Sunday, April 29, 2012

Ridge Geyserville 2009 from Double Magnum.

My friend Sam brought this gargantuan bottle to a dinner party last December. So, you know, go Sam.

Night-like purple. Very dark. Light barely escapes.

Deep and plummy; almost mulled on the nose. Cloves, woodspice.

Dusty cocoa with rich, candied plums. So incredibly ripe and yet never unbalanced. There's liquorice and softly gripping tannins. Juicy, long and really quite fine stuff. More-ish. Never as dense as the colour suggests. A fineness that eludes most Zinfandels. I've little doubt that it will age beautifully, as Mr Draper seems incapable of making wines that don't, but at the same time, I'm not sure I have the patience.


Tasted 29/12/2011 at Naughton

Friday, April 20, 2012

April 20th Edition (or: Cannabis Wine? Really?)

I first read about the growing trend for some Californian winemakers to infuse certain cuvées with cannabis sometime last year, but I can't remember where. In fact, I tried to forget the whole thing; I was happy to scrub from my memory such whispered rumour and scandal. Then, a few days ago, The Drinks Business resurrected the story, timed no doubt to coincide with herbal enthusiasts the world over celebrating 4/20 (20/4 here in the UK).

For those in a rush, and not wanting to click on the link, the basic gist is that there are some winemakers in California who drop a pound of marijuana into a fermenting barrel of wine and leave it in there for anywhere up to about nine months. The first time I read about it, I thought it was a joke. Part of me still hopes it is.

First off, I'm not a prude. I would, were I in charge of the universe, legalise marijuana immediately and tax it heavily. I have, in my day, partaken of the magical herb. At one point, during my second year at university, I was probably one or two joints shy of permanently cladding myself in hemp hoodies, a silly wooly hat, combats, uneven facial hair, living on a commune and flipping a peace sign at passing pigeons. These days such events are more of a rarity, and usually result in me collapsing in bed well before everyone else.

So it isn't the cannabis part of cannabis-Cabernet blends that makes me shake my head in disbelief. It's not even the Cabernet part, though there are a fair few Californian Cabernets that have left me shaking my head in disbelief. It is the combination of two things that can only result in something far, far lesser than the sum of its parts. Why would you do that?

Actually, let's start with why you wouldn't do that.

First of all, marijuana tastes fucking awful. That's why people tend to smoke it. People who eat it bake it into chocolate brownies in an effort to mask the taste as much as possible. People who drink bong water sit so low on the evolutionary ladder that we can only hope they never procreate. Any time I encounter notes of dope in a drink I'm tasting (usually beer, usually if it's been hopped with a clumsy hand), it counts against it. It counts against it because it's unpleasant and awful. Apparently these wines wind up smelling like a college dorm or a Grateful Dead concert. Are you kidding me? Give me farmyard-y Burgundy any day.

Second of all, wine shouldn't taste fucking awful. So, you know, don't add something that tastes fucking awful to it.

Third of all, it's hard to make wine. It requires, especially at the top level, herculean effort. Nothing should go to waste. That includes wasting a barrel by dropping a pound of ganja in it.

Fourth of all, Californian Cabernet is potent enough as it is, nes pas?

Fifth of all, wouldn't Cabernet Franc, with its vegetal leafiness, be a better match than Cabernet Sauvignon?

So, why, then?

The only reason I can come up with is that it gets you really fucked up. And that shouldn't be a reason to make good wine. That's what we folks that make quality wine fight against, tooth and nail, is that what we make is just a means to an end. Of the roads to intoxication, this is the autobahn; our own, funky, reeking version of a speedball. And that leaves a nasty taste in my mouth.

Not quite as nasty as bong water, though. Don't ask.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Champagne Week Finale: Epic Dom Perignon tasting of Epicness at Naughton, 7 April 2012

Drawing Champagne Week to a close with notes from a special tasting and some thoughts.

This tasting was originally just going to be a side-by-side between the 2003 and the 2002. One thing led to another, though, and we wound up with a full-fledged vertical tasting. It was huge fun, sparked off some good debate and we all got to drink a metric ton of DP.

However, throughout the tasting, and not for the first time, I wondered at its practical application. Comparative wine tasting at any level removes the tasters from the context for which the wine is meant. Richard Geoffroy, when he made Dom Perignon 2003, made it to be enjoyed as a singular wine, to accompany excellent food, not to be tasted with several other of its brethren. As such, how valid are our conclusions? How much further does this widen the gap between 'wine folks' who pass judgement with authority and the average consumer? This is oft-tread ground as wine discussion goes, but recent chat on Twitter and elsewhere has thrown it all into sharp relief. I don't have any answers, but it's something to ask yourself while your tasting.

Dom Perignon 2003

Mature colour, with slow and tiny bubbles.

Fat, rich nose with buttered shortbread and brioche. Roasted strawberry pips.

Big and brash on the palate with almost burnt toast and strawberry jam. The burnt notes give the impression of a shell, or skin that you bite through to gain access to the fruit. It seems to replace acidity in terms of structure, as everything rides on it and it's delivered through that toastiness. Remarkable winemaking. Not my favourite by any means but I'm kind of blown away by it anyway. Infinitely superior to Bollinger 2003.

Dom Perignon 2002

Paler, more lively mousse and brighter.

Flecks of lemon peel, apple and a touch of cream to it. Lemon curd.

Palate is buoyant, bursting, tight knit citrus and incredible grip, mouthfeel, and tightness. Fruit and secondaries are woven perfectly into each other. Great harmony. Slatey and chalky texture. So young, remarkable and brilliant. Lovely nerve and energy.

Dom Perignon 2000

Beginnings of brass on the gold.

Bushels of butter and hay on the nose.

Soft on the palate, sensual mousse but lacking grip. There's a bitterness on the finish that's not pleasant. Perhaps a touch too flabby.

Dom Perignon 1999

Active mousse, nice colour.

Very mute on the nose at first. As it opens it's all pencil lead and limes. Flinty and citrusy.

Disjointed on the palate. Rambunctious mousse that stops abruptly midway through, releasing an almost oily butteriness. Needs perhaps to be wrapped around som fore gras. Instead we have it with pheasant and it really livens up. It grabs the food and lifts with lush, tropical notes.

Dom Perignon 1998

Shed its silver and and bright gold.

Heady nose of balanced hay, chantilly cream and crunchy green and red apples.

Lovely harmony on the palate. Subtle and pleasing combination of all the barnyard - hay and biscuits and brioche, and fruit basket - pear, apples and a touch of quince, all held together with a lovely creaminess. At its peak. Not the best wine, but perhaps the best wine now.

Dom Perignon 1996

Superb brilliance with lively, pinprick, racy bubbles.

Brioche, toffee apples, clotted cream, candied lemon peel and quince on the nose.

Full and youthful. I'm sure this is one of the more youthful wines on the table. Big, mousse, exciting but not aggressive. Younger and livelier than the last time I tasted it, I imagine this is about to close down for its awkward teenage years. Just beginning to show fleshy white fruit and quince. No mushrooms yet. Perhaps a touch of cep. Its class is indisputable.


Put simply, the 2002 and the 1996 were the champions of the tasting; their reputation as fantastic vintages is wholly justified. I can only hope that I am fortunate enough to taste them as they mature over the next three or so decades.

The 2003 is remarkable for existing, but I do not think it ranks highly in the echelons of vintages that I have tried. Time may change that, but for now, it is what it is, an accurate reflection of that hot summer. When I interviewed Richard Geoffroy, he made it clear to me that reflecting the vintage was paramount to his mission as a wine maker. As such, it's a success. But when held against wines like the 2002, the shortcomings of the vintage become apparent.

By the end, we wound up asking more questions than the wines were answering. Wine can't really answer questions, but it provokes the asking in spades. The biggest question was how much more reductive the wine-making style in Champagne has become over the last decade. It's not unique to this region, by any means, but my own anecdotal, tasting evidence suggests that more and more houses are going this route, most likely to counter the noticeably hotter summers. Has anyone else noticed this? Young wines are paler, with more apples, pears and pear drops. Tangy, youthful marmalade in a young Champagne seems to have become a thing of the past. It's fascinating, tasting the changes in the world and our response to it through wine.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Champagne Week: Pol Roger 1990 (from magnum)

Magnums are fun.

Still very youthful colour with steady, small bubbles.

Nose of forest fruits and lemon rind. There's a bright fresh pithiness there as well. Still very youthful and exuberant.

Beautiful velvety texture on the palate. Quite fibrous and quince-like. Light red fruit followed by a citrus grip. The toast and brioche are still in hiding but there is a nice early note of mushroom and earth that shows up on the finish. This is lovely now, but there is a great deal more to come.


Tasted at Naughton, 29 December 2011

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Champagne Week: Champagne Roses de Jeanne Blanc de Blancs Lieu-Dit 'La Haute Lemblé' 2006 Cedric Bouchard

The middle wine of a three wine tasting, this was the best combination of fun and serious. Not terribly tasty with pizza, though.

Quite pale; silvery, with lazy bubbles.

Bready, floury nose, with hints of candied lemon peel. Quite blossom-y, with a richness that comes with coaxing.

The palate rides the mousse and then erupts as it hits the middle of the tongue. It's rich and doughy, with roasted citrus that melts to leave a flinty anise note along the edges. Generous, but still with good focus. Vibrant - hums a bit.


Tasted somewhere in Fulham, 4/3/2012

Friday, April 13, 2012

Champagne Week: Champagne Larmandier-Bernier Tradition 1er Cru Extra Brut

We opened this as the last wine in a tasting of complex, intense, serious wines and it was glorious relief. 100% Biodynamic.

Very pale. Quick mousse.

Clotted cream, strawberries and floury scones and lemon curd. Bubbly high tea on the nose.

Strawberries and lemon rind, nicely integrated fruit, mousse and texture. Soft, but not flabby. Not as cerebral or complex as some of the bubbles I've tasted recently, but relaxingly so. Gentle and elegant wine that is delicious and more-ish.


Tasted somewhere in Fulham, 04/03/2012

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Champagne Week: Blind Blanc de Blancs Tasting at Naughton, 18/2/2012

What better thing to do on a cold, February night than to taste a selection of Blanc de Blancs blind? Well, kind of blind - we knew what the cuvées were, we just didn't know what order they were being served in. Which can lead to mistakes, as that little knowledge of what's available can bring preconceptions and affect how you interpret your tasting.

I don't blind taste often enough, though I do find myself designing blind tastings quite often. From my experience, the less you focus on what the wine could be and the more you focus on what you're tasting, the better you'll perform. The three of us tasting all scored 50%, though we didn't get the same 50% right.

Wine A

Quite a straw colour.

Hay and coconut nose - manages to be exotic and restrained at the same time.

Gentle palate. Creamy with green and red apples that develop caramel notes and a touch of marzipan. Textured and gentle with a long finish that leaves a slightly sweet, powdered sugar sensation. Charming, delicious and harmonious.

My guess: Pierre Péters 'Les Chétillons' Cuvée Spéciale Grand Cru 2002

Wine: Pierre Péters 'Les Chétillons' Cuvée Spéciale Grand Cru 2002

Wine B

Again quite pale, silver.

Nose more apple-y and forward.

Palate quite balanced, luscious but with good acidity. Soft. Possibly a touch of dirtiness. Short.

Immediately pleasing, but doesn't hold up with air, sadly, and falls apart after about an hour.

My guess: Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 2000

Wine: Delamotte 1999

Wine C

Darker. Feel this has a bit more maturity than the others.

Lean nose that seems a touch disjointed. Bit dirty.

Loud on the palate with big mousse and a lack of balance. A bit of teenage Champagne rambunctiousness.

My guess: Delamotte 1999

Wine: Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 2000

Wine D

Just the very beginnings of brass on the edges of rich gold.

Clotted cream, apples and a hint of toffee on the nose.

Rich palate that is just starting to caramelise with age. Initially quite simple, though. As it breathes, complexity reveals itself with bready, textured mouthfeel and more expressive fruit. The other wines shut down a bit as the night went on, whereas this just got better and better.

My guess: Pol Roger Chardonnay 1996

Wine: Pol Roger Chardonnay 1996

The most disappointing of the bunch was the Comtes, and it increased my conviction that 2000 is not a great year in Champagne. The Pierre Peters was delicious, though that powdered sugar finish still has me scratching my head. Regardless, they're a grower I recommend seeking out, as the wines are compelling from entry level up to the top. Delamotte's continued inconsistency frustrates me, and the next time some wanker from Corney & Barrow waffles on about how 'it's basically Salon', I shall have to be restrained from punching them in the face.

The Pol's another story all together. On the one hand, it was easily the best wine of the evening. On the other hand, it took about three hours of breathing time for that to become apparent. Now, the folks I taste Champagne with are strange, and we are more than happy to let a bottle breathe as needs be. But I would venture that we're the exception. Champagne tends to be cracked open and drunk, often in haste, which is, forgive the rhyme, a waste. That said, I have a hard time telling someone to open a bottle and let it sit for three hours.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Champagne David Léclapart 'L'Amateur' Blanc de Blancs 1er Cru

A tiny cuvée from a tiny producer - only 8000 bottles per annum.

Fast bubbles - already some deeper gold and green.

Nose is intense; layered. Fino notes- flor-y, sour dough-y that lead to limes. Green apples. Changes with with every sniff.

Remarkably bracing, gripping palate. Like sparkling manzanilla, with an unmistakable salinity. Piercing precision and nerve. Tastes like both the oyster shell and the liquor. Biting right from the beginning to the sharp, lingering finish. Rigid structure and focused mouthfeel. Demands food. Gets sharper, more citrussy as it opens and the temperature rises. Flint-shard mouthfeel that reveals flavour, rather than the other way round. While I keep tripping over the idea of a fizzy Manzanilla, it occurs to me that the sensation is more like base wine - Champagne pre-secondary fermentation. If you've ever tried a base wine, you'll know it's a jarring experience.

I don't really know what to score this. It's extraordinary, but pretty weird. Perhaps with the right food. It is certainly not for everyone. I've never had a champagne like it - the focus and purity is awesome.

***(**) - buyer beware; not for the faint of palate

Tasted somewhere in Fulham, 4/3/2012

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Champagne Week

It has been my great fortune to drink quite a lot of Champagne of late, Champagne of all shapes and sizes: grower bubbly, vintage bubbly, non-vintage bubbly, grand marque bubbly, blind bubbly, blanc de blancs bubbly. To celebrate this springtime decadence, the remainder of this week will be dedicated to the notes from these tastings and some observations on the region in general.

To start with, we have a wine from Vertus.

Champagne 'R', Vve Fourny & Fils Vertus Extra-Brut

Green & silver with medium, slow bubbles.

Slate and green apples on the nose with a hint of lime and crumble. Whiff of strawberry. Kind of like water biscuits on the first smell. Very dry biscuits.

The palate kicks off with with apples baked with lime rind. Bracing and dry until the end of the mid palate, where a burst of ripe white fruit kicks up, rolled in oats. Great balance of thinking and feeling wine. 100% vinified in oak, and while there's not much oak to be tasted, its influence is felt with a softness that arrives as the finish develops. Fantastic wine that, once you step back and stop nit-picking the bits and pieces, shows great harmony. The blend is 70% Chardonnay, 15% Pinot Noir and 15% Pinot Meunier, though the red fruit definitely makes its presence felt.


Tasted at Naughton, 07/04/2012

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Parker adopts 1000-point scale

In a move that has left the wine world reeling, renowned hedonist, critic and cyclist Robert M. Parker Jr. announced Sunday morning that he would be dispensing with his polarising 100-point scale and replacing it with a more comprehensive grading system.

"Wine is too nuanced, too complex, too vast a subject to trap within the confines of a mere hundred points" Parker explained while tucking into an enormous lobe of foie gras decorated with Maryland crab claws. As he washed it down with a La Mission Haut Brion '89, swilled from a Sommelier series Riedel tankard, he stared at the liquid for a moment and reflected. "For instance, this used to be a hundred point wine. Which is nice and everything, but now it's a thousand point wine - how f***ing cool is that?"

Wine merchants throughout the world have been left on tenterhooks, wondering what the new scores would be and how it would affect prices. One anonymous source based in Hong Kong suggested that an extra zero could be added to the price tag as well as the score. He salivated, rubbed his fingers together and gazed emptily into space as he made the remark.

The cynics and whiners in the trade, those who eschew the hundred point scale and find 19% table wines with obscene sugar levels and no acidity ungodly, were unsurprisingly non-plussed by the announcement. "I don't even know where to start. This is ridiculous," said one Phd-touting wine blogger. Another just laughed and cracked open a beer.

Producer reactions were a mixed bag. Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon gazed for a few moments at a perfectly cut piece of quartz and then returned to his crossword, muttering something about sleep. Michel Rolland bought an oak forest and winked at this journalist conspiratorially.

Bizarrely enough, some Twitter folks were most vocal in their outrage, claiming that Parker, by increasing his scale, had in fact stolen a precious character from their limited budget.

One journalist was mauled by a rottweiler, having mistakenly pestered Robert B. Parker, creator of the Spencer For Hire books, for a quote.

In the midst of all the furore, The Wine Advocate offices revealed that whilst the scale would be 1000 points, simply being a wine would immediately qualify for 950 points.

So there you go.

Happy April.