Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Chateau Brown 2009: Tasty but 14.5% alcohol is too much

14.5% phew. Tasty though.
Call me a bluff old traditionalist, as Blackadder once said, but 14.5% alcohol, is too much for any red wine, except perhaps a dessert wine, however it tastes.

Chateau Brown 2009 is good but way too alcoholic even for that very forward year.

It has good balanced minerality, it's peppery, with huge dark fruit typical of 2009.

Fans of full-bodied American wine and fans of Parker will love this. It has more Merlot than Cabernet Sauvignon, which I am always a little dubious about.

It's also dark, inky and full of blackcurrent and cassis, Some reviewers said chocolate, and I kind of see what they meant.

Its slightly tannic but not overly so, and tastes like it should be drunk fairy young.

Chris Kissack, AKA the Wine Doctor, really rates this 2009 but oddly fails to mention the very high alcohol content.

I would give this a 15 or perhaps a 16, if I did ratings, which I of course do not. Who am I do so?

In conclusion, it's tasty but too strong to be a real gem, even at around £20 per bottle.

For a big(ish) tasty wine, I'd suggest instead a Saint-Estephe instead, Chateau Pickard perhaps, at this price range.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Sarget de Gruard Larose 2004: Excellent value under £25

Superb nose, will be better in five years
Second wines of second and third growth's are the way to go for value drinking.

That is, if you define value drinking around the £20+ mark.

That's hard to justify for every day quaffing of course.

But before opening this, Sarget de Gruard Larose 2004, the second wine of Gruard Larose, I'd had a glass of the Wine Society's Catena Cabernet Sauvignon for about £11 per bottle.

What a stark contrast, The Catena was really nothing special, despite the Wine Society hype. Big alcholic New World fruit, not much density, little complexity and a relatively disappointing length of finish given how they have sold this wine on their website.

Then we tried this Sarget de Gruard Larose 2004, which I bought in Carrefour in Bordeaux in October last year. I don't recall what I paid for it, perhaps 20 Euros.

Wow, what a difference. This 2004 is on the cusp of greatness, for the price and the year that is.

It's say £9 more than the Catena mentioned above, but a world away in difference. Well worth the extra £9, I would argue.

You can decant it for an hour or two, with an aerator (do they make a difference? I don't know) and just sit and breathe in the nose in a big Bordeaux glass for half an hour.

I didn't take a sip for ten minutes.

What a gorgeous nose of ripe cassis black fruit with a hint of mustiness/forest floor/age, and perhaps lead pencil shavings (first time I have picked that up in wine).

Pencil nonsense aside, it's certainly got a woody (but not oaky) bouquet, combines age, power and fruit superbly, and has wonderful balance.

The finish will improve I think, over the next five years or so. At nine years old, it is still rather young. It is still slightly tannic but I am sure those will even out in the next few years. One to keep, and to drink a bottle of occasionally to see how it is maturing.

Really superb value at around the £20 mark.

Here's one UK retailer that sells it.

I shall be hunting down a case of this to put away for 2015.

(I just noticed that I'd reviewed this wine before, here. I thought I had, but couldn't find it when I searched for it on the blog, but here it is. Interesting to note I had picked up slightly different notes last time.)

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Paolo Manzone Barolo Serralunga 2007: Austere, complex and classic in style

Powerful, elegant, punchy, complex
This wine is described elsewhere as "austere and intense".

I thought that was a very apt description. I had only a glass and a half, without it having much time to breathe, over dinner recently, and still it was superb.

Another reviewer says that the region, Serralunga d'Alba, is home to the most classically structured Barolos. 

This wine, left, scores 90 from one reviewer.

I thought it was superb, but it appears impossible to find, at least on the internet.

All the more reason to seek it out.

It strikes me, from what I read, as a deeply traditional example of the best of Barolo.

As elsewhere, there is huge controversy around the modern versions of Barolo, which have been accused of being too fruity and oaky (sound familiar Brunello and Bordeaux fans?).

Anyhow, this seems like a classic, if you can get hold of some.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Taylor's Vintage Port 1994: Wow, but not cheap

Hubbada Hubbada, damn fine Port
Usually, I'm not a huge port fan.

I often find it, well, a bit cloying. That's harsh I know.

That's probably a particularly tough assessment when it comes to good quality port, rather than the lower end stuff I said I quite liked on this blog before.

The 1994 Taylor's is the top end vintage, so I am told.

I am organising a wine tasting / 40th birthday on Friday and this is the last thing on the menu. So as organiser, I poured a glass to taste tonight. Wow.

It's about £80 a bottle from Fine and Rare UK. More from elsewhere.

Is it worth it? Depends on how much you like Port. I wouldn't pay that. But I am lucky enough to share this bottle with six others.

They say Wine Spectator gives it 100 points.

As we all know, the 100 point system is increasingly, and rightfully under scrutiny.

But this is damn fine Port I must say. As a Port amateur I can say it has a huge, alcoholic nose with gloriously complex and deep red fruit. It's big, smooth, supremely elegant and has without doubt, the best finish of a port I've known. Buy some. If you like top port, I imagine this is what it feels like.

I wrote the above prior to reading the Wine Spectator review on Amazon (Amazon, the shame!):

"In a word, superb. It's full-bodied, moderately sweet and incredibly tannic, but there's amazing finesse and refinement to the texture, not to mention fabulous, concentrated aromas of raspberries, violets and other flowers. Perhaps the greatest Taylor ever, it's better than either the '92 or the '70, though it's very like the '70 in structure."

Let it breathe, and it's an absolute belter. 

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Five wines of 2012 at under £10 per bottle

Here are five bottles under £10 that I'd pick out as my winners of 2012:

This wine is the best of the two Côtes du Rhône's on my list, the 2011 is reviewed here

I wouldn't go as far as Parker, who gave it 90 points and said "The Côtes du Rhône les Trois Soeurs offers a delicious mouthful of wine for a song. Its dense plum color is accompanied by notes of white chocolate, crushed berry fruit, earth and licorice...enormously satisfying." 

But for the price, it's a winner.  I would say though, that for just over £10, this option is a better one.

2) Penguin Sands Central Otago Pinot Noir

I picked this wine out for a few reasons. Firstly, you almost never see Central Otago wines at under £10. In my experience you rarely see them under £20.

I dread to think of the maker's margins on this wine, sold by Tesco at under £10 six or so months ago. However, supplier margins aside, if you can buy some, it's an excellent entry-level wine.

Central Otago wines are far superior to the Marlborough region further north (Tohu is an exception) and for the price this is a bargain.

3) Clos d’Alzan  Côtes du Rhône Villages Signargues

This wine is beautifully balanced. Great acidity, it's full flavoured and needs food.

I was able to buy it En primeur and so picked up a case for around £6-7 per bottle. It's now hard to find, although has the 2011, I wonder if it is quite as good. If you can find the 2010, it's great value drinking. I wish I'd bought a second case.  

If I had to pick an overall winner, it would probably be this.

The Wine Society doesn't need to share profits with shareholders, and so pours extra cash back into value for members.

My family have been members for decades and at around the £10-15 level, the Wine Society is always the place to start looking.

This Vacqueyras 2010 is as good an example of the area I've had, and a deserving member of the Society's Exhibition range. You'd expect to pay more than £15 for this wonderfully balanced example.

Unfortunately it seems hard to obtain these days, but again, if you can find it, buy a few cases. At £9.99 a bottle you can't go wrong. 

5) Los Vascos Colchagua Cabernet Sauvignon, 2011

This is probably the runner up, and is much more available than the 2010 Vacqueyras above. The Wine Society has it at £8.95 a bottle and describes it thus:

"A taste of fresh, ripe, unadorned and unoaked perfumed fruit which ripens so well on Chile's ungrafted vines. Elegant and full of charm. From the Rothschild estate".

 It's superbly delicious, fresh, smooth and wonderfully structured, particularly for the price. The 2009 and the 2010, if you can still buy them, are both also fabulous. I have also had the 2007 which is stunning. The 2011 is reviewed here by this blog.

Monday, 7 January 2013

The six most important words in wine tasting are...

"Complexity. The single greatest standard used in assessing the quality of a wine is complexity. The more times you can return to a glass of wine and find something different in it—in the bouquet, in the taste—the more complex the wine. The very greatest wines are not so much overpowering as they are seemingly limitless.

(This and the below, is all according to Matt Kramer in Wine Spectator. Full article here)

Texture. This is a feature of wine that too often is overlooked. Yet pay attention to texture, as it may be the most important "hidden" feature of wine quality. This is especially true with white wines; one of the "giveaways" to quality (and potential longevity) in dry white wines is revealed by texture.

Midpalate Density. Every taster has his or her go-to feature. For some it's bouquet. For others it's a wine's finish, whether it's short or long, intense or faint. For me, it's midpalate density.

The midpalate feature is sometimes hard for tasters to recognize. The easiest way to grasp the notion is to imagine a candy with a hard, dense center. You suck on the candy and figure that it's soon to be gone. Then you reach that hard, dense center and you discover that there's a lot more yet to come. Voilà! Midpalate density.

Proportion. The element of proportion is easily grasped. A wine, like an attractive person, should be reasonably proportionate. It shouldn't finish "short." You should have a sense of the wine's flavors being metered out to you in roughly equal amounts and time spans: the scent, the beginning taste, the midpalate and, critically, the finish.

Finesse. The feature of finesse is a favorite of mine. It's something I look for almost obsessively. Finesse is how the flavors of a wine are delivered. Imagine a lay-up in basketball where the player drives toward the basket, gracefully leaps up and the ball rolls off his fingertips and falls effortlessly into the net. That's finesse.

Balance. The concept of balance means different things to different tasters. It's one of those classic you-know-it-when-you-see-it qualities. At its most basic, balance refers to an equilibrium created by roughly equal amounts of “fruitiness” and acidity in wine (and sweetness in a sweet wine)."

I kind of know what he means here. I'm not sure I grasp all of it just yet, but it's best list I've seen to date

Chateau Gruard Larose 1983: Supreme elegance

Perfect claret

 In a small wine shop hidden away in the UK countryside, I found a few bottles of Chateau Gruard Larose 1983 in their cellar.

For some reason the purchase price was less than £50 a bottle.

Having opened, decanted and drunk a bottle on Saturday with the good lady, I can tell you it's a genuine gem.

I wasn't sure if I should decant it, and found tasting it upon opening left me none the wiser.

In the end I did, using an aerator (overkill I think).

It must have changed four or five times in the glass over a few hours.

Upon first taste, I picked up a little acid, and some cedar notes, perhaps some tobacco, within this wonderfully balanced wine.

It tasted to me like a first or second growth mature aged claret should, with those classic St Julien notes. The finish was about ninety seconds.

After just a few minutes, it turned much much sharper and acid.

At that point I began to feel I had screwed up quite badly, and had ruined the wine.

Luckily, after another fifteen minutes or so it changed again, softening and began opening up with floral aromas, becoming almost quite a light and elegant wine.

Then it changed again, the aged nuances came back and all the best elements combined and the balance came through.

I've not experienced anything quite like all that before. But perhaps I was not paying sufficient attention.

After three hours in the decanter it was in its prime, and didn't then last long.

The nose came back out, the age was present but with plenty of fruit and the finish was shorter but sublime.

I don't normally write this many notes but given the experience, why not.

The wine scores about 92/100 from many critics. More on it and where to get some is here.

I will be treasuring my last two bottles of this, and likely buying more when I can.

Friday, 4 January 2013

A visit to Château d'Yquem, king of wines

You can just stand and admire...
 According to my learned friends who know wine, unlike me, Château d'Yquem is the world's best wine.

I'm not sure who decided that, and I am sure there are some who would disagree. 

I wouldn't know, as I haven't tasted its best. 

On a recent trip to Bordeaux I was lucky enough to pay the place a visit.

Despite the somewhat gloomy October weather, which ruined the harvest to the point that for the first time in 20 years, Château d'Yquem will make no wine from the 2012 harvest, the place still takes your breath away. Like Chateau Margaux and Pichon Baron, it simply does not look real.

A fairytale setting. We arrived during part of the harvest, which you can see below being brought in.

Stunning, even in October's gloom
 We tasted a few grapes from the fields, without realising we might be some of the few that did in 2012.

We tasted the 2006, and I can't recall much about what it was like I'm afraid, and I hang my head in shame.

In my defence, a visit just before to Haut-Bailly had probably overwhelmed my humble palate.

I remember it was of course very very good, but I am told 2006 was not the best year for Sauternes, which is probably why freeloading visitors like us were given it. I'd have done the same.

This is not of course to cast aspersions on the excellent hospitality we were shown, merely to indicate that like Wayne in Wayne's world, we were unworthy (of the good stuff)

Here's a bit about it from Wikipedia, and a few more pictures are below:

"Fresh" from the fields
"The vineyard has 126 hectares (310 acres) in the Sauternes appellation, though only 100 hectares (250 acres) are in production at any time. Each year, vines from two to three hectares are grubbed up and left fallow for a year. Since grapes from newly planted vines are not worthy of the chateau name for five to seven years, about 20 hectares are held in reserve each year. The vines consist of 80% Sémillon and 20% Sauvignon blanc, though the latter's vigour implies the proportions are more nearly equal in the final wine.

Harvesting is carefully timed, and on average six tries through the vineyard are undertaken each year to ensure that only the botrytized grapes are selected. The yield averages nine hectolitres per hectare (2.5 acres), compared to the usual twelve to twenty hectolitres per hectare in Sauternes. The grapes are pressed three times and transferred to oak barrels for maturation over a period of about three years.

On average, 65,000 bottles are produced each year. In a poor vintage, the entire crop is deemed unworthy of bearing the Château's name; this happened nine times in the 20th century: 1910, 1915, 1930, 1951, 1952, 1964, 1972, 1974, and 1992 and in the 21st century one time: 2012."

Bringing in the harvest
Good, I think

It keeps for centuries, apparently
No fatuous caption needed

2001 Rieussec, Sauternes: "Monumental"

Holding a not very good degree in English Literature, I thought I knew something about flowery, verbose descriptions.

That was until I discovered wine critics, retailers and decent plonk.

Wordsworth at his worst has nothing on the wine industry.

But sometimes that's justified, almost.

So it may prove with Rieussec 2001 from Sauternes. I'm not a huge fan of sweet wines.

Give me a Negroni anytime, or a Marsala, so I used to think. Even a decent port.

Yes I know they are aperativos, (Port excepted) but generally I'd rather drink them than most sweet wines.

Many are just, well, too sweet for me. I tried the Climens 2006 at New Year, and was largely disappointed.

But I've been lucky enough to try a few of the top Sauternes in the last year or so.

Climens 2001, which I attempted to write about here, is one of the greatest wines of all time.

Rieussec 2001, which scores between 95 and 100 points (see here) is also amazing.

Parker's Wine Advocate apparently says "A monumental effort, the 2001 Rieussec boasts a light to medium gold color in addition to a fabulous perfume of honeysuckle, smoky oak, caramelized tropical fruits, creme brulee, and Grand Marnier. The wine is massive and full-bodied yet neither over the top nor heavy because of good acidity. With intense botrytis as well as a 70-75-second finish, this amazing Sauternes will be its apogee between 2010-2035."

It's a truly wonderful drop. On balance I preferred the more subtle Climens. But that is perhaps splitting hairs.

It may also have been that my palate was somewhat affected by the all the Calon Segur we had tasted just before it, reviewed here in a recent vertical tasting. 

Lalande D'Auvion Medoc 2001: Mature claret at a bargain price

Aged claret at under £15, you can't argue...
Working today in deepest Suffolk, UK, I found a wonderful little wine shop, with the help of a friend.

The owner has some absolute gems on his shelves.

His shop is called Wattisfield Wines in a lovely village called Walsham Le Willows. 

One these gems is this Lalande D'Auvion Medoc 2001.

At £13 this is a steal.

Mature, aged claret that opened up beautifully after an hour.

Critics seem to score it in the late 80's. For value and taste, it's fabulous.

The reviews, as always, seem to pick up things that I could never taste. But I can tell you it's delicious. I can't swear that: "This tawny-hued wine is beginning to reveal secondary aromatics of smoky bacon, caramel, leather and earth"  but for under £15, it is superb.

The grapes are harvested mechanically, according to the research I've done. But for the price you can't expect them individually caressed by an experienced picker.

This is what I love about learning about wine. You can find hidden gems in the least expected places, such as Walsham Le Willows. Here's where you can buy it. For value, it's hard to beat.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Joseph Perrier 1990 (champagne)

What a champagne this is.

It's a real vintage find.

And at around £60-70 a bottle it's a steal for what it is.

Not your everyday quaffing champers for sure but as a special treat, Fine and Rare can secure a bottle easily, I am told.

I had it prior to the recent Calon Segur vertical 'tasting' I took part in during December.

Aged champagne is not an area I know much about but boy has Joseph Perrier 1990 aged well.

It's dry, I want to say nutty, not musty like a well ageing red but you can taste the age and see it in the darker colour.

Attempted descriptions aside, it's well worth sampling. Yum.

Wine Society Vacqueyras 2010: A bargain of 2012 under £10

This Wine Society Vacqueyras 2010 is definitely one of the buys of 2012.

It's not surprising that the society has sold out of the 2010.

At £9.99 a bottle it's one of the bargains of the last twelve months.

Their description of it's "power, boldness and rustic red-berry charm" is right on the money.

2010 was of course an outstanding year for most Rhone wines. I've not had a bad one yet, and have reviewed a few others. 

Given it now seems to be hard to get at the price, this wine is probably a decent alternative. I had a case of it last year and it's wonderfully balanced. Not for the faint-hearted though.