by Paul Howard
on Aug 28, 2009
in Book Reviews
The first edition of this book ignited this writer’s fledgling interest in all things vinous some twenty-five years ago. It was the first wine book I ever bought, almost by accident. I was initially attracted to it because of the superb illustrations by Paul Hogarth rather than by the words; they added to my treasured collection of Hogarth-illustrated Graham Greene paperbacks. These marvellous pen pictures are thankfully retained in this new edition and remain almost as indispensable as the writing itself because they convey the joy of wine better than almost any photograph. However, I soon became captivated by the writing style and sheer erudition on show. To this day I still refer to the 3rd edition, its bright blue cover prominent on my bookshelf.
Since then this encyclopaedia of wines, vineyards and winemakers has expanded enormously, reflecting, in Hugh’s own words, “the most eventful quarter-century in the history of wine.” The subject of wine has changed fundamentally in many ways during this time, as this book bears witness; from the rise of the New World to the development of the global wine village, from the dominance of international wines to the continuing adoption of biodynamics and from vintage variation to global warming. Back then, entries on China, India and Uruguay would have been merely eccentric footnotes, now these regions loom ever larger in our future.
In this new edition the content has been sensitively updated by Stephen Brook, with the heart of the book still arranged on a country-by-country basis, listing key producers in succinct detail. But there is much more besides, with chapters covering grapes, winemaking and wine styles and not least giving practical advice on enjoying wine – from buying through to serving and tasting.
Any test of an encyclopaedia should, in my view, be made my dipping into the contents, particularly to check out the reviews of favourite wineries and to discover unfamiliar entries to fuel future exploration. The book is a unique lens of preference and discovery, where entries are graded on a simple four-star system and web addresses are helpfully included. Given that the book covers the global wine scene and some well known producers are naturally self-selecting entries then three examples chosen almost at random must suffice to illustrate the quality and depth of coverage. I could of course have listed hundreds more.
Firstly, I was delighted to see Domaine Belluard listed in the Savoie section, whose biodynamic white wine, made from the ultra-rare Gringet grape, made such a favourable impression on me just a few weeks ago. Secondly, welcome recognition is given to Fox Run Vineyards, arguably the best wine producer in New York’s Fingerlakes region, which bought back fond memories. Finally, Quinta de Covelha from Portugal’s Minho rightly focuses on their exciting red and white blends.
This book does what says on the cover – a constant companion to my own wine journey. While I have amassed a collection of hundreds of books on the subject of wine it’s still a privilege to continue to learn from and enjoy Hugh’s subtle writing style. His most articulate and concise prose manages that rare three card trick of being authoritative, up-to-date and entertaining.
For anyone setting out to discover wine then this book, alongside The World Atlas of Wine and The Oxford Companion are the indispensable tomes. For those of us already immersed in wine lore this book is no less essential – it raises the bar to which we all strive another notch.
Hardback, published by Mitchell Beazley (ISBN-13: 978-1845334574) and available in the USA from the 15th of September 2009, RRP $60.00. Amazon has it listed at $37.80.
by Paul Howard
on Aug 28, 2009
Slovenia is a middle-European country that was once part of the former Yugoslavia, whose western Goriška province borders the Friuli region of NE Italy. The border between them runs through a small wine area with a violent history, known to Italians as the Collio and Brda to the Slovenes.
Once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, this area bore witness to bloody encounters during both world wars. The current border was established at the end of World War Two and remained the frontline during the Cold War that followed.
Those that drew up the border were neither respecters of existing family relationships or property ownership – it frequently runs straight through vineyard holdings. Whereas today you don’t even need to show a passport to cross over, during the Cold War workers were only allowed across a heavily patrolled divide by day and a curfew operated at night. Consequently, the location of the winery dictates whether the wines that come from this area are Italian or Slovene.
In the meantime individual Italian estates were able to develop their winemaking reputations while the Slovenes were forced into collective farming and obscurity. In 1991 Slovenia declared independence and the end of communism. Increasing prosperity and stability were further enhanced by them joining the EU in 2004. Now there are a number of Slovenian winemakers that are becoming known for their stunning artisanal wines
Similar red and white grape varieties are grown on both sides of the border, but reputations on both sides are generally founded on white wine. However, the Slovenian wine style is different because the border has separated winegrowing and winemaking traditions. While there are exceptions to this, the Slovene whites are in general richer, more complex and long-lived compared to their fresher Italian counterparts. A terrific example is Teodor Belo reserve white, made by Marjan and Salko Simčič.
Marjan and Salko (there are other local winegrowers called Simčič) own 16 hectares of vines. As with many of their counterparts, the vineyards straddle the border, with half in Slovenian Goriška Brda and half in Italy’s Collio.
Teodor, like many Slovene whites, is a blend – of 60% Ribolla with 20% Sauvignonasse (aka Friulano) and 20% Pinot Grigio. The grapes are traditionally farmed without modern synthetic chemicals and are late-harvested by hand.
The Simčič wines are also made naturally, without fining or filtering or adding sulphur dioxide before final blending. The white grapes are macerated before fermentation to extract every last bit of flavour and complexity. This extended skin-contact is unusual outside Slovenia and in the wrong hands produces clumsy, heavy wines.
However, Simčič has a modern winery with new technology, so the result is a structured wine of considerable complexity and deep colour but where freshness and drinkability is also retained. A combination of stainless steel and oak casks are employed for fermentation, with maturation of the three base wines on their lees taking 28 months in various woods before final blending and bottling – only 5,133 bottles were made of the 2004 vintage, with bottling in February 2007.
Teodor is a distinctive and terroir driven white wine that is capable of further ageing and is excellent with food. It needs chilling, but 14 degrees C is quite enough – any colder and it won’t reveal all its nuances.
In the glass it’s a deep brassy yellow, flecked with amber. The nose is distinctive and striking, with hints of dried flowers, butterscotch and vanilla.
The palate is Burgundian in texture and elegance – a great compliment. It is very rich, highly extracted and intense, yet balances that with sheer complexity and depth of flavour and just enough fresh acidity. It is creamily textured, with a long dry finish and mineral undertow. Pear and cider-apple fruit suggest a hint of oxidation, while butterscotch, fig and quince jostle for attention. A touch of honey and a tang of peel suggest a very slight influence of botrytis from the vineyard. An Italianate bitter note – probably the influence of Ribolla –makes a final counterpoint.
This is both a stunning and an intellectually interesting wine that also makes a great introduction to Slovenian wine for the uninitiated.
It’s drinking well now but with the capacity for more development over the next five years. Fish dishes or cheese are the obvious matches, but wild mushroom risotto is near perfect.
In the USA, Hi-Time Wine Cellars of Costa Mesa, CA (www.hitimewine.net) stock it for $25.98.
by Paul Howard
on Jul 15, 2009
The Val di Cecina is a picturesque and unspoilt region of rolling hills toward the coast of Tuscany just north of the Bolgheri wine region, the new frontier for Tuscan wines over the past couple of decades. It is also known as Il Giardino (the Garden), thick with oak and cork trees.
The close proximity to the sea and an altitude of 150-250 metres make a local microclimate where the summer Mediterranean heat is tempered by onshore winds and cool nights.
What is now the Caiarossa estate was, until 1998, a farm known as Podere Serra all’Olio. Today it extends over 39 hectares, with 16 hectares of vines. The rest of the estate is virgin woodland and ancient olive grove. When the new vineyard was created, geological analysis uncovered a dozen different soil types and eleven different grape varieties are grown! Sangiovese, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre are the reds; while the whites are Chardonnay, Viognier and Petit Manseng. This is an unusual mix, even in Tuscan frontier territory, where the dominant paradigm is usually the Bordeaux grapes plus indigenous Sangiovese.
In 2004, Caiarossa was bought by Eric Albada Jelgersma, He is a Dutch entrepreneur that also owns two respected Grand Cru classé estates in Margaux, namely Château Giscours and next door neighbour Château du Tertre.
Today the estate produces four wines, two white and two red – all designated as Toscana IGT.
The flagship wine and the main subject of this review is the eponymous Caiarossa (a cuvée made from the very best red grapes that was first made in 2002), of which some 25,000 bottles are produced each vintage. As has become common on the Tuscan coast, Sangiovese does not play a leading role in this wine; rather it is the Bordeaux varieties that dominate. More unorthodox is to find a wine made from eight different varieties including those more common in the Rhône, these being Merlot (31%), Petit Verdot (20%), Cabernet Franc (17%), Cabernet Sauvignon (16%), Sangiovese (9%), Grenache (3%), Syrah (2%) and Mourvèdre (2%).
The second red wine is Pergolaia, also made since 2002. This is 95% Sangiovese with a splash of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, a more traditional wine aged only in older oak.
Then there are tiny amounts of white. The dry Caiarossa Bianco is made of equal parts Viognier and Chardonnay and there are just 1,400 bottles made each year. Equally rare (1,450 bottles) is a late harvest dessert wine made from Petit Manseng called Oro di Caiarossa.
All are excellent, but the flagship Caiarossa is simply stunning. Here’s why.
Firstly, the farming method employed is Demeter-certified Biodynamic. Preparations of BD 500 cow manure and BD 501 silica are used, complemented by homeopathic treatments of nettle, willow, chamomile and horsetail.
All harvesting is by hand and yields are kept deliberately low to maximise quality. The grapes are taken to a purpose-built winery which is inspired by the tenets of Feng Shui! This influence manifests itself in the architectural design and the colours employed to encourage positive energy. Partially built into the hillside, gravity moves the wine gently through the production process without pumps. The grapes arrive at the top level, where they are hand-sorted and destemmed. The fermentation then takes place on the level below in a combination of oak casks and open barriques. After this is completed the wine matures in the barrel room on the lowest level.
Caiarossa is a skilful blend made by an experienced winemaking team, aged in a mixture of barriques and larger oak casks for 12-14 months. The philosophy is to let the wine express a sense of place, hence only 35% new oak is used – a relatively low percentage, particularly when so many ambitious operations tend to employ new wood at much higher levels.
All the Caiarossa wine labels depict a head of Dionysus that was discovered at the nearby town of Volterra. This dates back to the Etruscan 4th Century BC and is owned by Jelgersma. Fittingly, the Greek god of wine illustrates the no-expense-spared meticulous philosophy of Caiarossa.
Given that this is still a young red wine, it was given a two-hour decant prior to serving in order to help it show at its best. The colour is a deep concentrated ruby, opaque and with viscous pink legs in the glass. Clearly this is a super-ripe wine of extraction and power. A quick check of the alcohol level (14.5%) means this is a wine to be approached with no little trepidation, but the way the alcohol is hidden away and still in balance with the fruit, tannin and acidity is evidence of masterful wine making. Just a touch of alcoholic heat gives it away.
The nose is well worth lingering over, so postpone the pleasure of tasting for few minutes more. Dark fruits waft up, damson and black cherry, accompanied by traces of smoke, menthol, truffle and earth, something new to discover each time the glass is raised. Now finally, the palate: rich, velvety and lush as expected, but this wine shows great structure and cool control rather than the flabby jammy qualities of so many big modern reds.
The polished tannins seem to bind all that dense fruit together into a seamless melange of mouth-filling flavour without a hint of harshness, while the stony acidity is lip-smacking and keeps you coming back for more. An exuberant black cherry and damson fruit character is present, but other things are lurking deeply in the mix – liquorice, fig, tar and leather notes peep through and will probably become more evident with bottle age. Meanwhile the smoke and a hint of torrefaction on a long slightly bitter finish complete the package.
Caiarossa has the surefootedness of a Chamois, but is it a taste of Tuscany? Most certainly. It’s a Supertuscan star that occupies the same firmament as the likes of Ornellaia, Sassicaia and Lupicaia.
This graceful wine is ready to drink now and while there are not enough vintages to confirm how this wine will age, the anticipation would be that it will continue to develop over the next five years and still be at peak in ten.
And food? Heaps of mushroom risotto makes a wonderful combination.
Caiarossa is available in the USA at around $65 for the 2004, which has a little more Sangiovese in a superb vintage. Expect the 2005 soon.
by Paul Howard
on May 26, 2009
JosMeyer is easily found in Wintzenheim, it’s on the main street and approached via a lovely cobbled courtyard that features all the usual hallmarks of Alsace. There are half-timbered buildings featuring ancient oak beams, window boxes full of Pelargonium and red Roses climbing around doorways. Birdsong surrounds us and Bees buzz. Looking up, the sky is a deep azure and without a cloud. The elaborate ironwork sign featuring grapes and vignerons marks the entrance.
Wintzenheim is a small village in the heart of Alsace, just west of Colmar. Nestling in the foothills of the Vosges, the rain shadow created by these mountains means this area is one of the sunniest and driest places in France. Biodynamic and organic wine growing is therefore both feasible and relatively common. Wintzenheim is sandwiched between two large Grand Cru vineyards; Brand is to the north near the neighbouring village of Turckheim, while Hengst is south towards Wettolsheim. There is a feeling here of being surrounded by a patchwork quilt of fields, soils, slopes and vines.
The JosMeyer estate was founded 1854 by Aloyse Meyer and remains family run. Jean Meyer took over in 1966. Now in his early 60’s he has the appearance of a much younger man. He joined us for the latter part of our visit and two remarks he made struck me. While talking about perfectionist winemaking he said, “I make wine with humility and pleasure” and, “always remember first to please yourself in order to please others”. This sums up his thoughtful and artistic manner.
Christophe Ehrhart joined JosMeyer in 1995. He is now wine grower and Managing Director. If you are sceptical about biodynamics then Christophe’s highly articulate explanations will soon convince. Both men are sure that BD methods are responsible for the significant and consistent quality improvements at this estate during the last decade and that further improvements are possible.
All JosMeyer wines are deliberately made to accompany food. The house style is to vinify to dryness. They therefore resist the upward spiral of ever-increasing ripeness that is becoming commonplace in Alsace; increased alcohol levels and/or residual sugar are spoiling some Alsace wines. At JosMeyer only minimal levels of residual sugar are left for balance and alcohol levels are deliberately restrained. JosMeyer wines are about soaring aromas, freshness, balance, elegance and subtlety. Given that Alsace wine labelling gives little clue to the final sweetness of the wine then JosMeyer wines are reliably dry.
Christophe adds, “You must look elsewhere for those over-ripe extrovert wines that rely on immediate impact but that rapidly become boring”.
Biodynamic conversion commenced in 1999. The first fully biodynamic vintage was in 2001 and official certification is given by Biodyvin. Because the vineyards were always farmed by close to organic methods then biodynamic conversion here was a matter of evolution rather than revolution. As you would expect there is great attention to detail to ensure sustainability and respect for the environment – even the wooden storage palettes are fashioned from untreated timber.
JosMeyer make enough horn manure (BD 500) to share between ten other estates. They also use BD 501 horn silica, plus BD 508 horsetail and BD 504 nettle. As usual these are applied in very dilute quantities: 100g diluted in 200 litres of water will treat 1 hectare – the idea is to stimulate the life of the soil, not feed the vine. Consequently, copper and sulphur treatments used to combat fungal diseases are reduced – with biodynamics, JosMeyer are able to use less than 50% of the allowable dose.
JosMeyer have 25ha of vineyard in total, all within 3 kilometres of Wintzenheim. This includes just 5 ha of the much divided Brand and Hengst Grand Cru.
Brand has a quality reputation extending back to the middle-ages. A steep south facing cirque at about 340 metres altitude, it’s characterised by free draining and acidic sandy soils derived from granite. Hengst meanwhile can trace its origins at least as far back to the ninth century. It is a large wind sheltered slope rising to 360 metres, with marl soils derived from underlying limestone. Hengst means “Stud Horse” (i.e. Stallion) in the local dialect as it has a reputation for powerful, muscular wines.
The JosMeyer wine range is typically wide given the generous vinous palette of Alsace. Their holdings yield 27% Riesling, 25% Pinot Blanc/Auxerrois, 21% Pinot Gris and 19% Gewurztraminer. In addition to these four grapes they also have small quantities of Muscat (3%), Chasselas and Sylvaner (3%) and Pinot Noir (2%).
Yields are very low compared to the Alsacien average in order to pursue quality over quantity. The maximum yield allowed is 80 hl/ha + derogation but JosMeyer is generally 55-60hl/ha, but even lower for the Grand Cru at only 40-45 hl/ha.
Vine propagation is by cuttings taken from their best vines (sélection massale) rather than clones and vines less than 5-8 years old are excluded from the vintage. The vines are densely planted to encourage deep rooting and extract varietal character, especially necessary for Pinot Gris.
Other practices designed to maximise quality include hand-harvesting and the use a table de tri to reject imperfect grapes. There is no de-stemming, the gentlest pneumatic pressing is used and subsequent fermentation is only with naturally occurring wild yeasts. As you would expect, there’s never any chaptalisation required – the addition of artificial sugar to the grape juice at fermentation is rightly an anathema.
Fermentation takes place in 1,200 litre open oak vats that have been used since 1895. Being so old, the wood is completely inert and imparts no flavour. There are also 6,000 litre ceramic vats and modern temperature controlled stainless steel. Slow, cool fermentations preserve aromas and some Carbon Dioxide is also retained in the wine as an anti-oxidant. This means that JosMeyer need to use even less Sulphur Dioxide preservative.
The secondary (Malolactic) fermentation is usually blocked. A naturally occurring ‘malo’ can be an uncertain event in Alsace and the preservation of fresh malic acid is part of the JosMeyer style and also enables the top wines to develop in bottle over many years.
Jean Mayer also has a willingness to blend if it benefits the final wine. And not just varieties are blended either – the Hengst and Brand Grand Cru Pinot Gris was blended together in 2000 to create ‘H&B’. Heresy! Jean Meyer felt that this created a far better wine in that particular vintage even though by doing so the Grand Cru designation was surrendered.
As is common in Alsace no wood is used in maturation. The wines are given a very fine filtering to leave them bright before bottling in traditional flûtes. Less traditional are the striking labels that reflect Jean Meyer’s love of Modern Art. There is also a pragmatic use of closures; cork is used for those wines designed for ageing in bottle, while screw caps are used to ensure freshness for the wines designed for earlier drinking. The wines are arranged in clear quality/price levels:
• Generic – entry level varietal wines or blends for early drinking. The blends are what Alsaciens once called Edelzwicker before that description became devalued;
• Artists’ Range – classic varietal expression based on aromatic and fruit purity with aging potential;
• Prestige Range – terroir classics that need bottle age, perhaps 5 years;
• Grand Cru – terroir giants that can be delicious in youth but demand at least 10 years to reveal all their subtle nuances and complexity;
• Vins d’Exception – small quantities of sweet late harvest wines – Vendange Tardive (VT) or Sélection des Grains Nobles (SGN) – made if vintage conditions permit.
The wines featured below were tasted at JosMeyer. I was honoured to be tutored by Christophe Ehrhart and latterly Jean Meyer on a warm spring morning.
Naturally the conversation included suggestions for food pairing. This is the land of copious helpings of Pig and Cabbage. Choucroute Garni, sausages, pork and bacon are all delicious with Alsace Riesling, as is goose. Onion tart and risotto is superb with Pinot’s Blanc, Gris and Auxerrois, while Gewurztraminer is brilliant with the local Munster cheese. The usual fish and seafood matches are all possibilities and then there’s oriental cuisine; Alsacien wines combine well with subtle Thai or sushi and sashimi flavours. Specific suggestions are made with each of the tasting notes.
Pinot Blanc, ‘Mise de Printemps’ 2006. 12.5%
Artists’ series. The first wine to be made each year. Sandy soils, actually 20% Pinot Blanc and 80% of the closely related Pinot Auxerrois. Pale, fresh and floral – white blossom. Very dry with good refreshing acidity underpinned by a streak of minerality, no spice development yet. Excellent length and balance. The 2005 has developed a spicier finish and a 2006 cask sample confirmed these impressions. Simple dishes like Asparagus or vegetable dips.
Pinot Blanc ‘Les Lutins’ 2004. 12.5%
Prestige series. From older vines over 35 years old at nearby Herrenweg – much more clay in these soils. Bigger and more intense nose, peachy. Very pure greengage fruit, hint of residual sugar, no more than that. Real palate weight and intensity, broad body and a spice finish. Pinot Blanc is so under rated in my view. White meat and Quiches. Christophe also suggested eggs – I can see this working well with an omelette.
Pinot Auxerrois ‘H’ Vieilles Vignes 2004.13%
Grown since 1959 on the Hengst Grand Cru but can’t officially be a Grand Cru as the Auxerrois grape does not qualify… hence ‘H’ for Hengst! All the terroir of Hengst is here: a pale glinting gold, flecks of green. Marzipan/almonds on the nose. A very powerfully rich palate, bone dry but lifted by refreshing acidity and chalky minerality underpins grapefruit and apple flavours. Watch out white burgundy! Lovely now but try not to touch before 2010 and always decant it. The 2001 shows more development and is now probably at peak: fat in the mouth and a lovely silken texture with apricot and peach.
Riesling ‘Le Kottabe’ 2005. 12%
Artists’ range. Green apple nose, fleeting traces of petrol. Very youthful so little complexity, this wine is more fruit driven with a nice lime and green apple character – but it feels very slim, precise and focused and has excellent length – fine tolerance engineering would be a good analogy. Pebbly minerality. Leave 2/3 years. Sashimi heaven.
Riesling ‘Les Pierrets’ 2004 12.5%
Prestige range; and a big step-up in quality. Older vines, the majority from the north face of Hengst. Very young and tightly wound, 2010 at the earliest, but all the right signs are there; pale lime green, gentle petrol and focus. This is much bigger, broader and more powerful; Christophe Ehrhart described the wine as having “shoulders”. Big flinty minerality on the palate, stone fruit cocktail. Will be splendid; be in no doubt and terrific value. Fish, sushi.
The 2001 had superb honeyed fruit, long length, minerality and rapier acidity, showing the benefit of bottle age.
The 1999 has deepened in colour to a golden hue, is very dry and less complex and probably at peak, nicely balanced with subtle tones and a hint of orange peel amid the petrol and stoniness – very good with home-made crab fishcakes, I assure you.
Riesling Grand Cru Brand 2004. 13%
Ying – the rush of Life. Old vines and sandy soils, an outstanding Grand Cru site. Acidity like a knife, precise and pure fruit, huge length. Tight and austere; an intellectual wine needing bottle age. 2010 earliest for broaching, 2015 probably better.
Riesling Grand Cru Hengst 2004. 12%
Yang – the power of Nature. First impression is that this is softer textured, then the acidity hits – a function of the chalky soils of Hengst, JosMeyer’s other outstanding Grand Cru site. Slightly darker colour, power and ‘shoulder’, more open than the Brand, a touch richer and delicious drinking now, lovely stone fruit/apricot flavour. Resist all temptation to drink before 2010 and decant it. Will do well with Lobster or Comte cheese.
The 2000 (12.5%) was a real standout, just starting to benefit from bottle age; a wet stones nose and a whiff of petrol then an explosive palate – rich rewarding and very pure with a melange of spices on the finish.
A 1997 decanted was simply stunning with a fresh Crab, all mineral focus and almost ethereal on the nose. Strong yet delicate – a prima ballerina of a wine.
Riesling Grand Cru Hengst 2003. 12.5%
Compare this 2003 to the vintages above. Deeper and more open – that hot vintage makes this atypical – but still there are nice surprises in store. Less acidity, but still enough to carry the wine. Not classic in the way the 2004 or 1997 are. Christophe Ehrhart feels that that their BD vines coped better with heat stress and so still produced grapes that could make balanced wines, in contrast to the large crops of over-ripe flavourless grapes from those that used chemical treatments. There’s brioche or toast on the nose. More open, with stone fruit and herb reminders – thyme and rosemary. Will probably age quicker. Still a delicious experience. Roast Chicken and herbs would be a fine pairing.
Pinot Gris, ‘Le Fromenteau’ 2005. 13%
Artists’ series. A perennial favourite of mine from the JosMeyer range, Fromenteau was the dialect name for Pinot Gris in the middle Ages. A lovely floral nose with hints of nuts, the palate has that soft texture, the fruit overlays some pear, earthy and meaty flavours. Muscular yet fresh, dry and easy to drink now, will improve over the next 2/3 years. Mushrooms, terrines and tofu are all mouth watering food suggestions.
The 2006 has white blossom aromas, broad and muscular, well balanced with earth and subtle spices underpinning pear and quince fruit. Fresh now, leave for a couple of years to develop further. Remarkably consistent every year, so buy and drink with confidence.
Pinot Gris ‘1854 Fondation’ 2000. 14%
Prestige range. Very different from Fromenteau and another step up the quality ladder. Vanilla tinged honey, a rich, rounded grainy texture and much bigger bodied. Yet the alcohol is still in balance. Huge ripe fruit flavours and a slightly sweet gingerbread mid-palate, a hint of residual sugar. Orange peel (a little botrytis?). On the cusp of dry/off-dry. Everything comes together on a long length. A lovely subtle combination of taste and texture. Drinking now. Ideal with Foie Gras or a big powerful cheese like Reblochon.
Pinot Gris Grand Cru Brand 2001. 13%
And this is the quintessence of Pinot Gris from a great vintage. There’s huge power, superb white blossom aromatics and that precision that seems to be the hallmark of the Brand Vineyard. A sumptuous honeyed texture, the most harmonious balance of fruit, acidity, alcohol and a touch of residual sugar. Figs and quince on the nose and palate. A dried fruit character (dried apricot?) on a lingering farewell, with hints of spice. Drinking now but will improve yet, no rush. Joyous and life affirming.
Pinot Gris Grand Cru Hengst 2001. 13%
No actually, this really is the quintessence of Pinot Gris. Honey, vanilla, peach, minerals, quinces. Concentration and intensity, yet finesse and elegance. Densely textured and slightly bolder than the Brand, dried fruits with hint of nut and smoke on the finish. The best Pinot Gris I’ve encountered? Heading toward off-dry. Leave another 5 years – what can that bring?
Pinot Gris Grand Cru Hengst 2002. 14%
A golden yellow with some viscosity, the nose is white flowers and just a hint of botrytis. The honeyed palate, off-dry, is full bodied and powerful, with a mouth filling texture leavened by good levels of acidity. The fruit is quince, quince and then more quince; a streak of minerality runs through before dried apricots appear on the finish. There’s just a hint of smoke. There’s certainly muscularity and vigour, but combined with precision and elegance. And yet it’s not really ready at age five, this wine could do with at least another five years sleep, but so hard to resist now. A roasted vegetable tart made with filo pastry proved to be a fine match.
Gewurztraminer ‘Les Folastries’ 2005. 13.5%
Artists’ series. JosMeyer dry style – very dry. Fabulous rosewater and lychee aroma, good varietal typicity and fresh acidity, full-on fruity palate and the expected spices kick in at the end. Dry forward style and avoids heaviness or excessive oiliness. Excellent wine, rather fine drinking from an exceptional year. Few wines work with fresh tomatoes, this is one of them – try with tiny cherry tomatoes, nothing else!
Gewurztraminer ‘Les Archenets’ 2000. 13.5%
Prestige range – more serious Gewurztraminer with bottle age. Deepening brassy gold. Turkish Delight and smoke aromas rise from the glass to meet you, less pungent but more complex than Folastries. A thicker, oilier palate so typical of Gewurztraminer, yet leavened with fresh acidity so not tiring to drink. Roses to the fore, especially on the length. At peak now, though I prefer Folastries. Fresh tomatoes? Slice them with pepper and balsamic vinegar. Cheese? The powerful stench from the local Munster cheese is perfect. Apparently mild curries work well too.
Gewurztraminer Grand Cru Hengst 1995. 12.5%
This wine had been open for eight days, a really special way to conclude this tasting with a Grand Cru wine at age 12 from a lovely vintage. The nose has developed honey and honeycomb (think cinder toffee), there’s quince and Mirabelle (a local yellow fruit) too. Mirabelle again on the palate plus the unmistakable orange peel trace of botrytis – very late harvesting has brought wondrous golden complexity. Some residual sugar but remarkably dry and well balanced. All-a-tangle complexity. An exotic wine for contemplation, I’m assuming it’s a late harvest Vendange Tardive rather than a Sélection de Grains Nobles. I kept thinking about Tarte Tatin afterwards. Old vines, planted in 1954.
Final thoughts (for now)
My personal JosMeyer favourites are the Pinot Gris Grand Cru from Hengst and Brand; both are truly the essence of Alsace. The Riesling and Gewurztraminer Grand Cru rank among the finest examples too. But don’t overlook the “humbler” wines in the range – they bring much pleasure and represent great value.
Far from the simulacra of the mass market, JosMeyer make beautiful wines that are highly accessible and affordable. This is a superstar property run by people with perfectionist passion that epitomises the very best of Alsace and Biodynamics.
JosMeyer et Fils SA
76, rue Clémenceau
by Paul Howard
on Mar 8, 2009
Dr. Martin Tesch runs Weingut Tesch these days. It has been family-owned and run since 1723 and the estate is a member of the prestigious VDP (Verband Deutscher Prädikats – und Qualitätsweingüter), a century-old association of some 200 German wineries dedicated to excellence.
In his mid-thirties, Tesch is a microbiologist by training but a winegrower by inclination. Since taking over the estate in 1996 he has presided over the most fundamental changes to the wines and vines since the Knights Templar first created these Nahe vineyards over 700 years ago. His story is one of a relentless pursuit of a singular vision. This is the story of Weingut Tesch – a triumph of terroir over adversity.
Tesch is based at Langenlonsheim, a small village in the Nahe region of Germany. The town is twinned with the English town of Potton in Bedfordshire. Curiously, Potton is where I spent my teens and while both towns are founded on agriculture I can discern no connection between Riesling, the world’s greatest white grape and Brussels sprouts, a much maligned vegetable. But I digress.
This area of the Nahe is hilly, described by Martin Tesch as a “mini-Rheingau”. The Tesch vines overlook a huge flat plain once occupied in prehistory by the mighty river Rhine. Now they face the winding river Nahe instead – a mere trickle in comparison. The valley is closed to the west, thereby offering protection from rain and wind and creating a microclimate of calmer and warmer conditions, especially at night.
Martin Tesch greeted us cordially on a sunny spring morning on the road bordering his vines. “Wineries are boring and they all look the same”, he said, “so out here in my vineyard is where you can experience all the real action”. We begin to climb – the slopes are deceptive, far steeper than they first appear. After a few hundred metres we reach a restored workman’s hut. In the middle of the vines, it has a commanding view over the valley below, with the villages of Langenlonsheim and Laubenheim in the distance. The room is set out with tables, benches and glasses. This is where we taste the wines and begin to understand the language of the land.
When Martin Tesch took over from his father Hartmut, there were 30 ha of vines. These produced the usual wide range of wines found in the Nahe, all made from a multitude of grape varieties. In addition to Riesling there was Muller-Thurgau, Silvaner, Rivaner, Scheurebe, Gewürztraminer, Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc) and Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir). The styles produced were equally complicated: QbA followed by the QmP’s (Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese and in some years Eiswein).
Those 30 hectares were producing over fifty different wines – complex to manage and increasingly uneconomic. While Tesch had loyal customers internationally, the reputation of German wine was ebbing away and the Rieslings were getting sweeter every year.
Tesch’s answer? “I created the Punk Rock winery”, he grinned. This required a complete change in winegrowing philosophy to improve quality and reverse errors made in the past. Firstly the north-facing vineyard slopes were abandoned as they naturally produced poorer grapes. These slopes have now reverted to nature and help create habitat and biodiversity. Tesch’s neighbours have seen the improvements this has brought about and some have now followed suit.
Next, all the grapes that didn’t sell were grubbed up. That meant the inferior grape varieties like Muller-Thurgau were early casualties. The Gewürztraminer soon joined it (“because I just don’t like it at all”, says Martin with a winning smile). Suddenly, all that was left was just 11 ha of Riesling, plus three more of the two Pinots.
Today the Riesling covers 17 out of the 20 ha and the vines have an average age approaching 35 years. Tesch doesn’t intend to replant any of it in his lifetime because ageing vines bring more complexity. The vineyards are divided into two principle soil types – one of volcanic origins, the other overlaying weathered sandstone. He has adopted organic methods, the vineyards showing a healthy crop of weeds and grass between the vine rows, with vertical pruning of double canes and a green summer harvest – the result is low yields. Between 20-30 hl/ha would be considered low anywhere, in Germany this is miniscule. With only four employees, tractors are used to reduce labour but there is little sign of soil compaction.
The harvest is manual and he picks the grapes at full ripeness (traditionalists would describe the Öechsle levels as Kabinett and Spätlese) but avoids botrytis. This is because in 2001 he made the biggest change of all – “Die zeit ist reif für trockenen Riesling”, Tesch exclaimed. In his excellent English he immediately translated, “the time was ripe for dry Riesling”.
Sweet wines from Tesch are now history (except, it seems, for the occasional Eiswein when conditions allow). “I also wanted to leave no winemaking imprint on the wines, to have the wines clearly express their origins, as they do in Burgundy”. So there’s no oak used in either fermentation or maturation that would blur the precision of these Rieslings. Small stainless steel barrels are used instead. Winemaking is natural and non-interventionist – there’s no chaptalisation and the fermentation stops when it stops; but usually the wines are fully dry. The secondary (Malolactic) fermentation may happen spontaneously but in ripe vintages like 2007 tart malic acid isn’t an issue. Regardless, Tesch’s knowledge of microbiology gives him total control in the winery.
But what of his change over to dry Riesling? As we shall see, this was a very rock ‘n’ roll revolution. And not plain sailing.
The first thing that happened was that Tesch lost 40% of his sales within the first six months! This was accompanied by vociferous criticism from existing customers and from German wine critics. He was accused of going against the grain of tradition, of destroying his heritage. Tesch ignored it and had the courage of his convictions while operating way outside any comfort zone. Tesch is adamant, “Riesling has a backbone; it is not supposed to be an easy drinking peachy, sweet wine.” Open-minded people tried the new dry Rieslings without prejudice and found them delicious.
Within two years, sales had recovered, new customers had been found and Tesch was receiving accolades rather than brickbats. Ultimately Weingut Tesch even became a business case-study taught by the London School of Economics. “They keep asking me about my strategy. I keep telling them – there wasn’t one”.
But of course there was. Any successful businessman knows that if you want to make changes successfully then you have to firstly be very clear about your objectives and then be able to engage new customers. Here again is the Tesch genius for innovation. The design and communication style at Tesch seems more rooted in the Bauhaus world of designer Walter Gropius than in winemaking.
Tesch Riesling comes in six versions and since 2002 each is distinctively labelled within an overall Tesch theme. A picture of Tesch’s great-grandfather appears on every label, as it has done for 150 years, in a nod towards the heritage of the estate. Everything else is ultra-modern, as far away from the traditional German label with its Gothic scripting as it is possible to get. There are no long words. Each Riesling has is colour coded (“the colours of the London Underground map”) and has individual artwork to distinguish it. In fact, Tesch won the prestigious Red Dot award for product design – and this is no mere wine award – we’re talking about competing toe-to-toe with Sony, Porsche and Apple designs.
Black flute bottles are used and since 2005 all bottling is under screw cap. Now Tesch uses the new Alcan STELVIN® Lux closure and is the first winegrower in Europe to do so. This is more resilient and because the closure has no externally visible screw-thread it looks very smart. It’s an excellent though expensive technical fitting, it helps establish a clear identity for the wines and the closure allows the wines to age in bottle.
Tasting the Tesch 2007 Rieslings
Riesling Unplugged®, 11.5% abv. AP number 77381660108
This is the entry level Riesling. Unashamedly rock ‘n’ roll, this is for drinking young (from release up to 5 years). Tesch describes it as “like the unplugged music sessions – without amplification”.
A black and white colour scheme. Bone dry – effectively Kabinett trocken, first made in 2001. Pale green, flecks of silver, very gentle aromatics and the lightest in the line-up. Big flinty minerality and very focused and ripe fruit. Just 2 g/l of residual sugar and 8 g/l of acidity – and a minimum of malic acid. Manual craftsmanship in an age of mass production. “It’s my party wine”, says Tesch. Some party.
The next five Rieslings are from named individual vineyard sites (Lagen-Riesling) in Langenlonsheim and Laubenheim. These are serious terroir-driven wines; each shows a very clear sense of place and ideally requires 5-10 years bottle age, although as 2007 was such a marvellous vintage all are delicious now.
All five wines are Spätlese trocken; 12% Alcohol with around 4 g/l of residual sugar and 7.8 g/l of acidity. Each wine is different rather than better with extract and concentration as important as acidity in this respect. All are full bodied and perfectly balanced.
Löhrer Berg (Empty Mountain)
Apfel - an apple green “mountain map” label. From Langenlonsheim. A golden colour but flecked lime-green. Wonderful full aromatics, sublime minerality and the merest hint of petrol. Richness and intensity, a sherbet nip on the tongue. Key Lime Pie fruit and huge length. Racy, focused and brilliant. Fertile and damp clay soils with stony river gravel and unstressed vines.
Sonne (sun) – a yellow “frog prince” label. From Laubenheim’s south-east facing slopes, mixed soils range from loess-limestone to weathered sandstone with a high quartz content. Very dry site with water-stressed vines. Pale silver, floral notes, like May blossom. Big pure mineral character and exotic pineapple flavours. Impression of power.
Königsschild (Kings Shield)
Muschel – ocean-blue label with horses. From south-east facing slopes at Langenlonsheim, shell fossils in chalk and loess soil. Pale colour, almost water-white. Smoky nose, rounder fruit and more austere chalky minerality with a savoury note. Impression of speed.
Sandstein – an ochre label, with Coronation scene. The vineyard belonged to the Carthusian monks at Laubenheim. South-east slopes and weathered sandstone soils. A pale gold. Fruit is all sherbet lemons and grapefruit. A more rounded palate; feels softer with a silkier texture yet still has that rigid steely backbone. Some spice on the finish. A very different expression.
Vulkan (volcanic) – orange label with a religious scene. From Laubenheim on volcanic soils. What a nose – very different! Big power, smoky pineapple and white blossom. The palate is in a much more powerful masculine style. Might be a touch more residual sugar in this wine – was it riper or did the fermentation stop sooner? No matter, this is still very dry with a very clean mineral-laden finish. Very long – the epitome of beauty.
For my personal taste the St. Remigiusberg edges it for me by the smallest of margins, but I’d buy them all just to explore the differences as they develop. If you want to encounter the full meaning and implications of the word terroir then I can think of no finer place to go than Tesch. With fabulously pure wines of tremendous clarity (and, by the way, tremendous value at around $30), there’s simply no better expression of dry Riesling.
Martin Tesch uses Riesling as a remarkable lens on the landscape. He’s found that essence rare. So now Martin, you must come over to England and let me show you our Brussels sprouts…
Herr Dr. Martin Tesch
by Paul Howard
on Jan 6, 2009
Stéphane Derenoncourt is one of the world’s foremost winemaking consultants, with wineries clamouring for his services. Right Bank Bordeaux is where he started out and established his reputation. While much has been written about him, here is a short reprise.
Derenoncourt was born in 1963, in Dunkerque in Northern France, into modest circumstances – he is the son of a steelworker. Wine didn’t figure until at age 18 he hitchhiked down to Fronsac to work the 1982 grape harvest. During the eighties, he continued to work in vineyards and so became self-taught. Early on, music was more important to him, but wine became his passion when in 1990, one of his former employers gave him a job at prestigious Chateau Pavie Macquin. Recognition of his talents followed swiftly. He became a consultant in 1997, has owned his own estate since 1999 and he became a Bordeaux négociant in 2001 with Terra Burdigala.
Today, Derenoncourt consults for some 80 or so wineries worldwide, with his wife Christine and a team of four assistants. In addition to various Bordeaux Châteaux, particularly on the Right Bank, his projects include wineries in countries as diverse as Italy, Spain, Syria, the USA and Lebanon. Francis Ford Coppola hired him in June 2008 for Rubicon in California’s Napa Valley. Clearly a man in demand, how does he decide what to accept? He says that he chooses projects where he can develop a good rapport and become deeply involved, where his skills can reveal terroir.
His techniques differ according to the winery, the style of the wine sought and the vintage conditions. Derenoncourt insists that he makes wines that reflect both terroir and the vintage. He insists that he has no winemaking formula, that rather he observes, tastes and adapts accordingly. However, he emphasises viticulture. Natural winemaking using biodynamic and organic practices fascinate him and he is firmly against chemicals, which he feels have ruined many vineyards, especially in Bordeaux. His own estate is completely biodynamic, with vines also propagated by selection massale. BD and organic methods are used at other estates too, but these remain difficult to practice in the maritime climate of Bordeaux. Spraying is unavoidable in some years (notably 2008), but pruning and open canopy management help prevent rot, as do applications of seaweed preparations. He does not seek certification for BD or organics because he does not want to be pigeonholed by specific techniques. Low yields are also a prerequisite, meaning severe pruning and green summer harvests. He looks for old stressed vines that “suffer to give us complexity” and picks as late as possible for ripe but healthy grapes. He ascribes many wine quality problems to high yields and poor quality vines.
In the winery, Derenoncourt does not chaptalise (add artificial sugar), and uses minimal sulphur as a preservative. Neither is he a fan of the fashion for creating super-cuvées or second wines, he prefers to work with the produce of the entire vineyard and blend accordingly, though this is not always the case in practice.
Ageing wines on their lees interests him, because it introduces more fat and complexity in the final wine, so there is minimal racking of the wines from their lees and plenty of stirring (battonage) to avoid reduction. His attitude to brettanomyces, (or Brett), the spoilage bacteria, is that he tries to avoid it because it blots out terroir, but agrees that a little does add complexity. What about micro-oxygenation? Derenoncourt admits he was one of the first to experiment with this technique – designed to soften tannins and add body. Now he has largely abandoned it, suggesting that it is a tool to be used only sparingly as such wines may mature too quickly. Derenoncourt has a preference to use new oak barrels that have only the lightest toast, to avoid marking the wines with excessive vanilla oak flavours, even when the style is for 100% new oak. Finally, he neither fines nor filters the wines.
He claims he is not a great taster, (a comment I take with a large pinch of salt), instead he says that he is a good drinker. So the wines tend to be food friendly and he no longer seeks over-extraction, preferring balance instead. For his own enjoyment his own preferences are for the white wines of the Loire and the red wines of Burgundy and when referring to the latter he mentions Henri Jayer several times with reverence. This is clearly a man that listens closely to his inner-Burgundian. And now for the wines.
Right Bank Bordeaux 2004
Derenoncourt presented 11 of his Right Bank wines, all made in the increasingly admired 2004 vintage. With the exception of the wine made at his own estate (Domaine de l’A in the Côtes de Castillon), the wines were all from St. Émilion.
This is appellation is known for containing several distinctive terroirs. It was also subjected to an acrimonious 2006 re-classification dispute that inevitably wound up in the French law courts. All the wines here are dominated by Merlot, with Cabernet Franc used in the main support role rather than Cabernet Sauvignon. The ratio of these various grape varieties grown by each estate is quoted but do note that this may not be the same as that of the final blended wine.
2004 was chosen by Derenoncourt to illustrate that his consultancy has “no recipe” and to show how the terroir varies in St. Émilion, which is principally dictated by the presence (or absence) of Limestone, gravel and slope. Finally, it is remarkable how drinkable many of the wines are already, though most have at least a couple of years to go before they should be drunk. No prices are quoted – the price range is from the reasonable to the stratospheric – but prices are highly volatile at present and have fallen back sharply in recent months.
Château La Bienfaisance, St. Émilion Grand Cru. 13.5%
85% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc, 12-16 months in oak, 30% new. Derenoncourt involved since 2001. Poor and cold clay soils near the outskirts of St. Émilion, at St. Christophe-des-Bardes. Not much limestone here and a late ripening vineyard. Pale crimson. Marked by high acidity and red berry fruit. Softening, a bit pinched and spare, lacks fruit compared to the best here, with drying tannins. Anis and spice on the finish. Austere, needs a year or so yet. Good, but also see Sanctus below.
Château Cadet Bon, St. Émilion Grand Cru. 13.5%.
60% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. One of the houses caught up in the classification demotion scuffle, owned by Michéle et Guy Richard. This 2004 was first vintage from Derenoncourt. Very close to St. Emilion centre, on Limestone, with warmer soils. Deeper colour, violets and tobacco leaf on the nose and more complexity – a truffle aroma and perhaps just a hint of Brett. Palate is darker berry fruits and quite sauvage, minerality here. Good balance and a lightness of touch. Approachable now but ideally wait a bit longer, very good benchmark St. Émilion.
Domaine de l’A, Côtes de Castillon. 13.5%
60% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. The only non-St. Émilion shown. Derenoncourt’s own estate at Saint Colombe, bought in 1999, on the limestone that extends into the Côtes de Castillon from St. Émilion. The estate allows him freedom to experiment and practice biodynamics. Deeper colour, purple flecked, looks leggy and powerful. Highly aromatic, cloves and brown spices on the nose with berry fruit. Palate is silky dark fruits and savoury undertow, open, subtle and rewarding. Good structure and balance, hard to resist now. Gentle milk chocolate note on the finish. Truly excellent, outperforming many here. Excellent wine, highly recommended, one of the best in this line up.
Château La Gaffelière, St. Émilion Premier Grand Cru Classé. 14%
80% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. Derenoncourt made his first vintage here in 1993. High limestone content, Derenoncourt says the wine derives its purity from the hillier slopes and elegance from the flatter land. Garnet colour, nose is all raw meat – shockingly enjoyable. A full and powerful wine with a palate dominated by violets and prominent grainy tannins. Classy promise of loveliness in 3-4 years. Very good.
Château Tertre Daugay, St. Émilion Grand Cru. 14%
70% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon. Very different to La Gaffelière (both properties are owned by Comte de Malet Roquefort). Similar garnet hue, but nose has toasty aromas from oak along with meat-like extract. Reprised on the palate, charred notes, concentrated dark fruits and power with some alcoholic warmth. Fierce gawky tannins at the moment. More difficult to see the potential, but it is there – definitely another bigger bodied wine that needs 3-4 years longer. Very good, will suit lovers of modern style Bordeaux.
Château Clos Fourtet, St. Émilion Premier Grand Cru Classé. 13.5%
85% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. Owned by Philippe Cuvelier, with Derenoncourt involved since 2001. From the St. Émilion plateau, sandy lenses in the clay add warmth and so in turn bring roundness and a darker fruit quality. Black fruits certainly on the nose, along with leather and balsam. Is definitely rounder and there’s real depth of fruit, laced with spices before an attractive mocha finish. Very harmonious expression, there’s just a touch of Brett but at a low level that adds interest. Excellent.
Château Rol Valentin, St. Émilion Grand Cru. 13.5%
Owned by Eric Prissette, an ex professional footballer who bought this microchâteau in 1994. Derenoncourt joined in 1998 and organic methods employed here. Powerful animal aromas, palate is very accessible and full of fruit. Smoky oak. Elegance, medium weight with a mineral streak and spice ending. Cult stuff, very good.
Sanctus, Château La Bienfaisance, St. Émilion Grand Cru. 14%
70% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc. This is a super-cuvée from the Bienfaisance domaine, made since 1998. Originally made by Aurelio Montes before Derenoncourt took over in 2001. Derenoncourt says he’s changed the grape selection radically to bring more elegance and minerality. Very concentrated, deep colour, a big wine in the iron fist/velvet glove mode. Fat and extraction, raw meat nose and a touch of Brett again. Mocha and milk chocolate oak effects. Trés moderne. Can’t help but wonder if Château Bienfaisance could be of greater quality if the Sanctus grapes were included in that instead of being separated and the extraction turned down a notch. Not for me, a Parkeriste wine.
Château Canon La Gaffelière, St. Émilion Grand Cru Classé. 13.5%
55% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Franc and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. Feels like a higher proportion of Cabernet, stylistically different. Owned by Stephan von Neipperg, with Derenoncourt present since 1996. Said to be a very cold vineyard and perhaps that appears on the nose too – greener, leafier and rather floral. Palate is cooler and more austere with blackcurrant and plum fruit. Very harmonious, very elegant style and a fabulous finish with fruit, oak and spice complexity. This really opened up in the glass. Excellent classy classic.
Château Pavie Macquin, St. Émilion Premier Grand Cru Classé. 14%
70% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. Since 1990. Apparently always windy at this high elevation estate, this means there is a minimal rot problem and BD methods are employed. This wine is in a different league of excellence – harmonious floral (violets) nose overlays fleeting fruit and pencil-box. Stay with the nose before going further, worth spending time before moving on. Palate is very rich yet lifted. All structure and flavours seamlessly integrated, with weightless elegance and freshness. This estate’s reputation is completely understandable – very fine indeed.
La Mondotte, St. Émilion. 14%
80% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc. Not a super-cuvée selection, rather a separate estate of just 4.5 ha owned by Stephan von Neipperg. This is one of the original garagiste wines; the first vintage was made in 1996 by Derenoncourt. Little soil depth, cold clays over limestone and a late ripener. 80-year-old vines farmed biodynamically and absolutely no expense spared here on viticulture or vinification, with 100% new oak and tiny quantities made. A big contrast to Pavie Macquin and rather avante garde in comparison – and yet, it’s still a very elegant wine. Big powerful ruby colour, spices and black truffles on the nose. Derenoncourt says the truffle character will develop with bottle age. The palate has enormous depth of pure dark fruits and a silken texture. A sensual and rewarding experience. You could really enjoy this wine now, so it’s amazing to imagine how this will improve during the years ahead. Very fine and doubtless stratospheric in price.
Derenoncourt ably demonstrated that the differences between these wines are largely about terroir and that he uses no preset “winemaking recipe”. A couple of the wines seemed ultra-modern, seemingly not in accord with Derenoncourt’s stated philosophy, being marked by over-extraction and oak effects. Presumably these reflect the style sought at those Châteaux or perhaps it’s indicative of how Derenoncourt’s techniques are still evolving. But the best wines here show elegance, terroir and individuality – interestingly, there is something almost Burgundian about the style of the best wines shown here. Derenoncourt proves his point that he has no winemaking signature – but perhaps that Burgundian quality is his real hallmark after all.
by Paul Howard
on Nov 30, 2008
The Cape Jaffa winery was established back in 1993 at Mount Benson and produced their first vintage in 1995. Owned by the Hooper family, Derek and Anna Hooper can draw on their winemaking experience gained from a number of high-profile estates around the world. Mount Benson is about 300 km south of Adelaide, forming a distinct sub-region of the Limestone Coast that is blessed with terra rossa soils overlaying limestone bedrock (similar to those of nearby Coonawarra), a cooling maritime influence and plenty of fresh water for these droughty times. Always known for the high quality of their Cape Jaffa organic wine range, the entire 25 hectare vineyard is biodynamically managed. Furthermore it is now officially certified BD by the ACO since 9th April 2008, a process that took four years – some achievement! It is the handpicked grapes from these vines that make the small quantities of the La Lune range of biodynamic wines.
Cape Jaffa’s biodynamic La Lune range comprises a 2006 Shiraz, a 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon and a 2007 Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc. There are just 3,000 bottles of each –hand-made wines with a minimal use of sulphur as preservative, the reds bottled under cork and the white under screwcap.
Even the labels are unique – they are made of unbleached cotton twill weave – illustrating both sustainable credentials and pointing up the premium credentials of these wines. Cape Jaffa has also just announced a range of excellent environmental initiatives under their carbon neutral scheme which complement their established good practices such as recycling waste water.
The wine featured here is the 2006 La Lune Shiraz, a superlative Australian Shiraz and my personal favourite of the three. My bottle was number 2,859 and was shown blind to a group of wine lovers. We concluded that this is a very fine Australian Shiraz that has enormous potential. Here’s why.
The Shiraz grapes were given two-week skin maceration before fermentation in tank with natural yeasts then matured for 2 years in new French oak barriques. This produces a big Syrah in style – think Hermitage but with the volume set at 11. Deep ruby coloured, the nose has floral hints and a touch of white pepper which overlay pure dark fruits. On the palate these resolve as plum, blackberry and black cherry wrapped up in a little vanilla oak and with an earthy and savoury/meaty undertow. A long length and some black pepper spice complement a great depth of fruit. Meanwhile, commendable alcohol control ensures excellent balance and an absence of alcoholic heat.
Almost irresistible now despite being so young, with elegance and complexity as hallmarks, I would expect this wine to develop secondary characteristics of game and leather over the next 10 years – and that is the fate of sister bottle number 2,844!
Meanwhile, the garnet coloured 2006 La Lune Cabernet Sauvignon already has that eucalypt/tobacco nose and cassis fruit though it is dominated by structure at this stage – still austere with tight tannins and a moderate 13% alcohol. Bottle 1,276 really came to life with food (Lamb Shanks on a cold winter’s night) though ideally it wants a few more years cellaring, when left-bank Bordeaux fans will find much to enjoy.
The 2007 La Lune Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc is also an easy recommendation – barrel fermentation adds a thwack of smoky new oak to the nettles and citrus, enjoyable now, with a lovely full and smooth texture and fresh acidity, this just needs time for the oak to calm down so I’d suggest putting it away for a couple of years.
Price wise, both reds are AUS$37 cellar door, while the white is just AUS$12.50. At time of publication there were no details available on UK/USA distribution or pricing, but I hope that subsequent vintages will be made available.
by Paul Howard
on Oct 29, 2008
When I think of Argentina I think of Colomé. This is one Argentina’s very best wines – benchmark Malbec at a great price.
Bodega Colomé is in Salta province, up near the Bolivian border in North West Argentina. This is the high Andes, a desert plateau at an amazing altitude for growing vines. Argentinean producers are very proud of their alt.credentials and so “mine is higher than yours” is a very big deal – you will see that altitude is frequently quoted on the back labels of Argentine wine bottles as a proxy for quality.
Colomé is the highest commercial vineyard in the world right now, at 3,002 metres or 9,849 feet. To put that into a UK perspective, take Ben Nevis and stack it on the top of Mount Snowdon – and that only gets you to Colomé’s lowest vineyard at 2,300 metres!
But why is altitude so important? Well, there is less atmospheric pressure and so less oxygen and carbon dioxide. Just as this affects humans so it does vines, and in both cases the mechanisms are still being researched. People first: altitude sickness can start for some at only 2,000 metres and is common by 2,400 metres, regardless of fitness or age. Symptoms range from feeling hung over (known as Soroche), to sleeping difficulties, an unshakeable cough, hyperventilation and finally fatal oedema. Acclimatisation cannot be rushed and descent is the only effective treatment. Meanwhile, vines get less carbon dioxide, which slows photosynthesis and retards ripening. But most importantly, the amount of UV radiation from the intense sunlight produces of thicker grape skins that contain hundreds of different complex phenolic compounds. Intense colour, fresh acidity and silky-smooth tannins in red wines is the result.
Colomé is hardly a new kid on the block. The original winery (of 4 ha) was founded in 1831 and so they also lay claim to being the oldest Argentinean vineyard still in existence. Another 11 ha of Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon were planted in 1854, and these are still productive today – pre-phylloxera vines brought from Bordeaux, planted on their own rootstocks with low yields. Now add some more high quality credentials into the mix – snow melt irrigates the thin desert soils, there is a long growing season, clear skies mean hot days and cool nights and there’s no pollution, while little rain means an absence of fungal diseases, though ants are a pest.
The current Swiss owners (Hess group) understood this potential and bought the 39,000 ha property in 2001, which is when the big investment really started. As well as 70 ha of vines at Colomé and a further 40 ha planted elsewhere in Salta province, the Bodega also has 160 ha of cereals, fruit and animal farming – it’s a long way to town. Modern miracles like hydro electricity, the telephone and Biodynamics have been introduced, while self-sufficiency is completed by a new winery, hotel, art gallery and a Church.
As well as Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon, red Syrah, Bonarda and Tannat and white Torrontés are also planted. The Estate Malbec 2005 featured here is actually a blend of 85% Malbec with 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Tannat added for extra structure and complexity. Part of this blend is sourced from those old vines, the rest from more recent plantings. 50% is fermented in French oak, while 75% of it is aged for 15 months in French oak barrique (of which 30% are new barrels and the rest second-use).
In the glass, the wine has a dense, almost black core with a purplish-black rim and slow pinkish legs. The nose is a rich mixture of black fruits (black cherry, blackcurrant, blackberry and even blueberry) with an herbaceous and floral top note. The palate is rich and smooth and has finesse and fine wine complexity. Density and power are supported by a structure of velvet tannins and fresh acidity. The bold bright fruit flavours are bound into a seamless oak and savoury framework. This is a very long and satisfying wine, with dark chocolate, black pepper and coffee notes appearing as it opens up in the glass. Despite the big alcohol there is no heat, just a moreish concentration capable of dealing with powerfully flavoured food.
Those big flavours are a sure fire hit with Thanksgiving Dinner with all the trimmings. Alternatively, Beef (especially big juicy steaks) is such a classic Malbec match that it’s almost a cliché.
Estate Malbec makes for great drinking now while so young and vibrant. However, thanks to attending a seminar in 2007 on how Argentinean Malbec can age in bottle I’d say this is a wine capable of developing well over the next 10 years with a great future ahead of it.
Widely available in the USA, I’ve seen listings from as little as $17.99. So raise a glass with me – to altitude.