Well, another twelve pages of the calendar have passed, during which a tidal wave of fermented grape juice in all its kaleidoscopic manifestations (white, red, rosé and corked) has broken over the breakwater of my grateful, and occasionally insulted, palate. Some 150 articles have embraced everything from amphora-aged Croatian sweet wines to 18th century Madeira via German dry Riesling and prima donna First Growths.
As usual, the year commenced with a comprehensive examination at some 700+ wines from the Burgundy 2008 vintage, surely destined to be over-shadowed by the hyperbole currently fomenting over the 2009s. I have read one or two comments dismissing the 2008 vintage but trust me: they will be proved wrong. I concur with David Schildknecht who entitled his Burgundy 2008 report “A Small Miracle” for there is a cluster of lip-smacking, crisp, fresh, almost effervescent wines, many of which may translate the nuances of terroir more adroitly than the more fruit-driven 2009s.
Then of course, the juggernaut that is Bordeaux 2009 rolled into town with all klaxons blazing, along with cavalcade of pontificating scribes in its wake (though whether some were there for the wines or the publicity, I am unsure.) The wines undoubtedly merited bon mots, although the alcohol levels were occasionally vexing and the prices generally absurd.
Was that really a surprise?
Doubtless the château’s and indeed merchants’ Christmas parties will have been lavish affairs, for never has the term “raking it in” been more apt for the fifty of so top estates. the “power brands” that fixate investors. With the incipient 2010s lurking over the horizon, primeur neophytes will naturally be totting up their hypothetical profits on their gestating 2009s before shelling out for the “best vintage of the century ever (and I really, really mean it this time.”) The galling thing is: I believe them. I don’t want it to be true. In fact, the Bordelais could do with a catastrophic vintage to bring them down to earth, a ’56 or a ’91 to prick its inflated ego. I guess for now, Mother Nature is inclined to gift them the winning lottery ticket and they are making hay. Unfortunately, restaurant lists are now bereft of decent Bordeaux and a whole new generation will never know what great Claret actually tastes like, though bizarrely you can still find older vintages cheaper than 2009s.
There has been continuous chatter about the Chinese market and in November the gérants of Bordeaux seemed to decamp en masse to the Far East to such an extent that Beijing air traffic control had to deal with a tailback of private jets.
I have to say, I never envisaged all this when I read “Wild Swans” back in the 1990s.
Sure, prices are determined by supply and demand. However, one should remember that sentiment, confidence and fashion are also determining factors influenced by extraneous forces. Putting aside its intrinsic quality and what a mere “/ \” can do an already stratospheric price, I would like to ask: what if Lafite were to suddenly become…passé?
With the whole world seeming to throng with mini-Robert Parker’s inaugurating their “revolutionary” blogs (Jesus H. Christ…how many times have I heard some boring old fart with the personality of a stapler proclaiming to be the fresh voice connecting with disenfranchised ‘millennials’ who, lets face it, are too busy rioting to care about Prussian Assyrtiko.) I just got my head down to taste and report on Bordeaux in depth, furnishing articles with first-person interviews, polemic and one hopes, stimulating and entertaining prose (e.g. my A-Z of primeur.) The Bordeaux vintages of 2000, 2006,2007 and 2008 were all put under the Wine-Journal microscope, the first two entirely single blind, with 2003 (again blind) due next year. The mature vintages of 1959, 1962, 1982 and 1989 were all placed under the horizontal spotlight and uncovered numerous wines that elicited praise. Verticals came to thick and fast including: Latour (1999-2007), Ducru-Beaucaillou (1934-2006), Climens (1912-2005), Coutet (1943-2001), Ausone (1929-2005), Batailley (1947-2006), La Conseillante (1981-2005), La Mission Haut-Brion (1978-1990), Branaire-Ducru (1982-2008), Sociando Mallet Cuvée Jean Gautreau (1995-2005) and Lynch-Bages (1959-2007). Funnily enough, three of the best have had to wait until early next year, so if you want to know exactly what a 170-year old Gruaud-Larose or a 111-year old Suduiraut tastes like, then you will have to wait a little while.
Just as exciting were the discoveries of value wines. In 2010, I focused on Eastern Europe with reports on Hungary, Croatia and Slovenia where one can find a gamut of beautifully crafted wines from talented indigenous varieties that deserve more attention. When it comes to value, you cannot get much better than the surfeit of exceptional German 2009 Rieslings, which are worth snapping up now since the 2010 vintage will be miniscule and in some cases, non-existent. I published around 300 tasting notes from Margaret River, again a majority blind. These wines represent an outstanding source of Cabernet for those that cannot afford Bordeaux and to rub it in, the Cru Bourgeois 2008s proved to be a sobering reminder that the lower rungs of the hierarchy are woefully inconsistent. Alas I suspect that châteaux in their increasingly lofty ivory towers above the clouds of reality will barely notice the travails down below.
As usual, I penned several articles upon those oft-forgotten genre of fortified wine, most spectacularly with the heavenly tasting of ethereal Madeiras back to 1795 last April. Sure, the ancient bottles were occasionally breathtaking, but the new releases, particularly from the game-changing Barbeito winery constitute some of the greatest values on the market at the moment. Given that this report included some sixty-odd wines, it may be surprising that although my wine of the year originates from the Atlantic jewel, it was not part of that cornucopia.
My wine of the year is the legendary Bual 1827 from Quinta do Serrado that I encountered at “The Sampler” in Islington just a couple of weeks ago. According to Michael Broadbent, this Bual had remained in cask for a small matter of 108-years, before being transferred into demijohn and then into bottle in 1988. Having just attended a lunch where my neighbour Michael Schuster poured tepid water upon its lofty reputation,, my expectations had been tempered. Conversely, I was utterly astounded by its life-affirming freshness, breathtaking complexity and profundity. There existed a luminosity undimmed by the passing years, a transcendental elixir that put even the sublime Terrantez 1795 from Barbeito in the shade. Runners-up were a sensational bottle of Côte-Rôtie 1978 from Jasmin that was so sweet, succulent and unashamedly bucolic that I wanted to abscond from the dinner and take it home. Also the monumental Château Suduiraut 1929 from an incredible vertical in Zurich was a wonder to behold, although I suspect that 1906 would have surpassed it were it not besmirched by a dab of TCA on the nose.
In terms of value for money, there are numerous 2009 German Rieslings that I could chose from, but I fell in love with a wonderful Cotes d’Avanos Narince/Chardonnay 2009 from Kavaklidere in Turkey. I encountered this little beauty at the London Wine Trade Fair and Tweeted my appreciation. Unbeknownst, the winemaker was standing right behind me and by chance was one of my followers. Cue spontaneous remarks of gratitude and yours truly wondering who the hell she was. I’ll post a few notes from this promising country in the near future, ditto a few from Israel. Another is theSauvignon Blanc Private Reserve 2008 from Villa Maria. Kiwi Sauvignon has fallen from grace rather, lost its meticulously nurtured cache over the last two or three years thanks to over-production and an erstwhile blasé attitude towards over-cropping. The so-called “Savalanche” precipitated the £3.99, sub-standard quaffing wines that King Lear a.k.a. Oz Clarke railed against so passionately at February’s Pinot Noir Conference in Wellington. Nonetheless, Villa Maria’s Private Reserve is a consistent performer and for a few quid, you cannot find much better. My third appeared right at the end of my week researching less familiar crûs in Pomerol for my book. Château Bellegrave 2005, a fantastic Merlot/Cabernet Franc from Jean-Marie Bouldy whose vines are located on the lower terraces in the lieu-dit of René. Who said you have to rubbing shoulders with Pétrus on the central plateau to make stunning wine. It is everything you could want from a Pomerol without paying silly prices.
As for the rest? Well, I have divided them into four sections.
“Dreams” lists such ethereal delights asChâteau Gruaud Larose 1840, Château Suduiraut 1906, Bievenue-Bâtard-Montrachet 1978 from Domaine Leflaive and Clos-du-Tart 1945. I am very privileged to taste such rara aviswith obscene regularity…but hey, I ain’t complainin’. It also includes what must be one of the most rare wines on the planet: Kiedrich Grafenberg Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese (Auction) 2003from Robert Weil. A whopping 30-litres were made, of which 10-litres were auctioned in September, 10-litres were kept by the château and 10-litres were consumed in the pre-sale tasting (at which I got a more than generous pour.) It was monstrously good. You could stick a spoon in it…if there was enough to fill a cup.
I have separated these from the self-explanatory “You Don’t Need To Tell Me…” section of wines that are unequivocally great: Château Palmer 1961, Château La Mission Haut-Brion 1989, Pétrus 2000 and Quinta do Noval Nacional 1963 etc. All brilliant…but you know that already.
“The Old Curiosity Shop” includes wines that piqued my interest more that my pleasure buds but deserve a mention. These include the Bâtard-Montrachet Grand Cru 2006 fromDomaine de la Romanée-Conti that never gets beyond Aubert de Villaine’s gates and a Sassicaia 1967 that pre-dates the first official vintage of 1968. There are antediluvian vintages such asChâteau Suduiraut 1911 and Clos Blanc de Vougeot 1er Cru 1919 from Jules Regnier, plus those for budding necrophiliacs such as the Château Gruaud Larose 1880.
Last by no means least, a collection of affordable more generally available wines (although I have sneaked in Château Cheval Blanc 1981 as it represents great QPR in today’s hyper-inflated market.) I whittled this down to more or less one representative from each country, although there are far more I could have chosen, in particular from Germany in 2009.
Finally…disappointments? Well, the most disappointing tasting by a long, long stretch was…Les Grange des Pères. I was not the only one perplexed by a series of excessively bretty, volatile, dried out wines that were uniformly lambasted by everyone who attended. The white 1998 had boded well…but the reds? Oh dear. I’ll report next year. The aforementioned Cru Bourgeois 2008 was a terse reminder that a lot of crap Bordeaux is still made whilst the Pavie vertical? Well, that divided the audience and I will report next year.
Now it is time to wrap up 2010 and look forward to 2011.
Wine of the Year
Quinta do Serrado Bual 1827
The Quinta do Serrado 1827 has a clear amber colour commensurate with its age (183-years). The nose is fresh and vigorous and just soars from the glass with scents of toffee apple, cumin, dried honey, a touch of eucalyptus and roasted walnut, the oxidative element barely apparent vis-a-vis others of equal age. Ethereal delineation. The palate is viscous in the mouth, beautifully balanced with roasted walnut, honey, a touch of marjoram and honeysuckle, moving towards more exotic flavours such as fresh apricot and tangerine/quince towards the thickly layered yet paradoxically refined finish. It is the acidic attack that just electrifies the senses. This is a marvel that is nigh impossible to capture into words.
Runners-up: Côte-Rôtie 1978 (Jasmin) and Château Suduiraut 1929
Values of the Year
Cotes d’Avanos Narince/Chardonnay 2009 – Kavaklidere (Turkey)
A blend of 70% Narince and 30% Chardonnay. This has a very refined, intriguing nose with fine definition, hints of peach skin, elderflower, jasmine and nectarine. The palate is very well-balanced on the entry, struck through with vibrant acidity, touches of orange zest, citrus lemon with a bright lively finish with just a little oak poking out on the finish. One of those wines that remind you that greatness can flourish anywhere.
Sauvignon Blanc Private Reserve 2008 – Villa Maria (New Zealand)
The 2009 Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc has more complexity on the nose than the regular Sauvignon Blanc bottling: a touch more of the Marlborough sub-tropical fruit complementing scents of gooseberry and Granny Smith. The palate is well balanced with vibrant apple and kiwi fruit flavors, then touches of passion fruit and peach towards the finish. This is a good value Kiwi Sauvignon and comes highly recommended.
Château Bellegrave 2005 (Pomerol)
The Bellegrave ’05 has a tightly wound bouquet with superb delineation: dark cherries, a touch of smoke, chestnut and bell pepper emanating from the Cabernet Franc. The palate is very well balanced with firm tannins, very good structure and quite backward. There is a slight saline tang towards the finish that has impressive complexity and focus. Very well poised on the finish – this is a superb Bellegrave that should not be missed.
Château Gruaud Larose 1840
Château Suduiraut 1906
Château Brane Cantenac 1928
Château Ausone 1929
Château La Conseillante 1945
Château Cos d’Estournel 1945
Château Pape Clement 1947
Château Coutet 1948
Château Batailley 1949
Château Pavie 1959
Château Laville Haut-Brion Blanc 1962
Château Pétrus 1975
Château La Mission Haut-Brion 1978
Bienvenue-Bâtard-Montrachet Grand Cru 1978 – Domaine Leflaive
Nuits-St.Georges Village 1995 – Domaine Georges et Henri Jayer
Meursault Village 1999 – Domaine Coche-Dury
Meursault 1er Cru Les Perrières 2004 – Domaine Louis Carillon
Montrachet Grand Cru 2007 – Domaine de la Romanée-Conti
Clos du Tart 1945 – Mommessin
Volnay 1er Cru Champans 1964 – Domaine Joseph Voillot
Chambolle-Musigny Village 1980 – Domaine Georges Roumier (magnum)
Volnay 1er Cru Clos des Ducs 1993 – Domaine Marquis d’Angerville
Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru 1999 – Domaine Denis Bachelet
Clos-de-la-Roche Vieilles Vignes 2002 – Domaine Laurent Ponsot
Clos-Vougeot Grand Cru 2008 – Domaine Mugneret-Gibourg
Châteauneuf-du-Pape 1952 – Château de la Gardine (double magnum)
Hermitage La Chapelle 1970 – Paul Jaboulet Ainé
Hermitage 1972 – J-L Chave
Côte-Rôtie La Landonne 1979 – Etienne Guigal
Château Rayas 1988 (magnum)
Chateauneuf-du-Pape 1998 – Vieux Donjon
Châteauneuf-du-Pape “Pure” 2005 – Domaine la Barroche
French Regional & Champagne
Grand Cuvée 1996 – Billecart-Salmon
Le Creux D’Enfert 2006 – Rose de Jeanne
Blanc de Blancs 1996 – Pol Roger
Riesling Cuvée Frederic Emile 1985 – Trimbach
Riesling SdGN Frederic Emile 2001 – Trimbach
Vin de Pays l’Herault Blanc 1998 – Domaine de la Grange des Peres
Madiran Cuvée Prestige 1989 – Château Montus
Cuvée Constance 1989 – Domaine Gaston Huet
Steinberger Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese 1959 – Kloster Erbach
Leiwener Laurentiuslay Beerenauslese 1969 – St. Urbans-Hof
Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett 1983 – Dr. Loosen
Wiltinger Braune Kupp Riesling Auslese 1989 – Egon Müller/Le Gallais
Kiedrich Grafenberg Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese (Auction) 2003 – Robert Weil Scharzhofberger Riesling Auslese 2005 – Egon Müller
Westhofener Kirchspiel Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese 2009 – Klaus-Peter Keller
Graacher Domprobst Riesling Beerenauslese #17 2009 – Willi Schaefer
Ribolla Gialla 2001 – Gravner
Sassicaia 1978 – Tenuta San Guido
Sassicaia 1985 – Tenuta San Guido
Masseto 2000 – Tenuta dell’Ornellaia
New World (USA/Australia/New Zealand)
Beaulieu Georges Latour Private Reserve 1970
Lot F1 1971 – Charles Krug
Cabernet Sauvignon 1988 – Spotteswoode
J Schram 2001 – Schramsberg
St. Henri Shiraz 1978 – Penfolds
“1860 Vines” Shiraz 1981 – Tahbilk Winery
The Signature Barossa Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz 1988 – Yalumba
Scion (1855 Tawny) – Taylor’s
Terrantez 1795 – Barbeito
Verdehlo 1850 – Pereira d’Oliveira
Sercial 1910 – Barbeito
Château Tour Séran 2008
Château Cheval Blanc 1981 (for out-witting the ’82!)
Pavillon Blanc de Château Margaux 1982 (cheap if you find it at auction)
Mâcon Vergisoon La Roche Non Filtré 2008 – Domaine Daniel Barraud
Mercurey Vieilles Vignes 2008 – Domaine Tupinier Bautista
Côtes de Nuits Villages 2008 – Domaine Denis Bachelet
Châteauneuf-du-Pape La Combe des Fous 2007 – Clos Saint Jean
La Petite Sibérie 2007 – Domaine du Clos des Fées
Vouvray 1er Trie Le Mont Moelleux 2009 – Domaine Gaston Huet
Schloss Johannisberger Grünlack Riesling Spatlese 2009 – Schloss Johannisberg
Isarco Kerner 2009 – Cantina Valle (Alto-Adige)
Rive di San Floriano Prosecco di Valdobbiadene 2008 – Nina Franco (Veneto)
Mandrarossa Grecanico IGT 2008 – Settesoli (Sicily)
Quinta das Tecedeiras Touriga Nacional 2007 (Portugal)
Rioja Graciano 2006 – Contino (Rioja)
Grasevina 2009 – Belje (Croatia)
Sipon Ilovci 2007 – Dveri Pax Winery (Slovenia)
Renski Riesling 2009 – Pullus (Slovenia)
Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 – Forman (California)
Gran Malbec 2006 – Bodegas y Vinedos Santos J Carelli (Argentina)
Shorashim 2006 – Vitkin (Israel)
Pincushion Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2009 – Lomond Wines (South Africa)
The Armagh Shiraz 2006 – Jim Barry (Australia)
The Quarry 2008 – Craggy Range (Hawkes Bay)
Emma’s Block Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008 – Rippon Winery (Central Otago)
Doluca Kav Tugra Okuzgozu 2007 (Turkey)
Malvasia 30-Year Old “Lote Especial” N-V – Barbeito
Quinta do Noval “Black” N-V (Port)
You Don’t Need To Tell Me…
Château Palmer 1961
Château Pichon-Lalande 1982
Château Mouton-Rothschild 1986
Château La Mission Haut-Brion 1989
Château Haut-Brion 1989
Château Lafleur 1995
Château L’Eglise-Clinet 1998
Château Pétrus 2000
Romanée-Conti 2009 (barrel sample) – Domaine de la Romanée-Conti
Nacional 1963 – Quinta do Noval
The Old Curiosity Shop
Château Gruaud Larose 1880
Malmsey 1880 – Blandy’s
Château Suduiraut 1911 & 1913
Rioja Imperial Reserva Especial 1917 – CVNE
Clos Blanc de Vougeot 1er Cru 1919 – Jules Regnier
Château de Sales 1920
Rudesheimer Hinterhaus Riesling 1921 – Kloster Erbach
Piper-Heidseck Très Sec 1941
Château Doisy-Daene 1942
Château Ausone 1942
Château Coutet 1943
Casa de Sonoma Cabernet 1941
Château St. Armand 1950
Château Talbot 1958
Barbaresco 1958 – Gaja
Beaune 1er Cru Clos des Ursules 1959 – Louis Jadot (double magnum)
Domaine de Chevalier 1960
Leiwener Laurentiuslay Spatlese 1963 – St. Urbans-Hof
Ayala Château d’Aÿ 1964 (magnum)
Château Haut-Marbuzet 1966
Château Latour 1968
Château Trotanoy 1967
Sassicaia 1967 (private bottling)
Zinfandel 1973 – Mayacamas
Chardonnay 1975 – Château Montelena
Grand Vintage 1975 – Moët & Chandon
Château Pape-Clement 1976
TBA 1977 – Robert Young Vineyard
Montrachet Grand Cru 1979 (The Wine Society – bottled by Remoissenet)
Château Canon 1980
Château Trottevieile Très Vieilles Vignes 2004
Bâtard-Montrachet Grand Cru 2006 – Domaine de la Romanée-Conti