Helen’s blog

Thoughts and tastings from Helen Savage, wine writer.

Archive for May, 2010

Rhubarb … and Cahors?

Friday, May 28th, 2010

I am always fascinated by new partnerships of food and wine. I was intrigued, therefore, to read of the banquet given by the Danish royal family in honour of Russian president Dmitri Medvedev and his wife Tatiana who visited Copenhagen on April 27 and 28. According to a report published in the French weekly, ‘Point de Vue’, they tucked into smoked fish and then a nice bit of brisket, along with onions and new season carrots. Lovely! But then came the pud. It was enough to make me jealous: ‘ a succulent rhubarb pastry’.

28 April happens to be my birthday, and I crave rhubarb as the only essential ingredient of a birthday feast. So I was jealous. But they served it with … Cahors. Possibly more than one Cahors. What on earth did they make of it? It seems as unlikely a combination as oyster with Tizer. Though, on second thoughts, that probably isn’t a stark enough analogy. Never mind, the Cahors growers are chuffed. But I think I’ll keep my rhubarb and my Cahors well apart. I love them too much.

Bordeaux 2009 compared with 2008 with a glance at 2007 and 2006

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

There are high hopes for 2009. It was a magnificent summer; the grapes were healthy and ripe. It is not baked like 2003 and it certainly rivals 2005 as the most impressive harvest of the decade. But it is not uniformly great.  Some winemakers admit that although the quality of fruit was high, it had to be treated with care. The winemaking process was not altogether plain sailing. And even at this early stage, when the wines have only just begun to settle down in cask, it is clear that not every wine is wonderful.

A tasting of some leading Grand Crus Classés and associated wines at Somerset House, London on 28 April gave me an opportunity to dip a toe into this fascinating vintage and also to compare it with wines from the previous three years.  My initial reaction is that the best 2009s are astonishingly concentrated, with rich, quite silky fruit, though at this early stage, some lack finesse and complexity. 2008, a lighter, much fresher vintage, is also the most perfumed I have ever encountered. The best wines are delightful.

Here, then, are my tasting notes. I did not taste all the 07s and 06s on show: I wanted to try to do justice to the younger wines.

Château Smith Haut Lafitte, Pessac-Léognan

2009     Very deep, very concentrated spicy black fruit with sexy ripe tannins, real elegance and a delicious balance between fruit and acidity.

One of the best wines in the tasting. Florence Cathiard told me that they had never encountered such a deep velvety, almost Burgundian texture in their Cabernet Sauvignon.

2007     Quite deep, with a fine, spicy (cinnamon) aroma, supported by juicy acidity and a soft, ripe finish.

2003 (with lunch): Quite deep, but browning. Scented but overripe; soft, rich and short.

Les Hauts de Smith 2006 (Rouge), made from 15 to 20-year old vines.       Plenty of ripe, spicy brambly fruit, soft and quite big for a second wine, with a distinct minerality.

2009 (Blanc)      A big, creamy, lemony aroma, then plenty of ripe lemon curd-like fruit and great length.

2007 (Blanc)      Lemony again, with a good concentration of fruit, a lot more toasty oak and a creamy finish.

Château Rauzan-Ségla, Margaux

2009     Very deep, with rich, spicy fruit, but just a hint of elderberry stalkiness. Rich and soft, with a very silky texture and quite long.

2008     Quite deep and very scented, spicy and elegant with juicy fruit, but the oak masks the fruit a little at the moment.

Château Branaire-Ducru, Saint-Julien

2009     Not as deep as some, and with a distinct whiff of elderberries. Quite a tight, chewy texture, with dry, elderberry tannins.

2008     Quite deep, beautifully scented,  with a good integration of fruit and spicy oak. Soft, quite ripe, light easy and surprisingly forward for a wine with 68% Cabernet Sauvignon – and also distinct minerality.

2001     With lunch: Still quite deep and nicely perfumed – scented and cedary. Quite light, elegant and fully mature.

Château Léoville Poyferré, Saint Julien

2009     Immensely deep and purply, with a huge, concentrated aroma of coffee, chocolate and black fruits; then a big, soft mouthful of fruit, balanced by fresh acidity.  But after this explosion of ripe black fruit it finishes a wee bit short.

2008     Quite deep.  Exotically scented, with deliciously juicy fruit – easy to enjoy young and already delicious.

2007     Deep and young.  Quite spicily scented, but closed in comparison to 08 and far less exuberant. Big, concentrated and chewy, but a little short.

Château Moulin Riche, Saint Julien (Cru Bourgeois)

2009     Deep, with ripe, typically open, attractive St Julien-style fruit. Medium concentration, fruit to the fore and surprisingly soft.

2008     Quite deep and almost florally scented; juicy, fairly light and rather delicious.

2007     Again quite deep, with lots of ripe red fruits though not a great deal of complexity. Spicy, a little lean-texture and a bit short.

Château Pontet Canet (Pauillac)

2009     Incredibly deep and purply. A bouquet of extraordinary concentration, with masses of fruit and a palate dominated by luxuriously silky, ripe tannins. Outstanding in every way.

2008     Also deep and purply, with an explosion of scented fruit on the nose and in the mouth, with juicy acidity.

2007     Deep coloured, with a complex, spicy aroma and a little more obvious oak than the younger wines; juicy, but relatively lean and with quite a salty finish

2006     Very deep and still young-looking, quite scented fruit, but less oaky than the 07 and with more fruit: a chewy, balanced, concentrated mouthful, but needs a little more time.

Hauts de Pontet-Canet 2007       A lovely, young, approachably fruity wine, dominated by the cassis of Cabernet (Cabernet Sauvignon is 65% of the blend and 5% Cabernet Franc). Juicy, fresh and lighter than the grand vin, but with good length.

Pontet-Canet is now one of the very best wines of the Médoc, and was one of the highlights of this tasting for me. Since 2004 it has been managed biodynamically, though this was suspended in 2007 because of the extent of mildew in the vineyard. I pointed out to Alfred Tesseron that the morning of 28 April was not a favourable day for tasting wine according to the Maria Thun Calendar (a ‘root’ day until mid afternoon). ”Every day is good for tasting wine,” he retorted, “as long as the cork screw works.”

Château Le Crock (St. Estèphe, Cru Bourgeois)

2009     Very deep and concentrated, with big jammy fruit, soft, silky and slightly salty.

2008     Much lighter and very perfumed; light and aromatic in the mouth too with juicy acids and slightly hard tannins.

2007     Less aromatic, with chunky black fruit on the nose, but lighter, leaner and chewy.

Château Gazin (Pomerol)

2009     Very deep. Big, spicy, peppery, brambly fruit; very soft and seductive with silky tannins, but the 15% alcohol shows rather.

2008     Quite deep and quite scented, though more closed than some 08s. Light, juicy and brambly and relatively simply, with spicy oak.

Château Angélus (Saint-Emilion)

2009     Deep with lots of fruit, but also, again, that curious stalky elderberry character. Concentrated ripe black fruit with salty minerality. A big wine.

2008     Fairly deep. A sensationally scented bouquet, then a great depth of ripe brambly fruit, together with great elegance. A lovely, balanced, soft fruity wine. At this early stage of their development, I prefer it to the 2009.

Château Canon (Saint Emilion)

2009     Very deep and purply with really nicely focused black fruit and just a little spice; but a bit disappointing in the mouth: big soft and brambly, but short.

2008     Medium deep and very scented – red fruits with spicy oak. Deliciously round and soft with more red fruits.

Clos de l’Oratoire (Saint Emilion)

2009     Deep coloured and scented with lots of ripe fruit. Very rich and ripe with multi-layers of plum, bramble fruit and huge length. Very impressive indeed.

2008     Quite deep. Spicy, scented with ripe (black) fruit. Quite chewy and lean.

Château Canon-la-Gaffelière (Saint Emilion)

2009     Very deep, with an amazing, spicy aroma of cinnamon and leather, then lots of soft ripe fruit. Quite mineral.

2008     Deep coloured and powerfully scented. A surprisingly ripe, even over-ripe mouthful, but also with quite lean acidity and slightly hard tannins.

La Mondotte (Saint Emilion)

2009     Big, brambly and a bit closed. Huge concentration of chewy fruit, but no great length. Spicy alcohol seems greater than 14.2%

2008     Unusually deep. Highly scented with black fruit and very juicy: cassis and bramble. Again, no great length, but at this stage more immediately attractive than 2009.

2006     Deep. An open bouquet, but also rather volatile. A big, ripe wine, with chocolaty fruit, but relatively straightforward – no great complexity.

I came to the tasting determined to concentrate hard and out aside any previous, rather negative impression of La Mondotte. But I still don’t get it: it just doesn’t do anything for me. I find it powerful, but unsubtle – even rather clumsy. I’d sooner drink von Neipperg’s other wines, especially Clos de L’Oratoire.

Château d’Aiguile (Côtes de Castillon)

2009     Very deep, rich and ripe. Lots of up-front fruit and surprisingly juicy acidity.

2008     A big, rounded wine: very perfumed, but also rather jammy, with quite a lot of oak showing. Overall, a good, enjoyable wine.

Château Giraud (Sauternes)

2009     Not yet fallen clear and quite light-coloured. Nose still a bit closed, but very sweet indeed, with lots of botrytis. Rather a bitter finish.

2008     Lighter and much less sweet. Quite sweet, with juicy acidity and not a lot of obvious botrytis character. Fresh and fairly straightforward.

2007     Much richer and deeper, with intense pineapple fruit and lots of botrytis, though a touch of hardness at the end.

2006     Intense barley-sugar nose, but medium weight in the mouth and quite fresh – confit of pineapple and again a touch bitter.

Le G de Château Giraud 2009 Bordeaux Sec        Lively citrus fruit, crisp juicy and balanced.

2008     A big, soft wine showing a lot of oak: toasty pineapple.

Chapel Down

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

I’ve already commented about the successful partnership of two English wines from Chapel Down with Chinese food. Here are my notes on all the Chapel Down wines I tasted at Tenterden with Frazer Thompson, the Managing Director of the English Wines Group:

Vintage Reserve Brut NV

A slightly an odd name, I think, for a non vintage wine, but this blend of around 50% Pinot Noir and 50% Reichensteiner and Muller Thurgau is skilfully done and will surely only get better in future years as more premium grapes are included in the blend.  It has had 18 months on the lees – just enough to give it a little creamy complexity alongside the slightly floral character of the fruit. It’s fairly dry (around 9 g/l dosage), clean, fresh and rather appley.

English Rose Brut

A palish, salmon pink bubbly based on the Vintage Reserve Brut. It manages to taste significantly different, with a definite hint of redcurrants and fresh, clean, but softer fruit .

Brut Rosé NV

A very delicate onion skin rosé, with a distinct red fruits character – raspberry and strawberry. It’s 100% Pinot Noir and though non-vintage, the present release is actually from the generous 2006 harvest. It has an attractively long, biscuity finish.

Pinot Reserve 2004

A blend of 72% Pinot Noir and 28% Pinot Blanc (Chardonnay will feature in future releases). It is quite a deep straw colour and has a distinct Pinot Noir nose – rich and biscuity, but is balanced by clean citrus acidity with hints of apple. It’s remarkably fresh for a wine that has spent five years on the lees (it isn’t Chapel Down’s policy to cork age – wines are disgorged and sold).

Bacchus 2009

I’m much taken with this: it’s clean, slightly floral and has more than a suggestion of exotic fruits, guava and passion fruit as well as peach. It’s relatively light in the mouth, clean, fresh and juicy and with quite a mineral finish. I’m delighted to see that its already on Waitrose’s shelves – just a few weeks after bottling.

Bacchus Reserve 2006

A selection of the best grapes. It’s certainly more complex than the simple wine and has with greater length, but is, I think, a little less fun than the outstanding 2009.

Flint Dry 2009

Another success. The 09 blend includes around 30% Chardonnay and has good, lean, apple and peach fruit, with quite a creamy texture. It is softer and fruitier than its name suggests.

Pinot Blanc 2006

The outstanding still wine of the tasting – a lovely, gently, smoky apple aroma matched by a ripe apple flavour, and a much more substantial mouth-feel than its 10% alcohol might suggest.

English Rose 2008

The wine that really came alive with fine Chinese food is perfectly nice  on its own: perfumed, spicy and a little herby, with strawberry fruit.

Cinque Ports Classic 2006

An English classic in the catty, slightly sweet style. To be more polite, it has quite a pungent aroma of grapefruit and elderflower and a medium-sweet flavour that finishes a little short and bland.

Rondo/Regent/Pinot Noir Non-Vintage

Quite deep coloured, soft, easy, juicy, but not a lot of definition.

Pinot Noir (Tenterden) 2008

What a difference! A perfumed, spicy, true Pinot Noir, with real complexity. It’s every bit as good as some more expensive cool-climate  Pinot Noirs coming out of Germany and Alsace.