This is a new wine from Champagne Veuve Clicquot, called Extra Brut Extra Old. With a dosage of 3 g/l this is the first release of an extra brut from this house (with the exception of some of the very limited Cave Privée releases). It contains six different vintages of reserve wines (1988-2010), aged for 3 years on the lees. It has a lower pressure than most Champagnes (4.5 bars versus 6 bars) which makes the fizz less assertive. The blend is 47% Pinot Noir and then equal parts Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. RRP is £69 and initial stockists will be Jeroboams, Selfridges and Harrods in the UK.
Champagne Veuve Clicquot Extra Brut Extra Old NV France
Disgorged 06/16. There’s lovely precision to this wine. It’s bright and citrussy, but there’s also some pear and peach richness, a touch of red cherry, a hint of cream and subtle toast. All blends together with lovely finesse. It’s tight and fruit focused, but it also has some savoury maturity in the background. I love the contrasts here, with high acidity and linearity, complemented by the notes of maturity. Really gastronomic and structural, this is quite serious and austere and is quite a contrast to the richness regular Veuve NV, although the family resemblance is there from the reserve wines, which feature quite prominently in the NV. 93/100
The response of most people to the question, ‘is wine art?’ will be, ‘who cares?’ But I think it’s an interesting question, and it’s one that floated around in my mental space on a dog walk yesterday.
What is art? What is an art object? I recently had a look round a display of contemporary art at the Almenkerk winery in Elgin, which is curated by a South African academic. One of the pieces was a bit of gum stuck to the wall, while another was a section of piping with a tap in the middle, lying on the floor.
So what is it that transports these mundane objects into the realm of art? Is it the intent of the artist? That’s an unsatisfying answer. Of course, there’s potential for a digression here. Does something being classified as ‘art’ indicate that it has some merit? Is there good art and bad art? If I were to take six stones from a beach and arrange them, and call this art, is it really art? Would it make a difference if these six stones were arranged by a professional artist?
I think a much better answer is that something is art if it has meaning to an observer. If I go to a gallery and see a painting or an installation, then if it has meaning to me beyond its physical constitution or nature, it is art. Going back to the earlier example, the pipe and tap is art if it means more to me than simply being a pipe and tap.
Art is something that is experienced by our senses. So does art exist across all the sensory modalities? Traditionally, the proximal senses of touch, taste and smell have been excluded from art, as these are seen as being secondary to the distal senses of sight and hearing.
With food and drink, the act of experiencing them consumes and thus destroys them, which also counts against them as being regarded as art. But now we see that perception is a unity, and that breaking up the senses into separate modalities is illogical (most perception is multisensory, and subject to lots of hidden brain processing), then maybe we should rethink whether smells or tastes can be ‘art’.
As for wine, most of it is consumed without too much thought. It is just wine. But fine wines – those wines that prompt commentary or conversation – are different. It could be argued that the experience of some wines, including the setting, the presentation, the label, the theatre of opening and pouring, and then the act of drinking, could be classified as art. Some art forms are participatory, and with the experience of fine wine, we join in. We bring a lot to the wine tasting event, and it is our participation, and the meaning that we derive from the wine, that I think allows us to consider wine as art, in some settings.
A quick video of a grape vine being pruned a couple of weeks ago in the Coteaux du Giennois, in the centre Loire. It was late to be pruning: the vines had already started budding. This is single guyot pruning, leaving just one cane that is then tied down to the fruiting wire, which here in France is quite low. As you can see, experienced pruners know straight away which cuts to make.
Tasted through the new releases from Sasha Lichine’s Château d’Esclans in Provence. This winery has been a remarkable success story because of its very smart strategy. High quality wines, with impeccable packaging and good marketing, starting with the multi-million bottle Whispering Angel and then leading up to the super-expensive Garrus. Rosé is the main story here, but there’s also a very good white (from Rolle) and red.
Whispering Angel Rosé 2016 Côtes de Provence, France
13% alcohol. Very fresh and pretty with lovely tangerine and passionfruit, as well as some lemony brightness. There are hints of watermelon and cranberry adding a bit of red fruit character. This is a lovely fruity style of rosé with freshness, in a dry style. This is so pretty and delicious, and the packaging is fantastic. 89/100
Château d’Esclans Rock Angel Rosé 2016 Côtes de Provence, France
13.5% alcohol. Very pale in colour. Tight and a bit reductive with some bright grapefruit and lemon notes. There’s freshness and precision here with some savoury notes alongside the fruit. Nice stoniness here, and a hint of red cherry in the background. I like this quite a bit. 90/100
Château d’Esclans Les Clans Rosé 2015 Côtes de Provence, France
14% alcohol. Complex and intriguing with lovely fennel, hazelnut and spice notes. There’s some pear and apple character, as well as subtle strawberry and cherry notes. The texture is really appealing, and it has warmth and a sake-like quality. A really good food wine, with the oak adding depth and integrating nicely. 92/100
Château d’Esclans Garrus Rosé 2015 Côtes de Provence, France
14% alcohol. Powerful and intense with some spicy, cedary oak characters meshing well with citrus, yellow plum and pear fruit and hints of fennel and sandalwood. There’s complexity and texture, as well as fresh citrus notes that balance out the richer characters well. Such a distinctive wine, and from past vintages it seems to age really well, too. Grand Cru rosé. 93/100
Château d’Esclans Déese Diane Rouge 2013 Côtes de Provence, France
This is quite dense and rich with grippy, tarry blackberry and blackcurrant fruit, with some cedary undercurrents. Firm and focused with nice grip, and a bit of herb and spice complexity under the fresh, slightly angular fruit. Tightwound, with potential for development. 90/100
Château d’Esclans Déese Astrée Blanc 2015 Côtes de Provence, France
14% alcohol. 100% Rolle (Vermentino). This is really delicate and elegant, with nice precise lemony fruit and a bit of pear and fennel richness, together with a touch of spice on the finish. The beginning of this wine is light and delicate, while the finish is warmer, spicier and more substantial. Intriguing and really impressive. 91/100
Week one of this second tranche of the 2017 International Wine Challenge is over. Except for the crew, that is: they have to stay the weekend doing the immense job of reflighting all the thousands of wines that have made the cut into week two.
When we get back to the Oval on Tuesday, we’ll be looking to award medals to the successful wines from week one. Removing the non-medal worthy wines helps make this process a bit easier. We’ll be back for a couple of days the week after for trophy judging.
For the last four days I’ve been one of the team of six co-chairs who have been re-tasting all the rejected wines. It’s a tough task, and it can leave you feeling a bit dispirited. For while the average standard of wine is better now than it was a few decades ago, there are still quite a lot of wines out there that you or I wouldn’t want to drink. I have also been running the faults panel, where I get to verify the wines rejected as faulty so we have good statistics on the prevalence of each fault type. There have been lots of faults.
The real benefit of a competition like the IWC is that the medals awarded act as reliable buying cues for ordinary people. It you only have £5-6 to spend on a bottle, if it has a medal from a well judged competition like this, it’s a really good sign that you will like the wine. We spend a lot of time deliberating over the award of a medal, and a lot of work goes in to making sure the results of the IWC are fair and robust.
Right now, though, I need a rest. Being a co-chair is physically exhausting. I’m looking forward to a proper weekend, like normal people with jobs have, where I can lie in and take things easy. I’m also looking forward to giving my palate a rest.
After judging at the IWC on Thursday there was a chance to try some more wine. Normally after a busy day tasting hungreds of wines, the last thing I feel like is more wine. But these wines were different: eight Kopke Colheita Ports from 2007 back until 1937.
A Colheita is a tawny port from a single vintage, and they are kept in cask until bottling – generally, they don’t improve much with time in bottle. These had just been bottled from the cask a couple of weeks earlier, and all are currently available for sale.
Each of the Colheitas was quite special, and there was a clear progression in terms of complexity and concentration with age.
Kopke Colheita 2007 Douro, Portugal Newly released: the earliest a Colheita can be relased is at 7 years old, but Kopke wait until the wines are 10. This is wam, spicy and raisiny. It’s sweet and already smooth and quite complex, giving a glimpse of what is to come. 92/100
Kopke Colheita 1999 Douro, Portugal Complex, spicy and raising with an appealing saline edge. Some lovely savoury notes developing here. Has warmth and complexity. 94/100
Kopke Colheita 1981 Douro, Portugal This is quite special. Wonderfully spicy and raisiny with some fresher citrus and mineral characters, as well as cedary notes. Direct, thrilling and intense. 96/100
Kopke Colheita 1978 Douro, Portugal
Lovely spicy depth here with some fudge and herb notes. Warm and cedary with attractive softness, and hints of damp earth, but in a very nice way. 95/100
Kopke Colheita 1967 Douro, Portugal Light and elegant with orange peel, lemons and some subtle raisin characters. This is a fresh, lighter style and it’s really beautiful. 95/10
Kopke Colheita 1957 Douro, Portugal
There’s a hint of treacle here. It’s rich and dense with old furniture notes and lovely concentration and intensity. Nice depth. 96/100
Kopke Colheita 1941 Douro, Portugal Such a complex note: spice, earth and raisins. Very rich with treacle and cedar as well as a lively spiciness. Has the concentration of age. Thrilling wine. 97/100
Kopke Colheita 1937 Douro, Portugal Not often you get to drink an 80 year old wine. Very cedary wuth some treacle and spice notes, candied citrus fruits, spice and herbs. Has a strong saltana character with some Christmas cake richness. Lovely, intense wine. 97/100
Chris and Suzaan Alheit’s story is one of discovering great vineyards, and then making wine from them, very simply (see my article from a visit three years ago, when they were just starting out). ‘I’ve spent innumerable hours looking on google earth and driving around, looking for the best sites,’ says Chris. His first wine, the Cartology, was incredibly well received when it was first released, and subsequent releases from single sites have gone from strength to strength. Perfectionism and attention to detail are what makes these wines so special: there’s no winemaking trickery involved, and they would qualify as natural wines by any sensible definition of the term.
Canadian journalist Treve Ring and I visited Chris, along with his assistant winemaker Franco Laurens, at his Hemelrand winery, in Hemel-en-Aarde. He says that with the 2017 vintage, which we tasted from barrel, there will be some new Stellenbosch releases, although he’s not revealing more just yet.
Here’s an interview with Chris:
These are our notes on the 2015s and 2016s.
Alheit Cartology 2015
14% Semillon. ‘The idea was to make a very Cape wine from very Cape vineyards,’ says Chris Alheit. ‘This is the same set of vineyards we have been working with since 2013. The initial growth of 20 to 40 then to 80 barrels is because we just bought more of the vineyards that we knew worked.’ There are 9 parcels in this. Complex and detailed with lovely spicy structure to the pear and ripe apple fruit, with some citrus peel freshness. Lovely acid structure sitting under the complex fruit, with a structured finish. Has some pear skin on the finish, and a hint of green tea. Just lovely. 94/100 (JG)
Alheit Cartology 2015 The terrific 2015 shines here in this lauded chenin, splashed with 14 percent sémillon. The goal of Cartology, the study of maps, according to Alheit was “to make a very Cape wine from very Cape vineyards.” This vintage was up to 80 barrels, but will be drawn back most likely to 60 barrels to make more single site wines in future. Wild ferment, bush vines from nine parcels in Skurfberg, Perdeberg, Bottelary, False Bay and Botrivier. The Semillon comes from the old La Colline block in Franschhoek (still the same building blocks since the initial Cartology). Lovely pear, orange blossoms glide on creamy silkiness on the palate, with fine spicing and herbal lees on the finish. There’s an interesting mint flick that appears now and again. Complex and youthful still, this has a way to go. 93/100 (TR)
Alheit Radio Lazarus 2015 There’s a lovely dry, dusty, stony edge to the taut pear and ripe apple fruit. There’s an orange peel character, too. So structured and fine with great definition. Feels lovely in the mouth with nice grip. Though-provoking and detailed. 95/100 (JG)
Alheit Radio Lazarus 2015 Stellenbosch chenin blanc, one third in old barrel and the rest in amphora. Radio Lazarus is taken from two sloping sites in Bottlerary, facing each other, and named as such because radios disseminate an idea (plus the top of the two hills have radio towers on top). Pure and linear, with spices, pear, herbal lined pear skin drawn along a vibrating backbone of acidity. Dusty herbal spice and saline closes out the lingering finish. 93/100 (TR)
Alheit Magnetic North 2015
Ungrafted Chenin vineyards from up the west coast. Powerful, very fresh and complex with a slightly salty edge to the grippy lemon and mandarin fruit. Has real focus and great acidity with a pure, linear personality. Lovely salty, mineral finish. So fine and detailed. 96/100 (JG)
Alheit Magnetic North Makstok 2015 This is ungrafted chenin, from a high, north-facing ridge in the Skurfberg/Citrusdal Mountain region. Quite round and generous, but with a linearity driven through with a defining laser lemon acidity cut. Tightly wound still, this will go very far. A stunner. 94/100 (TR)
Alheit La Colline Vineyard 2015 Franschhoek Semillon Blanc with some Semillon Gris, planted 1936. Beautiful aromatics with some green tea and seaweed hints. Saline and detailed with lovely herbs and citrus. So complex and with lovely savoury dimension to the fruit. This has complexity and finesse. Stunning. 96/100 (JG)
Alheit La Colline Vineyard 2015 Old vine Franschhhoek sémillon from 1936 – a pre-clonal, 16th C massale selection) with 10 percent sémillon gris tipped in. Savoury throughout (reductive in the very best way) with wild and alluring herbal, a touch of brown butter to open the fuller palate, one with the waxy sémillon hue, but with a tight focus. Precise fine spicing and acidity frames and carries to the lingering end. Beauty mineral salts ring on the finish. Stunner. 95/100 (TR)
Alheit Hemelrand Vine Garden 2015 Hemel-en-Aarde 14.5% alcohol. Predominantly Rousanne with Chenin, Chardonnay and Verdelho. 360 m on the ridge. Very fruity and aromatic with lovely delicacy allied to fruity richness. Pears, yellow plums and peaches with some grapey richness. Nicely fruity and expressive with a friendly personality, but also some seriousness. Ripe and rich. 93/100 (JG)
Alheit Hemelrand Vine Garden 2015 A field blend of roussanne, chenin blanc, chardonnay and verdelho sees time in old barrels (the roussanne in cement egg) in this fuller bodied white. Perfumed gooseberry, pear blossoms, fleshy pear and orange blossom fill a deep, fully cushioned core. A wave of gentle acidities swells this still youthful, richer wine. 92/100 (TR)
The 2016 vintage was a tricky one, but the Alheit releases are very strong. ‘2016 was a year when everyone struggled with acidity,’ says Chris. ‘There was extreme drought and unevenness so we had to pick early on all the parcels. We got to pick most of our important parcels early: we were trying to be vigilant with our picking.’ Chris absolutely refuses to add acid, even though this is a year when many simply had to or they couldn’t make wine. ‘We sold a lot of bulk wine, because many parcels didn’t make the grade. We have less wine but we have maintained our standards.’
Alheit Cartology 2016 Fresh and detailed with nice precision and weight. Lively citrus with some tangerine and grapefruit. Still tight and linear, this has wonderful potential for development. Lively and stony on the finish. 94/100 (JG)
Alheit Cartology 2016 Ten percent sémillon is tipped into this chenin blanc. Wild ferment, bush vines from nine parcels (still the same building blocks since the initial Cartology). The 2016 is young and eager still. Solid pear, apple, tight and firm, with a fine eraser grip and great lees lined palate. The 2016 will still go a long way, through lacking the structure of the exemplary 2015. 91/100 (TR)
Alheit Radio Lazarus 2016 There’s some lovely pear and tangerine richness here. There’s some generosity to the fruity palate which shows brightness and also depth, with a dusty, chalky edge to the pear and lemon fruit. Lovely weight here. 95/100 (JG)
Alheit Radio Lazarus 2016 Stellenbosch chenin blanc from two facing sloping vineyards, the 2016 was 100 percent aged in amphora. Prickly pear, wild herbs, lemon thistle, pear skin shine through the grippy tannins. Citrus peel, lemon, and fine, pointed tangerine on the lengthy finish. Lovely completeness and complexities; will age beautifully. 93/100 (TR)
Alheit Magnetic North 2016 All amphora this vintage. Beautiful fresh aromatics here with some stone and mineral, a touch of green tea and lovely citrus. The palate is so vivid, fresh and vital with a fine spiciness and salinity under the herb, lemon and grapefruit characters. Multidimensional with a beautifully precise personality. 97/100 (JG)
Alheit Magnetic North Makstok 2016 Hilltop, north-facing ungrafted chenin blanc. Shining. Bright orange, tangerine pith, crispy, singing acidity with a cut of acidity and a riff of tannins. Exceptional length and salted finish. Drinking beautifully now, but has a while to go. 94/100 (TR)
Alheit La Colline 2016 Beautiful aromatics with green tea and kelp as well as some herby citrus notes. There’s a delicious salinity on the palate with some stone and herb characters. There’s a tiny hint of mushroom, and overall this has a lovely savouriness, and there’s a bit of creaminess on the midpalate. Such detail, with a hint of toastiness on the finish. Lovely. 95/100 (KJG)
Alheit La Colline Vineyard 2016 Old vine Franschhoek sémillon from 1936 – a pre-clonal, 16th C massale selection. Primary, earthy pear, herbal meadow rules this youthful, savoury wine. A hint of browning butter, flake salts and earthy lees seasons the whole. This is not about the grape. Beauty now, and will age. 93/100 (TR)
Alheit Hemelrand Vine Garden 2016 There’s some Muscat here, and it really takes over, even though it is just 2.5%! Beautifully aromatic with some peach and orange peel, as well as some grapiness. Aromatic. The palate has lovely rich fruit: it’s a bit stony but also very fruity with an exotic grape, pear and peach character. Finishes fresh. Such a distinctive fruity style with lovely balance. 93/100 (JG)
Alheit Hemelrand Vine Garden 2016 Highly perfumed field blend of roussanne, chardonnay, chenin blanc, verdelho and muscat, this carries soapy, soft peach, pear blossoms. Limey acidity details the finely laced finish. Fuller and rounder, with the weight to carry richer pairings. 90/100 (TR)
Alheit Flotsam & Jetsam Heirloom Chenin Blanc 2016 Barrels that didn’t make Cartology, plus new parcels. Supple, bright and fresh with lovely stony notes, and also some supple citrus and pear fruit. Balanced and delicious with nice clean fruit and a supple personality. Lovely. 93/100 (JG)
Flotsam & Jetsam Heirloom Chenin Blanc 2016 Dry farmed, very old bush vines from sites that didn’t quite fit into the Alheit blend. Round on the palate, crisped with salted popcorn, this is far too easily drinkable. 13.5%. 91/100 (TR)
Alheit Flotsam & Jetsam Stalwart Cinsault 2016 Juicy and bright with lovely supple cherry fruit with some peppery detail. Fresh and smashable with good acidity and a beautiful floral personality. Very fresh and detailed with nice brightness. Very fine and expressive. 92/100 (JG)
Flotsam & Jetsam Stalwart Cinsault 2016 Fresh, young and eager cinsault, this shows a slightly darker hue to the grape, drawing fresh black currant and black plum along a sapid, grippy palate. Thorns and black raspberry rules the finish. This is a grown up, fresh and youthful Cinsault. 91/100 (TR)
This is quite a wine. It’s seven years old, made in a very natural way, and it’s still incredibly reductive, with a strong matchstick/mineral character. There are some subtle oxidative notes, too, but overall the wine is very fresh. This is a wine that clearly demonstrates that reduction is not simply the opposite of oxidation, and that you can’t simply ‘blow off’ reduction with air. This wine is still very reductive three days after opening. Reduction refers to volatile sulfur compounds produced by yeasts, and their perception can be enhanced or diminished by the presence or absence of oxygen, but not always. It’s a wine I appreciate, and even enjoy, and certainly one I admire. But it’s not for everyone. Jouveaux makes 6000 bottles in all each vintage, and this wine comes from half a hectare he has in Vire-Clesse. Winemaking is simple: hand-picked, organically farmed grapes are pressed into old barrels where they ferment. The results are quite something.
Alexandre Jouveaux Combarnier (2010) NV Vin de France
From the Maconnais, this is a remarkable natural wine that has developed in a very interesting way. It has not been stored very carefully, yet it’s still so fresh and complex, and pale in colour. The first thing you get is an astonishingly aromatic nose of intense reductive characters: there’s matchstick, mineral, a hint of rubber, flint and fine herbs. On the palate there’s intense, fresh lemon fruit with bracing acidity. It’s fine, complex and spicy with incredible intensity. This is such a complex, edgy wine, it won’t be for many. But those who like it, will probably love it. Probably the most intense matchstick reduction I’ve experienced in a wine. On day 2 it was just the same. 93/100 (the current vintage is available from Roberson in the UK).
I’m on my way to day 2 of the second tranche of the International Wine Challenge judging at the Oval. For two weeks we will be sifting through an unspecified number of wines (the number isn’t publicized because otherwise the two major competitions get sucked into a ratings war, but it’s in the range of 15 000).
2017 is my first year as one of the two new co-chairs, along with Sarah Abbott (new girl), Tim Atkin, Peter McCombie, Oz Clarke and Charles Metcalfe. Our job is to act as moderators, makning sure that the results are consistent, and that every wine is treated fairly.
This is week one, when all the wines are tasted by the panels with a view to deciding simply whether each wine is medal worthy or not. The teams – usually 5 people, led by a panel chair and with an associate (trainee taster) – judge in small flights. Then we get to see the wines and their notes, along with their verdicts. This week, we co-chairs are just looking at the wines that have been deemed unmedal worthy. We check that nothing good has been missed. We are able to reinstate wines if we think they’ve been overlooked, but two of us have to agree in order to change the verdict.
Next week, all the wines that get through will be retasted by the panels, with a view to deciding exactly what medal to give them. It’s still possible to kick wines out at this stage. This second round will be pretty tough work, and often the co-chairs are still working into the evening: we can’t go home until all the wines are done.
Faulty wines waiting to be tasted
Another job I have is to monitor the faults. If a wine is deemed faulty by the panels, then one of the co-chairs has to sign it off before a second bottle can be requested. This is to cut down on false positives. Any bottle deemed faulty will find its way to the faults table, which is where I have another look at it to confirm the diagnosis, or to decide that the wine isn’t faulty. The reason for this is that we want our stats on faults to be as good as possible. Obviously, it would be nice to supplement the sensory analysis with chemical analysis for faults, but this would be very expensive and logistically challenging.
It’s quite hard to be sure about faults. Some faults are clear cut: cork taint, is a great example, but even then some misdiagnose it, and people differ in their sensitivity to the compounds involved. When it comes to oxidation, reduction or brett, at which point do you call these characters a fault? It is a judgement call we have to make.
The first day was tiring. It always is, and more so as co-chair. But this morning I’m feeling fresh again. The strange thing about tasting is that the more you do it, the easier it becomes and the sharper your palate gets. By the end of two weeks, I’m going to be a mean tasting machine.
This is really good. And it’s just £24 at The Wine Society. Stunning value for money.
Champagne Chartogne-Taillet Cuvée Sainte Anne NV France
12% alcohol. 60% 2014 and 40% 2013, disgorged in December 2016. Equal parts Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Merfy in the Montagne de Reims, with sandy clay soils over chalk. All the wine comes from the village and they are the only grower in this village. Organically farmed (working the soils with horses, and no herbicides or insecticides), wild-ferment and no filtration, 6 g/l dosage. Lovely depth and complexity with a lovely savoury density to the palate. There’s a mineral quality, with fine citrus fruit and a hint of apple. It’s really complex and citrussy with hints of earth and mushroom in the background. The saline detail is really appealing. Everything here works together in harmony. 93/100