Friday, July 27, 2012

Grand Grains

We hadn’t met up with The Flippers for several years, so being invited to spend a couple of nights with them meant that a number of good wines would be consumed over that time.  We took a little selection to be shared, knowing that not all of the bottles would be opened, as our hosts would broach several of their bottles too.  Of the numerous bottles opened, two grand wines from their cellar stood out. 
A 2007 Francois Lamarche La Grande Rue Grand Cru was a treat.  A monopole site across the lane from Romanee-Conti could not be ignored.  Anything from around this site has all the credentials of greatness.  La Grande Rue will never challenge Romanee-Conti of course, and the 2007 vintage not necessarily auspicious.  One could expect the cool wet year characteristics to dominate.  Or would they?  How much does terroir account for in a wine, and against what the weather brings?  The wine was a surprisingly harmonious and complete one.  Possessing well-ripened fruit, without any hint of coolness, except in its elegant size.  Sweet fruited, balanced acids and moderate tannins, but with real substance allied to accessibility.  The bottle drank well and it did not last long at all.  A grand Grand Cru wine in the end.

The other noteworthy wine in a group of excellent drinks was a 1998 Hugel Alsace Tokay Pinot Gris ‘Selection Grains Nobles’.  Golden mahogany colour, the aromas and flavours of dark stonefruits, marmalade, caramel, wild honey and barley sugar, all intertwined and refreshed by superb acidity providing all the tension required to meet the sugar.  Botrytis, fruit and development all showing, with weight and unctuousness.  I can see the pickers selecting the grape ‘grains’ for this wine.  The life and liveliness suggested this will continue to show well for another decade at least and out to shame the poor showing of the recent 1997 Ch. d’Yquem we opened with The Chairman.        

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Cheers to The Chairman

The Chairman was only visiting a short while, but we always seem to pack plenty in to celebrate his presence.  It’s always an easy and fun time, and we like to ensure the last night is a good one with a nice dinner with some interesting wines.  We arranged to meet up with the Stormy Couple at the film star’s favourite haunt where the food is always bound to please.

The Chairman put up a wine and we partook before we headed off to dinner.  The NV Mumm ‘Mumm de Cramant’ was a perfect one to raise a toast to good cheer.  Is the atmospheric pressure creeping up in the later releases of this rare wine?  It seemed pretty energetic with its effervescence.  Nevertheless, beautifully fine, crisp and sheer elegance.  This bottle clearly spending some time under cork, as it had developed refined toastiness to the brioche autolysis.  Chardonnay in this form is the perfect aperitif.

One at the eatery and with dinner ordered, we were served a pair of burgundian wines, a white and a red, to accompany the Burgundy-themed food courses.  A 2009 Servin Chablis 1er ‘Vaillons’ showed clarity and purity with steely mouthfeel and inspiring soft drive.  The oyster shells were there in a form of abundance, but with sheer delicacy and detail.  The Chairman and SWMBO were enraptured.  However the 2007 Domaine Faiveley Mercurey was a true representation of the vintage and appellation, in a rather disappointing way.  It was a lighter, cooler, less favourable vintage and the wine was a little lean, green and mean.  Not really showing secondary characters, but not really bright like the 2008s can be.  And also, Mercurey, while providing soundness and value, ain’t the top of the class in the character stakes.  Enjoyable if you didn’t expect too much.

We thought we try a pair of New Zealand equivalents to the former pair to see if they could do better.  Price wise, there wasn’t too much in it, so the comparison was a valid one.  A 2010 Elephant Hill Chardonnay, classic Hawke’s Bay citrus fruit with upfront fruit and oak mix.  The acidity quite racy, and a bigger wine by far than the Chablis 1er Cru.  Next a 2009 Mount Edward Central Otago Pinot Noir.  Rich, lush and plush with dark plums and dark cherries, with a lovely integrationg richness and texture.  Drinking wonderfully now, and a hit with the Stormy Couple and SWMBO especially.

We headed back to our lodgings, and there waiting for liberation were two Sauternes, related by ownership at the time of their vintages.  The 2004 Ch. de Fargues Sauternes was another super-elegant and right down the line Sauternes.  Marmalade botrytis, honey and waxy, oaky Semillon and just the right amount of lift.  Not quite Ch. d’Yquem, but a junior version of it for sure.  After all, the owners are the Lur Saluces.  I love the 2004 Sauternes, though surrounding vintages are rated better.  And onto what should have been the piece de resistance, a 1997 Ch. d’Yquem Sauternes.  Much darker, burnished with caramel and toffee.  This has it all over other Sauternes in decadence, weight and presence, and this was so, over the Ch. de Fargues.  However, this particular bottle was a little oxidised, flat and drying out.  The Young One has tried such wines before and he still enjoyed it.  The J-Lady had never tried d’Yquem before and also was impressed.  We still drunk it up in respect for what it was.  And we toasted The Chairman for his good cheer.    

Sunday, July 15, 2012

A Meeting of Masters and Mentors

I’ll always be indebted to the advice and guidance given by The Chairman and The Master.  They’ve been kind and thoughtful and provided me with tools to further my career and work. Over the years, both SWMBO and I have become good friends with them, beyond the professional aspects, so it was a privilege to be able to offer both of them some hospitality at a serendipitous meeting when all of us were in the same space and time. 
It was a celebration of sorts, so there was no hesitation in cracking open the 2002 Pol Roger Champagne Rosé.  Soft in colour and soft in presentation, the gentle strawberry aromas and flavours are so beautiful in how they are interwoven with the yeast autolysis.  And the flow across the palate quite a sensation.  This has got to be my favourite Champagne at present.

We all headed down to our local Asian eatery, with The Young One and The J-Lady in tow for another slap-up feed.  An assortment of wines covered all the bases.  On the white front, a German Riesling is mandatory.  This time it was a 2009 S.A. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett.  Quite reductive and smoky-flinty on nose, but with considerable weight and richness on the palate.  More so than expected for what usually comes from the site, but then the year was favourable.  Possibly carried by the sugar a little, but SWMBO, The Master and The Chairman liked it.  The quiet achiever was the 2011 Ata Rangi Martinborough Pinot Gris.  Low-key and beautifully pristine white stonefruit aromas and flavours backed by a little more than a whisker of sweetness, and just so precise and detailed.  A lovely refined example.  And a favourite, a 2009 Kumeu River ‘Hunting Hill’ Chardonnay.  The Puligny-Montrachet style of what the Brajkovich family does.  Usually very complex-flinty, but this time more citrus and floral, with racy acidity which worked well with the food.  A star for SWMBO and The Master.

Two different reds, at the opposite end of the spectrum.  The 2008 Drouhin Beaune 1er ‘Clos des Mouches’ is from a lighter, cooler year.  Bright fruited with lively fresh cherry fruits, moderate extract and noticeable acidity, this was attractive, easy drinking.  And it went down a treat, being the quickest to get to the bottom.  I felt it wasn’t quite there, something that The Chairman agreed with, but you can’t argue with how well it drank as a wine.  The 2008 Penfolds ‘Bin 150’ Marananga Shiraz was rather overlooked.  Darker, riper with plum, liquorice and sweet oak.  A big rich wine, the tannin structure building and becoming more significant in the glass.  I always felt it was a ‘mini-RWT’. But it doesn’t have the silky opulence.  It’s certainly more robust now than on a release.  The Chairman felt there was a little bitterness, but I’ll be happy to have another meeting with this wine with my masters and mentors in the future…       

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Chairman Returns

It’s always a treat to have The Chairman rule the roost.  Under his guidance we get a good perspective and grounding in the way we look at the world, especially with wine.  It’s a good excuse to pen a few good bottles and see if we’re on the same page.

Being Bastille Day, it was appropriate to open something French, and The Chairman’s gift of a Duty Free purchased NV Moet & Chandon ‘Reserve Imperial’ Champagne was the perfect opening.  It sports a black label and is no doubt the same as the ‘Brut Imperial’.  We were all impressed with how Moet has performed lately.  Its fruitiness and gently full, sweet fruit showing the prominence of the Pinot varieties.  Sure, there’s not huge autolysis, but there’s enough to keep us all happy.  

We moved onto a 2009 Schoffit Alsace Gewurztraminer ‘Lieu-Dit Harth’ ‘Cuvee Caroline’.  This has always been a favourite label of mine, being rich and lush, always punching above its price point.  SWMBO and I were told this 2009 vintage was a little drier than previous vintages.  But not really.  What did stand out was its cleanliness and purity of honey-rose water aromas and flavours.  Very new-worldly, rather than ‘traditional’.  Smooth, lush and wonderfully balance, not a trace of reduction, phenolics or anything extraneous.  The Chairman hadn’t tasted many Schoffit wines has he was quite taken by it.  As an extra, this went surprisingly well with a ‘Cypriot Shepherd’s Pie’ topped with masses of sweet carrot and parsnip.

Then the big red – moving onto Italy, just to keep things interesting.  A 2007 Felsina ‘Berardenga’ ‘Rancia’ Chianti Classico Riserva.  A shame to open this one at such a youthful stage.  Dark coloured and tight and concentrated as could be.  But perfectly ripened Sangiovese fruit with black and dark red bitter cherry and berry fruits with the hint of sweetness filling in any gaps or roughness.  The perfect oaking, and extremely fine-grained tannins, which showed its class, a feature The Chairman pointed out is rare with this variety.  And indeed it was a touch of class, very much like The Chairman.  Like The Chairman, this should live a long time, and another two decades would do it justice.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

A Bit of a Lift

After a big day of tasting and thinking, white, light and lifted is the way to go.  Such was the situation, and with a meal at the local Asian Eatery, it was apt that SWMBO and I had two European white that fit the bill.

A 2008 Donnhoff Oberhauser Leistenberg Riesling Kabinett turned out to seem sweeter than the last time I tried it.  No matter, a wonderfully concentrated affair with great fruit extract to match the richness.  And also, now developing a hint of the subtle toasty complexities that lift the wine out of the ordinary.  Perfect acidity, and clearly more weight, and definitely not that Mosel clarity, and more tension than a Rheingau.  That’s what make the Nahe wines sit right in the middle.

The next was a 2006 Weinbach ‘Cuvee Theo’ Alsace Gewurztraminer.  I tried it a number of years ago, and while thoroughly competent and ticking all the boxes then, it was definitely a little ungainly and showing some phenolic texture.  But doesn’t Gewurztraminer do that anyway?  Drinking it now, it is still a robust one, but now with earthy secondary interest intermingling with honey and hair-oil.  I think I liked it.  Maybe this could have done with a little more floral lift? 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

No Guesses - It's Bubbles!

For a number of years, a good group of us would get together for brunch, with Champagne, and calm our nervous fears before we headed off to the Guessing Game.  A few glasses of bubbles does wonders at calming the spirit and creating a sense of camaraderie.  The rest of the day involves trying to guess the identity of wines that come our way, so the only rule at brunch is to bring Champagne, and serve it to everyone.  No guessing that it’s a tradition that is popular.  So it was reinstated this year, and it could become a regular fixture again in coming years.

In no particular order, the wines come out.  The first was a 2005 Pierre Gimonnet ‘Fleuron’ 1er Cru Champagne, impressively upfront and bold with plenty of fruit and fizz as well as the required bready autolysis.  Though not possessing all the layers and nuances, this was indeed a satisfying drop.  Looking at the label, maybe we should have had the NV Drappier Champagne ‘Brut Nature, a zero dosage wine, but its softness made it very approachable and mellow.  Often these styles can be pretty austere, but not this, yet deliciously encouraging the palate and satisfying it simultaneously.  A lovely fine-textured and balanced bubbly.

We then moved onto the rosé bubbles.  The NV Bollinger Champagne Rosé NV wasn’t as big and oxidative as expected, and indeed rather restrained and quite fresh.  Sure it was a ‘bigger’ wine, but not strikingly so, as is usually the case.  I have noticed that the Bollinger ‘Special Cuvee’ has been remarkably fresh lately, and since the rosé is based on it, the latter is correspondingly so.  And maybe the newness of the shipments coming into the country are another factor.  Distributor Negociants NZ are onto stocks not hanging around.  In any respect, a delicious bottle.  Much more subtle was a 2002 Pol Roger Champagne Rosé, delicate red florals and fruits, and like the Bollinger, growing in the glass to reveal more.  This was even more layered, and developed superb richness, while all the time retaining great class and style.  An even more beautiful bottle.

Two Champagnes at ends of the spectrum in seriousness, yet both very good in their way.  An NV Piper Heidsieck Champagne, now seemingly relegated to the FMCG market, but deserving much better.  Linear, steely and without the breadth, spread or detail, but with very fine, clean drive.  It may have been overshadowed by some of the more prestigious labels, but this is smart for what it is, and it delivers a thirst-quenching mouthful.  Finally a NV Jacquesson ‘Cuvee 733’ Champagne, something with all the body and yeast autolysis ‘bells and whistles’, but again not taken to a realm which requires an expert mind and geeky palate.  Well-judged and a lovely-jubbly bubbly.

With these under the belt (among a dozen of us, and with a hearty brunch), the afternoon was a breeze as you can probably guess.