Monday, March 30, 2009

When Burgundy gets it right

Opened a bottle of Nicolas Potel's Nuits St Georges 1er Cru Roncière this weekend with a little trepidation. Red Burgundy's one of those wines where I always have a back-up bottle of something different on-hand just in case of a bad hair day. But on this occasion, it was just a foxy wine, supple, lithe and svelte, with that slightly erotic truffle and violet aroma, and the yummy red fruit backed up by ripe but gently earthy tannins. Vintage? 2001, a year that has been alittle chunky for a while, but on this evidence is beginning to relax a little. Sadly this was the last bottle of the Potel, but there are a few other 2001s lurking somewhere in the cellar - I'm looking forward to them

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Asda price, jolly nice - Argie Malbec

TTH - it's a term I often use in my tasting notes for wines that are Trying Too Hard to impress. Most of the time, they're just too loud, with the excess volume coming through in either boisterous oak, overripe fruit or OTT extraction (and in some instances all three). Argentine reds often falls into the TTH category. Once upon a time, they were relaxed and gentle, but for the last five years, there have just been too many shouty-shouty wines.

But thankfully not everything from beef heaven conforms to such pigeon-holing. Last night, I was making beef stew, and reached for a bottle of basic red from the sample rack. I came up with Asda 2008 Argentinian Malbec, courtesy of Trivento (the Argie arm of Concha y Toro). And it's a bundle of joy, packed with violet-scented berry fruit, with a touch of smoky oak, and a lively refreshing finish. Some of it went into the stew, but just as much went into the chef. Price? £4.24. Bargain, fill yer boots

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

St Emilion classification - yawnus maximus

I'm not going to direct you to the Decanter web site for the latest piffle about the St Emilion classification. You're grown up, you have a computer, go and find it yourself. But I will print the list of 'Related Stories'. Normally on the Decanter news stories, there are a couple of these, but in this instance...

# French government dismisses St-Emilion reclassification proposal
# Demoted St-Emilion chateaux return to 2006 classification
# St Emilion classification reinstated - again
# St Emilion classification finally ruled invalid
# St Emilion back on track after classification ban lifted
# St Emilion classification suspended indefinitely
# St-Emilion classification suspended
# St Emilion chateaux take classification to court
# St-Emilion classification: the bloodletting begins

There would probably be more, but I think the editorial team ran out of both space and patience. Have written about another classification non-event here, so there's no point going over the same old ground. Suffice it to say that I think the French make some of the best wines on the planet, but have no idea how to tell the outside world about them.

Tuesday afternoon selection

Raft of wines to get through this afternoon, some good, some not

Cavit Alta Italia Pinot Grigio 2008, Valdadige, Italy
The label’s rather drab, but this actually smells of something beyond the bland, a good start for any PG. Gentle, peachy style, with a waxy, nutty core, it’s not earth-shattering, but at least you know you’re drinking wine.

San Pedro 35 South Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Central Valley, Chile
‘Fair enough’ wine. It’s a bit confected, but there’s an edge of pithy citrus fruit, and a reasonably fresh finish.

Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Marlborough, New Zealand
A bit too much like Jeyes fluid, this is descending into an aromatic caricature of Kiwi Savvy. Blobby and sweet, full of flavour, just not a particularly pleasant flavour.

Penny Lane Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Marlborough, New Zealand
Crispier, drier, tangier, this is quite classy stuff, rich where it should be but then reined in, with gooseberry flesh, a stony/minerally edge and grassy note to the finish. Nicely packaged too.

Penny Lane Pure Chardonnay 2007, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
Pure here means unoaked. Not sure why that makes it pure. I imagine the vines will be sprayed with something, yeast will be added, and the wine will be fined and filtered. But no matter, the wine is actually rather tasty, with gentle cashew, pear and peach, and a rich but lively finish. It says , ‘Drink me.’

Gran Lurton Corte Friulano 2008, Mendoza, Argentina
Big smoky style, an oaked blend of Sauvignon Vert, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Torrontes, very like the wines from NE Italy it’s supposed to ape. But like them, you wonder whether someone’s trying just too hard to impress. I think I’d prefer simpler versions of each of the varieties. And a bubblegummy finish. Would it have been better with longer in older oak? Will come back to this later to see if it improves

Kumala Chenin Blanc/Viognier 2008, Western Cape, South Africa
Rather simple, bland, bubblegummy style, has some froot** but very little personality beyond robotic winemaking.

Lurton Humo Blanco Pinot Noir 2007, Central Valley, Chile
Vanills and Chilean blackcurrant pastilles tinged with mint. There’s a slightly lean core to this that not all that appealing – OK fruit flavours, but a bit too stingy.

Penny Lane Merlot/Cabernet 2006, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
Gentle, leafy, slightly herbal style, OK balance, but lacks real sex. Thin but a bit yawn-y.

Yali Winemaker’s Selection Cabernet/Carmenère 2007, Colchagua, Chile
Blue Riband biscuits! Or perhaps Taxi. That chocolate wafer but not Kit-Kat feel, although the coffee-bean-like Carmenère does come through eventually. Slightly overdone, over-processed – I want more fruit and I also want more life beyond fruit, not just clever winemaking.

Tesco Finest Touriga Nacional 2006, Estremadura, Portugal
I’m not alone in having been a little critical of the style of wines made by Jose Neiva. In the past, they used to stand out for their minty vanilla toothpaste character, but from some more impressive recent wines, I thought he’d moved on from that style. Sadly, this wine shows he hasn’t. This is not a good advert for either Portugal or Touriga Nacional.

Point West Touriga Nacional 2005, Estremadura, Portugal
Is this essentially the same wine as the Tesco Finest bit a year older? Not sure what the difference is (they both have the DFJ name on the cork), but this is far more successful, still with some of the vanilla and mint, but with the dark smoky fruit and fresh tobacco notes coming far more to the fore. Nice drink.

Sanguinhal Touriga Nacional 2003, Estremadura, Portugal
Smoky, rich, rounded and ripe, lovely fleshy, supple tobacco and intense, lush, like raisins soaked in brandy, a bit of the 2003 bake, but still tasty.

Finca Las Moras ‘Mora Negra’ 2005, Tulum Valley, Argentina
Big, chunky, solid wine, rather over-done though, with baked berry fruit, and a rather charmless, hunky finish. Where’s the finesse? It’s like drinking Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler...

** "froot" is the term I use for wines that have the sort of vaguely fruity flavour that speaks more of a lab than a bush, a plant or a vine. Remember those sweets called Fruit Salad - they still exist, and they are froot all the way.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Champagne Gaviscon

Lots of stuff in the news at the moment about how Brits are deserting Champagne for Prosecco, Cava and other cheaper fizzes. Not much of a surprise that, since most of us aren't awash with cash at the mo. But Prosecco and Cava are for me rather different beasts. Bog-standard Cava can be remarkably good, perfect stuff to practise your sabrage on, but it suffers from an image problem - suggest to someone that they spend £25 on a bottle of Champagne and they'll say, OK. Suggest that they fork out the same amount for Cava and they'll start spluttering. As for Prosecco, for me it's the Pinot Grigio of the wine world. Terrific examples of both exist, but the wines that are currently swelling the sales figures are about as dynamic as Duffy's dancing.

And Champagne... It's the annual Champagne tasting this week, which I find a bit of an ordeal. There's nothing too badly wrong with the wines (apart from their marketing-fuelled prices) but it's dominated by the major brands, with only a handful of growers on show. I'm giving it a miss this year, partly because I can't go to every tasting, but also because last year's event left a bad taste in my mouth.

It's also one of the most physically demanding tastings of the year. What all the multi-million pound ad campaigns never tell you is the combination of acidity and bubbles not only provides a stiff dental assault, but also has an effect lower down the digestive system, even for those spitting it all out. What chances are there for the region of having a new slogan of 'Champagne - it gives you wind'?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Bonterra Twins

Cast your mind back 20 years, if you can (and if you can't, sorry, indulge a sad old wine man for a few moments). Cheap Californian wine was just as disappointing as it was today, but in the midst of the gloom, one producer stood out like a beacon - Fetzer. The Valley Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon was a dream of a wine, the Zinfandel did what it was supposed to do and then some more, and the Chardonnay was also a peach. In short, if it said Fetzer on the label, then it came up with the goods.

But then from the mid-1990s onwards... It's hard to argue against some of the rot setting in following the purchase of the company by Brown Forman in 1992. Whatever it was, the wines, once so reliable, began to taste less interesting and more 'manufactured'. I've kept recherching le temps perdu since then, and for the most part have remained underwhelmed.

But I'm always willing to have my mind changed, and it was that in mind that I opened this duo, a 2007 Sauvignon Blanc (Lake and Mendocino) and a 2006 Merlot (Mendocino).

I'd love to say that they're opinion-changing wines, but they're not. The Sauvignon has a pleasant, grassy pear character, with a character almost like fresh hops, but it still feels created, not begotten. The Merlot, though not a blockbuster, has that chocolately brashness of too many modern wines. There's nothing wrong with it, but it just slips out of the mouth and out of the brain, apart from a slightly sickly vanilla-like residue. Both are perfectly drinkable, but with so much interesting wine around, I really don't want to drink any more of either of these.

Monday, March 09, 2009

It's a wine of two halves...

Loved this comment on the weekend's football from Yahoo's Early Doors team - "Chelsea's FA Cup sixth round win at Coventry was so completely lacking in drama that ITV would have been better off showing 90 minutes of Tic Tac adverts." The gist of an entertaining article was that while English football teams are more adept at winning than they were in the 1990s, they're also far more boring. "Were the likes of Matt Le Tissier, Gianfranco Zola and Dennis Bergkamp truly world class? Who cares? The Premiership might have little more than a retirement home for ageing stars, but it was a bloody exciting one."

Could the same be said of of today's High Street and supermarket wine ranges? Fewer duds than in the past, and more economically sound, certainly. But for the most part, predictable, with technically correct but often soul-less wines dominating. I must say I preferred it when Wine Rack had almost as many wine buyers as it had stores, when Oddbins shelves came over all Greek, and when Safeway failed to live up to its name with an inspiring selection of Eastern European oddballs. Sounds like I need to write a folk song on the subject...

Sunday, March 08, 2009

A Mission to the Judean Hills

Another weekend of foraging in the cellar and finding some Alice in Wonderland-style bottles that had 'Drink Me' written (invisibly of course) all over them.

I last tasted the Mission Vineyards Reserve Syrah 2002 from the Gimblett Gravels in Hawkes Bayin autumn 2005. Then, I said 'drink up to 2009' - I was wrong. It has mellowed and is showing some leathery edges, but it's still wonderfully bright and peppery with vibrant dark fruit flavours and a spicy finish. Still at least another five years ahead of it, and I wouldn't be surprised to see it going on for another five years.

By contrast, I'd thought that the 2001 Domaine Castel Chardonnay from the Judean Hills would still be going strong at age 10. But on the strength of the bottle opened this evening, I'd overestimated its longevity.

It wasn't dead, but while there was still the minerally, almost briny undercurrent that you'll also find in the excellent red, the fruit was fading, and a slightly cheesy/oxidised edge didn't add to the pleasure. No worse than some of the prematurely oxidised Burgundies of similar age. but a slight disappointment. Tonight I'm on a terrific Valpolicella - will post on that tomorrow...

Friday, March 06, 2009

1855 revisited, and the Wine Wasteland

Just back from three days in France, and a mound of work and clutter to deal with. After the sun of the Languedoc, it was a bit of a shock to wake up at home this morning with a smattering of snow on the car. After tasting ~400 wines from 2008 over the last few days, I'm hoping to tuck into something a little more mature this evening - not sure what yet....

Two things have caught my eye since I've returned. The first was this homage to T S Eliot written by Daron Fincham - it deserves as wide an audience as possible. The second was that Liv-ex, the fine wine exchange, has done it's own version of the 1855 Bordeaux classification. I couldn't find it on the Liv-Ex site, but you'll find it here.

I did my own rejig of the list in 2005 to celebrate its 150th anniversary - here's how it turned out...

1855 Revisited
As numerous Nick Hornby books will testify, men like lists. I remember being in one of Piedmont’s best restaurants in truffle season and having an enthusiastic debate on two topics – the top crus of Barolo and the best guitar solos of all time. Sad, but true. In wine terms, the granddaddy of all lists is the 1855 classification of Bordeaux châteaux. So potent was the original list that the only change to occur, the elevation of Mouton Rothschild from second growth to first growth, required a government decree.

The beauty of the classification was that it removed critical prejudice from the judging process in favour of hard commercial reality. Those wines that emerged as first second, third fourth and fifth growths did so purely according to the prices they commanded on the Bordeaux market at the time. Not surprisingly, there has been extensive debate in the last 150 years concerning how accurate the 1855 list is in determining the quality of Bordeaux wines. Cut to today, and there are several wines in the original list that, in cricket parlance, no longer trouble the scorers. And similarly, there are other wines that didn’t appear in the 1855 ranking but today are referred to as ‘honorary classed growths’, and even ‘honorary first growths’.

I’m not so much of a dreamer that I think that the price of a wine is a direct reflection of the quality. Yet nor am I so much of a cynic that I think that anyone can consistently overprice their wine in the hope that there are enough mugs out there who adhere to the ‘emperor’s new clothes’ school of wine buying. And so it is with more of a ‘what-if?’ mentality that I present my 2005 classification of the region’s producers, in which price has been the sole determinant of rank. If it ruffles feathers in Bordeaux, it’s not my fault.

To determine the list, I looked at the top vintages of the past decade, namely 1995, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2001 and 2003. I reasoned that the wines had to be available in the UK for at least three of the six vintages I was looking at, and that at least one of the vintages had to be on offer at £350 a case or greater, a rather arbitrary figure, but one which reduced the number of château down to a sensible figure. It was then a case of sifting through the prices from several UK fine wine merchants and brokers – thank you for helping me fill in some of the gaps – and then used the wonders of Microsoft Excel to churn though the data. (For the statisticians among you, I normalised the prices for each vintage so the highly priced 2000 vintage wouldn’t have a disproportionate effect in the figures, and then looked at both arithmetic and geometric means – there was very little difference in the lists given by the two methods.)

I chose the boundaries between the different tiers purely according to the statistics. In most instances, the gap between one level and another was small, but there was a definite cut-off point between the first and second growths, and also between the end of the fifth tier and the next bracket of châteaux. I toyed with the idea of a sixth level, but settled on five because that was how many there had been back in 1855, and because the total of 59 châteaux was close to the figure of 150 years ago.

The verdict? A conclusive triumph of Right Bank over Left. Whereas St Emilion and Pomerol never made it into the 1855 classification, they dominate this listing, with each having more representatives than the entire Médoc. Just sixteen of the original cru classé châteaux are among the top priced wines of Bordeaux 150 years later. Although all the original first growths are close to the top of the list, Haut-Brion is now at the top of the second level, while Mouton Rothschild, originally a second growth but promoted to the top echelon in 1973, has also slipped down a rung. Haut-Brion was the sole non-Médoc wine in 1855. Today, it has two compatriots from Pessac-Léognan in the list, its stablemate La Mission Haut-Brion, which tops the array of third growths, and Pape Clément among the fifth growths.

Meanwhile back on the Right Bank… Had a similar classification been done twenty-five years ago, a large proportion of the wines would not have appeared. Yes, châteaux such as Lafleur, Ausone, Cheval Blanc and Angélus have a long history of producing fine wine, while Pétrus has been at or close to the top of the Bordeaux price tree for decades. But as for others, particularly those of St Emilion, many of them simply didn’t exist. Le Dôme was first made in 1996, La Gomerie in 1995, while Valandraud and Croix de Labrie debuted in 1991. Le Pin, which heads the list, is something of a veteran by comparison – the inaugural vintage was 1979. These so-called garage wines, made in tiny quantities from a particular parcel of land, and often with the thumbprint/footprint of the producer very evident in terms of concentration and use of oak, are still seen as a Right Bank phenomenon, but they are beginning to appear elsewhere in Bordeaux. For example, Marojallia from Margaux appears among the 2005 third growths, where it holds a position higher than all but the four 1855 Médoc first growths and Léoville Las Cases. (Out of interest, the next highest non-classed growth Médoc wine was Sociando Mallet, which would have been a seventh growth).

A further point of debate is that of super-cuvées versus second wines. Again, the arrival of super-cuvées is a recent trend. In effect, the idea is to produce a garage wine from the vineyards of an existing château. The highest example in this list is Magrez-Fombrauge, the wine that Bernard Magrez, owner of Pape Clément in Pessac Léognan (a fifth growth in this list), began producing after buying Château Fombrauge in 1999. Another is Péby Faugères, a wine whose future looks uncertain following the sale earlier this year of Château Faugères in St Emilion and the adjoining Cap de Faugères in Côtes de Castillon. Proof that Lalande de Pomerol is not just a me-too appellation is provided by the presence of Le Plus de la Fleur de Bouard, which Herbert de Bouard of Château l’Angélus makes from the best parcels of the La Fleur de Bouard estate.

Such an approach contrasts with that traditionally used in Bordeaux, and particularly in the Médoc. This alternative view acknowledges that isolating the best cuvées would make it possible to produce small quantities of something truly special, but that the grand vin would suffer as a consequence. What the producers prefer to do to boost quality is to exclude lesser cuvées and younger vines from the grand vin, and use these for their second wines. Such is the quality and demand for these that several are seen as honorary classed growths. Among the 2005 fifth growths are the second wines from Mouton-Rothschild, Ausone, Cheval Blanc and Latour, while Lafleur’s Pensées makes it into the fourth tier.

The list throws up some interesting points. Some of the people I showed the list to questioned the inclusion of so many wines that have existed only for a short time, among them Anthony Hanson MW of Christie’s. ‘If garage wines are to be considered within the context of the 1855 classification, 10 vintages of the new-comers would need to be carefully considered, including blind-tasting by experienced, competent judges. This was the time-span used for the recent Cru Bourgeois assessments in Bordeaux. There is no reason to set the bar lower for the garagistes, and for other new labels.’

Another issue raised by the inclusion of some many garagistes was tiny quantities made of each. Renowned wine writer and Bordeaux fan Andrew Jefford said, ‘Since [the list] is price-led, it is obvious that price will be much higher for an equivalently good wine if there are only 500 cases for the world compared to 10,000 cases for the world. To be totally fair you would perhaps have to have a kind of handicap system based on the largest property, with points deducted for each 500-case decrease in available quantity. I’m sure such a system would redress this imbalance to some extent.’

To address this, I considered doing a separate list for which a minimum level of production, say 5,000 cases per annum, was required, but then changed my mind. Excluding those estates of less than 10 hectares (which with a yield of 45 hl/ha equates to 5,000 cases per annum) does remove the garagistes, but it also eliminates Ausone and Pavie Decesse in St Emilion, and a hefty proportion of long-established Pomerol châteaux, among them L’Eglise Clinet, Lafleur (and second wine Pensées with it), Trotanoy and Clos l’Eglise. Wouldn’t that be just as controversial as leaving Valandraud and Co. in the listing?

As a compromise, here are what would have been the next two tiers. If the presence of the garagistes offends you, simply omit them from the ranking and promote the larger properties from divisions six and seven.

Sixth growths: Beauséjour-Duffau (St Emilion), Gruaud-Larose (St Julien), Calon-Ségur (St Estèphe), Pavie Macquin (St Emilion), Gazin (Pomerol), Magdelaine (St Emilion), Monbousquet (St Emilion), Clos Fourtet (St Emilion), Canon (St Emilion), Latour Haut Brion (Pessac-Léognan), Rauzan-Ségla (Margaux), Troplong Mondot (St Emilion), Beauregard (Pomerol), Nenin (Pomerol), Grand-Puy-Lacoste (Pauillac), Petit Village (Pomerol), Léoville-Poyferré (St Julien), L’Hermitage (St. Emilion) and Virginie de Valandraud (St Emilion).

Seventh growths: Quinault l’Enclos (St Emilion), Bellevue (St Emilion), Smith Haut Lafitte (Pessac-Leognan), Clos de l’Oratoire (St Emilion), Pavillon Rouge du Château Margaux (Margaux), Sociando-Mallet (Haut-Médoc), La Couspaude (St Emilion), Les Grandes Murailles (St Emilion), Lagrange (St Julien), Talbot (St. Julien), Le Gay (Pomerol), Carruades de Lafite (Pauillac), Haut-Bailly (Pessac-Léognan), Les Carmes Haut Brion (Pessac-Léognan), Pontet-Canet (Pauillac) and Soutard (St Emilion).

I doubt whether those who produced the 1855 classification anticipated it still being discussed 150 years later. Theirs was a snapshot of an era, and so is my 2005 list. Just as several of the Right Bank properties that feature here wouldn’t have appeared in a price-based ranking from 25 years ago, so I imagine that a similar grading in 2030 will include châteaux that are not among the high fliers today. Theoretically, the best terroir should yield the best wine. However, that ignores the influence of man, and Bordeaux is replete with ambitious souls anxious to flex their wine muscles. The good news is that quality in the world’s largest fine wine region will continue to increase. The bad news is that the châteaux that top any price-based classification will pass even further out of the reach of mere mortals. Ah well, as the French say, C’est La Vie.

The 2005 Classification of Bordeaux

Le Pin, Pomerol
Pétrus, Pomerol
Ausone, St Emilion (1er GCC A)
Lafleur, Pomerol
Latour, Pauillac (1er GCC)
Margaux, Margaux (1er GCC)
Cheval Blanc, St Emilion (1er GCC A)
La Mondotte, St Emilion
Lafite Rothschild, Pauillac (1er GCC)

Haut-Brion, Pessac-Léognan (1er GCC)
Valandraud, St Emilion
Mouton-Rothschild, Pauillac (1er GCC*)
Le Dôme, St Emilion
Magrez-Fombrauge, St Emilion
Angélus, St Emilion (1er GCC B)
L’Eglise-Clinet, Pomerol
Léoville Las Cases, St Julien (2ème GCC)
Clos l’Eglise, Pomerol

La Mission Haut-Brion, Pessac-Léognan (CC)
Trotanoy, Pomerol
Le Tertre-Rôteboeuf, St Emilion
La Gomerie, St Emilion
L’Evangile, Pomerol
Pavie, St Emilion (1er GCC B)
Croix de Labrie, St Emilion
Péby Faugères, St Emilion
Le Plus de la Fleur de Bouard, Lalande de Pomerol
Marojallia, Margaux
Gracia, St Emilion
Pavie-Decesse, St Emilion (GCC)
Palmer, Margaux (3ème GCC)

Pensées de Lafleur, Pomerol
La Fleur Pétrus, Pomerol
Pichon-Longueville, Comtesse de Lalande, Pauillac (2ème GCC)
Vieux Château Certan, Pomerol
Clos Dubreuil, St Emilion
Cos d’Estournel, St Estèphe (2ème GCC)
Ducru-Beaucaillou, St Julien (2ème GCC)
Le Moulin, Pomerol
La Conseillante, Pomerol
La Fleur de Gay, Pomerol
Montrose, St Estèphe (2ème GCC)
Clinet, Pomerol

Figeac, St Emilion (1er GCC B)
Le Petit Mouton, Pauillac
Laforge, St Emilion
Pape Clément, Pessac Léognan (CC)
Chapelle d’Ausone, St Emilion
La Croix St Georges, Pomerol
Petit Cheval, St Emilion
Lynch-Bages, Pauillac (5ème GCC)
Les Forts de Latour, Pauillac
Canon La Gaffelière, St Emilion (GCC)
Certan de May, Pomerol
Léoville-Barton, St Julien (2ème GCC)
Pichon-Longueville-Baron, Pauillac (2ème GCC)
Bon Pasteur, Pomerol
Rol Valentin, St Emilion
Latour à Pomerol, Pomerol

St Emilion classification of 1996
1er GCC A = Premier Grand Cru Classé ‘A’
1er GCC B = Premier Grand Cru Classé ‘B’
GCC = Grand Cru Classé

Graves Classification of 1959
CC = Cru Classé

Bordeaux classification of 1855
1er GCC = Premier Grand Cru Classé
2ème GCC, 3ème GCC etc. = Deuxième Grand Cru Classé, Troisième etc.
* Originally a second growth, but elevated to first growth status in 1973.







St Emilion
























Pessac Léognan





St. Julien





Lalande de Pomerol



St Estèphe









David Elswood, International Head of Christie’s Wine Department
‘A fascinating classification which throws a justified spotlight onto many new or newly-improved wines. As a Bordeaux-wide, price-led classification, it would be fair to say there are no real surprises here. However, this type of updated hierarchy would have been very different five years ago and would be different again I’m sure in another five years from now. In my opinion it works as a thumbnail or buyers’ guide to “what’s hot and what’s not so hot” but is overly influenced by current demand and therefore availability, plus recent trends and fashions which are already changing. Perhaps the most interesting point is not the inclusion of so many new, mainly Right Bank wines which we’d expect of course, but which Chateaux from 1855 are demoted or plain disappear as a result. It might be interesting to do a similar exercise using only Parker points!’

Stephen Browett, Director of Farr Vintners
‘A very interesting list! The problem is that price is not the indicator of quality that it was in 1855. As you know, a wine with a 1,000 case production that has the same score/quality level as another that has a 30,000 case production level sells for much more money. Consequently any new classification made purely on price will have far too many garage wines in the top divisions. Chateau Latour could, after all, select their best 4 barrels every year and call it “La Crème de Latour” and sell it for the same price of Le Pin. It might be interesting to re-do it with a minimum production of 5000 cases, say, to qualify for entry and an alternative list for the micro-cuvees. Apart from that I don’t believe that Haut Brion should ever be demoted as they make great wine every year and in vintages such as 1989 and 1998, they make the top wine of the First Growths.’

Monday, March 02, 2009

Languedoc Linguistics

I just love bad translations. Fans of the genre will no doubt be aware of the splendid, but this gem (I've actually stayed there) shows that places closer to England can come up with equally entertaining gobbledy-gook. Tomorrow I'm off to southern France for a couple of nights, to choose some wines that will appear at a Languedoc tasting in London at the end of the month. And I'm staying in The Grand Hôtel in Sète, described thus on the web site...

'Int the authentic charm oh the "Ile Singluière", as celebrate in song by Georges Brassens, in poetry by Paul Valéry and immortalised by so many painters. The Grand Hôtel and the Restaurant Quai 17 are ready to welcome you with its wonderful view of the Canal Royal and invite you to discover an area rich in savours, colors and feelings.

'Discover the reception, the rooms, the seminars, and the Royal Channel.'

I can't wait - discovering seminars and channels sounds enthralling...

PS If you want to generate your own Engrish, just cut and paste a block of text into Babelfish or another on-line translator, convert it to Japanese, and then convert it back to English. So for example....
'It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.'
'That is recognized the wife being necessary, generally, the single person who owns that good fortune, there is a truth, it becomes, is.'
And if you do it a second time, it turns into...
'The wife celibacy person where that necessary and generally, owns the good fortune and is it is verified, truth, that becomes, is it is.')

Pierre Overnoy 1999 Arbois Pupillin

Highlight of a sedate weekend was a bottle of this wonderfully weird wine from eastern France. I mentioned the idea of 'Yeah But No But' Wines in this post and this blend of Chardonnay with the local grape Savagnin is most definitely one of those. Some people will loathe it, but those who can get their heads round a white wine that combines the zesty lightly cooked apple character of Mâcon whites with the nutty, flor-like tang of aged fino sherry, and then chucks in some herby minerality for good measure will love it. To misquote Psalm 139, it is 'fearfully and wonderfully mad', and the only thing I can say against it is that it comes with one of those wax capsules that is a toal pain to remove. Available from Caves de Pyrene for around £20.

That nutty sherry edge is one of the results of using minimal sulphur in winemaking. As Caves de Pyrene's Doug Wregg said about such a modus operandi on the company blog, it makes for intriguing wines. And these so-called 'Natural Wines' are enjoying a surge in interest from drinkers looking to avoid 'made' wines. The theory is great, but in practice...

For me there's a parallel with personal hygiene. Instead of fertilisers, pesticides, cultured yeasts and winemaking additives, think shampoo, deodorant, razors and perfume. Now no sentient wine drinker wants to drink the vinous equivalent of Swiss Toni, but equally, they don't want to share a meal with Stig of the Dump. So while good natural wines can appeal to our baser instincts with something akin to a pheromone rush, bad ones are just too smelly, too hairy, too unkempt. I want my Stinking Bishop on the cheeseboard, not in my glass.