Tanners Wines Blog
As David Ling of Hugel explained, you have to understand that Alsatians (the people) are 100% French with a 150% ‘germanic’ mentality and a 200% dedication to Alsace. It’s quite a small region to visit, caught between the Vosges mountains to the West and the Rhine (and Black Forest) looming to the East. The centre is the picture-postcard lovely town of Colmar, with the main winery based villages dotted along the slopes to its west side. ‘Disneyfied’ may say the cruel, but this is an area that thrives on (mainly German and French) tourism, and the brightly painted, scrupulously clean environment packs in the coach parties. A leafy green backdrop of vines provides the perfect foil before the belt of woodland that disappears into the hills.
Supported by a group of intrepid doctors, the Charles Hastings Wine Club, I visited four producers in three days – a comfortable, if quite predictable exposure to the best that Alsace has to offer. We started with the Cooperative at Pfaffenheim, moved on to Hugel at Riquewihr, then Schlumberger at Guebwiller and finally Domaine Bruno Sorg at Eguisheim. Four quite different visits, four quite different takes on the same varieties; effectively we were comparing the merits of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Riesling and Gewurztraminer in the hands of different winemakers – and from different soils and slopes.
There are some generalisations to be made however...
Worthy, never showy, a well-textured white that tends to fill the mouth without bowling you over with individuality of flavour. I like the clean lines of Pinot Blanc Classic from Hugel which is a well-priced staple.
Originally Tokai Pinot Gris (the Tokai dropped to avoid confusion with Hungarian Tokaji), this is much more characterful with more aroma, depth of flavour and a ripe, spicy edge to it. A fuller style than many French whites from other regions, it reminds you why Pinot Grigio is so popular. Sorg’s 2011 is juicy and drinkable, Les Princes Abbés 2011 from Schlumberger felt very complete and balanced, only topped by their grand cru wines.
Classy, fuller and drier than the German counterparts to the East, we felt the best are certainly those from the ‘grand cru’ vineyards – pricier but invariably a big step up in quality. Although we didn’t visit, Ehrhart’s Grand cru Kaefferkopf is a very pure style, while the stars that we tasted include two grand crus from Sorg, Floriment and Pfersigberg which are sited above Eguisheim.
So aromatically enticing, provided the rose-petal doesn’t overpower you first, it was encouraging to taste numerous examples which were well-balanced with enough acidity to keep them fresh. Impressively on-form I felt, and much more enjoyable than I remembered. Pfaffenheim’s Gewurztraminer 2012 is quite fat and round, a good start before taking on world-beaters from Hugel and Schlumberger, who’s Grand cru Kessler is frankly outstanding
Vendange Tardive and Selection des Grains Nobles are simply delicious; concentrated and with intense sweetness but with fresh acidity and a density that again you don’t always see in Germany. They are a price however, and prohibitive for many if you are in a restaurant. We baulked a little at paying 200 euros a bottle…
Overall impressions? There is more intensity of flavour, more depth and ‘fullness’ in the wines of Alsace than you’ll find in comparably priced wines in other regions. But it’s a small region producing hand-crafted wines in mostly small lots (and we visited two major players in Hugel and Schlumberger) so the price is relatively high. The Germanic twist is interesting, and all-pervading. I found an ‘oompah band’ playing in Eguisheim on Sunday morning, and despite rucks of tourists clogging the place up, the locals are terribly polite and helpful. There is an absence of untidiness; no half-finished buildings for example. The food varies from solid, unremarkable germanically named tourist fodder to some outrageously good, French based cuisine. Choucroute /Saurkraut and five types of pig can render you immoveable, yet a simple Flammekueche, a sort of thin crust pizza, is perfect lunchtime fare with a glass of wine. http://www.getalsaced.com/alsatian-specialties.html will explain more. Alsace is a lovely visit, perfect for a long weekend – but make it on the fringe of the tourist season!
Take a look at my video clip of our bike tour of Alsace...
This post was posted in Tanners News, Tanners Trips and was tagged with Alsace, Charles Hastings Wine Club, Domaine Bruno Sorg, Ehrhart, Gewürztraminer, Hugel, Pfaffenheim, Pinot Blanc, pinot gris, Riesling, Schlumberger, Wine, Wine Tourism
A visit to Bordeaux in late September gave me a welcome blast of 28-degree heat and a chance to assess the coming 2013 vintage.
Late September would normally see the harvest already bubbling away in the cellars. Not a bit of it, poor Spring weather caused havoc in terms of frost and hail which wreaked huge damage across the region, in the worst cases stripping as much as 80% of the crop. Those vines that managed to recover and produce more buds are being given as much time to achieve maximum ripeness as possible, hence the delayed picking. They call it ‘hang time’, the grape delivering its best results when it’s in contact with the ‘mother ship’ for as long as possible to develop a wide panoply of flavours. Not always achievable when the summer is overly hot (i.e. the summer of 2003 when grapes were harvested in mid-August), producing wonderfully ripe flavours without necessarily the complexity that cooler vintages can produce. You can only play with the cards that Mother Nature deals and Bordeaux, especially the more wealthy Châteaux, has the ability and experience to make the very best of what’s available.
Anyway, let’s taste some wine. First stop Montagne Saint-Emilion and the excellent estate of Château Montaiguillon. I was welcomed by cellar master Benoit Modet who filled me in on the approaching harvest, aimed at 2nd week of October for the Merlot-dominated crop. Quality was expected to be good although about 30% down on quantity, following on from 2 successive low yields in 2011 and 2012. Montaiguillon always succeed in producing hugely drinkable wines that can be enjoyed early, I tasted:
- Château Montaiguillon 2009 (60% Merlot 10% Cabernet Sauvignon 30% Cabernet Franc) Very supple and ripe.
- Château Montaiguillon 2010 (70% Merlot 20% Cabernet Franc and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon) Altogether a more enjoyable glass that will reward keeping, concentrated, supple and soft.
- Château Montaiguillon 2011 Well-rounded and fruity, to be enjoyed ideally before the 2010
Adieu to Benoit and on to Château Puy-Blanquet in Saint-Emilion. I was met by Anne Neel, one of the owners of the Château, and Pierre Meunier, winemaker. A tour of the estate followed and it was evident that much investment was being made, from re-planting old and tired vines to modifications in the winery. Interestingly, they only use cement fermentation vats here, no stainless steel as a matter of preference. They have a beautiful vineyard with fabulous views of the undulating countryside that sets the area apart from the contrasting Médoc on the Left Bank.
- Puy-Blanquet has been a regular in the Tanners en-primeur offer for many years and has proved extremely popular. I tasted the 2012 vintage, which was about to be bottled. Soft fruit, fine tannins and a rounded finish.
On Tuesday 24th September, we headed off to Pessac-Léognan to visit Château Fieuzal, an estate that has had new life breathed into it by the Irish duo Brenda and Lochlann Quinn. The immaculate winery is fresh, modern and decorated in colours more often found on the walls of fashionable city apartments, Farrow and Ball à la Français! The rest of the cellars are spick and span boasting the first circular barrel store that I’ve encountered, wow! An estate that needs watching for sure, great wines and the most perfect place to visit. Winemaker, Stephen Carrier, has worked wonders on the wines, we tasted.
- La Belle de Fieuzal Blanc 2012 (35% Sauvignon 65% Sémillon)
- Château de Fieuzal Blanc 2009 (70% Sauvignon 30% Sémillon)
- La Belle de Fieuzal Rouge 2011 (65% Merlot 35% Cabernet Sauvignon) Excellent
- Château de Fieuzal 2010 (65% Cabernet Sauvignon 35% Merlot) Very good structure
And north to the Haut-Médoc, first stop Mouton-Rothschild, the grand Château that has just completed a major new winery development (I’ve never seen such a big door!), 80 hectares producing 200,000 bottles of le Grand Vin and 100,000 bottles of Petit Mouton. We were treated to a tour, which was somewhat corporate but enjoyable none the less, and to finish a taste of :
- Mouton Rothschild 2012 (90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot and 2% Cabernet Franc). Fabulously rich, dense and juicy but patience is required to get your money’s worth from this vinous beast... that is if you’re intending to drink or sell!
From Pauillac a short journey to Saint-Estèphe and the 82 hectare estate of Château Cos D’Estournel boasting an equally splendid new cellar. Since 1790, Cos has been sold all over the world and particularly India, a trade association which has been made obvious at the Château with pieces of architecture and furnishings from the sub-continent. The most amazing front door was acquired from a Maharaja’s palace, even down to the metal spikes adorning it, which apparently were to stop elephants pushing at the door. The appearance of the Château is intriguing; somewhat like a film set which definitely sets a unique atmosphere.
In the cellar, I was shown the gravity fed system of wine making which the Château has always championed, absolutely no mechanical pumping to ensure that there is minimum oxidation. As for the wines they were pretty good too. I tasted:
- Goulée 2011 (80% Sauvignon Blanc 20% Sémillon)
- Les Pagodes 2008 (53% Merlot 45% Cabernet Sauvignon 2% Petit Verdot)
- Cos D’Estournel 2008 (85% Cabernet Sauvignon 13% Merlot 2% Cabernet Franc) Stunning but keep for 15 years minimum!
- Château Cos D’Estournel 1998
- Château Giscours 2003 in Magnum
- Château Palmer 2005
These demonstrated the quality that good producers can achieve from varying vintages, Cos was the high point for me. (Fortunately I was sitting close to a generous table who could afford them!)
Château Cissac has been a regular on the Tanners list for many years. The style has become much more suited to earlier drinking in recent years thanks to a change in the wine making style: ripe fruit and soft tannins to the fore. On Wednesday 25th September, we visited the 58 hectare property which produced 20,000 bottles in 2009, 18,000 in 2010 and 17,000 in 2012. The likelihood was that 2013 figure would continue the trend. Again picking was delayed for 2 to 3 weeks into October.
Cissac is a Cru Bourgeois, a classification that is now verified every 5 years and re-assessed on quality. We tasted:
- Château de Breuil 2011. 40% Merlot, 55% Cabernet Sauvignon 5% Petit Verdot.
- Château Cissac 2009 Excellent
- Château Cissac 2010 A move up from the 2009
- Château Cissac 2011 Recently bottled and needs to settle
Interestingly the Château was involved in supplying Gordon & Macphail, whisky brokers with barrels for Bordeaux Wood Whisky. Watch this space!
On to Château Angludet, a 30-hectare estate in Margaux owned by the Sichel family who are also part owners of Château Palmer. Ben Sichel was my host; he made a point of emphasising the sole use of cement epoxy tanks, a trend that many winemakers are re-visiting.
Ben took time to explain his experimentation into different types of oak barrel, a fascinating study in terms of examining just what each type of oak brings to the finished wine. Whilst I was unable to try any comparisons, he did conduct an interesting comparative tasting between Petit Verdot, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon from the 2008 vintage. The individual characteristics were evident in the full-flavoured, tannic Petit Verdot, the juicy fruit Merlot and the structured, assertive Cabernet, the trick is blending them in the right quantity, which is where a bit of experience helps. We also tasted:
- Château Angludet 2011 Fine, juicy style
- Château Angludet 2009 Intensely flavoured, far too young
- Château Angludet 2007 Open style, ready for drinking
- Château Angludet 2005 Round and full, needs 5 years
Our final stop was at Château Cantemerle a 94 hectare estate in Macau. It is a wonderful estate that has all the breeding and stature of a traditional château. We tasted:
- Les Allées de Cantemerle 2010 (87% Cabernet Sauvignon 13% Merlot)
- Château Cantemerle 2006 (40% Cabernet Sauvignon 44% Merlot 7% Petit Verdot 9% Cabernet Franc)
- Château Cantemerle 2010 (52% Cabernet Sauvignon 35% Merlot 5% Petit Verdot 8% Cabernet Franc)
- Château Cantemerle 2012 (56% Cabernet Sauvignon 36% Merlot 6% Petit Verdot 2% Cabernet Franc)
2013 will be a difficult year producing a smaller quantity of varying degrees of quality. The later harvest will help to rescue a little more ripeness although we will have to wait and see the results in the spring. White wines will certainly suffer as most quantity comes from the South, which experienced the worst of the weather.
And as for Bordeaux itself, if you haven’t been you must! The most delightful city that has been cleaned up and offers so much to keep you interested for however long you’ve got!
This post was posted in En Primeur, Tanners Trips and was tagged with 2013, Adrian Patterson, Anne Neel, Benoit Modet, Bordeaux, Bordeaux 2013, Château Angludet, Château Cantemerle, Chateau Cissac, Château Cos D’Estournel, Château Montaiguillon, Château Palmer, Château Puy-Blanquet, Haut Medoc, Margaux, Médoc, Montagne Saint Emilion, Mouton-Rothschild, Pauillac, Pessac-Léognan, Pierre Meunier, Saint-Emilion, Saint-Estephe, Sichel
Our flagship branch in Wyle Cop, Shrewsbury, is almost as famous for the window display as it is for our wine, so the pressure to come up with an eye-catching theme every time can be quite daunting.
With an Italian wine promotion coming up, Helen Chaudron, who designs our window displays, wanted to create something simple but typically Italian and came up with an idea of including iconic Italian ‘Lambretta’ or ’Vespa’ scooters, little imagining that it might be actually possible to borrow some for six weeks!
Hoping Radio Shropshire DJ, Jim Hawkins, might be able to put a plea out on his show, Jim came up with a better idea - The Severnside Lions Scooter Club which is based in Shrewsbury. With the deadline for the start of the Italian wine promotion fast approaching Helen e.mailed the Scooter Club and lo and behold, Jerry Kurek e.mailed straight back with an offer of help!
Two beautiful scooters duly arrived the very next day and have created a lot of comments from passers-by – everyone wants to own one! In recognition of their help, we have given the Club a case of Tanners Claret to help with its 2014 fundraising activities.
Anyone with an interest in Italian scooters should definitely contact the club through their website, www.severnsidelionsscooterclub.com as it has a fantastic membership and a wonderful collection of scooters, they are a great bunch. Jerry Kurek, from the scooter club told us he thinks the window is ‘ace’ and that they have had quite a lot of people get in touch to find out more about them.