Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Wall of Fruit

Bass, how low can you go? Death Row? What a brother know, once again, back it's the incredible, rhyme animal........

Bring the noise.....

Dense, layered samples, sirens, heavy bass and drum beats. The Bomb squad knew how to make an impact. Pop music really didn't know what had hit it.
I was too old to really feel the impact of Public Enemy, by the time I got around to listening to 'It takes a nation of millions', or 'Fear of a black planet' they were already canonical, thoroughly institutionalised into music history, academic texts had been written about their social commentary, and it many ways the world had changed, and it would be an extremely churlish person to deny them some measure of influence in that change.

Similarly in the world of wine, the late 80's seem like more than just the last millenium, fashion has shifted so far away from the wines that lit up the skies like flares. Their siren call like purity of fruit character no longer able to shock like it did - and yes - once again I kind of missed the revolution. I started drinking wine when Chilean wines were by no means a novelty, however, the journey that I've taken, towards the niche and avant garde of European wines meant that I was lining myself up for a shock.

It's all very well taking great pains to only drink biodynamic, zero sulphured, long skin maceration, ever so slightly oxidative 'terroir' wines, but good got it comes as a shock when you put your nose to a glass of serious Chilean Cabernet.

Calicantom 08 D.O Maipo - The bomb squad would have been proud - a wall of fruit, black currants, cassis, violets, crushed raspberries, some hints of herbs, mint and other fresh green notes - but what intensity. A real wake up call. On the palette the same electric restlessness, a menace of new oak in the back ground, but all attention focused on the fruit in the fore. Visceral and enervating.

Just the thing when you've been musing on the merits of mild oxidative characters in your wines.

Monday, 26 July 2010

A timely reminder

I've been wondering for some time if I'm overdoing it just a bit too much.
Lots of very late nights, quite a lot of bottles being finished here, there and everywhere. Possibly a few too many packs of marlborough being purchased. Generally having a good go at creating an internal environment utterly at odds with that consistent with a healthy mind and body.
This comes along with not having taken any real time off since January, and a series of really busy months, where despite having given a degree of thought to my future career, I've really done little other than bounce from one day to another and worry that I've not done any laundry....
So it was with a heavy pair of eyelids that I dragged myself to the 1234 Shoreditch festival, future rock and roll (which seems inordinately influenced by the early 80's C60 indie scene, but hey) and electronica. And you know what, after I got over the hipster nonchalance that hung heavy on the site I had a great time. Topping off the day with Optimo DJ's at the Dalston Superstore, left me feeling far to cool for school, and oddly ready to have a nice quiet week or so.
I'm being taken on a buying trip to Champagne at the beginning of September so it would be nice if my palette was a touch sharper by then, and following that I'm contemplating visiting Hong Kong to scout around for work etc, so likewise if my general levels of health and sleep were raised a bit it'd probably not do me too much harm.

On a sadder note, it's always a bit sad when a bottle is corked or otherwise spoilt. Doubly so when one feels that it could have been avoided.
Jardins Esmereldins, vdp de France 2001. Only recently bottled, having sat solemnly in barrique somewhere in the Loire for the best part of a decade. Tasted several months back it was revelatory, complex, vibrant, evading easy description the way that the best wines do. This morning, the wax seal had broken and the cork was half extruded. As it was a non sulphured wine I assume the worst, and wasn't wrong, the gentle prickle of a re-fermenting wine accompanied the slight tang of unwelcome oxidation. Don't get me wrong its still a lovely wine, just not quite the wine it once was..

I'm hoping there isn't a metaphor here.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Domaine Vacheron

The Loire, it's languid algal dappled waters forever waiting for that last glimmer of late autumnal sunshine, Nonchalantly cleaving western France in two, it's banks a haven for wine lovers, and it's spread of appellation's and styles so vast as to almost defy fashion. As one regions waxes so another wanes.

So many blog inches have been devoted to the punkish natural wine makers that populate it's shores that one sometimes forgets that there is anything else. The constant clatter of the Joly's of the world shouting down all the non biodynamic, non un-sulphured (surely sulphured would have been easier to type) wines seems to drag all the attention away from the quieter more restrained wine makers.
What fun writing about a restrained and relatively accessible winery like Domaine Vacheron (Waitrose fine wine amongst others) when you can score points by talking up your love for Clos Rougeard or Catherine et Pierre Breton (both incredible wineries btw). What sort of a splash can you make talking about a Sancerre when you could declare your love for naturally fermented sparkling Gamay (the novelty kind of wore off after the second bottle).
Well I'm going to try.
2007; It was sometime in the early summer, the sun light was streaming into the Ashdown Park dining rooms, the gentle East Sussex hills rolled away past the landscaped gardens, the ornamental lake was glistening obsidian, like a particularly flirtatious Kohl rimmed glance, and the sip of Vacheron Sancerre I took prior to serving the bottle was just perfect. Delicately smoky, subtly floral but elegantly restrained. At that moment I would have given anything to be in the Loire... or failing that on the terrace with the rest of the bottle.
Fast forward to the Salon des Vins de Loire in early 08 and I was interested to notice that they were biodynamic (save 3.3ha in conversion 2008), how had I not noticed? Still there weren't really novel enough for me as I was in the first flush of my affair with all things sans Souffre.
The present; Simon from MARC fine wines has dropped by of an afternoon to show us the 08's. It's been some time since I've really looked at the Domaine, and I guess the fault is with me. Their 46ha are 3:1 Sauvignon:Pinot Noir, and about 45:45:10 % flint, limestone and clay.
08 Sancerre, blackcurrant leaf, a spot of flowers, a wink at red fruit and a gorgeous mineral finish. Like a late period Matisse, unadorned but it's the line that counts.
08 Les Romains Sancerre, large size old oak barrels are used for the elevage, which adds a slight waxy gloss to the nose, but really fleshes out the palette, again breeding and elegance are the order of the day, this is a beautifully turned out thoroughbred, elegant and beautiful but with every movement you see the ripple of toned muscle.
Now I'll be blunt here. I've never really seen the point of rose Sancerre, well, that is if you discount separating rich people from their money in the presence of their pretty younger girlfriends, which since I'm neither rich nor blessed with a pretty younger girlfriend, or more pertinently working in the west end has meant that my interest in the category has been rather limited.
The Domaine Vacheron rose 08, actually rather reminded me of a still version of a blanc de noirs Champagne, a touch of soured cream, a lactic backing to some yeasty autolytic characters and some rather unsubtle flirting with summer berry fruits. All very nice, but, as with all rose Sancerre one pays for the privilege.
Similarly to rose Sancerre I've always been a touch wary of Pinot Noir from the region, feeling that too often it lived and died on the novelty of being a Pinot Noir from Sancerre. So I was pleasantly surprised to see the Vacheron with a forceful dark berry nose, at once obviously a Pinot Noir, but also quite distinct, on the nose a sort of smoky medicinal character, calling to mind, camphor, clove, and dark cherry scented summer berries. Elegant, but with a noticeable tannic core which with the fresh acidity made for a quite lovely Pinot. However my host at the tasting couldn't quite give me a convincing enough reason to want to buy the Vacheron, when I could find an excellent Marsannay or Givry for a comparable price, ah the vagaries of fashion and it's subsequent effect on pricing (though that's another post altogether).

So Domaine Vacheron, beautiful and very elegant wines that bring to mind the understated elegance of a Capability Brown garden, though to think of it, I can't really afford one of them either...

Thursday, 1 July 2010

The Matadors of Toro

The Spanish idolise the bull, the Toro is hewn into their collective subconscious like no other nation.

1942 when Miguel Fariña started making wines might as well be in the era of the Aurochs for all the wines resemble those of modern Toro.

Harvest was on the 12th of October every year, no one stopped to question why, it always was. The wines from the partially raisined berries frequently reached 17% alcohol, indigenous yeasts had evolved that coped with the high alcohol, the locals isolated from most of the rest of Spain on the high and arid plateau of the lower Douro drank what they’d always drank. The Galician cod fishermen were regular customers, the high alcohol meant that it survived the lengthy journeys, but beyond that it wasn’t a wine for the modern world.

Like the Marquis’ de Riscal and Murrieta before him, Miguel saw the light in Bordeaux, and came back preaching the new gods, stainless steel tanks, new French oak and most importantly bringing the harvest date forward by about 3 weeks.

Fast forward to the 00’s and the name Fariña isn’t that well know in the UK, why, well as international demand rose along with the bodegas standing in the domestic market, well there simply wasn’t enough wine to go around, and someone had to be left out.

Returning to the UK market now that newer plantings have reached sufficient maturity, we look at Toro in a different light. Robert Parker has been effusive in his praise with the 04 Numanthia Termanthia gaining the elusive 100 points (admittedly not from Parker himself) and many others scoring extremely highly. One is brought to mind of Robert Bakewell the 18th century British cattle breeder who pioneered cross breeding and intensive fattening and brought the world its first overly muscled engineered cattle finding fame through out the land. There’s a reason his name has been relegated to the foot notes of history.

Fariña has always endeavoured to plough a more elegant path, avoiding excess hand time and extraction in favour of freshness balance and sensibly applied oak, and this really showed when we tasted the wines over dinner.

The fame of Toro has been built on the Tinto de Toro, a regional variant of the Tempranillo grape, albeit one that is noticeably different with much smaller berries, a higher skin to pulp ratio and a much deeper colour, and one that makes wines that sing of violets and dark fruits rather than the bramble and red berries of it’s Riojano cousins. However there are still plantations of old vine Malvasia lurking about, tucked into corners where people haven’t got around to top grafting them to more profitable uses, so fittingly for a bodega used to swimming against the stream we started with a very small production methode champenoise Malvasia, lean, mineral and with a satisfying leesy finish it certainly brought to mind dusty Spanish plains.

The Collegiate Malvasia 08 brought for me a step up in complexity, showing an almost Chablis like minerality on the nose, pebbles and a hint of stone fruits, on the palette the salty minerality was swaddled in a ripe stone and tropical fruit cloth. My only complaint was that for me the alcohol seemed to manifest a touch on the finish, though others at the table compared it favourably with the Viognier style (with which I often have the same problem).

To the reds, the Collegiate (named after the village’s church) 09 was revelatory, at the £6ish price point I was stunned, great balance, lovely dark red fruit, very aromatic, just a touch savoury, vinified with no oak it was both refreshing and very satisfying. It’s elder brother the Gran Collegiate Crianza 06 had spent 9 months in new French oak, and initially wore it’s breeding somewhat heavily. Though time in the glass brought out more of the aromatic florality and suave dark fruits that lay at its heart, my feeling was that another 9 months or so would be enough for it to really start to sing.

At this point we were served the Tinto de Toro 1973, the year of Miguel’s son’s birth, what with all the general bustle of a new born, a business and an estate to be run, some of the wine was forgotten about. Thank god for over stretched parents.

The wine had been made using a vertical destemmer which tends to damage the skins of the berries, this brings much higher oxidation risks, but enables quite heavy extraction. The 3 weeks or so of maceration probably didn’t do anything to affect this either. The wine was bottled with no oak contact, and I should imagine was close to undrinkable on release..

Christmas pudding, opulent spicing, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, caramelised raisins, autumnal forest undergrowth, mature red fruit. It reminded me of solera aged Banyuls, but with enough of a mature wine character to drag it back into the realms of normal drinking. A delight, and when I spoke of my sadness that a wine like this would probably never be made in the modern world I was surprised to hear Miguel say that his son was planning a micro cuvee copy, something he could serve to his son in 39 years time..

Traditionally in Toro, each grower had a favoured site, and each year he’d leave the grapes on the vine until they were shrivelled and rainsined, once the wine had slowly fermented the precious juice would be added to the barrel that sat in the back corner of the bodega. Weddings, christenings, funerals and last rights would all call for a small measure of this most precious of wines to be drawn off. A unique and noble wine style.

The Dulce de Lece is Fariña’s version of this, raisined grapes, 120g per l residual sugar and aged in a solera for 4 years, it finished the dinner with a swarthy panache of salty acetyl earth, rancio caramelised raisins a rough hewn and defiantly unshaved sneer at modernity and its limits.

I left the evening impressed at what for me was another facet to a region that I already held in high regard.