Helen’s blog

Thoughts and tastings from Helen Savage, wine writer.

Archive for April, 2012

Champagne Trinity Scloraship

Sunday, April 22nd, 2012

I’m thrilled to announce this news from the Insitute of Masters of Wine website (20 April) :

A UK-based student in the Institute of Masters of Wine study programme is the recipient of the prestigious Champagne Trinity Scholarship for 2012. Helen Savage has been awarded the scholarship for her essay discussing the virtues of vintage in relation to the sales and marketing of Champagne. The Institute, with the support of the family-owned Champagne houses of Bollinger, Louis Roederer and Pol Roger, offers the scholarship annually to a first-year student participating in its international study programme. The scholarship consists of two consecutive trips to the Champagne region, one during vintage and another during the blending of the vins clairs in the spring. It provides a unique opportunity for a student to gain an insight into Champagne through visits to the three renowned, family-owned houses.

Bordeaux 2011 – the Crus Bourgeois

Sunday, April 22nd, 2012

The weather during the 2011 growing season was again marked by extremes: an exceptionally mild spring, an early harvest, grapes that were raisined in a June heat-spike, a spell of cool wet weather in July and the threat of rot as harvest approached and some hail damage just before harvest. And yet it seems that many of the wines have come up smiling, but careful selection was essential.

My time during primeurs week this month was limited so I concentrated on one or two tasting where I might get a broad overview of the harvest. In particular, I homed in on the Cru Bourgeois of the Médoc, which cover not only the Médoc and Haut Médoc appellations but also Listrac, Moulis, Margaux, Pauillac and Saint Estèphe. As these are the kind of wines most of are likely to be able to afford to drink it seems sensible to focus on them – there is more than adequate coverage of the big names elsewhere.  I also attempted to focus on the wines often seen on the UK market. I’ve already written a note about Lalande de Pomerol (13 April).  I can’t resist some big names, so I tasted Michel Rolland’s portfolio before finishing with a brief indulgence in the esoteric range of biodynamic wines under the Biodyvin banner. Altogether it was hardly a representative sample, but has the merits of covering a lot of different terroirs and winemaking styles.

At this early stage, the common factor that unites all these wines is an attractive fruitiness, good balance between acidity and ripe tannins, no great concentration, but no lack of depth. It seems likely that they will be ready for drinking quite early in their development, but like other fruity, balanced vintages, they may well show a tenacious capacity for development in the bottle. It is certainly no fault that they display more elegance than raw power, though 2011 hardly seems like a return to claret of old – winemaking has moved on and other growing season was quite like this.

Here are my notes on the Cru Bourgeois (blends were given for most, but not all châteaux):


Château La Branne 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 48% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot

Vivid aroma of ripe cassis and brambles. Forward, juicy fruit, with soft tannins.

Château La Cardonne 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc

Very deep and very perfumed – pure, rich and balanced. Good acid and length and great perfume in the mouth (I was so taken with this, that I came back to it right at the end of my tasting, and confirmed my notes. It was every bit as exciting as the first taste.)

Château David 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 5% Petit Verdot

Quite deep. Very ripe fruit – perfumed cassis. Chunky and rich with quite firm tannins.

Château Greysac 50% Merlot, 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot,

Not so deep. Deep, fresh cassis aromas. Quite chewy and chunky with market acidity.

Château Grivière 58% Merlot, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Cabernet Franc

Quite deep. Big, fresh, plummy Merlot fruit to fore. Big, grippy tannins, but ripe fruit.

Château Livran 60% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon

Medium deep. Rather closed. Chunky and lean with rather sour acid (as if the malo was not complete).

Château Loudenne 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 43% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc

Deepish. Creamy, ripe black cherry fruit. Firm and rich – a big mouthful with plenty of power, length and fine, ripe tannins.

Château Les Ormes Sorbet 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc

Hugely deep and dense. Big, riper concentrated, herby fruit, a little leaner in the mouth, cassis-flavoured and fine.

Château Patache d’Aux 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot

Deepish. Big, rich, black cherry and cassis fruit. Chunky, chewy texture with ripe tannins, length and a fine finish.

Château Plagnac 66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 43% Merlot

Quite deep. A rich concentration of ripe cassis – Cabernet fruit, matched by a big chunky Cabernet flavour a lot of power, and seemingly alcohol too, but surprisingly soft acidity.

Château La Roque de By 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 50% Merlot

Good depth. Sweet, creamy, concentrated fruit – quite delicious, with liquorice: rich, long and balanced with quite high alcohol?

Château Tour Saint-Bonnet 50% Merlot, 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Petit Verdot

Very deep indeed. Intense, but freshly perfumed. Powerful, with real depth of flavour – lovely crunchy cassis, with juicy acidity and a long liquorice finish.

Haut Médoc

Château d’Agassac 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot

Deep and dense. Herby and fresh, with a slightly green, herbaceous character. A little short.

Château d’Arcins

Deep coloured. Quite a spicy alcoholic aroma, then chunky, rich and spicy, with quite soft acidity.

Château Balac 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc

Deep coloured. Nose a little closed, but shows quite a good concentration of ripe fruit, which is chewy, chunky and balanced by crunchy acidity.

Château  Barreyres

Very deep. A lovely perfume of red and black fruits, then a big savoury palate, a creamy texture, and ripe, but quite marked tannins.

Château Bel Air 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot

Very bright colour. A big, stalky, green pepper-scented nose. Deep and quite chewy, though also a bit green and austere.

Château  Cambon la Pelouse 52% Merlot, 44% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Petit Verdot

Big and bright. A richly ripe aroma of perfumed black fruit. A chewy texture, ripe tannins and quite a savoury finish.

Château Cissac 62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot

Deep coloured. A big, ripe, creamy, black cherry aroma, but then a little raw on the palate, with chunky tannins, but also good length – it shows the early promise of Cabernet.

Château Duthill 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot

Deep and purply. A lovely, herby perfume of red and black fruits – complex, but fresh. Big, black and chewy in the mouth with no lack of power.

Château Larose Trintaudon 55% Merlot, 45% Cabernet Sauvignon

A little lighter than most, with a light, slightly stalky nose. Fresh in the mouth, but also again, a bit stalky.

Château  Liversan 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 5% Petit Verdot

Quite deep. A green, herby, stalky nose, then a stalky lean palate with rather hard tannins, but also quite perfumed in the mouth.

Château Puy Castéra 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot

Fairly deep. Perfumed, lightish red fruits with some herbaceousness. More rounded on the palate. Quite long and fresh and a good balance, but no great depth or complexity.

Château Ramage la Batisse 50.39% Cabernet Sauvignon, 43.37% Merlot, 3.43% Cabernet Franc, 2.81% Petit Verdot

Rather pale rim. .Ripe scented  fruit. Fresh, with quite lifted acidity, but a rather green finish.

Château Sénéjac 48% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot

Medium deep. Attractive, rather light, red fruits bouquet. Richer in the mouth with liquorice and quite firm tannins.


Château Fonréaud

Medium deep, scented red fruits, quite elegant and creamy, then juicy and attractive with chunky tannins

Château Lestage

Good colour – bright and deep. A big, bright, elderberry bouquet, then a chunky falvour, with lifted acidity and slightly raw tannins. A bit short.

Château Reverdi

Deeper than many. Ripe, though a bit closed. Chewy, chunky fruit. A bit raw, but with depth and promise.


Château Caroline

Fairly deep and bright. Red fruits nose, though a bit closed. Perfumed in the mouth, with red fruit and plum flavours, juicy acid, rather dry tannins.

Château Duplessis

Fairly deep. Elderberry-like nose – slightly green and stalky, which follows in the mouth. Although the tannins are raw, a perfumed red fruits finish bodes well.

Château Dutruch Grand Pougeaux 54% Merlot, 42% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Petit Verdot

Light colour. A fresh raspberry nose, attractively perfumed, but light and a similarly light, juicy flavour.

Château Gressier Grand Pougeaux 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 50% Merlot

Medium deep. Ripe bramble and cassis aromas then juicy, slightly stalky fruit. By no means a heavy-weight, but quite attractive.

Château Moulin à Vent 65% Merlot, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Cabernet Franc

Deep. A big elderberry nose leading to ripe, chewy, fruit with quite high acidity.


Château d’Arsac 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot

A fine deep colour. Elegance and concentration combine in a finely perfumed aroma. Fleshy ripe fruit with liquorice, quite soft tannins ; good length.

Château Mongravey 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc

Deep and concentrated. Powerful and concentrated though a little closed. Very Cabernet – lots of structure. Ripe but a wee bit short.

Château Paveil de Luze

Fairly deep, perfumed and fresh, brambly fruit. Sweet and rich and quite powerful with soft tannins.

Château La Tour de Bessan

Fairly deep. Again, perfumed black fruit. Quite juicy, but ripe with tannins.

Château La Tour de Mons 55% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Petit Verdot

Impressive colour, then ripe, creamy, bramble-scented fruit with depth and complexity. A very good structure, with ripe, fresh fruit and lingering chunky tannins.


Château Fonbadet 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot

Impressively deep. Concentrated, sweetly ripe blackcurrant fruit. Typically Cabernet – big, weighty, rich and long.

Château Haut Bages-Monpelou

Fairly deep. Fine, perfume of bright fruit. Balanced, but chunky, with a rather dry finish.

Château Plantey 55% Merlot, 45% Cabernet Sauvignon

Deep. Big, ripe, fine cassis and bramble fruit. Juicy acidity – fresh and a little chunky.


Château Beau-Site

Deepish. Big, powerful elderberry nose. Strong, rich and slightly earthy with firm tannins.

Château Le Boscq 60% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petit Verdot

Deepish. Ripe and rich – very brambly but on the nose in the mouth.

Château Clauzet 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc

Good deep colour. Perfumed cassis, with green hints. Clean, earthy and ripe with chewy tannins.

Château Le Crock 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot, 9% Petit Verdot, 5% Cabernet Franc

Deep. Quite a powerful cassis aroma – concetrated and ripe. Ripe and fine, with ripe fruit. Plenty of power, St. Estèphe earthiness  and length.

Château Petit Bocq 50% Merlot, 49% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1% Cabernet Franc

Quite deep and bright. Rich cassis and bramble aromas. Freshg, clean fruit with quite marked acidity, chewy tannins and plenty of fruit.

Château Saint Pierre de Corbian 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 50% Merlot

Very deep. Big, creamy black cherry fruit, with cardamom – a little earthy. Big chunky wine with lots of ripe tannins and underlying richness of fruit.

Château Tour de Pez 60% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot

Big and deep. Very fine nose with real concentration and perfumed black fruit. Good and rich with a long, fine, perfumed aftertaste.


Lalande de Pomerol 2011

Friday, April 13th, 2012

As part of the en primeur showing of wines from the 2011 vintage in Bordeaux last week I went to the tasting of Lalande de Pomerol. As Aline Goldschmidt, vice-president of the growers’ syndicat and owner of Château Siaurac told me, “You had to be a good winemaker to make good wine in 2011. Careful selection was essential and each plot in the vineyard reacted differently,” [to the special circumstances of what turned out to be a tricky growing season].

The appellation has some superb properties, especially those on gravel and clay terraces around and just to the north of Néac, but, to the west, across the main Libourne to Périgueux road, the soil becomes gradually more sandy and has more limited potential for  fine wine.

That said, the wines I tasted were generally good and some were very good.

Château Tournefeuille impressed, with rich fruit, freshness and a good, firm tannic structure. Château Belles-Graves seemed initially lighter, with red fruit, then developed plenty of power, but with rather soft acidity. Château Haut-Surget was big and rich, with juicy acidity, but also seemed a bit too extracted. Château Ame de Musset was a wee bit cooked – powerful but again, rather too extracted. Château de Viaud was rich and soft, with quite fine tannins. Château Jean de Gué was roasted and almost balsamic – perhaps a bit worrying in so young a wine – but rich and savoury. Château Haut-Chaigneau was fresh and had a nice purity of red fruit flavours and fine tannins, quite an approachable wine. I also enjoyed La Sergue, a special cuvee from the same estate, which was well balanced, soft, rich and brambly, but again, with freshness and not too extracted. Château de Chambrun showed rather less well: though well enough balanced, with good length and a fine tannic structure, the nose was slightly too oxidative.

Best of all was Château Siaurac, a fine rich wine despite a yield of 52.9hl/ha. It contains 5% Malbec for the first time, which Aline and Paul Goldschmidt argue adds a little more spice to the wine. Spiciness is one of the characteristics for me of Siaurac. The 2011 is rich and soft with brambly, black cherry fruit, balanced tannins and quite fresh acidity. In recent years the typical plend for Siaurac has been 85% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc. This is around 75% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc and 5% Malbec.

A week later (April 11) I had the pleasure of visiting Château Siaurac and was able to taste wines from the 2010 vintage alongside those from Châteaux Vray Croix de Gay (Pomerol) and Prieuré (Grand Cru Classé Saint Emilion) the other family properties. Siaurac was by no means dwarfed and the differences in terroir showed well:

Château Siaurac 2010 showed spicy, perfumed oak, spicy, brambly black cherry fruit, with a real degree of elegance to balance the fine tannins and considerable length.

Château Vray Croix de Gay 2010 was superb: immensely deep, perfumed black fruits with liquorice, a fabulously silky texture and soft, ripe, lingering tannins

Château Prieuré 2010 was, in comparison, more fragrant even slightly floral, but with plenty of tight black fruit, fresher acidity and distinct minerality (hardly surprising perhaps, given its position on the limestone plateau of saint-Emilion).

To introduce these we tasted the unoaked, pure Merlot, young vines, Plaisir de Siaurac 2010 an aptly named wine if ever there was one. It is deliciously open and brambly, rich, soft and slightly savoury, with melting tannins and a real depth of fruit. On sale at less than €10 it is an outstanding bargain.

Château Siaurac 2006, the first vintage made by Aline and Paul Goldschmidt showed pretty well, It is also quite perfumed and spicy, with fine, soft, rich black cherry and bramble fruit and is quite long; but in comparison with 2010 (and 2008) it is relatively short and the oak is less well integrated.

Château Siaurac 2008, tasted yesterday, is another impressive effort: still a lovely bright, pinky purple-tinged ruby, it is wonderfully scented, with again the distinctive hint of black cherry that Paul Goldschmidt says is characteristic of Siaurac, along with brambles and well-integrated oak. Lighter and with more juicy acidity than 2006 or 2010 it is nevertheless, fruity, elegant and beautifully balanced.

I’ve prepared a feature on Château Siaurac and its setting in Lalande de Pomerol for publication in The Journal. I hope it will see light of day on 27 April.

Burgundy – better than ever?

Thursday, April 5th, 2012

Burgundy has a uniquely attractive way of showing its wares: Les Grands Jours de Bourgogne, held every two years, is a week-long series of tastings, held in a series of key locations throughout the region. Each offers the opportunity to meet up to sixty or seventy growers who show wines specific to a theme, which may range, for example, from an overview of a regional appellation such as the Côte Chalonnaise to a  more narrow focus like ‘Terroirs de Corton.’ It offers a wonderful opportunity to understand Burgundy better, speak with key players in the industry and taste a very broad range of wines from the latest vintages.

I have managed the full week only once. This year I targeted the Côte de Beaune and Côte Chalonnaise. I managed to taste a generous selection of 2009 Grands Crus from the whole of Burgundy as an extended aperitif to a dinner at the Clos de Vougeot hosted by the big merchant houses, and I also popped into Jean-Claude Boisset’s portfolio tasting. My heart lies with small independent producers, but I’m impressed by the progress Boisset have made under chief winemaker Grégory Patriat and their wines are fairly widely available in the UK.

There has been a marked fall in UK imports of Burgundy wine over the last couple of years, which may have been exacerbated by the demise of Oddbins and Threshers. The USA has overtaken us as Burgundy’s most important export market by value, though we still hold onto the top spot in terms of volume. Newer markets in the Far East continue to excite the locals, who were encouraged by the considerable number of Chinese, Japanese and Korean visitors to Les Grands Jours.

My overall impression from Les Grand Jours is that the standard of winemaking in Burgundy has never been better, and that even with the still relatively strong Euro, there are some attractively-priced wines that more than stand comparison with the voguish premium Pinot Noirs of New Zealand or Chile. There is also still a substantial enthusiasm for Burgundy wines in the UK. My unrepresentative, anecdotal evidence from the three consumer tastings that I’ve hosted over the last six weeks, for example, convinces me that the subtle, savoury, balanced, food-friendly style of Burgundy appeals strongly to those British wine lovers who are prepared to splash out now and again on something a bit special.

One of my main reasons for heading off to Les Grands Jours was that I wanted to get to grips with the highly praised 2009 vintage. My conclusion is that the red wines are mostly as impressive as the hype that has surrounded them, but the whites are far less attractive than those made in less ‘successful’ vintages around them: 2008, and especially 2010 and 2011.

If there is a problem with the 2009s it is low acidity. The consequences of this were spelled out in the course of conversation with Christophe Bouchard of Bouchard Père et Fils. I asked him about the biggest changes that he’s seen during his career in the wine business. Without hesitation he answered, “Climate change and its effects.” Not only has this meant much earlier harvest dates, though there have also been some wild fluctuations, but also the decline in the once default practice in Burgundy of chaptalisation. Instead, in years like 2003, 2005 and 2009 growers resorted to acidifying their musts. He regards this as a huge mistake and insists that his company will not be tempted to follow suit. His objection is that while chaptalisation was undetectable and enhanced the quality of the finished wine, acidification cannot so easily be hidden and that it changes the character of the wine far more than just the addition of acidity. Jasper Morris agrees, pointing out in his magisterial study, ‘Inside Burgundy’, that it may give red wine a ‘hard finish’. This makes sense of a few of the red 2009s I tasted, especially from some of the big houses, which showed surprisingly chunky, angular tannins.

Other 2009 Pinot Noirs are almost a parody of fine Burgundy, with voluptuous fruit and an astonishingly silky texture. Many of them are fully ready and I cannot imagine that they will improve significantly. Even a wine like Louis Latour’s, 2009 Romanée Saint Vivant wears its not inconsiderable heart on its sleeve with multi-layers of rich, savoury, almost herby fruit and soft acidity. Some super-charged Grand Cru reds made me smile so much that I found it hard to suppress a giggle. Other tasters must have thought I was deranged – or drunk.

The most attractive 2009 whites do not come from the ripest sites, but from cooler vineyards, where the fruit retained more acidity. There are bargains to be found in Auxey-Duresses and Saint-Romain. One example and a happy rediscovery struck me in the impressive wines of Christophe Diconne now imported by Robert Anthony Wines. His 2009 Auxeys have much more freshness than his 2009 Meursaults, though all his 2010s have far more life and freshness, and as the locals say, ‘tension.’ What the best 2009 do show, almost irrespective of appellation, is unusually strong, salty, minerality, which helps to some extent to compensate for the low acidity.

Perhaps the least impressive feature of the 2009s is that they do not reveal the specific character of their terroirs nearly as well as the 2010s and 2011s, which, in contrast, are both described by the locals, with some justification, as being more essentially ‘Burgundian’

2010 was a very small harvest, 2011 is much more generous. Neither was easy, both demand careful selection in the vineyard and on the sorting table, but they both show a lovely purity of fruit, combined with balanced acidity and surprisingly ripe tannins. The white wines have much more capacity to develop in the bottle than the 2009s and some of the reds will age well too.

2008, another tricky vintage, is already beginning to show well. As in the two most recent vintages, the Chardonnays seem to have much better integration of fruit and oak than in 2009. One or two wines were curious in that a rich, quite evolved nose led into a much tighter palate A striking example is Albert Sounit’s Rully Premier Cru, La Pucelle, but in general, there are some terrific 2008 whites from the Côte Chalonnaise; for example from the Vignerons de Buxy’s Montagny Premier Cru, which has lovely, nervy, lemony fruit, to Sounit’s Montagny Premier Cru, which is richer, but balanced by mouth-wateringly delicious acidity (Sounit’s wines are imported by Enotria). The best red 2008s can be just as good.

Because they are in short supply, the UK trade may have already lost out on some of the 2010s, but the generally excellent 2011s offer plenty of choice.  My advice would be to make a beeline for some of the younger growers who are trying to make a name for themselves. One easy way to do this during the Grands Jours is a tasting featuring ‘Young Talent’ gathered from every corner of Burgundy. And there are always some surprises. Christine Desertaux, for example, of Domaine Desertaux-Ferrand, based in Corgoloin, came up with a 2011 Bourgogne Blanc, fermented in oak, which is a blend of 80% Pinot Blanc and 20% Chardonnay – an extraordinarily, fine, fresh wine, with delicious melony fruit. I showed it to fifty people at a charity tasting in Paris a few days later and it went down a storm. Another discovery was David Renaud from Irancy, who produces 50,000 bottles from 8 hectares of vines. The malo happened quickly in 2011, he said, to produce red wines that are already seductively fruity. They have terrific colour, complex flavours of bitter and black cherry and real depth.