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An Afternoon with Bordeaux 2012

This was my first significant encounter with this somewhat maligned vintage but I will try to resist the temptation to repeat all that has been said before.

The positives are that I enjoyed the whites from Pessac and Graves. The majority had the perfume and verve one hopes for from this bastion of the Sauvignon/Semillon blend, and many promised a rosy future with a drinking window for the best that starts now but extends well into the 2020’s.

For the reds the picture is much more patchy. People will tell you that it is a year for Merlot, so difficult was it for the Cabernets to fully ripen. This is true…kind of, but if you are expecting clear delineation between an austere and green tasting left bank and a miraculously plush, ripe and round right bank you will be disappointed. On the evidence of this tasting of the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux, nowhere can claim to have produced greatness but some have produced much more alluring, if not outstanding wines than others. Those estates that reigned in extraction in the search for precociousness fared best. The mineral, somewhat looser structured wines of Pessac and St. Julien managed to reveal a perfumed charm and subtley of tannin that make many enjoyable short to medium term drinking. In the communes of St. Estephe and Pauillac where structure and power make these the bullies of Bordeaux, the struggle for ripeness is revealed in tannins that feel a little terse and fruit that is often threadbare.

So to the right bank where the more flattering and easier to ripen Merlot was meant to save the day. The likes of Canon La Gaffeliere in St.Emilion have produced one of the wines of the vintage, approachable and without a whiff of greenness…but here they have 50% of Cabernet Franc in the blend. Just up the road in the normally hedonistic Pomerol, much of the wine suffers a similar tell-tale under-ripeness experienced by their bretheren across the Gironde but Chateau Gazin and La Conseillante proved that well balanced and seductive Pomerols could be produced.

Overall, the reds should be enjoyed now and over the next 10 years. These are not investment wines, they are wines for drinking. The question that might be asked is whether one should look to other parts of the world where the index between affordability and pleasure is perhaps more closely aligned.

Below are three wines that represent the positive side of 2012 and that are both sensibly and sensitively priced.

Chateau Kirwan, Margaux 3eme Cru, Bordeaux, 2012, 13%
Grape: 68% Cabernet Sauvignon – 20% Merlot – 7% Cabernet Franc – 5% Petit Verdot
Wine-making: 40% new French Oak
Note: Perfumed and lilac scented like ‘proper’ Margaux should be. This is not haunted by the lack of ripeness that pervades some of the Cabernet dominated wines of this vintage and the tannins are already approachable and fine grained. Should prove delicious drinking over the next ten years.
Price: Approx. $50USD
Score: 16/20
Available from: Globally

Chateau Leoville Barton, St Julien 2eme Cru, Bordeaux, 2012, 13%
Grape: Approx. 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot
Wine-making: Approx. 60% new French oak
Note: I’ve always been a fan of this Chateau that produces very typical Claret that reflects the best aspects of every vintage. Floral and elegant with delicious super fine tannins that caress rather than bully. This is a classic of 2012.
Price: 2,600NT
Score: 17/20
Available from: Chateau Wine & Cigar

Chateau Canon la Gaffeliere, St. Emilion
Grape: 50% Merlot, 50% Cabernet Franc
Wine-making: 80% new French oak for 15 months.
Note: Ripe blackberry, perfumed and with a dollop of toasty oak that sits comfortably alongside the plush and fine grained tannins. Not perfect but provides much more immediate pleasure than most.
Price: 2,300NT
Score: 16.5/20
Available from: Chateau Wine & Cigar

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When Less is More

When speaking with many wine producers serious about their trade, the majority will be quick to tell you that the real work, the area where quality is ultimately derived, is in the vineyard.

As a believer in the influence of site and thus of the notion of ‘somewhereness’ being reflected in the glass, this is a view that I am generally in agreement with but with some important caveats. If it is true that ‘you can’t polish a turd’ (I have never tried but the assertion appears reasonable) then the quality of the fruit entering the winery is of course the determining factor but it would be disingenuous to overlook the influence of the wine-maker. Choices about de-stemming, crushing, maceration times, yeast use, pressing, fermentation temperatures, fermentation vessels, extraction methods, maturation times, use of oak, Sulphur dioxide additions, the promotion or blocking of the malo-lactic conversion, use of fining agents, whether to filter and what to close the bottle in and with, will significantly affect the style and quality. Winemaker’s are more influential than they would have you believe.
The irrelevance of discussing (in most cases) the merits of one process vs. another should not be underestimated as it really SHOULD depend on the style, price and intended audience of the wine being made. For example the use of small oak barrels can work brilliantly with grape varieties such as Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon as in many regions of the world their innate structure is further enhanced (or ameliorated) by their use. Conversely using the same barrels for the production of Beaujolais Nouveau would be nonsensical as time, style and the price-point commanded by the wine does not warrant such extravagance.

The two wines below have been chosen as they reflect the decisions taken by the winemaker very clearly. The first wine is unfiltered and the second is made without recourse to oak maturation – alternative options are available from both producers.

Louis Jadot, Beaujolais Villages Primeur 2014, Unfiltered
Grape:
Gamay
Wine-making: Inert vessels and unfiltered
Note: Ripe red fruits, very pure and fresh but with a little more weight, colour and grip than the unfiltered version, which is also available. This proves (if you were a sceptic) that filtration does affect the style of the wine significantly. On blind tasting I preferred this version but some the brighter character of the filtered wine.
Price: 888NT
Score:
15/20
Available from: Finesse

Duemani, CiFRA, Costa Toscana IGT, 14%, Biodynamic
Grape:
Cabernet Franc
Wine-making: Fermented and aged in cement vats
Note: Pure, fresh and sprightly. The tannins are perhaps the most interesting aspect as they have a slight rusticity about them, perhaps a result of the lack of exposure to oxygen through the maturation process (unlike wood, cement cannot breathe). A wine I could happily drink everyday and I can give no higher praise than that. If you would like the oaked version ( called ‘Duemani’ which is also delicious) made with fruit from their best terroir you will pay four times the amount.
Price: Approximately $25 globally.
Score: 17/20
Available from: Not currently available in Taiwan

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The Bordeaux Blend in the New World

There is a reason why Bordeaux is so revered and much of the secret lies in the blend of grapes used. Cabernet Sauvignon may be the grape variety most famously associated and exported from its home on the left bank of the Gironde but Cabernet without the help of its friends (Merlot, Cabernet Franc etc) can feel hollow, edgy and overly herbaceous. Whilst at the Hong Kong wine fair last week I decided to avoid Bordeaux and taste my way through some examples from regions in the new world where Bordeaux blends thrive. It came as no surprise that many of the best were from the ‘cooler’ parts of their respective countries of origin. These wines offered a richness of fruit only found in Bordeaux in the warmest of years but the best were balanced by restraint, elegance, freshness and a textural sophistication that marked these out as fine by anybody’s standard. Cabernet Sauvignon frequently took the lead in these wines but as can be seen below the likes of Cabernet Franc or Merlot provided more than ample support.

When it comes to straight Cabernet Sauvignon I usually prefer wines from a warmer climate such as Napa Valley. This helps plump up the middle of the wine, softening some of the ‘square-ness’ from which this variety can suffer. Yarran, using fruit from Heathcote, produce wines with this added generosity.

So if there is a lesson in any of this it is not to ignore blends in the pursuit of a single varietal; skilful blending adds complexity. Don’t assume that Bordeaux is the only region capable of producing fine quality blended wine featuring the varieties discussed. And don’t dismiss varietal Cabernet Sauvignon from warmer, more Mediterranean climates. Below are two wines that express the sophistication and age-ability possible outside of Bordeaux and from Yarran, a Cabernet Sauvignon that is both plush and a pleasure to drink now.

Yarra Yering, Dry Red Number 1, Yarra Valley, 2008, 13.5%
Grape:
66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 10% Malbec and 4% Petit Verdot
Wine-making: 100% new oak
Note: Delicate and restrained nose of blackberry, smoke and some red fruit. A touch balsamic, spicy but not overly and there is a brightness on the palate that makes this both persistent and harmonious. This reminded me less of Bordeaux and more of top quality, classic Rioja from the likes of Rioja alta. Truly fine stuff. Anyone who thinks that Australia is all about full-bodied fruit bombs needs to try this.
Price: 2005 is 2970NT in Taiwan. Globally approx. $80USD
Score: 18.5/20, Magnificent
Available from: icheers.com.tw have the 2005 for 2970NT

Yarran Wines, Cabernet Sauvignon, Heathcote, 2013, 14.2%
Grape:
100% Cabernet Sauvignon
Wine-making: Some French oak
Note: Soft, spicy with chocolate and mocha, sweet licorice and dark fruit. Very nicely judged oak (much better than the 2012) and with a persistent finish. Brilliant value.
Price: In Australia this is priced at approx. $12USD
Score: 16/20
Available from: Not currently available in Taiwan but should be.

Groot Constantia, Gouverners Reserve, Constantia, 2011, 14%
Grape:
54% Cabernet Franc, 36% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon
Wine-making: Matured for 18 months in predominantly new French oak
Note: Hailing from Constantia means that this is about as cool a climate as one can experience in South Africa. This provides a wine that is fresh and vibrant but also deep and satisfying. On the nose this could be from Bordeaux with pencil shavings, coffee grounds and both sweet and savoury fruit. Generous in body and again excellent persistence, a bargain that will reward cellaring for another ten years.
Price: Globally available at approximately $40USD
Score: 18/20
Available from: Not currently available in Taiwan but should be.

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Something for the Weekend 10: Jonathan Maltus

Jonathan Maltus describes Bordeaux as the ‘Formula 1’ of wine-making regions. Bordeaux is famous for good reason, it is capable of producing superlative, age-worthy wines both white, red and sweet and it is the spiritual home of the most widely planted and well known varieties on the planet: Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

Unusually, Jonathan has had his greatest success with a wine that contains the highest proportion of Cabernet Franc of any of the ‘Grand Vins’ of Bordeaux: Le Dôme. This wine was one of the original ‘garagiste’ wines of the mid 1990’s that, depending on one’s point of view, were ridiculously priced, over-oaked, super-concentrated, low volume, Parker friendly monsters; or a breath of fresh air for all of the same reasons. The garagiste movement demonstrated that it was not a pre-requisite to be bequeathed a chateau in order to make good, even great wine within the hallowed AOC’s of Bordeaux. Even interlopers from England had a chance…although the buying of three hectares of land in St. Emilion (the size of the Le Dôme vineyard), did not come cheap. Le Dôme is but one part of Jonathan’s ever expanding portfolio that encompasses another 50 hectares in St. Emilion as well as some prime Napa Valley real estate. Yet Le Dôme is Jonathan’s jewel and has a   guaranteed fan-club following Robert Parker’s 100 point seal of approval for the 2010 edition. Having only limited experience of the wines from the Maltus stable (yesterday, I tried five of them for the first time) I am loathe to pronounce definitively on their style. Yet they appear more obviously oaked than some and exude a richness that will either make you purr, or perhaps ponder, on whether you really are tasting the best of Bordeaux.

Whatever your conclusions, Jonathan produces wines that range from the affordable and approachable to the more expensive and cerebral. Below are three wines to broach with friends this weekend.

Pezat Rouge, Bordeaux Supérieur AOC, 2011
Grape:
85% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc
Wine-making: Small percentage of new French oak.
Note: Delicately scented with both ripe red fruit and a little Bordeaux savouriness. Enough grip and body to suggest this might be best with some food. Simple but satisfying.
Price: 1250NT
Score: 14.5/20
Available from: Oriental House, 02-2873-3433

Château Teyssier, St. Emilion Grand Cru 2010
Grape:
85% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc
Wine-making: 12 months in French oak, 20% new.
Note: An alluring nose of juicy blackberry, spiced plum, licorice, and some floral perfume. Good levels of intensity and supple tannins make this both easy to appreciate now but suggest continued improvement over the medium-term.
Price: 2500NT
Score: 16.5/20
Available from: Oriental House, 02-2873-3433

Le Dôme, 2007 (the 2010 was awarded 100 points by RP)
Grape:
80% Cabernet Franc, 20% Merlot.
Wine-making: 80% new French oak.
Note: Undoubtedly oaky with oodles of spicy toastiness. The Bordelais would describe 2007 as a ‘classic’ year meaning that it was very challenging but this has no herbaceousness on the nose. Instead there are the beginnings of some tertiary development; mushroom and some floral perfume. Mineral, grippy but ripe mouth-coating tannins. Generous in both intensity and body with ample persistence on the finish.
Price: 7350NT
Score: 17/20
Available from: Oriental House, 02-2873-3433

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Something for the Weekend 5

No other region in the wine-producing world has the variety of the Loire valley. Yet, it is unfashionable (apart from the wines of Sancerre) languishing behind the other heavyweights of vinous France, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne and the Rhone. It is true that in the not too distant past some of the whites could be lean, green and mean and the reds rather weedy and overly herbaceous. Yet with a warming climate and greater focus on ensuring better ripeness of fruit, Loire wines are increasingly consistent.

Built on the back of a number of varieties, the Loire’s greatest gift to the taste curious lies in Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc. Chenin is a sister (or brother if you prefer) of Sauvignon Blanc (SB) but whereas SB has conquered the world with her showy, overt ‘smell that sucker!’ character, Chenin sits at home reading Proust, munching on madeleines and relying on suitors to beat a path to her door. Chenin is not easy, especially when made in its most powerful, brooding incarnation as it is in Savennières. But who said wine should be easy? One never gets to bottom of a bottle of Savennières without some help and if your brow doesn’t furrow and your eyebrows lift at one taste of a fine example, then you better call the doctor because clearly your tongue doesn’t work.

Cabernet Franc (CF) is the mum (or dad) of Cabernet Sauvignon. The more famous progeny is more spiky, more teenager-like than its parent, with its tough, tannic reticence and acid tongue. CF is more measured, similar but dialled back a notch, with the best radiant with raspberry, pencil shavings and exotic spice charm. One word of warning, the savouriness that CF can exhibit can bemuse some more used to overtly fruity offerings. Don’t worry, just ignore them and revel in the fact that you have more to drink for yourself.

Below are a couple of examples available here in Taiwan (and no doubt the wider world) that should pique your interest into what is on offer in the Loire.

Eric Morgat, Cuveé L’Enclos, Savennières, 2009, 14%
Grape:
Chenin Blanc
Wine-making: Old barrels and biodynamic production
Note: Enticing and classic aromas of bruised apple, honey and nuts. Scalpel like acidity performs liposuction on this full bodied beauty, sculpting a palate of rare finesse. Serious and perfect drinking right now.
Price: 1700NT
Score: 18/20
Available from: Celier des Poetes

Chateau de Parnay, Saumur Champigny, 2010, 13.5%
Grape:
Cabernet Franc
Wine-making: No new oak
Note: Leafy, spice-laden, aromatic deliciousness on the nose followed by a sweet and savoury palate. Quintessential and affordable.
Price: 1100NT
Score: 16/20

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Making Wine Easy 2

Having covered the opening of Vinoza last week, with its aim to provide affordable wines to Taiwan, (http://sniff.com.tw/?p=266) I wanted to continue the theme of ‘making wine easy’ by reviewing Direct Wines, another relative newcomer to these shores. Established in the UK more than 40 years ago, the decision by Direct Wines to open here in January, demonstrated that they believe, like Vinoza, that there is money to be made in the mid-market.

Direct Wines have always traded on the idea of trust first espoused by owner Tony Laithwaite ‘trust us to bring you the best wines we can find…trust us that you will enjoy them.’ This is a powerful message and one reinforced by their guarantee of replacing any wines that the customer doesn’t enjoy. On tasting a selection at their offices in Neihu, it was instantly apparent why they have been so successful in selling wine both in the UK, Australia and now Asia. The secret is in the easiness of the wine’s style. Whatever I tasted, at whatever price-point, I couldn’t help but feel satisfied with what was in my glass. Was I moved, shocked or awed by any of the wines? No, but to expect that would be to misunderstand the point of what Direct Wines is offering. Their aim is to provide good quality examples from the wine regions that they represent, affording the wine-consuming majority the opportunity to drink or taste wine daily. This is a more European approach to wine, where wine, traditionally, is treated more like food. For wine culture to become more embedded here in Taiwan the current view has to change. Wine should not be about aspiration or status it should be about the provision of (almost) daily pleasure.

Below are some affordable wines from this recent tasting. To order them (in Taiwan) call Direct Wines at 02 7701 0188

Chateau Toutigeac, Bordeaux A.O.C., 2009,13%
Grape:
Cabernet Franc 60%
Wine-making: Neutral, no obvious oak influence
Note: Chateaux in the Entre-deux-Mers region of Bordeaux are better known for producing white wines rather than reds but this Cabernet Franc dominated red has the benefit of a rich, ripe vintage. Simple but with pleasing black cherry fruit and supple tannins that makes it easy to appreciate even if kept chilled in the fridge.
Price: 729NTD
Score: 14.5/20

Torrevento ‘Vigna Pedale’ Nero di Troia Riserva, Castel del Monte D.O.C, 2008, 13%
Grape:
Nero di Troia
Wine-making: 12 months in oak
Note: I’ve always had a soft spot for this variety which resides in Puglia, southern Italy. This has a little savouriness accompanying the ripe fruit that adds just enough complexity to make this wine genuinely interesting. My favourite red wine here.
Price: 1,199NTD
Score: 15.5/20

Le Prince de Courthezon, Cotes-du-Rhone 2012, 14.5%
Grape:
80% Grenache, 10% each of Syrah and Mourvedre
Wine-making: Old oak and steel, no new oak influence
Note: Another easy to appreciate wine this time made with Grenache. Tasting of strawberry and pomelo pith (I know a bit strange but it works) this has high alcohol but it never gets in the way. Just don’t serve it too warm.
Price: 729NTD
Score: 15/20

Sendero des Santos, Albarino, Rias Baixas D.O., 2011, 13%
Grape:
Albarino
Wine-making: Stainless Steel to preserve purity of fruit
Note: White wines are still second choice to many in Taiwan but this pineapple and apricot scented Galician is perfect for the steamy weather we are experiencing this September.
Price: 699NTD
Score: 16/20

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