www.vinolent.net | VĪN'OLENT ADJ (OBS): ADDICTED TO WINE
Wine loving misanthrope. I taste wine, drink wine, love wine. I also sell wine and buy wine, talk about wine, write about wine and occasionally deliver wine. I’ve been doing it for a while now and like to think that I know my onions.
A few things about Thomas Parker. He is the youngest MW there is. He is one of the most demon tasters I have met. He’s a Palace fan.
I’ve known TP for a fair few years. We share a deep interest in wine, and a deep passion for the mighty Crystal Palace. And my lord can he taste. At a 1989 dinner a few years ago I witnessed him nail Riesling Rangen de Thann, Zind-Humbrecht blind. We knew the vintage (though I think I may have been a bit thick myself) but region, variety, vineyard and grower is a pretty tall order. And I think that I was saying stuff about it being Condrieu, but that’s another story.
Tom kindly sent me these answers just a few minutes prior to hearing the sad news of Derek Smedley’s passing. I’d met Derek a few times though never had the balls to ask him to do the three questions. A good man who always, quite literally, tasted on his feet and who will be missed by many.
I thank TP for his answers.
What was the first wine/bottle that got you into the whole wine thing?
I grew up with wine on the table – my grandmother didn’t believe in drinking anything but wine with food and took a dim view of my drinking water with a meal as she believed it was bad for digestion. I am also one of those people lucky enough to have an uncle with an incredible cellar and generous nature. But, I didn’t take a serious interest until the summer of 2010, just before my last year of university when I needed to decide what to do for a living. I was offered an internship at Farr Vintners to help with sales and allocations of 2009 Bordeaux en primeur, which was a wild introduction into fine wine. The demand and prices were mind-boggling, and I caught the fever surrounding the wine market at that time. So it was actually the business, rather than a bottle, that got me into the whole wine thing. I went about joining all the wine societies at Oxford when I went back for my finals. The first time I realised I could taste blind was during an introductory course to wine tasting with OUBTS (the Oxford University Blind Tasting Society). We had crib sheets describing all the different grapes and regions. I was sure I could taste lime and petrol, and the wine felt a little sweet. I put my hand up to guess in front of 50 odd tasters and confidently stated “Rice-ling”. Titters from the crowd inevitably followed, but I was hooked. The captain of the blind tasting team realised I had some talent and trained me to take part in the varsity match later that year. I spent more time tasting wine than studying for my degree, but a full time job at Farr Vintners followed.
What was the first wine/bottle that took you closer to your maker?
I’ve had some amazing experiences with wine in the last nine years but I can vividly remember the first time it transcended anything else. Despite being a month from finals I went to taste 2010 Bordeaux en primeur. The week was incredibly difficult; my gums ached by the second day thanks to all the tannin and alcohol of the vintage. The embryonic wines were incredible, but it was at a dinner with Frederic Engerer of Chateau Latour that I had my moment. We tasted magnums from the Chateau going back to 1950. I was sat next to Derek Smedley MW, who has tasted every vintage since 1961 En Primeur and had tasted every wine we were drinking that night from barrel other than the 1950 itself. Between him, Stephen Browett and M. Engerer I heard stories about the wines, old practices, how primeurs used to be, the market at the time, prices, and stories about wine trade legends. It was a truly eye-opening and life-enriching evening, listening to and drinking history. The wines were pretty good too.
What was the best wine/bottle you have had this year?
2019 has started with a bang, but wine of the year is a tale of two 9s. The 2009 “Ten Years On” is one I’ve been looking forward to for a long time – I was too young for the primeurs and not experienced enough to take part in Southwold, but I have tasted lots of the wines and it’s no secret how highly my namesake rates the vintage. This is going to start sounding like a sponsored article after my previous answer, but the peak of the tasting was unquestionably Chateau Latour 2009. It takes a lot to get me emotional about a wine, but as we discussed (and you later wrote), there is more than clinical perfection going on in that wine. The raw power combined with ethereal lift and complexity brings the both the heart and mind into play as well as nose and tongue when you taste it. Just incredible – future legend. Speaking of legends, the night before we had a 1989 dinner to ease us between the gruelling tasting days. A nice, early 30th birthday present for me as an ‘89 baby. Duly, a very generous man brought the Haut Brion – an absolute legend and a wine I’ve been lucky enough to taste on more than one occasion. It didn’t disappoint – luxuriant, hedonistic, cashmere and crushed rocks – a real pinnacle of Bordeaux. Tasting the Latour the next day, however, I can’t help but feel it will surpass it, for those lucky enough to be opening bottles in 2039.
Sometime in April 2010 I was enjoying a lager with my good friend and former colleague, Clarethound, in the bar at the Mercure Chartrons. Lager is the winetaster’s ally – the salve after a days’ tasting. We were discussing the 2009s that we had been tasting all day. Clarethound, not for the first time, said something to me that stuck: “You know what? I think that these wines might just be so good that we don’t even know it.”
Or something like that.
Selling the wines a month or so later was profitable purgatory. Prices were unprecedentedly high, as was demand. Supply was an issue. Avarice was everywhere along the chain. At the end of the EP campaign we were all knackered. It had been profitable; it hadn’t been much fun. And then the train that was 2010 Bordeaux followed.
And last week I got another, detailed look at 2009. Just under 170 wines tasted blind with some of the best palates (and nicest people) I know, at Farr Vintners’ impeccable offices on the Thames. Here are my thoughts:
St Emilion (and Bourg, obviously)
The big boys aside, my picks were a brilliantly crisp Petit Cheval, the delightfully idiosyncratic Roc de Cambes, a rich, ripe and punchy Troplong Mondot, a brooding and very serious Valandraud and a very plush Canon. All will keep, though the Canon and the Roc de Cambes are so plush as to be ready to go now. The Troplong Mondot is of a modern style, though very well-executed within that style. Valandraud tastes the youngest of the five wines.
Probably the most exciting appellation for the 2015s, Pomerol was a little bit of a disappointment in 2009 (apart from at the very top). Merlot and ripeness doesn’t always go well. I adored the cult cuvée La Violette, a wine that is clearly made in the cellar but is disarmingly flamboyant (and has the fruit to stand up to the barrel work). Le Gay came second in a similar style, though without the final fireworks of it’s supercuvée sibling. Clinet, a 100-pointer for Mr Parker, was also in the running; this is rich, plush Pomerol very much in the style of the chateau.
Graves is very good rather than great in 2009. A seductively toasty Larrivet Haut Brion is worthy of mention, as is Domaine de Chevalier – this is very vinous, and isn’t as tarty as modern Domaine de Chevalier can be. Smith-Haut-Lafitte, another 100-pointer, is a ripe and lush wine and I can see where Mr Parker was seduced even if I can’t quite match the numbers. The big surprise here was Fieuzal; I was not alone in scoring this very well.
I changed my score on my favourite Margaux (Margaux itself excepted) three times. It was Lascombes. And you’re not supposed to rate Lascombes higher than the likes of Rauzan-Ségla and Palmer. But I did and there you go. Issan showed very well for the group, though I didn’t quite get it myself, and Kirwan too (you’re not supposed to like this one, either). Palmer and Rauzan-Ségla were both excellent; I scored Palmer half a point higher than Rauzan, though looking at my notes they’re probably more neck and neck. The bargain of the appellation is Ségla, Rauzan-Ségla’s second wine. A case of this will set you back £300 and it’s delicious. We tasted the wine under screwcap and under cork and, whilst you can spot that it’s the same wine, I’d have screwcap to drink tonight and cork to stick in the cellar. I hope that some clever MW type can tell me why.
St Julien & Pauillac
This is where things start to get tricky. Or maybe difficult. There is a great deal of power in 2009, and a great deal of ripeness. It’s a bit like bricks of fruit being thrown at you. These wines, and not just the St Juliens or the Pauillacs, are very hard work to taste in number. It’s a bit like an assault, albeit a good one, on your tastebuds. Under fire from this plethora of tannins fruit, alcohol, flavour, it can be hard to see the wood for the trees.
That said, you can’t really put a foot wrong in either commune. In St Julien, the three Léovilles are exceptional, though Lascases is, I think, at a funny stage (as it can be for much of the time; Eddie Izzard’s joke on pears fits well with Lascases). Ducru is flamboyant and smoky and needs, I think, to integrate a little more. The surprise packages for me were Gloria, which is very nicely worked, and Lagrange, which is decidedly proper claret.
Pauillac too was a little overwhelming. There was almost too much quality, too much volume. I rated the two Pichons top, along with Forts de Latour. Grand-Puy-Lacoste was a whisper behind though, looking at my notes, I may well have underscored it – there is a purity, a lack of fanciness in 2009 GPL that sets it apart. I loved Batailley (as I always do). As with St Julien, you can’t really go far wrong with Pauillac in this vintage.
There is some greatness in St Estèphe in 2009. The appellation doesn’t boast the bounty of great properties that Pauillac and St Julien can, but it is in this commune where I sensed, first growths and similar notwithstanding, something special.
Let’s get the Cos thing out of the way. 2009 Cos d’Estournel is going to be splitting opinions for some years to come. There are a few similarities between Cos and Château Pavie, one of those similarities being that they are both hard to assess blind on account of their being so easily identifiable. So, as a taster, you have ten wines in front of you that are truly blind and a glass of 2009 Cos (or Pavie, or Pontet-Canet from 2010 – 2013). I scored it higher than anything else from St Estèphe for two reasons: firstly, it’s exceptional whether or not you like the style, which is very, very ripe – the fruit is seemingly reduced (in the culinary rather than the vinous sense). And, if it holds together, and I see no reason why it shouldn’t, it just might turn into something out of this world. Which is the second reason. I doff my hat to 2009 Cos – it’s an exceptional cabaret act of a wine.
2009 Ch. Montrose is equally good, and infinitely more St Estèphe. Deep, rich, fat and meaty. The group scored this top and the group is probably right, especially if we’re talking terroir and the expression of it. Tasting these two side by side over the years will be a pleasure. The bargains are Phelan-Ségur, Ormes de Pez, Lafon-Rochet and, of course, Meyney.
The Big Boys
The top wines of Bordeaux in 2009, by which I mean the left bank first growths and their right bank peers (that may be a subjective description for some) are stellar. 2009 Latour just might be the greatest wine I have ever tasted – I wrote about it HERE. And the rest aren’t far behind by any means. At this level scores start to get a little, well, pointless.
That notwithstanding, in terms of scores I had Cheval Blanc and Pin equal top with Latour. Subsequent reflection has put Latour into the lead. But, in 2009, all of the wines at the top deliver exactly what they should – a glimpse at vinous perfection, of greatness. Something that is more than just life: a flight on the Concorde, a night at the Meurice, Ali vs Foreman. That sort of thing. To write them all up is folly; if you own them you will be happy. If you buy them you will be rewarded. I can’t quite get my head around the price of Le Pin, but a case of Latour at £10,000 is worth it and more, as are most of the others. What price brilliance?
The question is, maybe, this: where does 2009 rank in terms of the great modern vintages?
I don’t have an answer. 2005, whilst stylistically different, is probably behind 2009 for most, though I like the style, the Savile Row cut, of 2005. 2009, for many wines, is a bit like a bling 2005, or a 2005 with a bit more meat (and fat) on the bone. And 2010? I will hopefully have more to say on these in a year’s time. What I do think is this: there is more stylistic difference between the vintages than there is a qualitative one. And I am a very lucky boy.
I thank all involved with this tasting. I polished more glasses this time. Promise.
Last week I tasted through just under 170 wines from the 2009 Bordeaux vintage. A full report to follow. In the meantime a few words on something rather special. On a wine that has made me stop and think. 2009 Château Latour.
I had last tasted this wine sometime in the morning of April 13th, 2010. I remember the day, and the moment. Along with some of my former colleagues I was at Latour, the Silverback of Bordeaux, to taste the soon-to-be-released 2009s. These days at Latour you taste the three wines from the vintage in the barrels: Pauillac, Forts de Latour and the Grand Vin, followed by the current library release vintages of same. Back in those days you’d just taste the three wines from barrel, so: 2009 Pauillac, 2009 Forts de Latour and 2009 Latour. Here’s my barrel note on the Grand Vin:
“It even looks regal. There is class in the way it stains the glass. And again on the nose: lifted, elegant. All here. You chase the perfume, the restraint. And in the mouth this is perfection. I don’t want to spit. This is Latour. Hauntingly other-wordly. Phenomenol. Beyond words. Latour. Beyond the Gods. Celestial. Solar. I am lost for words. Perfection. Seamless. And first and foremost Latour. Incredible.”
It’s fair to say that I liked it.
The car park at Latour is a few minutes’ walk from the offices and tasting room. This allows for some reflection after tasting, some fresh air and, as I was then inclined to enjoy, a cigarette. It also allows time for a phone call: I called my boss, Big Si the Wine Guy. I confessed to him that I wasn’t sure if life was worth living any more. Certainly, life as a wine merchant had lost much of its appeal. Because I had found, and drunk from, the Holy Grail. And that was it. I couldn’t really see the point of anything else. From a vinous point of view, I’d done it. I had seen the Elysian Fields. I’d walked them. I had picked the fruit, and eaten it. Mr Staples, a man not often known for soppiness, made his confession. A week previously, he had tasted the same wine. And (well, he’s not known for his rigid relationship with the truth either, so maybe take with a pinch of salt) he confessed to having had a little cry in the car park afterwards. Embellished or not, the emotion, and the experience, was there.
The good news is plentiful. Life has proved to be worth living. In the years since I first tasted 2009 Latour I have achieved much. I have a son. I have learned more about wine than I ever thought possible (though there is still some way to go). And I have had the opportunity to taste this epic juice again, albeit in different circumstances: tasting wines blind in Battersea is not the same as tasting from barrel in Bordeaux.
The top wines from the 2009 Bordeaux vintage are breathtakingly good. They are all an experience. Rarity and labels make Pétrus and Le Pin expensive in the extreme (both will set you back more than £3,000 a bottle) though, these two perhaps notwithstanding, they are worth the money. They are experiences that cannot be replicated. Scoring these becomes very, very, tricky. How do you score the sun rising?
I gave my highest scores of the tasting to three wines: Latour, Le Pin and Cheval Blanc. For what it’s worth (these were tasted blind) I thought Pin was Lafite and Cheval was Margaux (as I say – there is some way to go on the learning front; in my defence one of the characteristics of 2009 is that the vintage can overpower the terroir). I got Latour though – it could have been nothing else. And, whilst all three may have scored the same, it’s the Latour that has been on my mind like fresh love ever since I tasted it.
You see: 2009 Ch. Latour is one of those wines that sticks. It is, and is going to be, an icon. There are no concerns about where it’s going to go, how it will develop – the modernity of the winemaking is free of fancy tricks or force. As someone remarked to me via social media: “(I) just couldn’t imagine how it could have been improved”. If you are lucky enough to own it then (a) on no account sell it and (b) look after yourself; this wine has decades to go. If you are lucky enough to be able to afford 2009 Latour then there are few other wines that you can purchase that will provide quite so much pleasure. And not just pleasure, something more: something deeper. In the same way as truly great poetry, music or, indeed, a sunrise, 2009 Latour makes all wealth alchemy.
Far more complicated than the actual quality of any vintage is the perception of its quality. It’s not about whether it’s any good or not, it’s about whether or not the customer thinks it’s any good. This makes new Bordeaux vintages rather tricky, because the customer rarely gets the chance to make his or her own judgement on the wine(s) before making a purchasing decision. My point is this: the initial perception of quality, or the judgement of same, is largely in the hands of the wine trade. Who, of course, have a commercial interest. And whilst the vast majority of the wine trade are men and women of the highest integrity, no fisherman is going to tell you that his own fish stink.
The 2015 Bordeaux vintage was a vintage that needed to be a success. After the over-priced blockbusters of 2009 & 2010, Bordeaux got what the Bordeaux-bashers thought it deserved: a string of difficult years. 2011s weren’t at all good (though some of them are just starting to show some charm – this is the beauty of Bordeaux). 2012s weren’t that much better, and the less said about 2013 the better. By the time 2014 came along those with a financial angle were talking about negociants going bust and, despite the vintage being pretty good (and very good in places), it was a tough sell.
And then came 2015. And what 2015 has on 2014 is fruit. And buyers like fruit. And critics like fruit. Google “2015 Bordeaux vintage report” and you will find words like “fantastic”, “superb” and “radiant”. But I was never quite convinced. Better than 2014? Probably. Brilliant? I don’t think so.
Last week I tasted just over 260 wines from the 2015 Bordeaux vintage, blind, with the “Southwold Group”. This is my sixth vintage tasted with this panel, and it’s a tasting that I am very privileged to be a part of. Herewith my thoughts.
The problem with St Emilion is this (aside from the sheer number of wines to taste): the appellation is too big, and lacks specificity. It’s a bit like Châteauneuf du Pape: different soils, different grapes and different ideals. I’ve said this so many times as to be bored with my own voice: just what is St Emilion supposed to taste like?
The St Emilion of the vintage (bar the silly stuff) is (for me) Ch. Valandraud. Which is a sentence that I never thought I would write. It just edged Tertre-Roteboeuf, a wine that I initially scored the same (17) before lopping off half a point through indecision as much as anything else. Behind these came the group favourites: Canon & Figeac. Figeac is probably my pick of these two; for all the hype that surrounds 2015 Canon it tastes just a little bit too “worked” for me and lacks a little bit of poise.
I should add that the trend of toning down the extraction seems to be continuing, with just a few exceptions. That said, I would love to taste some St Emilion that is made without any fancy tricks at all. Because I still don’t know what it’s supposed to taste like.
When asked to rate the entire vintage, it is Pomerol that really lifts 2015 ahead if its predecessor. If 2014 Pomerols are a disappointment, their 2015 counterparts are a pleasure and more. VCC was my pick, and I probably underscored it at 17.5. Gazin, which I always seem to like very much, was up there too along with Lafleur, the group winner. Lafleur is always tricky when young and doubly so when tasted blind; it might just be an absolute cracker in time. Eglise-Clinet followed – I can usually pick this blind, though in 2015 it is distinctly “vinous” and more subdued than it can be. Evangile, La Fleur Pétrus and La Conseillante are all worthy of mention in what is clearly a very good vintage for Pomerol.
There are some rather good 2015s in Graves, though there is a caveat here, which I’ll get back to. My pick, and the group pick, was Smith-Haut-Lafitte. This is normal service; they know what they are doing at Smith. Then there is a rather tight pack following it, which includes Carmes Haut-Brion, Domaine de Chevalier, Malartic-Lagravière and Pape-Clement. My only gripe with this set of wines is Domaine de Chevalier, which I can pick blind these days with relative ease on account of the cellar rather than the soil. By which I mean that you can taste the winemaking rather than the wine. Which might sound a bit poncey but there is a hint of St Emilion in Graves, a hint of properties looking for the “points formula” rather than making a wine that expresses terroir.
I should also mention Les Carmes Haut-Brion: I initially thought that the revolution at Carmes wasn’t going to end well, but I was wrong; Guillaume Pouthier is making wines of some considerable, and idiosyncratic, class here (and that is perhaps in complete contradiction to the previous sentence).
I was looking forward to these. 2015 was, we were told, a great success for the wines of Margaux, the Médoc’s most inconsistent appellation. To be fair the wines are pretty good though there are few humdingers. The group pick was Brane-Cantenac, followed by Rauzan-Ségla and Palmer. My pick was Palmer, followed by what I thought was a disarmingly delicious d’Issan. It is worth noting that a case of Palmer will set you back more than a case each of the other three wines. Indeed you could have a pretty good lunch with the change. The real bargain here has to be Ségla. This isn’t yet available though Farr Vintners tell me that it should be soon; this is worth looking out for.
The St Juliens are always a pleasure – this is invariably the most consistent appellation in Bordeaux and tasting the wines is a joy. It’s like getting home after a long journey and 2015 is no exception. The three Léovilles took the prize, with Barton in first place just ahead of Poyferré. Lascases, in third place, is always a bit tricky in its youth and this should be taken into account I think. The ever-improving Beychevelle followed, with a very serious St Pierre just behind (I actually rated this the equal of the winning Léovilles). Ducru was laid back and very glossy, the sexy barrel notes dominating the flavor profile for me; maybe this will integrate in time.
If St Julien is getting home after a long journey, then Pauillac is lighting the fire and having a drink. It’s like Vosne-Romanée – if there is a portal to God in Bordeaux then it’s in Pauillac. And it’s probably around Chateau Latour and the two Pichons. Pichon-Lalande was my pick here, indeed it’s probably my pick of the vintage outside of the first growths. Sylph-like, and inimitably Pauillac. Baron is a cigarette paper behind, though probably just in terms of style rather than quality: some will prefer the masculine punch of the Baron while I favour the feminine whisper of the Comtesse. Lynch-Bages follows – this is a more old-fashioned Lynch than it has been in the past few years, and I loved Batailley. Modern Batailley is considerably more flashy than it used to be, though still has its proper Pauillac character underneath the gloss. It’s more expensive than it used to be, yes, but still a pick in my opinion.
The Northern Médoc caught a fair bit of rain just before the harvest in 2015 and, whilst Pauillac and St Julien didn’t escape the deluge, it is most apparent in St Estèphe. Quality is still pretty good, though there is nothing spectacular, save for the fact that Meyney, again, gate-crashed the big three. Montrose was my pick and that of the group, and I picked it blind on account of its loose knit class. Modern Montrose seemingly knows that it’s as good as it can be, and reclines on the chaise longue rather than stands to attention (if that makes any sense at all). Cos, which I had just behind it (along with the gate-crasher) has class and poise, though lacked the fireworks of a great vintage; Meyney is tight and poised, with some typical St Estèphe austerity. I missed this for Calon-Ségur, which I may have got completely wrong – this started very classy for me though seemed a little bit out of focus. That notwithstanding, these are decent wines though not exceptional by any means.
The Big Boys
There is a school of thought that suggests that, in truly great vintages, the pyramid of quality flattens out, viz. you can buy lower down the hierarchy whilst still getting the quality. 2010 Batailley, for example, is a better wine that pretty much anything Bordeaux produced in 2013. This school of thought may well be correct, but my view is that, in truly great vintages, the truly great wines can be off the charts in terms of quality. Anyone lucky enough to have tasted the very top wines of 2010 will concur with this.
In 2015, the top wines are all well within the charts. Haut-Brion is a humdinger; Ausone is quite exceptional. But I didn’t get a glimpse of my maker in any of the wines.
Haut-Brion, which was my pick, has an almost sexual (masculine) power to it. It is meaty, smoky, flashy and powerful. Viagra in Graves. Ausone, the group pick, is a more sensual, velvet, plush wine. It seduces. Mission, Cheval and Latour are close behind but, to be fair, it’s the closest of photo-finishes and – this is important – these wines aren’t made to show well blind at not even three years old. The only real disappointment, save for a faulty bottle of Le Pin, was Margaux. There is no denying that 2015 Margaux is rather good, it’s just not a 100 pointer, or at least it wasn’t last week.
Taken as a whole, 2015 is clearly better than 2014, which makes it the best vintage since 2010 (I’m not including 2016 here). That said, there are many wines on the left bank that I would love to taste next to their counterpart 2014s and I think that such a tasting might throw up a few surprises. On the right bank, and in Pomerol in particular, 2015 is clearly the superior year. Here’s what I’d buy:
Nailed the Scoop 6: Haut-Brion
Feeling Flush: Pichon-Lalande, Valandraud, VCC
Feeling moderately flush: Batailley, d’Issan, St Pierre
Bargain in the penthouse: Ségla: this should be released later this year.
I thank the team at Farr Vintners for hosting us, Messrs Blatch and Wakes-Miller for their exceptional work in Bordeaux, and my fellow tasters for having me. I apologise for not polishing enough glasses on the Thursday.
Back in the olden days, and the olden days are always the best ones (or, rather, were) my then employers were the UK representatives of one Mr Arnaud Ente. Burgundy was much more affordable in those days though sales of sought-after wines to staff were restricted. As such, my colleagues and I would buy Mr Ente’s Bourgogne Blanc at EP time, along with that of Leflaive and Fichet. They were good days.
Ente’s wines remained under the radar, and were sold to a small group of clients who knew exactly what they were doing, and to a luckier small group of clients who were well looked after by their account managers. And then, maybe a couple or three years ago, the prices started to explode. Wines that were a few hundred pounds per dozen on release were trading at a few thousand per dozen, and then – this is where the relative value bit starts to come in – they started trading at Coche-Dury levels.
Coche-Dury pricing has long been, well, elevated. It is now, with Ente, up there in the heavens. Village Meursault will set you back £400+ a bottle, the premier crus even more. Like Rousseau’s Clos St Jacques, these are wines that only those lucky enough to have an allocation of, or the very rich, will enjoy. Oh. And the very lucky. And that would be me. So: a small dinner at Noizé. Ente vs Coche. With my bottle of knackered Roulot.
Round one: 2008 Meursault, Ente vs 1996 Meursault, Coche-Dury
Well, these days a 1996 white Burgundy gets a round of applause just for being alive, so bravo.
Then the battle begins. The Ente shows exactly as it should do: all nervous energy, buzz, and razor-like precision. The intensity isn’t quite as over the top as it can be but this is a pristine example of just how good this man is. There is a hint of the vintage in its silk-lace acidity.
Then the Coche. I’m still genuinely impressed that it’s all in one piece, more so because it is so fresh. What is has on the Ente is complexity, which unravels with more time in the glass. This is seriously good. Why can’t all white Burgundy keep like this? An outstanding treat.
Sideshow Bob: 2006 Meursault Narvaux, Roulot
The question here is all about oxygen, the interaction of which with wine is key to all stages of the wine’s life. That white wines don’t seem to keep as well as they used to is well documented. That no one really knows why is rarely admitted (there is no one culprit; they are multiple). But at what stage is a bit of an oxidised character a fault in itself? Next to the Ente and the Coche this was knackered, or at least more developed than maybe it should have been. On its own, with a bit of chicken, it would have been perfect, fully mature, evenly developed white Burgundy. Herein lies one of the many challenges of judging wines.
Round two: 2007 Meursault, Caillerets, Coche-Dury vs 2008 Meursault, Sève du Clos, Ente
I’ve had both of these before. Both are impossibly rare (I had to look up the Caillerets last time I had it; it’s a tiny plot in the top left-hand corner of the eponymous Volnay vineyard) and both are impossibly good. Indeed both have prompted me to prose before: HERE and HERE
The Sève du Clos is, as with the 2008 Meursault, immediately Ente. Precision, edge, and that buzz of energy. The vines here are more than a century old, and that, rather than the terroir I reckon, is where the depth comes from. The flavour profile has just the one direction, though the power, weight and length are exceptional.
The Caillerets is as rare as the Sève du Clos. The last time I tasted it I was positively blown away. Second dates rarely have the impact of the first (unless, well, you know) and, initially, that was the case here. Though with time in the glass, this, and the Ente, developed and danced and slowly undressed. This has loosened up in the past couple of years but is still very intense, balletic, Meursault at its best.
We then moved to red. 1969 Clos de Bèze, Clair-Dau (knackered), then 1979 Musigny, Jean-Claude Boisset (corked, but you could see some real quality underneath). This made 2000 Echézeaux, Denis Mugneret the winner of the red Burgundies, though this is a good, rather than great wine.
2005 Rasteau from Gourt de Mautens followed. Blind, I was somewhere between very young and very posh Moulin à Vent or Côte-Rôtie, so not far off. I’d like to try this, or something else from the same producer, again.
Wine of the night, or at least the wine that I could have drunk all day, was 2002 Graacher Himmelreich Eiswein, J.J. Prum. Brilliant. Fresh, deep, grapey in the very best sense of the word, and a sweet wine that cleanses the palate rather than oils it. Perfect.
I thank my companions for their company and their impossibly generous vinous offerings.
Ordinarily, your chances of seeing me at a tasting of 48 white wines from the same producer would be somewhere between none and next to none. But this was a bit different. I have followed Kumeu for more than a decade, ever since I read somewhere about a bloke called Stephen Browett slipping this New Zealand Chardonnay into blind tastings of serious white Burgundy and the wine always holding its own and, moreover, frequently giving Batards, Chevaliers and Corton-Charlemagnes the tasting equivalent of a good kicking. So, whilst the thought of four flights of twelve wines (2006-2017 inclusive of the Estate Chardonnay and each of the three single vineyard wines, Coddington, Hunting Hill and Matés) was a little daunting, I was very pleased to be there.
There is more history to Kumeu River than you may imagine. The Brajkovich family arrived in New Zealand in 1937, and bought their first property in 1944. This was known as San Marino Vineyards until the mid-1980s, when the current range of Chardonnay was conceived. The current offering of the Estate Chardonnay and the three single vineyard wines has existed since 2006. I think that my point here is this: they have had some practice.
Herewith some thoughts:
We tasted 48 wines and there was not one dud. This doesn’t happen. Ever. Much of this is down to the screwlids, more of which later, though in terms of sheer quality as well as cleanliness there was not one wine that I wouldn’t like to have on my table tonight.
Screwlids: after flight one I remarked to a rather clever MW that I thought that the wines tasted as if they had been frozen for later use; as in “stick yourself in the deep freeze so that you can be brought back to life at a later date and fix you up”. His response put it better – it’s Hans Solo frozen in the carbonite. These wines will last and last. I couldn’t work out who Jabba the Hutt would be.
Screwlids part two: once we were on to the single vineyards, some development with age became clearer, though it appears to manifest itself in steps. As a generalisation, 2017 to 2014 taste like they were made yesterday, then there’s a step forward. 2013 is a little idiosyncratic, then 2012 to 2010 another step. Then 2009 to 2006 a little more. I asked Paul Brajkovich if they still experimented with cork and the answer was so direct as to border on the dismissive (of corks, not me, obv.): what became so clear with cork vs screwlid was that cork was SO inconsistent that it wasn’t even worth playing about with.
Style: a number of people that I know reckon that the wines from Boisson-Vadot are what you should be looking at if you like Coche-Dury and can’t afford it. For a while I agreed but I find the Boisson style a little aggressive, and the wines a little one-dimensional. If you want an affordable alternative to Coche then Kumeu is what you are after. Indeed I speculate that you could serve a 2010 or a 2015 Kumeu River Hunting Hill in a Coche-Dury bottle and your guests would be (a) none the wiser and (b) suitably impressed. It’s been a very long time since I tasted Coche-Dury Corton-Charlemagne but I reckon that a punchy vintage of Matés Vineyard could take it on. And Matés Vineyard is less than £300 a case, vs about £1,000+ for a single bottle of Coche Corton-Charlie.
Summary: these are quite brilliant wines. And they offer outstanding value for money. If they were from Burgundy they’d be double the price, and if they were from a fashionable domaine in Burgundy then they’d be four times the price. Of the 48 wines tasted, herewith a couple of favourites from each flight:
2015 Kumeu River Estate Chardonnay
“A touch of lemony punch on the nose. The beginnings of depth and maybe a touch of development. This is growing in the glass and is rather classy. Broad in the mouth with a touch of richesse. A touch of crackle. Long. This is very good. Goes on…”
2010 Kumeu River Estate Chardonnay
“A similar profile to the rest of the flight so far though this seems a little more complete on the nose. Still tight, though. Rich and punchy in the mouth. This is very complete and spot on right now. Steely. Very good.
2015 Kumeu River Coddington Chardonnay
“A step up from the Estate Chardonnay with an exotic, flamboyant character. This is more edgy than the wines that preceded it; the juicy fruit has a crackly, smoky edge. Rich and creamy. Plush. Very good.”
2010 Kumeu River Coddington Chardonnay
“Edgy again after the 2012 & 2011. And this feels like it’s holding back; there is more to come. Again there is a completeness to this – either in the wine or maybe it’s just that it’s spot on right now. Long. At a perfect stage.”
2015 Kumeu River Hunting Hill Chardonnay
“Restraint again. Very clean. Pure. A hint of lime. And punchy, buzzy fruit in the mouth. These are edgier than the Coddingtons. Very much a Coche, etc, style though this is more exotic. Seriously good.”
2010 Kumeu River Hunting Hill Chardonnay
“More development, more open, more smoke. And totally open in the mouth. Perfectly developed; at its jack-knife in the dive or the pheasant just crumpled in the air. Yes. Cracking.” – n.b.: I’m not a shooter but I have always admired this description of a perfect moment in time (though clearly not for the pheasant involved).
2017 Kumeu River Matés Vineyard Chardonnay
“This has a round, fruity, rich punch to it. The profile is very familiar but I can’t quite place it. Corton-Charlemagne? Rich and thick. This is very Burgundian. Very long indeed. Gosh.”
2006 Kumeu River Matés Vineyard Chardonnay
“As with the other wines this is the only one of the flight that is notably darker than the others though still very, very bright. The profile on the nose is distinctly mature. The most complete of the lot. Mature and lovely and perfect. Brilliant.”
Fin: it’s fair to say that I loved the 2015s and the 2010s. A much better taster than I noted a touch of CO2 on the 2015, which may well have been one of the attractions (a bit of fizz is often attractive) for me. I also may have overlooked the 2017s as they were the first in each flight, which isn’t always best. Throughout the range the Hunting Hill and the Matés are the clear superiors, though the Matés really is a biggy and needs food or time to enjoy it, probably both. The Coddington is the flamboyant, playful, juicy wine and the Estate Chardonnay is simply the opening expression of the Kumeu style, that style being so inimitably Burgundian that you could use these wines as evidence in the great terroir debate.
I thank Farr Vintners for hosting this (and inviting me) and Paul Brajkovich for presenting and, ultimately, making these fantastic wines. If you have not tried these then you are missing out.