Brooks: Pinot Noir and Riesling from this top Oregon estate

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The view from the Brooks tasting room

Brooks is one of Oregon’s unsung stars. Their 14 000 case production is split among many small lots, with the largest fermentation in the winery occurring in 2.5 ton fermenters. They source from a range of growers. They’ve also focused more on a direct to consumer model, which allows them to sell small production wines more easily. They now have 1400 direct customers, up from 200 in 2014 when they moved to their new winery. This has allowed winemaker Chris Williams to do more single-vineyard bottlings. Just before IPNC a group of us gathered to taste through a range of their Pinot Noirs and Rieslings.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Brooks Rastaban Pinot Noir 2008 Eola-Amity Hills, Oregon
First made in 2003; from 2008 has been from the estate vineyard. Deeply coloured with some richness. Nice savoury, grainy, slightly tarry edge. Developing nicely in a rich style with sweet, textured black fruits and some stoniness. 93/100

Brooks Rastaban Pinot Noir 2010 Eola-Amity Hills, Oregon
Rich and rounded but with nice supple tannic structure. Tight and focused with a savoury sternness. Has depth but also freshness and elegance. Subtle earthy notes and good acidity. Very stylish. 93/100

Brooks Rastaban Pinot Noir 2011 Eola-Amity Hills, Oregon
Floral and leafy with a sappy, herby edge. Good structure with fine spiciness. Has some grip, too. Lovely savouriness under the fruit with some warmth on the finish. So expressive with a subtle mushroom character. It’s drinking perfectly now. 95/100

Brooks Rastaban Pinot Noir 2012 Eola-Amity Hills, Oregon
Lush but fresh with a silky personality, showing sweet black cherries and plums. Supple and elegant with an alluring sweetness to the fruit. Lovely sweet fruit core. 94/100

Brooks Rastaban Pinot Noir 2015 Eola-Amity Hills, Oregon
There’s a distinctive warm, waxy, slightly nutty edge to the supple cherry and plum fruit. Fine grained with lovely meaty hints. Fine grained. 92/100

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Brooks Janus Pinot Noir 2015 Oregon
This was a ripe vintage. This wine is 75% estate. Such a lovely floral, red cherry nose. Alluring and elegant. Warmly fruited on the palate: ripe, sweet, rounded cherry fruit with some cherry pie sweetness and richness. Textural and even a bit creamy. 93/100

Brooks Temperance Hill Pinot Noir 2015 Eola-Amity Hills, Oregon
Vivid cherry fruit with a subtle earthy edge. Textured palate with some grainy structure. This has structure and weight and an appealing spiciness. Supple and stony. 93/100

Brooks Crannell Pinot Noir 2015 Eola-Amity Hills, Oregon
Silky and rounded with smooth black cherry fruit. This has a warmth and lovely smoothness. It is ripe but balanced with some autumnal notes and a hint of sweet apple. 93/100

Brooks Toluca Lane Pinot Noir 2015 Oregon
Ripe and sleek and smoothly textured, but it also has some freshness. Elegant, smooth cherry fruit with some ripe plums. Nice fine-grained tannic structure and a warm finish. 94/100

Brooks Old Vine Pommard Pinot Noir 2015 Oregon
This is from 5 acres farmed biodynamically, planted in 1973/4. Herbs and a hint of undergwoth on the nose with some sappy edges. Supple, structured and elegant with some warmth and also some stony notes. Very pretty and expressive. 95/100

Brooks Sunset Ridge Pinot Noir 2015 Oregon
Supple with hints of spice and earth. Grainy tannins. Nicely structured with fine floral notes. This has a distinctive savouriness and also some sweet berry fruits. 93/100

Brooks Sunny Mountain Pinot Noir 2015 Oregon
Smooth and finely spiced with some earth and tannic structure. Lots of weight here with grippy tannins as well as sweet fruit. Nice fine spiciness. 93/10

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Riesling

Winemaking is whole bunch pressing, juice settled for about a day, and usually a spontaneous ferment. But some is inoculated: Chris says he always likes to keep an inoculated portion with the Riesling.

Brooks Ara Riesling 2008 Oregon
This is beautiful. Citrus, stone fruits, minerals and spices, with hints of wax and mint. So delicious and intense with lovely focus and fine spicy notes. Thrilling. 94/100

Brooks Ara Riesling 2010 Oregon
Honeyed, stony and mineral with lovely intensity. Lemons and a hint of green apple. Keen acidity. 92/100

Brooks Ara Riesling 2011 Oregon
Very intense and lemony. Dry with a linear personality. Acidic and pure with subtle honey and stone characters alongside the lemony fruit. 91/100 

Brooks Ara Riesling 2012 Oregon
Fine, fresh, expressive nose with lovely citrus notes and some ripe apple. The palate shows lovely weight, with fine lemony notes. Such purity and balance here, with lovely ripe fruit. 93/100

Brooks Ara Riesling 2016 Oregon
Detailed with crystalline citrus fruits and nice texture. Very fine and pure with lemon and a hint of melony richness. Great balance here. 93/100 

Brooks Estate Riesling 2016 Eola-Amity Hills, Oregon
Lovely generosity: lemony and pure with some green apple hints. Juicy with nice texture. This has a bit of richness as well as nice acidity. 93/100

Brooks Meyer Riesling 2016 Oregon
Such finesse: incredible purity and freshness with really expressive, textured, integrated citrus and pear fruit. Very fine. 94/100

Brooks Hope Well Riesling 2016 Oregon
This is very aromatic with sweet floral, grapey citrus fruit, showing some mandarin richness. Smooth and quite sweetly fruited, this is attractive and ripe. 93/100

Brooks Orchard Fold Riesling 2016 Oregon
Fresh and stony and detailed. Has nice pear, apple and melon fruit with appealing smoothness and a spicy, lively finish. Just a hint of mint, too. 92/100

Brooks Yamhill Riesling 2016 Oregon
Very bright tangerine and lemon notes, as well as some melon richness. Lovely textured here with a hint of spicy richness. So lively. 93/100

Brooks Cahiers Riesling 2016 Oregon
Floral tangerine, melon and grape notes on the nose. Honeyed and rich with nice delicacy and good acid. Delicate citrus fruit dominates. Real finesse. 94/100

Find these wines with wine-searcher.com

See also: extended tasting notes on the Brooks Janus Pinot Noir and Ara Riesling; a review of my first visit to Brooks, with some background

Nine BA lounge whites, a bit of a mixed bunch, but some surprises

lounge wine

There are quite a few bottles open in the BA lounge (I’m off travelling again…), so I did a tasting. I’m following the example of one of my wine heroes, Oz Clarke. Whenever he’s in an airport, or on a plane, he makes a point of trying all the wines. I admire his dedication, and the fact that he clearly loves to taste all the wines. I liked some of them, while others were a bit less impressive. There were only five reds and none of them looked interesting, so I stuck with whites.

Vincent Girardin Pernand Vergelesses Vieilles Vignes 2014 Burgundy, France
Wild ferment, 15% new oak, mix of 500 and 228 litre barrels. This is crisp and decisive, with a good concentration of bright, clean citrus fruit and a hint of cedar, vanilla and toast from the oak. But the oak is well integrated, and there’s lots of linear fruit here to balance it out. This is direct and focused, just as white Burgundy should be. Give it a year or two to start developing a bit more complexity, and it will be lovely. Nice lemony acidity. 91/100

Bouchard Pere et Fils Pouilly-Fuissé Vignes Romanes 2015 Burgundy, France
This has a rich pear and apple edge to the citrus fruit palate. It’s ripe and generous, and there’s even a bit of table grape sweetness here. Nicely rounded in the mouth with a seductive depth to it, and some canteloup melon on the finish. Much riper than I was expecting, but with balancing freshness. 89/100

Domaine Louis Moreau Chablis 2009 Burgundy, France
This has a distinct dairy/creamy richness on the palate which dominates the citrus and pear fruit. I think it’s a distraction, and this wine is past its best, from a warmer vintage. There’s an appealing mineral character, too, if you can get past the cheese and cream. 85/100

Yalumba Viognier 2015 Eden Valley, Australia
There’s a lovely density to this wine, with rich apricot and melon fruit, and a peach stone bitterness adding an interesting edge. It’s a varietally true wine, showing the richer side of Viognier, yet capturing its personality fully. Some subtle pithy notes on the finish, giving an added contrast to the ripe yet restrained fruit. 92/100

Domaine de Fontenille Pouilly-Fumé 2014 Loire, France
There’s cabbage and mushroom here, with some citrus and pear fruit. Quite lively, but there’s a bit of cork taint here. Would have been OK I reckon.

Seifried Chardonnay 2014 Nelson, New Zealand
Powerful and lively with some grapefruit and lemon characters, as well as a bit of peach and citrus pith. Lots of flavour here. Rich and fruit driven with a wide range of flavours, from keen and citrussy to rich and peachy. Slightly bitter on the finish. 89/100

Inama Soave Classico 2015 Italy
This is really fresh with a citrus core, but also some lively ripe apple, melon and tangerine notes. Lots of flavour here, with a bit of fruit sweetness and a lively, fresh, lemony finish. It’s a little bit edgy, but in the best way. 90/100

Elk Cove Pinot Gris 2015 Willamette Valley, Oregon
Ripe, sweet and grapey with a slightly bitter, pithy edge to the rich pear and apple fruit. Broad and generous with nice weight to the fruit. 88/100

Wakefield St Andrews Riesling 2012 Clare Valley, Australia
Intense and limey with a touch of creamy, dairy character. There’s some pithiness here, and just a hint of petrol character. Juicy and lively with some bright focus, but it’s not really working for me: the petrol and dairy characters just don’t mesh. 87/100

 

A wine from Bolivia! Campos de Solano Tannat Malbec

campos de solana

Normally, Bolivia would be far to warm to make quality wines. But altitude changes things. This wine comes from the Tarija Valley in Bolivia, where the vineyards are at 1850 metres (6000 feet). Indeed, the region is practically on the Argentine border, not a long way from the high-altitude Salta wine region. This elevation makes it possible to produce quality wines that otherwise wouldn’t be possible at this latitude. This wine is impressive: it’s ripe, big and sweet, but it isn’t too spoofy or evil. Tasted blind, I’d be in the New World – I’d probably opt for South African warm-climate Syrah. Think Marc Kent’s Porcupine Ridge, on its way to being Chocolate Block. It’s a Marks & Spencer own label so you won’t find it internationally, but its quality suggests that other wines from this producer might be worth checking out. My first Bolivian wine!

Campos de Solana Tannat Malbec 2016 Tarija Valley, Bolivia
14% alcohol
£11 Marks & Spencer
This comes from the South of Bolivia, from vineyards high in the Andes. The vineyards are extremely high, actually, at 1850 metres. This wine is rich, ripe, sweet and meaty, with very appealing blackberry and black cherry fruit, with some olive/tapenade character lurking under the dense sweet fruit, as well as hints of chocolate and coffee. Rich and smooth, it’s quite alluring, but there’s also some freshness, too: it just about stays in balance. Impressive stuff. 89/100

Winemaking ideologies, my contribution to the Texsom debate

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Yesterday at Texsom I took part in a discussion on winemaking ideologies, with a very good panel. Each of us was asked to prepare something to say, so I wrote something. When it actually came to it, I didn’t cover all this ground, but I thought I’d share it, anyway.

Market segmentation is important here. For most people wine is simply a commodity, one that comes in a limited number of styles. Their assessment is often a binary evaluation, I like this or I don’t like this. There are very different rules in this market segment than there are in ‘fine’ wine.

Does authenticity matter? Yes. Consider Vermeer’s paintings. There are some 30 examples remaining, and people would fly many thousands of miles to see them. But it’s possible to reproduce them so well that these same people wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the real thing and a replica. Yet no one would go to an exhibition of replicas.  In terms of the sensory aspect of viewing the paintings, the experience would be the same. The same light would strike the retina. But it wouldn’t be the same experience once you knew you were looking at a replica. Authenticity matters.

With wine, if I could replicate your best ever wine experience with a synthetic wine to the extent that you couldn’t spot the imposter in a triangle test, and then I offer you the bottle for 50 bucks, would you buy it? I suspect you wouldn’t enjoy it, knowing it was a synthetic wine, even though your sensory experience would be the same. You’d be intrigued, but even though it offered the same flavor in terms of the mix of flavor compounds, it wouldn’t ‘taste’ the same. Authenticity matters.

In the wine business, we sometimes forget the importance of the stuff around wine. It’s not just a liquid in a glass. Emile Peynaud is quoted as saying that great wines tasted blind often disappoint. It is our knowledge of what we are drinking that sets us free to enjoy it to its full extent. Reduce wine to a liquid with certain sensory properties and we are all doomed. It’s much more than that. Its social context and some understanding of what we are drinking are necessary for wine to be appreciated properly.

Wine is an aesthetic system, and like any aesthetic system, it is evolving and changing. Natural wine only began to a significant degree at the end of the 1990s. It has grown enormously since then, and it presents a challenge to the aesthetic system of the wine wine movement. How do we decide what is good? What is a great wine? It’s a community judgment by those who have the right skill sets: wine professionals taste together and discuss together, and come to a decision. We’re still in that phase because natural wines have broken all the rules: for example, how do we respond to a cloudy wine? Are wine faults ever good in certain contexts?

Natural is not just about sulfur dioxide. There have been some half-witted attempts by big companies to produce wines without added sulfites under the banner of natural. Sulfites are just a side show. Some of the natural wine zealots have gone a bit bonkers obsessing over sulfites. They can be very useful as a tool for helping wines retain their sense of place.

The issue is that working more naturally is a way to make more interesting wines. The process always has to be judged by the goal: what are the results? I’m interested in natural wine not from an ideological point of view, but because natural approaches tend to result in wines that are more interesting and show their place better. But there comes a point where natural can lead to wines that all taste the same, and this is disappointing.

There is a place for natural wine that is just smashable and is a bit placeless. But if you have good vineyards you want the sense of place to be in the wine somehow. If that is lost, it is a shame. Some wines just taste like natural wine, and not where they have come from.

People have misunderstood terroir. Terroir doesn’t mean that there is one specific taste from a place. There could be a family of tastes, all of which bear some resemblance to one another. These will differ according the the interpretive act of the winegrower. Terroir is a partnership between winegrower and place.

I think we are making a mistake in the wine industry if we focus on giving people what they want. Finding out people’s tastes and then trying to meet these ‘preferences’ by fashioning wines that we think they’ll like is a cul de sac. We’ll be trapped by this flight to simple hedonics. Instead we should be making wines that are true: that are a valid and intelligent expression of place. The first time people try wine they don’t really like it. It is an acquired taste. But so are all the interesting tastes. If we sweeten up wines to make them taste nicer, and start tricking around with them, we’re doomed in a race to the bottom in terms of pricing. Without a sense of place, wine is going to be dragged down in price. The result is that profitability is sucked out of the system and even good people with good intentions can’t afford to be good.

Do we need cheap ‘technological’ wine? Can’t we have cheap wine that is honestly made? Does cheap technological wine, tricked up to taste more expensive than it is, have a legitimate place in the market? Isn’t it essentially dishonest? Doesn’t that matter?

Is wine special in some way, and if so, why? I think it is. It needs to be kept special. It isn’t a manufactured beverage.

And the term ‘natural’? It’s not perfect, but it is just a banner. It isn’t meant to be taken literally: we know wine doesn’t make itself in nature. But sometimes we need banners to gather under – we need philosophical systems to organize our thinking and inspire our action, even if these are imperfect. Natural has proved a useful banner in this respect.

Texsom: Germany's finest - VDP Grosses Gewächs

GG VDP

This TexSom tasting focused on Grosses Gewächs: these are wines produced from top vineyard sites in Germany by members of a high-end producers club called the VDP, which began life in 1910. As with all things to do with German wine, things are complicated, and explaining the details of how the VDP’s vineyard classification isn’t a simple business.

VDP stands for Verband deutscher Prädikatsweingüter (which translates as the Association of German Superior Quality Wine Estates). Fortunately, it’s simply abbreviated as VDP. There are around 200 members (you get invited to join after expressing an initial interest), and each member is reevaluated every five year. It’s an elite grouping when you consider that Germany has 30 000 winegrowers.

The whole point of the VDP is grading terroirs, with a view to recognizing the best. Since a revision in 2012, vineyards are classified on four levels:

  • VDP Grosse Lage (equivalent to Grand Cru)
  • VDP Erste Lage (premier cru)
  • VDP Ortswein (village level)
  • VDP Gutsein (regional)

Only the first two tiers are allowed to mention the vineyard name on the label. So a Grosses Gewächs (GG) is a top wine made from a Grosse Lage by a member of the VDP. These wines have to be dry (under 9 g/l residual sugar), and they are the wines we tasted in Wiesbaden. There’s one more layer of complexity: for each region, only certain varieties can make GG wines. If you see GG on a bottle, then you know it is pretty serious, and that it’s made in a dry style (trocken) from a top vineyard site.

In some ways, this classification is an attempt to recover what was lost with the German wine law of 1971, and amalgamated 30 000 sites and consolidated them into 3000 accepted vineyards. At this time, quality was defined by must weight. This lost a lot of the differentiation of interesting terroirs.

Gutswein is high calibre entry level wines and come from an estate’s holdings. Ortswein comes from the villages best vineyards, but ones that aren’t higher graded. Other varieties can be used. Erste Lage comes from a premier cru vineyard as designated on the old maps. Maximum yield is 60 hl/ha, and only traditional varieties are allowed. The Ahr, Mittelhein, Mosel, Nahe and Rheinhessen don’t use this classification. They go from Orswein to Grosse Lage. Grosse Lage is grand cru equivalent, with traditional varieties and maximum yield of 50 hl/ha. VDP Grosses Gewãchs is the name for a dry wine from this site, and each producer can only produce one GG from each site.

To illustrate how confusing German wine can be, one of the wines included in this tasting labelled in the tasting sheet as a Grosses Gewächs actually isn’t. Louis Guntrum in the Rheinhessen isn’t a member of the VDP. But owner Konstantin Guntrum thinks his Hipping holdings are GG standard, so he trademarked the name ‘Louis Guntrum Grosses Gewächs’ which he uses on the label. It’s a subtle and naughty move that even confused the organizers of this tasting.

THE WINES

Rainer Sauer Silvaner Escherndorfer Lumpen 1655 GG Sylvaner 2014 Franken, Germany
Lovely stuff. A bit saline and very mineral with a nettley, herby edge to the citrus fruit. Has a lovely texture: quite stony and mineral with nice precision and a salty finish. 92/100

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Gut Hermannsberg Riesling Niederhauser Hermannsberg GG 2013 Nahe, Germany
This is a monopole. Beautifully floral with aromatic citrus fruit. The palate is linear with really complex, detailed, midweight citrus fruit. It has lovely precision and keen acidity, but it integrates so well into the wine. Has a lovely stony mineral quality, too. There’s a roundness to the fruit, even though there’s high acidity. 94/100

Louis Guntrum Riesling Niersteiner-Hipping Louis Guntrum Grosses Gewachs 2012 Rheinhessen, Germany
Note: this isn’t a VDP GG. Good concentration and quite a deep colour. Some herbs and a hint of petrol, showing some development to the melon, pear and ripe apple fruit. A bold, rich style, showing a bit of development. 90/100

Clemens Busch Riesling Pündericher Marienburg GG 2013 Mosel, Germany
Lovely intensity here with compact, dense citrus fruits and a keen, stony minerality, good acidity and a touch of honeyed richness, as well as a hint of cream. Really vital and intense with a touch of sweetness and lively acidity. A lovely wine. 94/100

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Dr Loosen Riesling Urziger Würzgarten Alte Reben GG 2014 Mosel, Germany
This has lovely concentration of powerful but elegant citrus and ripe melon fruit. There’s some richness here with an alluring, fruit-driven palate with good acidity really well integrated, and a bit of sweetness (9 g/l residual sugar). It’s fruity and delicious, but also serious at the same time. Generous and fine. 95/100

Eugen Müller Riesling Spätlese Trocken Forster Kirchenstück ‘Cyriakus’ 2014 Pfalz, Germany
This isn’t a Grosses Gewachs because Müller isn’t a VDP member. Supple, dry and fresh with pure citrus fruit. Nicely textured with a linear lemony drive. It’s very pure and quite mineral with a faint hint of smokiness and mintiness. Lovely tension here. 92/100

Von Winning Riesling Forster Kirchenstück GG 2014 Pfalz, Germany
Fresh and linear with a lovely lemony undercurrent to the palate, which has some melon and pear richness, as well as some apple notes. Lovely acidity here with a bit of warm spiciness hiding in the background. Lovely density here with a lingering lemony finish. 93/100

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Robert Weil Riesling Kiedricher Gräfenberg GG 2015 Rheingau, Germany
Really intense, fresh, dry and with high acidity (8.3 g/l), and lovely linear lemon and grapefruit characters. There’s a wonderful mineral core to this wine dancing in and out of the concentrated citrus fruit and the faint hints of lanolin and spice. Very fine and expressive. 94/100

Find these wines with wine-searcher.com

Texsom: exploring the wines of Mexico

mexican wine

Serafin Alvarado and Wayne Belding presented this seminar on Mexican wines, a subject I’ve virtually no experience of.

Mexico isn’t an obvious place to grow high quality wine grapes: it’s a warm country at a latitude of 30 degrees north. There’s very little wine grown at these latitudes in the northern hemisphere, but the key thing for Mexico’s wine regions is the moderation of the warm climates by either altitude of cold coastal currents.

90% of Mexico’s wine production is in Baja California, but grapes are also grown along the Central Plateau. These are high elevation sites at around 6000 feet and above. In the Baja, it’s the cold water currents that moderates the climate.

Wine first came here in 1521, so this is the birthplace of wine in America. In 1699 wine was banned here because the Spanish had a surplus and wanted the colonies to drink Spanish wine. There was a concession for the church to carry on producing wine, though.

In 1857 there was the war of reform, and the government seized the assets of the church, confiscating all the land.

Phylloxera hit Mexico at the turn of the 20th century. Shortly after the Molokans arrived as refugees and they brought a lot of agricultural skill with them.

The Mexican revolution in 1910 was a huge set back. It wasn’t until 1972 that Casa Pedro Domecq began operating that things really began to come back in terms of wine production.

2014 figures show Mexico made 2.15 million cases (19.4 million litres) of which just 130 000 cases were exported. Imports were 6 million cases. A lot of grapes are grown, though, but most are for raisins, table grapes, or brandy. There are around 6200 acres of wine grapes and 100 000 acres of vineyards altogether.

There are a wide variety of grapes grown. Nothing dominates. Cabernet, Zinfandel, Merlot and Chardonnay are quite widely grown, but there are no star varieties here, which has made it hard to market Mexican wines because of the lack of identity.

Tax is a challenge: there’s a 40% tax on wine in Mexico. There are around 200 wineries in the country, and domestic consumption of wine is increasing, although it’s very low at the moment (0.4 litres per annum per capita).

Casa Madero Chenin Blanc 2016 Valle de Parras, Coahuila, Mexico
This is distinctive. It’s quite nutty and waxy with some compact pear and green apple fruit. It’s smooth and quite clean with fruit focus. Very waxy, with a slight plastic hint. I wouldn’t have spotted this as Chenin. 84/100

Monte Xanic Sauvignon Blanc ‘Viña Kristel’ 2016 Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California, Mexico
A newer producer established in 1987, with a technological winery. Fresh, clean wine with attractive fruit. It has a little bit of grassiness, but it’s very rounded and fruity. A little neutral, but really well made. Some tropical notes. 86/100

Casa Madero Chardonnay 2016 Valle de Parras, Coalhuila, Mexico
Attractive and clean with rich pear and white peach fruit. Fruit focused with moderate acidity and an attractive texture. No obvious oak here. A touch of waxiness, too. Not exciting, but well made. 87/100

Emevé Merlot Cabernet Franc Shiraz ‘é Amonía de Tintos’ 2015 Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California, Mexico
Minty and bold with sweet, ripe, dense fruit. Lush and chocolatey, with slightly jammy fruit and some intrusive cedary, minty oak. Very ripe and sweet. Forced, with too much ripeness and too much winemaking imprint. 83/100

Casa Madero Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 Valle de Parras, Coahuila, Mexico
Sweet and warm with some raisined, slightly jammy notes to the berry fruits. Some spice and earth hints. A bit oxidative. Not terrible, but not very inspiring. 82/100

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Casa Madero Shiraz 2014 Valle de Parras, Coalhuila, Mexico
Supple and sweetly fruited with a mid-weight palate, some leathery hints and nice pure plum and blackberry fruit. Nicely balanced, with a savoury edge to the beautifully judged fruit. It’s ripe, for sure, but there’s restraint and digestibility here. It’s a proper wine. 89/100

Villa Montefiori Cabernet Sauvignon Sangiovese 2013 Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California, Mexico
Sweet, primary, floral, liqueur-like cherry fruit nose. Modern, primary fruit on the palate. It’s sweet and ripe and very commercial with lush yet quite fresh primary cherry and berry fruit. A wine of style, made in a very modern mould. 86/100

Bodegas de Santo Tomás Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot ‘Unico’ Gran Reserva 2010 Baja California, Mexico
Concentrated and spicy with a strong oak imprint. Dense and sweet with sweet, ripe berry fruit flavours and lots of cedar spice. Warm and rounded, and quite polished, but in a ripe, oaky style. It’s well done in its style, but seems quite old-fashioned. Trying to emulate the ripe, oaky Spanish style. 87/100

Find these wines with wine-searcher.com

Texsom: S&M wines seminar

IMG_9205

Not all wines are easy. There’s a stream of thought in the wine world that the wine industry should do better at giving ‘consumers’ what they want. We change wines to suit peoples’ tastes and preferences. If people find sweetness in red wines delicious, then let’s give them red wines sweetened up with a bit of grape juice concentrate.

I’m not so sure. I think that our most enduring tastes are ones that we have learned to acquire. Our preferences are malleable; our tastes change. Sometimes it’s nice to have wines that challenge us a bit.

This session at Texsom was titled ‘S&M wines: they will hurt you and you will like them’, and it was exploring wines that can be seen as a bit challenging, perhaps because of their high tannins, or their acidity. With the exception of one or two of the wines, I found them quite delicious and not all that extreme.

Champagne Drappier Pinot Noir Brut Nature NV France
Zero dosage. Lively fruity nose with citrus and cherry notes. Very fresh palate with some assertive lemony acidity, but also some apple and cherry richness, with a bit of toast. There’s a good balance between the richer, broader fruit characters and also the crisp acidity. Rich, in a slightly oxidative style, this really doesn’t need any dosage. 92/100

Family Deicas Tannat ‘Deicas’ 2015 Uruguay
Tannat has a reputation for being hard and tannic, but this is pretty easy going and very drinkable. There’s some classy, sweet berry fruits on the nose. The palate is surprisingly fresh with some polish, but also some nice tannic structure. There’s a sweet fruit profile, but there’s also a brightness and vitality with firm but well integrated tannins. Lovely wine. 93/100

Massolino Langhe Nebbiolo 2014 Serralunga d’Alba, Piemonte, Italy
Nebbiolo can be difficult, but this wine is quite beautiful. It’s really expressive with amazing elegance to the pretty red cherry fruit and lovely floral overtones. Roses, dried herbs, and faint hints of earth and spice. This has texture, with the tannins tamed, but no loss of Nebbiolo’s personality: it’s a lighter, elegant wine that’s drinking perfectly now. This is so pretty. 95/100

Kir Yianni Ramnista Xinomavro 2012 Naoussa, Greece
Xinomavro has a reputation for being very tannic: the Greek equivalent of Nebbiolo. This is a very tannic wine, but it has the fruit to accompany these tannins. Sleek, fresh red cherries and plums with some leather and spice, and lots of tannic grip, leaving a slightly drying finish. But it really works. Structured and fresh and really intriguing. Firm but with some polish and finesse. Drinking well now but it will age, too. 94/100

Antonelli San Marco Montefalco Sagrantino 2011 Umbria, Italy
This is interesting. It’s a wine that comes in layers. First of all you get some sweet, lush cherry and blackberry fruit, but then there’s a wash of tannin, and it leaves a very astringent finish. There are some herb and leather notes here, too. Combines very sweet fruit with nice grip and presence on the palate. A bit of a paradox. 90/100

Vinkara Bogazkere Reserve 2011 Anatolia, Turkey
There’s a distinctive mintiness to this wine, with sweet, forward blackberry fruit, a hint of medicine and some tannic grip. This has appeal, but the medicinal/minty character is quite distracting. Some sweet fruit, though, and it’s well made. 88/100

Paternoster Don Anselmo Aglianico del Vulture 2010 Basilicata, Italy
Aglianico is the Nebbiolo of the south of Italy in terms of its structure. This wine has lovely fresh, vibrant raspberry and cherry fruit with good acidity, and lovely tannic grip that adds some lovely weight to the wine. It’s a big wine, but I love the freshness and structure. Some earth and herb notes. Lovely. 94/100 

Henriques & Henriques Verdelho 15 Years NV Madeira
Sweet and spicy with bold, rich intense toffee and raisin notes. Very sweet and more-ish with lovely intensity and depth. Has great concentration. 93/100

Find these wines with wine-searcher.com

Texsom: some Oregon whites

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Today’s team lunch at Texsom featured Oregon wines. But no reds! This was a chance to look at some of Oregon’s whites, and also to branch out beyond the Willamette Valley a little. The wines were presented by Bree Boskov, and these are my notes.

Big Table Farm Chardonnay 2015 Willamette Valley, Oregon
There’s a lovely intensity to this wine, with powerful flavours of pear and peach fruit coupled with citrus freshness. Bold yet balanced with a nice ranges of tastes and textures. 92/100

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Cowhorn Spiral 36 White Table Wine 2015 Applegate Valley, Oregon
Alluvial gravels at 1500 feet altitude. The grapes for this wine – Rousanne, Marsanne and Viognier – are grown biodynamically. It’s fresh and lively with intense flavours of citrus and pear. Some richness and a spicy twist, finishing with some orange peel notes. 90/100

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Foris Dry Gewurztraminer 2014 Rogue Valley, Oregon
Beautifully floral and grapey with some pear and Turkish delight notes. Fruity with lovely texture and balance, and some fine spiciness. 91/100

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Brooks Ara Riesling 2015 Willamette Valley, Oregon
9.3 g/l residual sugar. A blend of Yamhill and Estate (Eola Amity Hills) fruit. Powerful and lively with lovely depth of fruit. There’s some honeyed, grapey richness as well as some lively spiciness, and a hint of sweetness on the finish. Lots of potential here. 92/100

Ponzi Vineyards Arneis 2014 Willamette Valley, Oregon
A slightly odd wine. Lively and intense with a zesty citrus character and some grapefruit pith. Full of flavour with some talcum powder and lime cordial notes. 87/100

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Eyrie Original Vines Pinot Gris 2015 Oregon
This is thrilling. Lively and complex with apples, pear and spice notes. Has a bit of structure and it’s just so beautiful, in a slightly oxidative style. Some citrus brightness on the finish. 94/100

Del Rio Grenache Rosé 2016 Rogue Valley, Oregon
Slightly creamy edge to the red cherry and plum fruit in this attractive rosé. Has nice texture and a dry finish. 88/100

Find these wines with wine-searcher.com

Loire adventure: Nicolas and Virginie Joly, Coulée de Serrant, Savennières

coulee de serrant

La Coulée de Serrant (Chateau de la Roche aux Moines) is a domaine with a narrow focus. It’s just whites. Just Chenin Blanc. Just dry wines. But it is this narrow focus that has contributed to its fame. These are distinctive wines from a distinctive terroir, and they are not without controversy. Some regard this as one of the top domaines in the Loire; others think that in some cases the winemaking obscures the terroir.

We’re in Savennières, here, a small appellation of just 150 hectares, but a famous one. We’re out of range of the limestone that is a common theme in many parts of the Loire, and are entering the territory of schist, granite, sandstone and even sand. The soils can be quite complex.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Proprietor Nicolas Joly has become famous as much for his advocacy of biodynamics, as he has for his wines. He did the first trial hectare with biodynamics in 1980, then converted the whole estate in 1981, and then certified with Demeter in 1984. Soils here are mainly slate, and the Coulée has very thin topsoils of just 10-15 cm, while it’s a bit deeper in Roche aux Moines at 60-70 cm and for the Savennières vineyards it’s a metre and a half, with a mix of sand and clay.

‘When my father took over the estate there had only been a couple of years of pesticides or weedkillers,’ says Virginie Joly, who now pretty much runs things,  acknowledging that her father had actually bought them. ‘The soil was still there and had some strength. Now, after 20 years of chemical industry, it would be much harder to convert.’

Some signs of frost damage here in the April 2017 frosts

Some signs of frost damage here in the April 2017 frosts

There’s not much winemaking here, says Virginie Joly, daughter of Nicolas and the current winemaker. She harvests different parcels at different times, and then presses the grapes. Depending on whether or not there is botrytis she might or might not add a bit of sulfur dioxide at this stage. There are two pneumatic presses so that this isn’t a bottleneck in the process, and the juice goes straight from the press into barrel, which are 500 litres in size. These are bought new, but renewed very slowly, and the last time Coulee de Serrant bought a barrel was in 2001. Fermentation takes place, and then there is one racking just before filtration.

It’s at this point that Nicolas Joly comes in and takes over from his daughter. ‘The idea is not to do anything in the cellar if you are able to do deep farming. From spring to fall you mover from a tiny bud to several tons of matter per hectare, every year. If you take the water away, it is dry matter. 94% of that is photosynthesis. When you start to understand that in depth you realise that the earth doesn’t possess life. We receive life because we are a member of the solar system. If we were isolated from this, everything would die. There is a system that converts buds into grapes. How can we use this system?’

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

He continues, ‘this is called biodynamie. It is a mobile phone: you can talk to someone 10 km away through a wavelength. The information of life: cosmic wavelengths are reaching all the earth. We connect to what we need. By filling the solar system with all these wavelengths – there are billions of wavelengths – we are weakening the system that provides life on earth. This is a forbidden topic because there are huge economic interests.’ Joly maintains that communication satellites are disrupting the organization of the atmosphere.

‘People my generation started biodynamic for the truthfulness of the taste,’ says Joly. ‘Now it is the safety of the taste: you don’t want to poison yourself.’ He referred to a €450 Pomerol that was found to contain 22 dangerous molecules in it.

‘If you are in decent biodynamie and you don’t shoot for huge yields, you should have nothing to do in your cellar,’ he says. ‘The idea of controlling your cellar is absurd.’

Joly has quite a bit to say about natural wine, and the use of sulfur dioxide. He’s actually a fan of the right sort of sulfur dioxide, but he thinks the source makes a big difference. He likes to use natural, volcanic sulfur dioxide and he prepares it by burning sulfur. ‘You need to convert it by a process of fire: sulfur is fire.’ It should never be added as a liquid. ‘For me SO2 is by far the best protection when you ship a wine far away.’ But he adds, ‘it is best if you use it directly from a flame.’

‘Who made an enemy of sulfur and copper?’ he asks. ‘It is the chemical industry. Copper is not an enemy of the soil up to 2 kg/hectare/year. We need it in the soil.’

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

‘For natural wine, you can do what you want,’ says Joly. ‘There is no legal commitment. The consumer once more is fooled. The greatest creation we have in the wine business is the notion of appellation contrôlée. You have the climate taken by the leaves, the soil taken by the roots. How much of this creation is valid today? Nothing. You have herbicides that within 3-5 years totally destroy the microorganisms in the soils. Without microorganisms, a root cannot feed itself on the soil. This is the work of Claude Bourguignon. If you have to feed the vines, you have lost 50% of the appellation. People even try chemical fertilizer on the leaves. Take a teaspoon of salt and swallow it. You will be more thirsty, so you drink.’

‘In our society disease is presented as an enemy you should fight. How do you fight disease? People invented synthetic molecules that didn’t go inside the sap, and most cooks would wash vegetables. Then they created systemics: the dangerous molecules that go inside the sap. You poison the sap which is the system that catches the climate.’

‘Then there is technology in the cellar. If you took it away two thirds of the wine world would go bust. It leads to perfect, boring taste without charm. 85-90% of the wine world sees this as a reference, but this is changing. Many people on the appellation contrôlée committees see technological wine as a reference, which devalues the appellation.’

clos de la coulee de serrant

THE WINES 

Le Vieux Clos 2015 Savennières, Loire, France
Appley and oxidative with some citrus and pear. Very rounded and quite oxidative, but with lovely balance and openness. 91/100

Clos de la Bergerie 2015 Savennières Roche Aux Moines, Loire, France
There’s a tight citrus mineral core to this wine with lovely pear, spice and subtle honey and toast. Nice linear style with good concentration. Fine, dry and expressive. 93/100

Clos de Coulée de Serrant 2015 Savennières-Coulée de Serrant, Loire, France
Lively and fresh with tight citrus fruit and some pear richness. Very mineral with lovely precision. Detailed and mineral and precise with fine spiciness. Has richness but also focus. Very expressive. 94/100

Clos de Coulée de Serrant 2007 Savennières-Coulée de Serrant, Loire, France
Mineral, honeyed nose with some spice, pear and melon. The palate is linear and rounded at the same time with honey and spice notes. Broad and fine with apple, yellow plum and spicy notes. Such a textural wine. 95/100

Find these wines with wine-searcher.com

Some thoughts on Prosecco

prosecco

Prosecco is one of the wine world’s success stories. I’m drinking one now. It’s the Bella Covina Prosecco from Tesco, which is as cheap as Prosecco gets at £5.85.

Is it bad? No.

Is it good quality? Well, quality is judged by fitness for purpose, and for most people drinking Prosecco, including the company I’m with, it is fit for purpose. It’s fruity, has bubbles, and it’s quite tasty. I don’t have anything to say about it, really.

It isn’t complex or memorable, but it doesn’t need to be. If I try to assess this the way I would a fine wine, then I’m missing the point.

Prosecco has got the brand proposition right. It sells well, it is in demand, it is consistent, and everyone seems to like it.

What Prosecco has to avoid is confusing this wonderfully clear brand proposition by trying to be what most people don’t think Prosecco is: a fine wine. The idea of making single-vineyard Prosecco, or icon Prosecco, or Prosecco that comes from top quality, low yielding vineyards with interesting soils is quite bonkers. BY all means aspire to make interesting, characterful wine with a sense of place, but then you are making it for a different segment of the market, and to call it Prosecco would be confusing things.

One argument for a high-end Prosecco is that it could have a star-dust effect, changing peoples’ image of Prosecco and raising the price of all Prosecco as it becomes aspirational. But this would also be problematic. Prosecco works at the price point it inhabits: it is affordable enough that people can drink it every day, but it’s expensive enough that producers make some money out of it. It is sustainable. Make it more expensive, and you have to find a new consumer segment. That’s tricky.

The challenge for Prosecco is the same for all wines in this segment. Don’t get caught up in the race to the bottom. Supermarkets are driving prices ever lower and then producers have to cut corners and the product quality is hit. Then brands become devalued and everyone loses.