Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Washington and Oregon tasting

By Madeline Mehalko
Wine Buyer

I attended yesterday a tasting of wines from Washington and Oregon, in the North West of America. Despite being American and buying for North America, I knew relatively little about these regions as so much of what we see in the UK is from California (and there isn’t even really a great deal of that). It was eye-opening – given the geographical proximity of the two, you would think the climates and the wines would be very similar, but they are worlds apart.

In terms of latitude, Washington’s Columbia Valley sits about where Burgundy is; Oregon’s Willamette Valley more like Bordeaux and the Southern Rhone. In theory, this would make the Columbia Valley a bit cooler, but it’s not so simple. Columbia Valley sits to the east of the Cascade Mountain range, where the climate is more desert than coastal whereas the Willamette Valley sits in between the Coastal and the Cascade Mountain ranges where the climate is cool and maritime. There is significantly more rain, a long growing season, and the vineyards can be described as ‘green’ – not always the case in Washington. Washington’s saving grace from the hot temperatures, intense sunlight and lack of precipitation is the cool nights – this prevents the grapes from being overripe and lacking in acidity.

Friday, 8 February 2013

The Man Behind Château Haut Brion

Prince Robert of Luxembourg
In 1935, Clarence Dillon, a Texan banker, bought Château Haut Brion, one of the world’s greatest wine estates. Today, it is his great-grandson, Prince Robert of Luxembourg, who is at the helm of this Bordeaux first growth, as well as neighbouring La Mission Haut Brion and La Tour Haut Brion. But not one to sit on his laurels, in 2010, Prince Robert launched a new range called Clarendelle. Mimi Avery caught up with Prince Robert to find out more…

What is your winemaking philosophy at Haut Brion? How would you describe the Haut Brion ‘style’?

As the birth place of “New French Claret” or red wines as we still know them today....Haut-Brion set the tone for the entire philosophy at Domaine Clarence Dillon:  All of our wines seek balance, elegance and complexity. The winemaker must ensure the integrity of each wine and a reflection of the estate or “terroir” from whence it came.

Why did you decide to launch the Clarendelle range?

There was an evident gap in the market. All of the major wine regions in the world produced Super Premium Brands.....Bordeaux, the most famous of all wine region, did not.  I wanted to produce an excellent and affordable wine that was immediately ready to drink when it was brought to the market. In order to truly express their style and quality, the great wines of Bordeaux benefit from aging. We would only release the bottles when they are at this stage. This means that we have recently released our 2007 vintage before the 2006.... for example.  The brand strategy and success of Champagne were a great inspiration to me.

Clarence Dillon
Where and how do you select the grapes/wines for the Clarendelle range?

At Domaine Clarence Dillon we have a true blending culture. The blending process at our estates is similar to that of Clarendelle. The same group of winemakers is also responsible for overseeing the blending at Clarendelle, Haut-Brion, La Mission or Chateau Quintus.

We actually source wines directly. We therefore already have a finished product to work with. This offers us better quality control. Instead of being limited to the palette of our vineyards....we have the whole palette of Bordeaux to work with. This also affords us great flexibility. The Clarendelle wines benefit from the inclusion of some of the wines produced at our estates.

How do you ensure a £15 wine still reflects the Haut Brion style?

The key words will always remain balance, elegance and complexity.  We are producing wines today for future drinking....not fruit forward wines to put on a wine list, tomorrow.  We respect similar blends in the grape varietals as those at our estates: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc for the red wines and Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc for the whites. In the case of Clarendelle whites we also sometimes include Muscadelle in the blends.  The winemakers of Domaine Clarence Dillon are responsible for overseeing the blending process for Clarendelle. We will age the wines for the consumer prior to bringing them to the market. Just like our estate wines Clarendelle will vary in style with every vintage but always maintain its quality.

The vineyards of Ch Haut Brion
What’s next for Domaine Clarence Dillon? Would you ever consider investing in vineyards abroad or in other regions of France?

We have recently acquired Chateau Quintus in St Emilion. This is one of the greatest terroirs of the Right Bank. The estate was considered as a 1st Growth prior to 1950....we intend to return it to its former glory! We have produced very small quantities of Chateau Quintus and Dragon de Quintus in 2011 and 2012. I am very pleased with the result and the critical acclaim for 2011.....our first vintage.

Investing abroad:  As a foreign family owning and managing a French Company....we are already abroad!

I believe you used to be a Hollywood screenwriter – how does the world of wine compare to Hollywood ?

Creativity and flair are important and you must nonetheless respect a certain form. In our case our limits and challenges come from the potential in the Microclimate ....and Mother Nature. Mother Nature can be as challenging and erratic as any Hollywood producers. I need challenges and creativity to keep me interested and driven. The status quo frustrates me.  Every vintage tells a new story. I like the passion that drives people in both of these worlds of wine and the arts. True passion sees no limits....and often beckons follies.

The cellars at La Mission Haut-Brion
What’s the best thing about being the man behind some of the best known wines in the world?

My hobby is my job and producing something that makes people happy and punctuates some of the finest and convivial moments of their lives. Ah the scenes that our wines have witnessed over two millennia......

Finally, if you were stranded on a desert island with just one bottle of wine, which wine would you choose?

Bottle: Nebuchadnezzar

Wine: Chateau Haut-Brion 1945

Unfortunately we did not produce any of these!

This would be my choice today....in the coming years that might change as I evolve...and our great wines continue to evolve.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Mimi in Argentina: day 5

The last trip was to Riccitelli – at the original judging back in September in London the judges had all been intrigued by the “Apple does not fall far from the tree” label. This, it turns out, was relevant to the fact that the winemaker Matias is the son of the Norton Winemaker. As was noted at the time he is very PRable – the eyes, oh the eyes! (Lovely fiancé there too).

The whole range were great, almost correctly priced, but good differential between the three price brands. The top level wines were top notch and will retail at £25, we won’t sell pallets, but they are well worth the punt on the odd bottle.

Lunch was a fantastic tapas selection, fresh and light, perfect for the beautifully hot day overlooking another stunning Andean Vista.

On my own I then had a visit to Luigi Bosca, whose wines are in the UK already, but they were well worth the visit to see the set up and look at the styles of wines that they make with a view to possible exclusive blends. They opened specifically, or rather closed the tasting room exclusively for me, it was a very relaxed environment with pop music in the background and sat at sofa’s to taste. The wines were of a very good quality across the three levels that I tasted with the stand out wines being the Finca La Linda Viognier and Malbec Syrah and the Luigi Bosca Pinot Noir.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Mimi in Argentina: day 4

Following in from the rain and Hail storms of yesterday the first winery to visit had to re-schedule as the brand new winery was surrounded by flooded access roads, luckily the building was fine just access. So they had cleverly set up a tasting overlooking their reservoir in the middle of the vineyards followed by lunch in the orchard.

We were shown around the vineyards fist where they were doing their first chardonnay harvest for a sparkler that they would produce in 3 years time. These were the first grapes to be harvested for the first Vin Clair.

The labels were really funky here and there was much interest, however unfortunately tasting under a gazebo in the heat of the day was not conducive to their big reds with staving oak were a little too dusty for our liking, although tasted much better when served cooler at lunch time.

Yet another delicious barbecue meal, with, literally, a whole cow of ribs over the fire for the morning. But the piece de resistance was a stunning tomato salsa – so fresh and lots of basil to enliven it. Demolished as almost the first time we had seen a vegetable dish. The pudding was another creme leche just not something that I can handle especially in the heat.

That evening Quatrocchi visited us in the Hotel for a tasting. They are an astute business with large volume capabilities, good label options, and the ability to give different importers different offerings, but not commercially relevant to us.

Mimi Avery

Friday, 1 February 2013

Day 3 in Argentina...

Left San Raphael on 3 hour trip to Mendoza, Andes looking beautiful in the scattered clouds. On arrival at Sottano, a very modern winery, we were greeted to a smart cellar door with glass walls and floor so you could see the winery and the investment in french and US oak barrels. A tasting upstairs followed the tour, and some lovely wines were served. Just as the tapas was served down stairs we saw flashes of lightening and peels of thunder followed by a downpour, this quickly escalated into a hail storm of golf ball proportions. And the noise on the roof of the winery was almost deafening. As it settled we headed off to Casarena crunching through at least a cm of settled hail, seeing trees stripped of leaves and olives. No wonder many invest in hail nets.

Mimi Avery.

Southwold 2013 – Great Bordeaux Tasting 2009 Vintage

By Mattew Hemming
Fine Wine Manager

Each year a small group of UK wine merchants and journalists decamp to the Suffolk coast to immerse themselves in the most recently shipped Bordeaux vintage.  Everything is tasted blind, in appropriate peer groups, and scored out of 20 by each taster before identities are revealed and the wines discussed.  I’m not going to pretend it isn’t enormous fun to spend two whole days tasting some of the most thrilling (and expensive) wines in the world but it’s also quite an intense experience – working through 100+ extremely tannic young wines per day, concentrating madly so as not to wildly under-rate something posh in front of a playfully boisterous crowd of colleagues / friends / competitors.

Mimi in Argentina - Evening - Day 2

We arrived (3hrs later) in San Raphael, having missed the white water rafting experience, after all tasting wine is what we are here for, we had an hour r n r before heading to Bodegas Argenceres. We had a tour of the olive groves (their main business) then a brief foray into the orchards to eat apricots of the tree. We walked to the winery and saw the beautiful set up for our dinner under the stars. The tasting started at 8.30pm you just knew dinner wouldn't be till 11- I'm starving! The wines were 'jammier' than before, more balanced tanins on the barrel oaked wines, the staved wines needed a little longer for the flavours to balance out. Dinner was a delicious barbecue served at table, all white decoration, the Chardonnays lack of oak but fullness of flavours made for a great food wine.

Home by 2am to be out at 9am for. 3 hour journey back to Mendoza.