Thursday, January 31, 2008

Vin de Constance 2002

If South Africa has a flagship wine, then this must be it. Its legend dates back three centuries and there are reports of bottles ageing beautifully for over 100 years or more. Once upon a time it stood proudly next to Yquem, the great Tokaji's, and Germany's finest in the pantheon of the world's great dessert wines. 

The first time I tried it I didn't like it. I didn't think it lived up to the hype that the producers, Klein Constantia, were trying to instil in the brand. I thought they were trading on past glories, that their great experiment was doomed to failure, that I would stick to France for great sweet chenin blanc. I don't remember that vintage. It may have been late nineties. 

Trying the 2002 is a very different story. 

Incredibly deep gold, with hints of brass and possibly copper at the core. Delightful brilliance - genuinely beautiful to look at as it captures the light. 

The nose is such that were I only to have smelled it, I could take some small comfort. The nose is beautiful. Spiced marmalade, flint, lemon, heather honey and a touch of marzipan edged with floral perfume and a hint of minerality.  

Honey and marmalade come alive on the palate - such brilliant purity of sweetness and fruit - oranges, lemons and a touch of peach. It isn't flabby though - there's a classic flintiness and minerality that keeps it from all going crazy. It gives structure and texture that makes me want to try this wine with some fantastic food - creamy Loire goat's cheese perhaps, or a tarte citron? The finish lasts a good couple of minutes. It's ridiculously more-ish, and surprisingly elegant, considering the intense concentration of flavours. 

It will keep for a decade or two at least, though I look forward to trying one of their centenarian bottles.


Tasted 31/1/08 at Luvians Bottleshop.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Dönnhoff Riesling 2006

The hype of Germany's 2006 has sent quite a few waves through the wine world. London merchants staged hugely successful en primeur campaigns, selling top wines from top producers at top prices in large quantities. What does it all mean to the average consumer, to whom most German wines are a mystery, who don't know Bernkasteler Doktor or the significance of a gold capsule, or why a half bottle of eiswein is worth over £100 in bond? 

It means a lot. It means a lot because, hopefully, this great vintage and heightened attention will increase the profile of some of the greatest white wines on the planet. As is the norm with these things, it doesn't matter how good the top tier wines are if those at entry level drag their heals. Look at Bordeaux - millions of gallons of unsold garbage sitting in warehouses next to the some of the world's greatest wines selling out before they're bottled. 

So yesterday we opened Dönnhoff's basic Riesling 2006. Dönnhoff's pretty much the best producer in the Nahe and I expected it to be good, as it always is, regardless of vintage. 

I was, we were, blown away. This wine retails at £10.99 and it's incredible value for money. The nose alone gets you salivating. Fleshy white grape, fresh pear and a hint of lime with a fresh effervescence. It tickles. On the back is a hint of flint.

The palate is pinpoint balance between residual sugar and acidity. The fresh, fleshy (though never flabby) fruit continues from the nose - juicy white grapes, pear and a touch of citrus. That incredible acidity cleans the palate leaving you wanting more, lingering on the refreshing minerality. It's bursting with flavour, but never weighty - poised and balanced it manages both sexiness and elegance. Kind of like Scarlett Johansonn in a svelte ball gown but fuck-me pumps and sexy lingerie underneath. 

I look forward to drinking this and many other German 06s over many years to come. 


Tasted at Luvians Bottleshop, 24/1/08

Thursday, January 24, 2008

a visit to Coume del Mas

My thumb and forefinger are purple, stained into the grooves of my fingerprints. It's the mark of a tasting in this neck of the woods, and in this case a very good tasting. Phillippe Gard, winemaker and owner of Coume del Mas, is vaulting barrels and stacks of wine cases with a wine-thief, drawing samples, occasionally shouting something about the vintage, the cuveé, wine in general or the region in particular. I try to follow the French, to little avail, though it's all said with such quiet conviction that I feel I understand regardless. My friend Andy translates to help out and sometimes Phillippe switches to English. 

The cáve is perfect. It's January and all things are happening. Stainless steel fermentation tanks line the walls, stained barrels lie here and there and every gap is filled by stacks of crates, the recently bottled vintage preparing for shipping, empty bottles awaiting the bottling truck, rolls of labels not-yet-afixed, flat-packed crates, more packaging, more cases, more barrels - it is a small winery and nothing shows that better than the clutter I see before me. Phillippe apologises for the mess but I couldn't be happier - it's a rare sight, a genuine behind the scenes look, and the wine geek in me drinks it all in. 

All the while the wine thief does its job, and we try some wines.


Coume del Mas Folio 2007

This is always my favourite white of the region. Mouth-filling, waxy white fruit, a touch of clotted cream and a great mineral backbone. Very quaffable. This is barrique aged but then Phillippe takes a sample from one of the stainless steel tanks, telling us it's an experiment. It's tight, with more intense minerality and a more angular structure. I ask if it will be blended with the wine from barrique and Phillippe shrugs. He's constantly experimenting, looking for the best way to express his wines, and he hasn't made his mind up yet.

We then try a rousanne/vermentino blend that's only sold locally - easy drinking table wine, that's a real delight. Fun wine for the porch on a warm summer's day. The effervescence of young white samples excites the palate and readies us for the reds.

Coume del Mas Schistes 2007

Straight from tank, this wine sees no wood, no racking, and as little air or interference as possible. The result is remarkable, especially at this young stage. It is dark purple with vivid edges. The nose is fresh crushed violets, plum and allspice, with wild fresh herbs on the edges. The palate follows through entirely from the nose. The complexity is astounding, as is the depth and darkness - that it is all coming from the fruit (100% very old vine grenache), without any wood, seems daunting. Essence of plums and violets run over stones and pebbles - such brilliant minerality - words like purity and authenticity come to mind. This is a remarkable wine. ***(**)

From then we tried a barrage of barrel samples, compenent batches to be blended into either Quadratur, Abysses, Quintessence or some yet un-named cuvée. Late harvested syrah, old vine carignan, a blend of syrah, mouvedre and carignan. All of them were big, yet that purity of fruit, a total lack of confection, pervaded, as did that backbone minerality, the heart of the region's terroir. 


In a loft in the back of the winery sits a selection of barrels of various sizes. Phillippe explains this is where, when the time is right, his attempt at Banyuls Grand Cru will come from. To blend a great Banyuls Grand Cru is an art few still possess. While the law stipulates that it must simply stay in barrel for three years before achieving Grand Cru status, the reality is more complicated. Selection and blending are paramount to achieve the best results, which can be heavenly on the nose and palate. We sample some of these barrels - glorious honeyed red fruits with still gripping tannins. One particularly wonderful mouvedre from an unfeasibly small barrel nearly brings tears to my eyes. With such incredible components I have no doubt that Phillippe's first Grand Cru will be a triumph. I mention this and the shrugged response is reassuringly honest and humble. 


Coume del Mas Quadratur 2001

We drank this with a lovely, simple lunch of pasta and fresh truffles at Phillippe Gard's home in the village of Banyuls. 

The nose is christmas spice - cinammon and cloves, fresh woodspice. Wonderful and different. This follows through to palate where those spices balance against rich plum and forest fruit. It's a remarkable fine wine, complex and rustic, beautiful to sip, brilliantly structured. A total sensory delight - as good excuse as needed to lay Quadratur down for a good few years. 


I left lunch with the sense of excitement one gets knowing that the best is yet to come. Phillippe Gard makes great wines, that much is true, but he's not content to stand still. That can only be a good thing, and I look forward to trying what comes next.

Stella Bella Sangiovese Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

We tasted this sample in Luvians on a slow, hungover Wednesday in January. Wines have to work hard on such days. They need to provide lift, they need to be authentic. We're bored already, we don't want anything else to bore us. 

Sadly, the Stella Bella bored us. 

It's nose was dense, brooding, quite powerful but undefined. It smelled like a big red. Blind I would have said it was Australian... and red. The blackcurrant from the cabernet overwhelms any cherry notes from the sangiovese. 

We spoke about the palate for a good 15 - 20 minutes. It was big, unctuous and again, blackcurrants overwhelmed some of the subtler notes. The sangiovese came through on the finish, with a green tannin bitter bite that stands as a hallmark for new world pinot noir and sangiovese that's been overextracted. That said, it isn't a terrible wine - it bears hallmarks of quality. But it's faults leave it exposed. There are better wines from this part of the world at this price. It's uniqueness, as a sangiovese blend from Western Oz, is undermined by it not being a good sangiovese from Western Oz. Most of our chat was apologetic, searching for plus points, rather than shouting about them. 

That's not a good sign.


Sunday, January 13, 2008

Chambolle Musigny Les Fuees, JF Mugnier, 2000

The colour is why I love Burgundy - one of the reasons anyway. That perfect pale brilliance that deceives you. You think it's going to be wishy-washy, but the brilliance gives it away. It generates it's own light. 

The nose is more feel than flavour, fruit essence rather than defined - red fruit flower water, if such a thing exists. Perfumed and incredibly sexy.

The palate is sensuous, beautifully textured with wonderful mouthfeel, but the fruit's a touch muted. As though it is entirely ephemeral. Lovely, elegant, sexy, yet simple in the pleasure it gives, though not a simple wine. Pinpoint perfect fine Burgundy, though quite a shock to the system after barrel samples of old vine carignan, old vine grenache and several samples of fine Banyuls earlier in the day.


Tasted in Collioure, 11/1/2008

Monday, January 07, 2008

Quadratur, Coume del Mas, 2003

The colour displays deep purple or ruby, depending on the angle of the light. It's still dark to the core, but brilliant nonetheless and bearing more translucency than a couple of years ago. 

The nose is pure, driven, perfect old vine grenache - ripe plum and blueberry fruit wrapped in dark woodspice, forest floor and tar aromas. Well balanced on all counts and hugely inviting.

All the fruit and peripheral notes from the nose come through on the palate - it's beautiful. Ripe plums, blueberries and bramble fruit with such intensity and purity - avoiding the stewed, overcooked aspects prevalent elsewhere in the vintage. Then that dark earthiness comes through, rich, tactile and gripping. The tannins are becoming supple. This is about pleasure - it's sensuous. Mouthfeel is a tad suede and velvet, lending to its more-ishness. The structure isn't rigid but it also isn't lacking. This is great stuff - a definitive example of fine grenache and a fine wine in general. 


Tasted at Luvians Bottleshop, St Andrews 7/1/2007