Second Wine Labels

Second wines have been around for a centuries. Their purpose, I suppose, was to maximise output of wine to the consumer, whilst maximising quality for the grand cuvée. Until the second half of the 20th century, only a handful  of estates bothered with second labels . Nowadays, all of the classed growths have at least a second label, if not a third or fourth.

So, are these wines just the dregs of renowned estates, manufactured and marketed to a vulnerable and label-driven consumer mass? OR, are they good value, under-appreciated chances to taste the fermented fruit of some of the world’s best estates? I decided to try out the 2nd wine label of the 3rd growth Margaux estate, Chateau Marquis d’Alseme Becker, imaginatively named ‘Marquise d’Alseme’.

img_3576Marquise d’Alseme, Margaux, 2009

This wine changed quite dramatically in the glass. Initially, earth damp forest aromas complementing dark fruit. Pencil shavings, violets and black pepper. Some cedar perfume. 45 minutes later and a totally new beast: concentrated green bell pepper, jalapeno and green olive tapenade, suggesting high pyrazine concentrations. The palate was rich, fruity and silky throughout, but there was an underlying bitterness  (not associated with tannin), which reduced the drinking pleasure significantly. Interesting, but lacking balance and hedonism. 88 points

 

 

Learning points: This was a genuinely interesting wine to taste with regards to the development in glass. However, in terms of pure enjoyment, it did not justify the £25 price from thewinesociety.com

Latour: What’s all the Fuss About?

No, I did not buy this.
Yes, I I did hope to hate it.
Unfortunately and unsurprisingly, it was delicious.

20161108_222923This was my first experience drinking mature first growth Bordeaux. I wasn’t drinking the wine blind, and I hadn’t researched the vintage much beforehand. Sad as it might sound, my main thought in anticipation of drinking the substance within was: will it be worth the money? Now, the economics of wine is a complicated business. Drinking wine is a perception, affected by attention, mood, circumstance, and subjective taste. That in itself means that no wine can be ‘the best’. Add to that the complication of market trading, en primeur interest, advertisement, and everything else that goes into supply and demand economics, and you are left in a confused mess when deciding the relationship between your wine drinking pleasure, and value. The question that I want to consider with you is to whether it is worth splashing out money on first growths simply to ‘try them’ and ‘see what all the fuss is about’.

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So, how much extra cost is demanded by this presumable increase in quality? To put things in perspective, 1985 Latour can be found on the market for £300-800. It is a reasonable vintage that has little more to offer as an investment and is on the trough of its  own value-time curve. To get an idea of how much ‘better’ this wine might be, let us compare it to the £40 village level burgundy that we started with:

Meursault Les Grands Charrons, Bouzerau, 2012

Immediately exotic nose: pineapple, mango, mandarin. Balanced with oak, lemon and some pepper on the palate. Buttery as expected, with good length and mouth-feel. Great acidity, and interesting nuances in the flavour profile (dill came across quite strongly as the wine sat in the glass). 91 Points

Chateau Latour, Pauillac 1985

Not what is had expected; I would have never guessed this was a 30+ yr old wine. Deep red, with no clear orange or brown on the rim. Loads of blackcurrant blackberry cherry fruit still, matured with wet earth, porcini-like umami and some aniseed-like spice. Intense flavour, v pure balanced and long. Still enough tannic grip to carry the wine, and a lovely inky texture. 95 Points.

Latour 1985 is wonderful; no question about that. I was really really trying to criticise it and find things that I didn’t like about it, but there wasn’t anything. I was impressed that the fruit was still carrying and by the essential components of acidity, length and balance. However, it is certainly not worth splashing £800 on if you are paying simply to ‘see what all the fuss is about’. Indeed, it becomes immediately obvious that there is a disparity between how ‘normal’ wines are priced, and how ‘luxury’ wines are priced. The former is based on taste, year and area. The latter is driven mainly by history and critics.

Frederic Engerer, Latour president explains in an interview that the price is ‘a bit frustrating’ and it stems from ‘the market.’ This is fair, true, and I cannot criticise a business for making money that is there to be made. What does make me a little sad however, is that this money is probably not invested into major improvements in quality, and if it is, the wine will rarely be drunk by those who will notice the improvements (if drunk at all!)

Learning point: As Mr Engerer describes, Bordeaux is ‘a magical place’. Go explore it for yourself, before splashing the cash on Latour.

The Mistake

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Recently, I had the immense pleasure of visiting Mayfair’s best premium wine shop, Hedonism. I came with the sole intention of buying a single half bottle of red, but was tempted by the immense selection, and knowledgeable staff. The wine was to be drunk at Hawksmoor, the renowned steak restaurant which offers £5 corkage on Mondays (a serious rarity in London). This was a special occasion, and required something interesting and good. In the end, I opted for ‘New Zealand’s best pinot noir,’ from Ata Rangi.

The story of Ata Rangi’s pinot is the stuff of legend. Back in the 80s, Clive Paton (the founder and owner), called on the help of winemaker Malcolm Abel. Fortunately for Paton, Abel had identified some exciting pinot cuttings, brought over illegally from Burgundy in a Kiwi’s boot. In fact, it is thought that these cuttings came from non-other than the world-famous estate of Domaine de la Romanee-Conti. These confiscated vines were bought by Paton, planted in his estate, and have been called the ‘Gumboot clone’ or ‘Abel clone’ ever-since. The estate now employs the characteristic of several different Pinot clones, including the Dijon clone for its perfume, and clone 5 for its structure.

These wines has been incredibly well received in the press. Here are the experts’ opinions:

  • Hugh Johnson explains it as ‘seductively fragrant’ and ‘powerful.’
  • At the 2010 International Pinot noir Conference, it was given the title ‘Tipuranga Teitei o Aotearoa,’ translating from Maori as ‘Grand cru of New Zealand.’
  • Bob Campbell, MW writes: ‘Ata Rangi produce one of the country’s greatest wines’
  • James Suckling calls it ‘a materpiece’, giving the 2013 vintage 98-99 points.
  • Tim Aitkin and Nick Stock have both called it ‘New Zealand’s best pinot’
  • New Zealand experts Sam King and Raymond Chan reward the 2013 vintage 98 points

So, what is the hype about? I gave it a try… below are my tasting notes.

Ata Rangi Pinot Noir, 2013, Martinborough

Visuals: Ruby-purple, clean and medium viscosity.

Nose: Austere primary fruit: blackberries, cherry. Very light touch of oak. Peppery and herbacious. Obvious smoked bacon fat. Alcohol is quite strong.

Palate: Some cherry fruit. Very peppery, almost Rhone like! Dried oregano. Good acidity, great tension and minerality and extremely long finish. Masses of tannin; the most tannic Pinot I have ever tasted.

Conclusions: This is clearly very youthful and primary. Overall, actually rather difficult to drink. So intense, so tannic and overall, rather overpowering for steak. This would probably need something gamey to pair with. I am no expert in anticipating a wine’s potential to age, but based on the structure, the tannin, and the primal nature of this wine, I can at least see why the experts suggest you leave this for a bit in the cellar.

Learning Points: Don’t be greedy. Yes, you can drink wine young, but if everyone is telling you to wait, just wait! To quote Decanter: ‘it would be ‘Sacrilegious to drink it [Ata Rangi 2013 pinot noir) now, despite its deliciousness.’

Birthday Wine: An Eternal Dilemma

Birthday wine is a funny thing. The dream is always to discover a glorious old bottle, originating from your friend’s date of birth. The reality is that you know nothing about the obscure vintage, you can’t find something that was made to age, and you ultimately have to sacrifice quality along the way.

Now I’m all for birthday wine, but when all your friends were born in 1994, you run into some difficulty. Grange was very good that year, but the student loan won’t quite stretch that far. Port was pretty good, but is again too expensive. Bordeaux was ‘wet and cold,’ Sauternes ‘should be avoided’ and Burgundy was ‘a train-wreck.’

Where to go? Answer: The Wine Society’s ‘Anniversary Wines’ page. However, there is a problem. The only wine they list is a certain Domaine Roumier Bonnes-Mares Grand Cru, at a meagre £595. Bullocks.

How does one resolve such a travesty? Don’t go broke. Don’t waste more time searching. Instead, buy the much more affordable (£14)/available 1996 Rivesaltes dessert wine, and pretend you got their date of birth wrong. By the time it gets to dessert, they’ll be drunk enough to forgive you!

20160820_183330Parcé Frères, Vin Doux Naturel, Rivesaltes, France 1996

Orange-brown colour throughout this concentrated wine. Orange liquor, burnt hazelnut, mollases and cinnamon come through. Lacking acidity which makes it slightly sickly. Toasted oak on the finish which is well integrated.  This was drunken in the summer, but really would have suited a frosty Christmas night. Overall, very good value: expressive and rich. 88 Points (BP).

Learning Points:

Look towards this under-rated region of the world for great value, crowd pleasing sweet wines.

 

Indigenous Greek Grapes

Greek wine is going through a renaissance. Most famous of them all is the heralded ‘Assyrtiko’ grape, especially the citrus-laden, flinty stuff, from the picturesque island of Santorini. The quality of Greek wine is said to be improving: yields are being cut, and Retsina is being ridiculed. With so many indigenous grape varietals, it’s an exciting place to drink and learn. Here are two I enjoyed from the estate, Gerovassiliou:

Gerovassiliou, single vineya20160726_205416rd, Malagousia 2015, Epanomi

This wine has certainly received a number of distinctions: Decanter Silver medal, Sommelier Wine Awards Food Match Trophy and Critic’s Choice Award, to name but a few. This was served seriously cold at our taverna, but the chill was unable to quench the immense power of the wine.

This Malagousia is potent, concentrated, linear and cutting. Delicious lemon and apple fruit, with intense minerality, akin to oyster shells, slate and nettles. Some gentle almond flavours provide a balance to this huge wine. This reminded me of good Chablis, crossed with Austrian Riesling. It paired perfectly with charred baby octopus. 91 points

 

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Gerovassiliou, estate white, 2015, Epanomi

This blend of malagousia and assyrtiko is another award winner. It has a similar flavour profile to its 100% malagouzia counterpart, with citrus fruit dominating. Floral aspects are present (elderflower), and there is a slightly oily texture. In conclusion, this is a good bone dry white to be drunk cold, but lacks the finesse, focus and intense minerality of the 100% malagousia. 86 points.

Learning point: Malagousia > Assyrtiko (OK, not the most scientific test, but everyone likes it when the underdog wins).

 

 

 

 

 

THE most ridiculous wine of all time.

Ok, so the title might be slightly over-the-top. However, given the wine I am about to present, I think it is justified: Lopez de Heredia’s Gravonia 2006. This is a classic marmite (love it, or hate it) kind of wine, you can just taste it. However, at £12.95 from thewinesociety.com, take some advice from me: buy it, and someone will love it.

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The wine has a beautiful golden viscosity. This is followed with an intense bouquet of almonds, white peach and apricot. As Gary Vaynerchuck would say, this is a true ‘oak monster’.

The wine brings masses of honeycomb. Not honey, I’m talking about the whole waxy thing, in all it’s glory. This is the sort of wine that, to begin with, you imagine will eventually become cloying and sickly. However, that fear never realises itself, as fresh acidity lifts the whole experience.

Orange peel oil, pear, loads of thyme and pumpkin seed oil (honestly, I’m not being ostentatious!) accompany a long long long finish. Oh, and there is some moderate salinity too…

You can really smell the age on this, as the wine has broken down and developed a sherry sort of sweetness. There is so much going on, that you almost oversee the slight bitter undertone. Now bitterness isn’t necessarily a bad thing, so long as it’s balanced. Here it sort of harmonises with the fruity, oaky pleasure, into something quite brilliant.

This would pair amazingly with pork; in fact it is kind of reminiscent of that acorny sweetness you only get from Iberico pork. 92 points

Learning point: Take time over this wine; its a real masterpiece.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Young Mosel

Riesling is probably the wine – world’s most heralded white grape. Its most distinctive style, borne out of steep, cool vineyards, is produced in the Mosel valley. These wines are often low in alcohol, boasting perfect harmony between acidity minerality and sweetness. Mosel Riesling (especially.the riper wines) are known to be extraordinarily long- lived, taking on funky, herbal aromas over 20, to 50 years.

There has been a trend over the last decade away from ripe Riesling,  with more and more ‘Trocken’-labelled Riesling being produced. Amidst this trend, JJ Prum have remained true to their terroir, producing intense, concentrated wines with residual sugar. Though we have tasted a fair amount of German Riesling, most of this has been mature. So, we decided to try something young, wondering whether these wines would be ‘unapproachable’ in their acidity and concentration, or whether they would provide the heavenly nectar that we were searching for that Friday evening. This tasting was a super-focussed comparison of two wines differing only in ripeness, from the same vintage and the same vineyard: Wehlener Sonnenuhr.

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Currently available from The Wine Society at £24 and £29

Joh. Jos. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spatlese, Mosel, Germany 2012

So delicious. This had a mid yellow colour, and was extremely fizzy to begin with. The bouquet was extremely floral with elderflower and honeysuckle coming through strongly. Pure lemon, grape and cloudy apple juice on the palate. This is not a long wine, and it was highly addictive. I dare anyone to dislike this wine. It is elegant, focussed and delicious. However, it did not bring the tension, acidity and minerality I was expecting. After couple of hours, it revealed some matchstick aromas, but all other components of its flavour profile were fruit and flowers. 89 points.

Joh. Jos. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese, Mosel, Germany 2012

This was visibly more viscous in the glass, and lacked the fizz. The flavour profile was similar, albeit with some subtle differences. The wine was certainly sweeter and riper, with less emphasis on the floral aspects, and more on the apricot and honey. 90 points

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Conclusions: These wines were a highly delicious treat. We were surprised  that they were so approachable, and we were surprised that they were not overwhelmingly acidic and mineral. we suspect that the sugar is masking the acidity here, and that with age, this will come through more.

Learning point: Next time, buy a case, so that the development of the wine can be witnessed and appreciated over many years. Indeed, talking about the 2013 release, Katharina Prum, the now director at JJ Prum explains that these wines are “enjoyable now, but also to keep forever

The Battle of Château Batailley

Château Batailley, named after the battle that took place on the property some 600 years ago, is the sort of wine that, on paper, I would buy. Tasting notes promise a deep cassis and fragrant cedar bouquet. Furthermore, it is known for being ‘good value’ Bordeaux, with bottles starting at under £30, duty paid.

On our third visit to The Sampler, we tasted two famous expressions of Chateau Batailley: 2000 and 2005. This was an exciting opportunity to taste mature Bordeaux from excellent vintages, and to see whether the wine lived up to its on-paper reputation.

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Château Batailley, 2000, Pauillac

Lighter than the 2005, with a touch of brown on the rim. A muddy nose with hints of chocolate, violets and plum. Disjointed on the palate. The fruit has largely gone, replaced with a distinctive tomato flavour that I often find in fully-washed coffees. Graphite pencil shavings and toasty oak towards the end. This is not silky; there is a dusty component to the mouth-feel. The tannins have faded. Conclusion: Slightly weird, and certainly not what I was expecting. Despite this, I did enjoy the wine. 89 Points (BP)

Château Batailley, 2005, Pauillac

Immediately more focussed than the 2000, with berry fruit and cassis still present. There is more structure here, from acidity, minerality and tannin. Cedar perfume, some liquorice and oak on the finish. Very drinkable. 90 Points (BP)

Learning point: The 2005 won the battle. It ‘does what it says on the tin.’

An Italian Heavyweight

When I think of Italy, I think of Rome. When I think of Rome, I think of Romans. When I think of Romans, I think of Wine.

Pliny the Elder was an important source of Roman writing on wine. In his encyclopaedia: Naturalis Historia, he includes a ranking of several ‘first growths’ of the time. If he were to be re-incarnated and update his book (published between 77-79AD), I am certain that Castello di Ama’s vineyard, Bellavista, would be included.

Castello di Ama is one of Tuscany’s most famous estates, producing a well renowned and good value Chianti Classico. However, if you want to try some truly spectacular, try the Vigneto Bellavista. This is a single-vineyard wine consisting of 80% Sangiovese with 20% Malvasia Nera. It is only made in exceptional years, with 1995 being one of them. Back in 2012, Antonio Galloni (then at Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate), gave this wine 96 points. So, with the purely educational intention of understanding what a ’96 point wine’ would taste like, I have it a try.

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Castello di Ama, Vigneto Bellavista, 1995

Wonderful concentration in colour even now, after 20 years. Exuberant nose of kirsch and strawberry. Amazing that the fruit still dominates at this age. Opulent mouth-feel, but beautifully balanced; I could drink this all day. There isn’t too much of anything: the fruit isn’t jammy, the minerality doesn’t numb your mouth, the acidity brings balance without electrocuting you. There are some hints of sweet shisha tobacco and some herbal elements. This is a brilliant wine and one that justifies its price tag. 94 points (BP- The Sampler, South Kensington).

Learning Point: I should be a famous critic (Antonio Galloni tasted a vertical from this vineyard).

 

 

‘If anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving!’

If you were to offer Miles Raymond a bottle of 1982 Petrus, I would suspect he would change his mind. However, when the lead character of the Hollywood film Sideways made this remark, he was really making a jibe at the over-produced, easy-to-make, easy-to-drink, generic, sweet, simple expressions of merlot that we all know and avoid.

Instead, Miles and I pursue the ‘haunting and brilliant and subtle’ flavours of the temperamental, thin-skinned grape pinot noir. Growing pinot noir is notoriously difficult. In cold climates, there is a risk of under-ripeness; in hot climates the grapes ripen too quickly, preventing the development of complex flavour compounds.

There is a great deal of pinot noir being made in warm-climates. As these are cheaper than Burgundian expressions, I popped a bottle yesterday in sincere hope that I would find something charismatic.

2016-03-27 00.01.16Newton Johnson, Walker Bay Pinot Noir, Upper Hemel-En-Aarde Valley, South Africa 2012

100% matured in French Oak, pH 3.5, residual sugar 1.9, alcohol 13.95%

Light-mid ruby colour. Sour cherries and raspberries on the nose. A subtle touch of manure and some thyme. Lovely acidity on the palate with buckets of red fruit. Sweetness on the mid-palate (which is not a bad thing as it is balanced by the acidity).

Conclusion: I enjoyed this. It had some of those herbal aromas that you remember for days to come. However, you can tell that this is Newton Johnson’s more simple pinot . The palate is fruit driven, forward and slightly sweet. I would love to try their ‘family vineyards’ pinot noir to see how it compares. 88 points (BP)

Learning Point: Jancis Robinson is, as usual, correct when she says about South African pinot noir: ‘the coastal regions show promise.’