Monday, 31 March 2014

Biserno…a Bibbona beauty...

Three weeks ago thirteen of the C&B team jetted off to Pisa on a Monday morning for a 24 hour trip to Bibbona the location of Lodovico Antinori's gem of an estate - Tenuta di Biserno.

The drive from Pisa is only 45 minutes down the coast road. We first stopped in at the younger "sister" estate - Tenuta Campo di Sasso where Insoglio is made. The make up of the soil here is that little bit different with "Sasso" meaning stones. The key difference in the wine at Campo di Sasso is that there is a hefty percentage of Syrah (34% approx) to add to the Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot. Both estates are in the Upper Maremma. We moved on to Biserno and after a brief chance to look round the, welcoming and relaxed, estate a little and drop our bags off, it was time for dinner!

Vittorio Mazzetti our generous and enthusiastic host was ready and waiting with an aperitif, we drank the Mouton Nelson Estate Sauvignon Blanc from Lodovico's estate in Marlborough, Lodovico himself is a big lover of Sauvignon Blanc. Vittorio set the story with a little history and context about the estate.

" the mid-1990s, both Ornellaia and Masseto, a unique Merlot plot from a tiny area of clay on the Ornellaia estate, had both achieved impressive reputations and a place in history. Ornellaia’s success, with Masseto as standard bearer, had been integral in establishing Bolgheri as a world class wine-producing region. Suddenly, in 2002, Marchese Lodovico left the wine industry aghast. Inexplicably, to outsiders’ eyes, he sold up. His period of exile was short lived, as he soon focused on a new project, which would exercise his energy, fertile imagination and extraordinary vision. Back in 1994, long before his surprise departure, Lodovico had his eye on the property which would ultimately become Tenuta di Biserno. He had, in fact been looking for land suitable for extending Ornellaia itself. What he found excited him, but did not fulfil his requirements for enlarging Ornellaia. The geology and geography were different, hillier and stonier. Although not suitable for his original plan, a seed was sown which bore fruit when, free from Ornellaia, Lodovico entered into a partnership with his brother, Piero Antinori, in a historic change in their relationship."

Dinner then started with Insoglio (the first vintage of which was back in 2003), a wine that is perfect for just enjoying easily and without any pretense. To add a slant to proceedings Vittorio showed us the same vintage but with two different "preparations" of the wine.

Insoglio 2012, Tenuta Campo di Sasso (4 hours decanting) - Ripe with a savoury edge, blackcurrant but not heavy fruit, a nice lifted fruit profile, easy.

Insoglio 2012, Tenuta Campo di Sasso (popped and poured) - A little cooler too, there is more minerality and a more a saline nature when poured straight from the bottle. A little more taut and serious.

The next course (all the food was terrific but I am concentrating on the wines here) was of Il Pino di Biserno. The Pino (or "Pine") is a second wine from younger vines and from a barrell selection. It drinks a little earlier and is a shade darker of fruit character to my mind. 

Il Pino di Biserno 2010 40% Cabernet Franc, 40% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Petit Verdot - There is lovely combination of the meaty (even offal) and the darker, blacker fruits here, it is a red that goes perfectly with meaty dishes. This with Spaghetti meat balls would be awesome.

Il Pino di Biserno 2011 - is fruit personified, it has the same profile and DNA as the 2010 but it is a sunnier vintage and a fruitier, redder, wine all round, impressive.

The estates main wine, Biserno, was up next. The vintage characters were consistent with the "Il Pino's".

Biserno 2010 - 35% Merlot, 31% Cabernet Franc, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon and 6% Petit Verdot - Is very classy, a texture to die for, lovely balance of ripe tannin, saline minerality and a long fruited finish. This wine I feel will develop over a long time.

Biserno 2011 - A lifted wine, a lot of fruit and a primary character still, juicy but in check, the acidity balances the vibrancy which is good as just fruit could be too much. 

The "Lodovico" was made in 2007 and 2008 and will be again in 2011 and 2012. It is a wine that is made when the conditions mean that this specific site in the Estate stands out as being different, it is not necessarily a qualitative scenario. It is though named after Lodovico himself, something he was reticent to do but a certain A.B-S persuaded him, with a little help.

Lodovico 2011 - Inky rich, hedonistically ripe and expressive, good tannin as well, a great time to taste it now, it may close down a little but it'll also be quite something in time.

Tokaji Aszu 6 Puttonyos Baron de Bornemisza - from Lodovico's estate followed - nicely balanced, not too orange, not too sweet, well done, impressive.

I am not too much of a spirits man these days but the Grappas from the estate were both interesting - Grappa di Biserno (Petit Verdot) & Grappa di Biserno Reserve (this sees some 18 months in wood) - the former got my vote for the purity of it's fruit.

It had been a cracking evening. A tour around the surrounding area was on the agenda for the following day.
The next morning after breakfast, standing on a balcony at the estate, looking south you can see a wonderful alley of Cyprus trees that runs all the way from the hills down to the coast. As a rough guide, north of this alley is "Cabernet Franc country" and to the south is more Cabernet Sauvignon. It is just to the south that Sassicaia is located. Lodovico Antinori is the nephew of the creator of Sassicaia. We drove from the estate down to Bolgheri and then back in land and around to see the "Lodovico" vineyard before retracing our steps back to Biserno to see more of the vineyards. Lunch followed - you can't beat wild boar ragu! A couple more wines and then sadly off to the airport!

A great trip - there really is no substitute to seeing things "live"... 
Happy and relaxed but sadly heading home...

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Salon 2002 - the week that was

It has been a couple of weeks now since the release of Salon 2002 but it was a couple of tremendous days so I am very keen to get it down on the blog. I'll openly declare bias as I work for the UK agent but I have always been a massive fan and rate Salon 1982 as the finest Champagne I have drunk.  The 1982 is a vintage I will come back to. For some other Salon & Delamotte (Delamotte is Salon's sister house and never to be under-rated) notes please see the blog from Barcelona nearly two years ago.

So the launch started with an English breakfast, the back drop to this being that the Salon 1999 was launched with Fish & Chips, we wanted to stay quintessentially British. The breakfast aperitif (now that's how to live) was Delamotte Blanc de Blancs NV from Magnum. If I had a house Champagne this would be it, so drinkable, generous yet precise and focussed, very flexible. After everyone had gathered it was time for Didier Depond (see Video below) to officially launch the Salon 2002, only the 38th Vintage of Salon. He spoke very well and I'll leave you to hear his words. The wine (and Salon is as much a wine as a Champagne) was excellent. You'd expect this but then expectation can be the mother of disappointment, not here! Didier made the comparison to 1982 and I can totally see where he comes from, the 2002 is much more in line with 1996 and 1982 for me than the more generous vintages like 1988 and 1990 (possibly 1997 also). There is a very fine biscuity nose (very thin elegant biscuits!), then small white flowers, the palate has a lovely combination of volume and intense minerality and almost savoury edges, the saline element is terrific too. Stunning. Very much a keeper though, plenty to see now but also so many reasons to forget it for 5-10 years, at least. To put it in context against the other vintages not already mentioned I would have the 1985 and 1999 as being more taut, 2002 has just the right balance of minerality and potential generosity.
The breakfast featured beans in a Salon tin made with Delamotte Brut, the wine carried it off well and went brilliantly with toast and marmalade. Salon is a terrific food champagne after all.

There was a great party in the evening at which the same two wines were served. There are quite a few clips in the video from this evening - including yours truly in a white dinner Jacket (the theme being the 1920's when Salon was created)...

Various over events followed the following day but come the evening it was time for a select dinner to look at a few vintages of Salon and Delamotte in the context to food at Sketch in the West End. I had not been before but have to say I enjoyed it tremendously…careful food to match the wines all served in a tremendously effortless and un-intrusive way, the conversation flowed as much as the wine did.

Delamotte Blanc de Blancs NV started us off, as ever, with some Canapés. Once we were all seated it was time for a starter of Pan-fried Scottish Scallops with Delamotte Blanc de Blancs 2004. A wine that was released on to the market only about a year ago. It's a beauty, refined but generous. I feel that the only downside to 2004 for Champagne and especially Blanc de Blancs is that it followed the hyped (rightly so) 2002 vintage. This worked well with the Scallops and the wine itself will be brilliant to drink over a long period, endless comparisons with the 2002 and 1999 (if you can find it buy it! or at least tell me where!) will only add enjoyment as long as one remembers they are different wines and it is not a competition.

The next course of Sautéed Red Mullet was delicious with the Salon 2002 and Salon 1999. As I mention above the 1999 is a "sleeper" and along with the 1985 remains a very savvy buy. These two wines, 2002 & 1999, played with each other and proved a good test for the taster. The 2002 was a little more coiled up and taut than it had been the previous day but this is more that likely my taste buds not the wine. The minerality and cleanliness but whilst retaining character is quite something. The 1999 is so correct and balanced it may never have the extrovert nature that with some with the 2002 but remains complete and impressive. 

Roast Corn-Fed Chicken was up next and sat on a bed of sweetly, mildly curried puree, it worked well with the food as a contrast. Salon 1995 is a wine I have an emotional attachment to as I went to the launch in Biarritz many years ago. On this showing I was very impressed, however, the style is slightly different to my mind, slightly more generous and a little more toasty. It divided opinion, some found it less Salon-like I found it a highlight. What's that thing about expectation? Well, the 1995 exceeded mine. Salon 1983 was the other wine with this course, served from two recently disgorged (for the occasion) magnums. The 1983 has always been a little bit of a mystery to me, it can be superb (as these two magnums were in different ways) and it can be a little flat and loose, even flabby. Didier was very honest in admitting that the 1983 is consistently inconsistent. But that is wine, it is not a standardised product and if this happened with more vintages you may have an issue but here it just adds intrigue. The first magnum (and Didier is a massive magnum fan, just wait for the 2008 Salon - that's all I am saying) was electric, mature yes but citrus fresh, the second was more as you would expect, great for 31 years of age, a little more coffee and yeast but very good.

And so to the last course, aged Comte with Delamotte Collection 1964 from magnum. The "Collection" idea with Delamotte is to have a few bottles and magnums that are disgorged to order and show the incredible potential of the House. Now I will declare one thing I have written before. I am more a fan of bottle aged Champagne than lees aged Champagne but that is purely a personal preference. The 1964 was three people around the table's birth year which is always fun. The wine is also not a Blanc de Blancs as the vast majority of the Delamotte's will be. There was a time in the 60's and very early 70's (though I need to check my notes) when there was a Brut Vintage. This is no longer the case. The rich flavours worked well with the cheese's salty tang.

It had been quite an evening and as Didier finally got in a taxi to jet off round the world continuing to release the Salon 2002 I could only think I'd been luck to have tried it and these other wines…

If the Salon 2002 drinks until 2070, as we feel it will, I'll be 95 now there's something to aim at!!

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Clos de Tart 2012 - Brilliance!

At the end of a big week, see the upcoming Salon 2002 launch blog, we gathered yesterday lunchtime in the tasting room to taste a barrell sample of the final 2012 Clos de Tart blend (there are several plots vinified separately). Now this can be seen as a totally self serving as I work for the agent but I justify this to myself as the wine will sell out anyway, but I was blown away. This has not happened for me with Clos de Tart before, I have been deeply impressed by 2001, 2003 (it's a freak but a good one), 2007 (for poise), 2009 and 2010 amongst others but this was a kind of wow moment.
Such intensity of fruit and gorgeousness, you could wallow in it but at the same time it wasn't heavy, the mid-palate (hate that expression but it is apt here) is a little more savoury with a nod to structure and then the finish is sweet again with the blackberry and cheery fruit that you saw on the nose. It is incredibly long, when back at my desk discussing it with a colleague is was still there humming away on my palate...

Anyway…lots of wines are lovely even great but not many hit you like this…may be I'm wrong, may be it's a legend in the making either way I'll enjoy charting this wines progress...

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Penfolds ‘Bin Series, Icon and Luxury’ collection wines - the first time I have done this range tasting...

I've never been to one of these launches before so here are my notes on the Penfolds ‘Bin Series, Icon and Luxury’ collection wines launched in London this week and embargoed until Friday 28th Feb 2014. I'll be honest and say I didn't really know what to expect, I thought I would appreciate them but not be wowed. I was very pleasantly surprised. There was a live video link to Peter Gago, the Chief Winemaker at Penfolds which was informative and well pitched.

2013 Bin 311 Tumbarumba Chardonnay – Very little oak shows, has a little sweetness but not cloying, open with a little spice, pleasant wine if not serious. 16

2011 Yattarna – From fruit across four states, the "best of what is available". There were comments that the wine has become more cool climate of late. This had an elegantly creamy tropical fruit character but without being at all sweet or sickly. The oak is very well balanced and just supports the fruit and texture, not over powering it at all. The texture is superb, impressive. 18-18.25

2012 Reserve Bin A Adelaide Hills Chardonnay Described by Peter Gago as a real "show wine". Made from a range of vineyards across the scale. It was a dash reduced on the nose (I like that) and then had a lush but not OTT and rich palate. A little apple fruit and some lanolin show also. Not, for me, quite the depth and texture of Yattarna but very good. 17.5-18

2012 Bin 2 Shiraz Mourvèdre – A simple wine, crunchy, crimson fruit, a little too viscous, ok but not stunning. 15

2012 Bin 138 Barossa Valley Shiraz Grenache Mataro – Interesting comment on this wine that it is kept as it's component parts until it is bottled. Gago also commented that the 1998 and 2002 of it are lovely now. Cherry red fruit and a little white pepper. Tannin is there but balanced, good acidity. 16-17

2012 Bin 128 Coonawarra Shiraz – Spearmint notes, freshmint also but not "ugly" mint. Palate is a little taut and slightly dry but this is a good wine, finish is ok but not too long. 16.5-17

2011 Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz – First vintage was as long ago as 1959. A classy complete nose, more traditional. The palate is impressive also and quite open. I noted that I'm not sure I should think it is very good but it is! 17-17.5

2011 Bin 150 Marananga Shiraz – A slightly green and clumsy palate that is almost aggressive. The nose is subdued. There just seems a real lack of charm. 14 (may be I should have checked other people's glasses)

Before the next two wines it is worth noting that in 2011 no Bin 707 was made so Bin 407 and Bin 389 got the fruit.

2011 Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon – There were comments that the 1990 of this is excellent now and that there is not rush with the 1994, 1996 or 1998. A classical dark fruited nose but nicely lacking in being OTT. Good density. There is a dash of subtle mint and also some eucalyptus but it is all "in check". A slight dryness of tannin but not worryingly so. 17.5-17.75

2011 Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz – 51% Cab, 49% Shiraz. 1971, 1976, 1982 and 1986 all very god now apparently. A wine that has been going 54 vintages. Classy yet subdued nose again, nice palate with great balance, the US oak does not show too much (a good thing in my book), evolved with much air, classy. 17.75-18

2010 St. Henri Shiraz – Gago commented that this will rival the '90 and '71. I must be a heathen as I know this will get (and has got) great write ups etc but I just don't get it. It is impressive but for me it is just all too much. So, my score, totally on my opinion, would be 16-16.5 BUT I totally get that those who know their Aussie Shiraz look for different things so may be 17.5-18 is fairer. Either way my opinion is not going to matter to any wines success so there we go. My reasoning is that I found it a little too inky and dense for me. The nose is saturated and powerful. The digestibility would be a question for me. Intrigued.

2011 Magill Estate Shiraz – Inky rich but with a lifted nose also. The aromas come out more and more with air. Does have freshness and despite a slight hole in the mid palate (which may well disappear) it is good. 17-17.5

2011 RWT Shiraz Barossa Valley – A lifted nose, lovely, has an expressive sweetness but stops short of being too much. Quite a big chap and will it integrate? Impressive and the almost floral edge makes me give it a thumbs up. 18

2010 Bin 169 Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon – Gago commented that this wine has a more contemporary feel than the 707. This wine was also given Cabernet of the year by James Halliday. Very very Cabernet nose, not overly dense, good balance has a classical dryness to the tannins. Good wine 17.5-18

2009 Grange – 98% Shiraz 2% Cabernet - "Like 1999 a bit of a sleeper" (Gago). Very shiraz in style but manages to meld density with freshness. Oak does seem prevalent but there is nothing to suggest it won't integrate well. There is charm, ripeness and balance in there. 18

2010 Bin 170 Kalimna Shiraz Block 3C - A commemorative wine for the 170 years of winemaking although interestingly it was made one other time, in 1973. The site (Single block 3C) this was from does tend to make it into Grange. Drier and more restrained nose than Grange 2009, has a lovely moreish texture. My note said it is more of a Syrah than a Shiraz. 17.5-17.75

Rieslings and Italians @ Zucca

There was only one problem with this dinner and that was that we started at 8.15pm and I had to be back in the office the following morning at 7am (and tasting!!). It had been set up (by "Sussex", remember him?) as a Germans and Italians evening but the remit spread to Rieslings generally. The menu was created by Sam Harris (Owner/Chef of Zucca) and worked brilliantly. I must also give credit to Peter Lowe for the photos, much better than my normal "Blackberry/I-phone" scenarios. To comment on food and wine as we go will be too much for my limited brain power so please see the menu below and then photos at the bottom of the post. The order of wines with the dishes could have been approached various ways but especially as more wines were added we just got cracking and took it as we went.

Vitello Tonnato
Russian salad Crostini's
Sliced Speck
Vegetable Fritti
Pesce Crudo – Monkfish, Crab, Fennel, Sea Bass Carpaccio, Mackerel, Porcini
Radicchio, Artichoke and Fonduta
Carne Cruda
Pigeon - heart and liver
Cavolo Nero Ravioli
Taglierini, Pheasant Ragu
Venison, Artichokes and Cocco beans
Cheese course
Custard Tart, blood orange and yoghurt

The Wines

As is almost always the case at Zucca we started with Ferrari and the 2001, it was savoury, biscuity and more of a food fizz than an aperitif.

So then it was straight into the Rieslings and we decided to start with the Alsatian ones. The 1998 Riesling Jubilee from Hugel was decent. Lemon and lime, lightish, dry but not really that interesting. The next two were both from Zind-Humbrecht1994 Riesling Rangen de Thann Clos St. Urbain which was the pick of this first flight for me. Oily, rich, a little orangey and then some dry toffee apple to go with it. The 1988 Riesling Clos Hauserer was a combination of old socks (that can be good in white Bordeaux but not sure elsewhere) and bitter lemon. I remember finding it intriguing start with but it then got a little one dimensional and clumsy. As a trio these were not bad but not exciting either, may be they would have been better served later or just drink better in isolation. I am not that good on Alsace, I should be better.

Right, Germany, oh and one Austrian. Muller kicked us off with 2004 Scharzhofberger Kabinett and it was an electric wake up call after the first flight. My notes simply say "electric, very good indeed, lovely, focussed, clean". The 2006 Niderhuser Hermannshohe Spatlese by Donnhoff was next, alive, opulent, rounded sweetness and unctuousness. The 2006's are like this generally, I think it is a vintage to drink mostly in it's youth for the richness. The 1989 Hattenheimer Pfaffenberg Spatlese from Schloss Schonborn is one of those intriguing wines you can't quite pin down. There was a slight orangey aroma from tiredness but then also speck ham, oily but dry texture and then a note of peppermint tea. Odd but interestingly so. The Austrians joined the party with 2006 Durnsteiner Hollerin Riesling Smaragd from Pichler, a producer who I have had a few things from now and I need to know more. This was good, very pure Riesling but with richness, also a floral side, impressive.
Ah yes, that'll be the Rieslings!
So now onto the reds and two very contrasting wines, 2009 Barolo Cascina Francia from G.Conterno was out of magnum (not that we needed the volume!). It showed very well indeed (bias coming here). I love the traditional Barolos young as well as older and more mature. There was soft sweet red fruit, a little star anise time and herbs. Worth remembering there was no Monfortino in 2009 so that barrel was in this wine. Next up was 2009 Franchetti from Tenuta di Passopisciaro in Sicily, a blend of 20% Petit Verdot and 80% Cesanese d'Affile. It is a rich, high octane wine with blueberry and blackberry to the fore, it is high in alcohol but not clumsy, not bone dry and certainly not for everyone.

Voerzio was up next, it's a producer that tends to divide opinion and with my "traditional only" hat on not one I am that interested in but there is a lot of talk of him going back to a much more traditional way of making wine (from 2009/10 onwards by most accounts). This would be excellent because one thing is not in doubt and that it the ability Voerzio has for growing good fruit. The overall style is quite saturated and fore square. 2007 Barolo Cerequio had a good saline edge to it, not OTT as 2007's can be, it was quite taut and tight, impressive. 2007 Barolo Rocche Del’Annuniata was more lifted, this was a good wine, nice elegant fruit. The 2006 Barolo Brunate was, as expected, less compromising, more savoury, more masculine.

We now went south for 2004 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva in magnum from Poggio di Sotto it had an almost off dry ripe sweet fruitedness to it, very drinkable, not heavy or light just in a very easy middle ground. The fruit was on the red side and the wine seemed very alive, 60 months in old oak can still leave wines very alive as it does in Barolo. Sadly 2000 Barolo Falletto ‘Le Rocche del Falletto’ from Bruno Giacosa was corked, gutted!

1995 Barolo Falletto from Giacosa was delicious, the fruit having that lovely bruised character, slightly big and gamey, youthful yet easy, a lovely wine. 1990 Costa Russi from Gaja was a bit of a tart, not a bad thing, treacle-like gravy, heady and opulent in a beef stock and soy style. A little loose and easy, very 1990 to be honest. Then time for what was fairly universally wine of the night (not that it's a competition Sussex!) and this was 1990 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva from none other than Gianfranco Soldera. This wine has everything and as result is actually hard to describe, it it persistent but not heavy, very long but refreshing also, some sweetness but also a lovely savoury balance, exceptional.

As though one Soldera is not enough we then had his 2004 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva, this wine has a lighter more red fruit profile, it is still very, totally, balanced and refreshing. It is like a more feminine version of the 2006 that I have had a few times now. The partner to this wine was a rather bizarre and intriguing 1995 Cabernet Franc Alzero -from Giuseppe Quintarelli. It is not often that you find "Dime Bars" as a tasting comment on a red wine but they were certainly here along with some other toffeed weirdness and a little coffee but the wine is also off dry and fruited, all rather bizarre, if attractively so.

Back to Riesling with 2009 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese Goldkap from JJ Prum, what a great palate cleanser. Precise, sweet yes but with focus and real zip. 2005 Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle Auslese Gold Cap from Dönnhoff was a little more evolved and certainly quite opulent. Then 2003 Graacher Domprobst Auslese from Willi Schaefer was a little weird, very appley and a little dryer that you might expect but then 2003's are a weird "bag" generally. 

1989 Herrenberg Beerenauslese, Maximin Grünhaus Von Schubert was another opulent expression with clear Tarte Tatin flavours. 1976 Dürkheimer Feuerberg Auslese from Johannes Karst & Söhne, was really quite dry for Auslese and in honesty that is about all my note says, things were getting late!! Alas the 1976 Scharzhofberg Auslese from Egon Müller sadly was corked!

A really wonderful night of delicious wines stunning food and much generosity all round, what next time??!!

Pesce crudo – monkfish, crab, fennel, sea bass carpaccio

Radicchio, artichoke and fonduta
Carne cruda

Pigeon, it’s heart and liver

Cavolo Nero Ravioli
Taglierini, Pheasant Ragu

Venison, artichokes and cocco beans
Custard tart, blood orange and yoghurt

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Domaine de la Romanee Conti 2011's

Friday the 7th February was the day for one of the annual treats - the Press Domaine de la Romanee Conti Tasting. I will write my views on the wines but as I work for the agent I am (very) biased. Mind you what I think is of little consequence to their success but I feel it is important, if only for myself, to try and note my impressions.

To following on from the 2009's and 2010's is quite a task. It is very fair to say that there isn't the sexiness of the 2009's or the out and out class, poise and structured precision of the 2010's but these wine stood up very well. Very Pinot and with good balance and grace. I would imagine they will hit their plateau before either '08, '09 or '10.

A small note for accuracy I tasted at between 7.45-8.10 am as I was also checking the bottles for the tasting. We always serve them very cool, as they would be served at the Domaine. Given the name of this blog it is important to note that there is a 1er Cru Cuvee Duvault Blochet in 2011 but that it will only be sold domestically in France (the same happened with the 2004). A shame if a slightly understandable onemay be one day I can organise a tasting of all the DB's.

There simply wasn't the time for long notes, so actually they are more comments:

Corton Grand Cru - Comfortably the most Corton of the three that have been produced. A gritty yet somehow classy structure. A darker fruit character. Very poised and impressive - 17.5

Echezeaux Grand Cru - Impressive this year, sometimes I feel it gets a little over shadowed but I really liked it here. Pure primary red fruits after the Corton's darker ones. A little spice in the mix also, both open and ready as well as potential serious, interesting to follow - 17.5

Grands Echezeaux Grand Cru - I said last year that after 14 years of tasting this wine on release I was finally starting to understand it, this continued in 2011. It was more masculine than Echezeaux, a little more obviously serious also, there was a fruit character that showed more richness and darkness than Echezeaux, again quite a sleeper (like '10), one to watch - 17.5-18 (this may prove conservative)

Richebourg Grand Cru - Darker fruit, as always more brooding and bigger with definite grip, a wine with a very wide drinking window. Very rich and also a little drier. I always find that I feel guilty for not being more positive with Richebourg - 17.5-18.5

Romanee-St-Vivant Grand Cru - Overt and really quite expressive, somehow looser in structure, also more sweetness. Feminine and pretty as ever but the depth continues to increase each year. There is no need to argue about it but people do tend to be in the Richebourg camp or the Romanee-St-Vivant camp and I am definitely the later - lovely, lovely wine that it would never be a shame to drink. 18-18.5

La Tache Grand Cru - Quite extravagant, lots to "see", amazing depth especially on the palate. Rich but not heavy, lasting spice. Managing to do the high notes of RSV but with the underlying depth of Richebourg, impressive wine 18.5-19

Romanee Conti Grand Cru - It may sound silly but it is a "feeling" and a texture you get with Romanee Conti as much as a taste or aroma. It almost says "I'm all here but I'll come out when I want to". Exquisite balance and poise and plenty of structure but not an obvious type of structure - 19

With Lunch afterwards a it has become a tradition (long may it last!) to taste the Montrachet which this year was painted as more of a "Watercolour" to the "Oils" of 2010. There is often a hedonistic edge of Botrytis about the Montrachet and there was a little of that but the impression you are left with is more of balance and a real understanding that you mustn't try too hard in 2011. 18-18.5

Only another year to wait then….

Wines when Skiing?

A few weeks back I was contacted by Supertravel to see what I thought of an idea they had for offering a wine service for when people were skiing in their Chalets. They are working closely with Ronan Sayburn MW and French wine Merchants Le Verre Gourmand.

I had a couple of reactions. Firstly, it's quite flattering to be asked. Secondly, it's not really what this blog is about but then thirdly, what the hell. One of the reasons we (my family and I) drive when we go skiing is that I can take a case of wine and drink things I want to. Also we can take skis and endless things we don't really need but like to have with us. So as I love skiing and wine I thought why not agree to do a review and see what the the wines are like. So having had them shipped from France I drove them back there. So the wines:

Ugni Blanc Vieilles Vignes 2012 - Vin de France, artificial cork, 11.5%
Fresh pear and peachy nose, clean, crisp, fresh, the palate has more weight than I'd expect, possibly a little clumsy. Aromatic but with a slight sourness. Very refreshing and quaffable. Given the low alcohol I'd expect a little residual sweetness just to lift the palate. 14/20, decent.

Saumur Blanc 2012 "Eric Laurent" - La Case des Vignerons de Saumur, artificial cork, 12%.
Nice nose of green apples, aromatic with a crispness, quite "grapey" with a good high acidity, fresh but not just frivolous with some nice elegance and a bit of weight. Developed nicely over night, a nice wine. 16/20

Malbec 2012 - Vin de Pays d'Oc, artificial cork, 13%
A nice "pull n pour" wine. Primary red candied fruit with a dash of spice, mulled spices. Not bone dry, delicate for Malbec which is nice. The finish is medium in length with a dash of tannin. Very drinkable, not overly complex but very drinkable. 15/20

Cotes du Rhone 2012 - Domaine Les Grands Bois Cuvee Les Trois Soeurs, cork, 14%
Dark colour but transparent. Primary red fruit - red currant, almost cranberry but with a darker core, good fruit complexity. Little bit of grey pepper and some dryness from tannin. Best decanted or given time in the glass, a young wine. More a junior Chateunneuf-du-Pape than a fresh and fruity Cotes du Rhone. A good wine and good with the dishes you tend to find in Alpine areas. 16.5/20

The idea of having some good hand selected wines ready of you is a good one. There is no need, stylistically, to be too fussy, you want refreshing whites but mostly medium bodied reds that will go well with the rich warming dishes that often have a lot of cheese in them. I would say the balance is very much towards the reds so a mixed dozen needs to have 8 or 9 reds in there.

Sammarco and Vigna d'Alceo 1983 - 2006

This was a cracking tasting of Sammarco and Vigna d'Alceo from Castello dei Rampolla. I am almost a month late writing it up. Hosted at Zucca on a Monday night organised by Mr S as ever with great back up from Sam Harris and Zucca, a great pasta after the tasting as ever!

Prior to this tasting these were wines I was very aware of but not experienced with - Castello dei Rampolla, one of Tuscany's benchmark properties, is located in Panzano's famous Conca d'Oro. Rampolla's neighbours include Fontodi. The di Napoli family has owned the property since the mid 1700’s. Alceo di Napoli inherited the estate in 1965. In the early days, Rampolla sold their fruit to Antinori. In 1975, Rampolla began making their own wines under the guidance of Giacomo Tachis.

This tasting looked at the two flagships wines of the estate - Sammarco is Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese and Merlot which saw it's first vintage in 1980 and was named after a family member "Marco" who died in a helicopter crash in the 1980's. Vigna d'Alceo which started with the 1996 vintage and is named after Alceo di Napoli who passed away in 1991 (cepage below).
Alceo di Napoli had always wanted to plant high-density vineyards with Bordeaux varieties, something that was unheard of in Chianti-shire back then. In 1988, di Napoli started his project. Importantly the land he chose had never been under vine before. Cabernet Sauvignon was planted in 1990 then Petit Verdot in 1991. After 1991 Alceo's children Luca and Maurizia (who have "driven" the estate brilliantly now) stepped-in to run the family estate. 1994 was when the estate converted to biodynamic farming, the d'Alceo plots had essentially been farmed biodynamically from the off. Currently d'Alceo tends to be 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Petit Verdot. The first vintages spent about 18 months in French oak barrels. Since 2007, d'Alceo spends 10-12 months in barrel, with only 10-15% new barrels, a decision Rampolla took to preserve more freshness and reduce the flavour impact of oak. More recently, Rampolla has moved increasingly towards larger 500 ltr tonneaux as well for the same reasons.
Anyway enough back ground. The notes and scores below are mine and mine alone. Generally they did seem to go with the consensus as it happens. All bottles had been double decanted in the 2 hours prior to the tasting, the wines were served in pairs.

Sammarco 1983 - Lovely colour, really quite red. Beautiful nose, bright, fresh, easy and gentle with cedar and red fruit. Soft palate, a shad chalky in texture. Overall soft and lovely. Could drink a lot of it! 94

Sammarco 1985 - Deep and quite saturated colour, slightly more closed initially. Richer, denser and darker than the 1983 in every way. More intense texture also, a little savoury and iron-like, a metallic density without that meaning to be a criticism. Had a more Cabernet character. No rush to drink this. Not so much my style and the score is not helpful as I prefer the 1983 but this is arguably a better wine. 93-95

Sammarco 1986 - A colour between the '83 & '85. A combination of coffee and bell pepper. Good weight. A little drier than previous wines really quite savoury and "stocky" on the palate. A little shorter also, better than I am making it sound!! 90-91

Sammarco 1988 - A little more saline (always a good thing in my book) and therefore more Italian. Very bright, real purity, lovely gentle sweetness, persistent and very long. I feel I should write more but as with great wines it is hard to describe why this is so good. Complete. 96-97

Sammarco 1990 - More lifted and higher-toned, more extrovert. Good. Less fruit persistence than the 1988 but a good good wine. More a nose and initial palate wine. A shade hollow possibly but that might just be because the excitement is front loaded. 92-93

Sammarco 1995 - More intense, different even. A toffeed sweetness to the nose, quite glycerol. Wears it's power less elegantly somehow. A little more modern, the toffee does link to mint somehow. Therefore it comes across as not as integrated as it might be. 89

Sammarco 1998 - Youthful freshness, rich big and a little taut. Easy, quite showy, a little simple - good and enjoyable. 91-92

Vigna d'Alceo 1997 - Richness, ripeness, intensity and density. Quite international. It's impressive and given that some 1997's are OTT this is good. It doesn't strike me as very Italian. There's an odd but not unattractive note of tomatoes - rich sweet ones. A wine that still needs time. Hard to score but warrants 92-94

Sammarco 1999 - Corked sadly

Vigna d'Alceo 1999 - A little more savoury than the 1997. More Italian too which is good. It is quite intense but in a balanced savoury masculine way. The best of the Alceos to my mind and a wine with quite a future also. 94+

Sammarco 2004 - Tasted alongside the Alceo 2004 below. This was delicious, fresh red fruits not over done, a nice light touch to proceedings. Easy, almost less serious, very drinkable. Mid-weight. One of those wines that is approachable and balanced now but may well age and put on a little weight. 92

Vigna d'Alceo 2004 - Again red fruit with more acid and structure than the Sammarco 2004, rich but elegant, cherries and freshness but with weight. Will be a wine to follow. 93

Sammarco 2006 - A little bit too oak covered, hopefully this will integrate. Quite a tough and structured wine, masculine and needing time. There is a good texture I just think it was showing in a muted style. 90 (this may well be proved harsh)

Vigna d'Alceo 2006 - A big chap, tight, dense and again masculine now. Needs time for sure, muted but with weight to the palate. If this all mellows in balance then this will be quite something but there is a danger it may be a little clumsy. 92(+?)

It was a fascinating and very positive tasting, the wines overall showed well, good temperature etc. The only wine I felt disappointed in was the Sammarco 1995 as I just can't see that it will integrate with the oak as it is already 19 years old. If people have different experiences of the 1995 I'd love to know. The rest all had a lot going for them. My overall impression is that Sammarco is a wine to buy blind and loyally, it will always be good and has lovely easy balance. The Vigna d'Alceo I tried to score as objectively as possible and actually looking though the notes I liked it but I feel it is a little bigger and more international in style than is ideal (to my taste) at the stage the wines are now…with more time this may well rectify. It is a good wine from a clearly exciting stable and the fact the oak is being lessened sounds great.

A great evening. Sammarco goes firmly onto my BUY list!