Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Peter Lehmann Shiraz

It is only a few days now before I head back to Sydney, and I started to long for an Australian wine. German supermarkets sell only cheap stuff, but I wanted a reasonable experience. Then I saw the 2012 Peter Lehmann Portrait Shiraz. It is from the Barossa and the 2012 vintage. How wrong can you go?

This wine is full-bodied, with concentrated plum fruit, and chocolate flavours. The wine is persistent, yet not very refined: a decent wine if you don't want to think about it, and good value for money.

Score: 87/0

Friday, June 26, 2015

A Real Gem From Switzerland

When you travel through Switzerland, you notice many vineyards at the lower levels of the mountains. They are very picturesque, yet small, and not much of the wine is exported. The Swiss point out that latitudinally they are similar to Burgundy, however, the terroir does not seem to be quite the same. Nonetheless, Pinot Noir is probably the best grape from Switzerland - and I was introduced to an absolutely stunning example.

The 2010 Gantenbein Pinot Noir is a light to medium bodied wine. The colour is garnet. The flavours are complex: strawberry and minerality from wet stones, mushroom characters as well. The wine has an ethereal character with a beautiful and balanced texture. The silky tannins caress the palate.

This wine is a great discovery. It will drink well to 2020. Volumes are small, but this wine is exported to a number of countries. Coming from Switzerland, it is pricey. I am giving it a high score. It would have been even higher, if the finish had been longer.

Score: 95/+++

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Peter Michael Les Pavots

My American readers have dropped off a bit during my tour de France. So here is a review of an American wine I had a chance to drink during this period.

Peter Knight is an English gentleman who is very serious about his winemaking in Sonoma County. His Les Pavots is his take on Bordeaux. The 2009 Peter Michael Les Pavots consists of 66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Cabernet Franc, 10% Merlot and 2% Petit Verdot. The colour is dark, and the flavours are complex. Blackcurrant fruit is followed by cedar and graphite. There is good intensity in this wine, without the fruit being overripe. The wine is quite lacy and racy, with silky tannins, but the finish is slightly alcoholic.

This is, nevertheless, not a Napa monster, but a balanced wine. It is a good example how the blend of grapes adds complexity, while being seamless at the same time.

Score: 94/++

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Conclusions From My Tour De France

There are a number of takeaways for me, apart from the individual tastings.

1) Nothing replaces the visit of individual wine regions. You develop a different relationship to the wines, based on the vibe you picked up, some key impressions, the concentrated tastings in a few days, and the personalities you meet.

2) In Bordeaux, the house style, i.e. winemaker reigns, in Burgundy it is the terroir. In that sense, the emphesis in Bordeaux on the chateau, and in Burgundy on the vineyard, is appropriate. The cult around the winemaker is not as strong as in the US or Australia. This is smart, as the wineries need to transcend individual winemakers.

3) Great wine can come from many different soils, such as limestone, sand, rocks, clay. Therefore the hunt for certain soils in the New World to duplicate the conditions in France, is probably misplaced.

4) Many wineries produce a great wine, but the most exciting experiences were where a winery has developed a clear signature or style, e.g. Chapoutier or Vieux Telegraphe.

5) Bordeaux is still hooked on new oak.

6) The Parker influence remains huge, in all of France. This does not benefit the wines, I think.

7) Brand building has been enormously successful, for example for Bordeaux's First Growths or DRC. Some of these wines do not stand up to their standing, and other wines can be as good, for a fraction of the price. You can find these in the country (France), but it is much more difficult abroad.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Chateau St Cosme

The last tasting in France was rushed. Both the wine company and I were running out of time. This was a pity as Chateau St Cosme is well known in Australia and the US. It does the opposite to Guigal and Chapoutier. They own vineyards in the Northern Rhone and act as negotiants for Southern Rhone wine. St Cosme owns vineyards in the Southern Rhone and buys in grapes from the North.

I will report on two wines here. The 2013 Cote-Rotie is matured to 80% in new oak. This is a perfumed, quite elegant wine, with smoky and slate notes, coming from grapes from the steep slopes of the Rhone. This Shiraz is quite high in alcohol and slightly hot on the finish (90 points). The 2013 Gigondas, in contrast, comes from owned vineyards near the winery. It is a typical GSM and the juice sees no new oak. The fruit is fresh, with Grenache raspberry flavours dominant. The wine is very ripe and the meaty flavours would not be to everybody's taste (90 points).

St Cosme wines are clearly fashioned in the new world style. More oak, from long burnt barrells, ripe berries and high alcohol. These wines can deliver instant gratification, but lack the finess of the just reviewed Vieux Telegraphe.

Au revoir La France! It was fantastic.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Vieux Telegraphe

The famous plateau La Crau, Chateauneuf-du-Pape

Daniel Brunier,co-owner, and the wines tasted

A remarkable tasting was my second last in France, at Vieux Telegraphe. At first, Daniel Brunier took me on a tour across the vineyards of La Crau. This plateau, on the east side of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, is covered in large rocks.  The clay soil starts a couple of meters below the surface. As a result, the waterholding capacity is good, but the roots have to go deep. They pick up many nutrients along the way.

The philosophy of the winery is to deliver finesse to the wines. This is more important than fruit. Only old oak is used, and grapes are often not destemmed.

The first wine I tasted was the 2014 Megaphone. This is a new wine from Ventoux. The grapes, 70% Grenache, 30% Shiraz, are quite young. Still, the wine is not overly fruit forward, but quite restrained (90 points). Then came the 2012 Les Pallieres, Les Racines from Gigondas. This 62 acre vineyard sits in the lower part of an amphitheatre. It is 80% Grenache, with 30% stems. The wine is a bit austere, with minerality flavours a key feature, before finishing on firm tannins (90 points). 

The next red was the first from Chateauneuf-du-Pape, the 2012 Telegramme. This 60% Grenache based wine is pretty. It is fresh and elegant, with quite a soft mouthfeel (92 points).  Then it gets more complex with the 2011 Piedlong. This wine is based on 90% Grenache and 10% Mourvedre. 50% of the grapes are not destemmed. Flavours are sour cherry, and there are salty notes as well. The palate is firm, yet elegant, with quite a unique profile (93 points).

Then we compared two Vieux Telegraphe. The current one is from 2012. It is a GSM blend, with 65% Grenache. The vines are 70 years old on average. 30% of the grapes are not destemmed. This is a wine of intense fruit flavours, yet elegant and with great balance (95 points). The 2001 comes from a comparable vintage. It is still fresh, has again a bit of the saltiness on the palate, with silky tannins and a lift on the finish (96 points).

What I admired about these wines is the common philosophy that was expressed in them. Here was not a series of individual wines, but a thread that cut across them. Beautiful balance, finesse, clearly a great ability to age. I fell in love with this wine style.      

Wednesday, June 10, 2015


The final stop of my wonderful tour de France. It will be a brief one, unfortunately. At one of the caves I had a brief introduction to these Grenache based blended wines. There is a distinction between modernists and traditionalists, maybe like in Barolo. The modernists emphesize fruit flavours, maybe boldness, the traditionalists finesse and minerality. I did not learn which differences in the winemaking process drives this distinction, but I guess maceration time and oak treatment would be major factors. These were the four wines I tasted

- 2013 Domaine de Gireau: red and black cherry, simple fruit flavours (87 points).

- 2012 Domaine Pierre Usseglio: GSM, 12 months in oak, a darker wine, well structured, firm tannins (91 points).

- 2012 Domaine du Pegau: a well respected traditionalist. This Chateuneuf-du-Pape tasted of spice and leather. What a contrast to the last two wines. Tannins are strong. If you like to smoke cigars, you will like this wine (93 points).

- 2012 Domaine de la Charbonniere, Les Hautes Brusquieres: a single vineyard blend of 80% Grenache and 18% Shiraz. Complex flavours, strawberry and plum, but also marmelaide, figs and earthy components. I liked this wine but for its alcoholic finish (15.5%). This is a problem with Grenache. It needs to ripen, and then the alcohol shoots right up (94 points).

Paul Jaboulet Aine

La Chapelle - On the right: The legendary Chapoutier l'Ermite vineyard

La Chapelle is owned by Paul Jaboulet Aine, although the surrounding vineyards belong to M Chapoutier. The main Hermitage vinyard owned by Paul Jaboulet is on the right hand side in the photo published in the Chapoutier post.

However, we start with a 100% Marsanne from Saint-Joseph. The 2014 Le Grand Pompée Blanc, made from purchased fruit, is fresh, with pleasant pear fruit flavours. The emphesis is on the texture. The wine has an attractive mouthfeel. This full-bodied white is matched with sufficient acidity to keep it lively. I liked this wine (91 points). The 2014 Domaine de Roure Blanc from an owned vineyard in Crozes Hermitage is a step up in complexity. The bunches are pressed whole and the wine sees 30% new oak. This Marsanne has a golden colour, with intense fruit flavours, yet an elegant mouthfeel and a lingering finish (94 points).

We finish with three reds. The 2007 Domaine de Roure is a 100% Shiraz from Crozes Hermitage. It shows blackberry and plum flavours, and the secondary flavours are of minerality, such as wet stones. This wine is a bit rough on the edges and the tannins are firm (90 points). The 2011 Domaine de Pierelles from the Cote Rotié comes from the famous Cote de Blonde vineyard, but I found the wine a bit bland. The blackberry flavours are soft and flinty, the tannins are firm on the finish (90 points).

Then it is a step back in time with the 1994 La Chapelle Hermitage. The wine has a blueberry nose and very complex flavours. There are violets, but also mushroom and tobacco. The wine is very elegant and balanced. It still has firm tannins as the backbone. This wine is not as intense as the Papillon by Chapoutier, but still has a great mouthfeel (94 points).

La Chapelle, after 20 years, was a memorable wine, but overall, I actually preferred the whites from Jaboulet, a surprising result.

Monday, June 8, 2015

M Chapoutier

The legendary terroir of Hermitage

The next tasting was an extraordinary tasting at M Chapoutier. Similar to Guigal, the business was started after the second world war. It has been growing strongly in recent years and stands now at about 8 million bottles per year. The range of wines is wide, with mainly estate wines from the Northern Rhone and a negotiant business from the Southern Rhone (like Guigal). 

We start with a 100% Viognier from Condrieu, the 2014 Invitare. The fruit flavours are dominated by peach and exotic fruit, very true to the variety. The wine is obviously quite young, fresh and well balanced (90 points).  In contrast, the 2014 Petite Ruche is a 100% Marsanne wine, grown on the flats of Crozes-Hermitage. This wine is also fresh and fruity, with a mouth-coating texture (89 points). The 2012 Payrolles is quite different. This 100% Marsanne, from the less well known area of Saint-Peray, is golden in color. Its notes are quite floral, and the flavours mainly of pear and minerality. Although this wine only sees large old oak vats, I found the oak influence quite noticeable (89 points). 

An altogether different proposition is the 2011 Les Granilites from Saint-Joseph, also a 100% Marsanne. This wine has a deeper, golden color. There are floral notes on the nose. The flavours are pear, but also marzipan, quite complex. This is a more powerful wine with a long finish. The potential of Marsanne is coming to the fore here (94 points). We finished the whites with a 2006 Le Méal. This Marsanne comes from a single vineyard site, with the vines at least 50 years old. This is a very big white, quite unfamiliar to me, with roasted almond and toasted flavours. This wine is powerful and needs food (92 points). It was quite fascinating to experience these different expressions of Marsanne, but now I was ready for the reds. I would not be disappointed.   

We started with the 2013 Deschants from Saint-Joseph. This is a fruit forward Shiraz, fresh, but a little rough around the edges (86 points).  This was followed by the 2012 Les Arènes from Cornas. This wine has a spicy nose, giving away the Northern Rhone origin. The tannins are very powerful, and the fruit struggles against them (89 points). A real step up is the 2011 Les Varonniers from old vines in Crozes-Hermitage. This wine has blackberry and plum flavors, creating an elegant mouthfeel. Soft tannins lead to a fine finish (94 points). The 2008 La Mordorée from the Cote-Rotie borders the famous  Cote-Blonde vineyard. The colour of the wine has garnet elements, showing some age. Black fruits are accompanied by secondary flavours, such as forest floor. This is a very seductive, elegant wine, with soft tannins and a long finish (95 points).

We now come to the legendary wines of Hermitage. This site, as shown in the photos above, is a unique terroir. It is on a steep hill, with granite and large rocks soil, and a southern orientation, on the banks of the Rhone. The first wine from here is the  2011 Sizeranne, a blended wine. Red and black fruits combine to an elegant mouthfeel. The tannins are soft, and the wine is a delicious drink (94 points). I then have a chance to drink two of the famous Le Pavillon. This wine comes from a 4ha vineyard on steep slopes, as shown on the top photo on the left hand side. The 2008 Le Pavillon shows an exotic mix of  intense raspberry, tobacco and cocoa flavors. This wine is not too powerful, despite the old vines and low yields, but delivers superb balance and elegance with silky tannins and a long finish (96 points). The 1999 Le Pavillon develops this flavour spectrum further. Minerality, such as wet stone, takes over. The wine is still quite intense, with a good structure, and feels very content at its age.

M Chapoutier has received more 100 point scores from Robert Parker than any other winery. This might be due to the special terroir and the respect given to it. This means these wines are quite unique, expressing a rare combination of elegance, intensity and finesse. The winemaking style shows across the range. I left the tasting deeply impressed.  

Cave de Tain

                    Can you spot the odd one out?

The following day, we tasted at Hermitage, arguably the birthplace of Australian Shiraz. I will talk more about this exceptional terroir in my next post. This tasting at Cave de Tain was an introduction to attractively priced Shiraz from this region. Cave de Tain is a co-operative which is responsible for a significant volume from the area.

The first wine was the 2011 Hermitage Classique, a blend from the area. It showed intense fruit, yet the mouthfeel was fresh and elegant, with silky tannins and a medium finish (92 points). The next wine was from Cornas, the 2010 Old Vines. This is a big and powerful wine, which shows meat flavours and slate minerality next to the black plum fruit. While the flavours are complex, the wine is not that well rounded (90 points). The 2006 Gambert de Loche, Hermitage is the old vines single vineyard wine from Hermitage. I was looking forward to this. It has a similar profile to the Classique, obviously older and more powerful. The elegance in the wine stands out again, but as before, the wine has not come together completely (92 points).

Then a surprise bottle was pulled out: it was the 2008 Kilikanoon Alliance Hermitage. The wine maker from Kilikanoon, who actually did two vintages there, was given some fruit to make his own wine. This wine was riper and a bit sweeter, but nicely balanced (93 points). It clearly showed the Australian difference. I was told the French wanted to pick the grapes, but he said, no, let's hang on a bit. So we have the Australian version: riper, more fruit orientated, versus the French version of more finesse and elegance.

Friday, June 5, 2015


                   The tasting table at Guigal. Note the number of bottles

Driving down to the Rhone now. First stop at Ampuis is Guigal. The business was only started in 1946, but Guigal sells more than 6 million bottles per year now. Much of this is the negociant business from the Southern Rhone, but the real treasures are the owned vineyards in the Northern part. Given the large portfolio of wines, you do not know what is on the tasting table, but I was not going to be disappointed.

After a couple of quaffers, I try the 2012 Crozes-Hermitage. This 100% Shiraz is made from owned and bought-in grapes. It is a fruity, but nicely balanced wine (90 points). This is followed by the 2012 special block Vignes de l'Hospice from St. Joseph. This wine has spent three years in new oak, but the fleshy red plum fruit is taking it well. The wine has good depth, with some complex, smoky flavours and fine tannins (93 points). I then tried the 2007 Cote-Rotie, a blend of 96% Shiraz and 4% Viognier. The blackberry and plum flavours are good, the minty notes are a bit irritating and overall, the wine is somewhat astringent (91 points).

Then come two absolute highlights. The 2011 Chateau d'Ampuis comes from seven blocks of the famous blonde and brune vineyards. 7% of Viognier is co-fermented in this wine. The red berry fruit is elegant, the sizeable Viognier component not too noticeable. This is a wine of great finesse, with a soft, alluring finish (96 points). I was lucky to be able to taste one of the famous LaLa wines, the 2011 La Landonne. This wine has spent 42(!) months in new oak, but you would not know it. The wine shows a strong plum aroma on the nose, but on the palate, blackberry and minerality notes dominate. This wine has deep intensity, but is very elegant at the same time, with a very silky mouthfeel: sheer class (97 points).

It is impressive to see that a high volume producer can still pay a lot of detailed attention to his premium wines.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Burgundy (2)

                                         Three grand cru from Chambertin

The second tasting was at Domaine Trapet in Chambertin, in the north. We started with the  white 2011 Marsannay, grown just south of Dijon. This wine has a light colour, and the citrus taste dominates. The wine is well integrated and quite elegant (92 points). The first red was the 2011 Gevrey-Chambertin, 1er cru, Clos Priéur. This is not a very intense wine, tasting of red cherries, an elegant wine, with soft tannins and a medium finish (92 points).

Then we had three grand cru. A quick general note about that. The grand cru are found on the gently sloping hills, usually in the middle, where the drainage is good. Higher up is windier and cooler, lower down is richer soil and more vigour. The village of Chambertin had a higher reputation than Vosne-Romanée decades ago, but Domaine Romanée de la Conti changed all that. Anyway, I was looking forward to the grand cru from Chambertin, and I would not be disappointed. The 2011 Chapelle-Chambertin tasted of red cherry fruit. This was not a big wine, but very elegant, with silky tannins and a long finish (94 points). The 1996 Chapelle-Chambertin was similar, but more intense, and, given its age, was more complex, with forest floor flavours coming to the fore (95 points). Then finally the 1996 Chambertin, their best wine, from plots with complex clay soil structures. This is a bigger wine, with complex black cherry and mushroom flavours. While big, this is an elegant wine with a Burgundian fan on the finish (96 points).

The final tasting was at Domaine Pierre André. He is located near Beaune, at Aloxe Corton. He makes a huge number of white and red wines. The 2010 Chassagne-Montrachet, La Maltroie 1er cru shows citrus and pineapple flavours. The wine has a creamy taste and is quite gentle, with soft acidity - an appealing wine (94 points). The white grand cru are called Corton-Charlemagne. The 2011 has a darker colour than the Chassagne-Montrachet. The nose is big, with melon and apricot notes. This continues on the palate. Some soft oaky flavours are noticeable as well. The wine has a good mouthfeel and is not heavy, despite the bigger flavours. It finishes long (95 points). The red grand cru are called Corton. The 2010 Corton, Les Renardes grand cru tastes of dark cherry. It has quite high extraction and tastes a little angular. I did not find the wine totally balanced (92 points). The 2006 Corton, Chateau Corton, the red flagship wine, is showing garnet colour. It is a little bitter and angular as well. It is still quite fresh, but the finish does not impress (91 points). I certainly prefer the whites from this Domaine.

A quick report from another wine I quite enjoyed during my time in Burgundy. This was a 2009 Nuits-Saint-Georges, 1er cru, La Richemone, by Domaine Alain Michelot. This is an attractive feminine wine of red and black cherry flavours. This is not a big wine, but quite persistent on the palate. Elegant, with silky tannins. The mouthfeel is not perfect, but this is a good buy (93 points).

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Burgundy (1)

Burgundy is complicated, but not as complicated as one perhaps thinks. In contrast to Bordeaux, where the chateau is the 'unit of interest', in Burgundy it is the vineyard, or the plot. The classification is quite simple: there is grand cru (35 vineyards), then premier cru and village. In the case of grand cru, the vineyard is the big print on the label, in other cases, it is the village. Producers often share a vineyard, and their name shows up at the bottom of the label. At the same time, many producers have small plots in a number of villages.

My main interest here is Pinot Noir, so I head to the Cote de Nuits, where the best Pinot Noirs are made. I am touring with Authentica, a leading operator in Burgundy. In line with the Burgundy philosophy, my first stop is not at a winery, but at a vineyard. It is of course the famous Romanée-Conti vineyard, owned by Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. The vineyard is kept in immaculate condition, but what surprised me was the relatively young age of many vines in this vineyard. An active vine replacement program is going on. The vineyard is not large, and it is easy to walk to La Tache, Richebourg and St. Vivant. This is of course all I get to experience from these famous vineyards in the village of Vosne-Romanee.
The famous Romanée-Conti vineyard

The best vineyards are ploughed by horse.

Then it is over to Clos de Vougeot, a large chateau and grand cru vineyard, shared by about 50 different owners. Here I taste a number of different wines.

- 2009 Nuits-Saint-Georges by Richard Manière: black cherry fruit, firm tannins, quite a tight wine and a bit tart (92 points)

-2012 Vosne-Romanée, Les Beaux-Monts by Desauney-Bissey: this is a premier cru wine from a popular producer. similar fruit flavours to the last wine, but smoother with silky tannins (94 points)

-2012 Echezeaux by Richard Manière: this is an affordable wine from this famous grand cru site. The wine has a lighter colour. It tastes of red and black cherry. The oak is well integrated, and the wine is quite long with an expanding finish. I really enjoyed this wine (96 points)

-2012 Clos de Vougeot by Domaine Odoul-Coquard: this wine is darker again. It is a bigger wine with more extraction than the previous wines. It is quite complex, with smoky notes on the palate. On the other hand, the wine is not so elegant, finishing with firm tannins (94 points)  

-2009 Charmes-Chambertin by Camus: from a great vintage and grand cru (more about this in the next post) the final wine in this tasting. Deep purple colour with dark cherry flavours and a very satisfying mouthfeel. The tannins are softening, and it is drinking ver well now (95 points)

Monday, June 1, 2015

Bordeaux Conclusions And 'How Can The First Growths Defend Their Ratings For 150 Years?'

The Bordeaux Wine Experience provided me with an extensive experience of drinking First Growth Bordeaux wines in one week. Some were from lesser vintages, but I enjoyed some of these vintages. I also discovered some less known Chateaux, and some were excellent, which raises the question, how did the First Growths manage to defend their position for 160 years, and all of them?

One answer would be 'superior quality'. This would be an easy explanation, but I think the answer is more complex and a bit sinister. In my view there are four dimensions to the answer.

1) Regulation. Regulation is covering pretty much every aspect of winemaking in Bordeaux. For example, Pauillac would be an excellent terroir for Shiraz, in my opinion, but of course this is not allowed. Regulation promotes the status quo. Where this is most significant, is volume. The chateaux cannot expand. This leads to an imbalance between demand and supply, as the number of wealthy people, and people being interested in wine, increases. This leads to higher

2) Prices. Not only do the prices increase much more than inflation, but there is also discussion between producers before each 'opening prices season'. I know this. This is so that nobody upsets the apple cart. The status quo is maintained, and the First Growths in particular get very rich.

3)  What happens with these funds? No doubt, a significant proportion gets invested in quality, in the vineyards and the winery. Some of the electronic wizzardry is expensive and cannot be duplicated by others. But a significant proportion is also invested in the brand. Mouton is perhaps the best example. Beautifully installed art rooms, new barrell rooms with exquisite lighting etc. the brand reinforces superiority.

4) But the biggest factor is the  ratings system. While I do not pretend to fully understand it, I know you do not get invited back if you dare to mark one of these Chateaux down significantly. If there is agreement about a weaker vintage, points can come down, as long as they stay above the 'lesser' producers. The elephant in the room is that there is no independence. There is no blind tasting of the First Growth wines.

So, these are the reasons the First Growths stay in front. Are the wines bad? Not at all, but maybe not always superior - and personal preference is another thing altogether.

Farewell Bordeaux

The final 'Harvest'
A (significant) number of wines were had at a final farewell dinner. I will just report on a few of them:

- 2009 La Grange (St Julien). Cabernet Sauvignon dominant, with attractive blackcurrant and redcurrant flavours. The wine has good balance with mellowing tannins and a medium finish. You can't go wrong with 2009 (94 points).

- 1989 Saint Pierre (St Julien). This is testing the ageing. From a good vintage, blackcurrant and plum flavours are still apparent. The wine is savoury with mellowed tannins. Good to drink now (93 points).

- 1998 Chateau Margaux. Composition is 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc. This is an interesting wine. The currants are there, in a feminine sort of way. The wine has good balance, but exposes a slight gap on the mid palate, despite the sizeable Merlot component. But then it comes together beautifully with firm tannins and a long finish (96 points).

- 1995 Chateau d'Yquem. A deep golden colour in the glass. Honey and hazelnut flavours on the palate. The wine has great length and still a fresh finish. How do they do it (96 points)?