Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Penfolds Release Ultra-Premium Single Grape Cuvee

Treasury Wine Estates subsidiary Penfolds announced today that they will be releasing what they describe as the most extraordinary wine ever made. After 1000s of man-hours at the sorting table, a single Shiraz grape was chosen among millions to be vinified separately from all the others, with its precious nectar allowed to shine as a pure singularity of the finest wine Australia can produce. 

Fermentation took place in a new oak thimble, with a toothpick used for punchdowns. Once complete, the resulting wine was squeezed off its skin into a specially constructed nano-barrel carved from 100% French Oak. After 24 months, somehow avoiding complete evaporation, the remaining liquid was hermetically sealed in a perfect glass sphere, resembling a child’s marble (do children still play with marbles?). That single Marble is priced at £1,000,000.

When asked if this was a little steep, a Penfolds representative scoffed, “Really, it ought to be priceless, but if it was we couldn’t sell it, so we just came up with something ridiculously expensive. Maybe we should’ve encased it in a diamond or something.”  

Obviously with such a tiny quantity, samples proved something of an issue. “We vinified a couple of other single grapes from the same parcel to get an idea of what this one might taste like – but the mystery of it all is part of the allure.”

Of course, for the lucky buyer of the marble, comes some added extras. A case of Grange 1998 for your guests to sip while they watch you drink the Marble, as there obviously isn’t enough to share. Penfolds don’t think this will be an issue, as they’re quite certain the buyer wouldn’t think of actually drinking it. “Nah, are you kidding? We hope not, at least, as we promised to fly to population of Sydney to the opening ceremony, and that would work out pricier than the pebble itself… marble… whatever the fucking thing is."

When asked for a comment, a bearded, jet-lagged, dishevelled Robert Parker woke from a nap and muttered, “a thousand points” and immediately fell back asleep.

Some members of the wine trade were somewhat sceptical of the ‘Marble’. “First an ampoule and now a marble? The whole thing is bloody ridiculous – how do you drink a single grape’s worth of wine? Who’s going to buy that?”

Penfolds responded that, apparently, Alistair Viner of Hedonism Wines had already bought it.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Cuvée du Clos Notre Dame 2004 Vve Fourny et Fils

This was really good, though production is miniscule. So small, in fact, that I don't think the UK agent (Thorman Hunt) actually stocks this particular cuvée. It comes from a tiny monopole that is only 0.29 hectares. I think that's about the size of my garden. It's 100% Chardonnay from the 1er Cru village of Vertus.

Slow, purposeful mousse.

Chantilly cream and lemon shortbread on the nose. Very good biscuit/fruit balance. Closed but intense. As it gets air, there's a fresh cep earthiness that comes through.

Beautiful balance to the mousse on the palate. Tight, ungiving and youthful. Needs at least 5 years. Gloriously lemon-sherbet dips. Sees a bunch of oak, but it serves only for texture. Harmony but promise as well. Nerve-y and exciting.

****(*)

Tasted 24 November 2013 somewhere in Fulham

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

La Bota de Manzanilla Pasada "Bota Punta" 40

This is probably one of the top three sherries I’ve ever drunk in my life. It blew me away. I tried quite hard with this note, to give an indication of just how much I was tasting and feeling while drinking it. I think where I fall short is the sense of energy in every sip, on the nose. The idea that this wine is almost alive in the glass. That it’s positively charged.

Salted oats, hay, straw drying in the sun. The sea takes some coaxing and it isn't wet when it comes. Crispy seaweed, a touch of malt. A clean beach at low tide. Just a bit of lemon zest. Focused. Powerful. Makes you blink the water from your eyes after you sniff it.

It starts at the sides of the tongue, like contact points on either side of a battery, with a zap, or a jolt. From there it consumes the mouth as you consume it, delivering a charge that wakes everything. Salt crusted hay and lemons, the beginnings of richness, the barest hint of creaminess. Grist. Green leaf and ash. Freshly sawed wood. Beeswax and salt crystals. There's a sharpness, freshness and bracing acidity that is balanced by a textured, oaty mouthfeel. It tugs and gives. This is like the Grand Cru Chablis of sherry. But better. That rigid, underlying structure that draws everything inward then releases more and more back. It's not just layers, it's a wave. It keeps going. As it starts at the sides of the tongue, it's like a droplet in a pool of still water. It bounces back and forth, echoing. Every sip brings something you didn’t notice before, but never at the expense of what you’re loving, what you’re tugging your tongue along the roof of your mouth for, already. 

*****

Tasted at Miller’s Court, 16 November 2013

Monday, December 16, 2013

Duval Leroy Blanc de Chardonnay 1998 (served blind)

I served this blind on Champagne Sunday a few weeks ago. It showed better than I expected.

Slow bubbles - colour showing perfectly for the age - a hint of gold and bronze.

Nose is buttered mushrooms, a bit of oyster shell, and a touch of licorice. It gets more floral with air

Mature and toasty on the palate to start with, with a refreshing mousse. The texture of the wine beneath the mousse manages to be both citrus waxy and a touch sinewy. Not terribly complex, but very pleasurable. However, the finish seems part of a different wine, lifting with youthful, floral, exuberant spritz.

*** 1/2

Tasted somewhere in Fulham, 1 December 2013 

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

sweet bubbles

Champagne, more than any other wine region or wine, represents a great deal more than the sum of its parts. It’s a cold-climate, usually blended, white (I don’t really want to talk about rosé right now) wine that undergoes a secondary fermentation in the bottle. And yet it is the strongest generic wine brand in the world, and there isn’t really a second place. Not only that, but it’s been that way for well over a century. People love bubbles. People love bubbles that show off how discerning in taste they are and buy bubbles with the right labels. They’ve done so for a long time. And so much of the success comes down to the bubbles. Still wines from the region tend towards the relentlessly astringent.

But the success isn’t just about bubbles. Plenty of wines have bubbles. Nowadays, people pointing at Champagne’s underlying brilliance talk about the chalky soil and all the other dreaded “t” word stuff. I’m not really interested in that today. The main reason for Champagne’s continued success the world over isn’t its bubbles or its chalk: it’s the remarkable adaptability of the Champagnois.

Champagne’s stratospheric rise to acclaim came on the shoulders of a much different wine to what we drink today. Yes, there were bubbles, but there was also sugar. Lots and lots of sugar. Champagne was sweet, or at the very least, off-dry. The levels of sugar in the dosage were far higher than today, and were often tailored for specific markets, depending on the sweet teeth of the intended destination. One of the reasons they could do this was the bracing natural acidity of the wines. Champagne can take a lot of sugar. 

As tastes changed, so too did the producers. Dosages were reduced. Doux, Sec, Demi-Sec and Rich all gave way slowly to Brut and Extra Brut. There’s no right or wrong to this. Champagne simply changed to something slightly different. Perhaps it’s because, historically speaking, Champagne wasn’t all that wine-y a region. It became a wine region to meet the demand of those buying bubbles. Before that, it was famous for textiles and chalk mines. And as a wine region, it supply always seemed to be chasing demand. It’s a luxury every wine region dreams of. It also doesn’t allow for much dogma. 

Nowadays, the ability of these producers to change is being tested in different way. Climate change has accelerated in the last decade and a half, and the cool weather that brought high-acid wines is becoming a thing of the past. The big houses are building new presses closer to the vines - speed to press and reductive vinification is seen as essential to maintain freshness and combat lowered acidity brought by warmer weather. NVs these days are more green apples and lemons than orange peel and marmalade. 

Of course, these are sweeping statements. The smaller houses in Champagne are some of the most exciting independent wineries in the world right now. More attention has turned to viticulture than ever, and the result is wines that are redefining brilliance in the region. I’m not talking about gold-clad melchiors or single-Clos Krugs (though the latter are nice too), I’m talking about wines no one’s ever heard of, that I don’t even remember the name of. Tiny little Champagne houses making incredible wines… hipster Champagnes if such a thing could exist… 

I’m sorry - I got sidetracked. I was supposed to be talking about the style of sweet Champagne being lost to history, a footnote for nerds to look at in their WSET texts. I remember when I did my advanced, they were unable to name a single Doux cuvée still in production. I’m a nerd. I love footnotes. I also love residual sugar from 0g/l all the way up to PX at 400g/l and Essencia at 650g/l. So when Pete, my resident Champagne lunatic, showed me some of his latest additions to his hilariously overstocked cellar, I said “let’s buy a shitload of pâté and drink some sweet Champagne”. He thought this was a great idea. 

I don’t think sweet Champagne is on the verge of making a tremendous comeback. The only sweet wines that seem to succeed beyond the adoration of wine nerds are the ones that lie about their sweetness. Wines for consumers that think they like dry wines but are really drinking cunningly concealed sugar-bombs. It’s a shame, but there you go. 

Doyard Le Libertine Champagne Doux

This is really expensive. It was €120 at the cellar door. They wouldn’t tell us anything about it, other than it was bottled in 2008 and dosaged to 135g/l of residual sugar. I’d never had a Doux Champagne before. My closest comparison, in my mind, was sparkling Icewine from Canada. Boy was I wrong.

Rich gold with tiny bubbles that move at their own pace.

Intense, slightly funky nose of candied peaches, baked honey. Earthy at times, and with a hint of beeswax. Very heady once it comes out, but it needs coaxing.  

Incredible richness, both ripe and candied fruits. Incredible with duck liver pâté and orange. It’s like plugging it into a socket with food - brings out so much lift and energy. The fatty pâté and delicious goose rillettes bring out spices - cloves and cinnamon. Earthy and surprisingly grippy. Oats and honeyed peaches and apricots rolled with pastry. It fills every corner of the mouth and demands you move your tongue around as much as possible, tracing every complex nuance of sweetness and savoury. I reckon this could age a century, because once that sweetness grabs the food, there’s a bracing, almost brazen, acidity underneath. It’s utterly bloody delicious. And it’s somewhat like tasting a bit of the past. This is what Champagne used to be like. Bubbles and a sugar rush. Amazing.

*****

Pierre Legras Demi-Sec Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs 

This is not normally sold to the public, but Pete was given the opportunity to purchase it after a half-hour tasting turned into a 3 hour tour/tasting and discussion of all things Champagne. It’s not normally sold because Monsieur Legras likes to drink it himself with his wife, and no one wants to buy Demi-Secanymore. But he likes to drink it, so he keeps back some of his bottles to dosage a bit heavier. This cuvée is a blend of the 1995 and 1996 vintage and is dosaged to 35g/l of residual sugar. 

Beautiful, mature gold with speedy, medium-sized bubbles.

Heady, rich nose - honey and and a touch of earthiness. Then there are some biscuit notes and clean, fresh mushrooms.

Rich and complete on the palate. Honeyed, with a bit of hay, a touch of cep. Gorgeous with the food (selection of pâtés) always seeming to lift. There's a touch of that dirty honey sweetness on the finish. It's a pleasing, structured darkness. Very firm at its core, layered, with the flavours quite happy to play off each other’s nuances. They never quite hit the same points twice. It’s exciting to drink with the food, and see what happens next. Quite brilliant.

*****

Tasted somewhere in Fulham, 1 December 2013

Thursday, July 04, 2013

i'm back

I submitted the manuscript last Sunday night, and the book is fully funded (though you can still support it here).

Here's a fairly ordinary Champagne that you should avoid. More soon.

Barnaut Grand Cru Blanc de Noirs Bouzy

Good pale gold. Speedy, tiny bubbles. 

Bruised strawberries, green apples, a bit of hay and shortbread. Perhaps a touch of cocoa. 

Toothsome, but a bit one dimensional. There's some nice red fruit acidity. But the finish lasts longer than the mousse, giving a still wine texture at the end. That bizarre disjointed note undermines it a bit for me. It should be better, because its simplicity is hugely enjoyable.

Getting a bit thin with air. Becomes less pleasant. 

**

Tasted somewhere in Fulham, 2 June 2013

Saturday, May 04, 2013

prolonged hiatus

The first draft of Salt & Old Vines will be submitted on May 14th. That's ten days from now, and I've an awful lot of writing to do in the meantime. The whole publishing schedule has been laid out - it's exciting and scary and soon. Which means that the stack of tasting notes and reports from both Burgundy and the Rhone will have to wait that little bit longer.

I've continued to drink wine and enjoyed some things that have really blown me away of late. I went to Danny Cameron's remarkable Big Fortified Tasting and, though I didn't have much time, was utterly impressed by not only the wines available to sample, but the extraordinary enthusiasm of both the exhibitors and the attendees. I tasted as much Sherry as I could, grabbed a sneak peak of the 2011 Vintage Ports (Graham's "The Stone Terraces" was rather nice, as it should be), and managed to get hold of a signed copy of that new Sherry book that everyone (who's a total nerd about sherry) is talking about. Old Madeira was, as usual, amazing. People should drink fortified wine more often.

In the non-fortified universe, I've been enjoying Guy Farge's Saint-Josephs from both 2010 and 2011. Mas Brunet continues to do wonderful things in the Terraces du Larzac. Look for both those things. A half dozen native oysters at Ivan's in Howth matched perfectly with a bottle of basic Picpoul de Pinet. I've forgotten the producer as it was an off-duty lunch. But I'm pretty sure great oysters and good Picpoul won't ever let you down.

Back to sherry: had some of Lustau's Old East India with a slice of warm ginger cake. Not quite as harmonious as the Picpoul and oysters, but pretty bloody close.

Sampled a whole bunch of stuff on the enomatics at Hedonism. Ygay Gran Reserva 2004 stands out among them all as being true class.

I tried a whole bunch of shitty Chiantis and Super-Tuscans. They're not imported into the UK. Crossing my fingers it stays that way.

I'm really loving wine at the moment, just in general. If it didn't have that terrible tendency to make me drunk and sleepy, I'd be drinking even more of it. I'll just have to settle for writing a book about making it instead.

 

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