Saint-Amour is the most northerly and the second smallest of the Beaujolais crus, and 115 growers farm its 308 hectares. The soils here are a bit different: the region’s granite soils give way to the clay and limestone of the Maconnais, so presumably there’s a bit of a mix in some of the vineyards (Saint-Veran neighbours Saint-Amour). Here are five examples I tried.
Domaine Le Carjot Saint-Amour 2012 Beaujolais, France
13% alcohol. Very attractive bright cherry and raspberry fruit. Fresh and sappy with subtle green and mineral notes under the bright fruit. This has a lovely savoury, mineral personality. Quite a serious Beaujolais. 92/100
Domaine du Mas des Tines Saint-Amour 2011 Beaujolais, France
13% alcohol. Nice fresh raspberry and cherry fruit. There’s some density and substance here, but it remains elegant with finesse and purity. Nice cherries, spice and minerals with subtle herb characters. A bit of tannic bite, too. 90/100
Domaine Matray Saint-Amour 2011 Beaujolais, France
12.5% alcohol. Tart black cherries and raspberries here with an attractive rounded texture in the mouth. Juicy and forward with nice bright fruit. 88/100
Jean-François Trichard Domaine des Pierres Saint-Amour 2011 Beaujolais, France
13% alcohol. Slightly rustic, reductive nose with bright, sweet berry fruits. The palate is fresh and savoury with supple raspberry and cherry fruit and good acidity. Wild, a bit edgy, and mineral. 89/100
Laurent Perrachon Domaine des Mouilles Saint-Amour 2012 Beaujolais, France
13% alcohol. Aromatic and fruity with a lively cherry fruit nose. Fresh, juicy, vivid on the palate with direct sappy raspberry fruit. Supple, drinkable, lively and fun. 88/100
Find these wines with wine-searcher.com
Sauvignon Blanc isn’t a boring grape. It is capable of greatness. Here are two lovely Loire Sauvignons from Pascal Jolivet. Jolivet has 70 acres in Sancerre and Pouilly Fume, and also buy in grapes (about half their production needs).
Pascal Jolivet Sancerre Les Caillottes 2012 Loire, France
13.5% alcohol. From an 8.65 acre parcel with 40 year old vines on limestone, hand harvested and fermented with wild yeasts. Lovely grapefruit, tangerine and melon nose. Fresh, aromatic and quite fine. The palate is ripe but retains freshness with a fruity personality and fine tangerine and herb notes. Precise mineral framing to the fruit. 92/100
Pascal Jolivet Sancerre Sauvage 2012 Loire, France
13% alcohol. Organic grapes, wild ferment, 12 months on lees, no filtration. Richly textured with some chalky, pithy minerality and nice freshness. Sweet oear and peach notes, but also citrus and minerals too. Combines concentration and finesse to create a broad, complex wine showing nice purity and precision. 93/100
UK agent: MMD
Find these wines with wine-searcher.com
I’m on my way home now after an enjoyable couple of days in Madrid. Last night we went out for some fun. We started off in the Mercado de San Miguel, which is an enjoyable place to browse, full of places to get something to drink, or a bite to eat. It was pretty busy, but not impossibly so.
Then, after some food, it was time for more gin and tonic. This time I started off with a Hendricks, and this was followed by a Tanqueray Rangpur. They’d run out of fever tree tonic though, so it had to be Schweppes.
Today was the second day of the ML Wines competition that I mentioned in yesterday’s blog. It was interesting to see which 39 wines (in three flights of 13 – coinoculated, sequential inoculation, and wooded wines) we’d selected yesterday. There were some really nice wines and I am looking forward to seeing the results.
Mark Hoddy, Direct Wines
This was followed with a big lunch in the Casino de Madrid. It’s such a lovely setting, with it’s overly ornate decoration and great natural light.
One of the judges this week at the ML Wine competition is Earl Jones, who owns the Abacela winery in southern Oregon. He’s an interesting chap: he came to wine after a career as a research professor in immunology. His main focus is Tempranillo, and Earl was the first to bottle a varietal Tempranillo in the USA. It was nice to be able to try this wine.
Abacela Tempranillo South East Block 2009 Oregon
Very rich and ripe with dense black fruits and sweet oak. There’s a big oak imprint, with notes of vanilla, coconut and spice, as well as sweet yet fresh berry and plum fruit. Tasted blind this could be straight from Spain, with its combination of ripe fruit and oak. It’s not my favourite style, but it is very well done and will probably age into mellow maturity in a decade or so. 90/100
So I find myself in Madrid. It’s a little chillier than London, which caught me out a bit. But it is a nice place to spend a few days. I am here to act as one of the judges for the ML Wines competition. It’s the third time I’ve judged this: we assess red wines from the previous vintage (2013 in this case) from Portugal and Spain, which have had an inoculated malolactic fermentation.
David Molina tastes
Malolactic fermentation takes place in pretty much all red wines (young Vinho Verde Tinto is the only style I think that avoids it), and it is done by bacteria. It has an important sensory impact on the wines: if you ever taste ML trials, this becomes clear.
Luis Lopes of Revista Vinhos
Manuel Lobo,, Quinta do Crasto winemaker
For young red wines, it is now possible to co-inoculate for malolactic and alcoholic fermentation so they happen at the same time. As long as the yeasts are performing well and have good nutrition, and the pH isn’t too high, then the bacteria prefer the organic acids as a substrate and everyone is happy. The results for young red wines are really impressive.
I arrived last night, and went out with a few of the other judges and organizers. We stopped first at a tapas joint near the Playa Major, in the heart of the city, called Meson Rincon de la Cava. It’s very quaint and old-fashioned inside, and the menu has photographs, which is alarming. But the food was very good: lovely jamon iberico, perfectly prepared pimientos de Padrón, some baby squid and some manchego cheese.
For wine, the list was short (again, it was pictures) and very traditional, but they managed to find a bottle of the brilliant Petalos from Palacios in Bierzo, with its ripe, sleek, pure floral fruit. And the Murrieta Reserva 2007 was pretty good in a ripe, modernist/traditionalist fusion sort of way.
Then it was off for some gin and tonic. We found a well stocked bar with No 3 gin and fever tree tonic, and the G&T was prepared the Spanish way with big bowl-like glasses and lots of ice.
Casino de Madrid
Antonio Palacios tastes
Today was the first day’s judging. 12 of us tasted 120 wines, scoring them on a number of counts. Tomorrow we’ll taste the top 35, together with the winemakers who are participating in the exercise. It’s being held at the lovely Casino de Madrid, a very stylish, old-fashioned members’ club in the centre of town.
Boom and bust. Then boom again. That has been the recent story of Marlborough. The commercial success of Marlborough Sauvignon led to a massive increase in plantings throughout the late 1990s and noughties. The rate of growth was phenomenal. Then the boom turned to bust in 2008, with a large vintage of questionable quality, coupled with a slump in demand. It was an utter disaster.
This is a region where a significant slice of the action involves growers selling grapes to large producers. It is also a region where the demand is for the most recent vintage (everyone wants the most recent Sauvignon production). Thus overproduction plus softening demand hits hard. The result was a lot of bulk-shippped Kiwi Sauvignon hitting supermarket shelves under soft brands and private labels at rock bottom prices. For a while it was looking quite bleak.
But things changed. A steady place of rebuilding, some good New Zealand-style common sense and pragmatism, and we see the demand begin to come back, grape and bulk wine prices climbing, and a renewed sense of optimism. New markets have certainly helped. Now you can see new vineyards going into the ground, largely in the Waihopai (one of the valleys at the end of the Wairau) and the Awatere, where there’s still space (and there isn’t an awful lot of promising vineyard land left unplanted in the region).
There is, however, a potential cloud on the horizon. After the successful, large but rather compressed 2013 vintage, 2014 is currently on the vine a few weeks away from harvest. It’s a little early (by two weeks or so), and it’s potentially massive. There are Sauvignon vineyards with grapes on them, that if left, would yield 30-35 tons per hectare. This needs to be put into perspective: the average Sauvignon yield is usually 12 tons/hectare. It’s not unusual to have to drop crop (if the yield is too heavy the grapes won’t ripen properly), or to reduce yield by shoot thinning much earlier in the season. But the temptation is there for growers to take a bit more than normal, especially if the season is early and they think they might be able to get it ripe. Another problem is that there’s a shortage of contract workers at the moment to do this crop thinning. Some growers and companies have been using machine harvesters to crop thin, which sounds pretty drastic but actually works well: you just set the machine up right to take some of the grapes, apparently.
The restraint in yields requires a collective sense of responsibility. If there’s excess production, the growers will suffer badly next year through a softening of prices and demand. On an individual basis, though, if all your neighbours exercise restraint and you don’t, then you win (in a very selfish sense). 2014 looks like being a big, early, good quality vintage. Just how big, and whether demand can keep up with it, is the big question.
This is the big-picture story of the region. The picture behind the scenes is committed winegrowers working out their terroirs, and beginning to work with them. Here, we don’t need to be biased against some of the larger producers, because they can do this too. On my recent trip, I visited a range of producers, representing different ends of the spectrum. Te Whare Ra and Staete Landt represent the smaller family owned properties in the region. Seresin and Dog Point are medium sized but absolutely focused on quality, choosing not to play at the bottom end at all. Then we have Yealands and Villa Maria, larger companies, but with ranges that achieve good quality at the more commercial end and also some more serious wines which attempt to express site at the higher end.
Marlborough is New Zealand’s most important region, and it’s important that this 2014 harvest, which will soon begin, is a good one.
I love Zind Humbrecht’s wines, as you can see from this write-up of the 2010s when I visited Olivier Humbrecht at his winery.
One of the more unusual of the bottlings here is Zind, which is a blend of 70% Chardonnay with 30% Auxerrois from the 2 hectare Clos Windsbuhl vineyard with its calcareous soils. It’s a fabulous wine, and also quite affordable. Chardonnay isn’t an Alsace variety, but this wine shows that a great terroir can often be interpreted intelligently by a range of different grapes.
Domaine Zind Humbrecht ‘Zind’ 2010 Alsace, France
Fermented slowly (for a year!) in large foudres, this is 70% Chardonnay and 30% Auxerrois. Full yellow colour. Richly aromatic, this has lively flavours of quince, fig, toast and citrus, with some pithiness and high acidity. Concentrated and bracing, with just a hint of sweetness, this is a lovely wine. 93/100 (£16.99 Waitrose)
In my quest for Nebbiolo to love, I came across two rather gorgeous bottles from Giuseppe Mascarello. This is one of those producers with a reputation for making mostly sublime wines, but also one where quality can be up and down. When they are great they are truly great, but greatness is not guaranteed. When the good bottles are as good as these, I can live with that variation, I guess.
These are traditionally made expressions of Nebbiolo: no barriques here, but long fermentations, malolactic in stainless steel, and then a long maturation in large Slavonian oak botti. I also love Mascarello’s Fresias, Dolcettos and Barberas, too.
G Mascarello Langhe Nebbiolo 2011 Piedmont, Italy
Floral, fresh cherry fruit nose. The palate is smooth with lovely red cherries and some plums. There’s nice structure here with a hint of vanilla sweetness. Lovely purity. 93/100
G Mascarello Barolo ‘Monprivato’ 2009 Piedmont, Italy
Pale-ish cherry red colour. Sweetly perfumed, pure nose of elegant red cherry fruit. The palate is silky, elegant and quite fresh but has nice ripe cherry fruit and fine grained tannins, as well as a touch of spice. No rough edges here: so pure and elegant. 95/100
UK agent: Winetraders
Today’s New Douro tasting was remarkable. Five new producers have joined the ND fold, so the tasting expanded to take in two rooms at the Portuguese Ambassador’s residence in Belgrave Square. It meant there was no lunch, which upset some trade people, but I’m of the opinion that if you put a tasting on, you shouldn’t automatically have to provide lunch – something that can add considerably to the cost.
The main focus of the tasting was the 2011 Douro table wines. 2011 is an exciting vintage in the Douro, and there were just so many really fabulous wines here today. When will people have the confidence to acknowledge that Portugal really can make world class dry reds? It seems that until very recently influential international publications had a somewhat patronising approach to Portugal, with a points ceiling that wines couldn’t break. Internet guys like me have been championing the best Douro reds as being truly world class for ages – as have the Portuguese wine journalists – but it seems that the major wine media outlets have held back, unsure whether to go big or not. ‘It’s Portugal, after all,’ seems to be the sentiment.
Griping aside, there really were some lovely wines on show. Let’s start with Niepoort. In the last couple of weeks, Dirk has just bought a 25 hectare estate in the Dão to complement his recent acquisition of Bairrada property Baixo. Meanwhile, in the Douro, he parted company with long-term winemaker Luis Seabra at the end of 2012, and in 2013 put his brutal travel schedule on hold while he got more involved with the winemaking. He told me that this wasn’t a move that was entirely welcomed by the Niepoort staff, who didn’t seem to trust him. ‘I tried to do things, but no one helped me,’ he says. He blended the 2011s, and thinks they are the best wines that Niepoort has yet done. Although it wasn’t easy saying goodbye to his long-term winemaker, he thinks that this change came at ‘the perfect time for me personally, and the perfect time for Niepoort.’ Blending the 2012s will be a challenge, because he didn’t personally make the wines, but he seems very upbeat at the change in direction that has been taken here.
The Niepoort wines are all brilliant. Tiara in 2012 took 14 months to ferment, and it’s such a lovely wine. The 2012 Drink Me Red is a super wine, and is affordable, too: ‘this is how I think it should be,’ says Dirk. So fresh, pure and drinkable. I really like the 2011 Redoma, which is the wine that represents the Douro the most, not a perfect wine, but a lovely one, with up to a third stems and ageing in large oak rather than barriques. Batuta and Charme are both excellent in 2011, each expressing their differences: Batuta sleek, concentrated, polished; Charme elegant, fresh, nervous and a little tense in its youth. Robustus 2009 is remarkable, as you might expect. And there’s a new red wine, Turris 2012, from a high, old vineyard, showing sappy, fresh, elegant cherry fruit: it’s profound.
A new discovery for me was Quinta da Touriga-Chã. It’s the personal property of Jorge Rosas (above), who has a dayjob as export manager of Ramos Pinto (his cousin is Joao Nicolau de Almeida). Jorge’s father José used to manage Ramos Pinto before it was sold to Roederer in 1990, and then he set off to use his years of knowledge to find the perfect spot to plant his own vineyard. He wanted a flat plot in the Douro Superior, and found a plateau (chã in Portuguese) which he planted largely with Touriga Nacional. The wines from this vineyard are remarkable: sweet, ripe and dense but with a lovely fine-grained structure. They are among the Douro’s best: we tried 2004, 2008, 2010 and 2011.
Jorge Borges was showing the Wine & Soul wines, which includes Pintas (exceptional in 2011) and the fabulous wines from Quinta da Manoella. The regular Manoella 2011 is profound; the Manoella VV even more so. Jorge also makes the wines at Passadouro, and the Touriga Nacional and Reserva are both beautiful.
Xito Olazabal, Vale Meao
Another Jorge – Moreira – makes Poeira, one of the Douro’s first growths, if you will. It’s on song again in 2011. Vale Meão would probably also qualify as a first growth, and in 2011 is utterly lovely. But I also have a soft spot for new Vale Meão wine Monte Meão, a varietal Touriga Nacional from granite soils, which is so distinctive, floral and beautiful. There is also an as yet unofficial Monte Meão Tinta Roriz from the alluvial, pebble-rich soils of the estate that I had a sneak preview of, which was very fresh and focused.
Another new wine for me was the Vinha da Francisca 2011 from Quinta Vale D. Maria, which is a lovely focused, fresh, aromatic red that’s a step up from the already very good quinta wine.
Maria Emília Campos, Churchill’s
I was also really impressed by the offerings from Churchill’s, and in particular the beautiful 2011 Quinta da Gricha, which has a lovely mineral dimension to the focused fruit: it’s really serious. Duorum’s small production O Leucura 400 is also a pretty serious wine if the 2011 cask sample is representative of the final wine.
It seems a bit mean to pick out only these wines from what was a really impressive bunch, but it’s all I have time for right now. I think 2011 could be the breakthrough year for Douro table wines.
Heraclitus was right. You can’t step in the same stream twice. The stream is ever changing and you are changed by your experience of the stream.
It’s like that with wine and music.
You can’t listen to the same piece of music twice. I remember as a teenager that sense of anticipation as I put a new (actually, usually second-hand, from Scorpion Records in High Wycombe) album on the turntable and listened for the first time.
It was the start of a relationship with those tracks. I knew that the initial listen would be different from the second, fourth, or 20th. As I listened, the music became part of me. And each subsequent hearing would involve an internal playing of the song as I listened to it. To try to assess music on the first listen (as I imagine many music critics or A&R people have to do) is a different sort of experience than that of the person who has purchased the music and will listen to it repeatedly. [Having said this, broad brush decisions about quality and likeability can be made quickly, especially by experienced professionals.]
Sometimes music that appeals of first listening grows boring quickly. And as my teenage musical taste showed me, you can grow to love quirky or mediocre music if you listen to it a lot, have positive associations with it, or you decide you’d like to like it.
What about wine? The brain processes taste and smell rather differently to auditory stimuli, but there are some parallels. The main one is that our relationship with a particular wine, or styles of wine, or specific flavour components of wine (such as sweet blackcurrant fruit, or vanilla oak, or the gamey flavours of brett) with repeated experience. We are very much part of the equation when it comes to assessing wine.
All the time, as we drink more wine, our experience is augmented. And we then bring this experience to the next glass of wine. It adds to the complexity of wine, for sure, but also the fun. But I reckon we have to be careful not to stretch this analogy too far. Music, I reckon, is much more personal than wine. I think that if I got a group of 20 buddies together, we’d share a taste in wine much more than we’d be able to agree on music to play.
Where the analogy does work quite well is with popular taste. Listen to music radio and you are presented with the same rather boring, inoffensive, mainstream tastes as you might find on supermarket wine aisles. A shared popular culture of music or wine or films or literature is going, by definition, to be restricted to safe, somewhat bland, easily appreciated choices. To experience real pleasure, in most walks of life, you have to leave the mainstream behind.