Monday, June 18, 2018

Chateau Palmer – First of The Super Seconds

Chateau Palmer has always had an air of the extraordinary about it.  Officially classified a Third Growth, below Chateau Margaux and a bevy of Second Growths, it has always performed above its station.  Most commentators and critics would place in next to Margaux, and occasionally Palmer would challenge it.  In the 1950s and 1960s it was a ‘Super Second’ before the term became what it is today, referring to the Second Growth such as the Leovilles and Pichons, and of course Ducru came to being on par in quality with the First Growth.  Of course the First Growths would protect their position, and only let Mouton join their ranks.

Chateau Palmer is your quintessential Margaux claret, with a personality of femininity, fragrance and beauty.  But the Palmer name, being English seemed to lend the wine a little more sturdiness to befit the owner and name.  So it was and remains a unique Margaux commune wine.  My familiarity with the wine came with the famous 1959 and 1961, deemed great wines for their vintage.  The 1966 was another fantastic wine.  1967 and then 1970 had their supporters.  However it was 1978 that truly made its mark.  A miracle vintage, cool through the season, saved by the Indian summer.  The wine a much better result than the 1979 which appeared to have a warm and benevolent growing season.
I haven’t had the 1978 Ch. Palmer Margaux for over a decade at least.  My last recollection was of a beautifully sweet-fruited wine with the structure just beginning to resolve.  It was beginning to mature, and after 25+ years, so it should.  So it was a total surprise when The Roaders brought this out, as they are usually Burgundy fanatics.  Black-red, near impenetrable and still with years ahead, judging by the appearance.  Strangely taut and unforgiving on the nose and the palate.  Almost concentrated hard wood and compacted earth with little fruit or aromatics.  Was this corked?  

But over the course of the next hour, this opened up to reveal concentrated blackberry and blackcurrants, a hint of cassis and violets eventually.  Some secondary wood-earth complexity on the edge.  Not sweet, but refined and firm.  This has the structure for another 40 years ahead.  A glorious claret for the intellect rather than the soul, for sure.  A great bottle, still in fabulous condition from a great and nearly mis-understood year, showing that Palmer is one of the greats of the wine world.   

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Nearly There

At any dinner party with The Roaders, one can expect some pretty exciting wines.  They’ve never skimped and no expense is spared.  They have a wonderful cellar that I understand is hard to keep track of, and as with all of us mere mortals, we pluck something out and hope for the best.  I don’t think it was quite like that then The Roader brought out their burgundy, a field which they specialise in.  Usually we can expect fireworks, but even they can be a little surprised.
The wine for drinking was the 2006 Jean Grivot Echezeaux Grand Cru.  Domaine Jeam Grivot, under the management of Etienne is one of the region’s most highly respect producers, making great wine.  The domain has 15 ha over 22 appellations with the Clos de Vougeot, Echezeaux and Richebourg as the super-stars.  Echezeaux is no slouch, though often seen as a ‘second level’ grand cru due to its large 34.8 ha size with considerably variably depending on the position of the wines.  Then the 2006 vintage, a warm finish, giving reds that are maturing earlier than vintages around it.

To be honest, not all the stars are aligned here, and the wine tasted that way.  Still deliciously classy Burgundy, but just missing out on that extra spark.  Now garnet red after over a decade in the bottle, this had smooth and refined presence of red berry fruit and red florals, integrated herbs and earthy complexities, but where’s the spark?  The fruit a little high-toned – an indication of the warmer vintage said The Roader.  And the tannins just beginning to resolve, lending a slippery flow.  This is in name grand cru burgundy from a great name, but tonight, not quite doing the job of delivering pleasure that brings a smile to your mouth.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Clone Wars

This is not the first time this title has been used in the context of wine.  All wine enthusiasts are aware that the clone of a variety is important in how it takes to rootstock, and if it prefers certain soils over others.  They can grow very differently and yield in ways that vary widely from each other.  This is why different clones have been developed in the search for vinous perfection!  However in today’s environment of provenance being one of the most important factors to be aware of in the style of a wine, most consumers will put clones down to the next level of interest.  Not so viticulturists and winegrowers.

Few winegrowers will say that there is one ideal clone, and certainly Kai Schubert and Marion Deimling took the approach of planting 8 different clones of Pinot Noir to make an elegant and sophisticated wine with built-in complexities, partially resulting from the mix of clones.  The planted their ‘Marion’s Vineyard’ near Gladstone over 1999 and 2000, and have had nearly 15 years of experience with the vines, the fruit and the wines.  Their ‘Estate’ Pinot Noir utilises all of the clones planted – as long as all are successful in the growing season.  That’s another aspect to having different clones – insurance for the elements. 

But from the start, Kai and Marion decided to bottle limited amounts of wine based on clonal differences.  The confusingly labelled ‘Marion’s Vineyard’ Pinot Noir is actually a selection of fruit from clone 5 (the Pommard clone), Abel (the gumboot clone) and the 10/5 (one of N.Z.’s originals).  To match this is the ‘Block B’ Pinot Noir is a selection of Dijon clones, 115, 667, 777, 114 and 113, the newer arrivals.  This is from ‘Block B’ in ‘Marion’s Vineyard’.
Kai and Marion, and wine lovers have found consistent differences between the wines, and these are exemplified by the 2016 Schubert ‘Marion’s Vineyard’ Wairarapa Pinot Noir and the 2016 Schubert ‘Block B’ Wairarapa Pinot Noir.  The former is light ruby-red in colour and is redolent of red berry fruits, florals and dark and dried herbs.  The palate has a gorgeous approachability to it.  You could say it was ‘feminine’.  The latter is dark-red and black hued in colour.  It has black fruits, dark herbs, minerals and game.  It is deep and fulsome, with plenty of firm tannin grip.  You could call it ‘masculine’.  The wines are vinified much the same, though the ‘Block B’ deserves and gets a touch more new oak.  Otherwise it’s all down to clonal selection.  Which is your preference?  Most punters love the size and power of the ‘Block B’, hence its dearer price.  Some, such as SWMBO and I love the beauty of the ‘Marions’s Vineyard’.  It’s a tie for us two.  Both are delicious, high quality wines.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Heart of Steel

Some of the world’s greatest wines achieve a balance and juxtaposition of components and characters that seem other-worldly.  I suspect that’s why they are special wines.  They don’t have to be large in dimension or layered with complexity, but their sheer poise and incredible finesse that makes them what they are.  It usually stems from the vineyard in a particularly favoured site and aspect, with the ideal soils and appropriate variety, interpreted by a grower and winemaker in tune with the vintage.  These are a few factors there that are difficult to achieve, already!  Then, there some luck.
SWMBO and I were in luck.  We were invited to dinner with the Bassinett Babes, and they produced a 2004 Egon Muller Scharzhofberger Riesling Spatlese.  This is truly one of those great wines which have all the stars aligned.  The Saar region of the Mosel just doesn’t quite achieve the ripeness that the Middle Mosel does, being tucked down a protected valley.  The wines are generally much more steely and acidic.  But then the Scharzhofberger site is perfectly positioned, its aspect capturing more sunshine and heat than any of the neighbouring vineyards.  It has been proven over time that Riesling performs best in the fine, weathered slate soil.  The 2004 vintage at the time highly rated, but now joined by many more sine – climate change?  And then there’s the work of the undisputed master, Egon Muller.  The Egon Muller Scharzhofbergers have no equal.

This bottle we sipped on was a stunner.  Fully mature now, but with no need to drink it up in a hurry.  Brilliant light golden, and decidedly elegant in proportion.  This was made from healthy fruit which grew richer and richer in degrees, and that’s how this wine unfolded.  Beautifully rich with floral, honey, lime, a touch of toast and cream custard, but still fresh and zesty with its immutable heart of steel.  We had a number of great wines that night, but this was one of the superstars.     

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Dom Perignon Still A Legend

There’s a provocative book ‘Bursting Bubbles’ by Robert Walters who espouses the quality and terroir-expressive character of the best grower-Champagne producers.  And I agree with his sentiments.  He’s not anti-conventional/conservative Champagne per se, but does point out a number of factors which compromise the best expression of the fruit and land which are accepted practice by the vast majority of Champagne producers.  This is not to say that he doesn’t think excellent wine can be made these ways.

The legendary Dom Perignon gets a bit of stick, as he is regarded by the world as the ‘inventor’ of Champagne, and is thus highly revered by most wine people.  Walters brings it all down to earth in describing how Champagne evolved from making wine in extreme conditions and the merchants promoting bubbles as a quality factor, which was not normally seen as the case.  But for the world, Dom Perignon is the maestro, and of course Moet & Chandon name their top deluxe cuvee range after him.  In the context of conventional Champagne, the Cuvee Dom Perignon is a remarkable wine.  There’s loads of it made, and it has enviable consistency.
The Roaders and The Bassinett Babes were celebrating, and SWMBO and I were invited to attend.  The other night, they had opened a well-known grower Champagne, so there was no expense spared in opening a 2004 Dom Perignon Champagne Brut.  The Roaders were quick to point out the difference between the grower Champagne, and is conventional wine, made from fruit picked earlier, and from across many sites and villages.  In essence much lighter and less ‘expressive’.  But like the author of the book, taking the wine in context, it was one of great beauty and finesse.  Sheer elegance, with a very taut and fine core of white and yellow stonefruits, beautifully integrated with bready-yeasty autolysis,  Still a baby with no aldehydic complexity or hideousness, this was refreshing yet satisfying.  A deliciously elegant and refreshing drink with subtle but great character.  Dom Perignon did not create Champagne, but the wine named after him is legendary.

Friday, June 1, 2018


Clemens Busch has grown to become one of our favourite Mosel Riesling producers.  Previously, we’ve been enamoured with the like of Loosen and Schaefer, and their fruit sweet wines with low alcohols and higher residual sugar.  But the Good Doctor has been introducing us to the delights of the dry Rieslings – with a little more alcohol, and certainly less sugar, but with just as much minerality and possibly even better site and site expression.  That Clemens Busch ventured into the world of Grosses Gewachs is no surprise, but it is pleasing they still retain some of the fruit sweet pradikat wines – among SWMBO and my favourites being the GoldKap Pundericher Marienburg Spatlese.  And it is so pleasing to see the likes of Ernst Loosen enter the dry Riesling field with its Grosse Gewachs wines. 
With Clemens Busch, we are slowly coming to grips with the ‘Falkenlay’ and ‘Felsterrasse’ grey slate soiled wines, as well as the ‘Fahrlay’ and ‘Fahrlay-Terrassen blue slates soiled wines from the Pundericher Marieburg vineyard.  But what has taken our fancy are the red slate ‘Rothenpfad’ wines.  These Grosse Gewaches dry Rieslings show their distinct soil types, and there’s something about spiciness and richness with a warmth about ‘Rothenpfad’.  Tasting the 2013 Clemens Busch Pundericher Marienburg GG ‘Rothenpfasd’ Riesling demonstrated why.  It had the melange of extoticness, but at the same time it retained the crystalline clarity of Riesling, with freshness, acidity, cut and balance.  You couldn’t think any other variety, but the exoticism of the wine a standout and extremely individual.  The wine has a great heart and core, and it’s a great drink.  Our botlle didn’t last long.