Wednesday, February 27, 2019

El Enemigo Tasting

El Enemigo is the side project of Alejandro Vigil, the winemaker of Catena Zapata. Adrianna Zapata,     the youngest daughter of Nicolas Zapata, is an equal shareholder. She lives in London, but it was probably a condition to allow this project to go ahead. I had an opportunity to taste the whole range of their wines. And what a world-class tasting it was. Alejandro shows his excitement about these wines; he can now do what he wants, not limited by the ‘corporate’ Catena Zapata. And what he wants is to focus on Cabernet Franc. There is Malbec, of course, but the real excitement is about Cabernet Franc. There is a Chardonnay in the range, and then two lines, El Enemigo and Gran El Enemigo.

The Chardonnay, from 2016, is the first big surprise. This stone fruit based wine has nutty characters as well and is very complex, while maintaining freshness, and this for $25/bottle (95 points).

The El Enemigo range includes a Shiraz/Viognier, a Malbec, a Cabernet Franc and a Bonarda, all from 2014. These wines show individual varieties very well (91-94 points), with the Cabernet Franc the highlight. It tastes of blue fruits, spices and soft tannins; no greenness here, which often characterizes 100% Cabernet Franc.

The Gran El Enemigo range comes from higher altitude vineyards in the Uco Valley, which are planted at a density of 10,000 to 12,000 plants per ha. The blend of five Bordeaux varieties is an easy drinking style. The next four wines are all single vineyard Cabernet Franc (with a bit of Malbec thrown in). The Agrelo is from 930m altitude and quite soft in style. 

The last three wines are terrific. The Chacayes is fresh and elegant, with a fine spice mix and intense flavours (94 points). The El Chepillo is my favourite. It hits the palate with a great punch - a racy wine of superb intensity and depth, yet fresh (97 points). 

The last wine is the only wine from 2013, the  Gualltalary. There is a reason for this. This is the first pure Cabernet Franc to ever receive 100 points from Robert Parker. I think it is the only Mendoza wine to ever receive 100 points from him. This wine is very composed and elegant, with a long finish, but it is not a 100 pointer (96 points). The El Chepillo has more character, and when I later spoke with Alejandro, he said the El Chepillo was his preferred wine.

This was an outstanding tasting, showcasing the incredible talents of Alejandro Vigil. I have never known that 100% Cabernet Franc could taste this good. It can be a complete wine. If you come across these wines, you must try them.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Tasting Wines in Mendoza Region

Argentina is a basket case - we all know that. But Mendoza wine region is a beautiful oasis with world class wines. Let’s think about the leading wine regions in the world: Bordeaux, Burgundy, Tuscany, Piedmont, Rhine Valley, Mosel, Ribera del Duero, Douro Valley, Napa, Sonoma, Barossa Valley (and a few others). What do they have in common? Outstanding wines, beautiful scenery and good gastronomy.

Now let us turn to Mendoza. I discovered some world class wines. The scenery in front of the snow capped Andes is breathtaking. Many wineries now have restaurants which offer better menus than what you get outside. In addition, the people are friendly, knowledgeable and keen to help and explain. The weather is very predictable. With respect to the terroir, the soils are interesting, the water is pure from the Andes, the diurnal temperature variation is large. As the saying goes, ‘what’s not to like?’

There have been interesting developments since my last visit in 2014. The rise of the Uco Valley is continuing, for good reason. There is a much improved understanding of the terroir, and soils in particular, with many more single vineyard wines. The two leading winemakers of the region have new projects with small wineries and have fashioned world-class Malbec and Cabernet Franc.

The last time when I visited Mendoza, I did not blog much, as I was writing for Gourmet Traveller Wine. This time, I will provide blog posts of my visits in the following days. They will cover El Enemigo, Achaval Ferrer, Norton, Matervini, Zuccardi, Andeluna and The Vines.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Coffee Like Wine?

Depending where you live, you can now chose coffees from specific origins, not just flat whites, macchiatos, but Ethiopian coffee or coffee from Honduras or Kenia. Even Nespresso has jumped on this bandwagon.

I am on a coffee farm in Colombia, and the owner talks like a wine maker. In the past, it was all about healthy beans and increasing yields ( wasn’t this the way in most wine regions just a few decades ago?). Now his goal is to improve flavour. There are three key factors: genetics, terroir, processing.

The two main types of beans are arabica and robusta, but within those, different types of trees exist. Apart from soil and climate, he talks about microclimates. For example, growing trees and shading plants has improved the flavour, according to him. Drying beans can be done outdoors or in drying chambers. Key roasting variables are time and temperature.

The complexities are not as great as in winemaking, but it looks like coffee is taking a similar route.

Changes To My Blog

Google, which is hosting my blog, has announced a number of changes which may impact how you interact with me. There may be changes how to follow my blog and how to leave comments. However, the announcement is quite incomprehensible, and it is not clear to me if these changes relate to the way this blog is set up. Also, there is no statement with respect to timing. Another example of poor client interaction by a large tech company (some time ago they dropped the ability for me to do polls without ever informing me).

Friday, February 8, 2019

Ventisquero Pangea Syrah

Like Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz is grown in many parts of the world. As a result, it can deliver many different expressions. The 2012 Ventisquero Pangea Syrah from the Alpalta vineyard in Chile tastes of red plum, backberry and black pepper. It has elements of a cool climate Shiraz, but is quite intense. This medium to full-bodied wine delivers good energy along the palate. The flavours are a bit same-same along the palate, but the structure of the wine is sound, and the flavours are appealing.

Score: 92/++

Monday, February 4, 2019

Wine Masters (2)

I have now viewed all five episodes of season 1 and can give a more comprehensive review than in my previous post. The series is filmed and produced by Klaas de Jong, a dutch film maker and wine enthusiast. It covers five regions in France, the Rhone, Bordeaux, the Loire, Burgundy and Alsace. In each episode, a leading family from the region is featured. They are the Guigals from the Northern Rhone, the Bouard family of Chateau Angelus fame from St Emilion, the Bourgeois family from Sancerre, the Drouhin family from Burgundy, and the Trimbachs from Alsace.

The series is all class. The cinematography is outstanding, the interviews are excellent. In each case, at least one younger and an older representative of the family are featured, which gives a nice framework for the story. Expert commentary is delivered by highly regarded Tim Atkin and Jeannie Cho Lee, both Masters of Wine. They speak in an easily digestable and sometimes slightly cheeky fashion.

The information content works better in some episodes than in others. For example, it is not possible to discuss the range of Guigal wines or Drouhin, who makes about 100 different wines. What comes across in each episode is the purpose and passion of these families.

In the Bordeaux episode, you hear about the main grape varieties and different wine styles. In the Loire and Burgundy episodes, terroir is a major discussion point. You learn about different takes on Sauvignon Blanc in the Loire, and about biodynamics in Burgundy. Also some good comments on the wine ratings system here. The episode on Trimbach is strong on the main varieties, Riesling, Pinot Gris, and Gewuerztraminer.

It is probably inevitable that the films include quite a lot of walking through vineyards, grape picking and stainless steel, as every wine tour would. You can watch each episode on its own, but it comes together nicely as a whole. One minor problem; I could not turn on the subtitles in English, as some of the older winemakers talk in French. Maybe this is because I had a reviewer copy, not sure. But you can get the gist of what is being said anyway. If you are concerned about this, you can start with Burgundy, which is all in English. 

Wine Masters is on or vimeo on demand. There are different payment options. Season 2, about Italy, is out as well.    

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Achavel-Ferrer Finca Altamira Malbec

Achavel-Ferrer was my favorite winery when I visited the Mendoza region of Argentina in 2014. It was managed by a very talented Italian winemaker. However, the winery was bought by Russian interests, and he has moved to a new winery. I am going to be in Mendoza again in 10 days and will visit both wineries and report my impressions then. To get in the mood, I drank a bottle of one of Achavel-Ferrer's premium single vineyard wines last night.
The 2011 Achavel-Ferrer Finca Altamira Malbec comes from the Uco Valley, and a vineyard planted at over 1000m elevation. The colour is purple indicating small berries and thick skins, both not common in Malbec grown at sea-level.

The flavours are blackcurrent and elderberry. This is a concentrated and full-bodied wine with a big mouthfeel, but it is balanced, and the acidity (from cool nights in the vineyard) keeps the wine fresh. This wine is perhaps a bit dense, but of high quality. The integration of new french oak has been done well. An Argentinian or Australian steak would be the perfect pairing.

Score: 94/++  

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Maude Pinot Noir

I have been impressed with Maude Pinot Noir since I visited this beautiful property a few years ago. It is tucked away in a little valley in Central Otago and as beautiful as Rippon, I think. It is a small winery, but with an experienced team. It has now hit the big time, as the 2017 Pinot Noir won the Champions Trophy as best New Zealand wine of the year. The wine is a blend of three vineyards in Central Otago. There is also a premium Pinot Noir from the home block, called Maude Mt. Maude.

However, I am reviewing here the 2016 Maude Pinot Noir. The flavours are red and black cherry. There is an intensity in this wine, but it is not fat as some Central Otago Pinot Noirs, rather the flavours are layered, with attractive savoury notes. Balanced acidity cuts through the fruit, and the fine grained silky tannins lead to a long and lasting finish - not at all an entry level wine!

Score: 95/+++