Wednesday, 5 October 2016

The hills are alive.

Something interesting happened in France in 2011. Actually I'm sure a tons of interesting stuff happened but this particular story revolves around Burgundy. The powers that be decided to change the rules surrounding the lowliest appellation in this venerable region. Out went Grand Ordinaire and all it's negative connotations and in came this.

Coteaux Bourguignons (Burgundy Hills, for the uninitiated) allows winemakers that rarest of all things in France. Freedom. A variety of blends of all colors are now available to Burgundian winemakers and I thought I'd try the offering from famed negociant, Louis Jadot. Chardonnay. Aligote. As soon as I saw these words on the label I decided to buy. This is precisely the kind of thing that the French Wine authorities were trying to achieve by implementing these new rules. Two grapes grown in the same region but rarely seen in a blend. This is as rare as hens teeth in Japan. I was uncommonly excited to taste this for the first time

What a load of old rubbish. Honestly, this is appalling. Words fail me. Not only badly made (a wine with this flavor profile should have a higher degree of acid), but poorly conceived. It would have been easy for a firm of the scale and experience of Jadot to source enough of the right kind of grapes to make a half decent wine. Probably a half decent wine with a degree of interest. No, this is not even a half decent wine. I cannot recall the last time I (and you too, dear wine lover) had had my intelligence insulted in such a base and unimaginative way as it's been impugned by the existence of this tramp's urine. Fat Chardonnay on the nose. An angry fatness that screams "stay away" in an ever louder and more shrill tones until you do exactly that. The first sip bores, then gives you indigestion. Short and hateful. I'm done with this wine. Reefer shipped and bought from a respected outlet. It's not just a bad bottle. I'm going to the convenience store to buy a can of Coke to dull the agony.

Fading Gracefully

The thing is about Bordeaux, it's well, er , how can I put this? A bit pompous, stuffy conservative, out of date, irrelevant and annoyingly backward in the way it evaluates it's wines. This can be most strikingly seen when considering the Grand Cru Classe of 1855.
(If you're familiar with this part, skip to the text after the picture.) At this time some bright spark (Napoleon III) decided it'd be a good idea to place the best wine producers in the Medoc, the left bank of the river Gironde, into classified categories. This became the the 5 rank system that we all know and loathe today. It's remained broadly unchanged since that time.

So, what happens over time? Producers get good, they go bad. Chateau change hands, get handed down to an idiot son, or the biodynamic guys next door start making better wine.
Whatever happens the classification stays the same. This surely benefits Chateau Croizet-Bages. Check Cellar Tracker. For years the best that could be said for this old Medoc name is that they under-perform for the money. The worst that can be said is un-publishable on a family-friendly blog. Look at the top of the label. GRAND CRU CLASSE. For ¥5500 from my local wine emporium it better emphasize the Grand.
First impressions are good and there is a vivid blast of squishy red fruit upon opening. It's broad and acidic in that electric way all red wine needs to be to excite. It's all that I'd imagined it could be. Call of nature. Return to living room to find that this stuff is belting out the stone fruit. My temporary tasting room smells like a large group of plums has formed a rugby team, performed a successful tour of south east England and has now decided to get get drunk and watch Youtube on my couch. Lurching towards my glass. took a hefty swig of this stuff and immediately started to dance around my amateur review process. This is a tough one to review. Not since Erwin Schrodinger took a dislike to his pet has there been a more dichotomous position.
First the positive. There are a ton of winemakers around the world who'd love to marry this wine's Old World mystique and New World ease. This is a wine that is languid and textured with soft tannins, licquorice and sweet pipe tobacco. It's also a wine with persistant red plum, a hint of cassis and a not unpleasant grapiness that is super easy to drink. I've had two good size glasses and I know I'm going to finish this bottle tonight. I can easily imagine this going with a ton of different foods, best suited, however, to meats with a sweater sauce. Some of the essence of the 25% new oak is present and, curiously perhaps, is the best integrated and most "expensive" aspect of this wine.

Now the negatives. Shouldn't a Grand Cru Classé offer a little more than this? Despite its deliciousness, this wine lacks the complexity, the intrigue to raise it above a lot of better priced offerings from Australia, the U.S., and latterly South America. Doesn't Croizet-Bages, in its drinkable yet yawn inducing competency, devalue the whole idea of the class of '55? It should unarguably offer the drinker something unique, and here, I fear the USP simply isn't strong enough. Where Bordeaux ought to differ markedly from the international crowd is on the nose (especially left bank blends). Here the aromas are too dominated by lush red fruit and the slightly elevated alcohol level to even offer much of a difference. The old school paper money funk is missing.
To buy or not to buy? As long as people are willing to pay the classy prices for the classy names, the Grand Cru Classé will always be a jealously guarded bauble. The question you should ask yourself is "Will I be drinking this with someone who cares about the classification?". Answer that and you have a good indication of whether or not you should buy this wine.
I'll tell you what I've also had recently,
Casarena Malbec Jumilla's Vinyard. An Argentine wine with none of the pretension, but all of the presence in the glass of the Croizet-Bages. 30% cheaper. Bang up to date.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

"We found it in the back room."

Do you ever have that worn out, world weary feeling where everything seems altogether too much effort? The world just seems like it's draped in a beige cloth of mediocrity. Fortunately this kind of malaise isn't something I'm given to readily, but I make an exception when I trawl the shelves of high street wine shops. I just don't know who buys this junk.
As I was digging around for something interesting to drink in my local Liquor Mountain I was beginning to notice the beige feeling descend. Then something unusual happened. I chanced upon something that made me stop, double take and then immediately pick up the bottle and take it to the cashier.

Rasteau is an appellation in the Rhone valley long known for producing sweet fortified wine. I've never tried it, nor do I know anyone who ever has. Not my bag anyway. The thing is, for a long time the winemakers of that area were lobbying the French Government to allow them to sell their dry table wines under the Rasteau name. I suppose they were sick of having to sell them as simply Côtes du Rhône (or from '96, Côtes du Rhône Village) . In 2010 the Local wine makers of the village of Rasteau got their wish. Their very own table wine appellation! That makes this bottle of Domaine de la Combe Dieu somewhat of an oddity in Japan. A wine from 2000. Labelled as a Village.

When I popped it open two things hit me. Sharp. Wood. There was an initial hit of something that at first whiff had the feeling of vinegar about it. Before I was able to recoil in horror it had passed. I hope it was just some sort of residue on the cork or in the capsule. The woodyness was a little more in keeping with what I might have expected. It wasn't the wood tone of an oak barrel aged wine, it was more the soggy bret funk of a dead and decaying tree stump. Not a great start.

In the glass this quickly blew off revealing...Not a lot if truth be told. The nose of this wine is unmistakably Grenache with it's bright sand hits of cherry and redcurrent. A little leathery, but altogether muted. "Fully mature" would be a polite way to put it. In fairness I don't expect the winemakers at the Domaine expected this bottle to be matured in an uncontrolled fashion in a back ally in Osaka for fifteen years. Considering this the nose has born up fairly well. It's just a bit boring.

It's unfair to judge the colour as well. The cork had a tone of wine crystals on and from the look of them there's going to be a ton of sediment in this yet to be finished bottle. I rushed this home and opened it so I had expected murk. 

As this wine hits the tongue there's a tingle. It still has a zing of acid left after all these years. It's the key to this win and it's really what stops it from being a dead loss. The acid combines well with the matured fruit of the Grenache (I really don't think there's much else in here other than the Grenache. Perhaps a little Syrah.) and I must say this bottle goes down rather nicely. Complexity? Look elsewhere. Length? The structure of the tannins just aren't up to the task. Interest? I suppose so. I can't recommend it purely because for every bottle on the shelf of your local Liquor Mountain in decent condition, I imagine that there are three others that are either cooked, oxidised or corked. It's that kind of wine. It's that kind of shop. If, however, you have a nose for gambling and ¥2000 to spare, it might brighten a meal for you. Leave it upright for a couple of days to sort the sediment though. There's a good chap.

Domaine de la Combe Dieu Rasteau 2000. Worn out, world weary. but certainly not a beige wine.

Thursday, 31 December 2015

Half right is better than half wrong.

To be honest I've been pretty slack this year. I've drunk plenty of wine but I haven't exactly been meticulous in my note keeping. The Burgundies, Pomerols and south Australian Grenaches have come and gone. Some good, some bad, but many memorable. I'll be better in the new year. I suppose that's a resolution. Just time to slip in a few words before January 1st about a very reasonably priced bottle of Brunello that I just picked up. 

For those not in the know, Brunello is like the big brother to Chianti. Made from the Sangiovese grape, this Tuscan wonder is a staple of Italian restaurants the world over and I thought that a decent example might be out of my price range in Japan.

I was half right.

Badia al Colle's 2009 effort is still massively young. Perhaps it was my knowledge of the amount of ageing Brunellos actually need, but I swear I could smell the tannin when I pulled the cork on this one. The nose was terrifically pungent on the first pour. Cherries, as expected, but more of a Tempranillo character than a classy pasta joint drop. Charcoal as well. An odd component, but something in the nose of this wine reminds me of a recently quenched barbecue. Mostly bright red fruit of a confectionery shop style.

It's not often that I taste a wine and instantly think that it's well balanced. This most certainly is and its the wine's greatest strength. It's a hugely drinkable wine that just disappears down your throat in a stream of fruit, velvet and excitement. The fruit on the palate is very food friendly. Sour cherry, cranberry and just a little grapeyness remaining. This would be an excellent accompaniment to a ton of my favourite foods. Cassoulet, Goulash and the most hideous sounding of pork offal dishes would be excellent with this. The acid is present, perhaps a little too present for this to be fully enjoyed on its own. Secondary elements are still lacking though. The tannin, while never grippy, still has to yield more complex savoury notes. The question remains as to whether this wine has the guts to stay in the fight. Perhaps not. More seasoned Brunello drinkers have sampled this wine, put it on the shelves pf your local Yamaya and priced it at under 3000 yen. This wine is really just the merest glimpse of what the region is capable of. I'll take a closer look in the name of science in the new year.

Judging by the length of this wine I'd say it's a super bargain. Delicious and flexible in it's nature, this wine will brighten up any Italian meal. If you have a decanter give it an hour or three, if not, why not?

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Something for the weekend?

Due to the birth of my lovely daughter Iori, Wine Mothership has been on somewhat of a hiatus. Nappies and wine don't go quite as well together as Oysters and stout. Time for a treat. So, what do I like? I like Bordeaux. I like Cabernet Franc. I love 2003. I'm certainly a big fan of not shelling out too much money on wine while my wife is on maternity leave. I'm hoping that this will do the trick.

Chateau La Fleur Pourret 2003. I popped into Wine Grocery on Shijo Horikawa here in Kyoto for a crisp, dry Pinot Blanc and came back with this. 50% Merlot. 44% Cabernet Franc, 6% Cabernet Sauvignon. A shade over ¥3000. Just beginning to show it's age in the colour stakes, this wine's nose isn't the typically plummy affair that we've come to expect from the right bank. There's not only red fruit, but also a degree of baking spice. Mixed spice, already baked in. A few volts of electricity as well. Lightning from the Cabernet Franc, I surmise. Then there's a hint of sweetness on the nose as well. Not from oak as one might expect, but from the lush, ripe fruit of the 2003 vintage. Reading the spiel on this wine, I don't think they use any new oak and I think the wine benefits from it.

In the mouth this wine has just past its peak. The moment I opened it it was accessible and jolly good company as I struggled to start my first article in four months. Some of the Merlot fruit character has turned to stodge, but there's still plenty of quite lively acid to structure and lengthen the wine. Add to that the ghostly blueberry on mid palate and you're beginning to see quite a wine stacking up. There's structure there too. Not particularly fine like freshly conditioned hair, but as soft frivolous and plentiful as Santa's beard. This is a pretty weighty affair for Bordeaux. Tasting it blind I don't think I'd guess this one. My favourite grape/year/region combination and I don't really know what it tastes like? Well I I'm getting a better idea with each glass I drink. 
For the money, I think the combination of weight, fruit and length is hard to beat. Add to that the vigour from Cabernet Franc and you have a very drinkable Bordeaux suitable for all you meaty dishes. Hurry up though, I don't think this'll last much longer. Something for this weekend?

Thursday, 22 January 2015

A New Years resolution to which I might actually stick

Given up smoking? Dropped ten pounds? Still going to that painting class? I hate New Years resolutions. Why would yo wait until new year? Why start at the gym when it's totally packed? I suppose I'm just a contrarian, but this year I've changed my mind.
Having first got interested in wine during the heady days of Tony Blair's first government, I've had an inbuilt prejudice against chardonnay. The image of Tony's cronies slurping tropical oak bombs is as unpalatable as the contents of said cronies' glasses. Never mind. Time to leave 1997 behind and edumacate myself.

Here's a nice place to start. Paul Pernot and ses Fils Puligny-Montrachet 2011. I blew my point card points on this at a modest neighbourhood wine store here in Kyoto. I was in luck too, apparently. According to Jasper Morris on his brief write up on Berry Bros. and Rudd's Web site, "M. Pernod doesn't bottle enough to meet demand."
Cool. Upon opening, those words fell through the trap door of credibility. Mid-toned for a white Burgundy, I paid the colour no attention as I put my nose into the glass. I thought I'd either been ripped off or else bought a heat damaged bottle. The first whiff of this wine gave nothing away about it's pedigree. Flat, empty and with just a hint of calcium. In the mouth. Oak city, California. Pop. 12.
"Dang" I said, or words to that effect, as I put the bottle back into the wine fridge for some much needed air while we worked on the video for Dard et Ribo's odd-ball St. Joseph.
Somewhere between realising that I'd bought the wrong SD card and the battery on the camera running out, a miracle occurred. What had once been a flat desert of useless chardonnay was now a whole bunch more interesting. Lime, cream and just a hint of vanilla took the place of the chalky abyss that was the nose. Not hugely intense, but then this is a village level wine. The fruit tended toward the pear side of things and was very long. What impressed most though was the extent to which the oak was integrated. Not much new oak here, but what there was was a perfect supporting actor for the fruit. lasting as long as the fruit and leaving just a hint of butter at the end of the palate to blend the dry finish seamlessly. This wine impressed. Super serious white burgundy for your special event. It's drinking well now (after some time to open up, of course) but there is plenty here to suggest a long maturation period. 
This New Year's resolution will be more resilient most

Monday, 12 January 2015

Medals of (dis)honour.

I admit it. I have an unhealthy obsession. Ever since my early days peddling ciggies, strong beer and the occasional bottle of wine at Thresher I've loved wine labels that are black with gold text. What could be classier? What says Ambassador's Reception more emphatically than a bottle of Côte-d'Or pinot? Gevrey-Chambertin? Hang on a minute, I'll just put on my cravat. What could be more classy?

Well plenty actually. I had a Camus Père et Fils Gevrey-Chambertin 2002 on Christmas day and regretted not giving it to the reindeer. I'm willing to forgive pinot noir some of its more common faults. If it's a bit short or lacks concentration I generally persist. These wines still have something to offer. Not here though. Upon opening the nose typical Bourgogne. This is not a good thing. Think of all the one-note, sour berry bottles of wine that have that illustrious word slapped on them. There's nothing elegant or charming( or any of the other commonly employed excuse words used to pardon lack-luster pinot) about this wines nose. It was OK I suppose. Like being waved at by a sour cherry from across the street during rush hour.
This wine was fine on the first attack, bright red fruit, but soon an overpowering sourness took over. It wasn't overly unpleasant, but it rendered this wine unappealing to even the staunchest Burgundy fan. Short, thin and sour, right when it should be at it's best. Style over substance? I don't get that feeling in this case. Just poorly made wine from an excellent year. This wine showed little improvement throughout the evening and I was glad we had some Chateau Malescasse '09 to cheer up the festivities. This wine wasn't a total loss though. The bottle looks stunning in my collection.