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Krug and Bollinger

Two nice bottles of fizz recently tasted. And consumed with pleasure, in each case. I can’t say I add bottles at the Krug price level to the cellar very often these days, so it’s good to pull one from the bottom stack. Each time I do so it does deplete my dwindling stock just a little more though. Still, I suppose it also makes room for a few more bottles of the Pétillant Réserve from Domaine Huet; so maybe every cloud really does have a silver lining.

The Krug is non-vintage – no, sorry, sorry, multi-vintage – and it has the later-style label (are people still interested in that, or has everybody drunk up their older bottles of Krug now?). Looking at my records it was one of several bottles purchased in 2005 and 2006, and so it has seen 7-8 years in the cellar before popping the cork. You wouldn’t guess this from tasting it. The Bollinger was bought a year or two ago, and still has many years ahead of it yet.

Bollinger Champagne La Grande Année 2000: Intense golden hue, still bright and clean though, not suggestive of age or a particularly oxidative character. Pure nose, no less intense than ever, with desiccated fruits, lightly dried and concentrated, and little tinges of honey and cashew, the wine showing the perfect balance between concentrated citrus character and notes of richness. The palate is bright, open, expressive, very harmonious despite the deep concentration. A very fine and forward bead, fresh acidity, lifted and definitely a step ahead of the Grand Années of old. Almost creamy, and yet bright. A clean and long finish. This is superb. 18.5/20 (June 2013)

Krug Champagne Grande Cuvée NV: A pale golden hue, a plentiful bead, although it soon settles in the glass, and is very fine. The aromatics are remarkably fresh, as although there is a honeyed twist to it, and rich notes of praline and brioche too, all sprinkled with flakes of dried fruits, there is also a bright orange citrus freshness to it. It feels firm, with a supple quality to the palate though, along with honeyed brioche fruits, but there is also a remarkably bright vigour to it, helped by a rather crisp mousse. This is fine, savoury, slightly warming, rich and full of character. Long and tingling. An excellent wine. 18/20 (June 2013)

Suffice to say I would take the Bollinger over the Krug, although I wouldn’t turn my nose up at either. Now, where’s that Huet……

Vouvray Hail: Update

The Vouvray syndicat have released a statement regarding the hail, on which I reported yesterday morning here.

The press release confirms the information I received (and reported on Twitter) yesterday; two-thirds of the vineyard were hit. Of 3000 hectares eligible for the appellation, there are currently 2200 hectares planted, so this means approximately 1500 hectares were affected.

The damage ranges from 20% on some plots to 100% on others. Those with 100% damage have clearly lost everything for this year, as there is no hope of recovery and production of ripe grapes before harvest would be due. Indeed, some have suggested that the damage to the vines was enough to knock out next year’s harvest as well.

The worst affected communes were Parçay-Meslay, Vouvray, Rochecorbon, Vernou-sur-Brenne and Reugny (five of the eight communes eligible for the Vouvray appellation).

Vouvray hail, 2013, by Peter Hahn

Above is a picture of some hail damage, taken by Peter Hahn of Clos de la Meslerie. Peter’s vines were undamaged, so he is one of the lucky ones. Just a few hundred metres away, though, vines have been stripped bare of leaves and the embryonic flower bunches, as shown above.

The press release indicates that syndicat representatives will be meeting with “local and national government officials” to discuss possible aid. Although, as the release points out, hail is not classed as a “natural disaster” and so I am sure the vignerons aren’t holding their breath (update: actually things look more positive than this old cynic imagined – further details from local authorities suggest aid may be forthcoming). With this in mind it has been great to see some support expressed for the growers, with fans of François Pinon on the Wine Disorder forum obviously keen to do something. Well done to them.

Hail in Vouvray: Extensive Damage

I’m saddened to report that this morning a hailstorm cut a path across Touraine, depositing huge hailstones across much of Vouvray. The damage has been extensive, with some vignerons suffering 100% hail damage to the vineyards.

Vouvray weather reportThe hailstorm cut a path from west to east over Tours, running across the northern part of the Vouvray vineyard. The weather map to the right shows the location of the storm, the red dot being Vernou, just east of Vouvray, and well within the Vouvray appellation of course.

I spoke to Tania Carême, Vincent Carême’s wife, who reported most in the commune were still in a state of shock. The hail stones were as large as hen’s eggs, and in some places piled up in drifts 20 centimetres deep. They damaged cars (smashing windscreens and denting the metalwork), battered roofs, and of course where they hit vineyards they stripped the vines in entirety, leaving only bare wooden stems. This late in the season, this surely means no chance of recovery.

A few but not all have suffered total devastation. François Pinon has reported all his vineyards have been hit with hail, with the entire crop lost. Sebastien Brunet has suffered extensive but not total devastation. François Chidaine’s Vouvray vineyards have been hit, althogh those of Peter Hahn have largely been spared I believe. Vincent Carême has suffered across 5 hectares, with about 80% loss on those (largely the sparkling wine vineyards), although another 10 hectares were not hit. Le Peu Morier, on the première côte, was not hit, but other vineyards just 100 metres further on were. Montlouis is totally untouched – it is the northern section of Vouvray that has been hit hardest, especially up the Vallée de Cousse, Chançay and Vaugondy.

It seems as though the damage has not quite been 100%, but it looks massive. I will hopefully bring more news and maybe pictures later.

Sauternes #7: Lafaurie-Peyraguey 2001

It has been a few weeks since I returned to my irregular posting of random Sauternes notes. Well, I say random; you don’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to see I have been going for my 2001s first, peppered with the occasional 1998 and 2007.

Here, in episode seven, a return to this vintage that I love so much with an estate that I have long favoured. Although I think Climens would have to be my favourite in Barsac, in Sauternes the book would be wide open. Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey would surely be a front-runner though.

Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey 2001

This 2001 is typical of why I love this vintage, and this estate, so much. As is often the case with Sauternes, the wine remains available on the open market at a very fair price. Look at it against the prices of the most delicious Pomerols from the same vintage, and the disparity between the two is all too apparent.

Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey (Sauternes) 2001: A fine, slightly matt, but certainly rich golden hue. Wonderful concentration and complexity on the nose, with the rich golden fruit aromas tempered by more savoury nuances which segue very readily into botrytis, lightly salted caramel, baked honey and more. It seems to have a very convincing and composed character, with plenty of evolved elements. There is a fine richness on the palate, broad and with a sweet substance to it, with some of the intense, baked honey elements seen on the nose. This has a very fine combination of harmony, great depth and a glycerine-infused richness, despite the savoury, bitter-orange characters presented by the fruit. This wine has exactly the same confidence and pure yet heavyweight integration that Rieussec possesses in this vintage. In other words, it’s a stunner. 19/20 (June 2013)

Loire Misunderstood #2: Muscadet is for Oysters

When I started this series of “Loire Misunderstood” posts with my comments on herbaceousness in red wines I had maybe a handful of topics to cover. A week or two later and that list has grown somewhat; it is now as long as my arm! I was going to continue ticking off my list in this second post by tackling another Loire red wine misconception, but instead – having just returned from a couple of days in Muscadet country – it is to this most misunderstood and maligned wine region I turn next.

Wherever you are reading this, I can guarantee you have at least heard of Muscadet, even if you have never even seen a bottle or tasted the wine. It used to be one of those ubiquitous wine list staples, the name itself becoming a byword for a light, breezy, inoffensive white quaffer. A few decades ago the UK fell in love with it; plantings increased dramatically and production soared, but ultimately quality fell. Eventually (in the UK at least) the name became associated not with something fresh and fun, but something watery and weak. A joke wine. A wine to be avoided, if you valued the enamel on your teeth. Prices plummeted. Generalising wildly, this remains the overarching view of Muscadet (in the UK at least), and although the UK remains an important market in terms of volume, the region’s vignerons are usually much happier selling to the USA and Japan (two other very significant markets) where they can at least get a decent price.

A quick aside; I wonder if there is a lesson in here somewhere for the producers of Prosecco, a word which – as ‘Muscadet’ once did – has entered the lexicon of non-geek UK drinkers (and maybe elsewhere too?). I suspect few of these new Prosecco fans could name any other Italian DOC/DOCG (except perhaps Chianti) but the word Prosecco trips off the tongues of more and more drinkers in recent times. I have heard it name-checked as an after work tipple, and seen it necked back at midday on a train, as I had the misfortune to share a railway carriage with a large hen party on the way to a weekend of drinking (their food match in this case was several bags of Haribo confectionery). Let’s hope the Prosecco producers don’t fluff it up as others have done in the past. But I digress; this is not a story for me to concern myself with here. Back to Muscadet.

If you were to take a straw poll of drinkers, asking for their opinion of Muscadet, I think you might get answers along these lines. The wine is:

1. Cheap, because it should be, because it’s tasteless, characterless wine.
2. It’s lean and acidic, maybe a result of poor ripening in a cool climate, high volume cropping, and a careless approach to viticulture.
3. It’s made for drinking with oysters. Or other weird seafood (last week I tasted sea urchin for the first time – haven’t seen that in my local Aldi or Lidl!) nobody eats. Therefore there’s little point in buying it, as I don’t like oysters. Or I do, but I don’t eat them at home. Or I prefer Chablis. Or Champagne.
4. It’s a simple wine made for drinking young. Avoid buying the 2011 vintage, it’s too old; stick with the 2012s. Old Muscadets aren’t good; they certainly don’t taste like Muscadet any more.

That’s a lot of negativity. And before you decry my pastiche of the Muscadet critic, my imagination is not running wild. I heard some (not all, thankfully!) of these criticisms coming not from the mouths of wine drinkers polled on the street, but from UK wine experts – writers, critics and journalists – who accompanied me on a trip to Muscadet last week. I would disagree with all of the points above. But I’m only going to tackle one here, and let’s start with oysters.

Muscadet and oysters

To be honest, I do think Muscadet is the perfect oyster wine. Others have a different opinion; the inhabitants of Nantes, for example, actually regard Folle Blanche (otherwise delightfully known as Gros Plant de Pays Nantais – sounds disgusting, doesn’t it?) as the ideal oyster wine. In Bordeaux they often pour Pessac-Léognan, naturally. At a rather crazy soirée at Château La Fleur de Boüard a few years ago, hosted by proprietor Hubert de Boüard de Laforest, there were only red wines for drinking. Ugh. But for me it is Muscadet, every day.

That does not mean, however, that Muscadet only works with oysters. Or even only with seafood. Muscadet has changed; there are intra-appellation differences, different soil types giving very different wines, and new crus communaux (if you find the term confusing, just think ‘crus‘ or even ‘premiers crus‘ – this is, essentially, what these new zones are) which yield wines with unique characters and richer substances. The light, zippy, saline bite of a wine from serpentinite or amphibolite (both igneous rocks) is delightful with oysters. But other wines, richer wines from gabbro, gneiss, orthogneiss or the richest of all, granite, will happily see off any shellfish, and also white fish including – in the past week, in Nantes – sea bass and john dory. Step up to the crus communaux, wines made from older vines, with lower yields, aged sur lie typically for two years, and you have wines that work well with white meat, light game meats such as guinea fowl, veal and foie gras (I was in a minority on this one, but it worked for me). Once you move to the extremes of styles coming out of the region you have wines that defy the name Muscadet altogether. Take Cuvée Bruno, from Bruno Cormerais, poured for me blind by David Cobbold in Angers a couple of years ago; this wine had me guessing the grape as Chenin Blanc, Romorantin or even Verdelho before somebody clicked it had to be Melon de Bourgogne. These wines are rewriting the Muscadet rule book.

These experimental wines, and the crus communaux wines, are to generic Muscadet what Le Clos and Valmur are to generic Chablis. They are clearly of the same family, but they operate on a very different level. Chablis might be your choice for fish cakes on a Tuesday evening, but Le Clos would surely be better suited to faison à la Normande served for Sunday dinner. These different purposes do not invalidate either style; they are both, we would hopefully agree, ‘Chablis’. And a generic Muscadet Sèvre et Maine sur lie would be fine on Thursday with a salad of dressed crab, but with roasted guinea fowl on Saturday evening a bottle from Clisson, one of the first three crus communaux to be ratified by the INAO (six more are set to follow), would be my choice.

So, can we please get over this misinformed, blinkered view that Muscadet is just one style of wine, that works with oysters, and nothing else? Because, quite simply, such a view is about ten years out of date.