Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Early retirement at Domaine Huët

Widely respected winemaker Noël Pinguet will leave Domaine Huët three years early after agreeing to a short handover period. Pinguet, the son-in-law of the revered Gaston Huët, had joined the winery in 1976 and been in charge of winemaking since 1986. Following the death of Gaston, majority ownership of Huët was purchased by Anthony Hwang, an American who also owns the Hungarian estate Királyudvar in Tokaji. The Domaine will be run by Hwang's children, Sarah (President) and Stefan. Winemaking duties will be shared by Jean-Bernard Berthomé and Benjamin Joliveau, and Sarah Hwang has been keen to emphasise that it will be business as usual under the pair, and that the handover has been underway for some months already.

Additionally, Sarah Hwang has been keen to hose down speculation that Pinguet's departure is due to differences of opinion, with Decanter and Jim Budd reporting that differences in opinion over winemaking matters were behind the surprise departure. Hopefully this important Loire winery will keep up its impeccable standards going forward.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Letting the grapes speak (quietly) for themselves

It occurred to me last night as the silent movie The Artist won Best Picture at the Academy Awards that perhaps there's a theme at work. My first clue came a few months back when I read an article in the Sydney Morning Herald pointing out how under-represented rock music was in the ARIA (Aussie Grammy equivalent) award nominations. This, coupled with the demise of New York's sole FM provider of new rock music101.9 earlier, had led me to the conclusion that mine would be the first generation where parents would be telling their children to "turn the music UP". The second piece in the cultural conundrum was the growing movement in wine circles I crossed away from 'big' wines in favour of more subtle, artisanal or traditional wines. The weekend WSJ article extolling the rise of sommeliers vis-à-vis Robert Parker provided mainstream confirmation.

So whereas the '90s had given us Nirvana and Pearl Jam, a Best Picture winner in Braveheart, and Robert Parker, we now have Adele and Bon Iver, a silent movie, and wine lists where terroir and acid trump the clichéd "iron fist in the velvet glove". With the exception of politics, where the Republican primaries and the Australian Labor Party's poor imitation show that "restraint" is some distance off, are we going through a seismic shift? No doubt the Foo Fighters will keep rocking, Spielberg will keep us awake at the movies/home cinema and Parker will keep on scoring on, with the Chinese easily replacing the subscribers lost elsewhere.

But it seems clear we're through into a new era now. The internet, with its blogs, and producer websites, and Cellartracker make the wine world so much smaller and easy to 'rationalise'. Better educated sommeliers have led to better wine lists, and better food-wine pairings. Wineries have got the joke, adopting organic and biodynamic methods, and searching for unique terroir as points of differentioation. The local wine shop may have picked up as well, and if they haven't, Lot 18 and their competitors are ready to educate and tempt you from your email box. For the most part without the luxury of Parker points to fall back on, they sell the way travel agents used to before lowest price trumped all - tales of exotic lands, colourful history, romantic visions...all this can be yours for $89.99 a half case, free delivery.

Terry Theise may never be as well known as Robert Parker, and given his bagging directly and indirectly of the Australian wine scene it's just as well for many Down Under - on Priorat, "there is another (yet another) source of big-ass reds. I‘m not sure why I should care." However, his message is certainly receiving a wider, more influential audience now than back in 2005 when he published a piece on Globalization, expanded upon in 2010's "Between The Vines". He yearns for, and fears for the preservation of, "the quirky, the asymmetrical, the evocative" while hoping "if we cannot all unite behind the value of diversity". As we found out at the Oscars, quirky is back in vogue, and wine diversity seems to be in ever better hands.


Wines of the Week - February 23rd

Amongst a spate of stew-accompanying heavy, winter reds lately, there have been some lighter wines to provide a counterpoint, especially when duck has been on offer. While its hard to go wrong with a good red Burgundy (eg from last week), there are plenty of other alternatives.

Pecchenino Dolcetto di Dogliani San Luigi 2009

Even if you never try the wine, do yourself a favour and clink on the link to the winery here. If this doesn't make you want to go to Piedmont, there's something wrong with one of us. The Dogliani-based Pecchenino wine estate is over 200 years old and is currently run by brothers Attilio and Orlando. Historically, they have been Dolcetto specialists, but they have recently expanded into Nebbiolo, and are already having considerable success in Barolo, where they own three hectares in Monforte d'Alba. This wine is a lovely lighter-styled Dolcetto, with soft red fruit, good structure and a smooth finish.

Etude Pinot Noir Estate Carneros 1999

Etude's Pinot Noir comes from its Estate Vineyard in the northwest of Carneros.The winery prides itself on its focus on sustainable agriculture, and the vineyard includes "safe passageways through the vineyards" for wildlife. So long as they keep moving - the winery has a falconer, and his trained falcons are charged with keeping peckish starlings at bay. Although this wine came from an impeccably stored magnum, it still surprised with its youthful freshness. I might have been able to correctly guess it was Californian, but I only pegged its age about halfway. The wine is spritely rather than syrupy thanks to well-balanced acidity, with bright red fruit, spice and cola and a soft, round finish.

Jacopo Biondi-Santi Sassoalloro 2004

In recent years many of Italy's oldest wine regions have had their share of debates and controversies as the forces of modernisation and history clash. In the case of the Biondi-Santi family, a name near synonomous with Brunello di Montalcino, the divide split the family back in the 90's when Jacopo Biondi-Santi left the family estate after falling out with his father, Franco, over the future for the winery. Eventually Jacopo set up his own wine estate in the Maremma, and is making three well received red wines, one of which is the 100% Sangiovese, Sassoalloro. The wine, named after nearby volcanic rock, is drinking beautifully right now, showing cherry and spice characters, and a super-smooth, long finish.

Previous week.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Wines of the Week - February 16th

Time to dig up an old favourite, not yet time to discard an old timer, and a classy wine yet to hit its peak.

Petaluma Hanlin Hill Riesling 2002

As a young Riesling from a stellar Clare valley vintage, this was close to my all-time favourite Australian Riesling. Very fresh and pure, with intense aromatics and zingy acidity, it was great drinking for a year before it started to lose its youth. By that time, I'd had my fair share and then some, including at our wedding, and I wasn't reluctant to let it go. So I bought two cases, and put them down. And now it's time to get them out and party all over again. It's still remarkably youthful, with the acidity still fresh and lively, plenty of lime character mingling with the developing honey and kerosene characters. Well worth keeping, and probably good to drink for another ten years.

Pierre Bise Coteaux du Layon Beaulieu L'Anclaie 1997

A bit of a punt at auction as it was quite cheap for a good wine from a great year, this wine looked past it in the glass, well into brown. However, the nose was more encouraging, and the palate a revelation. The high acidity of the Chenin Blanc has kept this in good shape, and it remains a lovely dessert wine, with baked fruits and honey characters. I'm happy to have a few more of these to drink over the next year. (Two bottles tried - consistent).

Louis Latour Chateau Corton-Grancey Grand Cru 2005

In the best years, Louis Latour makes a Grand Cru blend from the Les Chaumes, Les Pougets, Les Perrières and Les Grèves vineyards in Corton. The wine is named after the old chateau and presshouse bought by Latour at the end of the 19th century. Chateau Grancey lies on the outskirts of the town of Aloxe-Corton. The wine is extremely pretty, with lots of strawberry and raspberry still very forward, but the structure is good and it has underlying hints of minerality and spice that hint at the wine it will become with another five years in bottle.

Previous week.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Wines of the Week - February 9th

This week we look at an everyday drinking wine, and two wines that are good enough you wish you could.

Domaine Santa Duc Gigondas 1998

Gigondas has gone from strength to strength in recent years, and prices have risen to match as consumers seek out the best wine value in the Rhone. Fortunately I still have some older bottles from when prices made it more of an everyday wine, and this one from Santa Duc and the1998 vintage is drinking at its peak now. The once ripe fruit is now giving way to garrigue, meaty and earthy characters, resulting in a complex, well balanced and pleasingly rustic wine. Rustic, like in their photos...

Le Cantine di Indie Langhe Rosso Vino Rosso del Popolo 2010

Made by Eugenio Bocchino, this is a wine that rises above its everyday drinking pretensions by a good margin, but only in quality terms, not price. A Piemonte blend of Nebbiolo, Barbera and Dolcetto, it combines the fruity frivolity of the Barbera and Dolcetto, while the Nebbiolo brings a structured complexity that makes it an adult party. Probably not a wine for the long haul, but that's Ok, you'll want to drink it everyday - it is a wine of the people (popolo).

Domaine Huet Vouvray Sec Clos du Bourg Sec 2008

Strictly speaking, this should have been in last week's edition, but I wanted to keep that to the Rhone red theme. However, we had this wine prior to cassoulet and the reds, and it was too good to let slip without mention. This is a wine I always love, but I particularly liked this vintage with its higher than usual residual sugar giving it extra weight. High levels of acidity effortlessly balanced out the acidity, leaving a very pure, concentrated Vouvray with a long, clean finish.

Previous week.

Wines of the Week - February 2nd

It was a long time coming, but I finally committed to making Cassoulet with friends in town heading over for dinner. It was the work of several days, although admittedly most of that was deciding on a recipe. I'm glad to say it came out very well, as did the accompanying Rhone reds.

Domaine de la Pertuisane Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes 2005

Guigal and Chapoutier might need no introduction but Pertuisane might not ring too many bells. Established in 2003, the winery is trying to get the most out of some low-yielding old vines near the village of Maury. According to the label, the wine is 70% Grenache Noir and 30% Carignan Noir, and made in tiny quantities. It struck me as more Spanish than Rhone, but was very enjoyable, with loads of pure, ripe fruit and spice.

Chapoutier Monier de la Sizeranne Hermitage 2005

Chapoutier list "conviviality and hospitality" amongst their values, and a communal pot of cassoulet amongst friends from three continents is probably down that path. This classy, elegant wine of promise could do with being a bit more convivial, as it remains very tight in its youth. After some time it did start to open up, but I suspect this needs to be revisited later in the decade to allow the herb and meaty characters to fully develop.

Guigal Côte Rotie Brune et Blonde 2003

Easily my favourite on the night, this wine seems to have hit its peak, and makes me very desirous of the three LaLas from the same vintage. The Brune et Blonde is 96 % Syrah and 4% Viognier, with grapes grown on silicone limestone soil (Côte Blonde) and soil rich in iron oxide (Côte Brune). The 2003 is very rich, reflective of the hot vintage, but is not overdone, showing an enticing mix of bacon fat, leather and cassis. The bnest Bruine et Blonde I've had.

Previous week.

Wines of the Week - January 26th

It wouldn't be a Happy Australia Day! without some of Australia's finest Shiraz to help the party along, and so we gathered on a cold New York winter's evening to celebrate, several hours after the last Australian pub crawl finished back Down Under. These were my three favourites on the night, not coincidentally, all from excellent vintages in their respective regions.

Glaetzer Amon-Ra Shiraz  2006

Glaetzer were established in 1995 by Colin Glaetzer, who had made his name at Barossa Valley Estate. Since his son Ben joined the business the winery has enjoyed tremendous success, led by the new flagship wine Amon-Ra, first made in 2001. Although initially treated with suspicion due to Amon-Ra's 'cult' status, the winery has now established itself as a serious player with a string of successful wines. Grapes are sourced from long-established producers around the Ebenezer sub-region. The 2006 Amon-Ra is a superb wine, rich and opulent without straying into jammy territory. It is still very youthful, so a couple of hours in a decanter is probably called for, or sitting on it for another 10 years wouldn't hurt either.

Mitolo GAM Shiraz 2002

There are plenty of similarities to Glaetzer at Mitolo, where Frank Mitolo started the winery in 1999 and soon tapped Ben Glaetzer to get his vision off the ground. The G.A.M. Shiraz was first made in 2000, and helped by the budding reputation of Ben, was quickly elevated into the aura of 'cult' wines with the help of some big scores from Robert Parker, along with sibling wines Serpico, Savitar and Reiver.. Named after Frank's children, Gemma, Alexander and Marco, the G.A.M. is made from McLaren Vale grapes from the Chinese Block vineyard. the 2002 vintage benefited from a cool summer, and shows typically pure fruit, even as secondary characters develop with the wine now at full maturity.

Dalwhinnie Moonambel Shiraz 1998

Dalwhinnie is somewhat of a veteran by comparison with the vineyard established back in 1976 in the Pyrenees (named in 1836 after the European range), 200km west of Melbourne. The winery benefits from its elevation, making the Moonambel Shiraz distinctive in the evening's line-up, although the age was also a factor. For those reasons it was probably my favourite on the evening, as the herb and spice complexity married well with most of the food, while the more youthful South Australian wines tended to overshadow proceedings.

Previous week.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Wines of the Week - January 19th

One of the things that is clear to me when discussing Australian wine with wine lovers in New York is the lack of understanding about the breadth of Australia's production. Too much focus is put on red wine, Shiraz in particular, where there are some fantastic whites being made in a range of styles. here are three different whites that have impressed me lately.

Turkey Flat Butcher's Block Marsanne Roussanne Viognier 2009

Turkey Flat have long been one of my favourite Shiraz producers, but this white is another reminder that the Barossa can turn out some handy (Northern) Rhone-based white blends as well. Like Torbreck's excellent Steading Blanc, this wine is predominantly Marsanne, with Roussanne and Viognier rounding out the blend. Although there's plenty of richness, there's an underlying restraint provided by the Roussanne that keeps it lively and refreshing.

Savaterre Chardonnay 2004

Savaterre was established by Keppell Smith after a country-wide search led him to the elevated site outside of Beechworth in Victoria. Focusing on the Burgundian grapes of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Savaterre quickly established itself as a winery to watch after its initial releases from the 2000 vintage. I was able to try the 2004 Pinot and Chardonnay recently, and both impressed greatly. The vintage was excellent, and the wine has matured nicely into an elegant example of cool-climate winemaking, showing well integrated oak, stone fruit and a crisp finish.

Mcwilliam's Mount Pleasant Lovedale Semillon 1986

It's not often I buy a case of something, but when you come across a wine like this it's a reminder that it is worth doing occasionally. I've been knocking off a bottle of this every year or two for long enough that the last bottle finally got opened. (Fear not, I've just started on the '95s). I'm pleased to say that bottle variation has been fairly minor along the way, and although they are probably past their best, they have been holding on just fine. Fruit character is fairly minimal, with some lime straying into the honey, nutty, petrol characters, along with a slightly oily texture. A reminder that Hunter Valley Semillon makes great value, long-lived whites that are worth the wait.

Previous week.

Wines of the Week - January 12th

Our wines this week are in fact three vintages of the same wine, as my recent trip to Australia helped facilitate a mini-vertical of Grosset Polish Hill Riesling. The most highly regarded of Australian Rieslings, Jeffrey Grosset's flagship wine is fantastic when young, but it's always worth holding some bottles back to see how they can evolve over 7-10 years, or longer, in bottle.

Grosset Polish Hill Riesling 1999, 2000 and 2003

The 1999 vintage was the last bottled under cork and was certainly fully developed, and likely a little past it's best. However, it was a lovely wine, with typical aged Riesling characters of petrol, honey and lime, and some preferred it on the day to the 2000. The Clare Valley 1999 vintage was better for Riesling than the 2000 and 2003s, although not up to the standard of 2002.

The 2000 vintage, bottled under Stelvin, still showed remnants of its youthful zing, which I appreciated, although perhaps its flavours were more subdued than the '99, which is probably explained by the less than stellar vintage. Drink up.

My pick of the three vintages was the 2003, which is probably drinking at, or close to, its (mature) peak. It still has plenty of lively acidity, combined with well developed classic aged Clare flavours and offers plenty of enjoyment now and for the next 2-3 years.

Previous week.

Wines of the Week - December 15th

There's a lot of amazing wine being produced in California, much of it with amazing price tags to match. So when you get the chance to taste some of the best at a below bargain price, it's time to jump in. These were three highlights out of a great line-up of wines.

Harlan Estate 2007

A wine released for $245, but you might have to add a zero on the end if you want to get a bottle of this hard to find wine. Or perhaps on a normal night you settle for their second label, The Maiden. But not tonight. This is a wine of tremendous power, made from a blend of Bordeaux grapes (the estate is 70% Cabernet) grown on steep slopes of the Mayacamas, west of Oakville in the Napa Valley. The wine is very plush, with plenty of dark fruit and cassis, and a very long finish. I'd love to try it again in 20 years. The style is not for everyone, but then again, everyone can't buy it.

Continuum Proprietary Red 2007

The Mondavi family started this winery in 2005 on Pritchard Hill on the east side of the Napa Valley. Headed by Tim Mondavi (Robert Mondavi's son), the family aims to maintain the "continuum of excellence, innovation and tradition" from Robert's heyday - hence the name. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, the 2007 vintage is very fruit forward and enjoyable now, although it's best to give this another five or more years in the bottle.   

Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2007

Started by the Golitzin Family in 1979, this Snohomish-based Washington boutique winery makes four highly regarded red wines, led by their flagship Cabernet made from grapes grown in the Horse Heaven Hills and Red Mountain AVAs in the Columbia Valley. Incorporating a dash of Merlot, but omitting the dash of Cabernet Franc, the 2007 vintage is another winner for the winery, being the fourth vintage to receive 100 points from Parker. Ripe black currant fruit and some spicy characters. Still very youthful, it did open up a little in the glass, but was still only showing a fraction of its potential at the end of the evening.+

Previous week.

Wines of the Week - December 8th

This week we have another of Wine Spectator's Top 100 wines, this time an Argentinian red, as well as a classy Alsace Riesling and an old favourite from the Barossa Valley.

Bodega Catena Zapata Malbec 2009

Following on from last month's article referencing the Malbec-Shiraz beauty contest, I've been keen to seek out some of Argentina's Malbecs currently on the shelves. Malbec has long been one of my favourite grapes, although its normally been hidden behind the name Cahors, the area of south-west France that makes Malbec-based reds. Catena's 2009 offering, probably won't live as long as the Cahors reds, but it still needs a little time to open up, so decant for an hour if possible. It's a rich, plummy wine with some floral and chocolate notes, offering plenty of pleasure for the price. 

Trimbach Riesling Cuvee Frederic Emile 2004

Trimbach trace their Alsace wimemaking history back to 1626, so it's no surprise they make a decent wine or two as they approach their 400th birthday. Although seven years old now, this wine is only just starting to develop now, and will drink well for another decade or more, in fact it will probably go down OK at the 400th. Very refined and elegant, it lacks the precision of the best years, but still balances its acidity with flavours of lemon, apricot and minerality that makes every glass a pleasure.

Greenock Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 1997

Many years ago in Tokyo I hosted the Australian side in a blind-tasting wine challenge against the best of the USA. It was a fairly high budget affair, and I wasn't worried on the Shiraz front with Penfolds Grange 1998 against an overmatched Californian Syrah. However, it left little in the budget to go up against a mighty Napa Cabernet - the Shafer Hillside Select 1997. As you might have guessed, the Greenock Creek won the night - and perhaps neither wine is truly representative Cabernet, but both were beautiful wines. Nearly 10 years on, the Hillside Select is apparently getting better with age, and I'm pleased to say the Greenock Creek is still holding its own, and will for some time to come. They also make an ultra-premium Cabernet (and Shiraz) cuvee called 'Roennfeldt Road'. All wines are made in small/tiny quantities, but are definitely worth a look if you come across one.

Previous week.