Friday, November 28, 2014

Revelling in Rioja

Most of us don’t get the opportunity of tasting and enjoying a wide range of wines all the time.  My diet and that of SWMBO is focussed on local fare, and that’s pretty good and exciting in itself.  What we’d like to try more often are the classics and the greats of the world, but the cost is prohibitive and the availability is lacking.  Whenever we’re grace by the presence of The Chairman, we make an effort to source something classical, but often with a difference.  We don’t mind spending a bit of dosh, as he’s a man who is worth it!  But if there are wines that happen to be more accessible, then all the better.

I do come across Rioja every now and then, and I wish I could do more.  The historical connection with Bordeaux is still evident in the elegantly proportioned, well-structured top-end Reservas and Gran Reservas, but the wines are unique in richness, warmth and sweet ‘n savoury fruit and oak.  And across the board, and up and down the tiers, they still offer great value.  Of course there are the super-premium ‘look-at-me’ wines that are exorbitant in price, but you can miss them out and not lose anything in the appreciation of the genre.  Tasting two rather good examples, I know I should be revelling in Rioja. 
Coming up first was the 2005 Marques de Murietta ‘Castillo Ygay’ Rioja Gran Reserva, a vigorous and robust wine with up-front flavours, still with plenty of black fruits, the sweetness appealing, and working with the oak.  The extraction is serious here, but in an open way.  This had grunt and power, and modern in its approach, while retaining all that Rioja stands for.  I felt that anyone from around the world would instantly recognise it for what it was.  It’s a Gran Reserva for its fruit richness that has enabled plenty of extract, as well as lavish oaking, and it has captured power.  Delicious stuff that will drink well over a decade. 
Then the 2004 CVNE ‘Imperial’ Rioja Gran Reserva.  Highly touted as a ‘Wine of the Year’ for an influential American wine magazine, and seemingly more evolved in character with earth and dried herb flavours.  Remarkably elegant too, being more slender than the Murietta.  But then, the tannin extraction kicks in and builds and builds, becoming more refined in time.  As one sipped on this, the concentration and detail grew.  This is your classic claret structure and style.  The Rioja with its red Tempranillo fruits and, sweet and savoury oak still there, but tightly bound within its grip.  Still with fruit balance, this will go the decade plus.
I must go out and buy some more…       

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Stemming from Stemware

We all know how subjective wine tasting, assessment and even enjoyment can be.  The myriad of influences on how we perceive a wine takes it far away from science and into the realms of art and philosophy.  Surely some of the simplest things are the situation you are in, the people around you, bottle variation and the glasses you drink from.  Any thought, let alone investigation into any of these factors will open a can of worms. 
This was borne out by two bottles of 2012 Yves Cuilleron Condrieu ‘Chaillets’ served only 5 days apart.  The bottles came from the same box, from the same shop, purchased because it’s a classic expression of Condrieu and Viognier that is great for sharing for the sheer love of it.  The first on a Sunday afternoon, sunny and bright, with The Real Mr Parker and friends.  We drank this out of tulip-shaped glassware, poured straight from the bottle.  This was sensational in its aromatic beauty, with exotics galore.  Lovely rounded, smooth and unctuous in texture, just oozing opulence.  We all just sat back and admired it, sipping a little more quickly than we should have. 
The next at a fine dinner in the evening in fine, plush surroundings, that you’d be as happy as a hippo there.  SWMBO, The Young One and The Youngette, The Chairman and The MoMent Girl all therecomfortable as could be, sinking into the comfy chairs, and everything delivered with aplomb.  This bottle decanted and served in bowl-shaped stemware normally used for Chardonnay and white burgundy.  This bottle startling in difference.  Shyer in aromatics, but definably Condrieu and Viognier.  The structure, phenolics and textures to the fore.  Quite grainy to drink, and when the poultry and seafood came out, it the wine came into its own.  The combination of food and wine smoothing out the grip and intensifying the aromatics to show stonefruit cut.  A different beast to the one 5  days earlier.  The difference I determined stemming primarily from the stemware.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

German Invasion

The Germans are coming.  That was the fear in Britain three-quarters of a century ago.  With regard to Riesling and Pinot Noir in New Zealand nowadays, it would be a welcome invasion.  New Zealand has become pretty adept at making very smart, clean, fruity Rieslings and Pinot Noir that look good in the modern world.  But where do we head from here?  How do you make wines that are a little different, offering more interest, complexities and textures?  Some of our makers are already doing it with Riesling, with indigenous yeasts, botrytis, lees work and even some oak.  But how do we make Pinot Noir that is still classic, but not too classic as in Burgundy?  It has been touted we can take the wines of Germany as models for our future.  The F-Man, who is one of these supporters of the German styles opened a couple of wines to show us why.

Firstly a 2012 Clemens Busch Pundericher Marienberg GG Mosel Riesling Trocken.  13% alc., and showing wild yeast and a touch of botrytis, with lees work.  Typical of the new wave dry Rieslings at the top level in Germany.  More yellow in colour, aroma and taste, rather than citrus and white florals.  Dry for sure, but with richness, lusciously ripe fruit and plenty of fruit weight.  Not overdone in the phenolics at all, and quite soft acid.  The spread of flavours revealed complexing layers of reduction, honey, caramel and flint.  Complexity plus plus.  SWMBO and the Mo-ment Girl were impressed.  I had thoughts that this is where Pegasus Bay is headed to.

At this year’s Pinot Noir Celebration, a guest speaker saw the connection between New Zealand and German Pinot Noir rather than with the Cote d’Or.  She was poo-pooed of course, as we all want to make grand cru, or at least 1er cru burgundy, don’t we?  The 2012 Wittman Westhofer Spatburgunder Trocken Rotwein was a fulsome 13.5% alc.  Good colour, and a bouquet that would sit in among the clay-soiled Pinot Noirs from Nelson or Marlborough.  Westhof has clay soils too, with some limestone.  So all good there for a valid comparison.  On the palate more even, soft, rounded and maybe more forward.  Our wines hold the palate fruitiness better?  Nevertheless quite easy and deliciously so.  This is no weak example as German Spatburgunder was in the past.  It’s good clones, vineyards, experience and maybe climate change which makes wines such as the Wittman particularly exciting.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

A Little Voice

I’m pretty much a traditionalist appreciating the classics in wine from the noble varieties.  After all, these are tried and true.  Maybe it’s my age too, but, trying new and emerging varieties doesn’t grab me as much as it should.  However, there’s a little voice in the back of my head that keeps on nagging me to keep an open mind, and look positively for new vinous experiences. 

The Fiano grape from southern Italy is another ‘next best thing’, and there’s an example grown here, but more extensively in Australia.  There’s a little buzz about the wine too, as bottles from its homeland make their way here.  The F-Man brought some in, and I took the wine out of town to Hawke’s Bay where New Zealand’s first commercial release was made, to share with The Cowler

The 2009 Guigo Marsella Fiano d’Avellino from Campania had plenty going for it.  A bit of aged had softened it, intensifying the round texture and enhancing the so-called waxiness.  I saw it more as an unctuousness.  Nice fruit profile with its sweeter white stonefruits and a bit of alcohol power and body, but enough cleanliness and freshness to make it refreshing.  SWMBO found it got a bit nutty, possibly oxidising quickly.  The Cowler was bemused and thoughtful.  I liked it more, though the wine seemed to lose its fruitiness.  The lovely texture remained.  It was that little voice telling me to be positive.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Triple 2002 Burgundy Tryst

The Real Mr Parker had organised a serious sparkling tasting.  And indeed it was very special.  Too many big names vying for top honours, such as Krug, Salon, Winston, Cristal and Dom Oenotheque among others.  After the tasting was done and dusted, we settled down to a feast, and drinking of wines to accompany the red meats.  We all brought along our own wines to share with the fellow imbibers and to give Mr Parker something back.  After a special and reverential Champers tasting, anything else served seems to be something done in secret and hushed tones.  Incredibly a trio of 2002 red burgundies, a great year of course, appeared on the dinner table, making a fascinating comparison.

The 2002 J. J. Confuron Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru was exactly what I thought it should be.  Lighter, fragrant and red floral and red fruited, with a very pleasing sweetness.  A little elevated in acidity, a hallmark of the Chambolle active limestone, no doubt, and just enough extract and structure, without which it’d be seen as feeble.  A comment that it was a bit green surfaced, but I could see it that way. 
Then a polar opposite, the 2002 Dom. De Courcel Pommard 1er ‘Rugiens’, all strcture and density, and a touch of robust rusticity, but a class above that.  Darker red fruits, savoury and earthy, quite blocky tannins.  Archetype Pommard, or is this indeed just too extractive?  I wanted to give it the benefit of the doubt, but I just didn’t enjoy this.  Maybe another decade in the bottle would help?

Finally, a 2002 Dugat-Puy Gevrey-Chambertin ‘Coeur de Roy’ ‘Tres Vieilles Vignes’, still dark and youthful in colour and in fruit expression.  Sweet black fruits as the northern appellations give, and the classical ‘bolld and fur’ visceral layering.  Beautifully textured and balanced.  How does Dugat-Puy get such traditional characters in such an accessible and approachable wine?  It often is timing, and the wines from the house can be a bit rugged, or too complex in gaminess, but not this!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Retaining Freshness or Developing Complexity

It’s a matter of preference whether you prefer wines which retain their freshness of develop complexity.  The situation can affect your preference too, along with the food served and the company kept.  One tries to keep an open mind, and appreciate both sides of the coin, and it is indeed a fine balance whether a wine hasn’t developed enough interest or gone too far in time.  With older bottles, variation comes into play.

So when the Ravellers and the Roaders got together for a meal, out came a couple of older New Zealand Pinot Noirs, served blind in the usual testing way.  The 1999 Ata Rangi Martinborough Pinot Noir was clearly aged, but deep, dark, fulsome and still brooding, with plenty of game and savoury aromas and flavours.  This still has sweetness, and the ripeness was apparent.  And the structure featured, though the breadth was now exceeding the depth.  A touch of cherry cola aspect showed its secondary stage.  Complex for sure, but had this bottle gone too far?  I’ve really enjoyed this wine for how it has retained its ‘pinosity’.   

This was followed by the 1998 Mt Difficulty Central Otago Pinot Noir.  Black coloured still, indicating its youth.  Lovely black  fruits, without any over-ripeness, nor any undue age.  Traces of primary sweet berryness, and plenty of mineral notes.  The tannins fine-grained, sitting a little back, and still with freshness from the acidity.  Lovely poise and with some way to go.  Tonight it was freshness that won the evening.