Helen’s blog

Thoughts and tastings from Helen Savage, wine writer.

Archive for June, 2010

Bordeaux 2001 – claret as it used to be.

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

I’m grateful to Triturus, a group of wine-tasters here in Newcastle, who invited me to guide them through a few bottles of fine wine yesterday. I chose five top wines, all second growths, from the 2001 vintage in Bordeaux, an underrated but elegant vintage, which, in the best wines, shows a very appealing freshness of fruit.

We began with two wines from Margaux.

Chateau Rauzan-Ségla showed a bit of age – quite a mature ruby, but had developed a superb, almost floral bouquet (truly a bouquet), with hints of sweet vanilla and ripe black fruit. Initially rather dry, it was balanced, medium weight, with both quite pronounced minerality and also an aromatic, floral aftertaste.

Chateau Brane-Cantenac, looked a little younger and though also quite scented, was more cedary than floral, with black fruits and even licorice. It was much more chewy, even chunky, with quite firm tannins, but quite a perfumed aftertaste.

We then turned to St Julien.

Chateau Léoville Poyferré was big, ripe and cedary with lots of spicy fruit and maybe a touch too much unintegrated spicy oak. Sweetly ripe in the mouth with quite crunchy fruit and firm tannins it had a spicy, but relatively short finish. It was, perhaps, the least exciting of the five – relatively straightforward and lacking a little elegance.

Chateau Gruaud Larose was creamily ripe, with brambly, savoury fruit, and a great deal of spice, especially cinnamon. Quite intense, rich, soft and with a good concentration of black fruit, it also hinted at coffee and again, licorice.

And then Pauillac.

Chateau Pichon- Lalande was lovely, elegant, ripe and spicy with cedary black fruit and considerable concentration. Big and still structured, with lovely freshness of fruit, it was not only the wine that showed the greatest elegance and complexity, but also the one that promised to develop most in the future.

Conclusions? Five wines aren’t enough to make sweeping generalisations, but these were all hugely enjoyable balanced clarets, perfumed and elegant and great partners for food. Are they, I wonder, a style that we shall not often meet in the future? All the wines were bought from Richard Granger Fine Wines – a splendid source of fine, mature claret at prices that make the en primeur rates for the over-hyped 2009s seem even more ridiculous.

The particular pleasure of old wine

Saturday, June 19th, 2010

Over the last few weeks I’ve tasted a number of old wines.  One or two were distinctly past it. For example, Bertani 1953 Valpolicella, kindly opened during the Association of Wine Educators’ visit to Italy was a peculiar experience, at first stinkily reductive, then leathery and complex, giving way quickly to mushrooms and rotting leaves –  a fast-fading ghost of a wine. Bertani Recioto della Valpolicella 1940 (one fizzy!) was quite rich and flavoury, even a little sweet still, but maderised. Bertani Amarone 1967 was much better, even rather  impressive, with intense, spicy complexity, caramelised and beginning to dry, but an interesting drink. The most remarkable old Bertani bottle was  a 1988 Soave, which resembled  a soft, spicy version of an old Hunter Valley Semillon, with strong, limey minerality.  Something of the same limey minerality characterised a 2001 Sauvignon Blanc at Vie di Romans in Friuli Isonzo, but their 1998 and even more remarkably, their 1993 Sauvignon preserved far more varietal character, as  did also a 1997 Pinot Grigio.

The previous week, in Macon, a 1975 Macon-Viré cellared by the Auberge de la Tour, most kindly opened by chef and owner Patrick was faded and oxidised, but nutty, soft and surprisingly complex. I rather like it, but the wine lovers in my Vine Visit party that week were unimpressed. They much preferred a 1996, from a magnum, which was more recognisably a Chardonnay, though also exhibiting strong mineral characteristics – citrus fruit, honey and petrol. I Liked it a lot. And Roger Saumaize generously dug out a 1990 Pouilly Fuissé, Clos sur la Roche, to crown a superb tasting of his wines at his domaine, Saumaize-Michelin. I loved its intense green fruit flavours, great freshness and complex minerality, but again, my group were far more taken with his young wines and their tighter fruit.

I relate all this because it illustrates for me the huge change in fashion over the decade or so that has led consumers to prize primary fruit about all else. They recognise quality and complexity for sure, but the faded pleasure of old wine are a mystery and one that’s less and less appreciated. So I was surprised that our Italian hosts wanted to demonstrate how well their wines might age. It was great fun to try them, but I suspect that they would leave most of the UK customers cold.  Cellaring potential is no longer a significant selling point.

Beaujolais: can 2009 mark a new beginning?

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

After just a couple of days in the Beaujolais two things are clear to me: the 2009 vintage is magnificent and the economic crisis has hit the region hard. The consequence of the crisis over the last few years, which here predates the global economic downturn, has resulted in some growers abandoning Gamay, especially in the Bas Beaujolais. The prefer to try their luck, alas, with Syrah, Chardonnay and Viognier and sell it as humble Vin de France. But the 2009, as fine a vintage as I have ever tasted, shows just how good Gamay can be: exotically fruity, rich and complex, but with seductively soft tannins, even in the very top wines, and a delightful freshness. Surely a wine like this has got to make a comeback? Great producers like Thierry Condemine at the Chateau de Julienas remain unrepresented in the UK. Please will someone take a punt on him? His wines are quite superb – and the 2009, not yet in bottle, is a steal.