Sunday, March 31, 2013

Unassuming Heroes

It has been a couple of years that the Engineer and the HOT Babe have lived in trying conditions, but time heals wounds and life is much more than bearable, though not quite normal.  Stoicism has merged with acceptance, and human nature returns.  They are unassuming heroes as are the rest of the people in their city.  We had the pleasure of sharing three bottles with these kind folk during our brief visit.

Of all the Champagne brands, Pol Roger finds favour with many.  An NV Pol Roger Champagne Brut was as elegant as ever and seemed even more enjoyable than ever.  In my early days, I couldn’t quite fathom what the fuss about it was.  It wasn’t the biggest or most complex, but I’ve learnt to let the wine do its own thing and come to you, rather than you search for its character.  And it does come out, subtle bread and yeast, yellow flowers and fruits, creamy textures and freshness.  It is now a favourite.

It can initially seem a bit awkward as you make the connection with Alwn Corban, but in a few minutes, his thoughtfulness, warmth and kindness is obvious and you can relax to discuss the things you have in common.  For him, it’s all about traditional values, steadfastness and delivering what you promise.  His 2010 Ngatarawa ‘Alwyn’ Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay does just that.  It’s a big wine in stature, and totally what we’ve enjoyed in the variety for decades.  Loads of citrus fruits, and a strong backbone of oaking, but with the acid nervosity and brightness of life to see it keep for a long time.  It isn’t one of the new Flash Harrys that are lean and taut and complexed by sulphide reduction, but a gentle heroic style.

Grace and sophistication, sleek and clever.  That’s how the 2008 Margrain ‘Home Block’ Martinborough Pinot Noir came across.  This was as smooth as silk and nuanced with florals, spices, red fruits, with a quiet richness that built and carried along its palate.  Margrain doesn’t instantly come to the top of the list when the roll call of Martinborough’s top Pinot Noir producers is made, but it always gets there and deservedly so.  Maybe it should deserve to be more recognised at the top level, but I don’t think the Margrains and winemaker Strat Canning are pushy types.  This bottle was a real pleasure. It brought a smile to our faces, and the Margrains and Strat would smile at us smiling.


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Friendly and Subtle

Our friends Gordy and Perfect Pia are a perfectly complementary couple, one friendly, up-front and bubbly, the other a little more reserved and subtle.  Together, any interaction and discussion has many angles, perspectives and layers.  When wines are served together with them, they can group themselves to show these two sides, and there’s more about the wines to enjoy.

On the starter front, there’s the Hidalgo ‘La Gitana’ Manzanilla ‘En Rama’.  Unadulterated sherry, that’s if Manzanilla can be unadulterated, as it’s the purest form of the flor-infused style already.  But straight from the cask, this has become a trendy drink.  Softer, more gentle, maybe a little richer in flavours, but with the acridity less pronounced.  Deliciously intriguing.  The other aperitif, was the old (and more preferable) Pelorus label of Cloudy Bay.  Plain white in colour and easy on the eye.  The new label has the misty mountain peak scene which is so passé.  But it’s what’s in the bottle that counts.  This NV Cloudy Bay ‘Pelorus’ classical Chardonnay, but with no austerity are harsh linearity.  Soft, refined, smooth as silk.  Maybe a little more autolytic yeastiness would have made it a star.

Aromatics next.  A new arrival, a 2011 Gruss Alsace Grand Cru Gewurztraminer ‘Vorbourg’.  Ultra-modern, with bold, but manicured exotic and opulent rose-petal and gingeriness.  Everything you might want, but toned-down to be acceptable to those who could be offended by excess.  Delicious nevertheless.  And something unexpected.  A 2002 Esk Valley Central Hawke’s Bay Riesling, at 10% alc.  I though this to be aged German, probably from the Rheingau or maybe a little warmer.  Those cream custard, honey and toast characters say it all.  Layers of intricate complexities work their way out in the glass.  SWMBO and I were amazed by it.  However, its provenance showed, and it faded over the night, becoming flatter and a little more clearly oxidised
You can’t beat Chardonnay for holding your attention when it comes to whites.  An unlikely couple, paired by variety and vintage only, and at opposite ends of the spectrum of style.  Firstly the New World up-front and unsubtle 2007 Moss Wood Margaret River Chardonnay.  Fat, weighty, and a tonne of oak barrels dissolved into it.  You can’t deny its richness and power.  Archetype Aussie with being out there, and somewhat loud in the most loveable way.  Paired to a delicate and demure 2007 J-P & Benoit Droin Chablis Grand Cru ‘Vaudesir’.  Totally soft and delicate.  The taste of flint and chalky white stonefruits.  Plenty of quiet weight.  You needed to search for it.  This was surprisingly soft and non-steely, as grand cru can be.  Gordy and I pondered if climate change was softening the acidity in modern Chablis?

Finally, two diverse reds.  I loved the 2010 Wynns ‘V & A Lane’ Coonawarra Cabernet/Shiraz.  Just the right blend of both varieties, gently melding with each other,  Dark fruits with restrained red fruits, and silky fine tannins to underline the sweet fruit to prevent it being obvious.  This just wanted to make friends, like a Labrador.  Then a mystery red.  Its dark black mahogany and garnet colour told us it was a wine with some years under its belt.  I reckoned at least a decade.  The linear, ripe and blackened fruits didn’t speak Pinot Noir, nor did it show spices and pepper of Rhone.  I guessed Bordeaux.  Old World for sure with the building and dryer textures.  Rhone it had to be, and a serious one in the Hermitage mould.  Everything became revealed in increments.  Thought was needed to unravel its personality.  Maybe a bit like Gordy!  On the track, but not quite there, we were relieved of our guessing agony.  A 1999 Guigal Cote-Rotie ‘Chateau d’Ampuis’.  I justified my inability to discover its identity by believing the wine was too subtle and slow in unfolding.  Whatever.  

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Preserved by Sugar

Just a few short weeks ago, I was disappointed by a mini-vertical of Montans Gisborne Chardonnay from 1980 to 1982.  Well, actually I wasn’t, as I wasn’t expecting them to be any good, and they weren’t!  These came from the ‘Long Lost Cellar’, and there are still a few bottles to go.  So onto a trio of sweeter wines from around the same age.  These were much more interesting, and alive.  Sugar is a preservative…  

At 26 years old, the 1987 Penfolds ‘Ne Plus Ultra’ Late Pick Rhine Riesling was a smart wine in its time, 25 years ago.  The label didn’t say so, but it was Marlborough fruit.  ‘Ne Plus Ultra’ meant ‘thus far and no further’ suggesting this was the ultimate.  For this Montana owned label, it may have been so.  It was decidedly luscious and hedonistic at the time.  Now dark toffee in colour and in character, this was still identifiably Riesling.  It was still sweet and lush and more than just drinkable. It was enjoyable!  Sure, it was well past its best, but hanging in there fine!  A remarkable wine in today’s context of how much further we really have gone.

Then onto the mysterious 1985 Montana Auslese.  I knew all about it a quarter of a century ago, but with an ad hoc label mentioning nothing other than 12% alc. I can’t confirm my recollections.  I believe it is Muller Thurgau.  Certainly late picked.  Botrytis affected?  Possibly.  Marlborough fruit too, I still reckon.  This was never released commercially, and I managed to beg a few bottles which I enjoyed early on in its life.  It was an experimental wine, a plaything for the winemakers.  Nowadays, burnish mahogany colour with toffee, caramel and barley sugar.  Very sweet, but now with a thread of drying texture.  SWMBO was pleasantly surprised.  So was I, but now on the way downhill. 

The last of the trio, a 1980 Delegats ‘Reserve Bin’ Auslese Muller-Thurgau.  Made by John Hancock, and from Gisborne fruit.  Only 9% alc., and an award winner and prestigious to collect.  This bottle severely ullaged, and with a wet and black cork, leaking for a long time – maybe around 30 years of its 33 year life!  On pouring, another mahogany monster in looks, but far more gentle and indeed lighter.  Beautifully honied and succulent in an elegant way.  Lovely textures and no drying out.  But with time in glass, some undesirable mouldy, murky nuances appeared.  A bit grubby in the end, becoming decrepit.  Oh well, it was good while it lasted.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Classic or Not?

With the Aromatics Ace in town, it was the occasion to sample some wines over a meal.  The Ace decided to serve his two offerings blind, in the format of a wine options, and we served our winess identity known.  As is often the case, the wines seem to mend up being a natural grouping, and the thoughts whizzed through our minds: are these classical wines or not?

The first wine to list was the 2012 Valli ‘Old Vine Central Otago Riesling, made from  32 y.o. vines from the Black Ridge Vineyard in Earnscleugh, Alexandra.  Atypical, said The Ace, with its sage flavours.  SWMBO and I liked it for its range of flavours including the said sage, with limes and stonefruits, but more importantly fruit extract.  That’s a classical result of vine age, it seems.  Then a rare 2011 Heart of Gold Gisborne Petit Manseng.  There’s not much of this grape in the world, and Steve Voysey’s ahead of the pack in New Zealand.  High acidity was prominent, along with a savoury sweet and sour yellow fruit flavour.  Whether or not it’s classical, we didn’t really know. 

Then onto The Aromatic Ace’s white.  Its less than pristine nature spoke of Europe. Correct.  I thought it Riesling, due to its high acidity, and slightly reductive hints of flint.  It was Pinot Blanc.  Following this path, I guessed Alsace, because of its weight and richness.  No, it was Germany.  A little softer and rounder, yet high in acidity, I missed out on it being 2010, thinking it to be a 2008.  It was a 2010 Van Volxem Weissburgunder from the Saar.  A star wine with so much character.  Clearly a classic for the future.

The Ace’s red was equally difficult.  Bright sweet soft red fruits led me to believe Australasia, but SWMBO was correct with Europe.  We all guessed Pinot Noir, rather than Tempranillo or Nebbiolo.  Do they make good Pinot Noir in Italy?  I didn’t think so, well not as good as this, believing it was French.  But I was the one who guessed Valle d’Aosta due to its proximity to Switzerland, rather than options further to the east.  This 2010 Les Cretes Valle d’Aosta Pinot Nero was fruit forward with dark aromas and flavours and no oaking to soften it or give it layers.  Up-front, a little different to what we know, but very accessible and drinkable.  Not classic unless you’re Italian!

Finally a 2009 Drouhin Beaune 1er ‘Clos des Mouches.  A big year for New World style Pinot Noirs in Burgundy.  Paler than the Les Cretes, and shyer in fruit.  But then superb proportion that peeled off layers of interest from red fruits, to fine structure, to sweetness, then to spicy oak.  A little too obvious in oak for me, but The Ace thought not, and SWMBO just smiled with enjoyment.  The Clos des Mouches style is a bigger, more forthright expression for Drouhin and bolder than their other wines from Beaune, but treating like a a flagship does that.  It’s lovely drinking a classic such as this. 

Saturday, March 2, 2013

A Stroke of Luck

Plans for a quick get-together with The Man None-Other and Souther-Girl escalated, so that The Jelly Bean Girl, The Orbiter and Even Stander all joined in for a session.  We all had plenty to discuss, and we all brought along some special wines.  It was a stroke of good fortune to taste and drink what we did.

To get things started a 2010 Vidal ‘Legacy’ Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay.  This has been a success in wine shows, and may vary on from the all-conquering 2010 Villa Maria ‘Keltern’ version from the sibling team.  Packed with those complex sulphides that exude flint and smoke, this was a solid, rich and weighty wine, with a ‘thickness’ of texture.  A delicious, if somewhat grunty start to the evening.  Next on the agenda was a 2002 Fevre Chablis Grand Cru ‘Valmur’.  Unfortunately, “corked” was the pronouncement by The Man Non-Other and The Orbiter.  A crying shame.

The serious part of the evening then began.  A series of Bordeaux reds, not that we knew it was going to happen that way.  Setting the scene was the 2002 Ch. Ducru Beaucaillou St Julien.  Not regarded as a great year, but clearly plenty of wine to drink here.  Identifiably claret with its dry texture and classical blackcurrant style.  Quite a chunky and soft-textured wine quite truly approachable now.  The acidity a little low, and the negative herbal and funky meaty brett nuances well integrated, making it no problem to drink.  If I had it in my cellar, I’d drink it over the next 5-6 years. 

We were then served a wine blind.  Dark colour with mahogany hues, clearly aged, but with real depth.  Robust and powerful with complex savoury black fruits and loads of secondary aromas and flavours.  A real mouthful with great body, extract, grip and length.  Loads in the tank to go, in the muscular style.  I guessed Old World, closest to the Seine River, rather than a river in Africa or the Americas.  SWMBO was correct in guessing 1995 and older, whereas I saw the sweetness in the savouries and firm tannins to make it a 1996-2000.  I thought Merlot also, but it was Cabernet Sauvignon based.  But correct again on Pauillac rather than St Estephe.  The final question showed the class of the wine: Lafite, Latour or Mouton?  This was no retiring wine of refinement.  It had power and firmness.  Though possessing layers of flavour, it wasn’t opulent in the Mouton mould for me.  So my opinion was Latour.  Wrong, it was Lafite- Rothschild.  Clearly the wine has an understated power in youth that can emerge with bottle age?  It was certainly a treat to have 1995 Ch. Lafite-Rothschild.

Then onto another named wine: 1983 Ch. Petrus Pomerol.  Not quite the 1982 tasted a few years ago.  Far more elegant than expected, with the classic tobacco Merlot aromas and flavours, a touch of dried herbs, and secondary earth and cedar.  No trace of the dreaded brettanomyces.  Still with fine and firm tannins, the acid quite integral, and a little drying going on now.  Not the sensation that the 1982 was for sure, and even a little disappointing for Petrus.  Considering the vintage, this was in good condition, and a pleasant drink. 

An equivalent Aussie rarity, but with better provenance and vintage followed.  A 1990 Penfolds Bin 90A Cabernet/Shiraz, the Cabernet from Coonawarra, the Shiraz from Barossa.  Essentially a step-up from Grange as Grange is a step-up from Bin 389.  Dark, youthful compact and concentrated, tight and elegant, slowly revealing all it had.  Layers of ripe blackness, with waves of succulent sweetness and just detail after detail.  Beautifully fresh with energetic tension and acidity.  There’s no mistaking this Australian classic for anything else but an Australian classic.  At nearly a quarter of a century of age, this was still a youth.  Another quarter-century, even a half-century lies ahead for this one.

How do you wind down from a wine of such pedigree and potential as the Penfolds?  You can’t out-do it, so go for something that won’t challenge it, but will please in every way.  A 2005 Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.  Not nearly the concentration, extract or richness, but the flavours still strikingly different, sitting between Australia and Europe.  Some currant and eucalypt, still fine in tannin to provide plenty of texture and line.  Again, plenty of life ahead, but with a softness and approachability.  You couldn’t help but enjoy the drink.

Then onto the finale, the 1983 Ch. d’Yquem Sauternes.  Deep golden colour and burnished.  Volume on the nose and palate with rich, ripe barley sugar, caramel and toffee with waxy honey and marmalade.  Restrained opulence, with power, and detailed decadence unfolding all the wine.  The acidity and sweetness in perfect poise.  Only the flavours showing that this is now approaching its plateau of maturity.  This was sitting perfectly at ease.  There’s greatness here for sure, but it didn’t shout it.  It just invited us to drink it as a wine.  After all, that’s what it was made for. 
I’m sure we all enjoyed the wines for what they were.  A stroke of luck indeed.