Tasting Events

Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitiness (part 1)

With apologies to Keats, autumn is the time when many light wines are forsaken and more substantial wines are poured in their stead, especially fruity and more generous reds.  Rhône Valley reds fit the bill perfectly!

This first part looks at some of the best northern Rhône reds, while part two will consider a selection from the southern Rhône.

Domaine Graillot Crozes-Hermitage Rouge 2016 (13.0%, RRP €35.00 at SIYPS)

Domaine Graillot Crozes Hermitage

Crozes-Hermitage often lives in the shadow of Hermitage proper, both literally and quality wise.  There are often good value wines to be had but they can be disappointing compared to their big brother on the hill.  Domaine Graillot is an exception – an exceptional wine no matter how humble its origins.

This is a rich, dense, chewy wine full of black fruits, spice and tapenade savoury character.  It’s closer to a serious Saint-Joseph than any other Crozes I’ve tried!

Domaine Jean-Michel Gerin Côte Rôtie Champin Le Seigneur 2012 (13.0%, RRP €49.99 at JN Wine)

Gerin Cote Rotie

Côte Rôtie is the most northern of the northern Rhône’s eight crus and possibly the most famous.  It is also the origin of adding a dash of Viognier into Syrah to soften it and add floral aromas to the wine – a practice that has been followed in the new world, particularly South Africa.  Traditionally, the two grapes were planted together, then harvested and vinified together – extracting more from the Viognier skins than if they had been fermented as white wine and then blended in.

Domaine Jean-Michel Gerin was set up as recently as 1983 but the family has lived in Ampuis for six generations.  The first vines planted were in Côte Rôtie but the Domaine has since expanded beyond that appellation’s boundaries.  Champin Le Seigneur is the more affordable of Gerin’s Côte Rôtie wines, though obviously everything is relative!  With 5% Viognier added to the Syrah it has an ethereal quality – that indefinable lightness and sophistication that makes wine so special.

Cave de Tain “Grand Classique” Hermitage 2007 (13.0%, RRP €55.00 at O’Briens)

Cave de Tain Hermitage

From the only co-operative in Hermitage, this 2007 is absolutely à point, a perfect example of northern Rhône Syrah.  Relatively light, it still has some fine tannins and plenty of acidity – a fine structure.  There’s still plenty of fruit, too – both red and black – but also savoury notes which enhance its appeal.  Get yourself a thick piece of rib-eye steak and a super evening awaits.

Domaine Marc Sorrel “Le Gréal” Hermitage 1997 (13.0%, RRP €98.65 at Karwig Wines)

Marc Sorrel Hermitage

Those who have read Dan Brown’s Da Vinci code book or seen the subsequent film may remember that “Le Gréal” is “The [Holy] Grail” which is possibly Marc Sorrel’s way of telling us that this wine is rather good – though more prosaically it is also a portmanteau of  Les Greffieux and Le Méal, two of the best plots from which grapes are sourced for this premium bottling.  Sorrel is a traditionalist, with mainly whole bunch fermentation in old oak, and his wines need some age before they are at their best.

The 1997 here has had plenty of time, but is still lively and has some years ahead of it.  10% Marsanne was added in the 1997 vintage (15% being the maximum per AOC regulations) which adds elegance.  There’s still power, but tempered by time, resulting in one of the smoothest wines known to man.

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Tasting Events

I Wish They All Could Be California

North Coast

Although the French wouldn’t like to hear it, there are some high level similarities between the USA’s AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) and the French Appellations d’Origine Controlées (AOCs), namely that the most prestigious delineated areas are small and sit within larger areas, sometimes with multiple layers – for example, just as Puligny-Montrachet is a part of the Côte de Beaune and then the larger Burgundy area, Russian River Valley is part of Sonoma County, then the North Coast and finally the general California area.

Confusing?  Perhaps, but the relative size of an appellation within a region is one (of several) indicators to a wine’s quality.  Here are three wines from Cline Cellars – a producer I hold in high regard – that illustrate this.

Cline Cellars North Coast Viognier 2013 (14.0%, €17.99 at jnwine.com)

Cline_CATier_Viognier_NV_Stelvin small

The North Coast AVA is illustrated on the map above – it contains the world-renowned Napa and Sonoma plus other great areas such as Los Carneros.  If a producer uses grapes from one of those prestigious areas then s/he will use that on the label, but if the vines lie outside them or the wine is a blend from different regions then North Coast will be used.

This is a 100% Viognier, the aromatic grape that was once almost lost apart from a few plots in Condrieu in the Northern Rhône.  It manages to be fresh and rich at the same time, with typical Viognier aromas of flowers and stone fruit such as apricot and peach.  It has a little oiliness in the mouth and more body than many whites.  Viognier is a grape that I don’t always get on with, but this is the best Californian Viognier I’ve tried to date – and great value too!

Cline Cellars Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2013 (14.5%, €22.50 at jnwine.com)

 

cline_sonomatier_pn_nv_final small

Sonoma Coast is the part of Sonoma County that lies – you guessed it! – on the coast.  This obviously makes it a cooler climate area than inland Sonoma (it also receives more rain than the rest of the county), so it’s more suited to varieties such as Pinot Noir.  That being said, at 14.5% this is no shrinking violet of a Pinot – you’d never wonder if it was actually a rosé rather than a red, like some Pinots!  It has a lot of body and power, but it’s no monster either, as there’s plenty of acidity to keep it in balance, and although it feels silky and voluptuous in the mouth there’s no alcohol burn on the finish.  In line with the experience there’s an abundance of bold black fruit and a twist of exotic spice.  It’s an all-round impressive wine!

Cline Cellars Contra Costa County Big Break Vineyard Zinfandel 2011 (16.0% €29.50 at jnwine.com)

 

cline_singlevineyard_bigbreak_zn_nv_final small

Based on my somewhat basic understanding of California’ geography, Contra Costa County is actually just outside the North Coast wine area, right at the bottom of the map at the top.  This is a single vineyard wine, so perhaps some sort of equivalent of Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru Les Folatières?  Well, that might be a bit fanciful, but the (unirrigated) vines here are a century old and produce impressive concentration.  The sun beats down fiercely during the day but the nearby Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers provide cooling breezes at night which allow the grapes to rest.

Okay, there’s no hiding from the size of the Big Break Zin (named after an old levee in the area which broke decades ago) but you don’t have to – it’s approachable and cuddly rather than intimidating.  It wears its 16.0% well, just like its little brother Pinot, all down to balancing acidity.  In fact the acidity comes through in the type of fruit tasted on the palate – fresh black cherry and blackberry, with hints of cinnamon and other spices.

Conclusions

Of course the comparison between AVAs and AOCs can only go so far – the latter can be incredibly prescriptive in terms of varieties, yields, vine training, irrigation, alcohol levels and many other things, whereas AVAs are primarily just based on vineyard location.  But I think that the wines above do show that there are different quality levels and that smaller is generally better.  It could just be down to the nature of the grapes for each wine, but above all paying more definitely brings the rewards of higher concentration in the glass.

Are you inclined to agree?

 

And of course, those lyrics…

 

 

 

Make Mine A Double

Make Mine a Double #17 – Achaval Ferrer Mendoza

Provincia_de_Mendoza,_Argentina
Credit: Dbenbenn

If Argentina’s wine producers can be said to have a certain nobility about them, then Bodega Achaval Ferrer is royalty.

To my shame I hadn’t tasted their wines before the Wines of Argentina event earlier this year, but they made a big impression. More precisely, they didn’t make an impression by just being *big* (though there are very few 12% light-bodied Malbecs made in Argentina), but rather due to their elegance – probably the most elegant wines I tasted at the whole event.

Elegance doesn’t come without a cost, of course; apart from the pair featured below the range includes more expensive wines such as:

  • Quimera, a Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot (RRP around €35)
  • The Finca series, three single vineyard expressions of Malbec with a RRP of €85 – €90

The Mendoza series are blends from different vineyards across the Mendoza wine region.  Based on the idea that blends can be more than the sum of their parts, they are designed to highlight the qualities and characters of their varieties rather than be a transparent window onto the terroir where they are grown.  Though to be honest, given the strength and power of Malbec, wouldn’t translucent be more appropriate?

Bodega Achaval Ferrer Malbec Mendoza 2014 (14.5%, RRP €24 – €25, jnwine.com)

AF MM 14 small

This is a 100% Malbec wine made from 60 hectares of vines in the Perdriel (3,150 ft), Medrano (2,790 ft) and Uco Valley (3,608 ft) subregions.  Close to opaque in the glass, it has a highly perfumed nose, with a range of red and black fruits and a twist of spice.  The fruit is also present and correct on the palate, but elegantly presented rather than the punch in the gob which most Malbecs give you.  It’s hard to describe accurately, but this is a classy wine.

Bodega Achaval Ferrer Cabernet Sauvignon Mendoza 2013 (14.5%, RRP €24 – €25, jnwine.com)

AF CS 14 small

The companion Cabernet Sauvignon is also a 100% varietal, but made from just 15 hectares in the Agrelo (3,215 ft) and Medrano (2,790 ft) subregions of Mendoza.  It also has a beguiling nose, outrageous amounts of elegant fruit coming through.  On the palate it could almost be mistaken for a serious Pauillac, with black and red fruit plus hints of cedar and tobacco – though I don’t think a Pauillac of this class could be drunk so young! Fine grained tannins also add a bit backbone against which the fruit is framed.

Conclusion: Yes, this pair do showcase their respective varieties as intended – but I think far more than that, they showcase the care and attention taken in the vineyard, low yields and high altitude setting.  These are wines fit for a king!

Full index of Make Mine a Double