Happy New Year & 3 Wines of the Week…

Well, here we are at the start of 2015 and still not a jet pack, hover mobile, silver jump suit or meal consisting solely of pills in sight. How wrong all the soothsayers were!

I hope your Christmas and New Years were relaxing, fun and memorable and that you enjoyed plenty of good food and wine. I’m sure you noticed that I took a bit of a break from writing these pages, I hope that you didn’t mind or begrudge me the time off.

Like you I drank a fair amount, mainly good sparkling wines and half decent Champagne if truth be told, but I did indulge with a few select bottles including the 3 that I am about to mention to you. Indeed if I had not taken a break from writing they would have been my Wines of the Week numbers 31, 32 and 33 – so here they are, better late than never eh?

Wine of the Week 31

Christmas seems to be a time for indulgence, when we consume the sorts of things – and the sorts of quantities – that we deny ourselves the rest of the year. Certainly as soon as the grind is over – about halfway through Christmas Eve I find – I do relax more and start drinking at all sorts of odd times of day that I just would not normally. Nothing gets me into a Christmas mood as much as a Panettone and a bottle of a light Moscato for an early Christmas tea – fine Prosecco is also superb with Panettone and I did indeed drink a superb Prosecco just the other day, but you will have to wait a while to hear all about that magnificent wine.

 

Moscato vines growing on Piemonte's rolling hills.

Moscato vines growing on Piemonte’s rolling hills.

image_2711702_full2013 Elio Perrone Sourgal Moscato d’Asti
Casa Vinicola Elio Perrone
Castiglione Tinella, Piemonte, Italy
D.O.C.G. Moscato d’Asti

Moscato d’Asti is less fizzy than Asti itself, but tastes very similar and is similarly light light in alcohol – 5% in this instance. This very lightness makes it a gentle way into the indulgences of the Festive season as it doesn’t make you too tipsy and you can drink rather a lot of it too. That all misses the point somewhat though, I like this style os wine because when they are well made – as this example is – they are utterly delicious. Sourgal by the way is the name of the vineyard, as this is a single vineyard wine.

The wine is very pale, with just a little lemony, sherbet colour and the CO2 gives a lovely lacy look to the surface of the wine – gently frothy is another way of putting it. It is the aromas of these wines that get me every time, they smell of delicate candied fruit, especially lemon peel, with the merest touch of brioche too – yes they really do smell of panettone, which is why they go so well together. There are other gorgeous aromas too, touches of orange, flourishes of acacia and white peach, all of which makes it scintillating and joyous to sniff. The palate is soft and very light, lightly effervescent and very fruity with flavours of grapes, peach and lemon peel. The sweetness is there, but it is beautifully balanced and just comes along for the ride rather than dominating. All in all this is delicious and so, so drinkable, enjoy it on its own or with something lightly sweet like fruit or that panettone – 88/100 points.

If you are labouring under the impression that Moscato d’Asti is an old fashioned wine, or that you won’t like it, just try it with an open mind. These wines deliver pure, uncomplicated pleasure and joy to the drinker, go on, you know you want to try it.

Available in the UK for £7.50 a bottle from The Wine Society.
Stockist details in the US are available here.

Red Bordeaux

Bordeaux map QS 2011 watermark

Map of Bordeaux – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement.

Funny thing Christmas. Lots of us are quite happy drinking wines from across the globe throughout the year, but come Christmas we come over all traditional and start thinking thoughts of Claret. I love Claret, red Bordeaux was my second wine love – after Spain – and the wines continue to excite me, or perhaps I should say are exciting me again as I have made a conscious decision to reengage with Bordeaux wines in recent years.

Well over the festive period two rather splendid Clarets came my way, both were from the superb 2009 vintage, so they were probably too young, but that did not stop them from being hugely enjoyable and impressive, so I have made them both Wines of the Week. What’s more I have only ever stayed in 2 Bordeaux Châteaux and it was these two (but with nearly 30 years between each stay) – coincidence?

Wine of the Week 32 – right bank revelry

Saint-Émilion is a delightful town.

Saint-Émilion is a delightful town.

In my mind I have always really been more of a left bank, Médoc kind of guy than a lover of right bank wines. Something about the firm tannic structure of the Cabernet Sauvignon dominated Médoc style appeals to me. Or so I used to think, but don’t people always say that we move to the right as we get older? Well I was most agreeably surprised on 2 recent trips to Bordeaux to find myself falling for the fruity charms of the Saint-Émilion style, as well as the place. Saint-Émilion is an utterly gorgeous town to visit, as long as there are not too many tourists and I was with a group that were put up in a charming and very old Château called Cantin. Most of the properties in Bordeaux are nineteenth century confections rather than genuinely fortified residences, so – much as I like the Second Empire architectural style – the seventeenth century Château Cantin was a bit of a delight. Sadly I did not take many photographs of the Château itself, but if you look at the bottle below, see the label? In the picture the Château has a single turret with a window. Well that was my bedroom and I did take some pictures of the view from it.

Château Cantin - the view from the window in the turret that you can see on the label. That was my bedroom.

Château Cantin – the view from the window in the turret that you can see on the label – that was my bedroom.

Chateau Cantin2009 Château Cantin 
Saint-Émilion Grand Cru
St. Christophe des Bardes, Saint-Émilion, Bordeaux

Although the building is old, Cantin was in the doldrums for a long time and did not really start making any reputation for itself until the Group Les Grands Chais de France took over the management of it and started investing heavily in the vineyard and winery. 2007 was the first vintage of this new regime and the results have been extraordinary. I watched the harvest come in in 2013 and they seem to take the utmost care with everything. It’s all done by hand with 3 selections to make sure only the good grapes get in. The fermentation takes place in a mix of stainless steel and concede vats and the wine is aged for 12 months in barrel. The blend is something like 80% merlot with 10% each of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon.

The property was originally built by Benedictine monks as a summer residence for the Canon of Saint-Émilion and the name comes from the Latin word cantio, which means song, perhaps after all the evensong that was sung here?

It strikes me that this is a very modern Claret, the colour is an intense, opaque purply, plum black.
The nose is scented with spice, cinnamon and coffee, with rich plum, blackberry and cooked strawberry notes together with dried cranberry and blueberry too.
The palate is medium to full bodied, dense and velvety with loads of ripe, sweet red to black fruit and supple tannins. It really is wonderfully rich and concentrated while being deliciously drinkable, it’s let down just a tad by the alcoholic heat on the finish – it is 14.5%, but the fruit is so lovely you can forgive it. A terrific wine though with rich savoury development characters just beginning to emerge through the puppy fat of its ripe fruit, more complexity will emerge if you age it for another 4 years or so – 90/100 points.

Available in the UK for £24.99 per bottle from Waitrose & Waitrose Cellar.

Wine of the Week 33 – left bank lusciousness

My other Christmas Claret came from Bordeaux’s left bank and more specifically the famous commune / village of Saint-Julien.

The Haut-Médoc's gravel soils and the Gironde estuary in the distance.

The Haut-Médoc’s gravel soils and the Gironde estuary in the far distance.

Ch lagrange 20092009 Château Lagrange
Troisièmes Grand Cru Classé
Saint-Julien, Haut-Médoc, Bordeaux

I stayed at this beautiful, and more classic Second Empire style Château on my first ever trip to Bordeaux back in 1986. In those days I stayed in the grape pickers dorms, whereas nowadays I get a proper bedroom, so some things are looking up! The winery was extensively modernised from the 1980s onwards – when the Japanese Suntory Group purchased it – and this has resulted in the wines becoming brighter, bolder and better in my opinion – I have been fortunate to taste vintages back to 1970.

The blend is 73% Cabernet Sauvignon with 27% Merlot, fermented in stainless steel tanks and then aged for 20 months in oak barrels, 60% of which are new.

I was very impressed by this wine, the colour was deep, crimson-black and opaque. The nose had lifted sweetly ripe cassis, blackberry, black cherry and blueberry as well as smoke, cedar and espresso notes. There was even a fresh floral quality to it which lightened the load somewhat and gave balance. The palate is concentrated sure, but medium-bodied. The fruit however is very concentrated and would easily satisfy those seeking full on full-bodied wines. Clearly there is plenty of oak – the oaky / espresso quality follows through on to the palate – but there is so much ripe fruit – blackcurrant, blackberry, black cherry – that they balance each other beautifully, neither dominates the other. The tannins too are very ripe and seductive, so they do not seem astringent, but they are there, so the wine will age. There is a little of acidity and minerality too, which also show that it will age if you want to keep it and which freshen up the palate and stop it cloying. Right now though it that richness and softness and sweetly ripe rich fruit that the wine is all about and it delivers almost sensual pleasure and delight. A terrific Bordeaux that is joyous now or will repay cellaring for a good number of years – 92/100 points.

Available in the UK for £39.99 from Lidl.
US stockist information is available here.

Both of these Clarets were a real treat and put a smile on the face of everyone who tasted them, so if you need something a little special, Bordeaux can deliver the goods at prices that are not too outrageous – leave a little space for the Moscato though…

Happy New Year to you all and let’s hope that 2015 is a good one with peace breaking out everywhere and a modicum of sanity returning to the world.

 

 

 

 

Wine of the Week 21 – blast from my past

Saint-Émilion with vineyards in the background.

Saint-Émilion with vineyards in the background.

Long ago when I was just a boy I was a trainee wine shop manager. Not knowing as much about wine as my miss-spent youth had led me to expect – I well remember asking what claret was! – I set out trying all the wines in the shop that I could afford.

It was 1984 and Bordeaux was big. The 1982 vintage was being talked about with reverence and it had a huge positive effect on the Bordeaux trade. My shop was awash with impressive looking clarets in wooden boxes. Not all of them were silly money either, we had the 1982 Sarget de Gruaud-Larose and 1982 Connétable Talbot for sale at £4.99.

Eager to try this famous vintage I splashed out on a swanky looking bottle of Saint-Émilion Grand Cru called Château du Cauze. It was £3.99 and I was very proud of it. It seemed such a lot of money for a bottle of wine,  my father and brother thought I was mad, although I seem to remember they both helped me drink it! Sadly I did not write tasting notes in those days, merely kept labels, so I do not know what it tasted like, but I do remember that I loved it. It was a life changing moment as I felt that I had tasted good claret. The cases it came in were even those posh wooden ones and I still have a wooden 1982 Château du Cauze box that I use for tools all these years later.

Saint=Émilion really is a beautiful town and well worth visiting.

Saint=Émilion really is a beautiful town and well worth visiting.

As the song says, I have often stopped and thought about Château du Cauze, but have never actually seen it for sale since. Until the other day, when I thought I should really get down to Lidl and check out their much vaunted new range of wines French wines. The range focuses on Bordeaux in some detail, but also includes wines from the Loire, Champagne, Alsace, Burgundy, the Rhône, Provence, Languedoc-Roussillon and the South-West. The idea, it seems, is to wean the wine buying middle classes away from Waitrose and get them coming to Lidl and certainly the range looks interesting and we are promised more to come this month too.

Well, blow me if one of the wines wasn’t Château du Cauze, 2011 this time though, not 1982. ’82 was, of course a great vintage of legendary high quality, whereas 2011 is much more mixed, but I just couldn’t resist buying a bottle just for old times’ sake. What’s more, I liked it so much I made it my Wine of the Week.

Saint-Émilion vineyards.

Saint-Émilion vineyards.

Ch du Cauze2011 Château du Cauze
Saint-Émilion Grand Cru
Bordeaux, France
A proper Château graces the label and it actually looks like that in real life too. It is built on the sight of a medieval bastide that was destroyed during the Hundred Years War – Saint Émilion was right on the border between English Aquitaine and France. Just down the road is Castillon, which makes its Côtes de Castillon wines in a similar style to St-Émilion. The capital is fittingly called Castillon-la-Bataille as it was the site of the last battle of the Hundred Years War. That was in 1453, the English were defeated and their commander, John Talbot Earl of Shrewsbury was killed.
Château du Cauze belongs to the Laporte family who also own another château in Montagne-Saint Émilion. The wine is a blend of 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and around half of it gets aged in barrel for 12 months.
The colour is pretty deep, opaque, ruby with touches of purple and garnet.
There’s lots of fruit on the nose, plums, blackberry and blackcurrant together with a whiff of pencil lead and cedar. There is rich elderflower too, caramel and a touch of dried fruit.
The palate is soft, with supple tannins just adding touch of structure, while a little acidity cleans it up and makes it fresher than the colour suggests. Nice weight of fruit and concentration, fresh acidity and layers of flavour make it seem quite complex for the price.

While I wasn’t as bowled over by it as I seem to remember I was by the 1982, I still think it is a good wine – I am a great deal more experienced and knowledgeable than I was then, so am probably assessing it more accurately. Perfectly nice to drink now, I think this could age nicely for 4 years or so too. I am sure it is plusher and more fruity than the 1982 and at 14.5% it’s certainly more alcoholic, but it carries this very well thanks to the freshness and balance – 88/100 points.

Available in the UK from Lidl @ £11.99 per bottle.

I was very pleased to discover that this is still a good wine, what’s more it is sensibly and honestly priced. It seems to me that this wine has a lot more to it than all those £12 bottles which are artificially discounted down to £8 or £6. If you fancy a bottle of claret at a good price then this fits the bill perfectly and is lovely with a slow cooked shoulder of lamb.

Mountains, Saints and Satellites – stunning quality in Montagne-St Émilion

It is so easy to fall into a rut with wine. There is so much wine available from so many different places nowadays that you have to make a cut off somewhere and for many years for me that cut off was the classic wines of France. Only the cheaper versions though, I have always retained my love of France’s great wines.

My focus is always to find really lovely wine that over performs for its price and for many years the famous bits of France usually failed to do that at the cheaper end. Many of the classic regions of France have enormous fame, but the quality of the affordable examples seldom showed what the top end ones were like – and most of us have to drink the cheaper versions. The result of this was that consumers were often buying the lesser examples of Sancerre, Chablis, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, St Émilion and the like and yet they were never truly cheap, so still seen as bit of a treat. Sadly many of these wines were a pale shadow of the wines that have made the name on their label so prestigious and sought after and so for long gave the impression that France offered bad value for money. For quite a long time the affordable versions of classic French wines were dilute, unattractive and uninspiring as well as being more expensive than many good wines from elsewhere.

By the way it isn’t snobbery that made me avoid them, those who know me will know that price tags do not impress me at all. No, it was the lack of character and concentration that made me avoid these wines. Who wants a Chablis that could pass for a Muscadet in a blind tasting, or a Châteauneuf that offers less character than a Fitou or Minervois?

This lack of quality at the lower end was, in my opinion at least partly responsible for the sizeable minority of UK consumers who nowadays claim to avoid and dislike all French wine. Continue reading