Preceding the unusual Pinot Noir we tasted a Riesling, Martin Schaetzel’s Grand Cru Kaefferkopf Granit 2011. Richard purchased this wine during our visit to Alsace; I can remember him saying the wines were renowned for their acidity levels – which usually determines a long drinking window.
The pronounced lemon yellow colours held no trace of green and there was little evidence of its high alcohol level of 14%. Initially, the dominant bouquet was of more general stone fruit rather than the aromatic, kerosene Riesling smell, though this did develop later but not greatly. There was some acidity in this weighty wine and a fullness that (again) was more typical of southern rather than northern French. And, once more, there was a lack of obvious fruit but more a loosely defined richness in style.
Like the 2003 Bonnes-Mares, the 2011 wine was the result of a dry year with the resultant lowering of acidity levels and somewhat uncharacteristic style. Another good wine, well made if a little lacking in obvious charm.
[Richard: as Geoff says, this wine was brought from the maker, in Ammerschwihr, after a tasting. Around €18 a bottle. The Granit indicates, as you might expect, a soil type, although you can’t taste any minerality even assuming vines can pick up flavours from the underlying bedrock. Not all that typical – possible too old or not quite old enough – and it is certainly different from my memory of the tasting. I’d be interested to try a bottle in 10 years time.]
The majority of Les Bonnes-Mares vineyards sit in the Chambolle Musigny village boundary whose wines have a reputation for delicacy. However, Bonnes-Mares wines are described by Clive Coates as having a ‘worsted rather than silk and lace’ texture; ‘full, firm and sturdy, needing its time’ as the ‘tannic power can almost be too much’. If you take these general characteristics and add them to an exceptionally hot year (2003) the result is the wine we tried on Sunday. Domaine Drouhin-Larose own under 2 hectares of this Grand Cru burgundy and this certainly was atypical of the Pinot Noir style.
An intense, almost black colour was circled by a brownish rim, the nose was initially quite menthol (I originally suggested Syrah) but then changed to sweeter, vegetative notes with something of a medicinal quality.
The palate was meaty, savoury rather than fruity, deep and long with firm tannins – more north Rhone than north Burgundy (it must have been hot!). Trying to imagine the stereotypical cherry taste was difficult; this was a big wine in every sense. Beautifully made, however, its richness and generosity of flavour was wonderful to drink. This, I think could last another five years, it would be interesting to try it in 2020. Unfortunately there is no more.
[Richard: I forgot to take a photo of this one. A shame because the wine was atypically dark in the glass. From the no longer offered WS ‘mystery Burgundy’ cases. Purchased in 2009. Not sure of the price but I estimated £44 when received. A very enjoyable drink which would challenge a preconception that all burgundy is light, pale and ethereal. I was reminded of a Pommard we tasted some time ago. Meaty, savoury is right – and I hope there was no Syrah in it.]
The blend of white grapes Marsanne and Roussanne produces some fine wines in the northern Rhone. They are characterised as having big flavours with relieving acidity and yet a delicacy of perfume that is unique. These distinctive qualities were identified in Domaine Florentin’s Le Clos, a 2006 St Joseph (12.5%). Only 10% of St Joseph’s production of 5 million bottles is white.
The pale lemon/green colour suggested acidity which was confirmed on the nose. The initial impression was an apple acidity, rather than citrus, but this faded. What was obvious was a perfumed, floral quality to the nose. The palate was big in flavours, drying with the acidity coming through and finishing with an slight almond bitterness which was not unpleasant. Michel Chapoutier claims “The structure is the bittereness” when talking of the Marsanne grape.
This was a lovely wine – interesting, unusual and certainly not showing its 10 years.
[Richard, from Highbury Vintners, at a rather ambitious £23, although now sold out and BBR has the 2007 at the same price. Old white Rhones are not often found on-line so I thought this was worth a punt. Agree with Geoff’s comments and the wine held up well all evening.]
A few years ago Geoff and I attended a (paid for) wine tasting put on by the excellent Worth Brothers of Lichfield, held in a newly opened, and very stylish, Regency boutique hotel in the city. We were not much impressed with the wines, although the canapés were good, and the only bottle that has stuck with me was the D’Aussieres – because I’d bought a few bottles en primeur, doubtless seduced – as were those at the tasting – by the Rothschild name. We thought it was ordinary but I opened a bottle at the weekend and it was very good. The extra maturity had integrated the fruit and tannins to make a very appealing wine. And at £10 (in bond), a bargain. Incidentally if you are in Lichfield the WB shop is worth a visit. Some unusual and very good wines.
Having been rude about Chateauneuf de Pape, Sod’s law should dictate that I’ll soon after open a decent bottle – and so it proved. We abstain Monday to Wednesday so any wine opened on Sunday has to be carefully chosen if you think the bottle will be left unfinished. A 14.5% CdP? Perfect. The Mont-Redon (WS £18) was drinking well on the Sunday. Four days on (under a vacuum seal), much the same – powerful, some fruit, quite savoury, very drinkable.
Finally, after the boring Co-Op Rioja, I got back on track with an old school star. The Riscal is thin but savoury in the way the only old Rioja seems to achieve. Long, of course, with plenty of interesting flavours and a fabulous nose, better to induce another mouthful. Not sure where I bought it from, possibly MWW who have later vintages. Classy wine, apart from the very crumbly cork.
One of my selections from the Co-op Fine Wine rack was from the Thelema Vineyard. These vineyards are just to the north-east of Stellenbosch, under the Simonsberg mountain in South Africa’s most well-established wine region. Previously noted for Chenin Blanc, there is now greater diversity into Cab. Savs, Merlots, Shiraz, Sauvignon Blanc – and this Chardonnay. The area is described as being cooler with well-drained soils.
The colour was an attractive very pale lemon with green hints. There was a lime/lemon bouquet balanced by a slight oakiness – both delicate and well-defined. This balance was continued in a palate of medium-weight, refreshing acidity and slight creaminess. The finish was long and dry but, as Richard noted, there was a final sweet touch. It was definitely Burgundian in style, the Cote de Beaune Burgundies rather than the riper flavours of further south. It hadn’t got the hard edge I can sometimes detect in south African wines
At a shade over £9 this was excellent value. It would match lighter flavoured white meat dishes, fish and cheese very well.
[Richard: I’ve always liked Thelma reds and this was equally nice, with a touch of distinctiveness – something my choices lacked.]
I’ve bought a lot of wine from co-ops in France, some of it very classy like that from Hunawihr. And, if the wine is ordinary, at least it is cheap and not too alcoholic so perfect for holidays. But, looking back I can recall just one instance of buying wine from The Co-operative in the last forty odd years. Lots of reasons – not often reviewed, no big shop nearby and, of course a perception that the wines are average at best.
However Geoff and I were en route to Tamworth and called into a large Co-op in Lichfield. A smallish fine wine section – rather claret dominated I thought, and 15% off any four wines, so we took the plunge. Not easy to find reviews on line but Supermarket Wine gave me some ideas.
There of the four are shown above (the fourth was a Savennieres, not yet tried). All were, I’m afraid, rather ordinary. The champagne (£25, less 15%) was the greatest disappointment since it is the one Co-op wine that is consistently well reviewed, especially in the non-vintage version (this was the 2006). A few 2004s were in stock, perhaps I should have gone for one of them but the bottles looked rather tatty. Anyway pleasant, good mousse but not very long and without much character.
All I could find out about the chianti was a favourable mention of the producer (not the wine) by the Observer wine critic (not someone I rate) but this was dull, lacking even a faint hint of sangiovese. Just about acceptable with a mid-week pizza but not worth £10 (less 15%). The ‘chianti minefield’ exposed again.
Finally the Rioja. I’ve included a shot of the neck label since, as you can see, Decanter gave it 95+ points, a ludicrous score. There are several suggested reasons for this on Cellar Tracker – most of them borderline libellous. I couldn’t possibly comment on that but this is an inoffensive red in the modern style. Also overpriced at (I think) £11 etc but I’m not sure as the Co-op website, uniquely in my experience, doesn’t list the wines it sells.
So, looks like another forty years – I should live so long – before the next visit.
If you follow professional wine critics, in the broadsheets say, or in wine magazines, you will invariably hear, on repeated occasions, two things that they all consider to be indisputable truths.
The first is that half bottles are ‘useful’. Can’t see it myself. Better to open a full bottle and drink over two days. Saves money as well as giving you an different perspective on the wine.
The second truth is that membership of the Wine Society (WS) is a good thing and well worth the £40 (actually £20 since you get a £20 credit) it costs for lifelong membership. I’ve been a member for about 7 years and have spent a lot of money with the Society. But are they necessarily better than independent wine merchants?
On its website the WS offers six reasons to join. Of these, only one is of any real substance. That is that, since the WS is owned by the members, any profits will be used to reduce prices and enhance services. This is a very difficult claim to test since different sellers stock different wines. At best I’d say – no more expensive than anyone else with, as everywhere, some poor quality/value wines and some bargains. However the website is pretty good, but not perfect (the reviewed wines list could be much longer, no members’s forum), as is the delivery service, with a low spend needed to get free delivery. The WS is also very quick to refund money if you feel a bottle is not right or poor value.
Some claims are made for the benefits of mutuality. Apart from price the others are those offered by any independent, except for in-house delivery. In practice the WS behaves like a private company. Membership involvement is, apart from the AGM, non-existent. There are a handful of co-opted members but the WS is not interested in the ‘enthusiastic amateur’, as the Chairman put it in her last Annual Report. Experienced businessmen (yes, they are all white males) preferred.
So – worth it or not? For the small sum of money involved – certainly. You’ll get access to a wide range of mostly interesting wines which will be reasonably priced and promptly delivered. Taken together that makes them better than any independent. But you are more shareholder then member.