As many of you, no doubt, already know, Robert Parker, in the December 30, 2013 issue of “The Wine Advocate” was very complimentary to Peter Michael Winery. He gave two of our wines perfect scores and rated a whole host of others as “extraordinary.” Better still, from my perspective, was the…
“Chardonnay and the Quality Divide”
Chardonnay, chardonnay how I love you Chardonnay As I reach to hold you with my trembling hands
In my hands my trembling hands Chardonnay, Chardonnay you’ll be glad to hear me say I will never need you more than I do now In my hands my trembling hands
When I’m sad sad and blue
You are my friend constant and true
I dedicate this line to you
And I would like to take you home with me
Chardonnay, Chardonnay I’m in love with your bouquet
You’re so cold but you so beautiful tonight
In my hands my trembling hands
“Chardonnay” Written by Cook/Cornwell and performed by Cerys Matthews. Re-discovered by James Hocking
It’s the world’s most popular white wine, it’s planted and successfully cultivated everywhere, it produces some of the most sublime nectars ever created (Think DRC Le Montrachet, Marcassin Vineyard!), yet still seems to have such a stigma surrounding it in certain markets. Why?
Well the answer is quite simple. Oak. In it’s freshest form, the Chardonnay grape can be described as a citrus, tropical, refreshing style, with bags of natural acidity. Think about two key wines made with Chardonnay – Champagne and Chablis. Both relying on their delicate, crisp notes. Poles apart sit the Grand Cru’s of Burgundy and their new world counterparts from California, Australia, and California (see where this one’s going!), with ripe fruit, allied to the delicate vanilla, woodsmoke and subtle nuances that new French oak bring, albeit at a price. So here we have two styles made from the same grape and both very individual.
Now we come to the reason as to why Chardonnay is reviled by many. Most of the varietal that we see on the shelves in the supermarkets is made from fruit of a poorer quality level in the first place. Well, that’s OK in the purest form as at least the wine will have acidity and depth of flavour. Then, the juice is placed in a tank and filled with sawdust chips of oak. A cheap, efficient way to oak wine without costly barrels. The result is a sweet, low-acid, sticky wine with aromas of sawdust, tastes of sawdust and a long, lingering finish of, er, sawdust. No wonder we’re all put off!
So, what can you do? Well personally I would avoid the cheapest (sub 5-quid) bottles, especially from the new world, trade up to around £8.00 or more, and rediscover village Chablis. As a VERY general rule, spend a tenner or more and the wine has seen a proper oak barrel. And so it should!
The two wines pictured both fall into the ultra-high end, French-oaked category. Moone Tsai is from the Charles Heintz winery, Sonoma Coast and Talley is from much further south. Both are currently in stock and both are in my opinion amazing.
Director of Wine
Germany…and the Mosel a.k.a. “Nirvana”
I have some special news…really special news! Last week, I completed what has been a pretty intense period of study leading to two examinations so that I can become a Wine & Spirit Education Trust approved educator. Watch this space for further detail on this as there are some interesting developments afoot regarding our events at The Vineyard, however, I passed both parts on Friday…then went home and had a glass of wine to celebrate…or two…
Part of the presentation for assessment was a vinous topic that required in-depth content. I selected a firm favourite of many years. German wine and the quality classification system. Essentially, in 1971, the German government at the time introduced a series of wine laws that were totally different to any other wine producing country. No laws on Appellation, grape varieties, permissible yields etc…no this was quite different. He who produces the sweetest grapes makes the best wine. No other country has followed this since. It does help to explain in part the raft of cheap German plonk that we (well not you or I maybe) drink every year made from the sweet and generally insipid Muller Thurgau grape, also the confusion for the consumer. What’s good? What’s not? How do we tell?
From my perspective, avoid all but the best wines labelled “QbA” and head for the Riesling grape and look for “Kabinett”, Spätlese, or Auslese-labelled wines. This will ascend in sweetness, but have lovely fresh acidity and ripe lemon/peach/nectarine fruit flavours. Low alcohol (8%) as well so perfect for the summer we are having this week! I will cover Germany in much more depth over the coming weeks but for now, plan to spend around fifteen quid and you will get something quite special.
And the photograph? Well, had to try some of these wines post-exam success, so opened a couple from my collection. The Fritz Haag “Goldkapsul” Auslese was from a single barrel (Füder 12) and was just sensational – sticky-sweet white peach and pineapple, with a finish that went on for ever. The J J Prüm Auslese pictured has always been a reference-point wine for me and yesterday’s opening did not disappoint. Think nectarines, with a dash of honey, loaded with racy acidity.
Both of these wines are from the Mosel. And as I said at the start, utter Nirvana!
Director of wine
Napa Valley Vintners Association “Taste London 2013”
It began as most things do in Napa Valley: over a table replete with good food and good wines. Sixty-five years later, that epicurean and social camaraderie has grown into a spirited partnership committed to advancing Napa Valley wines worldwide. Founded in 1944, the Napa Valley Vintners is a regional trade group with an active membership of more than 450 wineries, representing a tradition of dedicated vintners and grape growers who have worked and cared for this premier wine growing region since the early 1800s.
For more than 150 years, vineyards have been part of the Napa Valley landscape. George Yount planted the first Napa Valley vineyards in 1838; the town of Napa was laid out in 1848; by the mid-1850s there were about 50,000 grapevines planted in Napa Valley—by 1860 there were about 200,000. The industry continued to expand, and by the late 1860s there were 50 vintners in Napa Valley. Wines from Inglenook, Charles Krug, Beringer and others won international acclaim in the late 19th century.
As early as 1948 the Napa Valley Vintners welcomed visitors to Napa Valley by sponsoring promotional activities showcasing the wines. For example, 700 Harvard University graduates were hosted by the vintners in 1949 and 2,000 guests from General Electric enjoyed a western-style barbecue with Napa Valley wines at the Napa County Fairgrounds in 1952.
Tracking forward to now, this famous region has a strong export programme, with London being among the “target” destinations for Napa Valley wines. This week, that programme has seen “Taste London” arrive in the capital. A group of vintners hosting dinners, tastings, and training sessions with their wines. As you would expect from the UK’s finest US wine importer (that’s me by the way!), yours truly was present at a number of sessions representing the British arm of Schramsberg and Waterstone wineries.
The two key events that garnered most interest was a press tasting of Napa wines showcasing older vintages (at least ten years apart from the current wine), followed by a Q&A session with Tim Atkin, with Jancis Robinson among the selected guests. The Palm in Knightsbridge provided the venue, a long-standing patron of ours, with a superb list of Californian wines to offer.
The point of the event? Promotion, promotion, promotion. The aim of the Napa Valley Vintners Association is to put Napa bottles at the forefront of drinkers’ minds…I agree with that!
My two top pink wines this season
Rosé has arrived in the Hocking household what with all that lovely sunshine at the moment (sure to change, of course), and I’ve found a couple of stunners that we’ll be drinking quite a bit of this year. Of course, dry, Provençal pink wines will always be in fashion, as will Sancerre Rosé and quite right too – they are lovely…however, these two are a little different from the norm but merit further investigation.
Denis Malbec, former winemaker at Château Latour and since 2000 with his Swedish wife May-Britt vintner in Napa Valley, started to make wines under the Alienor label in 2005. Their red cuvée is a very good and highly recommended interpretation of red Bordeaux, and since based on Merlot and Cabernet Franc, it’s more towards the St Emilion style than the Médoc. However, it’s their micro-production 2009 La Roseraie that we are drinking at the moment.
This rosé, the second vintage, is made with the saignée method by bleeding of the juice of equal parts of Merlot and Cabernet Franc (and only two percent of Petit Verdot) after just a few hours of maceration from the fermentation of their 2009 Alienor Grand Vin. Again, grapes are sourced from vineyards in Lake County. The pink coloured juice was fermented in neutral French oak barrels with commercial yeast and then kept in the oak for around one year, and during the ageing there was some bâtonnage. It’s a very classic rosé, pale pink in a typical French style, and the nose is quite elegant but also a bit closed.
Moving next to Wind Gap Wines and their extraordinary Pinot Gris from the Windsor Oaks Vineyard in Chalk Hill. Pax Mahle is the winemaker and owner of this project and we’ve known him a long time. Put simply, his wines are absolutely stunning. His 1936 American Wine Company building is hidden in the backstreets of Forestville. Friendly dogs wander through the cellar, while the crew works down a list of crush preparation. Wind Gap Wines are made using comparably traditional methods: no added yeasts, and red grapes are trod underfoot with the aid of beer and a modern sound system.
The orange-pink Pinot Gris is a nominally white wine fermented on its skins. With aromas of apricot, mango and a hint of cherry, this cool, clean wine floats rosé-like strawberry, watermelon flavors on a watery, Pinot Gris palate and finishes with satisfying astringency, a vibrant and food-friendly wine that may win accolades for the daring dinner host. You’ll have it if you come to my house!
Have fun trying…
Director of wine
Decanting Part 2.
So the last blog talked all about it…now we are going to do it! I have made very “ordinary” wines look and taste very good by throwing the bottle contents into a decanter. Read on…
Assuming that we are decanting a wine in order to remove it from its sediment, there is a simple procedure to follow. If decanting a wine simply to aerate it and perhaps liven it up a little, this procedure doesn’t really matter. Simply pour the wine into any suitable receptacle with minimal fuss.
First, take the wine from where it has been stored, hopefully lying on its side in a suitably cool, dark environment. If you suspect a considerable amount of sediment, as may occur with older wines, it’s advisable to stand the bottle upright for a day or so prior to decanting, thus allowing the sediment to fall to the bottom of the bottle. When the time comes to decant the wine, assemble the few things which you will need. These are corkscrew and bottle (obviously), together with a suitable receptacle, which does not have to be anything fancy, a simple carafe (or perhaps a Riedel Amadeo shown in our picture!!) together with a suitable source of light. I use a small candle, but a small torch or anything similar will do.
Firstly, remove the entire capsule from around the neck of the bottle, using a knife or other implement. It’s important to remove the whole capsule, and not just the top, as you need to have a clear view into the neck of the bottle whilst decanting. This is so that you can observe the wine coming through the neck for sediment. To enhance your view of the wine in the neck, position the light source shining through the neck from behind. Once done, you are ready to pour. Hold the receptacle in one hand and the bottle in the other, and with a smooth and steady action, pour the wine into the decanter. Don’t rush when decanting, rather use a gentle, steady movement, to avoid disturbing the sediment in the wine. Keep the neck of the bottle over the light source, so that you can observe for an arrowhead of sediment moving into the neck of the bottle. This is your cue to stop pouring.
If you’ve done it all correctly, the end result should be a full carafe or decanter of clear wine, with just half a glass or so of sediment-laden wine remaining. This remaining portion makes a great addition to the gravy, should you be decanting the wine as an accompaniment to a roast dinner. Don’t worry too much if you haven’t achieved a crystal clear pour, as a small amount of very fine sediment is not a great concern - as long as the large, unpalatable pieces have been removed.
Have fun trying…
Director of Wine
Decanting Part 1.
So, here we go. A clear guide to why decanting makes sense. Personally, I decant most wines opened chez Hocking, believing that a little air before the wine enters the glass is always a good thing. The first in a two part series aims to demonstrate why, when, and how…
Who actually owns a decanter nowadays? People who live in stately homes, or perhaps the proprietors of antique and curiosity shops? No, not at all. Anyone who wants the best from their wine should own one. Decanting wines is not just for show, and even in this modern age of industrial, fined and filtered wines, some will still benefit from spending some time in a decanter.
But why decant?
In times gone by, before so many wines were routinely fined and filtered to a crystal clear state, it was quite common for wines poured from both barrel and bottle to contain a considerable degree of solid matter. In order to avoid bringing an unsightly looking wine to the table, it was quite the norm to decant the wine into a suitably resplendent receptacle. The need for such a receptacle led to the development of the many and varied elegant decanters which are available today.
Most wines on the shelves today, however, have no real need for decanting. The winemaking process ensures the wine is thoroughly clarified (even if it may mean stripping the wine of some of its flavour) before it is bottled, by a process of fining (passing egg whites, bentonite clay or other unsavoury substances through the fine to collect solid matter) and mechanical filtration. Although these wines are often best served from the bottle (after all, you’ve paid for the label), many others still benefit from decanting.
Wines which have aged in bottle, typically red wines rather than white, will generally throw a sediment by perhaps ten years of age or more. Not only is this sediment displeasing to the eye, it can also be quite unpleasant in the mouth. More than any other wines, these are the ones that deserve decanting. Young wines also benefit from decanting, although the aim is not to take the wine off its sediment (there is rarely any such sediment in young wines), but rather to aerate the wine. The action of decanting itself, and the large surface area in contact with the air in the decanter, alters the wine, softening its youthful bite and encouraging the development of the more complex aromas that normally develop with years in bottle. For this reason even inexpensive wines plucked from the shelves of the local supermarket can benefit from decanting, if a first taste reveals a tannic, grippy, youthful structure.
My next piece (now that your appetite has been truly whetted!) will show how to decant effectively and ensure that your wine is served in perfect condition…
Director of Wine
The Napa Valley
This will be a difficult one! Compiling a small blog piece about one of the world’s most lauded viticultural areas, producing a consistent array of compelling wines that either age gracefully for decades, or provide immediate enjoyment. So, I think for this time, we’ll concentrate on facts and figures…
Fly in to San Francisco airport, head north through the city over the Bay Bridge (Golden Gate if you want but it’ll take you longer ), drive for around 1 hour and you’ll find yourself in Napa County. Napa Valley itself is totally formed by volcanic activity. It’s roughly 25 miles running north-south, and 3 miles east-west. The valley floor is flanked by the two mountain ranges of the Mayacamas and the Vaca, with vineyards heading up in the hills on either side. There are over 400 wineries in this relatively tiny piece of land, but only produce about 4% of California’s wine. This however is the 4% of extreme quality. You will not find Blossom Hill or another one that I can’t name for fear of legal reprisal (!!) anywhere near this spot.
Cabernet Sauvignon rules here, but Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah and others are also successfully cultivated. However its the Bordeaux Blend-style wines that really work. Any uber-sexy bottles that I’ve preached about before – Dalla Valle, Harlan, Screaming Eagle, Scarecrow etc are all here, nestling alongside famous vineyards such as To-Kalon, Inglenook, and Backus. Don’t forget the well-established icons of Heitz, Schramsberg, and Freemark Abbey also. The visitor will see that almost every piece of land is taken over by grape-farming on a impressive scale.
I’ve skipped around here and will cover some individual regions within the valley in more depth, however when you visit the valley and drive either Highway 29 or Silverado Trail that run through this hallowed ground, you will love it. Oh, and make time to stop at Joel Gott’s Roadside Diner in St.Helena whilst you are there. The best burger in Napa and have a glass of the local brew whilst there…
Director of Wine
The term clone can be very confusing when describing the makeup of a wine. In the context of viticulture it is “a population of vines all derived by vegetative propagation from cuttings or buds from a single ‘mother vine’ by deliberate clonal selection”.
A wine’s makeup can include a…