Bollinger Tasting

“I drink it when I’m happy and when I’m sad.

Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone

When I have company I consider it obligatory.

I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am

Otherwise I never touch it… unless I’m thirsty.”

The true meaning of these famous words, spoken by Lily Bollinger, were revealed a couple of weeks ago, as the team at Hedonism Wines treated us to a marvellous tasting of Bollinger wines. We were lucky enough to try out the full works, including the much-hyped 2002 RD and the rare still pinot noir they produce: La Cote Aux Enfants.

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From the get go, the winemaker introduced Bollinger’s ‘5 stylistic pillars’

  1. The vineyard: unusually, Bollinger own the majority of its vineyards, giving them control over quality and consistency.
  2. Pinot noir: 60% of Bollinger’s vineyards are pinot, as reflected by the characteristic notes of the final wine
  3. Oak Barrel ageing
  4. Keeping old reserve wines in magnums rather than huge stainless steel vats
  5. Time: Bollinger ages its wines for much longer than than the average across the region, resulting in a rich, harmonious style.

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Bollinger Special Cuvee NV

02 and 06 were in this blend, giving it plenty of weight for a non-vintage champagne. Sourdough bread and honey came through strongly on the nose. Quite rich and complex on the palate with medium acidity and some figgy sweetness. Alcohol was not noticeable. This was the palest wine of all and lost its fine mousse after 30 minutes or so. 90

Bollinger Rose NV

Surprisingly this was slightly more closed to begin with with some tannic structure. In terms of flavour, doughy characteristics still came through but there was an obvious expression of mint that several of us independently picked up, along with some spicy characteristics. Not as great an expression of Bollinger’s principles of champagne-making. 87

Bollinger La Grand Annee 2007

Lower dosage now at 7g. Significantly darker than the special cuvee. The complexity on this wine was remarkable, and we kept tasting the flavour for long after each sip. A round, harmonious almond characteristic was present, along with some tropical notes as found in specific examples of Montrachet wines. The wine coated the mouth  and was really enjoyable. 92

Bollinger La Grand Annee Rose 2005

This wine really split the crowd. Most of those who enjoyed the NV rose didn’t enjoy this one, and vice versa. For me, it was a winner. Salmon pink in the glass, with aromatics that included thyme, hazelnut and ripe tomato. Pinot noir was evident. Long, but not as fresh as I would have hoped for. Smokiness and umami covers the mouth. Again, very long. 91

 

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Bollinger RD 2002

This is perhaps the most famous of all long lees-aged wines. Dosage has been lowered again to 3g. The smile on the winemaker’s face said it all: this is a ridiculous champagne. More golden than gold. Huge balance and length. Complexity hitting all the major flavour types: fruit, spice, herbs, earth, wood, flowers, nuts etc etc. A beautiful champagne that Bollinger is justly proud of. 95

Bollinger la cote Aux Enfants Rouge 2012

This still pinot noir is a rarity and it’s sublime. Only 3000 bottles were produced, and the care and quality shines through: relatively deep colour, strong red berries, fresh acidity, eucalyptus, mint and rose petals. Smelly manure notes (which I love) and some tannic structure. 91

Learning points:

Bollinger is a top notch champagne house that, despite its fame, is much smaller than the typical supermarket champagne houses such as Moet. They are the epitome of British champagne (the UK is a huge market for them), and all their wines are superb. I’ll remember these wines for their richness and balance.

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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)

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.’

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:

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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

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).