Helen’s blog

Thoughts and tastings from Helen Savage, wine writer.

Burgundy – better than ever?

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.



Aussie Cabernet – a bit of a disappointment

February 28th, 2012

I have been pondering over my  notes from a selection of fourteen Australian Cabernet’s tasted  ‘blind’ at last month’s London trade tasting.  I was disappointed that so many wines seemed show little fruit freshness. There was plenty of extract, shed loads of tannin and no little alcohol, and often quite a lot of acidity, but finesse and elegance was hard to find. Too many didn’t seem balanced. With the exception of one wine (see below) price didn’t seem to make much difference. One of the most impressive wines, was was of the least expensive: d’Ahrenberg ‘The High Trellis’ Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 from McLaren Vale (rrp £11.99), imported by Bibendum.  Qute deep and concentrated, it did, however, display some freshness along with a silky texture. One wine stood out: Henschk’es ‘Cyril Henschke’ 2004 from the Eden Val.  Although surprisingly brown-coloured, it had balance, complexity and elegance, though its sweet berry fruit flavour seemed more mature than it actually was. It ought to have  shown well, it’s rrp is £70 (imported by Enotria).

Was I just having an off day? I don’t think so – I was greatly impressed by some other wines in show, especially a parallel ‘blind’ flight of Semillon.

New Zealand tries its hand at Gruner Veltliner

February 3rd, 2012

After a week in Austria, I’m  having Grüner Veltliner withdrawal symptoms. I’ve written more in today’s Journal but didn’t have space to talk much about New Zealand’s new fascination with the variety.

At last week’s New Zealand Annual Trade tasting I  tasted the four examples on show and was quite impressed:

Seifried Estate Grüner Veltliner 2011 is from Nelson and from six year-old vines. The wine is the second release. It has 12.5% abv and 5.9 g/l residual sugar. It shows quite spicy fruit, with the green apple character, typical of the variety and lemon citrus freshness. It seems tangier than the 6.7 g/l total acidity suggests. The estate has Austrian roots, so they should get Grüner right!

Nautilus Estate Grüner Veltliner 2011 (Marlborough) – a tank sample of first release wine from vines just 18 months old, has 13% abv and 7 g/l residual sugar. Light, clean and green, with lemony tones it lacks the spicy concentration that may begin to develop as the vines establish themsleves.

Forrest Grüner Veltliner 2011 (Marlborough) has 11.5% abv and 8.7 g/l sugar. Clean and not too spicy, the flavour, with noticeable residual sugar, shows a mix of ripe and green apple.

Yealands Grüner Veltliner 2011 (Marlborough)has 13.5% abv and just 2.5 g/l sugar (though in the mouth it seems a little higher). The vines are planted on gravel with loess with mica and quartz, which sounds promising for a vareity that needs water. Winemaker Tamra Washington is concerned to tame Grüner’s tendency to crop heavily and make a wine that’s balanced – and has succeeded. This has a fine lemon, apple and spicy aromas and is quite a full, creamy mouthful, with a slightly salty aftertaste.

All four wines are very promising, but I have to say that there are plenty of Austrian examples on the shelves that offer just as much fun for a pound or two less.

The Abandoned Vineyard

January 6th, 2012

In today’s Journal, I’ll be describing the amazing abandoned vineyard – Abandonado – owned by Alves de Sousa, part of their Gaivosa estate. This, spectacularly beautiful, but stubborn patch of schist with its scrubby vines, an almost wild mix of varieties, makes, I think, the best red table wine in the Douro.

The first wine from the vineyard to be bottled as an expression of the site alone is from the 2004 harvest. Tasted in summer 2011 it was still deep and young. It had an exciting aroma of berry fruits and creamy oak, but the fruit dominated. Rich and balanced it showed fine-grained tannins, great concentration and a long, liquorice finish. It was aged in all new oak for 12 months, some Portuguese, some American and some French.

2005 was fresher and more minty and also more elegant, with a deep depth of ripe black fruits, especially black cherry. It had lots of structure and was a bit closed. Tiago Alves de Sousa said that it needed a little longer in oak – around 15 months.

2007, according to Tiago is half-way between 2004 and 2005 in style. I found it big and black with very minty eucalyptus overtones and fresh fruit flavours.  Deep, rich and chunky it had higher acidity than teh previous wines and was more mineral.

No Abanadonado was made in 2006 or 2008. The 2009 promises to be sublime.  These wines are hard to find and aren’t cheap, but if you do get a chance to try them, grab it!

Muscat -for ever?

November 28th, 2011

Raymond Miquel makes the world’s finest Muscat at the Domaine de Barroubio at St Jean de Minervois. It has that magical combination of power and elegance that makes it, for me, the Muscat equivalent of Château Yquem. Until last week, I always though it was best drunk young, but then we were given a bottle of 2002. It is (was) amazingly good: still sweet and grapey, but now with a wonderfully minty complexity that reminds me a bit of top-quality aged Alsace Muscat. A revelation.

Bordeaux 2007 – an assessment

November 12th, 2011

2007 posed all sorts of problems for the wine producers of Bordeaux. It began well, with a warm spring, but then nature turned fickle with a cool, damp summer which resulted in a huge outbreak of mildew. The harvest was saved by a warm dry September extending into October. ‘Hang time’ was exceptionally long. The wines have been described as appealing, fruity and rather low in acidity, able to be appreciated quite young.

87 classed growths were presented on 9 November at the Annual Bordeaux Tasting of the Institute of Masters of Wine. My notes on each wine follow – organised by appellation, with the best wines in each section first.

My conclusion? 2007 is a mixed bag. There are some delicious wines, but also some real disappointments. Not all are low in acidity – some of the Cabernet–based wines of Pauillac are even quite tart. A few are raisiny and lack freshness. In a few cases I suspected  that rot was not always as carefully removed as one might hope. A few wines are over-extracted. The best wines are medium-bodied, perfumed and elegant and almost all of them are ready to drink.

Contrary to some reports, the Merlot-based wines of Pomerol and Saint-Emilion showed more consistently successful than those of the Médoc. Margaux offered too many poor wines. St Julien was much better and there were some very good wines from Pessac-Léognan/Graves. The most exciting red wine was, I felt, Léoville Las-Cases with the elegant, perfumed Lafite the pick of the First Growths.

The wines of Sauternes/Barsac were impressive. Yquem is the outstanding pick of the bunch.


Château Cantemerle

Very perfumed, with a lovely concentration of ripe blackcurrant fruit – one of the most intense and appealing wines on the nose in the whole tasting. In the mouth, quite a big, ripe wine, it shows balanced acidity, quite soft tannins and reasonable length.

Château La Lagune

A big, rich wine on the nose, with quite elegant perfume and well-integrated oak. Sweetly ripe, balanced and easy – no rough edges.

Château La Tour Carnet

A juicy smell of raspberry and plum, but also a little green and stalky. Easy, balanced, quite light and fully ready.

Château Camensac

Quite a big raisiny aroma with no great complexity – nor in the mouth. Chunky and easy.

Château Belgrave

Quite a big, ripe aroma, but raisiny in the mouth, finishing slightly sour.


Château Margaux

Typically and delightfully perfumed – cedary, refine and elegant. Elegant in the mouth too, with gentle acids and ripe tannins, but not much concentration. Already very drinkable.

Château Palmer

Perfumed and complex, with a nice purity of fruit, which follows onto the palate, yet like Margaux it is balanced but quite soft, light and apparently already ready.

Château Rauzan-Ségla

Quite creamy fruit with spicy oak. Juicy, well-focussed fruit. Altogether very attractive.

Château Brane-Cantenac

Quite, rich, ripe and savoury – even a little salty in the mouth, with rich fruit and quite silky tannins.

Château Giscours

Fresh and perfumed, but with a savoury, marmite dimension. Quite light, fresh and perfumed in the mouth; easy and fully ready.

Château Dauzac

A good concentration of ripe chocolaty fruit – perfumed. Sweet, ripe and easy, but a bit short.

Château Rauzan-Gassies

The first bottle was oddly reductive and the fruity hard and ungenerous. A second bottle was sweeter and cleaner but the wine still failed to really impress. Seems ready.

Château Lascombes

Quite perfumed with spicy oak, then sweet, easy, ripe and ready. Not much depth but quite attractive.

Château Prieuré-Lichine

An open, sweet, perfumed aroma. Quite well balanced and perfumed fruit in the mouth, but nothing special.

Château Cantenac Brown

Nose sweet and a little cooked. Quite a rich, raisiny flavour, but short and quite ready.

Château Desmirail

Perfumed with cocoa and spicy oak. Quite juicy fruit, but a little raw.

Château Du Tertre

Open, ripe and raisiny aroma, but raisiny, a bit raw and short in the mouth.

Château Marquis de Terme

Open and ripe, but not very complex. Juicy acidity, a bit lacking in fruit and little tannin. Seems unlikely that it will improve much.

Château Marquis d’Alesme

A little bit hard, not much fruit and really rather dull.

Château Kirwan

Very raisiny fruit on the nose and in the mouth – rot too?

Château d’Issan

Oddly stalky and green – lacks ripeness.


Château Léoville Las-Cases

An exciting smell, with almost the rather exotic character of morello cherry with nicely perfumed oak. Big, ripe and balanced with unusually silky tannins for the vintage. Very good indeed.

Château Léoville Barton

Very good: juicy, ripe, blackcurranty fruit, with just enough supporting oak. Good concentration of quite chunky fruit; balanced and with a lingering coffee and iron finish.

Château Beychevelle

A fine nose, marrying perfumed fruit with chocolaty richness. Open and attractive, medium concentration and a savoury finish.

Château Talbot

Deep. Quite concentrated fresh fruit, with perfumed oak. Fruity, well-balanced, but a touch short.

Château Léoville-Poyferré

A big, ripe, perfumed bouquet, with some richness and nicely perfumed oak, but then a bit chunky and angular and not as generous as the nose suggests.

Château Lagrange

Nicely perfumed, ripe and quite complex with hints of coffee. Medium-weight, balanced, but just a little raisiny at the end.

Château Branaire-Ducru

Quite big and perfumed, but then let down by rather raw acidity. Although short, with its chunky fruit, it may well turn out rather better in three or four years.


Château Lafite-Rothschild

Lovely elegant bouquet: refined and complex, blackcurrant fruit and well-integrated blackcurrant fruit. Quite big, but very elegant, with refreshing, lifted acid and quite gentle tannins and a perfumed finish.

Château Pontet-Canet

A sublime, pure smell of ripe blackcurrant fruit with perfumed oak and even a hint of chocolate. The fruit is splendidly focussed. It is not the most concentrated wine, but is perfectly balanced and quite delicious.

Château Mouton-Rothschild

Deep and richly fruity – cassis – very pure, but complex – lovely. Quite tight, concentrated and abundantly fruity.

Château d’Armailhac

An expressive perfume of ripe, juicy blackcurrant fruit. Quite big and balanced with juicy acidity. Promising.

Château Pichon-Longueville

A gorgeous perfume – fine, elegant and complex, with hints of coffee and chocolate. Fine juicy acidity and quite firm tannins. Fruit a little masked, but the nose carries a promise of a bright future in the medium term.

Château Pichon-Longueville Comtesse de Lalande

Fine, ripe, complex nose – open and attractive. Lots of juicy acidity and quite soft tannin and good length. Promising.

Château Lynch-Moussas

Elegantly perfumed and quite creamy. Well balanced with black fruit, even liquorice.

Château Lynch-Bages

Full and fruity, with cassis and ripe plums. Chunky fruit in the mouth too, but just a little short.

Château Grand-Puy Ducasse

Very ripe, with juicy black fruit and some elegance. Quite lifted acidity and firm tannins. Nice fruit below.

Château Grand-Puy Lacoste

Elegant, fine and focussed with a cedary perfume. Similar juicy style in the mouth to Ducasse, but a little shorter.

Château Haut-Batailley

Perfumed, though the oak is a bit dominant. Quite evolved in the mouth, open, easy and a bit raisiny.

Château Duhart-Milon

Perfumed, quite rich and a little raisiny. Juicy, with light tannins but perhaps a bit lacking in complexity.

Château Clerc Milon

Quite tight and perfumed fruit, but a bit chunky in the mouth and rather high acidity.

Château Batailley

Perfumed but quite raisiny, and again, easy raisiny fruit in the mouth, but with a perfumed end.

Château Croizet-Bages

Open and perfumed – cedary. Tannic and a bit raw, though still quite light.

Château Pedesclaux

Rather simple and one-dimensional, with an aroma of roasted coffee, but a thin, stalky flavour.


Château Cos d’Estournel

Deep, elegant and concentrated aroma of cassis, then balanced fruit, with ripe acids and tannin, soft enough to be approachable already.

Château Montrose

Elegant and perfumed, though the oak shows through a bit. A big wine in the mouth, with a firm structure and an iron-rich, power.

Château Lafon-Rochet

Rich and ripe, with black fruits and coffee on the nose. Quite soft acidity, balanced, chunky fruit, but maybe lacks a little complexity.

Château Cos Labory

Deep, though oddly perfumed, then shows slightly sour acidity and stalky fruit.


Château Pape-Clément

Tight, fine bouquet of sweet fruit with perfumed oak. Very sweetly ripe in the mouth – perfumed cassis fruit and considerable elegance. Delicious.

Château Malartic-Lagravière

Nicely perfumed with good sweet fruit. Good depth and focus and a fine balance. Not very concentrated, but a lovely perfumed aftertaste.

Château Smith Haut Lafitte

Deep coloured and then perfumed, concentrated, ripe and chocolaty. Juicy acidity and fresh focussed fruit.

Château Haut-Brion

Deep, creamy and quite perfumed aroma, but a bit closed. Rather chunky acidity and firm tannins and rather ungracious. Is it going through a dumb stage?

Château La Mission Haut-Brion

Richly perfumed, with black fruit and liquorice. Sweetly ripe fruit and concentrated. Fine enough, but lacks elegance.

Château De Fieuzal

Perfumed and ripe with sweet fruit. Very well balanced, forward and delicious.

Château Bouscaut

Really lovely sweet perfumed fruit. Elegant and yet sweet in the mouth, with just enough acidity and soft tannins.

Domaine de Chevalier

Big perfume of tight, spicy fruit, but also a bit stalky. Balanced and elegant, but also quite a lot of oak showing through at the moment.

Château Haut-Bailly

Juicy, chunky, earthy and a little hard. Disappointing.


Château La Tour Figeac

Perfumed, elegant and complex with real freshness of fruit – bramble and plum, deliciously fresh, fine and elegant, though with a slightly earthy finish.

Château Canon

Concentrated fine and ripe with beautifully perfumed oak, then rich but balanced in the mouth, with lovely freshness, elegance and good length – even a hint of liquorice.


Château Magdelaine

Very perfumed with raspberry fruit – lighter and more elegant than expected, with both juicy acidity and quite firm tannins. Long.

Château Corbin

Big, rich, sweet and concentrated with black cherry and bramble fruit, lovely freshness, good structure and a hint of minerality.

Château Figeac

Very perfumed and tight with juicy Cabernet fruit. Medium weight and elegant.

Château Haut Corbin

Fine, rich and concentrated, with sweet fruit and pretty good balance, with fresh juicy acidity and soft tannins, rounded off by spicy oak.

Château La Couspaude

Perfumed with spicy, brambly fruit. Easy and ripe, with soft acidity and some elegance.

Château Beauséjour-Bécot

Big, perfumed wine. Juicy and fresh – everything in place, but not particularly complex.

Château Petit Faurie de Soutard

Quite light, with spicy strawberry aromas, but elegant and nicely balanced.

Château Balestard La Tonelle

Attractively ripe. With plums and even a hint of ripe figs and perfumed oak. Soft, but juicy with quite an oaky finish.

Château Cap de Mourlin

Nice raspberry perfume. Quite light; easy but a little stalky.

Château Grand Mayne

Rich and a little raisiny. Rather stalky tannins.

Château Canon La Gaffelière

Rather strange – very raisiny indeed, though sweet and ripe. Quite ready and probably won’t improve.

Château Trottevieille

Ripe and slightly jammy and even a little dusty. Seems marred by Volatile Acidity. Rot? Judgement reserved.


Château Gazin

Very deep, with seductively ripe, brambly fruit with great depth. Rich, silky-texture palate with power, but freshness in balance and firm ripe tannins. Lots of life – promises well.

Château Nénin

Another seductively ripe, richly perfumed nose with bramble and damson fruit, then a rich chocolaty favour and lots of power, if a little lacking in elegance.

Château Clinet

Very fragrant and elegant with finely integrate oak. Riper and more powerful in the mouth, with a long spicy finish.

Château Le Bon Pasteur

Fresh and fragrant, with a good depth of perfumed fruit. Juicy acidity in the mouth balances ripe fruit and no little elegance.

Château Trotanoy

Sweetly perfumed, both concentrated and elegant. Ripe and balanced but a little lacking in complexity.

Château Beauregard

Quite concentrated, but a little raisiny. Soft, rich, raisiny in the mouth too. Quite ready.

Sauternes and Barsac

Château Yquem

Wonderfully fresh and perfumed with quince and lemon and a hint of ripe pineapple. Perfectly balanced and very elegant with botrytised fruit – peach and pineapple with again, beautiful freshness and great length.

Château Dosiy-Védrines

Elegant, fresh pineapple nose with scented oak, then a lovely tangy flavour in which the juicy acidity perfectly balances the (considerable) sweetness of the wine.

Château Suduiraut

Elegant, refined nose with lemony fruit. Very fine in the mouth too – a slight suggestion of burnt sugar, but still very fresh and good.

Château Climens

Big, rich wine with hints of orange blossom – a lovely perfume. Big and botrytised – a touch of burnt pineapple jam.

Château Guiraud

A deliciously enticing smell of peach, apricot and pineapple; then a little drier than expected and quite oaky too at the moment, but a fine, lingering aftertaste.

Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey

Peach and apricot fruit, but a touch spirituous. Fresh lemony/pineapple fruit in the mouth, but lacking a little in elegance.

Château Lamothe-Guignard

Concentrated smell of peach and apricot. Buttery sweet, but lacking a little in acidity.






2011 Port – yet another vintage of the century?

October 25th, 2011

At the end of last week’s Symington family single quinta port seminar in London on Thursday, Johnny and Paul Symington brought out three tank samples of the 2011 harvest. They call it ‘a most sensational harvest’.

The crop was small and very concentrated, but on the 21 August 18mm of rain softened the skins. The sample from the Qunita do Bomfim had staggering depth of fruit – intense ripe black cherry; Cavadinha was more perfumed and a little fresher – a huge wine, whereas Malvedos, more closed was intensely spicy.

Such notes are only the roughest of indications – the wines are too young to assess properly, but they are surely hugely promising and as Paul said, ‘You’d have to be a damn idiot not to make a great wine this year.’

I’ll report on the tasting proper in The Journal on 4 November.

Combebelle – back soon!

October 14th, 2011

One of  many sad consequencies of the demise of Oddbins was that many UK wine lovers were deprived of a handy supply of Chateau de Combebelle, Catherine Wallace’s wonderful, biodynamic St Chinian. I visisted Catherine yesterday and was able to taste wine from the 2010 and 2009 harvests as well as from earlier vintages, including 2007 – which has been snapped up (hallelujah!) by Waitrose Direct and Ocado. Keep an eye open for it and the don’t hesitate. A blend of 70% Syrah and 30% Grenache its is, like all  Catherine’s wines, wonderfully perfumed and marked by deliciously crunchy black fruit flavours. Let’s hope that Waitrose move quickly to secure the 2008 and later vintages too. The 2008 is more concentrated than 07 with particularly juicy acidity; the 09 is incredibly rich, silky and seductive, with elegant, fine tannins; the 10 is chunkier and more structured, with chocolaty black cherry fruit – a great wine worth waiting for.  Catherine hopes that they show signs that she’s improving as a wine maker. They do – but the bar was already set high.

Posh Languedoc

October 12th, 2011

I’m in Languedoc for a few days. One of my reasons for being here is to research a couple of articles. Yesterday I homed in on the sub-region of Terraces du Larzac which encompasses the villages of Montpeyroux and Saint Saturnin, whose wines have enjoyed and deserved an international reputation for a generation. And they are even better today. The main characteristic of the region is a steeper than usual diurnal range which gives the wine finesse, fresher acidity and more complex aromas than in other parts of the south. But they are expensive!! The latest edition of the Hachette Guide (2012) lists several whose wines fall in the €23 to 30 bracket and many more between €15-23. It’s almost as steep as the sections on the Côte d’Or. Some of the wines undoubtedly merit their exalted prices, others don’t. It’s not worth naming them as they don’t make it to the shelves of UK shops and it’s not hard to see why. The gap between the good and the very good in Languedoc is real enough, but the price differential is getting out of hand.

Harvest 2011 – hail and rot, but good things to come too.

September 20th, 2011

As the story of 2011 unfolds in western France, the picture is proving ever more complex – just as you might expect. Hail in the first week of September created havoc in around 300 hectares of Saint Estèphe and an even larger part of St Emilion.  Rot has become a serious worry, prompting some growers to abandon hopes of leaving the grapes a little longer to become even riper and make the best of what they can. Tales of sugar levels vary wildly, but the almost preposterous strength of the record-breaking 2010s and 2009s is not likely to be reached. Florence de la Filolie says that the current level is around 13.5 to 13.8 at Château Laniote (Grand Cru Classé St Emilion), as is unlikely to peak much above 14% when they pick –they were hoping to start yesterday. Last year the finished wine came in at 15.2%. They have been lucky to escape hail damage and the grapes look to be in fine health. Some vineyards in Pomerol had already been picked when I last drove through on 10 September. Back on the west side of the Gironde, the grapes at Caronne Sainte Gemme at Saint Laurent in the Médoc also looked in good health when I visited the same day. Georges Nony was quietly confident that a tricky, unpredictable year might yet deliver something special