Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Bubble, Bubble, Toil & Trouble

Every year ‘The Shaker’ opens a couple of dozen Champers and after making good notes on the wine, he holds a party so as not to waste them. The invited guests are an eclectic lot, as SWMBO and I are invited. We look the serious types, as we make a note or two, but there are others who know what they are on about. There are some who just like a drink, and before you know it, the bottles are empty! I grade the Champagnes into star-quality, based on the briefest impressions, because if I don’t work quickly, the bottles can be drained. In fact, this year I turned up right on the dot, so as to not waste any time. Here are my impressions, from 3 star, working up to 5 star, not in the order tasted, but alphabetically:

3 Star
Boizel ‘Blanc de Noirs’ – full, dry, yellow fruits soft and fleshy
Cattier – light, clean simple and fresh
Drappier ‘Carte Blanche’ – up-front, open and easy to understand, some good weight
Gardet ‘Brut Tradition’ – lighter expression, correct and clean
Lanvin – crisp, dry and acidic, a bit new, without the development yet
Moet & Chandon Vintage 2002 – soft, gentle, honied, a bit matty
Piper Heidsieck – slight sulphide notes, easy, light and clean
Pommery – a little sulphidic on nose, but with fruitiness – Pinot Meunier showing
Pommery ‘Springtime’ Rosé – up-front, sweetish and light

4 Star
Bollinger ‘Special Cuvee’ – rich, complex, tight a new shipment
Gardet ‘Brut 1er Cru’ – intense, yeasty autolysis and some complexity
Gardet ‘Brut Selected Reserve’ – nutty, aldehydic, but with intensity and length
Moet & Chandon ‘Brut Imperial’ – delicate, balanced with it all, in a mild-mannered way, but satisfying
Mumm ‘Cordon Rouge’ – lively, clean fresh, simply sweetish and easy
Mumm Rosé – tight with lovely berryish nose, and fresh fruited palate
Louis Roederer ‘Brut Premier’ – tightly bound, crisp and firm, good concentration but not the usual richness, still fresh
Perrier-Jouet ‘Grand Brut’ – soft, floral, fluffy and delisciously accessible
Taittinger ‘Folies de la Marquetterie’- lovely acidity, finesse and length in a slender style
Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin ‘Yellow Label’ – medium weight, with fruit and autolysis, everything as it should be, just not starring, but more than satisfactory
Jean-Marc Vigreux-Freres – tight, clean good autolysis in a firm style

5 Star
Ayala ‘Brut Majeur’ – tight and concentrated, serious underneath, but fine
Boizel ‘Brut Reserve’ – rich and fruity, in great proportion with developing complexities
Bollinger Rosé – big boned, with fruit richness and complexing yeast, yet with style
Charles Heidsieck ‘Brut Reserve’ –toasty, rich, soft and mouthfilling
Dom Pergnon 2002 – stunning elegance, finesse, freshness, beautiful acidity and floral aromatics
Jacquesson Cuvee 733 – punchy and tight with funky complexities and interest
Pol Roger ‘Brut Reserve’ – very fresh, clean, delicacy personified, yet real character and depth
Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin ‘La Grande Dame’ 1998 – powerful and densely constructed with lovely acidity and great complexity

The list and ratings seem right in place for me, and my usual perspective. There are always some surprises, due to how I’m seeing things that day. But also each house can vary, according to how fresh or old the shipment is. Some of the smaller houses vary year to year, and surprisingly the bigger houses can too. C’est la vie! Thanks to ‘The Shaker’.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Dirty Thirties

After the big day serving drinks and selling bottles, we eventually retired to the A-Prentices to relax. It was all pretty mellow stuff, and SWMBO, the Patroller, the Argentine Angel, and Bexy didn’t seem too bothered to open any more bottles, but rather be content to sip on some that were already opened.

Ah, but what the heck, we gave in to our inquisitiveness and thought we ought to broached a couple of old bottles that didn’t seem to appeal originally. The discussion with Bex was that many of us seem the drink the newer wines, as viticulture and winemaking is improving all the time, and the oldies just don’t cut the mustard. The wine of the past weren’t made with the same understanding of basic hygiene and desire for ripeness. Many oldies just seem to grubby and dirty, with the dreaded ‘B’ word showing up a lot. So we didn’t hold up much hope for the following:

So first up a 1977 Wynns Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon. 34 years old.. Fading garnet with brick. On the nose quite herbaceous and stalky, but also blackcurranty. And a bit earthy and gamey in a secondary way, and not really dirty at all. Phew! The palate was the let-down. Light-bodied, rather thin, drying out and firm in residue. A more commercial wine from a pretty inauspicious year really. So it didn’t do too badly….

We held out even less hope for the Chilean 1974 Concha y Toro Cabernet Sauvignon. The Argentine Angel especially didn’t expect too much. After all, the Chileans gave the co-ordinates for the General Belgrano navy cruiser to the Brits, resulting in its sinking. Well, dark garnet with blood and tawny hues, this actually smelt sweet and ripe and that odd, resinous rauli wood they matured wine in then. Soft, integrated, but without too much backbone, as you’d expect, and clean. As it sat in the glass, I could sense decay creeping in. But, a surprise. Not bad for a 37 year old cheapie bought over three decades ago…

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Greys and Blacks

An annual gathering at the A-Prentices was the occasion, before the regional festival, and my, has the gathering grown. Bottles galore lined up, with a host of Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs and other varieties and styles. I arrived late, so just managed to work my way through a selection of Pinot Gris and Cabernet Sauvignons before retiring.

A well-awarded 2010 Mud House ‘Home Block’ Waipara Pinot Gris was all correct, and prim and proper, and a delicious starter. Off-dry, with weight and some unctuous textures. Then an explosively fruity 2011 Starborough Marlborough Pinot Gris, just simply an exotic mouthfilling wine that has interest and freshness. A step up in power with flavour restraint was the 2011 Starborough Awatere Pinot Gris, a single-vineyard expression. This bottling has drive and will no doubt develop with bottle age, judging by its constitution and purity.

Then onto the seriously blackcurranty stuff. An intriguingly labelled wine “1” was first broached. Not many clues as to what it was, except the capsule had “Stony Corner” and the back label 2005 red wine of New Zealand. A relabelled Newton-Forrest tier! And sure enough, that iron-core of black fruit with sweet and spicy notes. Quite delicious. A tougher proposition was the 2003 Kennedy Point Waiheke Island Cabernet Sauvignon. Dry, firm, dusty tannins. The classic question: will the fruit last as long as the tannins? My feeling was the extraction will remain dominant. Our friend Beckers had brought along two vintages of the iconic Margaret River Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2004 was indeed an example of its greatness. Ripe, superbly structured, and with a sweetness of varietal fruit with just that little more, a nuance of eucalypt to prove its provenance. The 2005 was more an expression of the variety than place. Firm, archetype blackcurrants, and great concentration with length too. A tad on the austere side, but that’s Cabernet Sauvignon.

Things with Shiraz brought up the end of the evening for me. The 1998 Glovers ‘Springrove’ Shiraz from Nelson was a big number in size and grip, unfortunately tainted by brettanomyces. However, an ancient 1986 Ata Rangi ‘Celebre’ was a revelation. Though herbaceous on the nose, this was sweet and lush to drink, and still with the structure to go somewhere. The finale was a 1.5 Litre 2008 Ata Rangi ‘Celebre’. Fresh, juicy, spicy, wonderful proportion and a joy to drink. Sometimes a magnum bottle is not quite big enough.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Testing Time

Every year, I have been running a wine options game for special clients, the ‘Beepers’ who are ‘Simply Gruesome’. It’s always organised with panache, and SWMBO and I just come in and conduct it, asking the questions, and we have a lot of laughs doing it. We’ve noticed the standard of tasting ability and wine recognition has steadily risen over time, and it’s definitely not the clues I give them, but I reckon its their abilities and accumulated knowledge. When Len Evans designed the wine options game, I’m sure he had ‘fun and learning’ in mind.

This year’s wines were a selection I enjoyed picking and serving. I get asked what’s my favourite, and I must honestly reply they all seem good to me for what they are! The first served was the 2010 Eradus Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. The good 2010s from Marlborough are drinking so well right now, this showing some beany development, but the richness, weight and harmony is something to behold, if you are limiting yourself to current vintage wine. It’s partly the vineyard, partly the winemaking and partly the year, but it all worked. The players did well with this in identifying it. Also well picked by the players was the 2009 Albert Mann Alsace Grand Cru Gewurztraminer ‘Steingrubler’. We had this in July and loved its hedonistic richness. But tonight it was a little closed up and herbal-muscatty. Still with depth and oily textures, this could be one that will age well. Then the wine that fooled and disturbed people. A 2002 Tyrrells ‘Vat 1’ Hunter Valley Semillon. I was told by an eminent Hunter wine judge that you must work at understanding this style. I’m still working at it, and the light must be coming through. Very refined and tight, with gorgeous intricacies of waxy herbal fruit and ethereal tasty oak-like complexities. Bright and fresh with plenty of acid, I can see this going another decade or two! An Aussie in the audience loved it, but she had had prior experience of such things, but it bamboozled the rest of the group.

The ‘Last Man Standing’ game is always fun. In a short time you can whittle 60 participants down to one winner with some well thought-out questions. It took just four questions to get a ‘best taster’ with the 2010 Heart of Gold Gisborne Gruner Veltliner. The wine has come on remarkably in a year, indicating that it can benefit with some bottle age. A year ago, it was on the lighter side, but now the full pepperiness and direct character came through well. Gisborne seems to be successful are a growing region too.

Then onto the reds, starting with a 2008 Penfolds ‘Bin 407’ Cabernet Sauvignon. A very good year for Penny’s as many ‘even number’ vintages tend to be. Ripe, sweet and rounded with density, but also strong blackcurranty flavours. Sure, a meal in itself, but satisfying and it brought a smile to most people’s faces, including ours. It was reasonably identified by most people. The 2009 Charles Wiffen Marlborough Pinot Noir was also easily recognised as a Kiwi Pinot Noir, but hard to pick where it came from. Most said Martinborough or Central Otago. A bit of praise I suppose for Marlborough which tends to get overlooked. Succulent and plummy, without being like a Merlot or Syrah, and very Pinot Noir. A crowd pleaser for sure. The final wine was again fairly difficult to pick. Unless you’re a keen wine aficionado, you wouldn’t fork out for a $100.00 2006 Prunotto Barolo. It was a bit of a star for me. Classical tar and faded roses, with vital acidity and firm tannins. The lovely savoury flavours juxtaposed with sweetness. Looking faded, but capable of a decade plus ahead. And Prunotto is a modern traditionalist, so imagine the real old-fashioned stuff! This pushed the limits a bit for most tasters, but they could see the difference. Old World structure, and food compatibility.

The whole event ran smoothly but took more time than expected. Though we were testing the ‘Simply Gruesome Beepers’, we were tested on the time too. We all passed!