WineWriting.com & French Mediterranean Wine
Richard Mark James' wine and travel blog

14 December 2004

Languedoc wines speak the same language

Here's the original version of my story published on Decanter.com 14/12/2004.

The Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins du Languedoc (CIVL) has revealed plans to promote all the different appellations (AOC) under the one umbrella of ‘Languedoc’, and to work together with other producers to push the idea of ‘South of France’ in export markets. At the AGM held on 3rd December, the CIVL announced details of their marketing strategy for 2005 supported by a budget of €4 million, including a 30% increase in expenditure earmarked for export promotions and advertising. The boldest move is the willingness of the three largest regional associations – the CIVL, the Conseil Interprofessionnel Vins du Roussillon (CIVR) and Vins de Pays d’Oc growers – to pool their ideas and resources. The combined pot for export campaigns comes to €2.7 million. This new found cooperation takes in the ‘Printemps du Languedoc et du Roussillon’ tasting in London on 15th February, mini-fairs in Toronto and Vancouver in May and a joint stand at Germany’s Prowein exhibition.

The “common geographical ground focusing on the south of France” should communicate the diversity of the region’s wines better to the consumer. “The idea is simple,” Rémy Wuatelet, Marketing Director of the CIVL explained. “With intense international competition, we need to offer a complementary range that suits the market and consumer – still wines, varietals, sparkling and sweet – for a winning formula.” Individual Languedoc AOCs include traditional red blends such as Fitou and Corbières; the ‘cru’ subregions of Minervois la Livinière and Pic Saint Loup; dry whites Picpoul de Pinet and Clairette, Limoux sparkling wines and a variety of fortified Muscats. These will be marketed alongside Vins de Pays ‘cépages’ such as Syrah, Chardonnay and Grenache, and Côtes du Roussillon wines.

Michel Laroche, who already labels his varietal wines ‘South of France’, agrees working together “is fundamental; there’s too much complexity and we need to simplify things. South of France is more abstract yet means more.” Putting Languedoc in the spotlight also fits in with plans to launch an inter-regional AOC, which are awaiting approval from the INAO. The ad campaign in English centres on the Languedoc cross logo, which appears on specially embossed bottles, and the catchphrase ‘Fine French Mediterranean wines’. In addition, a ‘destinations’ theme links wine routes to tourism. Exports of Languedoc-Roussillon wines for the first eight months of 2004 were down 7% in volume and 3% in value. However, Canada, Japan and the US show positive trends outperforming all other countries, albeit from a smaller base.

03 December 2004

Fête des Vignes, Montpellier 2004

Discover 18 worthwhile wines tasted at the first "Fête des Vignes de Montpellier Agglomération" (that's like the 'Greater Montpellier' area). While in town on a gloriously sunny, early December afternoon, I stumbled across this local fair ("for local people") in the elegant imperial Place de la Comédie. The wine capital of the South is literally surrounded by vines (although it probably shouldn't be given the location of certain vineyards) - all of the growers mentioned here are on the Montpellier wine route. This is Coteaux du Languedoc country taking in individual areas such as Grés de Montpellier and Pic Saint-Loup, as well as attractive vins de pays varietals too. Plus a few dry and sweet guest Muscats thrown in...

Domaine de PiquetConfidence NV sparkling wine - Quite fine nose displaying light toasty notes, crisp v milky palate finishing with subtle yeasty touches. A surprise. 87

Domaine de Causse
2001 Cabernet/Merlot, vin de pays d'Oc - Lovely cassis fruit with rustic notes, tangy leafy edges too but it's ripe and rounded with a bit of bite and good length. 89
2003 Muscat, vin de pays d'Oc (Muscat à Petits Grains) - Aromatic dry and fruity, fairly fleshy style yet elegant and grapey, showing good depth of fruit.85+

Domaine de Rieucoulon
2003 Carignan rosé, vin de pays Collines de la Moure - Crisp dry and tight in the mouth set against nice elegant fruit and style. 85
2003 Merlot, vin de pays d'Oc - Impressive depth of plummy fruit tinged with leafy notes, quite weighty and concentrated within a firm framework. €5 87

Domaine de Terre Megere2001 'Clapas' Grés de Montpellier (SyrahGrenacheMourvèdre) - A touch 'reductive' on the nose (ever so slightly vegetal) but this disappears into the smoky plummy whole, with lightly herbal edges; richer riper palate, very firm and stonky finish. 87+

Château de Fourques2001 Coteaux du Languedoc (SyrahGrenacheCinsault) - Minty blackcurrant and cherry aromas, nice tangy fruit, firm tannins but ripe and textured. 85+

Château de Flaugergues2002 Cuvée Sommelière Grés de Montpellier (SyrahGrenacheMourvèdre) - Firm tannins and tight structure with long finish; not revealing much at the moment so difficult to say. €9 87

Le Chemin des RêvesLa Première Cuvée (SyrahCarignanGrenache) - Benoît Viot made this as vin de table because he felt like it: Soft fruity cherry notes showing elegant depth, fairly light yet quite long and attractive with it. 84+

Vignobles Baron de la Liquisse
2000 Lion d'Azur Grés de Montpellier (95% Syrah) - Herbal peppery nose leads to delicious black fruit palate, ripe v firm texture with subtle concentration and length. 92
2003 Rosé d'Aurore, Coteaux du Languedoc (Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault) - Attractive style showing elegance yet weight too, lively raspberry fruit then oilier texture on the finish. Drink with grilled red mullet. 85+
2002 Tradition 'Terroir de Verargues', Coteaux du Languedoc (Syrah, Carignan, Grenache) - Soft ripe and smoky with plenty of liquorice and 'sweet' red fruits, supple tannin mouth-feel and lovely mature fruit to finish. 88+

Château de Stony
2002 Lumière d'Automne, vin de pays d'Oc (Muscat à Petits Grains, 14%) - Made with over-ripe grapes in oak casks. Coconut oak notes mingle with quite rich sweetness (50 grams/litre residual sugar), fairly toasty/spicy but underneath it's concentrated, fruity and nicely textured. Unusual, needs time. €13 for 50cl 90
2003 Muscat de Frontignan, Cuvée Sélection de Vendanges (Muscat à Petits Grains, 15%) - Vin Doux Naturel fortified to 15% leaving natural sweetness. Starts with a fair kick of alcohol, but this also has delicious Muscat fruit intensity and sweetness balancing it out. €7.80 89
2003 Muscat Sec, vin de pays d'Oc (Muscat à Petits Grains, 13%) - Perfumed grapey aromas lead to crisp bite on the palate, yet it's soft and elegant too with very dry finish. €4.60 87

Latest Stony here (March 09).

La Magdelaine d'Exindre2003 Muscat de Mireval 'Vent d'Anges' (Muscat à Petits Grains, 15%) - Classic style Vin Doux Naturel fortified Muscat with delicious grapey orangey fruit, intense yet elegant sweetness, pretty full-on finish. €10.20 87+

Domaine Desvabre
2003 Pic Saint-Loup Fût de Chêne (Syrah, Grenache) - Spicier and toastier than the 'tradition' below with coconut vanilla edges, quite concentrated and tight with rounded tannins; more 'modern' style but good with it. 89
2003 Pic Saint-Loup Tradition (Syrah, Grenache) - Nice smoky rustic fruit, soft mouth-feel with a touch of dry grip too, finishing with elegance and power combined. 89

01 November 2004

Waitrose Christmas wines 2004

Out of 50 recommendations picked from their autumn press tasting, there should be something for everyone here. Waitrose snatched the award (again) for Wine Supermarket of the Year in the 2004 International Wine Challenge, and it's not hard to see why. They have 166 branches, and the wine department seems to be run a bit like a specialist shop chain (or at least should be). The good news is that Waitrose has spread into virgin territory in the north of England and Wales, since they bought 19 stores in the fallout of Morrisons' takeover of Safeway.
There were some disappointing areas in the tasting though, it has to be said. Like Majestic, they stock some brilliant Burgundies - e.g. Drouhin's Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru - but a few surprisingly mediocre, overpriced ones too (conclusion = Burgundy is the problem as these guys know how to taste wine, after all). I also wasn't very impressed with some of their new Eastern European wines, and Portugal was a bit variable. In contrast, I've selected a nice variety of reds particularly from Italy, Spain (lovely Riojas), Chile and South Africa (classics from Rustenberg).
In addition, Waitrose stocks several top wines from Australia (all styles); take a look at Pinot Noirs from Stonier and Henschke. Among the whites, Germany (including Künstler and Prüm), Austria, France (especially their Alsace range) and Ken Forrester's South African Chenin Blancs really stand out. I appear to have had a bit of a Sauvignon Blanc frenzy as well, including several great examples from the Southern Hemisphere. Mind you, be wary of some 2004 New Zealand Sauvignons though; I've tasted a few that display too much of those grassy green pepper characters, perhaps due to overly high yields and under-ripe grapes. But Craggy Range and Jackson Estate show real class; ditto Nepenthe, Shaw & Smith... Wines tasted October 2004. More words & wines regarding things Waitrose.





Austria

Schloss Gobelsburg, 2003 Gobelsburger Grüner Veltliner, Kamptal (12.5%) - Vegetal aromas turning nutty, quite intense and peppery with crisp acidity set against rounder off-dry finish; nice commercial style. £5.99 85+
Schloss Gobelsburg, 2003 Gobelsburger Riesling, Kamptal - Fine greengage and celery mineral nose, vibrant concentrated pure fruit with zesty crisp length. £7.49 87+
Felsner Grüner Veltliner Moosburgerin Kabinett, Kremstal 2003 - Aromatic zesty and very spicy, delivers lovely concentration and class with crisp intensity balanced by nice depth of pure fruit. Try with Vietnamese stir-fried squid! £7.99 90


South Africa

Ken Forrester, 2003 Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch (14%) - Delicious honey and greengage fruit, a little sweetness balanced out by the tight acid framework, and a touch of toasty oak and quite high alcohol add weight to the palate. £6.99 89
Ken Forrester, 2002 Meinert Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch (13.5%) - Voluptuous fruit layered with coconut, showing late harvest sweetness characters set against toasty oak then tight mineral acidity and length, so in the end it doesn't really taste that sweet. Wow: a one-off. £14.99 94+
Rustenberg Wines, 2003 Chardonnay, Stellenbosch (14.5%) - Very buttery and toasty on the nose, weighty creamy palate with intense green edges, massive flavour yet becomes more elegant and tighter on the finish. Wow. £9.99 93+
Rustenberg Wines, 2001 Peter Barlow Cabernet Sauvignon, Stellenbosch - Somewhat closed up on the nose at first, shows bags of coconut oak on the palate but it's concentrated and grippy too with tight long finish; needs a few years to express itself and integrate (I hope...). £22.50 selected branches only. 90+?
Porcupine Ridge Syrah 2003, Boekenhoutskloof, Coastal Region (14.5%) - Meaty nose with cinnamon edges, quite perfumed and peppery black fruits on a tight long palate. £6.99 89
Semillon 2002, Boekenhoutskloof, Franschhoek (14%) - Creamy yeast-lees & toasty notes contrast nicely with its tight structure, nutty elegant finish rounded out by well integrated alc. £13.50 90
Springfield Estate Sauvignon Blanc special cuvée 2004, Robertson - Asparagus and spearmint aromas, very intense fruit offering nice weight yet mineral depth too, long crisp finish. £7.99 91


Chile

Piedra Feliz, 2001 Pinot Noir, Casablanca Valley (14%) - Lightly toasty and smoky notes on the nose lead to silky "sweet & savoury" fruit on the palate, quite concentrated with firm long finish. £9.99 90+
Santa Rita Floresta Sauvignon Blanc 2003, Leyda Valley (13%) - Very vibrant pure gooseberry nose, green pepper notes on the palate rounded out by weighty concentration, intense wow finish. £9.99 90
Errazuriz Max Reserva Chardonnay 2002, Casablanca Valley (13.5%) - Wild aromas on the nose, creamy fat palate balanced by subtle bite and acid structure, big v elegant. £7.99 90
Nativa Cabernet Sauvignon 2001, Carmen, Maipo Valley - Rustic cassis notes jump out of the glass, has lovely depth of fruit in the mouth finishing with firm conclusive bite. £7.99 90


France

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht, 2002 Zind, Alsace (Auxerrois 50%, Chardonnay 35% and Pinot Blanc) - exotic voluptuous nose following through to delicious fruit and concentration, has a touch of sweetness but also fresh "cut" to balance, nice coating and texture in the mouth. £13.99 93
Jean Marc Brocard, 2002 Chardonnay Vin de Pays Coteaux de Tannay, Burgundy - from 40 miles (65km) south of Chablis. Mature "Chablis" style, quite fat and creamy actually set against nice mineral bite, good length and a bit of class too at the price: £5.99. 87-89
Domaine Huet Vouvray sec Le Haut-Lieu 2002 (Chenin Blanc) - Ripe and oily nose with a touch of botrytis richness, concentrated palate rounded by very light toasted oak, fine underlying acidity leading to off-dry finish. £10.99 89
Heresztyn Gevrey-Chambertin Vieilles Vignes 2002, Côte de Nuits (Pinot Noir) - Shows good "sweet & savoury" Pinot style, with quite silky fruit set against firm tight palate, nice length and bite. Needs a bit of time to develop. A classic for duck dishes. £19.99 90
Albert Mann Gewurztraminer Grand Cru Furstentum "Vieilles Vignes" 2002, Alsace (14%) - Elegant pure Gewurz nose of rose water and lychees, very rich and concentrated showing purity and depth of fruit, then lovely bite on the finish cutting through the sweetness (32 g/l residual sugar with 14% alc.). Perfect match for Munster cheese. £17.50 94
Menetou-Salon "Clos de Ratier" 2003, Domaine Henry Pellé, Loire Valley (Sauvignon Blanc 13.5%) - Ripe oily citrus fruit contrasts nicely with pungent lees characters, quite open and soft actually with subtle length and light-ish acidity. Get the goats' cheese out. £9.99 87+
Pinot Noir 2002, Domaine Paul Blanck, Alsace (13% screwcap) - Nice perfumed style with dry bite on the palate contrasting with typical "sweet & savoury" fruit. Try with choucroute (sauerkraut) and charcuterie. £8.99 87
Pouilly-Vinzelles 2003, Thibert, Mâconnais (Chardy) - Juicy ripe fruit contrasting with leesy bite and intensity, fresh elegant length. £8.99 87
Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru "Les Folatières" 2001, Joseph Drouhin, Côte de Beaune (Chardy 13.5%) - Delivers fat and rich mouthfeel set against aromatic lightly green fruit, sexy creamy palate rolls out underpinned by fine acidity on the length. Yum although not cheap of course: £29.99. 95
Organic Vin de Pays du Gard 2003, Saint Roche, Languedoc (Carignan Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon) - Attractive "sweet" rustic fruit with various berries and liquorice notes, has a touch of grip on a nice finish. £4.99 84+


Italy

Dardi la Rose, 2000 Barolo, Piemonte (Nebbiolo) - Lovely smoky tobacco notes with generous fruit underneath, then firm bite of tannins and acidity building a solid framework. Good trad style, shame about the price: £25 (admittedly not so silly compared with some Barolos). 90+
Borgo Salcetino, 2002 Chianti Classico, Tuscany (Sangiovese Canaiolo Nero 13%) - Quite rustic and soupy but has attractive smoky fruit and concentration, showing nice austere bitter cherry style and bite; needs time. £8.99 89
MGM Mondo del Vino "Da Luca" Grillo/Chardonnay 2003, Sicilia (13.5%) - Interesting nutty fruit, quite concentrated in fact showing nice weight and oomph yet a bit of fresh bite too, and very light touch of toast to finish. £4.99 87
Feudi di San Gregorio Fiano di Avellino 2003, Campania (13%) - Zesty perfumed aromas suffused with banana and herbs, lovely concentration and style, long balanced finish. £9.99 89
Tria Syrah 2003, Sicilia - Appealing pure spicy blackberry and cherry, quite "modern" fruit-forward style but is chunky and grippy with vibrant fruit finish. £5.99 85


Spain

CVNE Monopole Rioja blanco 2003 (Viura) - Creamy coconut fatness contrasts interestingly with its nutty dry side, has a bit of bite too on the finish along with well handled oak. £6.49 87
Celler de Capçanes Mas Collet 2001, Tarragona (Carignan Garnacha Tempranillo 14%) - Rich smoky nose leads to firm palate supported by lovely tobacco and liquorice fruit, has good bite and length too. £6.49 89
Reserva Selección Especial 2000, Muga, Rioja (Tempranillo Garnacha Mazuelo 13.5%) - The nose is a bit closed but it's concentrated and firm in the mouth, showing nice raspberry fruit tempered by subtle oak; has real bite, intensity and depth of flavour. £16.49 94
Ribera del Duero 2002, Vega de Castilla (Tempranillo) - Quite complex, smoky and minty nose paves the way to a grippy palate, yet balanced by good depth of fruit. £7.49 87
Rioja Reserva 1998, Dominio de Conte, Rioja Alta (Tempranillo Graciano) - Rich cheesy maturing nose invites you in to this classic style Rioja, pitching "sweet" raspberry fruit against firm structure, finishing with elegant length. £12.99 92+


California

RH Phillips Dunnigan Hills Syrah 2001 - Appealing pure spicy fruit style, chunky and firm in the mouth showing a little well-balanced wood to round it off. £6.99 85


Germany

J.J. Prüm Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Spätlese 1994, Mosel - Ten years old and looking good: maturing mineral and petrol aromas, still has a zesty edge supported by elegant concentration, finishing not so sweet (46 g/l residual sugar versus nearly 10 g/l total acidity!). And reasonable too at £12.99 considering its age and class. 93+
Franz Künstler Hochheimer Kirchenstück Riesling Spätlese 2002, Rheingau - Very zesty mineral style, concentrated vs tight fresh and fine; finishing not so sweet despite its lush 102 g/l residual sugar, thanks to almost 10 g/l total acidity; meaning it will develop for a long time! £13.99 92+


Australia

Henschke Henry's Seven Shiraz/Grenache/Viognier 2002, Barossa Valley - Berries and liquorice aromas reveal nice depth of fruit, firm yet elegant finish despite the high-ish alcohol. £14 87+
Henschke Lenswood "Giles" Pinot Noir 2002, Adelaide Hills - Ripe "sweet & savoury" nose, tangy and complex mouthful offering lovely depth of fruit, vibrant ripe characters yet meaty/mushroomy too, and silky tannin texture to finish. Yum. £19.50 very limited availability. 95
Domaine Leasingham Magnus Riesling 2003, Clare Valley - Lime zest aromas abound, very fresh and crisp acid structure needing a few years to develop and soften; very good but not for everyone. Try with a fishy Thai green curry. £7.99 89+
Reserve Pinot Noir 2000, Stonier, Mornington Peninsula - Gorgeous "sweet & savoury" style, showing silky soft fruit, texture and elegance skilfully balanced by firmness and structured finish. £17 93
Sauvignon Blanc 2004, Nepenthe, Adelaide Hills - Displays great intensity of eye-watering green fruit with very crisp, elegant long finish; one for SB fans (I am), needs food I'd say e.g. a goats cheese or anchovy salad  £7.99 92
Sauvignon Blanc 2004, Shaw & Smith, Adelaide Hills - Yeast-lees notes on the nose, elegant palate offering gooseberry fruit and subtle zesty extract with long fine finish. £9.99 90+
Stella Bella Sauvignon Blanc 2004, Suckfizzle Augusta, Margaret River - Not obvious on the nose to start, green fruit and white pepper notes develop with crisp subtle palate, has a touch of roundness too without trace of oak flavour (10% barrel-fermented) finishing very dry yet with nice fruit. £7.99 90
Step Road Sangiovese 2001, Step Wines, Langhorne Creek (with 10% Cabernet Sauvignon) - Attractive "Tuscan" style offering sweetness of fruit and tobacco notes yet firm tannins, good long bite on the finish. £6.99 88


New Zealand

Old Renwick Sauvignon Blanc 2004, Craggy Range, Marlborough - More subtle still than the Jackson yet shows nice trademark, very intense gooseberry fruit; super concentration and tight long finish. £9.99 94
Private Bin Pinot Gris 2004, Villa Maria, Marlborough - Alsace leaning style but zestier and crisper, offers lovely floral honeyed spice and juiciness typical of decent PG, good depth and purity of fruit too. £6.99 90
Sauvignon Blanc 2004, Jackson Estate, Marlborough - Intense gooseberry fruit yet has elegant mineral dimension as well, very tight and crisp palate with super zesty green fruit finish. £8.99 92


Mexico

Petite Sirah 2002, L A Cetto, Baja California - Spicy blueberry aromas, chunky and fruity palate offering nice style and grip on the finish. £5.29 85


Portugal

The Cork Grove Castelão/Touriga Nacional 2003, Casal Branco, Ribatejo - Juicy blackberry/cherry fruit with nice perfumed edges, quite chunky and attractive style with pretty firm finish. £4.49 85


14 October 2004

"Bandol harvest finishes early..."

This news story first appeared on Decanter.com in shortened form on 14th October 2004:
The costumed tradition of les Vendanges du Rond-Point des Mourvèdres – harvesting of 225 Mourvèdre vines planted on the roundabout near motorway exit La Cadière-Le Castellet north of the town of Bandol – took place on Thursday 7th October in temperatures of over 25°C, despite threats of rain issued by weather forecasters. The event usually symbolises the vintage in full swing but this year marked the finishing touches, and summed up the positive mood surrounding this year’s crop.
Michel Bronzo, owner of La Bastide Blanche and President of the Bandol Association, described 2004 as “following in the footsteps of 2000 and 2001, both great years for Bandol, after the difficult 2002 vintage and exceptionally hot 2003.” Nevertheless, he estimates production is 10-15% down on last year. Summer 2004 experienced more even temperatures, consistent sunshine and a little rain in August and September, followed by a drying Mistral. But, according to most growers, not enough rain to avoid near drought conditions. Bandol escaped the storms seen elsewhere in France, and the fine weather continued through September until the last grapes were picked in the first week October.
Eric de Saint-Victor of Château de Pibarnon, who finished picking their last parcels at the end of September, commented: “we already had excellent sugar and polyphenol levels, it would’ve been a pity to wait any longer… it could be a great vintage.” Freddy Estienne from Domaine de la Laidière was also enthusiastic: “we completed the harvest on Saturday 2nd October, it’s never been that early here.” He predicts 35-40 hectolitres per hectare (hl/ha) overall including whites and rosés. Yields for Mourvèdre for red wines will be nearer 25-30 hl/ha, also confirmed by Domaine de la Tour du Bon and Domaine de la Vivonne. Reynald Delille of Domaine Terrebrune in the commune of Ollioules ventured a cautious “very good” for the vintage, with average volumes of 35 hl/ha.


The ceremonial picking and pressing of grapes were followed by a tasting at the roadside (fortunately, the cops had partly blocked it off knowing what Med French drivers can be like...): I've highlighted a dozen favourites, a mix of young and older Bandol reds and rosés, on this page.
And either side of this event, I toured around several estates for some research I was doing on the Mourvèdre variety (links to article written for Wine Business, USA): Pibarnon, Laidière, Terrebrune, Vivonne, Tour du Bon, Bastide Blanche, Lafran-Veyrolles, Gros'Noré, Tempier, Ott and Sainte Anne. So overall, you'll find 150+ recommendations and reviews on this page including a few excellent older vintages...

30 September 2004

Big Turkish export push

Big Turkish wine export push

An adaptation of this Turkish wine report was first published on Decanter.com on September 30th 2004: I've since added a bit more information and opinion. Click here to view my notes and thoughts on wines tasted on this delight-ful (ho ho) Turkish wine trip.

Check out the latest property in Turkey for sale.

UK importer Alaturka is spearheading an export drive for wines from Turkey in partnership with Doluca and Kavaklidere, the two largest wineries in an industry previously lacking in co-operation. Out of 100 wineries, most of which are small with very few exporting, Doluca and Kavaklidere are the main players selling to Germany, Belgium, Luxemburg, Netherlands, Denmark and the US. Medium-sized producer Sevilen also has a presence in market-leader Germany, and boutique winery Melen – crushing 250 tons in Mürefte on the Marmara sea coast west of Istanbul (Thrace region) – exports as much as 40% to Japan and France. The total value of Turkish wine exports hit US$7.3 million in 2003 (up from $5.23m in 2001), although the figure for the US was only $263,000 with a hefty 60% ending up in Germany, Belgium and Luxemburg.
Doluca now produces 13 million bottles annually and Kavaklidere’s total capacity reached 17.5 million litres this year. Overall production in Turkey has increased steadily according to official figures (which are a bit thin on the ground): 1997 - 44 million litres, 2003 (estimated) - 57.1 m litres. Both firms have invested heavily in modern vinification and storage facilities. Doluca head Ahmet Kutman, the UC Davis-trained son of company founder, claims to have put “one to two million US dollars per annum over the last ten years” into their winery near Mürefte, opened in 1993. Kavaklidere recently completed an impressive unit near Gülşehir in central Anatolia, at a cost “in excess of US$3 million”, surrounded by a 200 hectare (ha) vineyard, and is planning to build a third winery.
Crucially, the big concerns have already turned their attention to vineyards focusing on both international and Turkish varieties. Indigenous white grapes include Narince, Emir and the ubiquitous Sultaniye; and reds Boğazkere, Öküzgözü and Kalecik Karasi. Of the 541,000 ha under vine, mostly owned by farmers who sell grapes and don’t make wine, at least two-thirds are destined for the table or dried fruit. However, new plantings and grafting from sultana to more suitable varieties are accelerating. Official wine production figures stand at 50-60 million litres annually. Changes within TEKEL, the government company that controls the alcohol business, have effectively ended a state monopoly situation and the compulsory purchase of grapes, thus enabling wineries to increasingly influence the quality and maturity of the fruit they buy.
As regards the potential for international varieties, it's more a question of who's growing and vinifying them, as some wineries appear to be picking too early (based on sugar levels but not skin or acid ripeness) and/or to have winemaking or hygiene problems in the cellar. Some varieties were planted over 10 years ago: e.g. Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Semillon, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault, Carignan, Alicante Bouschet, Grenache, Shiraz. The best examples tasted on a trip in September 2004 might indicate which regions are the most suitable for each variety, although so far volumes are small.
Melen Winery's Shiraz Rezerve and Merlot Rezerve are both good, particularly the former, made in a more 'modern' style. Owner Cem Cetintaş believes "blends such as Merlot/Kalecik Karasi or Semillon/Narince work well and could be the way for export." Doluca's Sarafin range is made from international varieties grown in dedicated vineyards on the Gallipoli Peninsula. The wines are only currently available in Turkey due to the small quantities produced, yet the Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon are among their best wines; and the Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc are also decent enough examples.
Their Eurasia Two Continents brand, a blend of Cab Sauv and Öküzgözü sourced from both of Turkey's landmasses, made by international consultant John Worontschak is clearly aimed at UK multiple retailers (about £4.99), but is frankly disappointing. Other blended wines showing promise include 'Karma' Merlot/Boğazkere, as does their straight Riesling. Kavaklidere doesn't make straight varietal wines from French grapes at the moment, but does have some attractive blends such as 'Angora' red (Gamay/Cinsault) or a Sauvignon Blanc/Sultana dry white, a pretty good rosé and a couple of acceptable Cava-esque sparklers available in larger volumes apparently.
So, no there won't be a glut of Turkish Chardonnay on the shelves in the US or anywhere else in the near future but might be a few years down the line... I was told most of the wine currently exported is sold into Turkish restaurants, especially in Germany where there are lots of them. On the other hand, producers are hoping to progress beyond that 'Turkish restaurant wine' syndrome! A difficult juggling act, but it seems possible that certain producers could establish a niche in other quality restaurants and wine shops with unique Turkish varieties and blends with internationals. Namely the ones who get their vineyards, winemaking and marketing right over the coming years...

10 September 2004

Turkish Delight: wine touring September 2004

Turkish Delight

Apologies for the clichéd title, but it's an example of the kind of prejudice Turkish wine producers might have to overcome to get people to take their wines more seriously. I've posted my tasting notes below on most of the wines (leaving out a couple of stinkers) discovered on a fascinating trip to Turkey's vine-lands and their extraordinary city of Istanbul (must go back sometime...) in September 2004. We visited the coastal wine area of Marmara, west of Istanbul in Thrace region, and wineries in central Anatolia, Turkey's rocky Asian heartland nearer to Ankara. I never did get around to writing up my full thoughts on vineyards, wineries and potential for export; with some nice people, restaurants and carpet salesmen thrown in too. Perhaps one day when I unearth my notes again. During the meanwhilst, click here to read an extended version (I've since added a bit more info and opinion) of the news report I did for Decanter.com; or click there to view the published piece on Decanter's site.


DLC Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot 2002, Anatolia (12%) - Fairly attractive berry and currant aromas, a bit lean on the fruit v tannins and acidity, and a little 'reduced' again; not terrible but no chance against similar wine from elsewhere. 70-75
DLC Kalecik Karasi 2002, Anatolia (12%) - Not bad rustic cherry fruit, again a touch of sulphide on the nose, but it does have a better finish of savoury fruit, even if the acidity's a little bitter. 75-80
Sarafin Merlot 2002, Thrace - Interesting nose, gamey with a touch of oak and lightly leafy edges; reasonably fruity palate rounded out by vanilla oak, fair acidity gives it a fresher finish without being tart. Try with grilled aubergine paste. 85-87
Sarafin Fumé Blanc 2002, Thrace - Light citrus and honey notes with just a touch of oak on the nose, oakier palate but shows a little crispness and mineral character too, a touch unclean/sulphury on the finish but it's basically sound and a reasonable example of this style (take it or leave it). I prefer the straight Sauvignon Blanc. Local retail price approx. £8! 75-80
Sarafin Sauvignon Blanc 2002, Thrace - Not bad aromatic & crisp, slightly clumsy Touraine Sauvignon style; better with chargrilled aubergine paste or feta cheese. 80-83
Eurasia Two Continents NV (Öküzgözü Cabernet Sauvignon) - Blend of grapes from the European and Asian parts of Turkey. Spicy blackcurrant fruit touched up with light oak, rather bitter finish though; nice idea but... UK £4.99 77-80
Karma Gamay/Bogazkere 2001, Anatolia - Karma means blend (man). Toasty nose and palate with richer rustic side, quite firm but also has riper dried fruit characters; not bad but once again I detected sulphide off-notes. 75-80
Karma Merlot/Bogazkere 2001 (13.5%) - Also a touch unclean on the nose or is it me? However, this has much better fruit and depth than most of the others with nice dry yet rounded tannins without any of that bitterness, and the oak is well done. 83-85
KAV 2001, Anatolia (Öküzgözü Bogazkere) - Slightly burnt/cardboard flavour but has nice developed rustic fruit with dry tannins and bite; kind of northern Italian style that works better with all that Turkish lamb. 80-85
Riesling 2003, Thrace (12%) - Too much sulphur on the nose but it does have a nice zesty mineral palate and length; could have potential if handled a bit better. 80-85
Safir Muscat 2001, Thrace (12%) - Lovely grapey nose and fruity palate, elegant balance of acidity and light sweetness (just 13 g/l residual sugar). Nice aperitif. 85-87
Sarafin Cabernet Sauvignon 2001, Thrace (14.5%) - Rich dark colour showing attractive cassis and black fruits, good concentration and weight, very grippy tannins but not overly, get that high alcohol but it works within this framework; still a little reduced though. 87+
Sarafin Chardonnay 2002, Thrace (13.6%) - Attractive light butter and toast aromas yet nice aromatic fruit too, toastier palate but it's quite well done showing buttery richness v fresh acidity; just a tad too toasty on the finish (for me). Try with swordfish steak. 87+

Kavaklidere kavaklidere.com

Altin Köpük Brut NV, Anatolia (Emir) - Not bad nutty Cava style with reasonable bready fruit and bubbles, could be a bit drier on the finish (for me anyway). Acceptable apero or with pud. 80+
Inci Damlasi Brut NV (Emir Narince Semillon Muscat Sultana) - Actually a Thracian/Anatolian/Aegean blend pumped up with CO2, it's not bad in a cheap Cava way showing a bit of cakey fruit and residual sugar set against fresh acidity. 80
Ancyra Kalecik Karasi 2003, Anatolia - Attractive easy drinking cherry and redcurrant fruit, perhaps the acidity's a bit high but nice simple stuff nevertheless. 80+
Angora red 2003, Anatolia (Cinsault Gamay Cabernet Sauvignon) - Appealing soft cherry fruit, Teroldego-esque attractive style. 80+
Angora Sultaniye 2003, Anatolia - Fresh and clean aromas, quite zingy with a touch of crisp acidity plus some weight and length aided by quite high (but integrated) alcohol (14%). Nice quaffer / fishy wine. 80+
Bogazkere 2000, Anatolia - Resin & balsamic aromas with mixed dried fruits, attractive enough style but has very dry firm tannins so needs to go with hearty food like lamb or chicken. 80+
Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot 2002, Anatolia - Rather herbaceous and bitter, a bit oxidised too... 70
LAL rosé 2003, Anatolia - Dry crisp elegant Provencesque style, shows fair weight (of alcohol) too and a little fresh acidity; the fruit's perhaps beginning to fade a bit on the finish. Try with spicy grilled peppers soaked in olive oil. 83
Narince 2002, Anatolia - Tank sample (why not bottled already?) as the 99 was a bit oxidised and passed it (what a surprise). The 2002 was much livelier and more interesting (so why keep it in wood and tank for so long?) with rounded oaked character freshened by good acidity and some zingy fruit. 83-85
Öküzgözü 2000, Anatolia - The grape with the most accents. Rather thin in colour, mature dried red fruits with a touch of oak on the nose; has a bit of grip in the mouth, at/past its peak really but reasonably attractive in that old fashioned way. 75-80
Sauvignon Blanc/Sultaniye 2002, Anatolia - Yeasty gooseberry nose, delivers a little juicy fruit contrasting with an oilier side and fair acidity; quite nice but better to drink the 2003 now. Good seafoodie. 80
Selection Narince/Semillon 2000, Anatolia - Rounded honeyed fruit, quite nice depth of fruit and style to start, but it dies on the finish; needs to be drunk younger. 79+
Selection Öküzgözü/Bogazkere 2001, Anatolia - Lovely Pinot Noir-esque fruity nose, quite silky palate rounded out by a touch of vanilla oak; the fruit's at its peak, but drinking nicely now. Try with spicy kebab. 85+

Kocabag

Cabernet Sauvignon 2002, Anatolia - Displays reasonable creamy blackcurrant fruit, pretty tangy in a cheap Chilean CS kind of way, but it's OK. 77-80
Kalecik Karasi 2002,
Anatolia - Perfumed cherry fruit, stylistically a sort of Pinot Noir/Garnacha cross; light dry tannins on the finish yet fruity enough to please. 80-83
Misket 2003,
Anatolia - Aromatic and grapey, clean and fresh, nice quaffer and promising too. 80+
Narince 2002,
Anatolia - Oily nutty characters, it's a bit oxidised but does have a touch of freshness left holding it together. 75+

Melen Winery - Marmara, Thrace

Gewurztraminer 2003 - Light lychee character, zesty and quite elegant with zingy fresh length; nice enough in a leaner style despite a tad of bitterness on the finish, which is overcome by seafood. 80-83
Kalecik Karasi 2003 -
Lovely aromatic sour cherry nose, shows lively fruit with rustic edges, quite fresh acidity to finish but still attractive. Reminds of Blaufrankisch or Cabernet Franc style. 85+
Melencik Rezerve 2003 -
A touch reductive/SO2 on the nose plus some sweet oak too, quite silky palate to start with reasonable fruit and fresh acidity, finishes a little bitter and toasty. 77-80
Merlot Rezerve 2003
- A bit samey with those black cherry and spicy oak characters and rounded oaky palate; decent wine but too similar to the Shiraz. 80-83
Mistell NV
(19% fortified) - 55 year old 'sweet sherry' aged in mulberry wood barrels. Interesting walnut and dried fruit nose, mature oxidised (not surprisingly) and quite rich with woody vanilla notes, quite fiery yet complex and long. 87+
Muscat Reine de Vin 2003
- Another seafoody dry white. Clean and lean style, better on the finish in terms of grapey Muscat character with crisp mineral length. 80-85
Narince 2003
- Fresh clean mineral nose with similar profile on the palate, refreshing acidity and aromatic fruit on the finish; attractive if not very characterful, better with seafood though. 80+
Shiraz Rezerve 2003
- Hint of oak with peppery black cherry fruit, light herbal notes too; shows reasonable weight and concentration with some coconut oak rounding out the good grip and acidity. New wave-ish style, goes well with all that lamb.  87+

16 July 2004

Burgundy growers disagree with proposals for AOC reform

Burgundy growers disagree with proposals for AOC reform


A version of this news item first appeared on Decanter.com on 16/7/2004.


Growers and producers from the BIVB, the region’s main trade body, issued their initial reactions to President of the INAO – the organisation that sets and enforces the rules for French Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée wines – René Renou’s plans for AOC reform, presented at a packed meeting last week. Renou reiterated his message about the crisis surrounding the French wine industry in the face of surplus production and cut-throat competition from the New World, predicting “part of the French vineyard area will disappear.” There would be two distinct paths for Burgundy wines: the modern branded commodity route and those at the top end.
On the one hand, Renou now advocates the use of varietal names on labels for regional appellation wines, thus appealing to consumers internationally; while hinting at a Vin de Pays category for cross-regional blends or declassified wine. Measures providing an “honourable way out” for unwanted production are on the cards. On the other, higher quality standards will be resurrected within the new AOC framework, AOC d’Excellence and Site et Terroir d’excellence proposals. A complicated hierarchy of village then Premier and Grand Cru wines already exists in Burgundy based on specific sites and ‘terroir’. “I see this creating greater complexity, whereas we want to simplify the wines we offer,” commented Jean-Michel Aubinel, who represents growers in Macon, adding that the Site et Terroir d’excellence scheme would entrench rivalry between neighbouring properties if applied to one and not the other.
Côte d’Or growers also expressed concerns about the apparent haste and the way quality checks would be imposed, as well as opposition to the introduction of Vin de Pays in the region. BIVB members will debate the pros and cons of Renou’s plans over the summer, with a view to getting reforms off the ground by early 2005 at the latest. Jean-François Delorme, President of the BIVB added: “We’re not against these reforms, just expressing doubts. The growers are aware they need to do something to adapt themselves better to the demands of today’s market. René Renou’s message has been well received; we need to find a new context and vision.”

22 May 2004

"New" South Africa & South African Syrah - Shiraz

New South Africa
 OK, so names such as Vergelegen and Beyerskloof can hardly be called new, but it was difficult to pass them by without catching up on the latest from these two leading producers. Beyers Truter was also involved in an empowerment project, whereby the farm workers bought a majority share of Bouwland winery and vineyards; Beyers remains a partner and winemaking consultant. Delaire was a pleasant surprise, their wines showing real elegance and charm. In addition, Stellar Organics is an impressive operation, now farming or purchasing over 1000 tonnes of organic grapes. The Cabs and Shirazs are especially promising. Tasting notes to follow from the London Wine Fair May 2004.

South African Syrah - Shiraz
 Call back shortly to discover a dozen highly recommended Shiraz/Syrahs from the Cape, tasted in May at the 2004 London Wine Fair. These rich spicy reds are all from the 2001 and 2002 vintages. The latter, in particular, is looking big and sexy; but South African winemakers need to watch those alcohol levels, the downside of waiting longer to get full ripeness in Shiraz grapes.

17 May 2004

Pass the Bolly or "If it's the 85, you were expecting me..."

Notes and views on the Champagne market and the art of blending, based on a presentation to MW students on 17th May 2004 by Ghislain de Montgolfier from Champagne Bollinger. After the text, you'll find a few ecstatic tasting notes and reviews (well, Bolly is pretty good, no?) of the 'finished product' including Special Cuvée, La Grande Année 1990-95-96-97 and the incomparable one-off 1985 RD ("if it's the 85, you were expecting me," as 007 might have said...).

Despite all the smug reports of doom and gloom surrounding the French wine industry, somehow the Champagne just keeps on flowing. The French themselves remain the thirstiest consumers of the world’s most famous sparkling wine. In 2003, the Brits (the no. 1 export destination) set a new record by buying 34 million bottles, thereby eclipsing the pre-millennium frenzy of 1999. Americans managed an impressive 19 million (considering they make quite a lot of their own sparkling wine) closely followed by Germany, avid fizz drinkers as they are (Sekt, Cava, Asti…), with 12 million bottles. Stats for this year so far indicate a continuation of this mood.

Of the ‘multinational’ Champagne groups, which are mostly listed companies, the big daddy of them all is luxury goods conglomerate LVMH, whose brands include world leader Moët & Chandon, Mercier and Dom Pérignon totalling 60 million bottles. Rémy owns Piper-Heidsieck and Charles Heidsieck (a personal favourite by the way) representing 8 million bottles, about the same figure as British giant Allied Domecq with Mumm and Perrier-Jouët. Laurent-Perrier group is no slouch with sales of 10 million bottles, plus a further ten counting recently acquired Malakoff/Oudinot. Taittinger may give the impression of being a bit niche yet accounts for 4 million bottles. (In addition, Marne et Diffusion – essentially the 6 mill+ Lanson label – should really also figure here, but I don’t think they were mentioned).
The next batch could be termed ‘new players’, meaning recent mergers or acquisitions rather than new on the block. The names brought up include Vranken-Pommery, Martel, Duval-Leroy, BCC (De Venoge, Boizel etc.), Thiénot (Joseph Perrier, Canard-Duchêne), sales of which take place mostly in France and via supermarkets. The remaining companies are family owned, such as Roederer & Deutz, Bollinger, Pol Roger, Gosset and Bruno Paillard, who tend to sell through specialist channels (wine shops, restaurants etc.).

The Champagne ‘appellation’ is home to 15,000 (rather wealthy I’d imagine) growers who own 89% of the vineyards; 100 Houses, including the above, make up the other 11%. There are three increasingly important co-operatives emerging, and about 1000 growers now produce their own labels, another burgeoning trend. These small growers each have 2 hectares (ha) or less planted at a density of 8000+ vines per ha, i.e. very compact and all worked by hand; so you can appreciate where the real power lies. This is reflected in the price of land in the region, now around a staggering €1 million per ha!

The current surface area in production has reached the permitted limit of approx 35,000 ha, so the outcome could be shortages. The ‘Echelle des Crus’ (pricing scale of grapes from the different vineyard hierarchies) system set by the CIVC (Comité Interprofessionnel des Vins de Champagne), which determines the base price, could become irrelevant as growers are charging higher than established prices. Putting this in context with sales and production helps to explain these developments.

Total Champagne sales (including France) in 1950 were 33 million bottles; in 2003 this stood at 291 million with a peak of 327 million in 1999. Yields averaged 5,400 kg/ha from 1950-59 but in 2000 they came to 12,539. However, this isn’t a bad thing per se: 1970, 1982, 1990 and 2000 are examples of high yielding yet very good quality vintages; others such as 1987 were low in both because of poor weather. 290 million bottles of Champers are currently quaffed around the world, showing growth of 2-3% per annum. Maximum production of 295 million has already been attained, so scarcity could rule if the above continues (I detect an element of clever 'panic' marketing here).

The Négociants (merchant companies who trade in grapes and wine) usually buy 60% of the harvest and thus influence prices, which are particularly competitive for the best ‘crus’. Increasingly, growers are organising themselves into co-ops to make ‘vin sur lattes’ (wine sold before disgorgement), although I believe by law this is due to stop. The co-ops are, therefore, selling less and less grapes, and more still wines are available. As a result, there’s arguably a “danger of Champagne styles merging,” according to
Montgolfier. Bollinger say they won’t buy wines, as this would affect consistency of style and quality. Grape prices in 2003 were €4.25 per kg plus premiums of up to 20% for Grand Cru. In comparison, this is 15 times the price for Cava grapes, 6x Touraine and 5x California.

Moving on to Bollinger itself starting with a few facts and a bit of philosophy. The brand accounts for less than 1% of global Champagne sales, so the spotlight is clearly on quality. Independence through family ownership allows them “no compromises and a long-term financial view,” a fortunate luxury in these times of consolidation. For example, just four cellar masters have worked there in 60 years to maintain uniformity. Their focus is on the best possible grapes and trying to control supply. They buy grapes only in the main regions of the Marne and only Premier Cru (PC) and Grand Cru (GC) level.

Owning 160 ha of vineyards – 83% on PC and GC sites – supplies 2/3 of their needs. This means they don’t have to purchase from co-ops and work with contracted growers to influence decisions in the vineyard. Pinot Noir forms the backbone of the blends. PC and GC grapes make up min. 80% of the Special Cuvée and 100% of Grande Année and RD (Recently Disgorged); optimal maturity is required. In addition, ‘Bolly’ (Ghislain coined this nickname himself, so the House appears fond of the Ab Fab publicity) is not used on any other product; and no Bollinger sparkling wine is produced elsewhere (a little dig or a touch of jealousy perhaps, given the quality of e.g. Moet's Australian Chandon wines or Roederer's in California?).

Reserve wines play a very important role in the house style and quality of non-vintage Champagne (it’s actually illegal to blend any into vintage wines, which should be 100% from the year declared – Bollinger “doesn’t” but allegedly some do). The company holds more than five years worth of stock, as if they had to use too much in poor vintages to balance out, it’d mean less available for following years “to the detriment of quality.” More on reserve wines to follow.

Quality: the key areas are origin of grapes and variety, selection of musts, control of acidity, first fermentation, reserve wines (see I told you) and yeast lees ageing. The vines planted in Bollinger’s vineyards amount to 100 ha of Pinot Noir (mostly PC and GC), 41 ha of Chardonnay and 19 ha of Pinot Meunier. Special Cuvée is a blend of 60% Pinot Noir, 25% Chardy and 15% Pinot Meunier. Grande Année is often at least 65% Pinot Noir (30% of it from the village of Aÿ) & 35% Chardy. Pinot Noir from the GCs gives “backbone, vinosity (does that word exist in English? I guess it means winey mouth-feel) and complexity”; Chardy offers “elegance and finesse”; and Pinot Meunier adds “freshness and lightness”. Bolly only uses the ‘cuvée’ or first pressing (the first 2050 litres of juice from 4000 kg of grapes), which also has the lowest pH (see acidity below), and sell the second and third pressings. Some cast-offs, huh.

Control of acidity is the cornerstone of balance in the wines and their ability to mature. In a good year, the ‘cuvée’ has a pH of 2.9 – 3.1, i.e. pretty acidic. The first fermentation in cask is the next step in this process. Bollinger doesn’t use new casks and have their own cooper, but also buy 4-5 year old Burgundy barrels of 205 litres capacity. The GC and part of the PC (Chardy) musts are barrel-fermented, so 100% of the reserve wines and Grande Année plus a fraction of the wines for Special Cuvée are also barrel-fermented. In cask, the malo-lactic fermentation (MLF: the secondary bacterial fermentation that converts malic acid to softer lactic acid) is prevented (although some MLF is sometimes done for Grande Année – still with me?!), whereas the wines in vat do undergo MLF. The reasoning is preservation of malic acid (normally decreases during vinification leaving mostly tartaric acid) levels for longer ageing ability.

So balance of acidity is maintained by lower pH of wines in cask (due to no MLF - lactic bacteria struggle to do their thing in a high acid environment - and presence of protective sulphur dioxide) and higher total acidity (TA) in grams per litre (the usual measure) in tank, despite doing the MLF in tank (which in fact reduces TA); meaning therefore, they put the wines higher in acidity in tank. As for yeasts, the same ones are used for musts in cask and tank, and Bollinger buys good quality selected yeasts rather than develop their own strains, as some houses do.

Tasting of the constituent parts (1-4 all from 2003):
1. Pinot Noir Aÿ (fût = cask) – very light tinge of pink in colour, quite toasty with a touch of milk chocolate and aromatic too; shows reasonable weight with nice creamy red fruits set against quite firm acid structure and length, yet it’s fairly soft and rounded at the same time.
2. Pinot Noir Verzenay (fût) – creamy and fruity displaying attractive aromatic esters plus a hint of toasty yeast in the background, has higher acidity than 1 with sharper mineral finish yet still offers rich roundness too. Wines from Verzenay are known for their ageing potential.
3. Chardonnay Mesnil-sur-Oger (fût) – shows clean fragrant peach and butter notes with subtle lightly bready characters, nice elegant fruit contrasts with fresh acidity and greener notes, yet still soft-ish and fruity on the finish.
4. Pinot Meunier Venteuil (cuve = tank) – fragrant, floral and peachy with rounded fruit v crisp acid structure, lighter and more one-dimensional in the sense of linear palate focus.
5. Aÿ 1998 (reserve wine with no dosage, stored in magnums) – fairly rich and buttery tinged with yeasty pungency, very firm acid framework leading to creamier rounder finish, green edges v weighty mouthful, tight and long. Reserve wines lend overall balance and also balance out the cru wines depending on the vintage.
6. ‘Assemblage’ (final blend) for Special Cuvée (mostly parts 1-4 + another 25 or more + a small proportion of 5 then 3 years lees ageing in bottle) – nice balance of fragrant red fruits, light yeast and creamy grapey characters too, complex lingering nose; soft concentrated fruit with greener acid backbone, notes of chocolate and red fruits too, rounded v tight finish.
Richard M James Sept. 2004

My notes and scores on various Bollinger Champagnes (with a bit of techy info to start just to set the scene), tasted after this seminar and on other occasions as indicated:

Special Cuvée (7.7 grams per litre (g/l) total acidity (TA), pH 3.05 and dosage of 7 to 9 g/l residual sugar; blend of two vintages with 5-10% reserve wines and 3 years yeast lees ageing = twice the average for NV Brut, by the way) - Lovely balance of fresh floral fragrant fruit and light toasty notes, complex yeasty baked bread underneath; similar characters on the palate with additional creamy and lightly tropical fruit v fresh acidity and yeast intensity, 'winey' viscosity builds to focused length. Impeccable balance and style. May 2004. 91
And previously (among other occasions): Aged and rounded palate with nice tangy yeast character, shows the usual classy subtle balance of intensity, concentration, age and freshness; finishes very dry and long with beautiful firm acidity. Class, pure and simple. Safeway Champagne tasting July 2002 (under reconstruction...).
90

1996 La Grande Année (70% Pinot Noir & 30% Chardy; 9.2 g/l TA and dosage up to 10 g/l) - Yeastier than the SC with baked malt bread undertones yet at the same time lovely and fresh & fragrant, floral and also showing ripe red fruits, addictive aromas; gorgeous fruit and weight, yeast intensity, super concentration leading to fine tight structure set against seductive roundness and 'sweet' ripeness; offers mouth-coating weight and length v elegance and real class. Very good indeed: needs another 5-10 years in bottle, still tastes young. May 2004. 95

1995 La Grande Année - Much more golden than the SC with riper smokier nose, also has more tropical fruit and fatter 'sweetness' (not really sweet with only 8g/l dosage coupled with very high acidity), quite rich and concentrated yet elegantly balanced; shows creamier development on the palate with weighty length and yet again tight acid structure. Still youthful really, will be fab over 5-10 years. March 2002. 94

1995 La Grande Année - A touch of oak and aged maturity on the nose, very yeasty and concentrated in the mouth developing to a tight finish with bite of acidity on its huge length. Far too young at the moment, wow... Safeway Champagne tasting July 2002 (under reconstruction...). 93

1997 La Grande Année - Closed yet complex Champers showing green fruit edges contrasting nicely with subtle toast and cream, very tight fresh palate and length; needs more time to develop. October 2004. 93

1985 RD (65% Pinot Noir & 35% Chardy; 8 g/l TA, pH 3 and dosage of 3-4 g/l (very dry); disgorged on 10/9/03 i.e. aged in bottle on the yeast lees for nearly 18 years!) - Deep golden colour; mushroom, coffee and chocolate, very ripe and very yeasty yet still shows underlying freshness combined with a creamy yoghurt character too, such a wild complex nose; wow: super rich and concentrated yeasty flavour, toasty maturity v tight acid framework, uncompromising richness and style, mouth-filling flavours. Extraordinary stuff although not for everyone. May 2004. 97

1995 Grande Année Rosé - Fairly full pink colour, scented red fruits and chocolate on the nose, nice ripe floral fruit set against zingy crisp stylish length; rounded, very fruity and weighty yet showing impeccable balance and panache. March 2002. 94

1990 La Grande Année - Arguably the best of the superb 90 vintage, this just keeps getting better as it lounges in bottle. It's very rich and concentrated but still showing fine balancing acidity on the finish; try with food too. No wonder James Bond switched (back?) to Bolly. One of my Home Magazine wines of the month (under reconstruction...), January 2000 issue. 94-96

01 March 2004

Vinisud 2004: Minervois La Livinière / Pic Saint-Loup focus

Minervois-La Livinière was apparently recognised as a 'cru' village area within the Minervois appellation long before gaining official status in 1999, and, judging by the number of 90+ scores I've given to wines tasted at this year's Vinisud show, many of the wines prove the point. The appellation snuggles at the foot of the Montagne Noire hills around the village of La Livinière (and other neighbouring ones) roughly between Béziers and Carcassonne, and is for reds only. Once again Syrah (perhaps sometimes too much of it...), Grenache, Carignan, Cinsault and Mourvèdre are the main varieties, ranging from Clos des Roques majoring on 60 year old Carignan to Château Anger's super 100% Syrah wine La Chapelle de Calamiac. I'm not sure what Domaine de la Combe Blanche and Château la Croix Martelle - which is owned by Burgundian house Boisset and is experimenting with bio-dynamism - are up to with Pinot Noir, but their Minervois wines speak for themselves. Tasting notes / reviews on these producers' wines might follow, when I dig out that clunky old database copied from the original original WineWriting.com...

Pic Saint Loup is a subregion of the Coteaux du Languedoc appellation nestling on the garrigue (wild scrubland) about 20 km north of Montpellier. It's a good example of wines based on a distinctive 'terroir', I suppose, although it's the micro-climate and valley terrain (sandwiched between PSL itself and the Hortus cliff-face on the other side) here rather than soil that's particularly important), even if inevitably the winemaking styles vary from grower to grower (doh!). The Pic St-Loup name is only used for reds and rosés, and the grape varieties are Syrah, Grenache, Carignan, Cinsault and Mourvèdre, with Syrah tending to dominate the best barrique-aged cuvées. Noticeably, there were a lot of young enthusiastic faces representing the Pic producers at the show. I think it's an exciting area to watch, although I did only taste wines from half a dozen properties and the prices are already quite high. They were: Domaines Haut-Lirou (one of the largest at 40 hectares), Mirabel (a mere 3 ha making 550 cases), Saint Daumary (started in 1999), Château l’Euzière, de Lavabre and Château Valcyre-Gaffinel. Three wines from another relatively youthful estate (1980) are also included - Domaine Faurmarie, which is actually located next door to Pic in a yet another new subzone of the CdL called Grés de Montpellier. Ditto regarding their wines... watch this space...