. 

This was an excellent evening which showed the potential of the Rhône to produce very good white wines.

Rhone evening 1Rhone evening 2

Red BBC1

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.  

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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. 

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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.   IMG_0651

Vio-bec tasting

The theme for BBC 2 (Bring a bottle club) this month was two varieties: Viognier and Malbec, all to be tasted blind.  As it worked out we had an excellent range of Malbec, two sweet wines made with Viognier and an aperitif of just one standard Viognier.  You can’t plan too much in advance as no one knows who is going to bring what.

IMG_9116 First up and, as noted, this wine turned out to be our only dry Viognier.  Slight whiff of pear drops to start with; then attractive peach and pear fruit; moderately unctuous, fresh and with a good sharp edge of acidity.  ‘Hot old world’ – most thought this was from the Rhône but not Condrieu, which was not a bad guess:  Piere Talayrach Vin de Pays Côtes de Catalanes, 2010.  All agreed that at only €6 in France it was excellent quality. 
A pair of red (well, very dark ruby) wines to try side by side.  The first had lovely sweet fruit and high toast oak, the second was tauter, again good fruit, this time more in the dark plum range but also the tannins were more prominent.  There was general puzzlement over their provenance (and what underlay the difference between them) and certainly no one guessed Australia.  At the grand unveiling, the pair were both from the same estate, the principal difference being that the first is a Tempranillo/ Malbec blend, the second wholly Malbec.  IMG_9125
Bleasdale Tempranillo Malbec 2008; Bleasdale Second Innings, Malbec 2009, both Malvern Vale, Langhorne Creek, South Australia
The name of this estate comes from the local Occitan language, ‘Me trigo de dina’ : ‘I’m longing for dinner!’  We did not have to wait long. 
Another pair to compare and contrast – if only!  Sadly one of these was corked and, worse, it was the grand vin which had suffered.  The surviving younger sibling had intriguing animal aromas, a supple and elegant plum/damson palate, with grippy tannins.  The consensus was that this was from the French home of Malbec, Cahors: Clos Triguedina, Jean-Luc Baldès, Cahors, 2004. The departed bottle was from the same estate, Prince Probus 2000
And a third pair to try side-by-side.  Number one had buttery oak, even custard notes and rich black fruit on the nose, then real layers of fruit on the palate, some smoke, very good indeed if obviously new world, ergo, Mendoza,  Argentina. Grown at a suitably cool 1000 metres above sea level: Bodega Septima, Gran Reserva 2009, Mendoza, Argentina.  The wine is a blend in which Malbec is just the major component: 55% Malbec, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Tannat.  IMG_9146
IMG_9140 The background of these two labels, above and left, may match in a tasteful beige but the wines are very different. Far less opulent oak and less fruit here in the second wine, medium in weight rather than mouth filling. Wine number two had a nice balance, is genuinely dry and was excellent with food.  It is of course from Cahors:  Ch. Grand Chêne, Cahors, 2005.  And 12 degrees of alcohol, not 14.8!   
The final ‘black’ wine: a good depth of fruit, some chocolate notes, ripe but with good freshness, a cooler style.  Nobody could place this, though one brave soul flirted with the Loire which was correct: Cent Visages, AC Côt Tourraine, Tourraine, Jean-François Mérieau. They really work hard to achieve this depth of flavour: 50 year old vines, low yields, six weeks of punching down and ‘rack and return’ … IMG_9148
IMG_9153 And finally a couple of sweet wines, unsurprisingly neither of them made with Malbec.  Although the picture is not very good, it does show the marked difference in colour.  The lighter wine was luscious with some very pleasant citrus notes, fresh and delicious.  The darker was super luscious, even tawny, with saturated fruit flavours. To get an idea of how sweet this is, it is harvested at 46° on the Brix scale and bottled at 30°!
The two sweeties were:
Hobbs, Viognier, Barossa Valley, South Australia, 2005

Mer Soleil ‘Late’ Viognier, Santa Lucia Highlands, USA, 2002

IMG_9162 This was a very enjoyable evening and very informative, especially in the comparisons between the various Malbec examples. From these you can easily plot the difference  that climate, wine making styles and blending with other grapes makes. 

Photographic progress: after last month’s failed experiment with a tripod, this month I resorted to an excellent gadget, the Gorillapod.  This is all high tech joints and plastics and is really intended for rough terrain – getting a grip of a rock or a branch. However, it makes an excellent table-top tripod too. It’s big plus is that you can get the camera to sit virtually at table level, which is what you want for wine labels.  The result is the possibility of no flash used as before, but long exposure times, up to two seconds in some of the above label shots.  What with setting the correct white balance and using the spider of the Gorillapod, this are beginning to improve.  Next: lighting? 

High Torq wines

Andover Wine Friends’ June tasting focused on the Languedoc in the south of France.  For Janet and I this was a continuation of our experience of ‘sunshine in a glass’, having just returned from a wine-tasting holiday in next door Roussillon.  The tasting was led by Torquil Jack who, with his wife, Marion, has started to import wines he has discovered, via his company, Carte-du-Vin.  As you would expect these were full of power and of the sunshine of the Mediterranean basin.  I suggested they brought a rosé (as they are so typical of the region); then there were four single varietal whites and four strapping reds.  High torque wines indeed!

We kicked off with the rosé from La Tersande, Domaine des Homs, 2008 and 2009, one bottle of each, from the Minervois region.  Made from Grenache, it is a pleasant salmon pink in colour, with a fragrant nose, good structure on the palate and a slightly sherbety finish.  As we poured the wine we discovered that there were two different vintages so we could compare the two, with the ‘09 being paler in colour, but the ‘08 standing up well to the passing of time, and if anything longer and drier. 
IMG_9031 One of the fashionable whites of the area is made from the Picpoul de Pinet grape, which produces this grapefruit (pale) yellow colour and is zesty and acidic on the palate. Some creamy notes in there too, lemon-scented, attractive.  We agreed this was a good example: Domaine la Grangette, L’Enfant terrible, Picpoul 2010, AC Coteaux du Languedoc.
Ah – a wine with an virtually unphotographable label – translucent, reflective, pale! Fortunately the wine itself is easy to appreciate. From St Chinian, this is Fastoche Blanc, Ch. St Jean de Conques, 2009, a blend of Rolle (Vermentino elswhere in the Med) and Colombard.  Pretty impressive for an inexpensive bottle with the grassy and flowery Rolle showing well with its more neutral partner.  We are in good company as this is chosen as a house wine by Raymond Blanc’s Brasserie.  IMG_9042
IMG_9044 The Muscat grape, especially when made in a dry style, makes a real Marmite wine. It can be so, well, grapey, and musky, as to be too much.  But Treloar’s One Block Muscat 2008 has fine subtle aromas of orange and even pineapple and a long gingery finish.  The palate is perhaps a bit less exciting but all-in-all this is a complex and drinkable example. 
Just as Syrah has marched south from the Rhône, so has the Viognier grape variety, a fashionable wanderer now found around the world.  This example is from Domaine des Homs again, Le Viognier 2009.  A powerful nose of creamy apricot, rich on the palate … some went for ‘banana’, others each reached for ‘banofee pie’.  Quite structured and very full in the mouth; and showed it quality by developing in the glass. 
IMG_9058 Ch. St Jean de Conques, AC St Chinian, 2007 is the sibling of the Fastoche Blanc above.  It is very typical blend of 40% Grenache Noir, 35% Syrah and 25% Mourvèdre.  The wine is now a deep ruby red, having left its ‘purple’ phase behind after four years.  It has a pretty intense nose of berried fruit, of middle weight on the palate, a very good everyday wine. 
By contrast this wine Treloar’s Le Secret 2006, is basically Syrah (80%), with the rest being made up by the rest of the GSM trilogy.  We have moved a bit further south into the Côtes de Roussillon appellation, so we are on the plain which leads towards Spain.  Low yields (29hl/ha) and 18 months in barriques, 25% of which are new, show real intent for quality.  This is a bright fruit-led wine (redcurrant through to blackberry) with hints of smoke and liquorice; substantial and balanced. IMG_9057
IMG_9052 Back in the Languedoc and in Minervois in particular, our penultimate wine was Domaine des Hom, Paul, AC Minervois, 2008.  Like the preceding wine this is 80% Syrah, the rest being Grenache. A slightly dusty nose which people took exception too, but then excellent fully-ripe fruit on the palate. Very good depth of flavour and quite a powerful tannic finish.  Stylish label too! 
A splendid finale: Motus, Côtes du Roussillon, Treloar, 2007.  The preceding wines are clearly in the international, fruit led style, very easy to appreciate. This is a rather more redolent of its place, being made predominantly from  Mourvèdre which does so well in hot spots near to the Mediterranean.  Beautifully fragrant nose, the smell of early autumn according to Jancis Robinson, then lots of fruit and a very polished finish.  There are tannins but they are completely covered by the lingering fruit. Excellent – and I gather popular among those who bought wines following this tasting. You have such good taste!


IMG_9025Thanks to Torquil and Marion … and all power to your bike wheels as you continue to find other wines in this great part of France! 

South African stars

Writing in the middle of the World Cup in South Africa it is just as well this is about the country’s wine and not about football.  Along with most of the other African teams, the home team could not get out of the group stage of the competition.  Meanwhile England played poorly and departed in the most spectacular fashion.  By contrast, South African wine has much of which it can be proud.

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The history of wine production in South Africa is long and varied.  Initially famous 300 years ago for the sweet white Constantia, the trade came to be dominated by the production of huge quantities of cheap wine destined for the distillation plant.  But in recent decades a crucial section of the business has been concentrated on quality.  And as this Andover Wine Friends tasting showed, that quality is available in everyday wines as well as in more expensive bottles.  These wines were sourced from a Wine Society offer.

IMG_5403 Klein Constantia Riesling 2008 (£9): the Constantia name lives on, here represented by this good dry Riesling – inviting and lively young varietal nose, good acidity, refreshing, excellent.

Bon Cap Viognier 2009 (£11.50): nice pale gold colour, rather neutral on the nose, not obviously fruity but full of flavour including a slightly salty note on the palate, decent silky texture.

Villiera Chenin Blanc 2009 (£6.75): an inexpensive example of South African’s star white grape variety.  An excellent complex nose, floral and fruity the apples and especially pears register.  An excellent wine at this price level.

IMG_5417 Sequillo White 2008 (60% Chenin Blanc, 20% Grenache Blanc, 10% Viognier, 10% Roussane; £15.50)  This classy white blends Chenin with some white Rhône varieties to produce a mid gold in colour, a fine expressive nose (honey, nuts, a bit of oak), lovely silky texture combined with real structure, fine and long.  Outstanding.

IMG_5406In the Rosé department, we tasted Circumstance Cape Coral Mourvèdre 2009 (£8).  This was many people’s favourite wine – a lovely pale salmon pink, nice perfumed nose, substantial and rounded in the mouth, slightly strawberry fruit, moderate to low acidity.

The reds were somewhat atypical as they were heavily weighted to top quality.  While they were all more than drinkable, the last three would have a lot of development in them.

Douglas Green Shiraz Viognier 2008 (£5) – fully ripe rich fruit (cherries and plums), good balancing refreshment, easy drinking but with real depth of flavour and interest. You can’t really ask more for the price, assuming of course that you like the style.

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Impressive levels of concentration here!

Kanonkop Pinotage 2007 (£17): a big price jump here in a top example of South African’s own grape variety, Pinotage, a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault. Deep purply red in colour, complex berry nose, brilliant sweet fruit on the nose and depth of flavour in the mouth, great acidity for keeping and development in the bottle, some good bitter notes. Excellent.

Boekenhoutskloof Chocolate Block 2008 (mainly Syrah with Grenache, Cabernet, Cinsault and Viognier; £18) Brilliant strawberry/raspberry/oak nose, the fruit-oak balance just right on the palate as well, full on and substantial in style, rich texture, excellent.

Meerlust Estate Rubicon 2005 (69% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc) Super rich Cabernet nose, very ripe and full of blackcurrant and red fruit, mint, very substantial but balanced.

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Congratulations to South Africa. The football team might need a bit more work, though perhaps not as much as England’s, but the wine already has star quality.

Age does not wither?

In the old fashioned world of gentlemen’s clubs and wine merchants, the ageing of wine, claret in particular, was virtually the essence of wine appreciation.  How the wine scene has changed but there is still a fascination with how wines age, whether they improve, whether people actual like to drink older bottles.   Andover Wine Friends’ monthly tasting, on this occasion of wines from the Rhône, threw these questions into sharp relief.

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The tasting started with two whites, a Viognier and a typical Marsanne/Roussane blend.  The Viognier from Jean Michel Gerin (Vin de Pays des Collines Rhodaniennes) I had bought in some hurry from Berry Bros and had not noticed that it was 2005. I became anxious about it before the tasting because in general Viognier is much better young with its very distinctive peach/apricot aromas and velvety texture.  This was a pleasant rather than outstanding example, the nose not that pronounced, some of the lusciousness still present but quite structured.

By contrast white Hermitage is a wine to keep and let develop in the bottle. It can be one of the grandest whites in the world.  The example was from Domaine des Remizières, Cuvée Emilie, 2001.  This wine split people, some struggling with its tough minerality and slightly muzzy herbiness.  It’s definitely not easy drinking.  Retasting it after 24 hours it had cleaned up and was more approachable.  Later in the week I tasted a couple of Hermitage 2006s from different producers at the London wine fair.  They obviously had more freshness but were rather undeveloped (Jaboulet), though Chapoutier had made theirs quite approachable with mildly oak aromas.

The reds were much more straight forward.   The younger wines came from a mixed case offered by the Wine Society from the excellent 2007 vintage. The older wines were generously provided by club members Andrew and Maria from wine they have bought over the years – we are always willing to help with clearing space if you have quality old bottles cluttering up your house!

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A trio of Côtes du Rhône Villages showed exactly how these Grenache-based wines age. Visan’s  Domaine de la Florane 2007 is bursting with young fruit and acidity, a slightly unruly but likeable adolescent.  By contrast Château Laudun 2000 is in sedate old age, marked tertiary aromas of leather with a little pruney fruit.  Standing up to the ageing process rather better was Jaboulet Aîné 1999, with same aged characteristics but much livelier fruit.  The colour difference after a decade is very obvious.

IMG_5316 The evening finished with a pair of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.  The 2007 from Domaine du Vieux Lazaret was a text book example of rich, vibrant fruit, layers of interest and a refreshing finish.  It’s a big but balanced wine.  Château Mont-Redon 1996 is one for lovers of seriously aged wines.  Predominantly Grenache but with 35% of no less than six other grape varieties, the fruit is again prune and blackberry now transmuted towards leather and treacle.

And which wine would you like to drink with a meal after a tasting like IMG_5322this?  My vote would go to a brilliant youngster, Domaine Coursodon’s St Joseph, Silice, 2007.  100% Syrah from the Northern Rhône, it shone with its purply-red colour, lively mid red fruit in the mouth, excellent mineral streak and wonderful acidity.  Age in wines is a matter of taste.

Dennis Canute presents Rusden wines


It’s not often that you have the privilege of welcoming a leading wine producer to your own home.  But here’s a picture of Dennis Canute opening bottles in our little conservatory, know affectionately as the lean-to.  Dennis co-founded the Rusden estate in the Barossa Valley, Australia, some years ago, initially as a hobby farm.  He had to continue his day job as a teacher for quite a few years. His first vintage was 1992, though he would be the first to say that ‘vintage’ is definitely not the right word.  They didn’t start bottling until 1994 but it was no big deal until Robert Parker, the hugely influential wine critic, rated a couple of their bottles as 92 points that the world suddenly took notice.  This is not the time to rehearse the merits and demerits of Parker, but one thing is very clear: he can give an unknown small producer an enormous lift.  For the little family farm it can be a godsend – the judgement is authoritative, it’s free and people take notice.  

Rusden is very much a family firm, with Dennis’s wife in charge of the vineyards and winery and their son, Christian, the wine maker.   Christian wanted to be a chef as a youngster (until he discovered what working in a kitchen with split shifts was like, according to his dad) but fortunately he discovered the ‘bottle shop’ (Australian for off-license).   In his case this was a very positive find for a young man and led to him working and learning at Rockford before he came back to his parents’ farm. As Dennis says, in his charmingly self-deprecating way: it just made such a difference when you have a wine maker who knows what he is doing!

The first wine and only white from Rusden is appropriately enough called Christian Chenin Blanc 2007 (£19.50).  I don’t really need to write about how it is made as they have done that for us on the label. 

IMG_4584The really unusual thing is that it is Chenin Blanc at all in the Barossa. Riesling would be more typical but for Dennis that doesn’t really produce great wine on the valley floor until the vines are very old.  By contrast the Chenin has done well.  When young the nose has a strong banana flavour which fades quite quickly to be replaced by a pleasant and complex nose of fruit including some citrus, nuts and honey, and grassiness.   It has a typical Chenin seam of acid though not as pronounced as from cooler areas.  

IMG_4586However, the real focus of interest at Rusden is the red wines.   The principal grapes for the quality wines are Cabernet Sauvignon, Mataro and of course Shiraz.  What is immediately obvious is that all the reds shows some strong common themes.  They are full-flavoured as you would expect but not in an over-rich, obvious sort of way.  All the wines showed a good level of acidity, making them genuinely lively and even supple, despite the typical 14? or more of alcohol.  Further, they all had a strong salty, iodine, streak, which Dennis puts down to the ‘soil’, if that’s the right word, which is basically non-wetting sand over clay.  the pictures on the Rusden web site show vines, old and new, growing in what appears to be a desert! 

First up was Ripper Creek 2006 (£21.50), 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Shiraz, aged for 15-18 months in old IMG_4581barriques and hogsheads.  This is a serious wine, said to be at its best after 10 to  12 years, with a bold nose of green pepper, some sweet Shiraz fruit and some pepperiness.  On the palate it combines a great structure with the zip of decent acidity. The latter comes from a combination of the relative coolness of their location (2-3? degrees cooler and greater day/night difference because of the gully breezes) and judicious and entirely legal adding of acid to the final product.  

Next up was a real ‘marmite’ wine, Full Circle Mataro 2005(£26.50): 100% Mataro or Mourvèdre if you prefer.  Dennis muses on the origin of the name of the grape in Australia and then repeats the old joke: why is the grape called Mataro in Australia?  Because Australians couldn’t say Mourvèdre.  But then he notes it’s called Monastrell in Spain.  The wine itself sparks off a further digression on words for tasting.  Some don’t like this wine because its too ‘feral’ (untamed, not super clean as most modern wines are) ‘blousy ’ (you decide), says Dennis.  This one is both both highly vegetal and salty, a stand out wine if you like strong character and distinctiveness – which I love.  The wine starts with a great barnyardy smell (hence ‘feral’), then green peppers plus the iodine notes commented on.  ‘Great palate weight’ adds Dennis.   There is great depth of flavour and super silky tannins.  There was some disagreement on this in the group, but no one seemed to mind that much.  On the general issue of what we mean when we speak about wine, see the post on ‘Talking about wine’. 

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Rather more recognisable is Boundaries Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 (£36.75)   A good ruby colour, but not black, great big fruity nose of red and blackcurrants, but not jammy, counterbalancing acidity again, slightly sweet notes (rum and raison according to Dennis) which comes from the 20% American oak used for this wine.   Supple and velvety. 

Rusden’s most celebrated wine is named with Aussie bravado, Black Guts Shiraz (£46).  We tasted two years, 2005 and then 2003, the second a hotter year.  Rusden’s philosophy of using older barrels continues with this top wine, with only 20-30% new IMG_4577 barrels.  Basically they are looking for the maturation of the fruit and for the wine to come together over its 30 months of ageing, rather than adding new flavours through the use of much new oak.  The 2005 leads with dense, black fruit, a certain smokiness and has great length to go with it. Its simu
ltaneously robust and highly civilised, balanced as with all these wines through its acidity.  2003 is rather more tarry, characteristically ‘burnt rubber’ of Syrah and the acidity has dropped a bit.  These are a remarkable achievement for a relatively small (4,000 cases a year) family winery. 

Through all is this Dennis is a friendly, informing presence.  It’s quite clear how much he cares about his wife and family, his company, the wines, the people he has met.   It didn’t seem surprising that we finished the evening with someone else’s wine:  Gregg Hobbs Viognier 2005 (£14.50 for 50 cl bottle).   In a piece of new world inventiveness, this is a sweet wine made by an accelerated grape drying method and the vinified.  So instead of simply allowing grapes to shrivel for three months (as in the making of traditional Amarone and Recioto), these grapes are air-dried in a week. 

The result is beautiful to behold – a rich deep orange-gold colourIMG_4567 IMG_4566  and a nice green and gold wine label to go with it.   (I wonder how many wine label designers think about the needs of photographers when they knock up those labels – will the label relate to and complement the wine?)  The nose is a powerful apricot, with good fruit and refreshing acid again.   Very good indeed. 

Rusden is a model for great new world wines – combining balance IMG_4571and drinkability with a depth of flavour and complexity. If we were in the old world, we would be talking terroir as the wines do speak of the particular place from whence they came. And in Dennis Canute they have an friendly, approachable and informative ambassador. 

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Many thanks to David Thomas of Caviste (where you can buy these wines) who arranged this tasting and to Stafford for his company and help.