Saturday, May 30, 2015

Pomerol And St. Emilion

On the Right Bank, I visited the small, but important subregions of Pomerol and St Emilion. The first stop was at Chateau Gazin, the fourth largest estate in Pomerol (which means it is quite small). As a nice gesture, they had raised the Australian flag for us. The soil here is clay, which means the waterholding capacity of the soil is much higher than on the Left Bank. The 2012 Chateau Gazin is 100% Merlot. Blackcurrant and plum flavours dominate on the palate. The wine has medium concentration and is a bit harsh on the finish. The tannins are firm, but quite fine. This is a wine which one should start drinking in a couple of years (89 points).

Not far away is Chateau Angelus, the famous St. Emilion estate. Another nice gesture: the bells in the tower were playing 'Advance Australia Fair' as a welcome. The family also bought the property across the road. So I first tasted the 2011 Chateau Bellevue. There are several wineries called 'Bellevue' in France, naturally. This one is quite small. The wine is 100% Merlot, with a deep purple colour. The wine tasted similar to the last one, but the dark fruit was more elegant. Not a very complex wine, but with pleasant soft tannins (91 points). The 2011 Chateau Angelus is quite different, although the winemaking style is the same. To start with, it has 40% Cabernet Franc included. The wine is full-bodied, but with lifted aromas. The Cabernet Franc adds spice to the flavour. The tannins are firm. Overall, I find the wine a bit dense and meaty, a surprise for 2011 (93 points).

The Bell Tower

Later in the afternoon, I tasted a few more Right Bank wines:

-  2010 Haut-Segottes (St-Emilion): redcurrant with lifted aromas. Elegant and the fruit strong enough to match the 14.5% alcohol. Soft tannins, medium finish (92 points).
-  2010 Chateau de Foubel (St-Emilion): full-bodied, with complex blackcurrant and mushroom flavours. Good length, but alcoholic and tannic finish (92 points).
-  2012 Chateau Canon (Pomerol): concentrated, but somewhat harsh and unbalanced (88 points).
-  2009 Le Bon Pasteur (Pomerol): weak palate, quite acidic with dry tannins (88 points).
-  2005 Chateau Pavie Macquin (St-Emilion): lifted and aromatic, cherry flavours, nice linear shape down the palate, with a fresh finish (94 points).

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Margaux subregion

The following day I was off to the Margaux subregion. The first stop was at Chateau d'Issan, where I tasted the 2010 and 2011 vintages. The new oak was pared back to 50% in the weaker 2011 vintage. The wine consists of  69% Cabernet Sauvignon and 31% Merlot. There is a strong blackcurrant aroma in this wine, but on the palate, the fruit is overwhelmed by tannins and acidity (86 points). The 2010, from a strong vintage, is much more closed. The blackcurrant is a bit more intense, but the wine is also quite acidic. It is definitely too early to drink, and may be more elegant in the future (88 points). Overall, I felt these wines lacked balance.
Château d'Issan

One of the (unexpected) highlights of the Bordeaux part of my trip was the tasting at
Chateau Prieure-Lichine, a chateau not known to me. The three wines tasted had similar proportions of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, and 5% Petit Verdot. We started with the 2007 vintage. This is a feminine wine, with perfumed and aromatic flavours and a complex blend of blackcurrant, mulberry and mushroom flavours. The secondary flavours are starting to show. This is not a big or tannic wine, but the harmonious structure delivers a lifted finish. Great to drink now (93 points). The 2009 has much more intensity. The blackcurrant fruit is more dominant, but the wine is elegant, with a great balance and very silky tannins on the finish. This is an excellent expression of the Margaux terroir (96 points). Finally, the 1998. This wine has a similar mouthfeel to the 2009. It is a very harmonious wine, but the secondary flavours stand out more now, in particular mushroom. The tannins have softened and deliver a very satisfying finish.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Haut-Brion and Pessac-Leognan

The next day it was off to Pessac-Leognan. This is still the Left Bank, but south of Bordeaux. I tasted the 2007s from La Mission Haut-Brion and Haut-Brion. 2007 is considered a weak vintage, and most wines are earlier drinking style. The two Chateaux have the same owner and are made in exactly the same way. The properties are across the road from each other. This should be interesting.

The 2007 La Mission Haut-Brion is made from 48% Cabernet Sauvignon, 43% Merlot, and 9% Cabernet Franc. It has a beautiful fruity aroma of blackberry and black cherry. The taste includes forest floor flavours and mocca. The wine finishes on dry tannins. The drawback is that this wine is mainly about upfront fruit, and the intensity is not high (92 points).
                                                          Chateau Haut-Brion

The 2007 Haut-Brion has a similar composition: 44% Cabernet Sauvignon, 43% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Franc. The wine has a similar bouquet to the Mission, but is more brooding. It is denser, with interesting flavours of tobacco, forest floor and some smokyness. It is a well balanced wine with a lighter oak treatment than in Pauillac: a good, but not a great wine (94 points).

The next stop is at Chateau Haut Bailly, an up and coming winery. I taste three different vintages. The 2012 consists of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot. It has a clove and oak aroma, no doubt from the wood, but on the palate is quite fruity. The blackberry flavours are not very intense. The wine is clearly struggling in this vintage year, but the wine is very balanced, with a good structure (92 points). The 2007, again from a difficult vintage, is still fresh. Redcurrant and blackberry flavours caress the mouth. Soft tannins lead to a smooth finish. This is not a big wine, quite feminine, wonderfully elegant and delicious to drink (95 points). The 2002 is a bigger wine, based on blackcurrant, with a good mouthfeel. It is, however, a little rough, not totally balanced. The tannins are firm on the finish (92 points).

Haut Bailly is a bit of a revelation. You don't have to be big to be beautiful. Pessac-Leognan is perhaps a region in transition. There is not as much gravel as in the Medoc, and the Merlot component is larger, but not as large as on the right bank. And the slightly smoky flavours of Haut Brion are unique in Bordeaux.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Three Bordeaux First Growths In One Day (2)

I am having significant difficulties with the internet here in France, so I had to break up the last post.

The third stop was at Chateau Latour. They took a different approach to the tasting again. here I tasted the three wines from different vintages. The third wine is the 2011 Pauillac. Unusual for the left bank, it consists of 63% Merlot and 37% Cabernet Sauvignon. The fresh blueberry flavours give in quickly to the acidity. This is a pleasant wine, not big and the finish fades relatively quickly (90 points). The 2008 Les Forts de Latour consists of 66.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31.5% Merlot and 2% Petit Verdot. This is a darker wine, with blackberry tastes. It is quite tannic with a very dry, mouth-puckering finish (90 points). The 2004 Grand Vin de Chateau Latour has even more Cabernet dominance, with 90%, and 10% Merlot. There is quite dense blackcurrant flavour on the palate. This is a big bodied wine, with some complexity, such as mocca and licorice flavours. The wine is very tannic and dry. The flavours are interesting, but I don't find the wine totally balanced (94 points).

Tasting at Latour

This first day leaves me a little puzzled. All three chateaux are close together, on similar soil. Yet we have the strong wines of Mouton, the more feminine wine of Lafite, and the brute force of Latour. The winemaking seems to be similar as well. What is creating these differences? Very interesting.

Three Bordeaux First Growths In One Day

For my week long visit in Bordeaux I decided to sign up with the Bordeaux Wine Experience. It would have been difficult for me to get access to the leading chateaux on my own. It turned out to be a good decision. On the first day, we visited the three first growths in Pauillac, Mouton Rothschild, Lafite Rothschild and Latour. I will not report on the visits themselves here, it would take up too much space, but mainly review the tasted wines. The soil in Pauillac is coarse gravel and sand, washed up from the Gironde. This allows the vine roots to go very deep and pick up nutrients from different depths. The gravel reflects the sunlight and heats up the soil at night, helping with the ripening process.

Chateau Mouton Rothschild is a modern, quite showy Chateau, in particular with the gallery of paintings which shows the labels of each vintage since 1945. I get to taste the three wines from the three adjoining properties from the 2014 vintage, from barrell. While I am used to taste from barrell in Australia, it is quite hard in Bordeaux because of the high tannin levels and acidity in the wines. The Chateau d'Armailhac tastes of redcurrant and is quite a fruity wine, not very intense. The acidity overwhelms the fruit (86 points). The Clerc Milon, which is often called a second label, shows more complexity. The redcurrant fruit is more intense, and there is some chocolate on the palate as well. The wine is quite balanced (91 points). While these two wines have 50 and 58% Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend, it is 81% in the Mouton Rothschild. The rest is 16% Merlot and 3% Cabernet Franc. The 100% new oak dominates on the nose at this point. The colour of the wine is dark purple, and the redcurrant and blackcurrant flavours are more intense. The wine is vibrant on the palate, with a sweet core and some spice. It is quite acidic, yet powerful with silky tannins and a long, elegant finish (96 points).

New maturation cellar at Mouton

Over at Lafite Rothschild,it is a different story. Here we taste the 2001 Lafite. It consists of 86.5% Cabernet Sauvignon and 13.5% Merlot. The bouquet is much softer, with blueberry and blackberry flavours. The wine delivers a beautiful and very elegant mouthfeel. This is partly due to the wine being 14 years old, but not only. The Mouton tasted before will taste bolder in 14 years. This Lafite is still fresh, but is starting to show some earthy characters as well. I found the wine very balanced between fruit, oak and tannins. The acidity is still strong and the wine feels young at this point (97 points).
                        Old bottles from Chateau Lafite Rothschild

Friday, May 22, 2015

Taittinger Visit and Champagne Conclusions

The greatest thing about touring Champagne houses are the caves. Taittinger has two cellars in Reims. One in the city centre, which holds 6 million bottles, and one where the old Abbey stood, which houses 2 million of large format bottles and the reserve Comtes de Champagne. This is where you visit. It is an impressive experience.

Over 70,000 bottles stored in this cave

The tasting started with the traditional blend, a widely available Brut, composed of 40% Chardonnay, 35% Pinot Noir and 25% Pinot Meunier. This Champagne is fresh and well balanced. It has good effervescence, length on the palate and some toasty characters. The 2008 Vintage Champagne takes it up a notch. It consists of 50% Chardonnay and 50% Pinot Noir. This Champagne has more weight, but is very elegant and rounded. It consists only of premier cru and grand cru grapes.

Taittinger is fortunate in that it owns 290ha of vines, more than most others and 50% of its needs, and 30% comes from grand cru villages. I did a quick calculation: 1ha is worth 1 million euros in Champage, so there is 300million tied up in capital. There is another 500million or so in inventory, which they can afford to keep and mature in the caves. How many are in this position? Entry barriers are high, and because of the regulations, not much is changing. The two wines I tasted here were good, but I would like to see a much more dynamic environment (and yes I know, many growers are starting to do it for themselves).

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Champagne Houses in Epernay

On my second day in Champagne, I went to three relatively unknown producers in the centre of Champagne, Epernay. The first was Castellane, a fairly large producer who sells 80% of its production domestically. This is unusual, but becomes clearer during the visit. Castellane would be the equivalent of an industrial wine producer. Its Brut Champagne has strong citrus flavours. It is fresh, but quite acidic with no yeast flavours to speak of. This is the result of bought-in grapes ( quality control?) and a relatively short maturation period.

Caves in Epernay

A visit to the small grower Julien Chopin was a little more rewarding. I tasted a Brut from 100% Chardonnay,  a Rose made from 90% Chardonnay and 10% Pinot Noir, and a Brut Nature (zero dosage) from 100% Pinot Meunier. The Chardonnay Champagne is light and quite delicate, the Rose is equally light, while the Meunier is much fruitier and a little plump. These Champagnes are true to their grapes, but lack finesse and excitement.

The third producer was Bouche Pere et Fils. The standard wines were similar to above, but the Cuvee Saphir was more interesting. This was a Champagne blend with 75% Chardonnay, matured for 8 years. Citrus was still the dominant flavour, but the finish was much softer and more toasty.

There are many rules and regulations in Champagne. The  mighty Committee tells you when to harvest, how many grapes per hectare can go into your Champagne, and so on. There are not many variables you can play with. And if you do not have old vines or the capital for long maturation periods, you will not make great Champagne.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Veuve Clicquot

My tour de France started in Reims today with a visit at Veuve Clicquot. This famous Champagne house can lay claim to a number of things. Madame Clicquot was one of the first female industrialists, when she took the reign more than 200 years ago. Her most audacious move was towards the end of the Napoleon war, when she managed to ship a large amount of Champagne across closed borders to St. Petersburg for the Russians to celebrate their victory. At the end of her time, she handed the business over to a German businessman. A French patriot she was not.

The caves are over 1000 years old, initially a quarry to build the city
 Old bottles stored in the caves

. The highlight at present is a bottle from the oldest Champagne find, from the early 1840s, which was discovered on the bottom of the Baltic Sea five years ago. Of the 168 in tact bottles on the ship wreck, 48 were from Veuve Clicquot (still keeping dominant share of the Russia trade). Three were giftet back to Veuve Cliquot. Apparently, the Champagne was quite drinkable, although the bubbles were almost gone, and the sugar content even higher than desert wines in today's times.

                                                 The old ship wreck bottle

I only tried the standard Veuve Clicquot blend. A special feature is that this Champagne is always predominantly made from red grapes, currently 50% Pinot Noir, 20% Pinot Meunier. Only the juice is used, of course, so the colour is white to golden. The result is a relatively full flavoured wine, with a big mouthfeel. This Champagne is a bit fruity, but the flavours are complex. Dominant is green apple, but there is also raspberry and fig. The finish is not as crisp as I would have liked. This Champagne is best drunk as an aperitif, I think.

This was an interesting tour, and a good start. Tomorrow, the Champagne tasting will start in earnest.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Rosemount Founder's Edition Shiraz

The world of Shiraz! From the $650 per bottle Hill of Grace to the €5 per bottle 2013 Rosemount Founder's Edition Shiraz. You can buy this wine in German supermarkets. It is the most expensive red there. But imagine, after transport, customs, materials and production, how much would the grape growers have received? Pittens, that's what. The description says "South Eastern Australia", which generally means Riverina i.e. high yielding large vineyards, mechanically harvested.

The plum fruit flavours are actually surprisingly intense, but the wine has not much shape. The tannins are rough and not integrated, no doubt coming from wood chips. This is plonk, and you would not want to be in a position where you try to actually assess and appreciate the wine.

You could say you could get almost 100 bottles of Rosemount for one bottle of Hill of Grace, but I had trouble finish one glass, and I would never manage 100 bottles.

Score: 80/---

You can tell, I am now in Europe, and the tour de France, starting in Champagne, is only 4 days away. The French are my third largest reader group (after Australia and the US). Hopefully, there will be something interesting for them as well.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Henschke Hill Of Grace - New Vintage

One of the events of the year on the Australian wine calendar is the release of the new Hill of Grace, and it does not come much bigger than for the 2010 vintage. This highly regarded year started with a hot spring in Eden Valley, which kept the yield down. It was followed by a mild summer and autumn with very little rain. The grapes were very even when they were harvested. But what is the wine like?

As expected the colour is deep purple, but what surprises is the aroma. It is intense, very spicy and full of sage. The 2010 Henschke Hill of Grace is medium bodied and quite perfumed. The fruit is blackberry and mulberry, but the dominant element on the palate is white pepper, five spice, and sage, in particular. This is unusual. Spicy notes often occur, but they are intertwined with mocca notes. This is not the case with the 2010. This is a more lifted and fragrant wine. The 60/40 American French oak combination is not very noticeable, This is partly due to the unusual long seasoning period of the American oak. The wine has great length, but does the fruit fill the mouth? There is probably just enough weight. Alcohol at 14+% is noticeable. The tannins are velvety and fine grained, showing the age of the vines.

The wine did not grab me initially, but the complexity combined with the elegance and lasting penetration of the wine won me over in the end. This could be very special in a few years.

Score: 97/+++

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Orange Wineries, Day 2

Bloodwood vineyards; different aspects add complexity

I was quite pleased with my experiences on day 1. Some very serious and interesting winemakers there. Today, it is back to the beginnings.

My first stop is at Bloodwood, where Stephen Doyle started over 30 years ago. He offers a broad range of wines, like many wineries in Orange. The 2011 Schubert Chardonnay was named such, as Stephen was working in the vineyard on the day Max Schubert died. This wine is whole-bunch pressed and matured in 100% new oak. Despite this, it is a Chablis style wine with good acidity and structure. This wine can be cellared for some time (92 points). The 2013 Chardonnay is more a tank-style wine. It tastes of apple and peach and is a little broad (89 points). The 2013 Malbec/Cabernet Franc is similarly fruity (89 points). The 2014 Cabernet Franc is a highlight. This wine has a beautiful ruby colour. The flavours include an interesting mix of floral and spice. This wine is balanced with good intensity, as the berries were very small. The wine finishes smooth and dry (93 points). What is it about Cabernet Franc in Orange? The 2005 Maurice is a blend of the best berries of the year. Grape varieties and blends change from year to year. Redcurrant flavours dominate, there is mocca as well and good acidity on the finish (92 points).

The second stop is at Canobolas-Smith. This is another of the original wineries, and it probably put the area on the map, initially. Murray Smith is the long standing winemaker. However, this visit was quite depressing. He now makes two wines only, and at very small volumes. I tried Chardonnays from 2004, 2008 and 2012. They were totally different from each other. Murray says he wants vintage variation to shine through, but he is also changing the wine treatment drastically from year to year. One is fruity, the other earthy and tart, one has malo, the other has not. Yes, the wines can age, but not very gracefully (87-89 points). The Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc/Shiraz is called Alchemy (doesn't this say all?). I tasted the 2008, 2012, and 2013 vintages. The 2008 was the best example, a ripe wine with blackberry flavours, but also some minty/herb underripe character. The tannins were a bit softer than in the other wines (88-89 points).

My final stop is at Printhie, which is some 35km outside of Orange. This is a six year old winery and a totally different scenario from the last one. Dave Swift is full of optimism. The first leg of its business is Sparkling. They have forged a relationship with a successful grower Champagne producer and it shows. Their Brut Sparkling has a beautiful yeast character. A number of premium Sparklings are under development. The second part are the white wines, which come from the same high altitude vineyard Ross Hill uses. The 2013 MCC Sauvignon Blanc is interesting, with a creamy flavour and more weight than normal, as a result of using wild yeast, old oak and malolactic fermentation (90 points). The really strong whites are the Chardonnays, which are picked early. The 2012 MCC Chardonnay uses wild ferment directly to barrel. It is complex, as a result of varied treatments: 30-40% malo, 30% new oak. The fruit is citrus and lime, with well integrated acidity. A very modern Chardonnay version (93 points). Then there is the 2012 Super Duper (not sure about the name). This wine has more power, but is still elegant. Fruit is more in the ripe stone fruit spectrum, but the wine still has good acidity (94 points). The red wines come from their home vineyards at lower altitude (620 meters). I was less impressed with the Merlot and Cabernet/Shiraz, but the straight Shiraz were good. The 2012 MCC Shiraz is elegant, with savoury and slightly herbal flavours, backed by fine grained tannins (92 points). The 2012 Super Duper Syrah is finer boned and more elegant, but I am not sure that there is enough mouthfeel in this wine in a couple of years (93 points). Also, these Super Duper wines are overpriced.

My conclusion from this trip is that Orange is a region of promise. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir can be great from high altitude vineyards, whereas reds need to be grown at lower levels. Cabernet Franc impressed me, and Shiraz can do well, too.  

Monday, May 4, 2015

Kilikanoon Oracle Shiraz

The 2003 Kilikanoon Oracle Shiraz from the Clare Valley is drinking well at 12 years of age under cork. The colour is still deep purple. This is a powerful wine with rich and intense plum fruit and white pepper. The wine fills the mouth well, but unfortunately is not totally balanced. While the components have integrated somewhat, vanilla from oak is still too strong. Also, the high alcohol from this drought year is still noticeable on the finish.

Score: 92/0

Friday, May 1, 2015

Orange Wineries, Day 1

de Salis vineyard

I spent two days in the Orange district to explore and better understand this relatively new and diverse wine region. The vineyards here are at high altitude, between 600 and 1100 meters. Pretty much every popular grape in the book is grown here: from aromatic whites to Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Bordeaux blends, Shiraz, 'new' varieties, such as Vermentino, Arneis, Tempranillo, Sangiovese, Barbera, the list goes on. What is it all about?

My first stop is Philip Shaw. He is perhaps the best known proponent of the district today. His premium range is called the 'numbers' range. The numbers have no particular logic. They refer to birthdays, lucky numbers etc. I tried the most recent Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz in this range. Overall, the results were disappointing. I did not find much interest in these wines. These wines lacked depth and structure (85 to 89 points). There were certainly shades of his commercial past (Rosemount, Southcorp) in these wines His most famous wine, the #11 Chardonnay, of which I tasted 2014, had reasonable stonefruit, but it was very young, with oak being quite prominent and the finish quite short. I was not off to a good start.

Thankfully, things changed when I arrived at my second stop, Ross Hill. Phil Kerney, the winemaker, has certainly made his mark here, and he is not shy to tell you about it. There is a style which cuts across the wines. The key characteristic is the wild yeast fermentation directly into barrel. The 2014 white wines are of high quality. The Sauvignon Blanc is quite lean, is based on whole bunches and does not taste like anything from New Zealand. This is a delicate wine, made in the Loire style, with a focus on texture, and made to last (93 points). The Pinot Gris is lean also, with a good balance between the pear fruit and acidity (91 points). The (very young) Chardonnay is more tricky. There is a fair bit of sulphur covering the grapefruit and nutty flavours, but I think it will develop nicely (92 points). The fruit for these wines is grown at the winery vineyard, more than 900 meters in elevation. The red wines come from a lower lying vineyard, just over 600 meters. Still, I found the 2013 Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz lacking in depth, while the structures were strong (88-90 points). The best of the red wines was the 2012 Cabernet Franc, which is a focus at Ross Hill. This wine, with a purple colour, had a huge aroma. The flavours were intense and unusual, mainly like provancale herbs, in particular lavender and rosemary. There was good depth in this wine and a balanced texture (93 points).

The third winery of the day was De Salis. The vineyard here is over 1050 meters high, one of the highest in Australia, with beautiful views across the valley. Most of the white wines (Fume Blanc and Chardonnay) did not fully convince me, but the 2013 Blue Label Chardonnay hit the spot. This is like a reserve wine, 100% new oak, with more intensity and power. The flavour spectrum is stone and poached fruit, and the taste is a bit oily as well (93 points). The focus of De Salis, however, is Pinot Noir. The intention is to make quite feminine wines, suited to the cool climate. Burgundy clearly is the model. I tried five Pinot Noirs, and three in particular were outstanding. The two based on the MV6 clone were darker, with sour cherry flavours, well structured, but not totally harmonious (90/91 points). The two based on the Dijon clones (the Lofty Pinot Noirs) were more in the strawberry spectrum spectrum, finer and quite elegant. In particular the 2013 had great balance and a smooth finish (94 points). The 2013 Blue Label Pinot Noir was a bit different. It was ethereal, not weighted, similar to the last two, but also had earthy and truffle flavours; quite a complex wine (94 points). The Bordeaux reds have a play on using stems, but also Saint Emillon. They are called St Em M (for Merlot) and St Em F (for Cabernet Franc), named after the dominant component in the blend. These are Bordeaux blends for Pinot Noir drinkers, quite light bodied, but with an attractive texture. There was also a 100% light and elegant Cabernet Franc. These were from the 2012 vintage, which was quite cool in Orange (all 92 points). De Salis has developed this style based on texture and an ethereal feel - best suited to the Pinot Noirs.