Monday, January 28, 2008

Terroir and underestimated white Bordeaux

Recently I learnt about an Indian IT millionaire who co-owns a vineyard in his home country. He had been buying grands crus from Bordeaux, started to love them, decided he wanted to create similar wines in India and planted Cabernet and Merlot. I do not know the precise characteristics of the area, but I would be surprised if these grape varieties would be ideal for that Southern region. And there it is: the concept of terroir – in future postings I will further explore this complex but key concept.

In any case, (micro) climate is an important aspect of terroir, and the climate in India is obviously not similar to that of Bordeaux. I would suggest this wealthy man to import cuttings of more heat resistant varieties like Mourvèdre, Grenache, Tempranillo and Primitivo. Then – provided that he also takes the soil into account – he maybe could obtain wines not only of good quality, but also of great character and originality. And that brings me to white Bordeaux.

Whereas the terroir of this beloved region is ideal for making (dry) white wines, the reputation of these wines is highly insufficient. On this blog after 25 postings not even one word is granted to them! Yes, the sweet version, Sauternes, is getting some attention and esteem. Dry white Bordeaux – no matter if it comes from the most simple appellations Bordeaux (blanc) and Entre-Deux-Mers, or from the Graves and its top district Pessac-Léognan – is made from mainly Sauvignon and in a lesser degree Sémillon (in Sauternes the proportions are the opposite). The latter gives the wines body and rich aromas of apricot, almond and light spices (try a dry 100% Sémillon from Australia!), the Sauvignon provides acidity, freshness, citrus and exotic fruit aromas (Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé). The range of quality and price levels is broad, varying from a simple but delicious Bordeaux tout court Château Roquefort, of which the 2006 is currently available at around € 8,- at Bordoverview, to the magic Pessac-Léognan Château Haut-Brion with a 2006 at over € 400,-.

Château La Louvière 2000
More reasonably priced in Pessac-Léognan is the wine of Château La Louvière, conceived by the collaboration of owner André Lurton, a real white Bordeaux advocate, and the brilliant Denis Dubourdieu, professor at Bordeaux University and the worldwide white wine specialist. The 2000 shows a nice straw yellow colour with hints of green. On the nose I clearly find the influence of the new oak barrels in which the wine is partially fermented and aged: toasted bread, vanilla, mocha and smoke in addition to the more discrete citrus flavours. On the palate the wine is medium bodied and slightly creamy, has a nice balance and modest acidity. The wine would be an excellent company to oysters au gratin, grilled lobster or white fish (e.g. halibut) with a lightly curried cream sauce and baked apples (Elstar).

After having read this posting, and having tasted this wine, our Indian friend will definitely bring Sauvignon and Sémillon to his vineyards. In order to honour the concept of terroir I would personally advice him to rather look at varieties like Vermentino, Greco Bianco or Malvasia!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

France steps up anti drink publicity laws

Since I am not currently drinking, I can only write about wine in an academic sense.

I have been on the wagon for at least 10 days now and it has been relatively easy, once you get through the first day and that early evening 'I really should be treating myself to something at this point' feeling.

Wine, happily and sadly, is alcohol like any other alcoholic drink - despite the fact that many French people will tell you that wine is food, or say, in response to the statement that one is not drinking, "But you’ll have a glass of wine?" Or "But you'll have some red with your cheese?"

"Well actually no, what I meant was I am not drinking," one ends up saying lamely, again. Then they look at you, as though you are a genuine alcoholic, or just mad, and ask why? This is the French, mind you, who tend to avoid personal questions.

I explain it is an after Christmas, de-tox sort of thing. And then... they laugh. And get all coy about how much one might have drunk for Christmas. It's exhausting and you are lucky if you get a Perrier at the end of it. I am tending to avoid going out if I can.

The surprising thing is that last week the French were getting a bit of reputation for being anti alcohol. The dynamic in this direction is being led by the French anti alcohol lobby, which recently scored two wins against the alcohol industry.

One in the form of a ruling against a newspaper editorial on Champagne – which was described as breaking the barrier between editorial and advertising. And two against their old foe from Rugby World Cup 2007 days, Heineken, which demands that they pull all the publicity from their French website by the end of January, or face fines.

Quite something for a country that is seen to be all about wine - that is until you find out about the rapid decline in domestic consumption since the Sixties. A decline that is blamed in much of the land on the strict anti drink advertising and anti drink driving laws. No wonder exporting is the new black.

On Saturday 20th January, the National Association of Elected Members of the Wine and the Vine (ANEV Association Nationale des Elus de la Vigne et du Vin) hit back in a very carefully worded press release. I had never heard of them before but it seems to be group of senators and elected officials with an interest in wine.

They said, quoting B. Escoffier – who is not the famous cook, that is A. Escoffier, I don't know who B. Escoffier is – but anyway they quoted him as saying: "We talk of wine as others talk of love, the fact that one talks of wine does not incite alcoholism, just as to talk of love does not incite AIDS."

As Heineken is appealing the ruling – results are due at the end of the month - they might want to think about using that quote.

And they might want to mention another advertising controversy that kicked off this week in the form of a 300,000 euro government poster campaign to inform women of their sexual rights.

The tagline runs: "Sexuality, contraception, abortion. One right, my choice, our liberty." (Sexualité, contraception, avortement. Un droit, mon choix, notre liberté.)

The pro-life group 'Life Parade' says it is shocked by the move to advertise abortion 'in the same way one might advertise a ski holiday'.

If this was bumper sticker country, they might be printing off something right now along the lines of: 'Don't arrest me, I'm not drunk, I'm going for an abortion'. But would that fit on a bumper sticker? How about 'Don't drink, abort'.

Then again, Heineken might just not want to go down that road.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Lafite Rothschild 2005 released in bottle

On the 11th of January Château Lafite Rothschild released its 2005. That is, the bottles were presented to the world. Quite remarkable are the scales that are drawn onto the bottle of this exceptional Bordeaux vintage. Scales weighing sun and rain. "As a reminder of what nature generously gave us." Scales that will still be looked at by our wine-loving children and grandchildren when they inspect the great cellars of the future...

Shown below is Lafite's official announcement of the 'birth' of their 2005. Note the interesting phrase "For those who will have the pleasure of drinking this wine (...)". Probably not very many people will have this pleasure: Lafite Rothschild 2005 was initially released en primeur on 21 June 2006 at about € 500,- consumer price, and in the meanwhile the wine has about doubled in price. Precisely that is the other reason for Lafite Rothschild to put an illustration on their bottle: it will help them preventing counterfeit.

Château Lafite Rothschild 2005

Monday, January 14, 2008

Notes from a Sauternes tasting

Drinking good Sauternes can be moving. Is it because of its great power of expression, its luscious sweetness, its fathomless depth? Or is it because I hardly ever drink Sauternes on a 'normal' day? In a way Sauternes appears like a Harp does in a concert: at the highlight. In an attempt to have a great evening last forever, we return to our cellar to dive up one of our golden treasures. Nine out of ten bottles are enjoyed within this best possible environment: among friends, who are all reluctant to call it a day.

Château Climens and Château Suduiraut
Most bottles that I enjoy are lonely bottles. For example one to wrap up the evening, or one as the very last bottle of a tasting. It's not a deliberate thing, but I am not drinking Sauternes every week, or every month... but after the tasting of last weekend I know that I will shift my attention – again – to this great classic region. If only it were to experiment with new wine-food pairings; there are so many more possibilities than the obliged combination with cheese for desert. Just to mention one of the inspiring things that were told during this afternoon – I do not remember if it was one of the château owners who said this, or Sauternes connoisseur Bill Blatch, who introduced the producers at this tasting.

Bill BlatchBORDEAUX WINE MERCHANT BILL BLATCH (VINTEX). BLATCH IS SPECIALISED IN THE WINES FROM SAUTERNES, AND IS GENERALLY REGARDED AS ONE OF THE AUTHORITIES ON THIS SUBJECT.

The tasting that I'm talking about was organised by the Amsterdam-based wine merchant Ton Overmars. A great tasting with both a vertical aspect – comparing three vintages from one château – and two horizontal ones: comparing five different châteaux, and comparing the two appellations Barsac and Sauternes. We tasted 15 wines:

1. Château Climens (Barsac) 2005, 2002 and 1999
2. Château Coutet (Barsac) 2005, 2002 and 1999
3. Château Giraud (Sauternes) 2005, 2002 and 1998
4. Château Clos Haut-Peyraguey (Sauternes) 2005, 2003 and 1998
5. Château Suduiraut (Sauternes) 2005, 2002 and 1999

Baly, Vos, Overmars, Dedieu, LurtonFROM LEFT TO RIGHT: PHILIPPE BALY FROM CHATEAU COUTET, EDWIN VOS FROM POOT AGENTUREN, TON OVERMARS, CAROLINE DEDIEU FROM CHATEAU SUDUIRAUT AND BERENICE LURTON-THOMAS FROM CHATEAU CLIMENS. UNFORTUNATELY MISSING ON THESE PICTURES IS LAURE PLANTY FROM CHATEAU GUIRAUD.

The appellation Barsac lies directly north of Sauternes, at the other side of the small river Ciron, on lower grounds close to the river Garonne. The sediments that have been deposited onto the limestone subsoil – throughout the many many thousands of years – have here been largely taken away again by the river. Other than in Sauternes, where the limestone lies deeper, and where the vines grow on hills with gravel and pebbles. This accounts for a difference in the style of the wines. Barsac (which may also be called Sauternes or Barsac-Sauternes) produces wines that are slightly lighter than Sauternes.

After decades of misery in Sauternes (for a long time there was hardly any interest in the wines from this region, which understandably didn't have a positive effect on the quality of most wines) it is good to see that the region is fully back on track. The overall quality of the wines is high. My personal favourite is Clos Haut-Peyraguey, all three years of this wine are very good. It is just too bad that they just replaced their very characteristic label for a mediocre modern one. The old label of Clos Haut-Peyraguey has this convincing, forward and original typeface. Too bad, but well, what matters is what's behind the label.

Anthony Defives, cellar master Château Clos Haut-PeyragueyTHE TALENTED CELLAR MASTER ANTHONY DEFIVES WHO WORKS FOR MARTINE LANGLAIS-PAULY FROM CHATEAU CLOS HAUT-PEYRAGUEY.

All 2005s are really great; very rich with sometimes high amounts of residual sugar (e.g. Climens with 170 grams per litre, and a very impressive wine...). The 2005 vintage showed both wines of an outstanding quality, and the yields were much bigger than in 'normal' years. 2002 is a good vintage, more modest in character, often spicy. Especially Suduiraut gives a lot of pleasure. Within the 1998s and 1999s there is more variety in quality, with the best results it seems from the higher grounds.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Chateau du Gaby 2005

Early January our son turned three years old. An exciting event, both for himself and for his inexperienced parents - the presents (mainly little cars), the young visitors running around, etc. And as I am always trying to find reasons for opening a good bottle of wine, I thought his birthday certainly was a valid excuse. Luckily the parents of the young visitors agreed.

Wijnkoperij De Gouden Ton AmsterdamTHE FEATURED WINE IN THIS POSTING AS IT WAS WRAPPED BY JOB VERHAAR, A FRIEND WHO RUNS THE AMSTERDAM-BASED WINE STORE "DE GOUDEN TON" (THIS IS INDEED A SORT OF FREE PUBLICITY). FOR THE UNWRAPPED BOTTLE: SCROLL DOWN.

But opening bottles is preceded by buying bottles. With buying it works more or less the same: finding excuses to do so. And I must say I am pretty good at finding these excuses. So when our first kid was born in 2005 it was crystal clear that enough Bordeaux from that year would have to be bought. (He was born in January and we had no idea about the incredible prices to come; but in the end, the money paid will be forgotten, and he/we should be glad that he was born in such an exceptional year. As if one is born in 1961 or so. Lucky people.)

Anyway, I bought enough 2005's to celebrate with him in style the big moments hopefully to come. But back to him turning three. I decided: I should already start this Celebrating by opening a 2005 at all his upcoming birthdays, and make a note about it. Sounds to me like a good tradition to start, for plenty of reasons actually (following the development of the vintage, those kind of things).

One problem: I didn't have any 2005 in my cellar. The wines I bought en primeur still have to be delivered. So I asked Job Verhaar, a friend who runs a great neighbouring wine store, if he could help me out. And he could. With a quite unknown but interesting wine from Canon-Fronsac: Château du Gaby.

Château du Gaby 2005, Canon-FronsacUNWRAPPED: THE CLASSIC BORDEAUX LABEL OF CHATEAU DU GABY, CANON-FRONSAC.

I keep finding it a fascinating fact that once the wines from Fronsac were more famous than the wines from St-Emilion and Pomerol. While first St-Emilion got famous (and expensive) and later Pomerol got famous (and even more expensive), in the Fronsac area they have - more or less - been messing around for quite a long time. That's sad, and the area lost its grandeur. But after hard times there are only chances for improvement, and these are clearly being seized now. As is actually being done in every self-respecting wine area these days. But looking at the history of Fronsac, its situation on an elevated plateau along the Dordogne, its terroir in general, it is quite clear that this appellation has a bright future ahead. At this moment most wines show an interesting price-quality ratio: the quality level has been raised - say - the last decade, but the prices are still acceptable.

The Château du Gaby 2005 exhibits masses of powerful fruit; perfect and healthy ripe fruit. This dark-red fruit is by far the dominating thing in this youthful wine, delighting the nose (and there is a pleasant depth in the scent). The mouth is treated to a broad carpet of ripe almost sweet (black)berries and (black)currants, fruit that can almost be chewed on (i.e. the ripe tannins). And yet there is plenty of freshness (acidity) in this wine. Harmonious and convincing, very good. Don't drink this wine now when you are looking for nuance and refinement (that might come later), but drink it for its irresistible fat-sappy fruit.

Then something off-topic: a few days ago I opened the 2004 Volnay 1er cru "Brouillards" from Domaine Georges Glantenay & Fils. I visited this domain a year ago (together with Jan van Roekel from Burgoholic) and brought home some bottles. I mention this wine because it gave so much pleasure. The note: very expressive nose. A wine like a ballerina, a sort of elevated seduction, feathery and tingling. Tension, pleasure, freshness, intensity. A faint hint of toast. Dangerous wine: it keeps calling for refills...

Volnay 1er cru 2004 Brouillards, Glantenay

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Guinness and wine in Ireland

Being home in Ireland for Christmas has meant two things drinkwise. Good Guinness and an international selection of wine.

In even the smallest shop down to the local garage in Dalkey­ there are reasonable wines from South Africa, Chile and Australia.

In larger shops you will also find French wines, mainly Burgundy and Bordeaux, but the prices are so outrageous, I only look at them for a laugh.

On average, a bottle of wine that costs about 6 euro in France will cost about 16 euro here. Partly, that is the result of VAT at 23 per cent, and partly shipping and transport costs, but that still leaves quite a wide profit margin. And since VAT and shipping apply to all wines, not just French, quite why Bordeaux and Burgundy prices are so crazy compared to the New World selection is not clear.

Turning away from the French shelves, the New World is laid out in force. America, Chile, Argentina, Australia, South Africa all have major presences. And asking the often fruitless question about biodynamic wines I am actually taken to shelves, small ones, but shelves dedicated to organic and biodynamic wines­ and they are not from France.

Being a bit lost in the New World, apart from South Africa, I have been advised by a family friend to always go for Argentina over Chile. I'm given lots of other advice too, mainly in the pub, and mainly about top hole Australian vintages that compare more than favourably with Bordeaux - but I don't remember it all because I am too busy savouring the Guinness.

Either my palate has woken up after three years of wine tasting in Bordeaux or there is now a significant difference between the taste of home brewed Guinness and that made abroad.

In Ireland it has a depth and richness that I realise I have been missing. It's a bit like going from two dimensions to three. We order more. After one lunchtime gathering I have managed three. And discussed the Irish property market crash in detail the word is that prices are down by 10 to 12 per cent. Not the official four. Absorbing this we order another round of what are simply called pints - if you want something other than Guinness you need to ask for 'a pint of X'. It tastes even better than the first three. I am home.