Cheval Quancard Château Fort de Roquetaillade 2011

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Cheval Quancard Château Fort de Roquetaillade 2011

Cheval Quancard Château Fort de Roquetaillade 2011

While I’ve been particularly interested in varietal wines in my quest to taste 100 different grapes, there are some classic blends that deserve attention as well.  There’s been no shortage of posts about red Bordeaux style blends, but it’s time to have a look at a dry white wine of the region, the Cheval Quancard Château Fort de Roquetaillade 2011

Most people learn about Bordeaux on paper from the top down, in that there are the classified growths, then there are the various crus on the other side of the river, and finally the whole collection of lesser wines across the region.  I tend to think it’s the opposite of how one might best learn to appreciate them in the glass, as it’s always more pleasant to experience ever increasing levels of quality.  Generally the bulk of such education focuses on the red wines for which the region is most famous, and while the sweet wines, particularly Sauternes such as Château d’Yquem, will get a mention, the white wines are often neglected.  (Crémant de Bordeaux, sadly, remains largely mythical in my experience.)

While dry white wine in Bordeaux may be varietal, it’s more often a blend, with Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc being the most common grapes, and those two together when found in the New World are typically what is meant when someone refers to a white Bordeaux blend.  Muscadelle is also considered a classic white grape of the region, and a number of other white grapes such as Ugni Blanc, Colombard, Sauvignon Gris and Merlot Blanc may be permitted depending on the particular subregion and quality level of the wine.

Dry white wine is produced in a number of areas of Bordeaux, concentrated in Pessac-Léognan and Graves south of the Garonne, and Entre-Deux-Mers and Graves de Vayres between the Garrone and Dordogne.  It’s also produced in Blaye, on the north bank of the Gironde, though the blend there is not typical in that it is dominated by Ugni Blanc.

Graves takes its name from the French term for gravel, and its vineyards are planted in namesake terraces.  With the exception of areas set apart for sweet wine production in Sauternes, Barsac, and Cérons, historically the area stretched south east from the city of Bordeaux along the Garrone.  The original home of Claret in the Middle Ages, it held the first named château and the first growth classified Château Haut-Brion.  However, in 1987 the appellation Pessac-Léognan was formed from the northernmost section of Graves.  In a stroke Graves lost its most famous château and along with it some of its long established reputation, particularly with respect to red wines.

That said, there are certainly fine wines still produced within the current boundaries of the appellation, with red wines often being good value, if somewhat rustic, relative to their neighbours.  White wines are at least as well regarded and often barrel fermented and/or aged.

Cheval Quancard is a family run company that dates back to 1844 when it began trading as Quancard & fils, founded by Pierre Quancard.  The company dealt in wines of the region and from their estate, and over the century and a half that followed grew to produce red, white, rosé and sweet wine across over a dozen châteaux throughout Bordeaux.  The current name of the company was set in 1985, unifying their holdings but retaining their link to the original founding.

In the glass this wine is clear and bright, with a pale lemon colour, and very slow thin legs.  On the nose it’s clean and developing, with medium plus intensity and notes of lime, lemon curd, quince, marigold, and mandarin.  The palate is dry with medium plus acidity, medium alcohol, medium plus intensity, medium body, and medium plus length.  There are notes of lime, mineral, orange peel, and hints of both vanilla and grape.

I categorize this wine as good.  It has a nice array of aromas and flavours but took a little while to tease them out as the glass warmed slightly.  While the nose is almost exclusively fruit and flowers, the minerality on the palate gives it a boost in terms of complexity.  I was surprised by the grape note as I only associate that with Muscat, but it certainly wasn’t pronounced.

Château d’Yquem Sauternes 1997

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Château d’Yquem Sauternes 1997

Château d’Yquem Sauternes 1997

This is a bit of an unusual post for me, and though I think I can make it worthwhile, some context is required before I dive into my hundredth wine post, the Château d’Yquem Sauternes 1997.

In the wine trade, there are some things that are sancrosanct.  To many they include such things as the first growths of Bordeaux or Domaine de la Romanée-Conti of Burgundy.  They’re never questioned in terms of how good they are.  They are just regarded as the pinnacle against which other wines are measured.  There are certainly complaints as to how much they cost, or their availability, but their quality is only ever judged within a very limited context, and that is vintage to vintage.  The only way to judge the quality of a particular DRC is to compare it against the other DRC vintages.  You’ll only ever see someone comparing a first growth Bordeaux to another wine when they’re trying to tell you how good the other wine is, not when they’re trying to tell you about the first growth itself.

And so while those wines are rarified and in a class all their own, Château d’Yquem takes that to an even higher level, and I don’t just mean because in the 1855 Bordeaux Classification they were the sole producer rated Superior First Growth (Premier Cru Supérieur). People not only compare Château d’Yquem to other vintages of the same, sometimes they restrict themselves to comparing it to its own vintage, just tasted at different times throughout its development.  Given the longevity of the wine, that still leaves a great deal with which to work.

All of this is my way of saying that I will certainly endeavour to tell you about Château d’Yquem, about sweet wines of Bordeaux in terms of the grapes used and how they are made, and I’ll tell you a bit about Sauternes the region.  However, when it comes to assessing this wine, there are people who are experts on Château d’Yquem who will be writing books where this wine will comprise an entire chapter.  For my part, I did jot down my tasting notes, and I can certainly tell you what I found in the glass, but there are others able to judge this wine in the manner it is most appropriately assessed with the full context of other vintages and other tastings of this vintage.  That said, let me tell you what I can about it.

First, the region.  Sauternes is an area of Bordeaux in the Graves district, along the south bank of the river Garrone, near where it meets the tributary Ciron.  It’s a a low lying area with some gentle hills and soils of gravels, limestone and clay, and its climate is broadly maritime though it is among the furthest of the Left Bank regions from the Atlantic.  What makes the area special geographically is the interactions of the rivers.  The Ciron is spring fed and typically cooler than the tidal Garrone.  Where the two rivers meet, mists form in the autumn evenings, blanketing vineyards until the following day.  The moisture encourages the growth of Botrytis cinerea, or Noble Rot, a type of fungus that removes moisture from grapes, concentrating their sugars, acids and flavours, while adding a unique flavour of its own.  While the resulting grapes are rather unappealing in appearance, that is raisins covered in mold, what remains inside is capable of producing some of the most intense and long lasting sweet wines.

The traditional grapes of Sauternes are Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle, for richness, acidity and aromatics respectively.  Yields are incredibly low – limited by regulation to less than half of what many neighbouring areas allow, but in practice typically much lower still.  Producing wine from botrytized grapes is a gamble, even in the best of years, as waiting for the grapes to shrivel on the wine exposes them to the whims of the weather.  Yields vary greatly year to year, and in some years conditions are so unfavourable very little wine is produced.

Producing Sauternes is also very expensive.  Grapes are hand harvested, but as botrytis can be quite patchy in its attack, often several passes through each vineyard over weeks are required, multiplying costs.  Fermentation often takes place in barrel, leaving a sweet wine of roughly 14% with another 4-7% potential in unfermented sugar.  Barrel ageing over 18 to 36 months is then required, often with new oak, before the wine may be sold.

This is not the first time this blog has come across Semillon or Sauvignon Blanc, but as I’ve not written about a Bordeaux white blend, a quick word is in order.  While Bordeaux is best known for its great red wines, and to some extent for its great sweet wines such as this one, it also produces some fine white wines as well.  Traditionally everything in Bordeaux is a blend, with the red style being imitated the world round.  California producers went so far as to coin the term Meritage to describe the blend of red grapes in their context.  The white blend of Bordeaux is classically described as Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscadelle.  However, there are some other white grapes grown for base level white Bordeaux AC, including Ugni Blanc, Columbard and Merlot Blanc.  So while Sauternes producers are best known for their sweet wines, they retain the option of making still wine from their grapes.

I can only cover the very basics with regards to Château d’Yquem, but here it goes.  The property itself dates to 1593 when it was acquired from the French monarchy by Jacques de Sauvage, and vines were first planted in 1711.  There is a great deal of history over the subsequent 300 years, including the appreciation of Thomas Jefferson when he was based in Paris, the subsequent 1855 Classification, and no small amount of family intrigue and struggles.  Fast forward to the end 20th century and it is majority owned by Moët Hennessy-Louis Vuitton, and soon thereafter is being run by Pierre Lurton of Château Cheval-Blanc fame.

The vineyards themselves are 113HA in total, with roughly 100HA in production at any given time.  The vines are 80% Semillon and 20% Sauvignon Blanc, eschewing Muscadelle.  They ferment in barrel, and typically keep wines in new oak another three years, with yearly racking.  They’ve also employed the very expensive process of cryoextraction, whereby grapes are exposed to very low temperatures, and then immediately pressed, with only juice being extracted from the ripe grapes while the less ripe grapes are completely frozen and thus yield no juice.  Roughly 8,000 cases are produced annually, a small percentage of the wine made by other classified producers.  In addition to their sweet wine, they also produce a dry white in some years called Y or Ygrec.

As you can tell from the photo, I was tasting this from an Enomatic, paying dearly for each sip.  While it is expensive, I did once manage to buy a half-bottle to accompany the starter and dessert of Thanksgiving dinner, and it was magnificent.

This wine is clear and bright in the glass, with a medium amber colour.  The nose is clean, developing, with medium plus intensity and notes of honeycomb, orange marmalade, a hint of vanilla, and some lemon rind.   On the palate it was sweet, with high flavour intensity, medium plus alcohol, a full body, medium plus acidity.  The palate delivered what the nose promised, with all parts of an orange – the peel, oils, marmalade, but not orange juice – rather candied orange.  It had long length and a marmalade finish.

This is a wine of outstanding quality.  The concentration and complexity is fantastic.  I don’t have the context required as far as multiple tastings of d’Yquem and revisiting of past vintages to do this wine justice, but if the only way you’ll get to enjoy it is a small tasting sip, it is still well worth the experience.  It’s the perfect wine with which to toast a hundredth wine post, and so I raise a glass to the next hundred.

Château la Croix du Casse Pomerol 2006

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Château la Croix du Casse Pomerol 2006

Château la Croix du Casse Pomerol 2006

So just today I reread all the material in the Red Book and I still have quite a ways to go before I’m ready for the WSET Diploma Unit 3 Exam this time next week.  I’m not quite scared to death, but it’s certainly daunting.  Fortunately, I have the entire week, or almost all of it, to just study, study, study.

That’s what I did today, but tonight I’m actually working through questions from past exams.  I picked a question at random and tried to come up with a decent answer, within a 30 minute time period.  I let myself dig through my book, which unfortunately I won’t be able to do next week.  I think I’ll do this every day, perhaps a few questions per day, from now until the exam.  Tonight it’s just one, and a tasting note from dinner.  First, the question.

Describe how the factors in the vineyard and winery determine the style and quality of Syrah or Shiraz dominated wines from Northern Rhône, Barossa and one other country.

The Northern Rhône has a continental climate, heavily influenced by the Mistral, a northern wind runs through the region. The vineyards of the Northern Rhône are often terraced and/or on steep slopes, inhibiting mechanization. Vines are often individually staked bushes, with little if any mechanization and no irrigation. Some natural amphitheaters create sun traps with ideal aspect for ripening. The difficult condition are such that it is only worthwhile to grow grapes if a premium can be charged for the wine.

In the winery Syrah is sometimes co-fermented with Viognier, Marsanne or Rousanne, sometimes varietal. The ferments are in stainless, concrete or old wood, and better quality wines are oaked for up to three years, exclusively in French oak.

While there is certainly a range of quality of Syrah dominated wines, the emphasis is on higher quality, full bodied wines with great potential for ageing. Some lesser quality and lighter wines are made in Crozes-Hermitage, but the region is most often thought of for higher quality, full wines.

The Barossa Valley has a warm Mediterranean climate, with hot summers and a long growing season. The vineyards are typically flat and vines are trained on wires for easy mechanization. As needed, they can and typically are irrigated. However, there are some very high quality, low yielding bush vines of Shiraz that are in excess of 100 years old, though they are in the minority.

In the winery, Shiraz is sometimes varietal, though often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, sometimes with Grenache and Mouvedre. It is typically oaked, though it can be French, American or Hungarian, and it may take the form of staves or chips.

Barossa Shiraz is produced in a wide range of quality, from the hugely mass produced Jacob’s Creek entry level and Wolf Blass Red Label to the high end of Penfolds RWT or boutique Grennock Creek. The style generally is more fruit forward and higher in alcohol than the Northern Rhône, as fruit is riper when picked. Oak use is generally more noticeable.

Hawkes Bay in New Zealand, in particular Gimlett Gravels, is also known as an area of Syrah production, though only as a relative newcomer. The soil is deep shingle and has excellent drainage.

In the winery, Syrah is typically a straight varietal, and winery methods are very modern with no shorage of new French oak. The wine style is aiming for Old World elegance, and the result is somewhere between your typical Northern Rhône and Barossa Syrah/Shiraz, in quality, price and style.

Looking at the answer, I’m not thrilled.  I think I know my way around the Northern Rhône and Barossa, but I really had to think to figure out a third country/region.  I’ve been to Hawkes Bay and I’ve had the nice Craggy Range Syrah, but I’ve also had Syrah from South Africa and Chile, but I would have been able to write even less about Syrah from either of those two countries.  I could have gone with Washington State, since John Duval is making Syrah there, but that’s the only detail I have and I’ve not tasted the wine.  Even digging through the book didn’t help much, in that Syrah just isn’t much of a thing outside the Rhône and Australia.  Unfortunately they didn’t give me the option of talking about how people are doing cool climate Shiraz in the Adelaide Hills at places like Shaw + Smith.  Oh well, I think that’s one of those questions where I’d need to get my points in the first two parts because the third one wasn’t going to work as well for me.

Right, so I have some wine in front of me and I think I should write about it and go to sleep so I’m rested and ready for more study tomorrow.  It’s the Château la Croix du Casse Pomerol 2006.  So the basics – France, Bordeaux, Right Bank, Pomerol.  Mostly Merlot, though apparently with 20% Cabernet Franc.  It’s five years old, which for some Bordeaux wines would mean it’s still very young, though this one is showing significant signs of maturity.  It’s gone garnet in the glass, though still deep in colour, and there are loads of secondary aromas and flavours.

Appearance

Clear and bright, medium-plus garnet colour, slow thin legs.

Nose

Clean, medium intensity, developing with notes of red currant, plum, sweet spice, chocolate and some tobacco.

Palate

Dry, medium-plus acidity, medium fine tannins, medium-plus flavour intensity, medium alcohol, medium body, with notes of cranberry, tobacco, sweet spice, chocolate, and plums.  Medium-plus length with dark chocolate finish.

Conclusions

This is a good quality wine.  It has strong acidity and flavour intensity, though not quite enough tannins to have perfect balance.  It’s showing nice complexity as far as retaining some fruit but also having secondary flavours, though it does show signs of premature ageing.  The intensity is good, as is the length.  If there were stronger tannins, I would push this up to a very good, but I think the ageing it’s showing now suggests that it will start to fade sooner rather than later.  Drink now if you have some.

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.

Connétable de Talbot Saint-Julien 2008

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Connétable de Talbot Saint-Julien 2008

Connétable de Talbot Saint-Julien 2008

I put the rest of the European (that is, non-French as I did them yesterday) wine terms to understand/remember into a spreadsheet though I had planned on doing the Americas and Rest of World as well.  Alas, my time management skills are not especially focused at the moment, but they’re certainly better than they were last week.  I’m hoping for that to continue to improve between now and the exam.

I did spend some small amount of time doing a few things for this blog with the notion that it’s almost work.  Obviously, that’s not really true, and if at the end of six weeks I have a decent blog but fail my exam, it won’t be a reasonable outcome.

Tonight’s wine was the Connétable de Talbot  Saint-Julien 2008.  I’ve driven through Saint- Julien, I have no first hand experience with Château Talbot.  While I have a great deal of respect for Bordeaux as a region and brand, I don’t pretend to know much about it.  Even so, there are some things that I clearly need to demonstrate as far as knowledge.

First off, Château Talbot is in Bordeaux, which is in the southwest of France just in from the Atlantic coast.  In particular, it is in the commune of Saint-Julien, an AOC in the Médoc on what is known as the Left Bank.  The Chateau was rated as one of the ten Fourth Growth in the Classification of 1855.  It produces its grand vin, this Connétable de Talbot, and a white called Caillou Blanc.  As a Saint-Julien, Cabernet Sauvignon is the dominant grape, with Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot rounding out the blend.  The difference between this and the main wine is almost certainly fruit selection and oak treatment, with this wine receiving only 20% new oak.

First, let me start with what I would expect from a relatively young Bordeaux, because I certainly can be expected to have a generic tasting note in mind.  I would expect deep colour, concentrated, tart fruit, high acidity, a great deal of extraction, and tannins that need a few years to soften.  That note would not fit particularly well with the wine in front of me.  The colour is not overly deep, though you would not confuse it for a Pinot Noir.  The fruit is concentrated, and there is a zest to the acidity that is very refreshing.  However, it’s not overly extracted and is very approachable.  It’s a very good wine, and well suited for someone who is more used to New World styles but looking to try Bordeaux.  Here’s how it looks, smells and tasted in the glass.

Appearance

Clear and bright, with a medium ruby colour.  It leave thick, slow legs in the glass when swirled.

Nose

Clean and developing with a medium plus intensity.  There are notes of cranberry, pomegranate, fresh herbs, and sweet spice, along with a little pencil lead.

Palate

Dry, with medium-plus acidity, medium alcohol, medium-plus body, medium-plus flavour intensity, and medium fine tannins.  The flavours are of tart red fruit – cranberry, pomegranate, currant – along with some red meat and developing notes of blood and iodine along with a hint of tobacco.  The finish is cranberry with a long length.

Conclusion

This is very good quality wine – the flavours and acidity were both medium-plus which gave them balanced intensity.  Very crisp.  The length was very long, with the medium-plus carrying the cranberry flavour well after the wine was swallowed.

This is clearly an Old World wine, with restrained but very tart fruit, which will work well with developed characteristics which can be expected to emerge over the next few years.  Even so, it’s very approachable, with the acidity being zingy instead of piercing and the tannins being softer than I would have expected.    The acid and Cabernet put it in Bordeaux on the Left Bank.  This wine sells for roughly $25.00 and is good value at that price.

Readiness to drink – fine now though will improve over the next five years.  There are only hints at secondary characters that I think will round out the drinking experience.  The tannins are soft enough to enjoy now, but I think some patience will be rewarded.