Christmas Recap

So Christmas has come and gone, and with it a couple of fantastic wines.  Needless to say, there were nearly no studying on the day, but here is a quick recap of the wines that were enjoyed.

First, a brief note about sabrage.  It’s the fine art of opening a bottle of sparkling wine by applying a sabre or a similar implement to the neck of the bottle in such as was as the ring of glass holding the cork detaches from the neck of the bottle, ideally intact with the cork, allowing the release of carbon-dioxide to blow away any glass shards in a very dramatic display.  Unfortunately, it can also be fraught with peril, in that depending on the pressure inside the bottle, the bottle itself, and the skill of the person attempting the maneuver, you can end up with anything from a completely shattered bottle to the type of decapitation only appropriate in the event of a zombie attack.

I first saw a demonstration in South Africa years ago and was taken by how fun it looked.  Since then, I’ve successfully removed the cork using that method, and was even given a sabre à Champagne as a gift for that purpose.  When it works, it’s really makes for a sense of occasion.

Corbon Brut Champagne 2003

Corbon Brut Champagne 2003

Unfortunately, this year the result as you can see in the photo was failure.  I don’t know what happened – possibly I hit the neck to hard, but as you can see it wasn’t good.  Fortunately, we were able to save more than half, though the bubbles faded very rapidly.  A great shame, as the Corbon Brut Champagne 2003 is a fine drop indeed.  I think I may need more practice on easily replaced bottles before I try that again with something so special.  At the very least, it was not the centrepiece of the day – rather just a starting drop.

A quick look at the bottle and some terms that are worth pulling out.  Brut – French for “crude” or “raw” but in the case of wine usually means dry (not sweet).  There are a number of technical terms that refer to how much residual sugar is in a champagne, and Brut refers to less than 15g/l.  Champagne – sometimes wrongly used to refer to sparkling wine, it is a sparkling wine made in a specific area of France called Champagne, under very specific rules regarding how the grapes are grown, and how the wine is made and aged.  Propriétaire-Récoltant – something along the lines of owner – grower.  In this case, it means that the people who made the wine are also the people who grew the grapes – not especially common in Champagne where big houses tend to buy in many/most of their grapes.  Chardonnay – this wine has no Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier, or any of the handful of lesser grapes permitted in making Champagne.  À Avize Grand Cru – all the fruit that went into this wine is from the village of Avize, which is one of 17 most highly rated.  Millésime 2003 – 2003 vintage, whereas most Champagne is non-vintage, that is a blend across several years.  That’s a lot just from the label.  Alas, if there was any information on the label that once graced the neck of the bottle, it’s gone.

Anyway, the Champagne, that which I didn’t waste, was lovely.  I had tried it in a tasting a month or two ago, and it was showing very well despite my poor treatment of it.  Christmas was no time for taking of detailed notes, but it had a lovely biscuit taste, along with slightly honey and nutty notes, along with rich citrus.

Marchand & Burch Nuits-saint-Georges 2009

Marchand & Burch Nuits-saint-Georges 2009

With dinner, we stayed in France, but moved to the south somewhat.  I roasted a goose (first time) and while the breast was a bit overdone, the drumsticks were wonderful, as was the stuffing.  When it comes to game birds, the classic pairing is Pinot Noir, and so we had a bottle of Marchand & Burch Nuits-saint-Georges 2009.  The company is a partnership between Pascal Marchand, a French winemaker of Burgundy, and Jeff Burch, owner of wineries in Western Australia.  Under their label, they release wines made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay made in both France and Australia.

Burgundy is a very interesting place to visit and study.  The better wines have the name of the village from which their grapes come on their label, and Nuits-saint-Georges is in the Côte d’Or, specifically within the Côte de Nuits.  This wine was also from the tasting of a month or two ago, and we picked it out for Christmas to remind us of our time in Burgundy in June when we stayed just outside that village.

Again, I wasn’t taking notes but it was very spicy and had deliciously herby notes over restrained fruit.  Elegant is the word for it, and it was delicious.  And it was under screwcap, which is somewhat rare for French fine wine – obviously there are some Australian influences in the packaging, and there was no need for a sabre.

 

Erratic update schedule for the next few days

It’s Christmas here, and with the holiday officially on us, the amount of time I have to write up the great drinks I’m enjoying is quite diminished.  Fear not, I look forward to filling you in on the Tannat we had with dinner last night, the Champagne I’m looking forward to with lunch, and the red Burgundy to go with the goose for dinner tonight.  I might even have a tipple of a favourite single malt.  For now though, I hope you have better things to do on your holiday than to be clicking the reload button here in hopes of an update.  Merry Christmas!

Two Paddocks Central Otago Pinot Noir 2006

Origin: ,

Colour and type: ,
Varietal:

Two Paddocks Central Otago Pinot Noir 2006

Two Paddocks Central Otago Pinot Noir 2006

I’ve neglected New Zealand since I started writing, not for any reason in particular, but just because I haven’t had any of their wines at hand and hadn’t gone out of my way to pick up any.  In fact, I’ve been to New Zealand twice, and while only one trip was wine related, it is a lovely country, they produce some fantastic wines, and I was proud to put on a New Zealand jersey to support them when I watched one of their draws in South Africa a year and a half ago.  Their national team in football/soccer is the All Whites, as opposed to their rugby squad which is the All Blacks.  It was potentially awkward, being an All Whites supported in South Africa, but no harm came of it.

As to their wine, they’re a very fortunate country.  They’ve come to the international wine trade business relatively recently, but they’ve done well to establish themselves with good quality wines across the board, and as such brand New Zealand commands better prices than most countries in important markets such as the UK.  They made a certain style of Sauvignon Blanc fashionable, to the point that some Old World producers have made changes to their winemaking.  While they don’t get quite the same value per bottle they did a few years back, New World producers (and some Old) would love to be the next Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc.

So while New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc has certainly had an impressive rise on international markets to the point that I believe it’s not in decline, they haven’t quite had the same success with Pinot Noir.  It’s been a success, certainly, but more a success in establishing itself as a category and Central Otago as a region, rather than dominating a whole sector the way New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc did.

When I bought this bottle I was of two minds.  First, I wanted a Kiwi Pinot Noir where my notes would broadly be applicable to a wide range of their offerings.  On the other hand, I also wanted a wine I’d be happy to enjoy with a meal.  Two Paddocks is a well known New Zealand producer, and while it’s not exactly the most common wine on the shelves, this one ticks both boxes I was after.  This is a wine you can find around the world, and it is very typical of the Central Otago style.  It’s a step up from their Picnic Wines, but at roughly $40/bottle it’s not overly expensive.  The only thing that really would set it apart from what’s most readily available in this category is its age – as a 2006 it’s at least a couple of years older than the current release.

It’s a lovely wine – lots of sour cherry and herbs.  At five years old, it’s not so fruit forward that I immediately think New World, but when I look at the colour I can see that the age is the factor in the restraint, not the winemaking.  The herbs are quite savoury, and I look forward to tasting something like this next to a Pinot Noir from the Adelaide Hills to pick out the differences.  I know they have a different flavour profile, but it’s book learning and I would love to internalize it with some glasses in front of me.

Appearance

Clear and bright, medium-plus garnet, quick legs.

Nose

Clean, developing, with medium intensity of iodine, red cherry, herbs and cinnamon.

Palace

Dry, with medium intensity, medium fine tannins, medium-plus acidity, medium alcohol and medium-minus body.  Notes of black pepper, sour black cherry, herbs and a gamey character.  Medium-plus length and a spicy finish.

Conclusions

This is a very good quality wine – while not particularly intense, the flavour profile is very pleasing and complex across fruit, herb/spice and meat characters.  While the body is relatively light and the acidity relatively high, it works for a wine of this style.  While it’s showing its age of five years, I think there is more to come as fruit will give way to further secondary characters.  Can drink now, will improve over the next three years.

Pisco Sour

Pisco Sour

Pisco Sour

So in addition to reading through the Examiners’ Report for the WSET Diploma Unit 3 Exam, I spent most of the day looking after my 13 month old daughter.  She’s a joy, in so many ways, but I am not a natural when it comes to childcare.  To be honest, I don’t really like children, but of course I make a great exception when it comes to my own because she’s essentially a little clone.  I think somehow she sensed that I don’t like most people anywhere near as much as I like myself, so how better to ingratiate herself to me than by being a scaled down version of me.

That said, between successfully looking after her and having been somewhat dismayed by how much work is still between me and being even halfway ready for the theory part of the exam, I need a drink.  Who’d have thunk – the guy writing on drunk.com needs a drink?  Well it happens, and now is one of those times.  Dinner is in the oven, I have dishes to do while my wife puts the aforementioned daughter to bed, but really I’m just taking a minute to sip on something cold and refreshing, which takes me back to easier times.

So before me is an overly large Pisco Sour.  Yes, it’s back to cocktails, and this one is a doozy.  A Pisco Sour is a cocktail made from Pisco, lemon juice, and egg white.  Optionally you can sweeten it up a bit with some simple syrup or sugar if you can’t be asked, and give it some colour with a dash of your favourite bitters.  It is considered the national cocktail of at least one country in South America, but I don’t want to start any wars as to the rightful home of Pisco.  Let’s just say there are competing claims, and while I’ve only been to one of the claimants, I’m sure the other country is just as adamant that Pisco is rightfully theirs.

But hey, Pisco – I managed to skip over that, right?  Well it’s a spirit made from grapes, you know, like brandy or grappa.  In the two countries in question, they use different grapes and have different ways of ranking the quality (I think one is by the grape and the other by how it is aged).  Still, it’s very different from most brandy you’ll find in that it’s typically much lighter in colour, often clear.  Also, brandy is usually made from uninteresting grapes that make a thin, acidic wine and then whacked into oak for years after distillation.  Pisco is made from its own collection of grapes, some quite aromatic, including in one of the countries, Torrontés, which can be quite aromatic and sometimes even grapey.  I won’t compare Pisco to grappa, because while they’re both made from grapes, most grappa is made from the remains of grapes after the vast majority of their juice has been removed to make wine.  It’s the wet skins that are then repurposed for another pressing, and then the resulting wine is distilled into grappa.

So when I said that this drink is to take me back to easier times, I wasn’t talking about my last trip to South America.  I wasn’t even talking generally about life before fatherhood.  Rather, I was thinking back to the WSET Unit 4 Exam, Spirits of the World.  Before I knew the first thing about wine (and now, I am not sure I even know that), I was a fan and amateur student of spirits.  I started off with single malt Scotch and moved out from there. When we covered Unit 4, much of the rest of the class struggled, as most of them are sommeliers and rarely have anything to do with spirits – that’s left to barmen and bartenders.

When it came time for the blind tasting, we were given three spirits and told they were all made from the same material.  Two were caramel colour – brown spirits as they are generally know, meaning something that’s been in wood long enough to pick up colour, and often can be more expensive to make since you need to buy barrels and sit on the stuff for years.  The third was a very watery yellow/brown.  After a sniff, it was easy enough to peg the brown spirits as types of brandy, but it took a minute or two for me to get the aromatics and grape notes to indicate Pisco.  While the rest of my note and my performance on the theory part of the exam were only worth a pass, I remain exceedingly pleased to have been able to pick out the Pisco when perhaps one other person out of twenty was able to do so.  So now whenever I have a Pisco, I think back to exam success, and with this drink I’m hoping to conjure up some of that magic to help me forward with my studies.

 

New Examiners’ Report

The WSET Diploma Unit 3 exam is given twice a year, once in January and once in June.  To be more accurate, exams are given for each of the six units twice a year – I just care a bit less about the other exams as I’ve already passed them.  Following the exam, after everything is graded and students informed as to passing or not, the examiners write up their thoughts on how the students answered the questions.  I’ve just received the report for the 2011 exams, and it makes for interesting reading, especially in terms of the meta-game of trying to figure out what might be on the exam I’ll face in a few weeks.

First, the tasting sections.  Broken down into four flights of three wines each, the first flight is wines of a common grape.  This past year they were Rieslings from Clare Valley, Mosel and Alsace in January, and Sauvignon Blancs from New Zealand, the Loire, and a Fumé Blanc from California.  I like to think I would have been fine with either selection, as Clare Riesling and Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc are wines I’ve tasted over and over.

The second flight is wines with a common theme, and in this case both were their origin.  In January students faced a Pinot Noir, a Pinotage and a Shiraz from South Africa, and in June a Grenache, a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Shiraz from South Australia.  I do not think I would have done so well in January 2011.  As much as I like South Africa, I don’t have the opportunity to taste Pinotage very often, and that would have been the key to guessing the location.  The Australian flight would have been fine, or so I would hope.

The third flight is partially specified wines, and the object is to rate their relative levels of quality and price points.  In January it was three red Bordeaux, and in June wines from the Northern Rhône.  While I’m not an expert on either, I would have been pleased to be given those wines.

Finally the last flight is a group of three wines that are completely blind and have nothing to do with one another and the object is to just write up good tasting notes for each.  In January it was a California Chardonnay, an Argentinean Torrontés and a Vourvray Sec.  I’m not reliable as far as sweet wines, but I think that would have been a reasonable group for me.  I doubt I would have picked California for the Chardonnay as it’s not the first thing I think of when presented with a wine of that style, but I’ve recently enjoyed some Torrontés and did some tasting in Vouvray in July.  In June, students faced an Italian Pinot Grigio, a Pouilly-Fuissé, and a 5 puttonyos Tokaji.  A much more challenging lineup for my palate, so I’m glad I am unlikely to have that exact set in front of me in a few weeks.

So looking at least year, I think I probably could sit the tasting part of the exam right now and pass.  Lets just hope they don’t repeat the South African flight, though I’ll be sure to have a couple of bottles of Pinotage between now and the exam as insurance.

As for the theory section, well I’m not so sure.  The format is one compulsory question, and then give answers for four out of six other questions.  In general, the compulsory question is on a big topic in the wine world, and that often means France.  In 2010 both questions related to France – one was on Bordeaux and the other Burgundy.  In 2009 it was 5 out of six small New World topics, and then Cabernet Sauvignon.  In 2008 Bordeaux and a specific Bordeaux bottle label versus a Rhône bottle label.  So if you find yourself with spare time and are headed into the exam, you will not be hurting your chances if you study France.

In 2011 however, the January question had to do with the Spanish DOs of Ribera del Duero, Rueda and Bierzo, while in June it was the Italian DOCGs of Brunello di Montalcino Riserva, Recioto della Valpolicella and Dogliani.  At this point, I would have received very few points.  Yes, I was meant to have completely covered Italy and Spain over the past week, but clearly I’m a bit behind.  This has served as a good wake up call.

The “pick four of six” questions were a bit easier, but not a whole lot.  In January there were Austria, a multi-part Australian question, a Loire question, a multi-part North American question, a Burgundy question, and a Chianti question.  I probably could have done well enough on two of them, so that is not nearly enough to pass.  So January 2011 would have been a fail for me.

In June the questions were Argentina, South Africa multi-part, a Bordeaux question, a multi-part question about lesser known regions around the Mediterranean,  a multi-part sweet Riesling question, and an essay on Alsace.  Again, two decent answers, but the rest would not have been pretty.  June 2011, probably another fail.

So, things are looking a bit grim at the moment, in that I really need to redouble my efforts over the next three weeks.  The holidays complicate that slightly, but I have just been visited by the ghost of exams past and the ghost of exam future, which means I really need to make a change.  Wish me luck.

 

Guy Bossard Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine Cuvée Classique 2009

Guy Bossard Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine Cuvée Classique 2009

Guy Bossard Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine Cuvée Classique 2009

Tonight’s wine is something unlikely to ever appear as a sample in a blind tasting for the WSET Diploma Unit 3 Exam, but I saw it in a local shop and had to pick it up.  The wine is a Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine Cuvée Classique from Guy Bossard, 2009.  While it is a wine from a region that is covered internationally in wine education, and can in fact be found now and again in bottle shops and on wine lists, it’s a wine worth some description.

So Muscadet is a region, in the west end of the Loire Valley in France where the Loire River runs into the Atlantic Ocean.  Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine is itself a sort of subregion of greater Muscadet, and in particular it is the area where the rivers Sèvre and Maine meet before in turn joining the Loire.  It’s only “sort of” a subregion in that most of the wine from all of greater Muscadet is produced there, and it’s arguably the most interesting and best wine at that.  There are rolling hills of a diverse range of soils, from schist and gneiss to granite and sand.  The climate is maritime, temperate and damp, all due to the proximity of the Atlantic Ocean to the west.

The main (solitary but AOC rules) grape grown is Melon de Bourgogne, which is also known as Muscadet.  Frankly, I think someone decided that wine studies would be too easy if everything made sense, and so we have a grape named after its region of origin (Burgundy) and while it’s not widely grown there, it’s also given the name of its new home. And of course it has to be a new name that’s pretty close to other, existing grape names, such as Muscadelle, the third white grape of Bordeaux, as well as Muscat which comes in a variety of colours and which picks up new named wherever it goes.  Some grapes are relatively sensible – Pinot comes in Blanc, Gris and Noir, as does Grenache.  Musca-whatever is just a bit annoying, particularly as I think they’re not related to one another in the slightest.

But getting back to Melon de Bourgogne, or Muscadet, it’s a white grape, and often smells/tastes of green apples, grass, and lemons.  It’s not one of the noble grapes, but that is a blog topic all its own.  For now I’ll leave it that it’s best produced and appreciated in its place of most recent origin, Muscadet.

As far as winemaking goes, I only tend to comment on it when a region does something special, and for Muscadet that would be sur lie ageing.  When you ferment grape juice into wine, yeast essentially consume sugars and produce alcohol and carbon dioxide.  So what starts out as water and sugar turns into water and alcohol with gas released (oh and heat generated).  Fermentation can stop for lots of reasons, but two main reasons are that the yeast runs out of food (all sugar is gone, and therefore the wine is dry) or there is too much alcohol for the yeast to survive.  (I often describe alcohol as “yeast poo” when explaining fermentation and alcohol levels.)  Either way, typically when your ferment is done, you have dead yeast.  In the business, dead yeast cells are known as lees.

Usually, once the yeast is dead, you go through a procedure known as racking, which essentially removed wine from other things, in this case lees.  More generally, wine as it is being made is a messy substance, but if you let it sit for a while, some of the more messy elements tend to fall to the bottom of the container.  When you rack wine, you essentially drain as much of the more clear bit out of the container, leaving the gunk at the bottom.

However, the lees can add a character to the wine that is desirable under the right circumstances.  Champagne (and many other sparking wines) will undergo a second fermentation in the bottle, and will be aged with the lees from that fermentation (for a minimum of 18 months in the case of Champagne).  Ageing wine in the presence of lees can add body and creaminess, and people who would like to impress you will refer to it as autolytic character.  It can allow for greater ageing potential once bottled.

So just to pull together the last few paragraphs, with Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine it is often left to age on lees after fermentation.  What I didn’t explicitly mention is that that the term “sur lie” actually means.  This is unusual in that most wine is racked off lees sometime relatively soon after fermentation, but if you leave your wine in contact with lees it can give it some autolytic characters which can be desirable depending on the type of wine you’re making.

Having written all that, there may be something funny going on with this wine.  It does not use the term “sur lie” on the label.  A site which sells the wine mentions in its description that it is made in the “sur lie” style but that it cannot say so on the label.  AOC rules are apparently very specific for the use of the term, and so he could be leaving the wine on lees for longer or shorter than the approved time.  I want to say I can taste the lees influence, but I’m not an expert and I have only had other Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie a few times.

In any case, this is a good wine, and an interesting style not so often seen.  The apple flavours were what struck me, as well as the acidity.  It was paired this evening with some grilled swordfish, but I think it would have done better with some chilled shellfish like the last time I had a bottles in Nantes.

Appearance

Clear and bright, medium-minus gold, thin film instead of legs.

Nose

Clean, developing, medium-plus intensity of apples (green and yellow), as well as some sweet spice and a hint of nuttiness. Slight autolytic character.

Palate

Dry, high acidity, medium body, medium alcohol, medium-plus flavour intensity, with notes of apple, sour citrus, some nail varnish, and stony minerality.  Sour finish, with medium length.

Conclusions

This is a good quality wine – crisp with minerality and strong tart flavours, but also with creaminess and body.  The balance is slightly on the sour end of the spectrum, and the intensity of flavour is supported with high acidity, but that leaves the body and alcohol behind.  A longer length and milder sour notes might have pushed this up to a very good.  I think at two years old, this wine has potential for ageing, perhaps to improve over the next three years.

Acidity

Citric Acid

Citric Acid

As part of the WSET Diploma Unit 3 Exam, students will be given 12 wines, in flights of 3, to taste blind, and students are to write up their notes in the format outlined in the Systematic Approach to Tasting (generally known as the SAT).  As far as points go, most of them are given for being able to accurately describe the wine according to a handful of criteria.  Other points are given for then using those observations and making a judgement as to the quality, composition and origin of the wine, but really if you want to pass you can call every single wine a Bulgarian Pinot Noir and still pass if you can correctly assess the appearance, nose and palate.

Today we did an exercise to evaluate relative acidity in some samples.  If you take a class in sensory perception (which I have not) I would imagine something like what we did today would be the most basic introduction.  Acidity is one of those things that I tend only to think about when it is the driving force in a tasting experience.  Given a glass of Clare Valley Riesling, I might naturally remark on the acidity, and it would probably be something about my tongue being cooked like ceviche.  But for a glass of Châteauneuf-du-Pape I would be thinking more about the fruit and spice and it probably wouldn’t occur to me on my own as to what level of acidity it was exhibiting.  The same is often true for tannins or alcohol, but before I started studying, acidity was something that would go unobserved more often than not.

While one problem with the SAT is that it’s difficult to give good benchmarks for how a wine should be scored in a way that’s meaningful through time.  If I am in a room with a certified instructor, he or she can tell me all the attributes of a wine we’re tasting together.  However, the instructor were to write up notes on a bottle, and I were to try to duplicate the experience, there’s no telling that the experience would be the same.  Bottle variation and differing storage conditions can make for very different tasting experience.  And heaven forbid someone try to duplicate the experience six months later when the wine will have aged and matured, even if only slightly.  So as a result, looking at a SAT note for a wine written by someone else at a previous time is not as useful as one might like.

However, you can isolate some SAT facets of a tasting note and at the very least train yourself to note relative differences.  So tonight we tried to do just that.

Citric acid is a naturally occurring substance, found (as you might expect) in citrus fruits.  It’s also found in grapes, though it’s a minor acid compared to tartaric and malic acids.  At room temperature it’s a crystal and looks quite a bit like table salt.  Most importantly, you can buy it in a supermarket in a small shaker.  (Funnily, it’s usually found in wineries in big 20kg sacks, not for putting in wine, but for use as a cleaning agent after running decolourizing caustics through pumps and hoses.)

Acidity evaluation blind tasting

Acidity evaluation blind tasting

Today I laid out five samples, with varying amount of citric acid.  They wouldn’t necessarily correspond to the low/medium-minus/medium/medium-plus/high acidity levels of the SAT, but tasting them blind gave us a good opportunity to focus exclusively on acidity levels without regard for everything else that can be going on in a glass.  And since this was our first try, I made it relatively easy, with a water sample, one smidgen, two, four and eight.

It turns out that it was pretty easy, with both of us not having a problem ranking the samples according to acidity.  Next time instead of a geometric progression of concentration, I’ll stick with a simple arithmetic to make it more difficult.

Another obvious choice in terms of things to isolate would be alcohol level.  That’s tricky though, in that in tastings the SAT value for alcohol is how much you can taste it rather than how much is there.  So you’re not asked for an Alcohol by Volume (ABV), just where it is on the low to high scale.  So an elegantly made Barossa Valley Shiraz may be 15%, but if everything is well balanced you might not notice the alcohol.  On the other hand, in a wine that’s very light in every other respect, a 13% ABV might feel warm.  Still, it might be worth trying, though the tolerances would have to be much tighter than a measuring spoon labeled SMIDGEN to get samples that were accurate to within say 0.5% ABV.  Really, taking a serious sensory course would be worthwhile, and in fact would have been especially worthwhile two years ago.  Alas, live and learn.

Finally, we did have more than just Citric Acid infused water with dinner tonight, but as it’s from a winery that has been touched upon before (I bought a mixed case and this is the second bottle) I thought I would not bother with the tasting notes tonight.  I do quite frequently have wines from favoured producers again and again, but I would rather have my notes here reflect more diversity than my drinking habits can always offer.

Henschke Henry’s Seven Barossa 2008

Henschke Henry's Seven Barossa 2008

Henschke Henry's Seven Barossa 2008

Tonight I’m sampling a wine from a very important Australian producer, and while this isn’t the most famous wine from that producer, it is important and interesting nonetheless.

I have before me a bottle of Henschke Henry’s Seven Barossa 2008.  It’s a blend of Shiraz, Grenache, and Viognier.  As I mentioned when I wrote about the Domain Day wine a few weeks ago, the Barossa Valley is a bit of Australian holy ground, and best known for robust Shiraz.  It is also the home of some of the oldest vines in Australia, many of them Grenache bush vines, meaning vines not trained to wires.

If Barossa is holy ground, Henschke is Australian divinity.  A family run winery since 1868, it has had many generations working its vines and making wine over almost the last decade and a half.  (Note to self, mark the calendar to buy some 150th anniversary wines around 2018.)  The current generation consists of husband and wife Stephen (winemaker) and Prue (vigneron), as well as at least one Dachshund named Cassie.  They make a range of wines, red, white, and sparkling, with their winery based in Eden Valley, a cool subregion of Barossa.  The have vineyards in Eden Valley in Barossa and Lenswood in the Adelaide Hills, which gives them a range of grapes, with an emphasis on cooler climates.

Having hit on second wines yesterday, it’s worth talking a bit about Henschke in terms of icon wines.  So with the great houses of France, particularly Bourdeaux, there is the notion of grand vin which carries the house name, and possibly a second wine with a different but evocative name.  In Australia, this is turned on its head.  Henschke has an icon wine, Hill of Grace, but it represents a small fraction of its production.  It is a rare and beautiful wine which I’ve only tasted once, and while when it springs to mind when people mention Henschke, it is not what most people have tasted when they’ve had a bottle with a Henschke label on it.  Rather, most have had something like the Henry’s Seven in front of me.  And while Henschke has a range of wines, it doesn’t really touch the low end, in that while this might be one of their more affordable wines, it’s neither cheap nor cheaply made.

As I mentioned, this wine is a blend and sourced from the Barossa Valley, in particular Eden Valley.  The blend, Shiraz, Grenache and Viognier (with 2% Mourvèdre according to the tasting notes), conjures forth thoughts of the Rhône.  I’m not sure in which region it would be considered a traditional blend – in the Côte-Rôtie you certainly see Syrah co-fermented with a considerable whack of Viognier, but I tend to think of Grenache as more typical of the Southern Rhône (and Spain of course).  But I’m a student, so for all I know there is an AOC that has been doing SGV for years.  But Australia is not bound by French AOC rules, so while things like Syrah/Shiraz and Cabernet-Sauvignon blends are uncommon in France (except for one region I can’t remember right now) they can be commonplace in Australia.

So this wine – very nice.  Friends brought it when we hosted them for Thanksgiving dinner a few weeks back, and as we had already selected some wines to go with the turkey, we set this one aside.  I wish I had some of the Pomerol from last night to taste side by side, as this couldn’t be more different.  While it’s a similar age (this is roughly six months younger – that crazy hemisphere thing) it’s from a different planet.  I have a bias in favour of New World wines in general, and so when I was asked to describe how to pick an Australian Shiraz, I said that a taster should look up from their notes and clear their mind with a swig in the mouth.  If the first thing that comes to mind is “damn, this is delicious” then it’s an Australian Shiraz.

Seriously though, this is a much more fruit forward style.  Shiraz makes a much fuller wine, and while people speak of Grenache in France as being a lighter wine, in Barossa from old vines it is like a grape shotgun at point blank range.  The Viognier adds aromatics and apparently helps in colour fixing in co-fermentation.  In this case it certainly keeps up in terms of palate weight.  This is a delightful blend, with intensity and concentration, but without heavy handedness.

Appearance

Clear and bright, medium-plus ruby with quick, thick pale ruby legs.

Nose

Clean and developing with medium-plus intensity and sweet spice, fresh raspberries, blackberries, and a bit of liquorice.

Palate

Dry (though the fruit is so fresh and sweet, I had to think twice), medium acidity, medium soft tannins, medium-plus body, medium-plus alcohol, medium-plus flavour intensity, with strong blackberry, raspberry, liquorice, sweet spice, and a bit of old oak.  Medium-plus length with some plums on the finish.

Conclusions

This is a very good wine – intense across the board, and so balanced with medium-plus being the norm for the scores.  The acidity is not quite up to the rest of the scores, but it does not put the wine out of balance.  The complexity is only in its infancy, in that I expect it to be more rounded with some cellaring.  I think this wine will improve over the next five years at least.

Le Carillon de Rouget Pomerol 2008

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Le Carillon de Rouget Pomerol 2008

Le Carillon de Rouget Pomerol 2008

Tonight we opened up a bottle of wine we had sent to back from our most recent trip to France, Le Carillon de Rouget Pomerol 2008. It was not a château we visited, but rather a recommendation from a manager in a wine shop as we put together a mixed case that would give us a range of wines to cover our Bourdeaux studies.

So first, Pomerol. It’s in Bordeaux, which of course is in France, and this is not the first wine I’ve covered from that general area. I tasted a wine from Saint-Julien, Connétable de Talbot 2008 a couple of weeks back. Saint-Julien as I said is in the Left Bank, and as such a Cabernet Sauvignon dominated blend. Pomerol, on the other hand, is on the other bank, the Right Bank. It is an area where Merlot dominates blends, with Cabernet Franc being a junior partner, and other varieties often not being present at all. Pomerol has no formal classification system, unlike the long established 1855 classification on the Left Bank. However, some wineries there has such well established reputations that they are valued at least as highly as first growths, among them Château Pétrus and Château Le Pin.

This wine is the second wine from Château Rouget, as the wine two weeks ago was from Château Talbot, but I didn’t really explain what a second wine was. In Bordeaux, as well as some other places, a château will have their grand vin which will carry their name. So if you speak of the wine Château Margaux, no one would ever ask “which one?” in exactly the opposite way that if you were to speak of Penfolds, you would need to be more specific as they produce many wines and none of them is an eponymously named flagship. (Penfolds flagship wine is Grange, for the record.) However, if you are a grand château you will have a large number of wines made every vintage that may go into your blend and from year to year they might vary in quality. Some young vines may not produce up to the high standards of your château’s grand vin. Or perhaps the vintage was tragic with not enough ripeness. For a number of reasons, many châteaux have found it useful to produce a second wine – one that is clearly from their château but which has a reputation separate from their grand vin. The amount produced will vary from year to year, and in particularly challenging years, some châteaux may not produce a grand vin at all. Second wines will typically have their own name to set them apart from the grand vin, and can often represent an opportunity to get a sense of a great château at a fraction of the cost of their grand vin. So while the best fruit/wines will go into the grand vins, and they will in turn receive the best treatment as far as winemaking and oak, second wines are still identified with a château and so are more second sons than orphans.

I can’t say very much about Château Rouget in particular, other than that their plantings are 85% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc, though the exact blend in this vintage of their second wine is not clear. Their website features Michel Rolland prominently, but he is worth at least a posting all on his own. Curiously, on the entry for Château Rouget, Wikipedia suggests that their second wine is known as Clocher de Rouget, but on their entry for Second wine they name it as Vieux Château des Templiers, neither of which match the bottle in front of me. Just to be clear, I am but a student of wine, and so anyone trying to rely on this blog for accurate data will be disappointed from time to time. Even so, I’m annoyed I can’t pin this down.

Regardless of whatever it actually is (and I will keep researching), it’s very nice. It’s young and while the fruit is strong and forward, I would not call it fruity. It has a certain spiciness that’s very pleasant, and the alcohol is warming in a way that’s quite comforting on a cool evening.

Appearance

Clear and bright, opaque purple with only the smallest water rim. Quick thick legs.

Nose

Clean, developing, and medium-plus intensity of black fruit (plums, cherry, currants) and sweet spice, along with hints of tobacco.

Palate

Dry, medium acidity, medium-plus fine tannins, medium-plus alcohol, medium body, medium-plus flavour intensity, with notes of plum, black cherries, cranberry, blackberry, and a bit of meat/blood. Medium-plus length with a spicy finish.

Conclusions

This is a very good quality wine – intense in flavour, and starting to develop complexity of flavours. It is well balanced in its weightiness, with only the body and acidity being slightly less than they could be. The length is nice, particularly with the spice on the finish. While I’m certainly enjoying this wine now, I think it is still very young and will benefit from another 5 years of cellaring during which time I would expect more tobacco and perhaps some chocolate to emerge.

The Furst Pinot Blanc Alsace 2010

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The Furst Pinot Blanc Alsace 2010

The Furst Pinot Blanc Alsace 2010

On Monday during our tasting with our local MW, he threw us a curve ball with a slightly sweet Pinot Blanc from Alsace.  Fair enough, as it’s a “Light Wine of the World” (which is the official title of this section, Unit 3 of the WSET Diploma) but it was one of those wines about which you’re much more likely to read than to ever encounter in a tasting.  Pinot Blanc itself is well known enough as a grape, but neither as popular as it’s siblings, Pinot Noir or Pinot Gris/Grigio, nor as commonly found as a varietal wine.  It’s also not very widely planted outside of France.

Likewise, Alsace is a fine region, well regarded throughout the world for a certainly style of wine made from a handful of classic grape, and likewise a distinctively elegant bottle style which is used around the world for Riesling.  Even in Alsace though, Pinot Blanc is not generally considered “noble” and is permitted in only a few of the Vendage Tardive, Sélection de Grains Nobles, and Grand Crus.

So essentially, for the purposes of study, I am fully prepare to consider a Pinot Blanc from Alsace (or anywhere really) as a curiosity that is not worthy of further study because there are so many other things I really need to commit to memory prior to the exam.

Then today at lunch, on the wine list was a Pinot Blanc from Alsace by the glass.  Great.  Of course I had to have a glass, and here is my write up.

The wine is “The Furst…” Pinot Blanc from Alsace, 2010.  Unfortunately, I can’t link to a producer because they don’t seem to be online anywhere.  Secondary sources suggest the wine is from the AOC Alsace Kayersberg, and the name is a shortening of Furstenum, which is in the general vicinity of Kientzheim/Sigolsheim in the Haut-Rhin.  (I’m not sure any of that helps.)

So, about the wine.  It is without faults, though without distinction.  Part of it is my fault, in that this is not a variety with which I have great familiarity, and therefore I’m not able to judge typicity.

Typicity is my new favourite word, and it means essentially that something is a good example of whatever it is supposed to be, and in the land of the WSET Diploma Exam, that is a good thing.  As a winemaker, you may or may not strive for it.  It may be your decision to strike out in your own direction and in doing so strive for something unique.  As a student though, I appreciate typicity because it gives me a fighting chances of being able to figure out what something is when served blind.

So I can’t really say if this tasted how an Alsatian Pinot Blanc is supposed to taste, but here’s now it did taste – crisp, citrusy (in particular of pink grapefruit), with lots of mediums across the board.  Not overly complex or intense, but well made.

 

Appearance

Clear and bright, pale lemon colour and slow thick legs.

Nose

Clean and youthful, with medium intensity of lemon, grapefruit, and white flower.  I think I should have been able to pick up pear and stone fruit, but I didn’t.

Palate

Dry, with medium acidity, no tannins, medium-minus alcohol, medium-minus body, medium-plus flavour intensity of lemon, grapefruit, sour candy and some grapey/Muscat notes.  It had medium length with a slightly sour finish.

Conclusion

This is a good quality wine, and while the flavour is a bit stronger and out of balance with the body and the alcohol level, the intensity on the palate (if not the nose) was pleasant.  The flavours were relatively one dimensional, and the length was average, but it was without faults and very easy drinking.  While the wine was youthful, it is not made in a style to age, so I would drink this wine within the year.