This week we had a fascinating tasting that pitted a line up of Astrolabe wines against some of the European counterparts. Of course, different producers from the same region, working with the same varieties will still create a multitude of different wine styles. As such, a comparative tasting like this is really just a bit of fun rather than an attempt to find definitive answers to any ‘Which region wins?’ questions. In saying that, we did try to choose European wines that could be called typical of their region so that we could have a good comparison to the styles Astrolabe produces from Marlborough.
We kicked things off with a pair of Pinot Gris’. The Astrolabe Kekerengu 2012 and the Schoffit 2009 from Alsace. Age was obviously a factor in comparing these two, but it was interesting to also see the differing styles. The Astrolabe was pale, racy and fresh, fairly dry with a nice mineral streak. The Schoffit on the other hand was a deeper gold with less fruit and almost musky aromas. Broader and weightier, the greater residual sugar added to the sense of fullness. Both delicious in their own ways.
Next up were two of the most interesting wines of the night, the Astrolabe Wrekin Vineyard Chenin Blanc 2011 (Astrolabe’s first release of this variety) and Domaine des Aubuisieres Vouvray Cuvee de Silex 2011. These two werepossibly more interesting for their similarities than their differences. Both showed classic Chenin characters with the Aubuisieres being slightly more smoky and flinty and a bit softer than it’s Marlbrough counterpart. The Astrolabe was a stunner and showed what great potential there is for this grape in New Zealand when given all the TLC this Astrolabe one was.
Two very different wines were the Astrolabe Awatere Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2012 and the Vieux Preche Sancerre 2011. The Awatere wine had a classic Marlbrough Sauv nose, very herbaceous with loads of green capsicum, while the Sancerre was subtle, smoky, mineral and dry, not at all what we’d consider typical Sauvignon characters in New Zealand.
The Astrolabe Chardonnay 2010 showed riper fruit characters than the Girardin St Aubin Premier Cru burgundy, but they weren’t too dissimilar in style, both having a nice creamy character with a hint of toasty oak.
More of a contrast was to be found with the two Pinot Noirs tasted. Astrolabe’s 2010 was sweet-fruited with ripe cherry and plum aromas, medium-bodied in quite an easy-drinking style. The Girardin Volnay Vieilles Vignes 2010 on the other hand was much sturdier and more savoury, though still fairly lush for Burgundy, with lovely floral notes.
All in all, this was an intriguing tasting that truly showed that the old new-world/old-world debate is not at all clear cut. The Astrolabe wines easily held their own against their European counterparts, but it was hard to pick a clear winner in any of the pairings.
A new producer for us this year, Ca’ Rugate is based in Montecchia di Crosara, in northern Italy’s Veneto region, around 20km northeast of Verona. Soave and Valpolicella are the major players here and Ca’ Rugate produce several wines from both of these areas.
The winery’s history dates to the early 1900’s when Amedeo Tessari began selling wine from his family’s production through a small osteria. The First World War put things on hold until the 1930’s when Amedeo’s son, Fulvio took over. He continued the work begun by his father, buying some of the top vineyard land in the area. Over the next forty years, much of the production was sold to local co-ops, with just some retained for the family’s own production. Then, in the 1970’s, Fulvio shifted his focus to producing his own, top quality wines and founded Azienda Agricola Tessari Fulvio. In the 1980’s, Fulvio’s eldest son Amedeo (2.0) joined the family business and Ca’ Rugate was born, the name coming from the hills where the house and the vineyards of the Estate are located.
The main variety grown at Ca’ Rugate is the white, Garganega, the principal grape in Soave. Ca’ Rugate produce several wines based Garganega, from the classic, crisp and dry stainless-steel fermented Soave Classico San Michele, to the more structured, oak-influenced Soave Classico Monte Alto and the Studio, an oak-aged Garganega/Trebbiano blend sold as an IGT.
The reds are all Valpolicella, made from similar blends of the Italian grapes Corvina, Rondinella and Corvinone. The differences come from selection in the vineyard and their treatment in the winery. The regular Valpolicella is fermented and matured in stainless-steel, producing a fruit-driven, lighter style red. Though a fairly new style in the grand scheme of things (the first commercially marketed example being from the 1980’s), Valpolicella Ripasso has become one of the unique and defining wine styles of the Veneto. The wine is left to macerate along with the skins of the same year’s Amarone wine, boosting the body, alcohol and phenolic compounds in the wine and therby adding complexity, colour and flavour. Ca’ Rugate’s Ripasso is made from the same blend as the regular Valpolicella and is aged 50% oak tonneaux and 50% stainless steel for about 8 months.
Amarone della Valpolicella is another of the regions distinctive wines and is truly unique. Typically Amarone is high in alcohol, colour and ripeness, characteristics usually found in wines from warm climates like Australia where grapes achieve high levels of sugars. But Valpolicella is a cool climate, so the high sugar-levels required for these big, full-bodied wines are achieved in a different way. Grapes for Amarone are the last to be picked, allowing maximum ripeness, then the grapes are left to slowly dry in special drying rooms for a period of months before fermentation. This drying process shrivels the grapes, lowering their water content and concentrating the sugars, while maintaining the higher acidity of these cool-climate grapes. These big wines are generally aged for long periods before bottling. The grapes for Ca’ Rugate’s Amarone della Valpolicella are dried for around 5 months and the resulting wine is aged between 2 and 3 years before being bottled.
We’ve brought in a selection of wines from Ca’ Rugate this year, including Soave, Valpolicella, Ripasso and Amarone. See the full range of wines available at here.
Having just returned from two weeks in Southern Italy I was struck by the fact that I had had no meat meals. That combined with the 35 degree heat meant we had drunk mostly white wine with our food. Normally one does not associate Southern Italy with crisp whites but more commonly with big juicy reds.
Altitude in the south pays a crucial part in white wine production. There are parts of Sicily (on the side of Mt Etna) which harvest later than the cool Northern vineyards of Piedmont. I was particular struck by the fine Fiano, Falanghina and Greco di Tufo whites from Campania. They were beautifully clean, minerally, very taut wines that combined superbly with the huge array of fish on offer. We will be bringing a range of these in next year as I think these pure unoaked white wine styles may take hold. Think of these as an Italian version of Chablis without the hefty price tag.
Of the reds the Nero D’Avola/Frappato blends of Sicily and Aglianicos of Campania stood out for me. Again the heat and stifling humidity dictated what we drank. Time and again I was presented with a red that was so warm all the delicate aromas simply dissipated and you were left with this jammy alcoholic nose. The trick here (one I learnt in Rioja) is to ask for an ice bucket and stick the red in it. The waiter will think you are a new world barbarian (at least we did not smoke over our meals). What the cooling does is to make the wine much fresher and aromas more delicate and fruity. Sometimes people forget wine is a beverage and as such it needs to be refreshing to drink. So next time we get one of those steaming days in summer (a rarity I know) stick your red in the fridge for a short time and see how much more drinkable it is.
On the food side it is always a revelation what the Italians do with fish. Nothing is wasted and it is presented very simply. Freshness is everything. In New Zealand we don’t always make the most of our incredible bounty. For example, there is very little oily fish on offer at home. As soon as I see fresh sardines or anchovies on the menu I make a beeline for them. Lots of squid, octopus and swordfish were also prevalent. The mussels which are tiny were tasty, but not a patch on our ones. Of course they have the most flavoursome tomatoes which make a great sauce with these foods.
We just landed a new container loaded full of Spanish, German, French and Italian wines. Here are a few of the new things in store now!
On Monday night we were treated to a tasting from one of New Zealand’s most highly regarded producers, Felton Road. We tried their 2011 Dry and Bannockburn Rieslings, and the 2011 ‘Elms’ and Bannockburn Chardonnays before moving on to the variety they’re most well-known for, Pinot Noir. We tried the 2011 Bannockburn and Cornish Point versions, both fabulous wines, then were lucky enough to taste a mini-vertical of the 2011, 2010 and 2009 ‘Block 3′. The tasting reaffirmed Felton Road’s reputation as one of New Zealand’s Pinot Noir masters. See below for a few photos from the night.
A bunch of lucky folks packed in to Caro’s last night for our Brunello di Montalcino and Super-Tuscan (and Chianti Classico to be completely accurate) tasting. We were treated to a really great line up of wines from the 2007 vintage. Six different Brunello producers’ wines were included along with Fontodi’s Vigna del Sorbo Chianti Classico Riserva and La Massa’s Giorgio Prima.
It was an interesting lineup. With almost all of the wines at a similar level (at least price-wise) it was a great opportunity to see the influence of terroir and winemaking at work.
We started with Brunello before moving into the Cabernet and Merlot influenced Fontodi and La Massa. First up, the Argiano which was fairly light-bodied with a bit of smoke and leather on the nose. This had a lovely contrast between sweet fruit and slightly tart, refreshing acidity.
Moving on to the Il Poggione, this seemed much more modern in style. Riper and richer with deeper colour too. Mouth-coating and plush but with big tannic structure.
The Poggio Antico up next seemed slightly more muted in comparison with less complexity though it was still delicious.
Lisini’s offering had a cooler nose with some nice dried herb notes adding interest. Medium-bodied with lovely balance and nice acidity too, this seemed more traditional in style.
The Fuligni was one of the wines of the night, striking just the right balance between ripe fruit, tannin and acidity. Plush without being over the top, this was also super complex with lovely hints of licorice and mushroom.
The Costanti was another star. Bigger and fuller, this had a very deep, rich nose with quite strong truffle and leathery notes. Spicy and warm with big tannins, this was probably the most concentrated of the Brunello line up.
We switched to Chianti for the next wine, Fontodi’s Vigna del Sorbo, a single-vineyard wine which is around 90% Sangiovese and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. The Cabernet influence was definitely evident after the Brunello wines. Deeper colour and a plush, velvety mouthfeel, this was full-bodied and ripe but with nice acidity and should age well.
The final wine of the night was La Massa’s Giorgio Primo. A completely different beast, this was a real contrast. A very Cabernet nose with ripe blackcurrant and vanilla-laced oak. Hardly surprising considering the makeup (50
Earlier this week we had a great tasting of some of Bouchard Père & Fils 2010 red and white Burgundies. Following on from our Faiveley tasting last month, it reaffirmed the quality of the 2010 with another set of outstanding wines. One of the characteristics of the 2010 vintage seems to be a great sense of balance and elegance, with all the wines showing a beautiful combination of perfectly ripe fruit without any overripeness and refreshing acidity. It’s perhaps a vintage that produced more classic wines than the very ripe 2009′s.
We kicked things off with the 2010 Bouchard Père & Fils St Aubin Premier Cru. An elegant and fairly restrained nose led on to a riper and weightier than expected palate. This had lovely balance though with hints of grapefruit and orange peel on the long, rich finish. A nice value for white Burgundy at around $50.
We stepped up to the Meursault Genevrieres Premier Cru next. A quite elegant and refined style of Meursault, with a tighter, more structured palate than the St Aubin and a strong mineral streak. Very refined.
If we thought the Meursault had a bit more structure, the 2010 Corton-Charlemagne was something else entirely! Much tighter still, dry and minerally, this opened very slowly in the glass to reveal delicate citrus, but wouldn’t give up much at this early stage. This was screaming out for a few years in the cellar but clearly has loads of potential.
Moving on to the reds, we started with the Bouchard Père & Fils Beaune Teurons Premier Cru. Quite a ripe nose with plum and dark cherry notes, and a touch of oak. This was pretty grunty in a slightly rustic style but with nice balance. As usual, this wine from Bouchard is a great value Premier Cru and should age well.
Volnay Caillerets Ancienne Cuvée Carnot Premier Cru was next up. As expected the Volnay was a lighter, more elegant style with a very nice floral and red cherry nose and fresh acidity.
The Nuits-Saint-Georges Les Cailles Premier Cru was a contrast. A ripe, cherry and plum nose with some classy oak influence, led on to a weighty, plummy palate, leaning more towards the riper end of the spectrum, with hints of cola on the finish. This was delicious with loads of upfront appeal.
Onto the Grand Cru reds, we hit the 2010 Le Corton. This is usually one of the best buys in the Bouchard line up. A really refined, cool nose of red cherry and spice. This was pretty tight but did open up to gain in richness and complexity. Very fine with a long finish. This should age really well.
The last wine of the night was the Bouchard Chambertin-Clos de Bèze. A fascinating, complex, nose. Very floral with a hint of earth and oak. Ripe and rich on the palate with sappy, ripe cherry flavours and a velvety mouthfeel. This had great balance. A very sexy wine.
This week we had our much-anticipated 2009 Bordeaux tasting. It’s been a while since we had a line-up of Bordeaux wines and with 2009 being such a highly acclaimed vintage, the tasting sold out pretty quickly.
There were no first growths in the line-up as it simply wasn’t possible to create an economical tasting with wines that have prices well into four digits. But there were several super-seconds which are also fast approaching those stratospheric price levels so it was a real treat to be able to taste this range of wines.
We kicked things off with what turned out to be a real surprise of the tasting. Chateau Carignan ‘Prima’. From the fairly humble Côtes de Bordeaux appellation, this 100% Merlot turned out to be an absolutely delicious, soft and ripe wine with beautiful balance and supple tannins. At around $33 it proved there is still value to be found in Bordeaux!
Next up was the Chateau Faizeau Montagne-Saint-Émilion, another affordable, Merlot based wine in a slightly headier, bigger style with cocoa and coffee notes on the finish.
The bar was raised with the Chateau Grand-Mayne from Saint-Émilion. A very sexy, perfumed nose led on to a definite step up in weight on the palate. Rich and ripe but not overdone at all, this had beautiful balance and was dangerously easy to drink at this young age.
Four Saint-Julien wines followed, starting off with Chateau Gloria. This had a darker, more savoury nose with hints of eucalyptus. The higher proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon was definitely in evidence. It was softer and plusher than the nose suggested.
Next up Chateau Lagrange with a very deep purple colour, beautiful perfumed, complex nose. Very velvety with silky tannins that were barely perceptible at first.
The Léoville Barton was a very interesting wine. A dark, plummy nose with hints of tobacco and earth, there was a lot going on here but all very tightly wound. Ripe, dense, and seemingly more extracted on the palate, this had a long finish with slightly drying tannins.
The last of the Saint-Julien wines was the Ducru-Beaucaillou. A fantastic nose or ripe fruit with cedary notes – very classy oak. Weighty and full-bodied, this was big, opulent and rich with sweet fruit and some oak evident but beautifully balanced tannins and acidity kept it from seeming overblown.
The last Bordeaux of the evening was the Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande (to give it it’s fairly lengthy full name). A real contrast to the preceding wines, this had a fresher nose with juicier, raspberry notes. Lighter than the Ducru, this was fresh, refined and elegant with great complexity. A lovely wine and a terrific finish to a great line-up of Bordeaux.