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.

WOTW: Chateau St Pierre, St Julien, 2011

Chateau St Pierre lies within the Left bank (Bordeaux) appellation of St Julien. Lying sandwiched in between the Pauillac and Margaux appelations, St Julien shares many of the characteristics often associated with its more well known neighbours, including the fragrant Margaux nose and the dense cassis palate of the Pauillac. St Julien is home to a number of classified estates, of which Chateau St Pierre is both the smallest (17 hectares of vines) and probably the least well known of them. Ch. St Pierre was classified as a 4th Growth in the 1855 classification and can trace its roots back to the 17th Century, though as a result of family disputes, the land has been carved up (even for a period existing as two separate vinyards) before being more or less brought back together in the 1980s by the legendary Henri Martin (holding the title of l’Ame du Médoc (The Soul of Medoc)). Due to its relative obscurity, many regard the wines of Ch. St Pierre to be very much undervalued, representing excellent value for money. Typically the wines of Ch. St Pierre consist of 70-75% Cabernet Sauvignion, 15-20% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc. Wines are aged in oak for 18 months.

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Chateau St Pierre, St Julien 4er Cru, 2011

Bordeaux blend (Cab. Sauv, Merlot, Cab. Franc), Alcohol: 13.5%,
Price: £19.99 Aldi (Nov 2016)

In the glass the wine is a day bright claret with a really intense hue. No signs of browning at the edges or other obvious signs of aging. There was an intense nose of dried currants and spices, which after decanting for a couple of hours opened into more discernible black fruit. The wine has medium acidity and medium tannins, contributing to a really opulent and smooth mouth feel, with complex flavours of dried fruit rolling through to a delightfully long finish of dark chocolate verging even on coffee.

There is something distinctly classy about this wine. The craftsmanship is abundantly evident in the wine and for this price it really represents superb value for money, regardless of the fact that it is a classed Bordeaux wine. It would pair well with the usual suspects for Bordeaux, however I had a distinctly pleasurable time drinking this in front of the fireplace with a few pieces of dark chocolate. As far as Bordeaux wines go, 5 years is young to be drinking, though many believe (and certainly I’m convinced) that 2011 was a vintage to be drinking now, rather than for laying down.

Conclusion: This is good enough to deserve the title of Wine Of The Week.  I’ve picked up several bottles of the stuff, and so should you – if there is any left!

Score: 91/100 (MI)

Vintage Bordeaux: Haut Medoc 2005

Whenever the subject of Bordeaux comes up, one cant help but conjure up images of majestic chateaux, of rolling countryside and of course some of the most expensive wine known to man. Since the rise of China as an economic powerhouse, the price of Bordeaux has simply rocketed out of control as this new market makes a beeline straight for the great chateaux of the region. Indeed such is their love for Bordeaux (China is the largest export market of Bordeaux wine in the world) that Chinese investors now own over 100 vineyards in the region.

Of course I talk about Bordeaux as a single homogeneous region, which, perhaps more than most, is a vast oversimplification. Bordeaux covers over 120,000 hectares and is made of 60 different appellations, famously divided into the left and right banks. Bordeaux makes over 10,000 different bottles of wine ranging from mere few pounds for the cheapest, to many thousands of pounds for the dearest. Navigating ones way though this vast array of wines is an exceptionally difficult task and one that few can truly say they are at home doing so. I, a mere mortal, simply have to settle for a basic working knowledge to give me some idea of what I am looking at.

This brings me nicely to today’s wine:

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Chateau Cambon La Pelouse, Haut Medoc 2005

Bordeaux Blend (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot), Alcohol 13.5%

Chateau Cambon La Pelouse traces its roots back to the 18th Century, when the Cambon family first planted vines in the gravely soil of this 35 hectare plot, located in the Macau commune on the banks of the Garonne. The Macau commune lies just South along the river from Margaux. The chateau plants 50% Merlot, 45% Cabernet Sauvignion and 5% Petit Verdot, and their blends, whilst varying from year to year, often contain a large proportion of Merlot. Wines of the chateau are aged for an average of 20 months in French oak barrels of which between 40 and 50% are new.

2005 was a year to remember in Bordeaux. It was a year of plenty – plenty of acidity, fruit and especially, plenty of tannin. It was hailed by some as the vintage of the century, its rich tannins allowing great potential for ageing.

This bottle is a fine example of the vintage, displaying all the characteristics associated with it. The wine is a deep claret colour, with a real spicy nose, traces of leather and smoke with just a hint of red fruit. As expected, tannins are not in short supply, giving a real astringency quality to the wine. Its obvious the wine has been heavily oak aged, bestowing a complex smokey, almost licorice flavour. Unfortunately these intense bold flavours somewhat mask the rather more delicate black fruity flavours. All the components of the great wines are there, however the wine is let down by the lack of balance.

Even with over 10 years of age on the bottle, there is still a lot of room for more ageing and this might just bring some much needed balance to the tannic flavours. The classic food pairings for left bank Bordeaux are simple hearty lamb dishes or fine steaks. This wine would pair very well with either. Its important to avoid overly complex flavours or foods as these would likely be lost in the boldness of this wine. 87 points (MI)

Wine at the jazz club.

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The Late Show, Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, Soho, London

I was keen to write a review of the below wine, but it would be difficult to do so without giving the context. As wine accompanies food, so it is also a great partner to all manner of social occasions. Complimenting the setting is confined by the often frustrating combination of the venue’s wine list and the depth of your pockets. The wine list at Ronnie Scott’s has a reasonable selection although there was nothing that really jumped out at me as a “must try”.  Regardless our choice of a 2012 Bordeaux was a decent wine and good value given the location.

We were here for the music, not the wine, so it is only appropriate to pay homage to the 82 year old Cameroonian Saxophonist who led his superb band through 90 minutes of exceptional jazz.  Below is Manu Dibango’s 1972 hit: Soul Makossa to accompany the review below.

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Chateau Mayne-Vieil, Fronsac, Bordeaux, 2012

This wine is tannic, young,  traditional Bordeaux and would have benefited from more time in the bottle.  It was tightly wound and somewhat backwards at present.  On the palate this was bone dry, tight, and showed great intensity but any complexity was hidden by the dense tannin.

Fronsac represents very good value as an appellation. I can imagine having paid a lot more for Bordeaux from more illustrious appellations and have found much the same in the bottle. For a Merlot based blend this was very seriously structured suggesting quality but whether it will wine out or fall short with time is difficult to tell just now.  This would benefit from either a long decant (3-4 hours), or another 2-3 years in bottle.

Conclusion: Enjoyment depends on liking youthful, tightly wound, traditional Bordeaux. There is scope to improve if it opens up but I am not certain this will find balance.

Score: 88/100 (DT)

Learning Point: Perhaps for the setting Champagne, Cognac, or even an Old Fashioned would be a better match; but Fronsac produces solid, good-value and traditional Bordeaux.

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Given the setting and listening to the track above what would be your recommended wine pairing?  We would love to hear your suggestions in the comments section.

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.’

2004 Bordeaux Showdown

These wines were tasted during my recent visit to The Sampler. OK so maybe 2 bottles isn’t quite a showdown but it was a good opportunity to see how the vintage is shaping up. 2004 is a middle of the road vintage but I was pleased with both of these classed growth contenders. As for maturity the answer is very much dependent on the wine as these were in a different place in their evolution.  I guess this tasting really demonstrates the use in being able to try a wine before you take home a bottle.  Check out the main article on my visit to The Sampler.

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Château Langoa-Barton, 3ème Cru Classé, St-Julien, Bordeaux, 2004
Château d’Armailhac, 5ème Cru Classé, Paulliac, Bordeaux, 2004

Tasting these wines side by side was an interesting experience.  [Leoville-Barton 2001 rates among one of my favourite wines and this was my first opportunity to taste the sister wine Langoa-Barton.]  Langoa-Barton still felt quite fiery in youth at this point in time – it was tannic, lots of rich fruit, and was yet to fully integrate the different components. This was a very well made wine but has not yet reached an elegant plateau.  If you want to drink it now then I would recommend pairing with something like a rare steak.  The d’Armailhac in comparison was balanced, elegant and delicious with greater complexity at this point. There is no doubt that the d’Armailhac is more advanced in its maturity and will begin to fade far sooner than the Langoa-Barton, but for drinking now I would take the  d’Armailhac every time.