Saturday, 9 March 2013

Mouton, Hangovers, Bad Manners and Post-Impressionism


Jaboulet’s Hermitage “La Chapelle” 1983(14/20) received 98pts from Parker. I read “Wines of the Rhône Valley and Provence” and became an early adopter when I followed Parker’s advice and bought some. Sadly, the case has given very little pleasure, because back in the 80s the bottles were put under an evil spell that turned all their contents into stone, scuppering mine and Parker’s fin-de-millennium drinking strategies. The spell was very specific, because Jaboulet’s Côte Rôtie “Les Jumelles” 1985(17.5/20) was juicy and sweet, and provided yet more evidence that this appellation could fit as easily into Burgundy as it does the Northern Rhône.  Interestingly, both wines had been bought on release, and cellared together. Tasted as a pair they supported my  long held conviction that the difference between good and bad vintages is not as great as we think, and the temptation for consumers to overvalue, and for producers to over-macerate hot, dry vintages needs resisting. 

Two white Rhônes were served, Chapoutier Hermitage Blanc “Chante Alouette” 94 (15.5/20) and St-Péray Domaine de Tunnel 2010 (13/20). Both wines were full, but if I was in the Rhône on one of those hot, drawn-out summery days, I’m not sure if either of these wines could wean me off Tavel Rosé.

The Southern Rhône was represented by Pignan Châteauneuf-du-Pape 1997 (17.5). The pallid colour lowered expectations, but on the palate, the wine swelled and deepened, impressing with a singular potency that suggested a high balance of Grenache in the blend.


White Burgundy struggled this year. Nature had gone about as far as it could agreeably go with Louis Michel’s skinny Grand Cru Vaudésir  1981 (12.5/20)  and 1er Cru Forchaume 1986 (12/20) , and the wines need to be gently euthanized or drunk before they attenuate any further. The two Ramonet wines, Grand Cru Bâtard-Montrachet 2001(13/20) and Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Morgeots 2009 (15/20) were baffling. A tasting note that includes seaweed, chamomile and pinewood might flag complexity for some, but there was an underlying disharmony that some tasters were attributing to it being “a root day”. More and more “root day” is sounding like a cosmic anthropomorphism contrived to cover some very human failings.  And Ramonet wasn’t alone in disappointing, Drouhin’s Marquis de Laguiche Chassagne-Montrachet (Les Morgeots) 99 (15/20) also struggled to impose any sense of accord. It used to be left to Pinot to spin Burgundy’s mysteries, but over the last two decades Côte de Beaune Chardonnay has been vengefully miring itself in controversy too.

Ramonet’s red wine, Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Clos de la Boudriotte 83 (17.5/20) was much more successful. Chassagne’s delivery so often cracks at the top of Pinot’s treble range, but the wine was pitch-perfect, and provided yet more evidence that we write-off difficult vintages at our peril. Two Dujacs followed, Grand Cru Echezeaux 99 (19/20) and Grand Cru Clos St Denis 96 (17/20). Dujac bolster their wines’ tannins with stems, but there was nothing obdurate about the Echezeaux, only the sustained release of flavour, like a lozenge of something sweet and wild slowly liquefying.

Jean-Jacques Confuron’s 2002 Romanée St Vivant (16.5+) was decanted early. There was a certain dissonance between the fruit and the tannins, the wine’s musculature remained cramped and stiff, but I suspect these are just growing pains, and there is a nimble future ahead. The next decade will be tougher for D’Angerville’s 1er Cru Volnay Fremiet 99 (13/20) which seemed as hapless in the glass as a jellyfish beached above the tide. The wine lacked structure and shape, so despite the abundance of fruit, I wasn’t sure whether I should drink the liquid or prod it with a piece of driftwood.


Pointillism was a technique used by Seurat, Van Gogh and Angrand. Despite the fundamental discontinuity of its method, pointillism was capable of extraordinary subtlety. For me, pointillism provides a good metaphor for the Médoc and Haut Médoc, which seem grittily composed of opposites - fruit/tannin, glycerol/mineral, ripe/acid – just as Seurat believed in the fundamental graininess of all matter. If these differences are out of balance, or their constitution is too coarse, then the wine fails to attain harmony. Perspective is hard-earned. The most appealing part of this analogy derives from the fact that we, as drinkers, are actively engaged in the final constitution of elements; the wine offered-up to our senses isn’t quite the finished object; the intellect is needed to complete the picture.

We drank some fine Bordeaux. Château Cos d’Estournel 1995 (17.5) was loosening-up nicely, but on the day was outshone by a remarkable magnum of Château Cantemerle 1998 (18.00), which, at the moment of ingestion, tweaked the blurred elements of fruit spice and earth into sharp focus. Innevitably, everyone was pleased to get Château Mouton Rothschild 1986 (17.5) set before them, but the fragrance was slow to come, and we were all very impatient drinkers by this time. Château Bahans Haut-Brions 2005 (14.5) and Château Lynch-Bages 2000 (15.5+) were young, firm, and wanting. If the first three Haut Médoc’s served-up tender fillet, then the last two were like chuck steak, chewy and unyielding; and this mattered, because, if you hadn’t noticed, we were kings for the day, and after this much wine we’d given-up on being gracious monarchs.

We tasted one Pomerol, Château Vieux Chateau Certan 2004(16.0+), which appeared rigid and isolated, despite the fact it had resisted adding all the thick gym muscles of nearby estates.

Our final Bordeaux was white, Château Margaux, Pavillon Blanc 2001 (15-/20) which I scored 15, though I can’t remember why, which probably means it deserved less.  

Italy and Spain

If there was one Paulée wine I would choose to rendezvous with again, it would be Giacomo Conterno’s Barolo 2005 (18.0+). Where the soup of molecules within la Chapelle’s tannic shell remained confused and disparate, those in Conterno’s wine were gathering into palate pleasing configurations. You could already sense this ample wine’s inexorable slide towards perfection, like the slow, melting ride of a glacier towards the sea.

Conterno’s wine may have been on its way, but Vega-Sicilia Valbuena 96 (18.5) was indubitably “there”. This was a powerful wine, but "full-bodied" in this instance refers to the overall magnitude of effects. One saw, with Gibran, how the mountain looks to the mountain climber. I have never bought Vega-Sicilia; more fool me!

Riva al Fosso il Poggiolo 1998(17) was from Brunello, but (and this amused me) failed to make the classification because the stems of half of the bunches were twisted before the harvest. Despite all this labour, the wine was only medium-bodied, and my glass, with its whiff of tomato leaf, herbs and antipasti was doing a great job of publicizing Italy’s broad-base of provisions.


The Rest

We were served two Champagnes. Bollinger’s RD 99 Extra-Brut(17) had a hard brilliance, though, I have to admit, the extra-brut-thing kind of passes me by, because I always thought Champagne’s sweetness was something of a secret anyway; and Salon 96 (16), which seemed content just pushing champagnisation (the process) to its lumbering limits.

Willi Haag, Sonnenuhr Auslese 1990 (18.5) provided an unexpected peak to the day’s white wine drinking. There are more expensive producers, but the whole structure, body and balance of the wine was articulated through a succession of flavours. Unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said of Weinbach Grand Cru Schlossberg 1988(14) or Hugel’s Jubilee Pinot Gris 96 (12) which jogged my memory back to a lecture at which I’d learnt the end point of wine oxidation was CO2 and water. By this point in the day, my body craved water, but not watery wine.