Monday, September 22, 2014

Bionzo journalism

La Spinetta Bionzo Barbera d'Asti 2005

Barbera can be really lovely: tangy and savoury and deliciously acidic. But most examples we have seen here have been of the "super-Barbera" variety which was intended as a more serious wine. Serious, sadly, generally means that oak and extraction have been pushed up and that elegance, varietal expression and, most crucially, drinkability have been obliterated.

Barbera is generally considered a relatively early-drinking grape variety so I was interested in trying an example of the super-Barbera -style with a bit of bottle age. Had it morphed into something interesting? Had the oak integrated and the extraction lessened? Had the varietal aromatics breached the oak-sea? Had it become drinkable?

No, no, no and no.

This was kind of a sucky wine.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Potassium Syrah wasn't quite Oxygen Potassium

K Vintners Milbrandt Syrah 2011 - Wahluke Slope, Columbia Valley, Walla Walla, Washington
14% abv

Seems like a fairly standard new world Syrah: it doesn't go to any extremes yet does tone down the grape's meaty, gamy aromas to make it something quite neutral.

There's a fair bit of toasty oak on the nose and lots of sweet, bright fruit. It isn't quite jammy but is a bit too close for comfort.

The palate is fairly innocuous as well. Plenty of sweet fruit, not too much concentration or structure.

The whole is safe. And quite frankly, the result of so many safety features in a single wine is boredom.

Monday, September 15, 2014

I won't be Ruchéng out to get more

Montalbera Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato DOGC "Laccento" 2012

This was a bit weird. It smelled very sweet and raisiny and despite some attractive herbal tea aromas, it wasn't a refreshing scent. The palate, also, was pretty sweet and raisiny but at least had a good level of density - i.e. it wasn't thick and syrupy but was fairly light on its feet - and had a touch of structure. But it is a weird wine. I haven't had many Ruchés before but none were like this. If there's such a thing as Light Coke, this was like Light Amarone. As a whole, it's not unpleasant, but neither is it hugely interesting or memorable.

So I went to Alko's website and they describe this as made from 95% over-ripe and 5% under-ripe grapes. Why? Why not just pick grapes when they're ripe instead of making a raisiny mess and correcting it with a bit of under-ripe grapes?

When grapes go past a certain level of ripeness they cease to show varietal character and instead all grapes merge toward a raisiny style. This is what has happened here, methinks.

And the worst part is that once again Alko has shown that it doesn't really care to get diversity on its shelves. It cares only for the lowest common denominator and got an easy, unrepresentative wine - but since its from a rare grape it must be interesting. Alko: when will you understand that what is on the label isn't enough? You have failed again.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Pégaü-boo, I see you!

I've long tried to learn to like Southern Rhônes. It's been difficult but some fantastic bottles have kept up my hope that I would eventually begin to understand this area. I remember reading that Pégaü makes a relatively traditional style of CdP (is that true? who else makes a traditional style?) so when the opportunity came to buy a bottle I did.

Pégaü Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Réservée 2011
Infanticide. But what I liked about it is that it almost smells of Musar. It doesn't have Musar's volatility nor do I have to look at my soles to see if I've stepped in something canine though there is a slight stink to it, but otherwise the aromas of ripe but savoury, sunny fruit are similar. There's more to this than jammy fruit, in other words. But it is also rich and ripe and low in acidity - but at least it has some tannin so it can't be classed among the invertebrates.

It's that extra dose of acidity and volatility that makes young Musar so moreish to me and since those are lacking, I must confess I found this good and interesting (not in the euphemistic sense of being bad) but two small glasses were enough for me. However, unlike with many other S. Rhônes I've tried, I can see myself enjoying this one tremendously once the fruit fades a bit. I suspect once that happens, I'd happily drink Musarish quantities of this!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Erbaluce and Weißer Burgunder

Here are a couple more leftovers from an AOC51 tasting. These were tasted on day two open, but were still very vibrant and showed no adverse effects from exposure to air.

Favaro Erbaluce di Caluso Le Chiusure 2013
I have never tried the white Piemontese grape Erbaluce before. This wasn't a passito style sweet wine though most references I have seen of the grape are such; this was a dry table wine. It smells very strongly of lees. And with a citric, appley, petrichor aroma in addition to the leesyness, this seems almost like Muscadet. Very tasty wine.

Kranz Weißer Burgunder Trocken 2012
This was an attractive Palatinate Pinot Blanc. This is a delicately floral wine but with plenty of pure, elegant fruit. Citric and bracing despite the purity of fruit. Piercing, biting style despite some richness and weight. Good stuff!

Friday, September 5, 2014

SFJoe, AOC 51, Catherine Bernard Baudry

AOC51 - a brilliant newish importer - once again dropped by the bookshop and gave me some leftovers from a tasting. This is of course brilliant and wonderfully generous but what made it even more special was that there was a pretty good amount of a Baudry Chinon there. And I had just heard the news that internet wine personality SFJoe had passed away. The first discussion I remember having with SFJoe was on the perception of acidity and his clear explanation on the chemistry of wine acidity. The second discussion I had with him was about Loire Cab Franc and he mentioned one name with such enthusiasm that it stuck with me through all these years: Bernard Baudry. I've been hoping to try some ever since. And now that I did, I wish I could tell SFJoe that he was right. I did love this wine.

It's strange how the passing of someone one only knows from the internet can make one so moody. But perhaps with SFJoe it isn't so strange: his online personality was kind, helpful, warm-hearted and humorous. His infinite patience in explaining the chemistry of wine to a layperson like myself in several emails was just astonishing.

Bernard Baudry Chinon Les Granges 2012 - 12% abv
And this is just a lovely Chinon. It's a really pure Cab Franc aroma, light, juicy and aromatic; but also savoury and structured enough. It's green in all the good ways. And it evaporates terribly quickly. This is supposedly not even one of Baudry's best wines, but it seems pretty perfect to me.

Oh yeah, it's almost an afterthought after the emotional Baudry, but the Catherine Bernard VdP de l'Hérault 2012 was a very decent drop, too. It is a lovely and refreshing drop for a southern wine. It is very moderate in alcohol for such a southern blend (12,8% abv) but the sunny fruit is there. But it's not sugary sweet, which is IMO only a good thing, nor is it super ripe, rather it's a refreshing, savoury kind of fruit - the kind that forces me to take another sip. Nice!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Pachyderm elegance

I was persuaded to attend a small gathering where we opened two "top" Chileans. Scare quotes, because I must confess that these two weren't really all that great. And that was an understatement like saying that the hurricane Katrina was a gentle breeze.

Viña Maipo Alto Tajamar 2009 - D.O. Buin, Valle del Maipo, Chile; c.80€; 14,5% abv
82% Syrah; 18% Cabernet Sauvignon

There's much wood, much roasted and raisiny fruit; it's inky, there's not much refreshing character here, it's thick and clunky and heavy and ponderous and fat and has pachyderm elegance.

Montes Alpha M 2010 - D.O. Santa Cruz, Chile; c.70€; 14,5% abv
Mostly Cabernet Sauvignon with Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, too.

The same. So identical that it's enormously difficult to tell these two wines apart. And that's a bit weird if one's based on Syrah and the other on Cabernet Sauvignon.

I wonder why so much of what comes from Chile tastes pretty much identical? Similar vinous practices? Same yeasts used for everything? It seems to me like there is one idea of what wine should taste like and every winery no matter what the grape makes that style. And I think the ideal they seem to be aiming for is a thing of the past: big oak, big ripeness, bold but anonymous flavours aren't really what winos seem to want these days.