Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Will Bernard Margrez acquire Chateau Latour?

It is Jane Anson who alerted me, through her blog, that the Médoc Premier Grand Cru Classé Château Latour might be for sale. It seems that the crisis is also starting to hit rich châteaux owners, and a change of ownership of one of Bordeaux's most prestigious estates would be... quite something.

Interesting, and perhaps worrisome, is the rumour that Bernard Magrez might be looking at this treasure prey. Magrez is a modernist in Bordeaux, making polished and perfect wines. Another way of describing the style of his wine: he teams up with consultant Michel Rolland. Together they modernised the monumental classic Château Pape Clément. The result is good, but so was the original − it is like someone buying a 17th century canal house and replacing the original interior by some contemporary design...

I rather see Magrez and Rolland restoring the quality of a Saint-Emilion like Château Fombrauge − with very good result. Modernism and Right Bankishness seems a better couple, also.

But Magrez/Rolland playing with the exquisite classic terroir of Latour... I don't know if that's a good idea...

To read the full story about the possible sale of Château Latour see Kate Walsh's publication in The Times.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Dutch authority on Burgundy Gert Crum speaks out

People who follow this blog will remember that I have written before about David Clark and his wines (a/o about the visit that Jan van Roekel and I brought to his domain in December 2007, and last month about the first impressions from bottle).

David Clark Bourgogne Passetoutgrains 2006
Last November, after a year of waiting, the 2006s finally reached Amsterdam. I sent a bottle of the Passetoutgrains (very much à point at this moment) to Dutch Burgundy guru Gert Crum. Crum published his findings in De ProefKrant from December 2008/January 2009 and these I need to share with you.

Crum's article is titled Een balans opmaken. At the end of 2008 he is drawing up the balance, highlighting the year in four points. Two of these points concern individual wines, noticeable wines. The first is the white Château Rives-Blanques "La Trilogie" 2006 (AC Limoux), the second one − indeed − the Passetoutgrains 2006 from David Clark. Let me translate his praise.

"The other wine that made me happy seems a simple red Burgundy. It is however a strikingly savoury, fine and elegant wine with delicious aromas. This wine also is not made by a routinely working French winemaker. The Bourgogne Passetoutgrains 2006 that I'm talking about is the product of the Brit David Clark. A young guy who gave up his work in London to follow his passion for wine in general, and for Burgundy in particular. Adventurous and brave, but he must have known that he would succeed. He settled in Morey-Saint-Denis and confidently calls his (still) tiny business Domaine David Clark. This wine is a breath of fresh air. It found its way to me through passionate wine enthusiast David Bolomey."

The bad news: Clark only has a tiny domain with a tiny production (especially with yields as low as 30 hl/ha) and so my share is... tiny. Or actually: was tiny...

Monday, December 15, 2008

Bling barrels at Vinitech

There are the most amazing 'destockages' going on in Bordeaux at the moment, as merchants rush rid themselves of whatever wines they can bear to part with, and many that they can.

As the new head of the local wine merchant's union told the local paper, Sud Ouest, 'getting rid of stock is a priority at the moment'.

Auctions seem to be the simplest way, at least there are plenty of ads for them in the local paper. If I had any cash, instead of the several thousand euro loan I had to take out to get the house in rent ready mode, I would be buying. But it is not to be. Instead I must just cling to my 12 bottles of Pontet-Canet 2007 (as yet unbottled) and hope for the best.

Just for the record, a loan in France for house works is readily obtainable, at 5% interest, if you already have a 27 year mortgage. Credit crisis?

Even at Vinitech last week − the bi-annual wine equipment trade held in Bordeaux − you might have thought the credit/global financial crisis was all slightly exaggerated. I thought people would be moaning and groaning. But not at all. Some were 'only buying essentials', or 'scaling back a bit', but to listen to the barrel makers and the harvest machine people you might have thought they were looking forward to 2009.

Well, optimism at least is free. So is attitude. And the person who came up with the idea of a bling barrel certainly had some.

Yes. Forget intelligent barrels, although I counted three different types of those at Vinitech, bling barrels are in.

Sporting orange leather bands, worthy of a Hermes bag, and a Swarovski crystal bung, the barrel cost 1150 euro. Double the price of a normal one. It is, of course, made of some incredibly fine-grained high quality wood that helps the wine, as well. But it was the bling bit that really pulled the crowds.

For more about Vinitech, and a shot of the barrel, see here.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Inniskillin Sparkling Icewine 2006

Although sparkling icewines have been made in Canada since the late 1990's, they are still a rarity. I only first heard about them this past Spring while researching this article (in Dutch) I wrote on ice wines in general.

Because of their high sugar levels, Canadian icewines were forbidden in Europe until 2001. The concern was that a second fermentation could occur in the bottle. As was the case with the monk Dom Pérignon, the resulting sparkling wine would be seen as a fault, a hazard which could break the bottles.

But refermentation is precisely what Canadian icewine producers like Inniskillin are doing now, only the second fermentation takes place not in the bottle, but in a steel tank (Méthode Cuvée Close). In reality, it is difficult to ferment ice wine grapes because of their high sugar content; inducing a second fermentation is even more difficult. Vinification lasts seven months and the wine is aged on the lees, then filtered and bottled under pressure.

The idea of combining bubbles with the delectable sweetness of icewine seemed like a double decadence to me: I simply had to try this! A recent trip back to Montreal provided me with an opportunity. I scoured the government-owned liquor shops in la belle ville, searching but came up empty. Extremely rare, I was told. One shopkeeper remembered a half-bottle retailing for $160. It didn't sell very well. Icewines there were aplenty, and also the latest kick, ice cider (not bad, really), but no sparkling icewine.

Dejected, I boarded the plane to go back to Amsterdam, and while killing some time in Heathrow at the duty-free, I saw a golden bottle gleam on the shelf: Inniskillin Sparkling Icewine 2006 (375 ml), £40 for purchase within the EU. That translates into €46 these days!

Wine characteristics

The grape variety is 100% Vidal, a hybrid made from Ugni blanc and Seyval blanc. It is a popular variety for icewine in Canada because its thick skin allows it to survive the early frosts; in fact, grapes are usually harvested in January.

Golden in the glass, its effervescent bouquet made me think of apple cider, with a hint of apricot. Thick in the mouth, decadently sweet and instantly lively with bubbles and excellent acidity revealing tangy peach and apricot flavours with a long-lasting honey sweetness. 11.5% alc.

Food pairing

Icewines of course are dessert wines, but which dessert passes best by a sparkling icewine? A general rule is never serve a dessert which is sweeter than the icewine itself; this will detract sweetness from the wine and instead pronounce acidity. So I decided to prepare three different desserts for my sparkling icewine. I've probably gained a kilo writing this piece.

Inniskillin Sparkling Icewine
Fresh apricots caramelised in maple syrup with half-melted gorgonzola and mascarpone: this simple dish (with a long name) worked by far the best. The apricot flavours in the food and wine enhanced each other, resulting in sweet, powerful fruit, counterbalanced by the gorgonzola mascarpone. Excellent.

Cheesecake: not as nice. Something sour comes out, some of the sweetness is lost, noticed immediately upon mouth contact. Doesn’t work.

Lemon meringue pie: worst choice by far. The citrus flavours tend to give the wine an almost rhubarb-like acidity.

Of course, you could also choose to skip dessert and just enjoy the wine, which is what I eventually did.

Where can you buy sparkling icewine? Various internet wine shops are selling it; whether or not they have it in stock is another question. Google and you shall find. If all else fails, book a ticket to somewhere via Heathrow and hit that duty-free.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Expected: flavoured barrels!

Flavoured barrels, that's what winemakers, and fussy drinkers, will be picking over next. So just when you thought it was safe to concentrate on soil, the vineyard, the vines, the terroir, and let the whole winemaking process settle back into its place, along come these barrels.

Examples of actual flavours that might potentially be available currently include spicy, tannic and red fruit.

The barrels are the idea of Seguin Moreau, a leading French cooper. Currently the intelligent barrels are still in the research phase, with Seguin Moreau busy working out how different wood molecules react to, and with, the wine stored in them. The current expectation is that they will be ready for commercial sale by 2010/11.

Their potential use will no doubt be controversial and will reignite the whole wood chip discussion, because the ordinary barrels v. flavoured barrels arguments are already similar to the chips v. barrels ones.

Basically you have, on one side, those that say barrels are for slow aeration of the wine, aka 'ageing', and they are not for flavouring the wine. Full stop.

And, on the other, you have those who accept barrels can have a useful influence on the flavour, and think that controlling another aspect of winemaking such as this will be interesting/useful.

It was the same with chips. Are barrels for flavouring wine, in which case chips might do the job, or are they simply for 'ageing' the wine by providing a slow ingress of oxygen, and an equally slow evaporation of some of liquid inside? If it is the second, naturally, chips won't do the job.

It is the same when tea lovers start talking about the differences between tea made in the pot and tea bags. A big palaver with everyone having their own special way and their own special reasoning.

And indeed, so much depends on how chips, or barrels are used, that arguments for and against are almost useless, unless you include how they are used. Which you can't because everyone will do it a different way. Still and all, a few acres of print will be dedicated to the subject in coming years I would guess. You read it here first.