Part one of my report covered some delicious sparkling and white wines. Now it’s time to focus on the red wines that I really liked at the James Nicholson Christmas Portfolio Tasting:
Vignobles Alain Maurel Château Ventenac La Réserve de Jeanne 2012 (€15.45)
An unusual (officially speaking) but traditional (entirely off the record) blend of Bordeaux and Rhône varieties, this typically consists of Cabernet Franc (30%), Merlot (30%), Syrah (35%) and Grenache (5%), though the precise assemblage is vintage-dependent. There is a long tradition of using robust and fruity wines from the Rhône to add a bit of oomph to Burgundy and fruitiness to Bordeaux. In Australia the Shiraz-Cabernet blend is an established part of the winescape, but only recently have premium multi-region blends started to reappear in France.
Vignobles Alain Maurel is based near Carcasonne in the Languedoc-Roussillon region. Domaine Ventenac is used for everyday-drinking varietal wines whereas Château Ventenac is for terroir-driven more complex wines under the Cabardes AOC.
Vinification is in large stainless stell tanks. The grapes are cold soaked for five days then fermented at 28°C. The juice is pumped over every day for the whole 35 days of the process. 10% of the blend spends 12 months in American oak barriques and 90% spends 12 months in slightly porous concrete tanks.
Although in the south of France the aspect of the vineyards enables the wines to be kept fresh rather than jammy. This wine exhibits lots of herb and spice characters, particularly liquorice, with acidity keeping it interesting. An absolute steal at this price!
Societa Agricola Piero Busso Barbaresco Mondino DOCG 2009 (€39.50) & Barbaresco San Stunet DOCG 2008 (€57.50)
I couldn’t decide which I preferred of this pair so I put them both in! Produced in the “other” top wine area of Piedmont’s Langhe (the more famous being Barolo) this is a 100% Nebbiolo. If you are interested in the differences between the two areas then Kerin O’Keefe’s new book “Barolo and Barbaresco: The King and Queen of Italian Wine” is a great place to look further.
The winery was founded by Piero’s father in 1953 and is still a family affair – his wife Lucia, his daughter Emanuela and his son Pierguido are all intimately involved in the vineyard and the winery. Fermentation is in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks and then maturation is 18 months in large oak barrels with a further 6 months in bottle.
The biggest difference between the two wines was explained as the altitude of the respective vineyards; the Mondino is at 190 M whereas the San Stunet Stefanet M. The obvious implication is that temperatures tend to be cooler at higher altitudes and the wines are “cooler” as a consequence. On tasting, both wines showed power and tannin but finesse. The Mondino was more feminine in character, and the San Studet Stefanetto was definitely masculine. For Bordeaux lovers, Margaux v Pauillac is something of an illustration.
So which would I chose? I’m not sure the San Studet Stefanetto is worth the price premium for my palate so I’d buy the Mondino – but if someone else was paying then definitely the former!
Cline Vineyards Sonoma Coast Cool Climate Pinot Noir 2012 (€18.45)
I was lucky enough to taste this wine when James Nicholson had a table at the Big Ely Tasting (keep your eyes peeled for the post(s)!) and liked it so much that I was very keen to try it again at JN Wine’s own tasting.
Based in California’s Sonoma County, Fred and Nancy Cline started out by restoring old vineyards planted with Rhône varieties, then adding Zinfandel and later Merlot, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Syrah. They produce several different quality levels, from “California Classics” up to more premium “Single Vineyard” bottlings.
This is their excellent version of a “cool climate” Pinot Noir, though “cooler” would be more fitting as it still manages to hit 14.5% abv. The alcohol level is not apparent when tasting as the wine is so well balanced. It’s big and powerful, yes, and more Central Otago than Marlborough, but it’s savoury and smooth rather than jammy.
Cline Vineyards Big Break Zinfandel 2011 (€29.50)
Another fine Cline wine – and if you thought the Pinot sounded big, it’s but a baby brother to this Big Zin which boasts 16.0% abv! It is a huge wine but it’s not monstrous, it’s well balanced and tasty. Black fruit rules here, with stewed, dried and fresh plums, black cherry and blackberry, along with toasted notes from the oak, and framed by firm tannins.
It’s not a summer afternoon wine, but now winter is upon us it very much fits the bill of what I want in my glass.
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