Monday, September 05, 2011

Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou 1970

One of the first big tastings organised by the Naughton Dining Club (oft-referred to wine-swilling gang of trade and ex-trade mates) was a vertical of Ducru dating back to 1955. If memory serves, and subsequent tastings are any indication, the 1966 was the wine of the evening. But we all loved the 1970 as well. In those days, and up through to the 90s, Ducru provided the poise and elegance of St Julien. Nowadays it tends towards the bigger style of claret, which is a shame. As such, revisiting old Ducru is not something that needs to be forced upon me. I'll sip willingly.

Mature, but not old, and classic claret tones at 41 years.

Soft nose, with bunches of tangy berries - the dried ones you find in a good muesli, and hints of cloves on the edges.

This is almost aperitif claret. Sadly ill-suited to the lamb shanks. Perhaps the acidity of the tomato in the sauce is cutting into it a bit. Tasted away from the food, it's delicious. Supple and textured, it's not quite as big and vibrant as the La Chapelle, nor as poised as the Barolo, but sits somewhere between the two. Is it a touch too old? Nah. I'd keep drinking it over the next five years or so. Perhaps longer.


Tasted 20 August 2011 at Shorehead.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Jaboulet Hermitage 'La Chapelle' 1972

The search for good wines from our birth year is almost and endless task for those in the wine trade. I'm a 1976 baby myself, so Champagne and Germany have yielded the best results. A friend in the trade was born in 1972 and has searched for years in vain for a decent wine from that year. His most recent acquisition was this, and it turned out to be a pleasant surprise.

Rusty red edges, but quite dark blueberry compote at the core.

The nose is meaty, savoury with cocoa-laced stone fruits - plums - and a whiff of stewed blueberry.

That savoury, meatiness follows through on to the palate mostly with a nice, mature saddle leather mouthfeel that guides cocoa and confit blueberry on the mid-palate. There's still a nice, rich vibrancy to this. The fruit is youthful while the texture and mouthfeel enjoy the luxury of maturity. Nice depth, too. Fantastic - possibly wine of the night (though I do love the Barolo).


Tasted 20 August 2011 at Shorehead

Saturday, September 03, 2011

already routine

My alarm sings the marimba at 530 in the morning and I fiddle about trying to turn it off. I avoid 'snooze'. The snooze button is not allowed during harvest.

By 630 we're at Coume del Mas, rinsing and assembling the press and loading the first comports (big plastic tubs holding about 50kg worth of grapes). It's a small bag-press, so it only takes about 18 comports. We don't talk much at this point. We've said bonjour and possibly ça va and that's about it. Yesterday's wine will be racked from cool tank into barrels in the cool room (cool, huh?) while we fill the press. Apart from a few barrels of fermenting Syrah, it's only white at the moment, with the wines that will be Folio, c'est pas de Pipeau and Catala just starting their ferments. Grenache Gris, Roussanne and Vermentino all bubbling away.

Once the press is loaded I grab a lift from Coume del Mas in Cosprons to Mas Cristine in Argeles. If all's going to plan, we get to Argeles about 730. Mas Cristine requires more strategy when getting equipment together, as our corner of the ancient co-op is cramped and a bit inhospitable. We move the press outside in order to save space. This is a larger beast than the one at Coume del Mas, and can take - with coaxing - about 35 comports. More often than not, there is wine to rack from tank to tank, and at the moment we've a Roussanne ferment to cool down in the mornings. The first grapes come in about 830. Thus far we've had Grenache Gris, Muscat, Roussanne and Macabeu for whites and a small amount of Syrah and Grenache Noir for rosé.

The standard press cycle takes about three hours, during which we clean, rack and sort out all the tanks and barrels for the grapes yet to come. Quite a lot of winemaking is being ready and quite a lot of being ready in winemaking is being clean. Scrubbing the caps for tanks, the tartaric residue off of stainless steel and epoxy vats, it's all part of the harvest.

As the press clangs and howls through its various pressures and in between all the cleaning, racking and tidying, we taste the juice. We usually switch vessel about 1000mBars, separating the lighter press juice from the harder. The juice from the first presses tends to be fruitier, more elegant, while the later presses boast more phenolics and secondary flavours. In most cases they will ferment and mature independently until the blend is decided late autumn.

Some days, we'll do two full presses, others one. Over lunch we'll chat about the odd variations in grape maturity throughout the vines. The odd cool spell and bizarre humidity levels have led to uneven ripening. Some of the best fruit won't be ready for a month, meaning the much talked about early harvest may also be one of the latest harvests in recent memory, with some reds not being picked until October. The last three years in the Roussillon, most of the ferments had finished by then.

At Mas Cristine, there is usually beer when the shift ends. It's cold and never quite big enough.

Home by 7ish. In bed around 10. The same again in the morning. I'm enjoying it while I can, as when the reds come in it will start to get busy.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Fontannafredda Barolo 1961

Sitting on the outskirts of Banyuls, typing up tasting notes from last week, staring out at the steep-terraced vineyards and wondering what the future holds. The immediate future is easy: there are grapes by the millions to turn into wine. The distant future, not so much. Even October is a mystery. I hope, though, that someday a wine I had a hand in turns out as lovely as this in 50 years' time.

Rusty red but no brown.

Stoned, dried plums and strawberries on the nose with dust, hay and a zingy marmalade tang.

Soft, old and classy on the palate. Arguably a touch simple, but elegant and really gorgeous with roast lamb shanks. In spite of the softness, there's still a welcome and firm grip to the tannins whilst that dry fruit ripens up and lifts with the food, still showing off some proper juiciness. Charming.


Tasted 20 August 2011 at Shorehead.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Some notes on winemaking (or how not to hurt yourself too badly while working vintage)

I am by no means a winemaking expert. I wouldn't even say I was at an intermediate level - more an enthusiastic and curious beginner with three years' experience. Along the way I've picked up a few nuggets of knowledge that may help the aspiring young vigneron out. They're numbered in no particular order.

1. There is nothing cuddly in a winery. The tanks are steel, oak, epoxy or concrete. The hoses are reinforced and have stainless steel at each end. The bottles are glass. The pallets splinter. Pretty much everything is heavy or sharp or hard. Some things are all of those. Be careful.

2. If you forget rule one and do hurt yourself, don't bitch. Don't stop if you're in the middle of something. Everyone's hurt themselves. Everyone is bleeding or just scabbed over, with bruises forming and bumps rising. Anything short of a broken bone, lost limb or death can wait. Just try not to bleed into the wine and when there's a pause, find a bandaid.

3. Making wine hungover is something you only need to do once to learn it is the worst fucking thing in the world. Remember: self-inflicted wounds deserve and receive no sympathy.

4. Drink a lot of water.

5. You don't have to be a morning person, but you have to function in the morning, regardless of how miserable and grumpy you are. Everyone around you wanted an extra hour or two in bed and none of them got it.

6. There is no 'are we there yet?' attitude, there is only 'what can I do next?' attitude.

7. If there's coffee, drink it. You'll need it.

8. If there's wine at lunch (and there will be in France), take it easy and match it with water.

9. Try, if you can, to get a bit of breakfast.

10. If someone else is lazy, it's not your job to call them out. Their laziness will reveal itself. Focus on what you're doing.

11. Always double-check the valves. Wasting wine is a terrible, terrible thing.

12. Do your job and be helpful.

13. Learning what not to do is every bit as important as learning what to do.

14. When in doubt, ask. It's better to be annoying than to do something wrong.

15. Nobody likes a smart ass. That's applicable well beyond winemaking.

16. Don't stick your hand in the de-stemmer.

17. Make sure you know where the emergency stop button is on every bit of equipment you use. It's usually big and red.

18. Make sure everything is clean at the end of the day. If you half-ass whatever you're cleaning, you can fuck it up for everyone.

19. Don't fuck it up for everyone.

20. Have fun.