Thursday, October 30, 2008

Bordeaux 2008 - overview of the new vintage

A first glance at the baby Bordeaux 2008 vintage
Harvest has ended, all grapes are safely in. Time to look back at the completed 2008 growing season.

April − June 2008
With a cold spring the 2008 vintage doesn't have an ideal start, with even some frost in the beginning of April, diminishing the crop in the Graves region. During flowering (mid-May) and fruit set (end of May) there is lots of rain: mildew threatens the grapes (possibly leading to rot, and demanding a lot of work in the vineyard) and there is millerandage (uneven berry set); especially merlot is affected. This grape variety is struck precisely during its flowering, which is a vulnerable stage. It implies − in the end − a lot of extra work during harvest when the selection is done − all the tiny green bullets (undeveloped grapes) need to be removed from the bunches. As a result there are only small quantities of merlot in 2008.

July − September 2008
Finally good weather arrives, it is hot and sunny, and this weather remains until the berries are changing colour, the véraison (beginning of August). The August-weather is variable, with rain arriving in the second week and staying for over 2 weeks. Mildew continues to threaten the vines. The end of August is warm again, happily flowing into a "very good September". But due to the abundance of rain so far (and lack of warmth and sunshine) the ripening of the grapes demands more time. With the good weather in this late stage of the season the late ripening (and less affected) cabernet sauvignon is promising: it has a good chance to ripen properly. Also cabernet franc, the variety that usually reaches full ripeness in between merlot and cabernet sauvignon, ripens well.

September − October 2008
Getting to the desired quality of the fruit was a matter of waiting, and hoping that the weather wouldn't alter. And it didn't (except for some rain in the first week of October). The good Indian Summer weather more or less saved the vintage. Harvest took place mostly during good weather.

An early conclusion about Bordeaux 2008
It seems that Bordeaux 2008 is going to be more successful than 2007. I have heard people making comparisons with good vintages like 1983 and 1998. One thing is sure: the quantities will be low, for the ambitious properties there will be around 40% less wine.

A characteristic of the year is the relatively high acidity, with a high proportion of lactic acids (and this is even more so for merlot). At the time of writing the malolactic fermentation has not yet taken place (we're more or less in between the alcoholic and malolactic fermentation) and we will have to see what will be the outcome, but it seems that Bordeaux 2008 will be a year with plenty of freshness, balanced by a good ripeness, especially from the cabernets. Again, very early conclusions, so let's finish with the words "to be continued!"

Added April 2009: Further Reading:
Bordeaux 2008 vintage report − an update (14 Jan 2009)
Bordeaux 2008 on Bordoverview
Bordeaux 2008 offers
and various other postings on this blog

Friday, October 24, 2008

Château Filhot 1935

Yesterday evening was one of those evenings where you get a glance at wine heaven. My friend Job Verhaar from one of Amsterdam's best wine shops De Gouden Ton brought together five wine enthusiast, all of them submitting one or two grand bottles. Restaurant Spring took care of the matching food. Foie Gras bonbons, those kind of irresistible things. But my handicap is that I am too focussed on the wines to remember the exact culinary details. I realise I am not doing honour to the meal, but let's go to the wines.

Château Filhot 1935
The appetizer: Von Schubert's Maximin Grünhäuser Abtsberg Riesling Superior 2006 from the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region. A mouth full, this name, and such is the wine itself. What a start: this typical Riesling is a textbook example of an elegant yet intense and beautifully balanced white. Mineral an refreshing pink grapefruit. Lovely.

Then we tasted two Champagnes. First the blanc-de-blancs Diebolt-Vallois 1999 "Fleur de Passion" (Brut). A lively Champagne, a nose reminiscent of a morning meadow, very complete, apple, and a refreshing acidity that flows out into a long finish. A very convincing Grand Cru. The second one: Jacques Selosse "Contraste" Brut. 100% pinot noir. Yellow, full and somewhat spicy, interesting and yes, delicious too, but not as exciting as the Diebolt-Vallois.

With the next wine we entered the time machine. Regardless the quality of a wine, swallowing something that has lived 73 years ago, that has felt the 1935 sun, is a sheer magical experience. Perhaps the most intimate way to connect to the past. Very exciting. The wine had only recently left the château, so it was kept in the best possible way. Chateau Filhot 1935. A full nose, acidity, petrol. Slightly salty. Butter, "rancio". The sweetness had disappeared over the years, the acidity remained. A tender wine, balanced, with an endless finish. Very very very special. I kept a little bit in my glass, so I could continue smelling the wine during the evening. In the end the nose was like crème brûlé, and then especially the brûlé. I am grateful that I could taste this wine.

Believe it or not, the next wine was another beauty: the Puligny-Montrachet 1er cru "Les Perrières" 2004 from Louis Carillon. Medium-bodied, very mineral, tense, and some fat, especially in the finish. Simply a very good and clean white Burgundy.

All 9 wines...
Number 6: Hermitage blanc 1997 from Domaine Jean-Louis Chave. I blogged about this wine before, so I won't again.

Then: the Gevrey-Chambertin 2004 from Domaine Leroy. This vintage was declassified to Village-level. Unpolished, green (grassy), berries. Super intense and very PURE in the mouth, long. A vigorous wine. Very drinkable, very digestible. Dangerous. Someone commented: "A vineyard in the mouth." True.

Can we go home now? No, it was time for the Château Pape-Clément 1995. A Pape-Clément from before Bernard Magrez. So still a true Pessac-Léognan this wine. Tough, typical, wet soil, ink, bay leaves. Dark, male. Good!

I'd had enough impressions I guess, it was late. That must have been the main reasons that I had difficulties focusing on (and enjoying) the last wine, the Château Giraud 1989. Sweet and spicy, dark and somewhat sharp.

Time's up. I needed some rest to digest all these impressions. Time to leave heaven, and go to sleep.

Château Filhot 1935

Monday, October 20, 2008

Ticino - Europe's best kept wine secret?

If you've never been to Switzerland, you've probably tasted few Swiss wines. Since foreign wines are heavily taxed in Switzerland, local wines remain the favourite and the vast majority are consumed by the Swiss in their own country.

It's the way it's always been in Switzerland, small production for a limited, receptive market and it's a pity for the rest of us because there are admirable Swiss wines.

Ticino, Switzerland's southernmost canton on the border with Italy, has produced wines since the 1500's, but things get interesting after the phylloxera plague from 1870-1900, when the first Merlot vines were planted. It was obvious immediately that Merlot was well suited to the sub-tropical climate of Ticino, but only in the last twenty years have certain producers gained a reputation for excellence, paying close attention to grape selection and the Merlot's expression in each of Ticino's many varied terroirs.

Valsangiacomo Vini 1831

One of these producers is the Valsangiacomo family in Mendrisio. I paid them a visit on August 26th and was greeted by Ezio De Bernardi, sales manager for the business.

I asked Signore De Bernardi why Swiss wines were so seldom seen outside of Switzerland. Is there really only enough for the Swiss market?

"We feel that Switzerland has the capability to export more wine to the EU," said Sig. De Bernardi. "Part of the problem is that much of the wine is consumed here in Switzerland. There is no massive scale production in Ticino, say like there is in Chianti, where 99% of the stuff is mass-produced for supermarkets, and 1% is for connoisseurs. But part of the problem is that négociants do not want to take the risk of marketing the wines outside of Switzerland. This is a pity!"

Proceeding into the cellar, I notice that fermentation is fully modern, in computer-controlled, water-cooled stainless steel vats. Malolactic fermentation is done in oak casks, the wine is cleared with egg whites or clay and some wines are aged 18 months in new oak vats.

One curious and beneficial feature of the hundred-year old cellar is the natural ventilation holes which burrow through the Monte Generoso—this keeps the cellar cool in summer and even warms it in winter, keeping a constant temperature of 11-14° Celsius.

Valsangiacomo: new oak, and holes in the cellar wall
The tasting

We tasted five different wines, starting with a curiosity, a "Bianco di Merlot", a white wine made from Merlot grapes. I was very impressed. The wine was lively and fruity with surprisingly good acidity, certainly not out of place with fish or seafood.

However, it was the reds which astonished with their diversity and it is here where we see Valsangiacomo's philosophy of eschewing blending, choosing instead to produce individual wines where each terroir achieves its own Merlot definition. The first wine, Roncobello, comes from old vines on chalky soils at the foot of Monte Generoso, a very fruity Merlot with caramelized tones in the nose and taste. Next was Piccolo Ronco, from terraced vineyards on morainal soils, a very expressive, fleshy wine with a full, robust character and impressive depth. This was followed by Cuvée Speciale, from fossilized soils and aged in large oak casks, a powerful wine with a solid tannic structure and a long after-taste.

The Merlot grapes are harvested in mid-September; this year they were one week late and 2008 might be a mediocre year due to excessive rainfall. 2007 was an exceptional year and '05 was very good as well. The best wines can age for 10-13 years, and the exceptional '95 is now at its peak. Though there remain only a few bottles of their top cuvée Rubro 1995, Sig. Valsangiacomo was kind enough to uncork one for us. This lustrous red wine's elegant tannins dissolved directly after mouth contact into full, long-lasting fruit with only a hint of oak.

Valsangiacomo can be visited any month of the year except January and February, and can easily be reached by car from Lugano.

Elli Valsangiacomo SA
Via alle Cantine 6
Mendrisio, Switzerland

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Ambitious Vincent Mulliez to Lilian Ladouys?

One of my favourite affordable top Bordeaux's is Château Belle-Vue, lead by Vincent Mulliez who acquired the Haut-Médoc property in 2004 − together with neighbouring-and-related Château de Gironville. The former banker is leaving nothing to chance, and with his very skilled team he is simply trying to make the Best Possible Wine from his near-Margaux terroir (Belle-Vue is located next to Château Giscours).

For a change I quote Robert Parker (talking about the Belle-Vue 2005): "A terrific over-achiever located just outside the Margaux appellation." Anyway, a very popular item within my selection (both 2004 and 2005).

Château Belle-Vue, Haut-Médoc
Very recently I picked up the rumour that Mulliez will soon take up the management of Château Lilian Ladouys (Saint-Estèphe). Apparently appointed by the new owner, an undisclosed French business man.

The recent history of this estate is quite turbulent, at least since 1985 when Christian Thiéblot got in charge, and a/o upgraded the name of the Château to Lilian Ladouys after his Swiss wife Lilian. Thereafter ownership and management of the château − a complicated property due to its extremely scattered vineyards − has changed a number of times.

Anyway, if the rumour is correct, Martin Bouygues from Montrose has owned Lilian Ladouys for just two years. That doesn't sound very good, but well, I am very curious how things will develop from now on. So perhaps to be continued.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Mouton Rothschild 1994 Jeroboam signed by Karel Appel found in odd circumstances

People know I'm into wine, so you get to hear and see things. Stories about special wines, in a private cellar, or not anymore, − well some stories are better than other stories. Last week I got to see something. In an Amsterdam cellar-less house owned by an art-dealer who used to be friends with the Dutch painter Karel Appel (1921-2006).


He first showed me a virgin wooden case with 12 bottles Château Mouton Rothschild 1994. Not perfectly stored, but not terribly either. I would say a case to crack now, my guess is that these so-so kept wines should be perfectly drinkable now. Then he presented a double magnum. Beautiful! But... he said there was yet another bottle in the house, an even bigger one, but where was it...?

We walked around and he looked in different places. He said he really wanted to show me that monster bottle, as it had Karel Appel's autograph − a true collector's item!

Then, in his paper-laden office, he unveiled a wooden case, it was hidden underneath a stack of paperwork. The case was put... against a radiator, and this radiator was... turned on! And inside the case, indeed, a giant bottle, signed by Karel Appel.

The good news: it had only been there for a short while, he said (and I guess the radiator had been turned off during the summer). And the owner promised me he would change things. First of all he turned off the heater (pff...).


But let's hope this bottle will soon move to a better place. I told him about my bleeding heart, and I hope he really understood that it is not good to keep a wine like this in these... odd circumstances, even when you're not interested in the money that an item like this could raise.

Anyway, dear reader, of course I needed to share this crazy discovery with you!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Preview: Bottle Shock

Today is the first day that the film Bottle Shock will be shown in Europe. Yesterday night was the preview in Tuschinski, Amsterdam's most beautiful movie theatre.

The movie: isn't shocking. But it's quite OK, provided that you are interested in wine. It isn't as vigorous as Sideways, not as surprising or funny, but it definitely entertains, and the photography is beautiful. The makers have been flying over the Napa vineyards a lot, and these decorative scenes are delicious. The true story (the famous Paris Wine Tasting of 1976, a.k.a. the Judgement of Paris) in itself is a small story (yes, with an enormous effect), and presented around that is a little family drama at eventual contest winner Chateau Montelena.

I like the fact that with this film the person Steven Spurrier gets the deserved attention. Instead of Robert Parker, who is always in the spotlights. But in 1976 the world hadn't heard of Parker yet (he entered the scene together with the Bordeaux 1982 vintage). Spurrier isn't a young man anymore, but it surprised me that in the film, which plays in 1976, Spurrier is portrayed by an older man (Alan Rickman). Looking at today's Spurrier, he must have been a more handsome appearance back in the seventies.

Yesterday's preview was organised by Holland's leading social wine community Vinoo. Several local wine merchants presented their French and Californian wines. I was one of them, pouring a/o the exciting French Chardonnay that I wrote about in my previous posting (the Chardonnay is the central wine in Bottle Shock).

Anyway, if you're a wine lover, I think you shouldn't miss this film.