Monday, January 16, 2017

Coming Up Roses

Sure, life can be tough and it is all too easy to focus on adversity.  But for all of us, some distraction by finer things can lend a positive spin on things.  By doing so, you can come up roses.  SWMBO and I were gifted a rather nice bottle of bubbles by The Chairman, with the proviso that we drink it together.  We did that, but in the company of The Bassinet Babes who had recently moved house.  So it was a house-warming drink on a lovely summer’s evening.
The NV Veuve Clicquot Champagne Rosé Brut was a delight.  Pouring into flutes a pale peach pink colour, the aromas were subtle and stylish, with delicate strawberry and floral notes, all intermixed with a thread of bready-yeasty autolysis.   The fruit fragrances were the feature, and this was repeated and emphasised on the palate.  The florals were certainly in the rose-like spectrum, but they were beautifully complexed by the detail of other red berry fruits, and a wonderfully subtle nuance of bread and yeast.  Texturally, the wine was soft, with just enough phenolics for structure, and the acidity more integrated than noticeable.  For more than a moment, life was all roses, as we enjoyed this delicious wine, and our cares faded into the background.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Chalk and Cheese

The most effective way of learning and understanding regionality in wines is to look for common characteristics that share.  My broad perceptions of German regionality are of zesty acidity in those from the Mosel, a balanced richness for the Rheingau, and an in-between nature for the wines of the Nahe, as geographically it is in between!  Soft aromatics and gentleness mark the wines of the Rheinhessen, and warmth, earthiness, body and depth for those of the Pfalz.  The latter region’s proximity to Alsace also gives clues to the expectation of style.  These style descriptions have served me well for decades.  But as we become more aware of detail, these perceptions and models can be altered.
One wine that did just that was the 2015 Okonomierat Rebholz Frankwweiler Biengarten Riesling Trocken, an Erste Lage wine.  The soils of the vineyard explain why it didn’t fit into my pigeon-hole for the Pfalz, from where it originates.  The Rebholz family are very much soil-focussed and this Biengarten vineyard is on ‘muschelkalk’, shellfish limestone chalk.  Once this is realised, then we could understand the tight citrus fruit character, the sleek body, the nervosity and near-searing acid cut.  SWMBO, Shaunie and I were thinking Mosel, maybe Nahe, but not Pfalz.  The wine is certainly chalk to the normal cheese.  The other factor in the wine’s expression is the youthfulness, this being a 2015.  It has ages to go.    

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Fire in Her Belly

Some people are quiet and sedate, but not Jubes.  She is spirited and can have a bit of fire in her belly, and always on the go.  She lives life to the full, and there are many years of living ahead of her.  She is loads of fun and being in her company is invigorating.
We don’t know how Jubes acquired the 1977 Croft Vintage Port, but in a way the wine is a reflection of her personality.  While Croft may be considered in the second tier of the quality hierarchy, the house has many fans, and for good reason: it is thoroughly representative, dependable and delivers everything expected of it.  It just misses out on the finer detail and idiosyncrasies that make the best wines stand out.  Of course 1977 is still regarded as a classic Vintage Port year, and while approaching maturity at 40 years of age, the wines have plenty of life ahead of them. 
After decanting, the wine still showed a light red heart with traces of tawny, and quite a pale edge.  On nose, red berry fruits, ripe raisiny notes and the cut of spirit showed that this was far from the fully developed, and not in the ethereal, faded roses state.  On palate still with a bit of fire and pepper, the flavours reflecting the nose.  No faded roses here, nor any trace of complexing rancio, nutty development, but pristine and with clarity.  Very refined extraction allowing the sweetness and alcohol to show a bit more than necessary.  In many ways a wine in transition, wanting to retain its youth, but heading towards adulthood.  Just like Jubes. 

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Accepting Our Place

All of us at some time have illusions (or is that delusions) of grandeur.  We think we are smarter than we really are, or perform better than we can.  Usually something gives us a knock and we fall back into place, and indeed it is a better and more comfortable place, realising where you actually fit in in the scheme of things.  It’s the same principle with our expectations of a wine.  Sometime we want it to be far superior to what it actually is.  But understanding where it lies in an objective hierarchy will result is more pleasure.
So it was with the 2001 Ch. Balac ‘Cuvee Prestige’ Haut-Medoc.  The wine was from the property that the Bunny gals worked at around a decade ago.  They had a great time, and made good wine, and came away from Bordeaux with a grand impression and a feel for the French way of life, as well a few bottles of earlier vintages.  So at the dinner party, out came a bottle, the 2001.  The cork was extracted with due decorum, and it was in very good condition.  On pouring we could all see it was still youthful, quite black-red in colour and dense, even after 15+ years.  But on nose, rather than sweet ripe blackcurrant and plummy fruit came the aromas of savoury green-berried fruit with herbs, stalk, a touch of leaf and loads of earth.  Bordering grubby, some of us thought.  The taste was the same, but the palate redeemed itself to some degree with its vigour, tannin grip and lively acidity.  This was in truth quite coarse, rough and rustic.

We persevered with drinking it, mainly in deference to the Bunny gals.  As it breathed more, the componentry came together.  The grubby notes melded, and the wine’s vitality and liveliness became a positive focus.  Then slowly, it dawned on us that the wine was ‘only’ a Cru Bourgeois’ when we may have been wanting ‘Cru Classe’.  In the scheme of things this was a pretty decent wine that needed some air time to get rid of the bottle-stink.  It sat comfortably in the Cru Bourgeois camp, and as the wine settled, we became more settled drinking it.  We remembered its place on the ladder of quality, and we accepted our place in drinking it as it should be considered.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Ravishing Central Otago Regional Rieslings

A few years ago, a wine fanatic Max Marriot burst on the Central Otago wine scene by releasing a set of bottlings of Rieslings that were sourced from grapes from different sub-regions.  It’s not unusual to see such intended approach in Germany, where, say a Mosel producer will have parcels of vines in different sites in different villages.  But Max was the first to do so on a decent scale in this country, where very few winemakers had done o with other suitable varieties, especially Pinot Noir.  SWMBO and I both love Riesling wines, especially from the Mosel, so to follow the Auburn wines from Max was very easy.  The Auburn Central Otago Rieslings are in the Kabinett/Spatlese style, the former if you take into account the fruit-sweet styles of now, or the latter if you think of wines from two plus decades ago.  The prominent feature in either case is that the resulting wines are deliciously ravishing.  Max has stopped making the wines now, as he has moved away.  We purchased the set of 2012 vintage wines, and we had the opportunity of tasting them together.
The 2012 Auburn ‘Northburn’ Central Otago Riesling is 11.0% alc. and 36 g/L RS.  When we first tasted this it was the more austere of the set.  Although next-door to Bendigo, the wines have never been as ‘hot’ in interest and style.  At that time, I like the wine, but it was surpassed by the others.  With a little bottle-age, it has developed beautifully, into perfect proportions.  Medium in sweetness, the acidity is poised, and the taste of development not advanced at all.  The 2012 Auburn ‘Lowburn’ Central Otago Riesling was a richer wine tasted earlier on.  It had more honey and fruit sweetness, and even some funkiness along with minerality.  A little lower in alcohol at 10.5% and with more RS at 45 g/L.  It still tasted that way in all respects, but the kero development was a little more than the Northburn.  Now it had a complexing sweet and sour edge, which detracted a touch, but not in any way to take away from the ravishing nature.
Then onto the warmer regions.  Does warmer growing not only result in richer fruit but also less acid poise?  Do the wines develop more quickly?  It usually is the case.  The 2012 Auburn ‘Bannockburn’ Central Otago Riesling was certainly more honied   And it was the case now, with the riper tropical and exotic fruit edge, along with more fulsome body.  And yes, some kero secondary development, on par with Lowburn wine, but without the sweet and sour.  Absolutely delicious.  The 11.0% alc. was paired with 34 g/L RS, less than the previous wines, but intriguingly sweet and richer overall.  The 2012 Auburn ‘Bendigo’ Central Otago Riesling came highly recommended.  (Some wine reviewer had rated it 20/20.)  And it certainly delivered layers of exotic fruit, honied richness, toasty and kero complexity and great depth, drive and line.  I suppose multi-dimensional may be a bit overboard, but multi-faceted is applicable.  The overarching character was its deliciousness and opulence, while retaining a line of freshness and cut.  It was the least in alcohol at 9.5%, and the highest in sweetness at 62 g/L RS.  Verging on the Auslese scale for us.  
Postscript: We had Shaunie call around for an impromptu visit.  He’s a bit of a hospitality veteran and also a wine lover, of course.  SWMBO felt it obligatory to open another one of the Max Marriot wines, the 2012 Auburn ‘Aura’ Central Otago Riesling.  Made in what Max would definitely put into the Auslese category, the fruit from Bannockburn, and fermented to 10.5% alc. and 72 g/L RS.  In reality not too far removed from the Bendigo bottling.  This was less rich, luscious and opulent, but with more kero purity, drive, intensity and depth.  Still sweet, but not seemingly so as the Bendigo wine.  Yet the concentration and sheer compactness far more defined than the Bannockburn bottling described above.  What amazing diversity in these wines.  SWMBO and I have more bottles of each of these, so we can see them again, further down the track.      

Monday, January 2, 2017

Drawn and Quartered

There comes a time when all wines need to be consumed.  It’s too easy to leave that special bottle in the cellar to get some more age, or bring it out for an even more auspicious occasion.  When we eventually get around to drawing such wines out to drink, they are often past their optimum.  Jubes had been holding onto such a wine, and so had we.  Hers was purchased apparently from my advice, and she wanted to drink it with me, but the time just didn’t come up.  Our bottle was one from a producer who I befriended, and I felt he and his wife were onto something special.  I didn’t want to open my last bottle.  The two wines were around a quarter of a century old – technically too old now.  Both were in the Bordeaux-style, one from 1990 in Martinborough, the other from 1993 from Waiheke Island. 
Martinborough is better known for Pinot Noir now but the 1990 Benfield and Delamare Martinborough could have proved the pundits wrong, but in reality the success rate of the Bordeaux varieties in achieving ripeness just couldn’t match Pinot Noir.  This is Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc.  My tastings of this wine have always impressed.  On this night, it was yet again sublime.  Still dark red coloured, with orange and brick on the edge, this was integrated and complete on the nose with blackcurrants, earth, herbs, cedar and a touch of smoke and toast.  Extremely elegant in palate proportion, the flavours secondary and tertiary, but still with primary notes to prove its varietal provenance.  The tannins had not fully resolved and were in perfect balance.  Fresh acidity told of its cooler origins, but no green or herbal let alone stalky notes.  Bill Benfield and Sue Delamare practiced micro-viticultural management ahead of time.  A wonderful wine.

Next was the 1993 Stonyridge Waiheke Island.  Stephen White burst on the scene with an attractive 1986, then stupendous, history-making 1987.  Things grew better and better and the 1993 was from arguably the best vintage on the island to date.  The wine was majestic in its youth.  Now, with the benefit of hindsight, we know that viticulture has moved a very long way since then.  So the wine, though still black-red, with a little bricky-edge, was distinctly green, stalky and herbaceous.  There’s blackcurranty fruit for sure, the Cabernet Sauvignon dominant, and the Merlot, Franc and Malbec playing a lesser role, but maybe the Petit Verdot out there.  On palate, huge extraction still, and loads of brisk acidity.  The power was still very evident and there was rawness.  This will go on for another decade, but it may never be in balance and attractive.  Nevertheless, it was easy to see it was a statement of its time.           

Sunday, January 1, 2017

First Love

On our path of wine discovery, there are seminal wines and brands that become ingrained in our minds and hearts.  The process occurs not only in the beginning of our wine journey, but throughout it.  Of course, along the way, we come across better examples of the genre, and we come to accept that the wine that set the standard can be surpassed, but for all of us, our first love will never be forgotten.  It’s not just the wine, but the place, the people, and circumstances in which the wine was discovered to make such a profound impact on us.  When we go to a special occasion, often our first choices are those of our heart.  So it was for a dinner with the Bunny Girls, The Prince and A-Prentice.  SWMBO and I contributed a couple of wines from our vinous heart.
The white was a 2009 Drouhin Beaune 1er ‘Clos des Mouches Blanc.  Drouhin was my first Burgundy love, and I learnt about elegance and finesse.  The Clos des Mouches was the Drouhin flagship, even though they had access to higher rated Chardonnay vineyard and fruit parcels.  Its rarity was a major attraction.  This 2009 was relatively forward, rounded and broad, oozing yellow stonefruits, nuts and a secondary oxidative layer, along with toasty oak.  The wine was a solid beastie, but accessible, lovely barrel-ferment creaminess meaning softness, but its maturity was a little disconcerting.  However, its forwardness meant full and broad flavour expression.  A wine to match the flavoursome turkey in flavour depth, alcohol cut and textures.
Then came the 2011 Produttori del Barbaresco ‘Asili’ Barbaresco Riserva.  This is from arguably the co-operative that makes the world’s highest quality wine from such an establishment.  We only met winemaker and manager Aldo Vacca properly about 10 years ago.  But the wines showed the individuality of Barbaresco terroir and site.  This wine is still a baby.  But it was classic Nebbiolo too.  Beautifully bold and aromatic with a combination and array of gorgeous perfumes and compacted dark-red fruits and herbs, and a hugely tannic and extracted palate, the structure amazingly powdery and fine-grained.  Again, a full unfolding range of flavours as the nose.  This is as good as it gets in a clear and straightforward way, made cleanly and without imperfection or funkiness.  Brilliant, and too much for turkey.