Showing posts with label Champagne. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Champagne. Show all posts

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Highlights from the 2014 Vin de Champagne Awards

Highlights from the 2014 Vin de Champagne Awards

Monday night I went to the 40th anniversary presentation dinner for the Vin de Champagne Awards - a biannual competition held by the CIVC that offers one local wine professional and one amateur a two week, all expenses paid Champagne 'trip of a lifetime'.

This years deserved winners were Tom Warrell (amateur) and Annette Lacey (professional), with Annette particularly stoked given that she also found out a week or so back that she passed the MW tasting exams.

Naturally, given such a context, the Champagne was flowing at speed on the night and, despite still being under doctor's orders to avoid alcohol (doctors - what do they know?), I couldn't help but drain a few glasses of restorative fizz.

As you can imagine writing decent tasting notes at a black tie dinner is not only hard but a bit naff, yet I still managed to get a decent look at these few wines over dinner.

The caveat, as ever with Champagne tasting notes, is all about variability. No disgorgement dates means the NVs are a lottery, and even the vintage wines were a guessing game, with some wines obviously spending some time under cork. Further, I thought certain bottles looked much fresher than others, which only confuses things more.

Regardless, this collection included more than enough glory to make for damn good drinking, plus the food was absolutely top shelf, with ex Becasse chef Justin North delivering an array of Champagne-friendly delights. One of the best wine dinners I've been to in ages.

Bollinger Rose NV
I've been critical of the balance in this newish wine from Bollinger previously, yet this particular bottle absolutely smashed it. There is an intriguing orange rind character to this, giving complexity and interest but it won me over simply on purity. Obviously a well treated bottle, there is that lift and dancing pretty sherbet and white flower lightness which I really look for in rose Champagne. Perfect balance and simply delicious aperitif style. Yes 18/20. 93/100

Billecart Salmon Rose NV
This, like so many pinks, is marred by obvious sweetness dulls what is a quite serious style. It has a sweet strawberry hit on the nose, but the palate looks to be playing catchup, finishing a fraction short. Still quality Champagne but outclassed here. 17.5/20, 91/100

Moet Rose 2004
More structure, more lees ageing and more weight but less vitality. This was darker in colour and tries hard, but the still wine gives this a slightly bitter note and I thought it lacked vitality, even though the complexity was there. Good, not great. 17/20, 90/100

Mumm Cramant Blanc de Blancs NV
Unbalanced. Candy floss dosage over a dry and vegetal, tart palate. Intensity is unquestioned but this looked phenolic and overly chewy. 16.5/20, 88/100

Ayala Blanc de Blancs 2007 
Ayala just gets better and better, all at a very fair price. This looks utterly classic on the nose with white flower perfume and a light whipped butter edge. It's pure and pretty to taste if just a fraction fleeting. Still, an awful lot of style for the dollars. 17.8/20, 92/100

Jacquart Blanc de Blancs 2006
About as close to a grower Champagne as the night would give and this looked really quite vinous. There's extra weight and length to this with an almost Pinot like grunt, finishing with extract and big acid. I liked this, the length impressive and persistence bringing you back. 18/20, 93/100

Louis Roederer Cristal 2006
This is the best Cristal I've had in ages. A swarthy, musky Aramis nose over a brooding and powerful palate. Deep and quite chewy, this is still a bit young to be a superstar but it feels every bit the grand marque. 18.5/20, 94/100+

Charles Heidsieck Brut 2000
Some question marks here - it just looked a little flabby. A lemon drop nose, this forward with a flash of mandarin. There's some creaks and cracks on the palate which looks advanced. Complexity drives this forward but just not the freshness. 17.7/20, 92/100

Pol Roger Winston Churchill 2000
From magnum and bloody glorious. Fully mature and driven by autolysis this is much fuller and more powerful than the Charles, carrying that 200 vintage toasty richness. It's fresh to finish though and that palate was oh so fresh you could be convinced this is much younger.. Delicious and the complete, powerful package. Loved it. 18.7/20, 95/100

Lanson Gold Label 2004
Searing acid. No Malo? Biting acid - just too much. Length is good but severe. I couldn't drink much of this. 17/20, 90/100

Veuve Clicquot 2004
Another dry and ballsy effort and certainly pure. Could do with more richness but nice lines. Needs time. 17.7/20, 92/100

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Delicious grower fizz: Champagne Lancelot-Pienne Cuvée Perceval 2006

Champagne Lancelot-Pienne Cuvée Perceval 2006
12%, Cork, $120

Wines like this illustrate just how magical fine grower Champagne can be.

Imported by Eurocentric Wine, a mere 800 bottles of this are produced each year (which means its not easy to get hold of some - try Nev at Eurocentric directly).

A 50/50 blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, the Pinot from the Marne Valley and the Chardonnay from Cramant, with the wine made in concrete/stainless tanks where it complete malolactic fermentation and was then kept on lees for an extended period before secondary ferment.

I actually picked this as a blanc de blancs at first, largely due to the rather floral, white flower prettiness on the nose. That's not a bad thing, as it just emphasises the quality of the Chardonnay fruit. There's some gherkin, meringue and sherbet in their too, just to fill things out a bit. Initially quite delicate to taste, the pure and chalky palate very clean and effortlessly laid out, the Pinot giving late drive to finish.

A delightfully delicate Champagne, the emphasis here is on purity over any autolytic fullness, the sheer beauty of the base wine making this adelight to drink. Maybe not quite the rambunctious power of some other grower Champagne, but so keen and vibrant that you can't help but love it - a quite feminine wine (and all the better for it).


Source: Retail
Tasted Drunk: April 2014
Score: 18.5/20, 94/100
Would I buy it? Absolutely.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Keeping mum on Mumm

Keeping Mum on Mumm

This is a snippet from a recent column on Mumm Champagne. The language is a bit different to the rest of the articles here on the blog, however the context is interesting (or at least I think so).

'The wines in the mid 90's, to be honest, were pretty bad'

What a rare statement that is. A rare statement, made even rarer by the fact that it was uttered by a representative of a major Champagne business.

Yet it is that sort of honesty that makes Champagne G.H. Mumm's Didier Mariotti such an intriguing character.

As the Mumm Chef de Cave (chief winemaker), Didier is not only the architect of the wines, but also the public face of the brand. A brand that, like all of the famous Champagne houses (Moët & Chandon, Bollinger, Pol Roger etc), has a carefully coiffed image and a reputation for PR perfectionism.

It is such a context, however, which makes Didier's admission all that much more entertaining. A flash of honesty from the Champenoise (who are the kings of wine marketing subterfuge).

Better still, you can see a flash of the unconventional in the wines too. Witness the freshly released 2006 Mumm vintage, which has to be one of the more peculiar 'big house' vintage Champagnes that I've had in quite a while.

What sets the 2006 Mumm vintage apart is the slight bitterness - an extra grippiness through the finish that at first seems quite odd for a traditional Champagne. Yet the more you taste, the more you realise that this bitter twist makes this a quality food Champagne - a wine, not just a glass of frothy alcoholic liquid.

Further, Didier is also quite open about how this wine came to be, as he explained recently:

'1+1 isn't always 2 when you're making Champagne'.

'2004 (the last Mumm vintage released) was a very generous vintage. Yet 2006 was much more difficult as the rain came at the end of the warm summer, followed by more dry winds. This made the grapes lose some acidity (and look a bit broad)'.

To counter this loss of acidity, Didier took some Pinot Noir grapes from the cool, northern part of Champagne, which is an area that can struggle for fruit richness in Pinot Noir, but has great structure. This fruit thus brought power, with a side effect of 'bitterness without sugar. A wine that is quite straight and fresh' as Didier notes.

The net result is a Champagne that is nutty, complex and more like a fine dry white than a sparkling wine (and all the better for it)..

Perhaps the only question that remains with the Mumm is whether that bitterness, that winey character, is going to resonate with drinkers? What do you think? Would vintage Champagne drinkers appreciate a little more structure or is it a no-no?

A quick impression of the G.H. Mumm wines 

These were drunk (rather than tasted) over dinner with Didier recently, hence the notes are a little halting. Hopefully you get my drift.

G.H. Mumm Cordon Rouge NV
Has a noticeable broadness to it with extra cream. The finish, however is skinny, and the overall impression is of something rather indistinct. Drinkable but not great. 16.5/20, 88/100

G.H. Mumm Millesime 2006 
Quite full. A really quite firm sort of a beast. Hello tannins! More like a dry white on the finish, stem tannins too. Intriguing. Perhaps not a classical Champagne but v. Interesting. That nutty extract makes it much more drinkable and interesting than many other vintage Champagne out there. Good. 17.5/20, 91/100

G.H. Mumm Millesime 1985 
Disgorged  a year and a half. 'One of the greatest vintage for me' according to Didier. Light gold in colour. Marzipan and toffee nose with dusty edges. Like a time capsule this is still holding on to some freshness but otherwise its just bottle age and autolysis, the fruit long departed with a dry finish. That finish is still stout and powerful rescuing the wine. Yet its still more of a relic than a good drink (though Didier believes this magnum to be an average example. Curio but not a great drink. 16.8/20, 89/100

G.H. Mumm Cuvee Lalou 1999
No oak used in the production more about long lees ageing. There is a wonderful delicacy on the nose here. More Chardonnay in the blend? Certainly a lightness and prettiness with lees weight. I like how pure it is - a real energy. Much prettier and than the last bottle I think, though I've scored them identically. Maybe a little fatty through the middle? Still pretty as pie and an attractive and generous glass of rich bubbles. 18.3/20, 93/100

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Champagne Janisson Baradon Non Dose NV

Champagne Janisson Baradon Non Dose NV (Champagne, France)
12%, Cork, £31
Source: Retail

'A non-dosé champagne based on the 2007 vintage with 30% reserves from 2006 fermented in oak (5-15 year old Burgundy barrels, malolactic and disgorged in 2012) and a 50:50 Pinot Noir and Chardonnay blend.'

A pickup from a recent excursion to Berry Brother's St James St shop, I've quoted directly from BBR's production notes above, with little to add other than that the back label suggests sushi as the correct food match. Given the fragrant and rather pure style, I reckon they've nailed that recommendation - kingfish nori rolls ahoy!

It looks light and vital too, all green straw yellow with a quite fine bead. Smells fresh too, with fragrant white flowers and a sense of neatness and delicacy - fresh sheets sort of a smell. If anything it looks more Chardonnay dominant than 50/50, with only the subtle aldehydes of reserve wine to give any sort of real punch and weight, finishing dry but not hard.

Ultimately a fine and wonderfully energetic sort of Champagne, it is perhaps a little light and pretty to really bowl you over, yet that purity really deserves some respect. Lovely stuff.

Drink: Now
Score: 17.8/20, 92/100
Would I buy it? Again? Absolutely.

Friday, 28 June 2013

Thursday - Bubbles and more feedback from 'that Drum article'

Thursday - Bubbles and 'that Drum article'

It seems I reached a level of infamy this week via a rant by non-wine drinking comedian Ben Pobje, who shot himself in the foot by admitting that he knew nothing about wine and was just ranting for the sake of it.

To be honest I thought the article was funny, if a little aggressive, and I responded in jest - suggesting Ben might want to come with me and try some wine before shooting his mouth off. Sadly no response there - I'm still waiting.

What did surprise, though, was to see him personally attacking people on twitter - and others in the comments section of the article - who disagreed with him. Less cool. And less fun too, as name calling is a poor attempt at debating.

Anyways, I it was fun riling him, but I was also a little disappointed too - surely the article could have directed more than 60 new visitors to this little blog? Doesn't anyone click through to links in articles anymore? :).

Now, on the tasting bench today:

Ayala Brut Majeur NV ($70 retail) - apparently this is/was available in retail land for $55/bottle, at which price it's a steal. A fragrant, clearly Pinot dominant and correct sort of Champagne with a palate that starts perfectly, before getting a little broad through the middle. I thought it might be a little too much dosage but if finishes too dry for that. Ultimately its clean and classy, needing only more delineation to be great. I'd drink a glass, though would look for something with more character at $70. 17.5/20, 91/100

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Talking 'interesting' wines on the Food in Focus radio show

Talking 'interesting wines' on the Food in Focus radio show

It can seem a bit silly sometimes to single-out wines that could be called 'interesting', purely as it's such a subjective notion - that is, what interests me could be obscure/irrelevant/complete shit to somebody else.

Still, there are certain wines/wine styles/varieties etc that have enough of a 'story' to make them interesting, or at least enough to talk about.

Yesterday I was, rather randomly, tasked with finding 3 wines that might be counted as being 'interesting', as I ended up as a guest on the Food in Focus radio show. It was short notice, and the fridge was empty after a housewarming party last weekend (no beer either. I'm slipping), but I ended up with these three (happily) charismatic wines.

Better still, everyone on the show rather enjoyed this trio, which just made the discussion flow that little bit more effortlessly. Of particular note was the positivity towards the Blaufränkisch, which surprised even me at how delicious it was...

Rene Geoffroy Cuvee Empreinte Brut NV (Champagne France) $87.95 - 750ml
This is the last bottle from a case I bought a year ago and it's been an enjoyable ride to see how it has developed. A Pinot dominant style, that was fermented mostly in large oak foudres and looks quite mature and aldehydic as a result (only a light bead too). Still, it is fresh to finish, with that combination of weight and acidity means this works nicely as a richer, 'I'll drink this with dinner' style. I think this particular bottle would have been a better drink 6 months ago (as it's look a bit cheesy and developed), but still attractive and well complex enough. 17/20 90/100

Hahndorf Hill Blueblood Blaufränkisch 2010 (Adelaide Hills, SA) $35
I'm not sure how I missed this when it first turned up (some time ago), however it's still available from the winery and I think well worth a punt. What I really like is how varietal this looked - genuinely, surprisingly varietal. I'd perhaps a little less oak richness. but there is still that combination of blue fruits and notably prominent high acidity, the wine very much driven by its juicy mid palate, yet still an utterly savoury, fruit-and-acid-balanced (with a nice full-stop of dry tannins) wine.

I just liked drinking this, and if it is indicative of the potential quality of Hills Blaufränkisch, then let's get planting. 17.7/20 92/100

X by Xabregas Spencer Vineyard Syrah 2010 (Mt Barket, WA) $50
Conspicuously, this looked the least ready to drink of all the wines on the day, a thoroughly uncompromised, structured and very serious red that had a dryness and un-sweet power so often missing in Australian Shiraz, even those wines with 'Syrah' stylistic leanings. Meaty, cranberry and purple fruits, with more than a little leafiness and loads of black pepper and anise. So much spice! Dry, powdery tannins to finish and, looking at the numbers, topped off with strictly natural acidity.

Initially this seems mid weight and a little lightish to start, but the closer you look the drier those tannins become and the firmer and deeper the wine looks. Further, I think this carries its 'Syrah' tag quite successfully - you can see a little Cornas in there for sure (in the best possible fashion).

Guaranteed to be an impressive wine with bottle ageing, I was really impressed. 18.5/20 94/100

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Bollinger La Grande Année 2004

Bollinger La Grand Année 2004 (Champagne, France)
12%, Cork, $300
Source: Sample

Oh yes, this is seriously fine fizz. Easily on a par with the sublime 02 and needing only bottle age to really come together and count amongst the absolute best Champagnes on the planet.

The 2004 La Grande Annee is a blend of 66% Pinot Noir and 34% Chardonnay, sourced from 16 crus (88% Grand Cru, 12% Premiers cru), and aged entirely in barrel. This particular bottle was disgorged in July 2012, which means is spent about 7 years on lees.

With a typically fine bead, this certainly looks the part too, with vanilla bean oak evident on the full and quite overt nose. Plenty of autolysis richness, but not quite the brioche laden, heavy (and more complex) autolysis nose you see in Bollinger RD. Shows the Flor-like barrel influenced softness through the mid palate, finishing with the sort of taut and forceful acidity that marks this as a wine in progress.

In some ways a more delicate wine than the 02, yet also backwards too. Initially I thought it a bit too acidic and twangy, but the closer I looked, the more I loved the sublime length, the linear nature of that acidity and the almost grapey Pinot elements.

Ultimately, the superb length marks this as a wine of brilliance, though I'd be waiting for the wine to catch up with the length myself. Buy it, cellar it for a few years, whatever - it's shit-hot booze regardless.

Drink: 2014-2040
Score: 18.7/20 95/100
Would I buy it? Want!

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Super Premium Week Day 3: Charles Heidsieck, my new favourite NV Champagne

Charles Heidsieck - my new favourite NV Champagne

The proprietary bottle with proprietary glass
I'll have 6 of each if you please
That title is a bit of a misnomer actually. The Charles Heidsieck 'standard' NV is not actually all that new to me. Indeed, 10 years ago the Charles Heidsieck Mis en Cave (the predecessor to the current Brut Reserve) was my favourite NV Champagne too. Maybe I should have thus titled this post 'my favourite NV Champagne. Again'.

Anyways, I'm glad to see the return of Charles. Why exactly it disappeared at all is a sad tale of why good distribution is so important to the success of a wine brand, particularly a premium one without the advertising budget of houses like Moet, Veuve, Laurent Perrier etc.

I had the good fortune of tasting the whole Charles Heidsieck lineup over lunch recently, led by the ever charismatic Ned Goodwin MW, who is now the SE Asian/pacific ambassador for Charles/Piper Heidsieck. A great choice as an ambassador, particularly locally. Ladies love him too.

Now to the wines. During the missing years, when Charles Heidsieck disappeared from our shelves, the brand itself also underwent something of a revolution too. A quality revolution. A quality revolution, that saw the production dropped from 1.5 millon bottles a year in the 1990s and early noughties to just 800,000 now, largely in a bid to increase the volume of reserve wine in each release of the NV but also due to some oddities from previous owners Remy Cointreau.

As a result, we see that the reserve wine now makes up a massive 40% of the cuvee, with the reserve wine itself approximately 10-15 years old. Those are ridiculous proportions really, making for a wine that is infinitely older (and subsequently more complex) than just about any NV Champagne around (except for maybe Krug).

The style, as ever, of these Charles Heidieck wines is deliberately fresh and reductive, the balance achieved by quite lean base wines complexed by age on lees and that aforementioned reserve wine addition.
Note both dates. Wish we would see more of this

Oh and you can see the new bottle shape in the first image to the right too. It's shaped like one of the crayères in Charles Heidsieck’s historic chalk cellars in rue de la Procession in Reims. At present the proprietary bottle will just bee seen on the NV wines but will filter through to the vintage wines from the 2004 vintages onwards.

Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve $100
Much like the pioneering Charles Heidsieck Mis en Cave wines, this carries both the year when it was disgorged and when it was put down in the Heidsieck cellars. This particular bottle was laid down in 2008 and disgorged in 2012.

Dosage for this wine is 11g/L which may seem a little high in the current climate, yet is deemed perfect for this style. Interestingly, Ned points out that extra dosage can help to enhance autolysis, giving even more complexity.

It is a very complex and intriguing wine too - rich and bacony on the nose with the tell-tale honeyed richness of older material. The tangy palate has a tangy, liqeured, mature edge alongside an array of nutty flavours, lots of yeast derived weight and a serious density before tightening up on the finish.

A rather big and bold sort of Champagne, this is seriously satisfying in its flavour intensity. How can you not love the extra complexity of this? An amazingly layered wine for an NV and a superb Champagne whichever way you look at it. Stunning! Yes please. 18.5/20 94/100

Charles Heidsieck Rosé Reserve NV $140
Also in the new bottle, this has less reserve wine (down to 20%) and spends 36 months on lees. It again is rather complex but is less recognisable as a rosé Champagne, the prettiness somewhat missing. Toffeed yet sherbety on the nose with a prickle of VA, the palate is quite honeyed and generous but serious too. A well made Champagne but not quite a fully satisfying rosé. 17.7/20 92/100

Charles Heidsieck Brut Millesimes 2000 $160
'A very strong case for dry buckets'
That was James Halliday commenting about just how fine this lineup was. Not hard to see why with a Champagne like this...

Produced from mostly Grand Cru vineyards and matured in tank/bottle (no oak), this spent 10 years on lees and is a blend of 58% Pinot, 42% Chardonnay. Ned's sommelier friend apparently described this as 'slutty', which was met with guffaws. Appropriate though and quite typical of some of the 2000 vintage Champagnes, many of which are very generous beasts indeed.

This smells distinctly of custard tarts. So rich and full is that nose that I would have picked it as a blanc de blanc really. The palate is very rich, creamy and rounded, the acidity comparatively low and a fraction uneven but not enough to derail proceedings! So open and full! Is it classic though? Perhaps too full. Hedonistic delights bring this on home regardless. Deliciousness. 18.5/20 94/100

Charles Heidsieck Millésime Rosé 1999 $180
Produced as a more traditional rosé with an addition of 7% Pinot Noir still red wine. It spends at least 11 years on lees yet quixotically looks fresher than the standard NV. Compared to the slutty 2000 above this is much more vinous and genuinely rather special. On the nose it has mushroomy aged fruit, a hint of strawberry and a ferrous edge from the Pinot addition. There is a finesse and class to this nose that just reminds you of the quality with every whiff. The palate is quite structured too, quite contained and delicate, if really very dry. Very vinous and satisfying, this is the sort of wine that you could drink all night, such its combination of delicate red fruits and the more serious acid behind it. Very long indeed this is genuinely engaging Champagne. 18.7/20 95/100

Charles Heidsieck Blanc de Millenaires 1995 $320
100% Chardonnay from Grand Cru vineyards plus a component from Vertus (which may as well be Grand Cru anyway thanks tot the likes of Larmandier Bernier). This spends 15 years on lees and has a dosage of 10g/L, again a combination which looks about right.

Sublime Champagne. Beautifully creamy style that fills every corner of your mouth. Almost overwhelming in its biscuits and cream autolysis driven decadence. Awesome length and very very expansive this seems to get bigger and yet firmer at each sip. Generosity plus acidity! Majesty. Is it too much? So much lees age makes this almost too full to be perfect. Definitely the slightest hint of old leesy decay. But I nitpick, for this is truly a superstar. Please give me more. 19/20 96/100

Friday, 9 November 2012

Salon 1996

Salon 1996 (Champagne, France)
12%, Cork, $700
Source: A gift glass

I've been watching the tweets from the Len Evans tutorial this week (hashtag #LET12), lingering enviously over the pictures of epic, occasionally almost mythical, wines from both Australia and abroad. Why just the other night a 65 Lindemans Hunter River Burgundy made an appearance, one of those wines that is listed amongst the 'greatest Australian wines ever made' and is on my 'must try before I die' list.

Next year will be my Len Evans tutorial year, surely...

Anyways, this Salon, whilst still a recent release, may one day be considered amongst the greatest Champagnes ever made. Or at least that is what the hype around this wine suggests. Happily, I think the hype might be right too...

Now I can't claim the credit for this bottle for it was donated by my colleague Angus Hughson. Angus promised to open it us when he passed at least some of his MW exams you see and he negotiated the 'theory' section successfully this year and duly popped the cork on this puppy. Thanks again and congratulations Angus.

What sets this wine apart is just how vinous it is. That may seem like an odd thing to say for Champagne, particularly given how much levity is given to the winemaking craft, instead of the grapes themselves, in Champagne production, yet this actually smells like grapes. It smells like Chardonnay grapes, that classic 'white flower and brioche' nose of long lees aged Chardonnay based Champagne. Outstanding nose, perfect even.

That perfection is a bit  disarming actually, the fragrance showing underlying latent power as well as layers of whipped cream richness (with a little hint of custard) and then more grapey power. I really didn't expect it to be this pastry-meets-cream meets-acidity-and-they-have-a-beautiful-threesome perfect on the palate either, a wine that is both soft and powerful, the acidity forceful yet entirely balanced and natural. It's vinous in its acidity again too, grapey even but with yeasty richness. So many layers. Sublime Champagne. Sublime. Yes!

Drink: 2012-2026+
Score: 19.2/20 97/100
Would I buy it? Someone lend me $700 and I would

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Delamotte Blanc de Blancs 2002

Delamotte Blanc de Blancs 2002 (Champagne, France)
12.5%, Cork, $135
Source: A glass from someone else's bottle

The Champagne you're having when you're not having Salon, Delamotte is usually a wine of some intensity, carrying plenty of its older brother's DNA. I think this particular wine was in less than perfect condition, though I wouldn't turn down a glass...

Very correct, clean and slightly sweaty, the yeast work on the nose is excellent. There is a fine balance between richness and inherent freshness and it smells very correct. After that perfect nose the palate is a bit of a dissapointment, a fraction broad and fatty through the middle and flattish through the finish. It's still creamy with classic Champagne Chardonnay characters, though the length doesn't say superstar wine to me. Smart wine, just a fraction short of greatness. I think I'd prefer a Larmandier Bernier for this price but its still high quality wine. Need to see a top bottle really...

Drink: 2012-2022
Score: 18/20 93/100
Would I buy it? No, though a good bottle?

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Perrier-Jouët Bella Époque 2004

Perrier-Jouët Bella Époque 2004

 Pretty bottle first, serious sparkling wine second.

Or at least that's the way I've always viewed Bella Époque, the Champagne itself just a little soft and broadish considering its pricetag and grand marque positioning.

Thomas Lignier on the sabre
But the more I think about, the more I question whether I may just be 'missing' the style. Is delicacy underrated in the Champagne context?

At a recent function in Sydney I asked the Perrier-Jouët global ambassador, Thomas Lignier, what exactly the style intention was for Bella Époque, just to get a perspective of where the makers are coming from.

'It's a more elegant and refined style of Champagne' he said 'it is Chardonnay dominant and typically very feminine'. In Thomas' eyes this is a pretty wine and is deliberately built as such - that is simply the house style.

This 2004 tows fits that mould too - its both subtle and delicate, whilst also just a little ill-defined, the nose all white flower and vanilla bean Chardonnay fruit (which is surprising considering that it is just 50% of the blend) in a quite reticent form.

For all of the shyness of the nose, the wine itself tastes fresh and long and genuinely well built, a Champagne that is citrussy, tight and artfully made, a more substantial drink than just the nose might suggest, even if it lacks some palate weight.

Ultimately this wine presents a conundrum. I enjoyed drinking it greatly and it fulfils the brief with aplumb, I just wonder whether it is as profound as what it could be (and indeed whether the intention is to aim for profound wine in the first place).

Drink: 2012-2020+
Score: 17.8/20 92/100
Would I buy it? No. Enjoyed my glass though.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Dom Oenothèque - the best from 'the library'

Dom Oenothèque – the best from ‘the library’

Superb packaing on this special Dom.
Have your platinum Amex at the ready sir
(I wrote this article a little over a year ago now for Lattè Life Magazine. A different tone perhaps but the core sentiment is accurate. I don't share the same enthusiasm for the 2003 Dom sadly).

If you were forced to choose a desert island wine, what would it be? What tipple would be your choice to be stuck with forever more?

For me there is really only one thing that is up to the task... Champagne. More specifically, I’m talking about the finest French Champagne, and if we’re talking the absolute best then you’d be hard pressed to go past Dom Pérignon Oenothèque.

Now many of of you have probably heard of Dom Pérignon, the prestige Champagne of exalted house Moët & Chandon.  But Dom Pérignon Oenothèque takes this prestige to the next level.

Quite simply, Oenothèque means ‘wine library’ and refers to the specialised reserve cellaring program and ‘living memory’ of Dom Pérignon that underpins the entire operation (according to Oenologist Vincent Caperon, who was out here recently to show the wine).

What the program entails is essentially a cellar full of many vintages of maturing Dom Pérignon Champagne, all patiently awaiting the decision of Chef de Cave (chief winemaker) Richard Geoffroy of when to release them.

You see what happens is that the ‘standard’ Dom Pérignon is aged for approximately seven years on yeast lees before being disgorged and released. This ‘standard’ release makes up the bulk of the quietly large (rumoured to be 2 million bottles) production.

Yet every year a small amount of this same wine is kept back on lees for further ageing and then not released until either it’s ‘second maturity peak’ (15-20 years after harvest) or its third peak (30 years plus).

The net result is two tiers of Dom Pérignon. The ‘standard’ release is a consistently good prestige Champagne built in a quite elegant style. Yet the Oenothèque wines, carrying such extended ageing on yeast lees, are infinitely more interesting and complex, turning the sometimes feminine Dom Pérignon into a robust Champagne for the ages.

A perfect example of this lies in the current releases. The quite classically proportioned 2002 Dom Pérignon ($260) is a rather fragrant and citrussy wine that still looks somewhat shy and reserved. Compare that to the 1996 Dom Pérignon Oenothèque ($550) which is one of the most full bodied Champagnes I’ve ever had, (from a vintage that Vincent called ‘an anomaly’) that was so powerful and richly flavoured that at lunch it quite ably matched up to a veal rack.

It is this wine, this style of wine then that would have me calling for the Oenothèque on the desert island. It’s the sort of Champagne that you simply cannot grow tired of, each mouthful unveiling an extra nuance, an extra layer of flavour and that everlasting length.

The only challenge really is the pricetag. Arguably for a wine of this quality and reputation it’s cheap, but I can only hope that whoever is stocking the fridge on my desert island has very deep pockets...

What is the collective noun for much expensive French Champagne? A flood?

The wines:

Dom Pérignon 2002
Vincent Geoffroy believes this is coming together much like the 1980, a vintage which is also quite classic. I think it really needs more time in the bottle to show its best but certainly well formed. A very good Dom vintage no doubt, if not quite great as yet (and let's not talk about the bottle variation and cork taint ok?).

It's actually quite fragrant and elegant on the nose, lifted with a lemon tang that suggests stainless steel tanks and not barrels. Krug it is not (nor should it be). The palate too is tight and linear, driven by great length but hardly a powerful or dense Champagne by any means. It is long, it is fresh and it is pure. A wine for the future no doubt. 18.3/93+

Dom Pérignon Oenothèque 1996
I'm going to quote directly from Geoffroy again here, simply because this is interesting stuff (or at least I thought so):

'The most important character is the notion of the vintage... There is a lot of risk in trying to maintain the consistency. Much more exciting as us winemakers love to reinvent every year... 1996 was a vintage of wind, with wind concentrating whilst also causing lots of stress.'

The 1996 was originally released in 2004, but this particular Oenothèque was kept on lees until 2009.

It's still quite bright in the glass actually, the nose lightly creamy with a sort of Golden Gaytime richness in there, the wine obviously more leesy and richer but with age driving it as much as lees. Underneath it is very full, dry and firm with a big wall of acidity smashing into the leesy richness. It's a hardcore Champagne actually with a forceful personality that propels it from light and elegance ala the 02 into big boy territory. Top Champagne! 18.8/95

Dom Pérignon Rosé 1998
The biggest problem when crafting rosé Champagne is that the tannins of the Pinot Noir don't get ripe. The quest then, according to Geoffroy, is to balance out the 'authority' and 'austerity' of the palate and particularly the 'winey' character of the Pinot Noir.

I'm not convinced that such a balance is perfectly achieved with this wine, but then again it so rarely is in 'pink' Champagne...

Salmon orange in colour this is actually richer and more leesy than the standard 'blanc'. That palate though is dry, lean and hard, the 'fruiter' notes that Geoffroy looks for not carried through enough to cancel that high acid and metallic tannin. Too winey for big love perhaps, even though its certainly a well made, high quality sparkling. Plenty of interest on the nose too. I want more generosity though really. 17.5/91

Friday, 13 July 2012

Champagne: 30 tasted

Champagne: 30 tasted

I was struggling for inspiration tonight and so, instead of just writing something half-heartedly, decided to attack the pile of papers here on my 'work desk'. Whilst the tidying, rearranging and such didn't actually accomplish much, I did uncover my notebook from the 2011 iteration of the Champagne Bureau annual tasting, a set of notes that had me just that little bit more inspired (bubbles do that).

These tasting notes were thus written last August, at a Champagne tasting that typically showcases a veritable smorgasbord of fine Champagne from both growers and houses.

Just scanning through them I appear to have been particularly hard on the wines. That could be good or bad, though the score range looks about right). Of course judging NV Champagne can be like pissing in the wind, but I think most of the wines looked in reasonable form (except for maybe the Paul Bara range).

I've put my postscript notes in italics, but the rest are largely as written on the day (which I prefer).

I'm also interested to hear what you think the most consistent 'big house' NV Champagne is (mine is Bollinger. As long as you get the non-parallel imported stuff).

The wines:

Ayala Blanc de Blancs 2004

Has been going from strength to strength of late thanks to Bollinger influence. This is relatively well priced too. Sexy packaging to match (or at least I think so).
Creamy, Super creamy. Quick complex and full with clever delineation. Great style. 18.3/93+

Bollinger La Grande Année 2002
So tight, so pure, so fresh. It looked a little reticent on the day but subsequent tastings have shown just how fine it is. Classy as hell. Buy! Buy!
Direct, pure and quite lean nose. Caramel yeasty richness on the edges with a flor like oak richness. Quite a deal of oak but so powerful. Very very serious. 18.5/94++

Bollinger Rosé NV
I'm still not totally swayed by Bollinger's pink bubbles but this looked rather good on the day. Very serious.
Citrus and flowers. Pink fruit and very aromatic but oh so serious and backward on the palate. Too dry? Great structure. 17.7/92

Billecart-Salmon Cuvée "Nicolas François Billecart" 1998

This looked a bit bulky and out of condition methinks (in context). Should be better (it's still good).
Cheesy, complex and full style nose. Looks both broadish and with angular acidity. Complex but also forward and less than super fresh. 17.5/91

René Geoffroy Millésime 2000
I've enjoyed other vintages of this more (from memory) but no doubting the weight and length. Rather advanced and typically 2000 awkward but class in there.
Earthen, complex but a rather advanced wine. A bit disjointed but good intensity. Quite forward.

René Geoffroy Cuvée Rosé de Saigné NV
 Intriguing. Odd wine too. Wouldn't mind another look.
Pink! Strawberry juice. Very vinous and more like a rosé still wine. Super dry finish with a citrus hint. 17.5/91

Delamotte Brut NV
Have had better, richer bottles of this. Looked shortish (in context).
Lovely, classic nose. Clean but slightly tart end. Too much dosage even? 17.3/90

Delamotte Blanc de Blancs 1999

Lovely wine really - clean but rich. Rather enjoyed this.
Developing but pure and clean.. Creamy and rather toasty nose, obvious age. Lingering finish. Long. 18/93

Delamotte Blanc de Blancs NV

Not that for behind the vintage really.
Cheesy Chardonnay richness. All butter and nuts. Pure but generous with creamy weight and power. Slightly dull finish but reasonable length. 17.4/91

Gatinois Tradition NV
Where did this come from eh? Nice wine! 90% Grand cru fruit apparently.
Very dominant Pinot character on the nose. Lifted, vibrant and clean. Tight, vinous and driven palate. Lots of table wine like power. Very long. 17.7/92

Gatinois Millésime 2002
Rather exciting really considering that you can pick this up for $92 a bottle around the traps.
Very dense and powerful. Excellent persistence if a slight hole in the back. Very smart. 18.2/93+

Pascal Doquet Le Mesnil sur Oger Grand Cru NV

Another fantastic (and bargain priced) grower Champagne. Well worth seeking out. A blanc de Blanc I believe (though don't quote me - the book doesn't say).
Very pure! Dry and perfumed. Super tight, almost salty minerality. Next level complexity. 17.7/92

Pascal Doquet Les Mesnil sur Oger Grand Cru 2002

$125 for this? So good. So grown up and serious! 8yrs on lees!
Lifted nose is both creamy and pure. A real lightness to the nose. Full, linear and very powerful. Biscuity palate is clean and complex. Really very good. 18.3/93+

Paul Bara Brut Reserve NV

I've had better bottles of this.
Rather Pinot dominant. A little sweet and sour with green apple acidity. Fleshy simple style. 16.3/87

Paul Bara Brut Reserve
Rosé NV
Didn't enjoy this enough.
Tinny, light and sweet. Sweet and slightly simple. 15.5/85

Paul Bara Grand Rosé De Bouzy NV
Again that sweetness! Blurgh. nice nose though.
Quite fresh, pink fruit and sherbet nose. Tart and slightly overly sweet palate. 16.8/89

Jacquesson Avize Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs 2000
Wonderful stuff.
Complex, mushroomy development. Really rich mid palate and firm finish. Really decadent palate this - so rich. Top shelf indeed. 18.5/94

Larmandier-Bernier Cramant VV Grand Cru 2005

Astonishingly good. Almost like a whole other realm of Champagne quality here.
Very clean. White flower aromatics and even a little white peach. Lean but still retains a certain fruit signature. Length and purity are spot on. Wonderful white fruit. Superb. 18.9/96

Larmandier-Bernier Terre de Vertus 1er Cru Non-D
osé NV
It's ultimately a bargain this considering that it goes for just $130 a bottle.
Again that purity. So fine and dry. Crystalline acidity but with a certain softness and delicacy. High acid shows due to no dosage. But oh-so-pure! Wow. 18.7/95

Lombard & Cie Brut NV

Brassy and a bit broad. Cheesy, biscuity citrus edges. Full palate is just a bit too flabby. 16.5/88

Lombard & Cie Grand Cru 2004

Creamy, full and overtly cheesy development. Again rather broad and simple. Pleasant enough. 16.8/89

Louis Roederer Brut Premier NV

Apparently this has more dosage now than it used to. Why? Certainly looked odd on this occasion.
Baby sick development is quite odd. Rich and mealy palate is a fraction obvious. 16.8/89

Louis Roederer Brut 2005

My notes include this line 'where is the excitement'
Very lean and obviously too young. Great structure but all angles and no complexity. Again with the baby sick oddness. 17.3/90+

Louis Roederer Rosé 2006
Baby sick meets strawberries. Very firm and talc palate looks vital but also very firm. A little stunted through the finish. 17.4/91

Mumm Cuvée R.Lalou 1999
Just discovered that I reviewed this late last year too (with similar results).
Vibrant nose. Quite full style. Complex palate though with a large hole near the back palate and a little disjointed through the finish. Good, not quite great. 17.9/92

Perrier-Jouët Belle Époque Vintage 2004

I have this written down as 2004 but my writing is, erm, bad (a sign of genius surely? I'll keep telling myself that).
Fresh, floral and lively. All up in the air, this needs to flesh out. Good form underneath but not much generosity or joy yet. 17.5/91

Philipponnat Cuvée 1522 2002

Very dense nose. Not super pure palate palate which muddies the characters, though good penetration. Old school style perhaps but solid. 17.5/91

Pol Roger Brut NV
Again  I've had better bottles than this. Mercurial NV once again...

Quite rich and Pinot dominant. Much more power and length than many but the acidity is sharp and the finish raw. 17/90

Pol Roger Brut 2000

(I'm not rating this as I think this was a bad bottle. No one on the stand at the time though...)

Pol Roger Brut Rosé 2000
I quite liked this. Real vinous character.
Quite a ferrous nose on this, suggesting some serious red Coteaux de Champenois in there, the ferrous, blood and bone notes of those unsual still Pinots showing through on the nose in particular. Very dry and rather mature palate. Has perhaps a little too much tannins but that also makes for character. 17.6/91

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

'The World's Greatest Wines that aren't...'

'The World's Greatest Wines that aren't...'

When I first started this blog, almost four years ago now, I did so with purpose - I wanted somewhere accessible (online) where I could store all my tasting notes to easily reference them. It seemed like the perfect idea at the time actually, the ideal way to stop me filling notebooks with my illegible scribblings and then forgetting the finer details about why I particularly liked one wine or another in the process. By having a centralised platform I thus had easy access as well as a place spout my opinions of course, even if no-one cared (blogs are good like that).

Fast forward four years and the nature of this site has changed from the original scope somewhat, broadening and evolving along the way. Yet I'm reminded that I still need to keep on top of the main purpose - to write down, largely for my own reference, which wines I liked and why. Just for me. Stuff you guys...

Anyway today I'm channeling my inner Halliday and documenting one of 'those dinners'. The sort of dinners where you silently swear under your breath and remark 'how do I get an invite to something like that'. The sort of dinners that anyone who has read Halliday's columns in Gourmet Traveller WINE knows the score...

The theme of this dinner though was simple - 'The World’s Greatest Wines that aren’t Grand Crus, First Growths, Grand Marques or RP 100 pointers' - a concept which ultimately encouraged a wonderful proliferation of 5th growths, unknown estates and odd vintages. The results, however, were anything but odd...

In this piece I'm just going to run through a few highlights then, a few wines from this astonishing lineup that are worth highlighting, discussing or at least mentioning (and reminding myself). Once again a big thanks to David Fesq and family for organising this dinner. Good times indeed).

Trimbach Clos Ste Hune Riesling 1993 (Alsace, France)

1993 Trimbach Clos Ste Hune
From double magnum
Everything tastes better from a big bottle. Maybe. This tasted surprisingly good though, a tight, rich, yet contained wine showing orange rind, more than a hint of botrytis and a solid hit of acidity through the finish. If anything it was a bit too blocky, the acidity too firm and the fruit not rich enough to carry it all together, or in another way it is a wine of power but not quite congruency. Still that shape and that length suggest that - given another five years in the bottle - this should be singing. Still enjoyed a glass or two of this.

Chateau Gruaud Larose 1964 (St Julien, Bordeaux, France)
2 big bottles.

Another 3 litre bottle and another wine that looks better than expected. A 'good' year in Bordeaxu apparently and this bottle was in reasonable condition (though the label did fall off at the end of the night).

What made this particular wine enjoyable by just how much it still carried it's terroir stamp - recognisably Left Bank, delightfully medium bodied and carries that stern cedar character of Bordeaux. It's falling away a smidgen and probably past it's best yet still that lightness and sappy refreshment of old Bordeaux remains. Really enjoyed this.

Paul Jaboulet Aine Hermitage La Chapelle 2000 (Northern Rhone, France)

From a 3 litre bottle too. Fair to say that this wine was a disappointment. Actually, given the general disappointment of the La Chapelle wines of that era it was probably an expected disappointment.

The problem with this is simple - it's just lacking in definition. There's that wonderful high toned black peppercorn meatiness of Hermitage yet it's just full of holes, the nose really quite forward and chunky, the palate lacking persistance and length. Soft and pretty simple really.

Diebolt-Vallois Champagne Blanc de Blancs Fleur de Passion 2004 (Champagne, France)

Diebolt-Vallais Fleur de Passion 2004
Stunning Champagne

From magnum. Wow. Double wow. Sexy Champagne this one, built in a mould of opulence, richness and Krug like stylings (but lighter and prettier. More white flowers here). Think 65 year old vines, small oak maturation, the works. The full Champagne monty. I can't express enough how much I enjoyed this wine and it was perhaps the single I could drink the most of from this lineup. That push-pull between richness/power and acidity! That length and vitality! Buy some..

Mosse Les Bonnes Blanches 2009 (Anjou, Loire)

Mosse + Ovarius. Suitable

From magnum. The Ovarius decanter came out for this one, although we were all waiting to see if it could take the wine into the fourth dimension. Still waiting, but it certainly improved this white...

From the outset this carried some intrigue too, the Mosse name being synonymous with some intriguing natural Loire Chenin of serious depth and power. That intrigue was evident from the first whiff too, an oxidative nose of citrus Chenin fruit and dry honeysuckle extract.

The palate too was powerful and minerally and firm, if still super tight and closed. With air I was hoping this would become more expansive and rounded, but the oxidation just got more evident without the flesh of the palate to catch up, the alcohol also becoming even more evident with time in the glass (like many 09 Loire whites). Still smart but the more I looked the less I liked.

J.F. Coche-Dury Mersault 'Les Rougeots' Blanc 1987 (Mersault, Côte de Beaune, France)

1987 Coche Mersault Les Rougeots
Tasted much better than it looked
I really didn't expect much. Very little at all actually, especially given the bronzed colour, the only fair levels and the glad-wrapped label. Yet digging underneath all that age you find a classy wine, an obviously old and slightly madeirised wine yet one that still carries that finely whipped butter minerality of proper Mersault. It's that caramel bottle age meets cream fruit which is ultimately really very addictive, although tempered by decay on the finish. Enjoyable and drinkable (in small doses) surprise.

Chateau De Pommard 1964 (Pommard, Côte de Beaune, France)

1964 Chateau Pommard
Note the alcohol on the label (11-14%!)

Another 64! This looked like Rosé in fact, with a serious orange/bronze colour to it. It tasted like lovely earthen and ferrous old Pinot though, still holding on to the vestiges of some serious firm fruit (it would have been quite a structural beast in it's youth), complete with a hint of strawberries. Again it's a well aged wine, again it's not for everyone with no shortage of earthen dirt and a fully resolved palate, but there was a certain beauty about this. Another highlight.

Clape Cornas 2000 (Cornas, Northern Rhone, France)

Clape Cornas and meat = yes

A mixed vintage for the Northern Rhone and a lesser wine in the Clape context. Fitting that this was served at about meat o'clock during the night as Clape Cornas  always looks better with red meat. It still carries much of that richness and oak sweetness of a younger wine too, the first pooey edges of Cornas bottle age yet to really take hold. Again, like the same vintage La Chapelle, the flow wasn't ideal here, the tannins hard and the fruit looking just a tad awkward and less than pure. I enjoyed a glass but couldn't really drink much more of this - a lesser Clape (speaking of, here is a look at a few recent vintages of this wine).

Best's Bin O Great Western Shiraz 1990 (Great Western, Vic)

Bests Bin 0 1990
22 years young!

Sourced directly from the Best's cellars and in absolutely tip-top shape because of it, there was no hiding the glory of this mature Australian red. It's very much in the Grampians mould too, an unashamedly richer, sweeter, oakier wine than many of the more Euro/less polished wines of this drinkfest, but also enjoyable because of it. There is a sweetened plum essence Grampians character at this wines core too that is so wonderfully attractive. Nicely resolved, but still really quite youthful, win this wine with  at least another 5-10 years pleasure left (based on this great bottle). Very nice.

Maison Leroy Mersault 1er Cru 'Les Perrieres' Blanc 2006
(Mersault, Côte de Beaune, France)

Leroy Les Perrieres

What a point of contention this wine was. A late-night argument starter if ever there was one. The bone of contention about this wine was whether it was unbalanced or just going through a bad phase.
What was particularly discussed was the ripe and slightly overbearing pineapple fruit which appeared to get weightier, heavier and more broad by the second, the oak a second intrusive layer over the top of the fat. Personally I just found this bulky and awkward, lacking the real structure to give long term love. But I can also see that it might come good in a few years, that oak might integrate more and the line may well improve. Definitely a disappointment given the wines around it though. if purely for the moment.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Xmas drinks 2011: Bubbles

Xmas drinks 2011: Bubbles

Clover Hill 2007
I really didn't expect for today to become a bubblefest.

I mean obviously there were bubbles around, but fizz was never meant to be the feature of our Xmas day. Heck I had bottles of Chablis, Shiraz  and more on the table ready to go, yet very little of it was touched. I personally think that  numerous icy cold beers (and some limoncello) may have gotten in the way, but who am I to dictate drinking terms on Christmas day?

Anyway, 'twas (I'm feeling festive, so 'twas is creeping in everywhere) good bubbly times regardless and I had a cracking day. Christmas is my favourite time of year and with a large extended family (who I like) based locally it's always a food and drink-fest of classic proportions. Love Christmas

The wines (prices are approximate RRPs):

Clover Hill 2007 (Tasmania) 13% $47

A riper year for Northern Tassie and this is a riper Clover Hill, built richer, fuller and more evolved than the previous few vintages. What's most pleasing to see is how layered, complex and weighty this fizz is, even if I think it's just a little too broad and sweet/sour for higher points. Actually, when served icy cold this looked classy indeed, and it wasn't until the Veuve was opened (below) that the wobbly bits became apparent.

Immediately it's a full, seriously intentioned and Pinot dominant smelling wine this one, with a bottle age thickness and lees derived weight in there that makes this look every bit a vintage Champagne (if an overly young one). That's backed by a grunty, powerful and thick palate too, let down only by a sweet and sour acid fruit imbalance and slightly broad finish. I can't fault the power and flavour, but it just needs more detail and a better acid line to satisfay further. Still, quality vino in the scheme of things. 16.8/89+

Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin NV (Champagne, France) 12% $70
In many ways it's a waste of time reviewing big house NV Champagne in Australia, mainly due to the ridiculous amount of bottle variation we experience here (which is of little surprise when you find out how much 'big house' Champagne is shipped to Australia in unrefrigerated containers and then sits in hot warehouses oxidising away. A situation that is completely ridiculous when you think about the prices of French fizz).

Anyway, said NV lotto delivered a good bottle today, one that looked typically restrained and lean without falling into the apple juice neutrality that sometimes tars Veuve NV (or some batches at least. Sigh). It's nowhere near as inviting on the nose as the Clover Hill though, a slender and mono-dimensional creature compared to the buxom Tasmanian bubbly.

Where the Veuve pulls ahead though is the palate, which is lighter and more composed, the acidity pulling harder than the Clover Hill though with a natural softness, the finish slipping through with a soft limestone tang. It's a sweeter wine than the Clover Hill, but that doesn't stick out, and indeed the final effort is simply pure (and better for it). Quality NV. 17.6/91

Capital Wines 'The Black Rod' Sparkling Shiraz 2008 (Canberra) 14% $37

What would Christmas lunch be without a sparkling red? This splurgundy (love that word) is a brand spanking new release from Capital Wines in Canberra, the fruit sourced from Kyeema Vineyard Shiraz and Merlot, blended with a little Murrumbateman Cabernet for balance.

It's a rich and sweet smelling sparkling red this, the nose carrying an inviting, dosage heavy, curranty sweetness with some spicy, maturing, leathery bottle age notes. Caramel, redcurrant and a spoonful of spice. Lovely. Palate is long and warm and rich, finishing curranty and liqueured on the finish. It's perhaps a little spirituous but that's a minor quibble on what is a pretty satisfying, generous and tasty, spicy, mid-weight and still concentrated. Lovely push-pull of sweetness and spicy fruit. A well judged mouthful of sparkling red. Yes. 17.8/92

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Mumm Cuvée R.Lalou 1999

Mumm Cuvee Lalou
Mumm Cuvée R.Lalou 1999 (Champagne, France)
Cork, $360
Source: Had a glass from someone else's bottle

Some sexy packaging on this - very classy. The fruit sourcing is high class too, with grapes from eight grand cru villages in the blend. Serious pricing though, especially when wines like Krug MV, Dom, Grand Anee etc are at least $100 a bottle cheaper..

What's most appealing is the obviously complexity, largely bottle age derived, with a really toasty, almost caramel/butterscotch oxidative richness to it. It's an autolysis heavy nose that is so rich, honeyed and that it's hard to miss as anything but bottle aged Champagne. Considering the vintage it's actually quite forward though, with just a hint of decay in there too. Palate is expansive and full, a big layered mouthful of richness. If anything it's a little broad for big satisfaction, that late fatness matching up with some bottle age ester and the slight bite of rising acid through the finish.

An thoroughly intense and bombastic Champagne, all this needs is a little more freshness to push the quality into the stratosphere (and justify that price). 18.2/93

Sunday, 16 October 2011

What is grower Champagne?

What is grower Champagne?

Champagne sir? Make mine a 'farmer wine'
A version of this article appeared in LattéLife magazine last year. I'm reprinting it here as I think this general overview is worth repeating. If you're already across the grower Champagne topic then skip ahead.

When we're talking about the wines of Champagne, what we're really talking about is Champagne brands. Famous brands like Moet, Veuve Clicquot, Louis Roederer and Bollinger, all household names(to various extents) and all propelled along by unrivalled marketing, packaging and brand placement. 

But there is much more to Champagne than just big names and big producers, a fact best explained by delving into the Champagne production process itself.

We can start by looking in the vineyard, where it might surprise to know that many of the famous Champagne ‘houses’ don’t own their own vineyards. Instead, a vast network of independent growers – numbering more than 15,000 – grow the grapes whilst the Champagne 'houses' make the actual wines.

In this fashion, the most famous Champagne houses will utilise growers all over the region, taking parcels of grapes from a range of varieties and sites, blending artfully to create the most consistent, high quality ‘house style’ wines and effectively promoting a system that separates winemaker from grapegrower. A two tiered production system if you will, which is unlike most other traditional notions of wine production.

The challenge with this sort of winemaking ethos is the loss of ‘a sense of place’, with wines that can arguably lack ‘terroir’ and character, a product more of winemaking rather than grape character. Enter then the modern counter for this homogeneity: The grower Champagne.

In essence a grower Champagne is simply one produced by the same estate that grows the grapes. Vineyard and winery, reconnected once again, identified by the letters ‘RM’ on the label, which stand for ‘Recoltant-Manipulant’ – effectively grower and winemaker – as opposed to ‘NM’ (negociant and winemaker) for the Champagne houses.

Given that approximately one in four Champagne growers do make their own wine, it's actually quite a surprise that up until recently these little known bubblies would never have made it past the growers dinner table (with many of these grower bubblies known as simple, variable ‘farmers wines’ as a result).

In the last decade however several of the most progressive growers – many of whom practise organic and biodynamic viticulture - have realised that there is a demand for Champagne that proudly proclaims exactly where it was grown and produced. Champagne that speaks of grapes and winemaker, not just house style.

The good news is that several of these grower Champagnes can be found in good Australian bottle shops, from producers such as Larmandier-Bernier, René Geoffroy, Egly-Ouriet and Agrapart (to name just a few). What’s more, these sparkling wines can often be cheaper than the big name Champagne’s, or at least offer more interesting offerings for comparable prices.

So what are you waiting for?

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Larmandier Bernier Blanc de Blancs 1er Cru NV

Larmandier Bernier Blanc de Blancs 1er Cru NV (Champagne, France)
12.5%, Cork, $90
Source: Retail

Larmandier Bernier Blanc de Blanc
Oh yes, don't mind if I do
'Do things with passion or not at all'

There's a reason why Grower Champagnes (such as this one) are rewriting the Champagne rules. Simply put, they're just better.

I say that with a caveat (of course), because such sweeping generalisations are obviously completely subjective and such. But when you have wines of this quality, selling at prices like this, the normal rules go out the window. I mean, this is as fine as many a 'big house' (Why is that only Champagne has houses by the way? Is it because they have espouse a house over a chateau? I'd prefer the chateau myself) vintage wine...

When you read the production description though, it's really of little surprise that this is as good as it is. Best practice wine, made more like white Burgundy than Champagne. More than that though, it's crafted with passion, with attention to detail and 'hands-on', 'we know how to make it properly, and it requires humans' winemaking

A 100% Chardonnay Champagne, it's crafted from the Vertus 1er cru and Cramant, Avize and Oger grand crus, with all of the vineyards farmed organically. Most of this blend was drawn from the 2008 vintage, with 40% reserve wine included in the final cuvee (which is huge for a standard NV). Fermentation is completed naturally (which is again an oddity for Champagne) in stainless steel. Manual disgorgement (!) with 4g/L dosage.

In the glass it has a very fine, superstar bead, and a tight, fine grapefruit nose. It smells youthful, of crystalline melon fruit with a swizzle stick of yeast richness sitting over the top. The palate is a tight one and a dry one, looking very restrained and Chablis like in it's minerality. Whilst labelled as extra brut, and topped off with just 4g/L of dosage, it actually tastes slightly sherbety on the finish, which gives an edge of generosity that I both enjoyed and didn't. Still, it's the only wavering quibble on what is a finessed, crisply restrained, yet still buxom Blanc de Blanc itching only for more bottle age to become a true weapon of seduction.

A Champagne to win over anyone regardless of their Champagne convictions, it's not hard to recommend this (although the zero dosage Terra Vertus really is next level better again...)

Yes. 18/93

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Bollinger - a quick snapshot of the range

Bollinger - a quick snapshot of the range

100 years of Bollinger Special Cuvée
I like Bollinger.

I like their uncompromised winemaking approach and I like their understated marketing. No flashy Moët-esque packaging either, just class.

In fact, the only impediment to me 'loving' Bollinger is that the NV (Special Cuvée) has been a slightly variable beast at times, largely due to some very questionable parallel imports that popped up recently (which were in very poor condition. Caveat emptor for anyone buying a bottle not wearing the official 'imported by Fine Wine Partners' back label) and made buying Bollinger outside of a bottleshop something of a lottery.

I believe that the parallel supply has dried up now though and, as you can see below, the 'official' stock is tip-top stuff.

The following Bollinger wines then were tasted at a fabulous sit down masterclass earlier in the year, put on to celebrate 100 years since the naming of the Bollinger Special Cuvée. Not a bad milestone that one....

Notes from the winery are in italics.

Bollinger Special Cuvée NV (Champagne, France) 12.5% RRP $110
Based on Pinot Noir (60% Pinot Noir, 25% Chardonnay, 15% Pinot Meunier) with approximately 80% of the grapes sourced from premier or grand cru vineyards. It spends three years on lees with 20-35% fermented in barrel, the rest in stainless steel. 5-10% reserve wine (from magnum) is included in the blend, with the reserve wines up to 15yrs old.
Probably the best looking Special Cuvée I've seen in some time. Fresh, lively and really quite impressive. Clear colour, fine bead and lifted with a hint of oak richness it looked very Bollinger (in a good way). Palate is dry, pure and lean but with nice layers of creamy yeast, oak and fruit. Complete NV and very drinkable. 17.5/91

Bollinger Coteaux Champenois
A still Bollinger oddity.
Bollinger Coteaux Champenois La Côte aux Enfants 2002 (Champagne, France) RRP $220
The only still wine in the Bollinger range, this has been made for for 100 years+. Produced from a single, south facing 1 hectare grand cru vineyard near the heart of Aÿ. Fermented cold for 10-12 days and then aged in 3-5yr old 205 litre oak barrels for 2yrs. A portion of this is blended with the Grande Année white to produce the Grande Année Rosé. Picked at 12 baume, with 7g/l acidity. Interestingly, it's still cropped at 8 tonnes hectare, which is fine for Champagne but would make Burgundians weep (with envy. A $220 wine cropped at 8 tonnes a hectare? Wow). Just 4,300 bottles produced.
This was served cold which was a plain puzzling move, for it's not exactly fruit sweet. As it warmed up the dense, yet restrained nose showed little more than ferrous, under-ripe Pinot Noir. The palate is quite a surprise then, with the sharp and metallic edges softened thanks to bottle age and some rather stylish if metallic fruit. Whilst ultimately a slightly hard, ungenerous and aggressively tannic wine, there is some elegant, non-fruit winey characters in there to keep it drinkable.  16.8/89

Bollinger Rosé NV (Champagne, France) RRP $170
62% Pinot Noir, 24% Chardonnay, 14% Pinot Meunier. 85% premier and grand cru fruit with 5% still Pinot Noir from Cote d’Ay and Verzenay. 8.5g/L dosage. Served from magnum.
A very pretty smelling wine this one, with sweet sherbety, strawberry and talc on the nose. Lovely bead too, very nice. The palate is really quite tart in comparison, a little short, tight and sweet, all front, then a hole and then dry through the finish. Disjointed. It's odd to say this, but I think that more bottle age is needed to try and bring everything together (or at least this bottle). 16.5/88+

Bollinger La Grande Année 2000 (Champagne, France) RRP $250
16 Crus used in this blend, 76% grand, 24% premier cru. 63% Pinot Noir, 37% Chardonnay. 100% barrel fermentation. 7-9g/L dosage. Tricky year this one according to Bollinger winemaker Stephen Leroux, with 20% of Champagne lost to botrytis. Incidentally he also mentioned that 2001 was an 'ordinary' Champagne year and that up to 35% of the 2010 crop was lost to Botrytis.
Golden yellow colour. Very mealy, rich and full nose on this one, with a real biscuity, smoky yeast and oak fullness to it. Perhaps a fraction forward and mature but also in the prime of it's life. Delicious. Palate too is full and golden, rich and just teetering on the edge of being brassy, the richness of bottle age and the oak ferment giving sweetness, contrasting against the acid backbone. Very nice wine for immediate drinking pleasure. 18.2/93

Bollinger La Grande Année Rosé 1999 (Champagne, France) RRP $320
17 villages used with 82% grand, 18% premier cru vineyards. 65% Pinot Noir, 35% Chardonnay. 100% barrel ferment. Cellared in magnum under natural cork. A blend of Grande Année sparkling with 7-8% La Côte aux Enfants still wine. 7-9g/L dosage. This vintage is apparently comparable with 1970 and 1983.
Lovely salmon orange colour. Carries that same rich and biscuity nose like the 2000 'white' does. Again a lovely fine bead. Rich palate contrasts with the drying tannic heaviness of the base red wine making for a back palate that is stripped a little of it's sexy generosity. Still, you'd have to argue that this should be a stunning wine with another decade of bottle age, particularly given how structurally sound it is. Hold! 17.3/90+

Bollinger R.D. 1997 (Champagne, France) RRP $395
Essentially the 1997 La Grande Année held back on its lees (in magnum) for at least 8 years, whilst this particular bottle was disgorged in July 2010. 3-4g/L dosage. 1997 was an inclement vintage that eventually ended dry and hot. Served from magnum.

1988 Bollinger R.D
Would love to see a fresh bottle of this
Wow. Stunning nose. Slightly cheesy, prominent autolysis yeast richness, with a hint of almost floral wildness. A hint of caramel and butterscotch too. Sexy stuff, proper Champagne indeed. Massively concentrated and powerful palate fits the nose perfectly, with a finish that is clean and quite pure. Full, powerful and chunky, with a quite warm finish. Surprisingly sprightly acidity too. Such length! I want to take this home and drink it all night long. Superb wine. Lovely Champagne this. 18.6/94

Bollinger R.D. 1988 (Champagne, France) RRP $?
17 crus with 66% grand and 34% premier cru vineyards. 72% Pinot Noir, 28% Chardonnay. pH 2.97. Disgorged circa 1998 and has spent the last 13yrs in the cellar of Paul Boothy of Fine Wine Partners. Served from magnum.
Sparse but fine bead, this looks more like a still wine than a Champagne. Flat, somewhat caramelised nose is just a bit decayed and broad, aldehydic wafts. Palate is surprisingly lean if mushroomy at the edges, with still very firm acidity. It's obviously on the decline but still complex and layered. Would have been a stunner a few years back. Still plenty of interest here. 17.7/92

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Celebrating Cadel with average Champagne....

Celebrating Cadel with average Champagne....

Cadel crossing the finish line. Emotional stuff.
Gee I've spent a few weeks of late nights in front of this tv recently...
Apparently 2.4 million Australians watched the final stage of this years Tour de France on Sunday, a number which is said to be double that of last year. I was one of those 2.4 million bleary eyed fans, celebrating what is inarguably the finest moment in Australian cycling history: Cadel Evans mounting the podium to be the first Australian (and only third ever non European) to win the Tour de France.

Now as someone who dedicates a whole drawer to bike/outdoor/adventure (etc) clothing and may have spent far too much time putting together a Tour de France Fantasy team, you can imagine how exciting this was. Actually, I think any sports fans would have enjoyed Cadel's win, particularly given how long (and at times heartbreaking) the journey has been to get there. The clincher though was the raw emotion on Cadel's face, that look of someone who has worked so hard, for so long and failed so many times in the process, yet finally realises their dreams.

Suffice to say it was a rather emotional little period, and there may have been some moist eyes in the household.....

Pierre Gimmonet Paradoxe 2004
Not quite up to the task
But back to this Champagne. I grabbed it in a hurry at a large local liquor store (a store with a very vanilla range of Champagne), swayed by a positive Tanzer note and decent wines from the label before, hoping that a (somewhat) well regarded, small house Champagne, from a top vintage, may have been up to the task of toasting a great achievement (and considering that Paris is so close to Champagne, it seemed that only Champagne would do).

Sadly, this wine didn't do Cadel justice. I enjoyed my night so much that a slightly disappointing bubbly wasn't really going to derail the fun, but it still irks when you fork out $85 for something so far off the mark...

Pierre Gimmonet et Fils 1er cru 'Pardoxe' Brut 2004 (Champagne, France)
12.5%, Cork, $85
Source: Retail

It actually smells pretty good, with a richness and sherried and caramel lees development edge that is quite appealing. The problem lies on the palate, which has loads of acidity but little else, a thin, tart and lean/mean/green (fighting machine?) disjointed beast. Arguably it's too young, yet I'm just not feeling the balance on the palate, which doesn't have the depth to fight with that mount molesting green acidity. Hard going indeed (with even my less clinical Champagne drinking partner unable to get her head around it). 16/87