Sunday, September 26, 2010

some random wine thoughts

No tasting notes today, just a few random thoughts regarding the world of wine, the wine trade and such.

  • Fine wine prices are stupid, for the most part. Quantities are such that deep-pocketed investors can drive the value up by simply scooping up more of their favourite tipple. It doesn't need to be much. Just a case or two here and there and they watch the remaining stock jump 20% on wine-searcher or live-ex in the space of a week. I cannot for a moment believe that anyone who does this does it for a love of wine.
  • I find the Rodenstock fake debacle incredibly amusing. There is something deeply satisfying and iconoclastic about the whole thing. The indictments of both Broadbent and Parker as a result goes further to prove that expertise in wine has its limits and that no opinion is categorical.
  • Bordeaux bores me more and more every year. It also saddens me. I hesitate to revisit even Chateau that I've loved in the past as the combination of hot years and modern wine-making techniques suggest they'll probably taste the same as every other fucking Chateau in the same league. I wish wine writers would call them out more on this. 
  • I've said it before and I'll say it again: I'd rather taste an interesting wine than a good wine. This makes my tasting notes increasingly useless to the average consumer. I'm ok with that.
  • I find it really difficult to post notes for the dreadful wines I taste. I feel I should. I feel that wine-making is such an effort that to undertake that producing some of the lousy wines I've sifted through of late is a waste of time. And the producers that pump this stuff out by the super-tanker load should be named and shamed. 
  • Organic wines ≠ good wines. There are exceptions, but shit wine is shit wine no matter how it's produced. If you're organic and still produce dreadful wine, you should grub up your vines and plant an orchard. 
  • While I feel that there should be research put into sulphur alternatives, most of the sans sulphite crowd are ill-informed fear-mongering hippy reactionaries with little-to-no concept of wine or how it's made. A 50€ bottle of re-fermenting Le Caset des Mailloles that tasted more like Devon Scrumpy than Collioure Blanc further cemented this view. 
  • My tasting notes have been shoddy of late. Apologies.
So there you go. 

Friday, September 24, 2010

quality assessment: two chardonnays

So, I'm doing the same again but with a couple of chardonnays. This time the entry level wine is Australian and the more expensive is French. I chose it this way due to the buying habits of our customers. If they're buying cheaper whites, they tend to go New World. If they splash out, they tend to go Old World. There's a debate as to the reasons for that - several, actually - that I'm not going to get into at the moment. I will say that those who have shouted about the death of French wine for the last two decades will go hoarse long before it's anywhere near the truth.

Winding Road Chardonnay 2009 (South East Australia £8.99)

Green and silver colour - kind of Chablis-like.

Lime citrus and a touch of peach fuzz on the nose. There's also a whiff of cheesiness and something a bit earthy about it all.

Nice acidity on the palate gives it good structure. There a lees-y, oak-chip-y creaminess to it that provides nice mouthfeel. There's something very 'made' about this wine, which is to be expected at the price, but it seems well made. It's not overly oaked and there's no bucket of residual sugar lurking on the finish. It's slightly anonymous, but that is in part because there's little really wrong with it. Which, sadly, makes it boring.


Pouilly-Fuissé "La Frérie" 2006 JP & M Auvigue (£23.49)

I think there's something wrong with the lights in the shop. This looks pretty much the same as the Winding Road, except it's more gold and less silver.

Exotic white stone fruit on the nose with spice and pineapple as well. A wee touch of citrus and vanilla cream rises up towards the end. This wee village in the Macon has become legendary for boasting the sexiest white Burgundies south of the Cote d'Or. Sometimes they're downright slutty. This is rather sexy but isn't showing too much leg.

Delicious on the palate - fleshy, textured fruit with oak influence but never tasting of oak. Rich and filling mouthfeel that delivers pineapple and nectarine with hints of lime on the edge, orange flower water and butter-soaked wild mushrooms that soften to a long, gentle finish. I even detect a bit of minerality underneath all that fruit. Sexy stuff. Roast chicken with a wild mushroom broth would be a nice pairing, so would scallops seared in good butter with a blood orange reduction.

**** 1/2
This is much better that the last time I had it.

Tasted 23/9/2010 at Luvians Bottleshop

These two tastings have been fun and enlightening. Next time I'm going to test the staff blind on the wines and see if they can tell me which is the finer bottle. It's interesting that both the more expensive wines showed their merit. Part of me hoped for the opposite, just to shake things up a bit.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

quality training: two clarets

Sometimes staff training has to be simple: illustrating, taste-wise, the difference between a cheap wine and a not-so-cheap wine. It's important that as a wine merchant you can not only taste that difference but also understand why certain things really do matter, whether it's stricter selection, better viticultural practice, better wine-making, a better vineyard site or all of that and more.

Occasionally the more expensive wine won't be showing as well as it should - maybe it's not the better wine (in which case it should be de-listed immediately); or perhaps the bottle is out of condition or it's going through an awkward phase in its development. The latter happens from to time to time but will never not sound like a lame excuse. The difficulty in explaining the 'awkward phase' to either a customer or a trainee staff member makes it a futile exercise. It also doesn't really matter. If a wine isn't tasting as it should it may as well be corked, whether it's reductive, dumb or simply being awkward.

I've digressed.

We opened two Clarets:

L'Orangerie de Carignan 2007 (£8.99)

Proper claret nose of pencil shavings, a touch of cedar and sawdust with understated red berry fruit. Not quite ripe cassis, though there are darker fruits lurking there.

The palate is a bit taut; not quite as engaging as the nose. The fruit's tight and obscured by the leafy, vegetal edges. The tannins are a bit rough and the finish has a little hint of sucking on pennies. However, in the midst of some proper, rustic food, much of this would be moot - the tannins grip and the fruit comes out a bit. For the money, it's not bad - there are plenty of over-ripe New World wines at the same price that may outshine this at a tasting, but pale at a dinner party.


Chateau Potensac 2005 (£24.99)

Ripe cassis and liquorice on the nose. Deep and perfumed, it feels finer to smell, softer and perhaps a little touch of varnish on the end

That ripe cassis mixes with a touch of black cherry and anise. The tannins already seem velvety. This isn't just a better wine, it's a more modern claret. Part of me almost wants some of that graphite and sawdust the L'Orangerie boasted. That part of me is easily ignored as this is an easy wine to enjoy and pour another glass. The modernity is somewhat upsetting however, not because I begrudge oak and prosperity and things that taste good, but because I like wine that tastes of where it's from. This is not as obviously claret as the cheaper, and somewhat meaner, bottle. It is really rather delicious though and it is worth the twenty-five quid. But it's also a touch anonymous. And for a house like this, that is a sad thing.


Both tasted 21/9/2010 at Luvians Bottleshop

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


UPDATED - I've put my original votes in now.

I was going to wait a little longer, but how long can a wine geek can leave three anonymous bottles untouched? Less than 24 hours, it would seem.

Before I start - I've not opened the wines yet - I should probably tell everyone how cool I think this whole thing is: it is very cool. Even if it is a ridiculously elaborate marketing exercise and the wines turn out to be terrible, I will think of the folly fondly. It not only recognises the importance of new media formats, it tips its cap to them and provides us with an opportunity to do something we love: taste wine. Taste wine, talk about it, argue about it, discuss it and guess. The fact that there are prizes involved is incidental (though I would be delighted to win a €1000 wine trip for two). No matter how cynical their motivation, it's groovy to be a part of it.

I'll post my guesses once the competition closes, on the 27th of September.

Wine - 079 -

Colour: Dark, deep, purple with red edges - quite viscous. I thought it was Banyuls initially.
Nose: Sweet plums and honey with a bit of alcohol hit.
Palate: Quite big, dark forest fruit with bramble bush and quite rounded finish. There's a bit of alcohol to it as well and a bit of a pebbly mouthfeel.
What I think it is: Gigondas - it's the pebbles.

Wine - 390 -

Colour: More purple with an even thinner rim. It goes straight to the core in little time and that core is very dark.
Nose: Blueberries with a touch of smoked bacon and is there some black olive there? Touch of varnish.
Palate: Similar tannin structure to 079 but with more acidity and therefore more linear structure. The sweetness and ripeness of the blueberry are compelling and more-ish. The finish sees a bit more of that black olive from the nose coming through.
What I think it is: Cornas - that's definitely syrah, or mostly syrah...

Wine - 714 -

Colour: The lightest of the three, with more ruby than purple tints. Still quite dark, though.
Nose: Once again, there's that sweet, Banyuls-like dark fruit and wild honey comb to kick things off. It's the least defined on the nose. There's still a bit of booziness though.
Palate: This is also the oldest on the palate - the tannins are softer and it's a gentler run all-round. The fruit's a touched stewed and compote-y, with gentle though rich secondaries of fruit bush, the starts of saddle leather and a touch of dry anise. Nice length
What I think it is: old Chateauneuf-du-Pape - this one required no pause for consideration.

Overall, the quality is impressive. I think the wines are forward and would say the first two are either 07s or 09s as the fruit is there, but those light violet notes I normally associate with the region (that I'm guessing it is) are nowhere to be seen (or smelled, or tasted), so I'm assuming it's a ripe vintage. They all sit comfortably in the £10-£20 range, though there is a touch of modernity to them. I suspect they come from one producer as there seems to be a bit of a recurring theme. Oh well, my votes are cast and we'll see.

The wines were far better than expected. This was fun.

Tasted 22/9/2010 at Luvians Bottleshop

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

so, what's the secret?

On a whim, I've entered a competition. There's very little to it; I registered here and they sent me three bottles of blind wine to sample. The bottles are numbered. I need to taste them and then vote on what appellation in France I think they represent. They've not been opened yet; they're sitting on the counter in the shop. All three are red and all three are enclosed in Burgundy-shaped bottles. Whether this is of any consequence is a mystery. I don't know if the wines were specifically bottled in the same shape for the sake of anonymity or not. If they were, then one of the wines may well be a Bordeaux, or an Alsace Pinot Noir. If not, then they can be neither. There are 84 other bloggers competing and I've no idea if there are any other rules. I would normally blind taste with a few friends - does this contravene the competition? Not a clue. In any case, I'll blog the tasting when it happens, and I may even video it. You never know. Votes have to be in by the 27th of September.

I also just found a ton of notes to post, so there'll be some fairly groovy wines listed in the near future. Apologies for the intermittency, but I'm back again. Thanks for reading.

an interview with Richard Geoffroy, chef de cave at Dom Perignon

The following is an interview I conducted a few months ago with Richard Geoffroy, the winemaker for Dom Perignon. The wines were exceptional and the chat illuminating. This was conducted as a joint-blog effort and is also available at The Tasting Note.

His enthusiasm and the vigour with which he embraces the responsibility that comes with guiding so iconic a wine is admirable. He was a joy to chat with, and I look forward to more opportunities to discuss some of the topics we touched upon.

Your family made wine in the Cote des Blancs for several generations, but you trained originally as a doctor – was there a comfort going back?
Medicine, for me, was the way of being rebellious. It sounds funny, but it was my way of making it away from something all too predictable. I felt that I had to prove to my friends and family that I could make it on my own. And once I’d made it, I started thinking ‘well, so what’ and so the attraction back to my roots was too strong and my belief is that when you come from the land, you can deny it and think you can leave, but no – you belong. I’m from a family of farmers; I’m a farmer. Even when I’m an MD, I’m a farmer. And I’m glad I came back. I’m happier as a person, and I have a greater sense of achievement in my wine making.

It is often forgotten, particularly in a setting like this (the Scottish launch of Dom Pérignon Œnothèque Rosé at the Balmoral Hotel, Edinburgh) that what we make and sell is actually an agricultural product
You are so right. I keep telling our marketing and business people “it all depends on the elements”. You’ve got to be ambitious in business, and ambition is fine, but you have to remain humble at the same time, to know where you place yourself in the picture with nature otherwise, one day, you are in trouble. It is an element of wisdom in a way. And never to overdo things, trying too hard.

Do you find that in your role, not as a winemaker but as, occasionally, a brand ambassador?
Its funny because I don’t think this way. It is like in sport, if you start thinking “I’m Michael Schumacher”, you don’t think of the status you are at, or what you have achieved: you are only trying to make your own thing. It is the best way to have little pressure. I’m afraid of pressure, pressure is always bad because it makes you compromise or not be yourself.

It’s probably why the wines remain exceptional vintage after vintage…
Voila, Voila, Voila. It gets back to my point about not trying too hard, when you pretend… no, no. You’ve got to be yourself. I’m very suspicious of flattery, I’m uneasy with flattery and particularly when it is undeserved.

You said that your favourite vintage was always the most challenging one. You had a few landmark vintages after your first in 1990, and I’ve spoken to winemakers who say the great vintages are always the most challenging because nature is giving you a lot and they want to hold back…
Yes, you have a point because when you are given so much you had better be up to it, so it is a more personal challenge. But in the end I’m more after the technically challenging years like 1980, which I didn’t make but my predecessor did, whenever I taste it I say ‘wow’ – it is alien, it comes from Mars! For me this wine means more than the greater vintages. We released ’80 as an Œnothèque, it was my decision, and I gave it justice, because many people had been critical of it in the first place, and then when it was an Œnothèque they said “the wine is great” and maybe they were influenced in the first place by the pedigree of the vintage which was nothing in France, and I was so happy to give my predecessor justice!

1996 was challenging, there were issues with oxidisation with the Pinot Noir, it was hard to overcome that problem and I think many people failed in ’96 because of that.

You’ve just launched the 1990 Œnothèque Rosé, which was disgorged in 2007. It strikes me that there had to be a very early decision made to release this wine. Was it a few years prior to the disgorgement or was there always a plan to release an Œnothèque Rose?
We had been wanting to do one for a long time, we decided it would be 1990 and I started tasting it on a regular basis and charting its progress, and I could anticipate that the wine would be ready in one or two years and then we disgorged the entire release at once. So the second release will be from that initial disgorgement. The remaining 1990 remains on the lees for a third release. So by tasting twice a year, you see the whole thing moving along.

The British palate likes older champagne, and I was wondering if your personal preference was for an older wine or do you prefer them younger?
I’m not with the British palate; it’s not what I’m really after. I’m after what Dom Pérignon Œnothèque is: so intense but yet little fat and not tired at all. I’m at a point where I cannot separate personal taste and my job at Dom Pérignon. They became so intimate and I don’t have the possibility of distancing myself from my job.

If you are to have a glass of something outside of Champagne, what would it be?
As we speak, it would be Burgundy or Port. I love Port, I have a fascination for port. It is about as rustic and sophisticated as can be! There is a tension. Port is a paradox and I love it. And burgundy, something that is so close to my own world, and it gives a mirror image. It’s intriguing!

Do you see yourself as a caretaker of the Dom Pérignon house or as more proactive, as a builder?
A builder. I’m not good at caretaking. A journalist asked me yesterday ‘how am I maintaining the style?’ – I’m not in maintenance you know, I keep pushing. Consistency is terrible and my brief isnot make it consistent. It is push push push. The chairman of Dom Pérignon allows me to be independent enough; I’m running my business within the business (of LVMH); I’m an entrepreneur. Mark my words, in the coming years there are going to be quite a few stunning things to come… Dom Pérignon doesn’t have to be obsessed with ratings; it is about the quality of the comments. And when I’m asked about the price (of Dom Pérignon ) I say that I have to factor in the vintages that we don’t declare.

Are the vintages you don’t declare some of the more challenging? How early into the process do you realise that it just isn’t worthy of a vintage?
Not too early, I don’t want to have preconceived ideas at picking or vinification, I never comment on the vintage at the time, I wait after several rounds of tasting individual components before I comment, and yet I keep going and blending even in the lousier years, I go to the final blend. I never give up before hand and never have preconceived ideas. It is something I learned in medicine. In medicine you have someone injured coming into emergency, if it bleeds from here (points to his head), the scalp (bleeding) is very spectacular but there could be internal bleeding. It is so easy to be influenced by what you see, but without looking. Stay calm, in control.

Which vintage has proven most challenging for you?
In my time, 1996, because of the highly oxidisable pinot noir. There was a major issue of dehydration in the berries. It concentrated the acidity. It was very difficult to balance the blend, and 2003 is another challenging year because of the heat, which can make the wines very forward, but there were ways of going round the problem.

You’ve done more in the last 20 years at Dom Pérignon than had been done since the forties, and even though the range has expanded, it is a very simple and logical expansion
Its very simple, its very logical. Everyone comes up with a need for a ‘range’, but I don’t speak of a ‘range’ at Dom Pérignon. I don’t like the word range. Its simple, there are two blends and we will never extend it outside the two blends.

Thanks both to Dr Geoffroy for speaking and to Kirsty Duncanson and the team from LVMH for facilitating everything.