Tasting session (13/09/22) (part 2)
Yesterday, I was doing a tasting session of a few Champagnes and wines to be used for some dinners later on, with a group of people from different divisions of the company I work for.
It was a wine + food pairing tasting, and I had to make the wine selection for it. Trust me, even with my Sommelier/Wine Buyer skills and years of experience, it is still not that simple to select a lineup of wines that are good and versatile enough to go with various dishes on a least 3 different menus (+ vegetarian options) served over 5 consecutive nights to different people, more especially under a limited budget.
So, I made things simple for myself, by selecting wines from only one supplier that has a list that is versatile enough to cover my needs, and tried to make my selection based on producers, vintages, scores, and obviously prices, as I had to respect a certain budget.
And, amongst other things, we tasted these 8 wines:
Château Rieussec "R" de Rieussec Bordeaux Blanc (sec) 2020
Average Market Market Price HKD 240 (Euro 30 / USD 30)
Not as expected. I was looking for a fairly inexpensive white Bordeaux, Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon-based wine, clean, easy, drinkable, and satisfying without being over the top. And, to a certain extent, that is what I got, good enough to serve the purpose of being poured as a white offered during the cocktail, but that's about it. Disappointing? No, but not exciting either.
In fact, I chose this wine by necessity more than by choice, as the supplier did not have any other choice for a white Bordeaux within this kind of price range. And, I was somewhat reluctant as I was also skeptical about the vintage, as 2020 was a warm vintage in Bordeaux, which usually does not produce great whites (in Bordeaux). Lesser and cooler vintages habitually present more acidity and freshness, which, normally, make for better Bordeaux whites. And, this 2020 was no exception showing a lack of depth, length, freshness, and almost a certain flabbiness.
And, don't get me wrong, I love the wines made at Rieussec, even if I rather prefer the Sauternes over the "R" de Rieussec, by far. The reason why I was interested to taste this wine in the first place. However, I was "far" from being impressed, and tasted much better vintages than this one.
I should have known better as the average aggregated rating/score on Wine-Searcher is a mere 86pts for the 2020 vintage, compared to 92pts for 2019. Some fruit, decently made and good balance overall, yet, drinkable, yes, memorable, no, more especially at 25-28 Euros a bottle.
Pascal & Nicolas Reverdy Sancerre Cuvée "Les Anges Lots" Loire Valley 2019
Average Market Market Price HKD 275 (Euro 35 / USD 35)
Coming after the R de Rieussec, this P & N Reverdy Sancerre "Les Anges Lots" felt more like a true and pure expression of Sauvignon Blanc, yet, being wood-fermented and aged, it also felt more fat and rounded than I expected. And although it was rich and quite complex, it could have used a little more intensity, structure, and acidity, which is present but feels muted by the fullness and ripeness of the fruit and the fat glycerin-like sensation coating the palate. Nicely made, yet, lacking a needed "je-ne-sais-quoi" of zestiness and vibrancy that could have elevated this wine to a much higher level and that I would have loved to taste in this wine.
Here again, don't get me wrong, I love the wines from Reverdy, and this one too, but you know, most Sommeliers (like me) have a tendency to "seek and find" the defaults of the wine before assessing its qualities. Yes, I've said it! Sommeliers are a pain in the a** when it comes to tasting wine as they will usually start by describing the defaults and faulty notes first, then the rest, and if too many of them: Next!
And, although I always see the glass half-full and try to be as positive as I can, especially when I think about all the hours, efforts, work, and pain endured by the vigneron all year round to produce his/her wine(s), judging by the way I speak and write, you can see that I'm no different than most of my peers, always a little something to complain about (even if I like the wine). 😁😉👍🍷🍷🍷
William Fevre Chablis 1er Cru "Fourchaume" Burgundy 2019
Average Market Market Price HKD 425 (Euro 53 / USD 54)
Now, people who know me well, know that I'm a traitor to my native region of Bordeaux, as I love drinking Burgundy, more especially the whites.
Yet, it is perfectly understandable, as, although, once upon a time, Bordeaux used to produce more whites than reds, in the 19th century roughly up to World War II, predominantly in the large areas of the Graves and the Entre-Deux-Mers, and despite the division of the Graves with Pessac-Leognan (where wines were more qualitative), back in 1987, thus confirming the Graves classification of 1953, in my opinion, and, also despite a few great contenders (e.g. Chateau Haut-Brion Blanc, La Mission Haut-Brion Blanc, Chateau Carbonnieux, Chateau de Fieuzal, Domaine de Chevalier, Smith-Haut-Lafite, and, a few more, including Liber Patter Blanc, etc..), yet, Bordeaux has long lost the battle of the whites when it comes to confronting them with Burgundy wines.
Personally, I'm a huge fan of the wines from Chablis and Puligny-Montrachet, respectively for their chalky minerality and zestiness, as well as for their complexity, intensity, structure and texture and length, and overall appeal. And, this William Fevre Chablis Fourchaume was no exception, it was really good. More especially, it felt that way as it had the flinty minerality, crisp acidity, freshness, and lasting finish I was looking for but could not find in the previous two wines.
Now, I can hear some of you say that William Fevre is one of the biggest producers of Chablis, yet, he is also one of the Top 10 producers of Chablis, producing elegant and racy wines, often showing great purity and intensity, reminiscent of spring water on rocks, complemented by green fruit (apple, lime,...), citrus, and powdered stone aromas. This 1er cru "Fourchaume" was refreshingly juicy with apple, melon, and lime aromas with white flowers, wet stone, and herbal notes and nuances. Great texture and structure from the attack to the lingering finish. Loved it.
NB: William Fevre is about twice the price, therefore it would have been really disappointing if it would have shown lesser quality and taste than the first 2 wines.
M. Chapoutier Hermitage "Chante-Alouette" Northern Rhone Valley 2018
Average Market Market Price HKD 550 (Euro 69 / USD 70)
After 2 Sauvignon Blanc and 1 Chardonnay, I needed something richer and bolder and thus selected a white from the Northern Rhone Valley, a Hermitage Blanc from the ginormous producer Michel Chapoutier.
And, within this kind of price range, more especially from a renowned producer, M. Chapoutier's "Chante-Alouette" is always a safe bet. The wine showed well, offering plenty of aromas and flavors (i.e. quince, apple, walnut, honey, ginger) and coating texture in the attack and mid-palate, presenting everything upfront for immediate satisfaction, yet slightly vanishing in the back end (IMO). Overall, friendly, enjoyable, juicy and approachable, fairly elegant, harmonious and balanced, and well crafted, with a decent finish, yet, it could have used a little more lingering presence, as it was not long enough for my taste. I still liked it a lot though.
Once again, I can hear you say that I could have chosen a wine from a more independent or smaller producer, yet, as explained above, I chose the wines for this tasting from only one supplier's portfolio (for practical and logistical reasons), the producer's names needed to be recognizable to a large public, and I was under a slightly restricted budget, so not much choice when you discard lesser or unknown producers and refine your selection by skipping the bad vintages and the prices out of the fixed range.
However, despite being one of the owners of pretty much the whole hill of Hermitage, (sharing it with Jaboulet and Chave, as well as E. Guigal and a few more), M. Chapoutier produces an array of qualitative wines at various price levels from a wide range of appellations of the Nothern Rhone.
At this level, maintaining consistency of taste and quality is both a skill and a talent considering the staggering amount of wines M. Chapoutier produces, (at least, if I did not miss one or two), already 12 different wines from the Hermitage Appellation only:
- M. Chapoutier Ermitage Le Pavillon, Rhone, France (Red)
- M. Chapoutier Ermitage l'Ermite, Rhone, France (White & Red)
- M. Chapoutier Ermitage de l'Oree Blanc, Rhone, France (White)
- M. Chapoutier Ermitage Le Meal, Rhone, France (White & Red)
- M. Chapoutier Ermitage Les Greffieux Rouge, Rhone, France (Red)
- M. Chapoutier Ermitage Vin de Paille, Rhone, France (Sweet White)
- M. Chapoutier Hermitage Monier de la Sizeranne, Rhone, France (Red)
- M. Chapoutier Hermitage Chante-Alouette, Rhone, France (White)
- M. Chapoutier Hermitage Mure de Larnage, Rhone, France (Red)
- M. Chapoutier Hermitage, Rhone, France (Red)
For those of you who may not know the difference between "Ermitage" and "Hermitage": "Ermitage" is the original orthography for this word, as its etymologic origins come from the Latin word "eremita" and the Greek "erêmitês"; therefore written without the "H", which was added, at some point during the 19th century, by the English, who had difficulty to pronounce "Ermitage", written on the barrels sent to England, thus creating the new word "Hermitage" and the habit lived on.
Now, what does it mean for M. Chapoutier wines? Well...
- "Ermitage" is used for the "Sélections Parcellaires" ("parcel or plot selections"), meaning from one parcel/plot of vines (within the Hermitage hill), producing wines offering the best expression of the "terroir" they come from (*).
- "Hermitage" is used for wines crafted from a blend of various parcels/plots of Hermitage Hill.
(*) The notion of "terroir" can be quite difficult to grasp when you have no idea what it means. Let me try to explain. On the hill of Hermitage, for example, and despite their proximity, each parcel or plot has its own unique "Terroir", which includes (but is not limited to):
- Specific soil and subsoil composition
- Sun exposure
- Natural drainage due to the slope inclination
- Surroundings that may influence the vine and grape growth cycle (flora, fauna, stone wall, trees, etc..)
- Micro-climate due to various surrounding factors (height and position on the hill, proximity to the top or the bottom, proximity to the Rhone river, etc..)
- Age of the vines (which is different as some vines or even entire plots may have been replanted, and are therefore younger than others).
- Vineyard management (due to all the above)
Consequently, when a plot has a very specific "Terroir" and the wine produced from that particular plot has a perfect expression of the characteristics of that specific terroir, M. Chapoutier bottles it under "Ermitage".
NB: This concept of "Terroir" exist in most wine regions around the world, like, for example, the "Climats", in Burgundy, which define the notion of "Premier Cru" and "Grand Cru".
The younger vines and grapes that do not make the "Ermitage" wines are usually blended to produce the wine under "Hermitage".
For example, this "Chante-Alouette" is a blend of three different vineyards:
- “Le Méal”, is characterized by a soil of very old fluvioglacial alluvial deposits with a high pebble content.
- “Les Murets”: whose soil is clay-gravel. Its red clays give the wines a full, rich character.
- “Chante-Alouette”: a high-lying terroir whose soil is a mixture of loess and very finely decomposed granite. It gives the wine freshness, salinity, and acidity
NB: if interested, you can read the full description and more details about this wine on M. Chapoutier's website (here)
Then, we moved on and tasted these 4 reds
There again, choosing some reds from only one supplier's portfolio, from well-known producers, in good vintages, with good scores, yet, within a certain price range, proved to be a little challenging once again, so, same as for the whites, I made a selection based on producer's name, wine, vintage, score, and obviously price. And, I think I did ok, no? What do you think? Nice little lineup once again. 😁👍🍷
Thierry Germain Domaine des Roches Neuves Saumur Champigny "Terres Chaudes" Loire Valley 2018
Average Market Market Price HKD 253 (Euro 32 / USD 32)
In truth, I'm a bit biased when it comes to Thierry Germain's wines, as I have been buying them for a long time (the last 2 decades, at least), and I have always loved them.
I selected this wine for the cocktail as I wanted a different type of wine than the usual (and utterly boring) Merlot or Cab Sauv offered by the glass at parties and events. I wanted something different and I am a huge fan of Cabernet Franc. The tricky part with Cabernet Franc-based wines is they often can be dry, tannic, astringent, earthy, austere, and even green (vegetable/leaf), if slightly unripe.
Yet, I knew that by selecting a wine from Thierry Germain / Domaine des Roches Neuves, I was not taking any risk. And, as expected, the wine did not disappoint and showed really well. Boasting aromas of ripe dark berries and cherries, plum, with earthy notes complemented by subtle oak and mineral nuances. The palate is lush, ripe, generous, and ample, without being heavy, balanced by the right amount of acidity and a solid grip of present yet integrated tannins, providing backbone and structure to this charming wine combining both intensity and depth.
To be honest, the complexity of this wine makes it more suitable to be enjoyed with food rather than served on its own for the cocktail, prior to dinner. I tasted it with some of the various dishes, more especially the "cooked sous-vide" 48 hours US Prime Short Ribs, and it was to die for. Loved it.
After the tasting, I brought the bottle home to finish what was left of it over my dinner. I had a glass with some roasted chicken I prepared, then left some to be tasted the next day, as I felt it could use more opening. And, I was right, the next day, coming back home after work, I poured myself the last glass, and it was even better. Man, what a wine! Highly recommended. Moreover, it is a steal at this price!
Thank you, Thierry Germain!
M. Chapoutier Côte-Rôtie "Les Becasses" Northern Rhone Valley 2017
Average Market Market Price HKD 587 (Euro 75 / USD 75)
I have already written extensively on M. Chapoutier above, with the Hermitage "Chante-Alouette", so, I'll try to keep it short (a difficult task for a guy like me 😅😅😅) and for more details, you can always go to their website which is full of great info on all of their wines (here).
Frankly, I did not know what to expect as I had not tried this particular wine for years. I only knew that the 2017 vintage in the Northern Rhone Valley was good overall, yet produced early drinking wine with somewhat low acidity due to an unpredictable growing season.
Following a dry and warm winter that caused an early bud break, armed by severe frost later on that delayed the flowering, followed by some rain in May, then a brutally hot and dry summer causing the acceleration of the ripening of the grapes, while lowering the acidity and juice content. Saved by the rain at the end of August, bringing back both the acidity and juice, allowing the grape to ripen nicely until the harvest in October. Resulting in nice, ripe, and juicy wine, in general, yet if slightly lacking in needed refreshing acidity.
And basically, the vintage description above was reflected in the wine. Incentive floral and earthy nose with lavender, scorched earth, black and red berries aromas. Nice and easy going on the palate, nice fruit and overall balance, gentle and soft, almost too simple, pleasant but not complex enough, in my opinion, at this price. Well made though, yet definitely not enough depth or intensity, lacking structure, acidity, and a bit more grip to make it more appealing and interesting, and for anyone to be willing to pay that price for it. At under 50 euros, why not? At 75 Euros, I need more than what this wine can offer.
Château Cantemerle 5ème Grand Cru Classé Haut-Médoc Bordeaux 2010
Average Market Market Price HKD 440 (Euro 56 / USD 56)
I have always liked Chateau Cantemerle, yet, I'm, surely, a bit biased when saying that as I'm from Bordeaux. But, that's true, Cantemerle has always been very consistent in terms of quality year-in-year-out over the last 10 years and lately received fairly good scores from the critics and the press. Never over the top, or amongst the best, definitely better nowadays than it was 25-30 years ago.
So, when I saw it on the supplier's list, and within the price range I had to respect, I did not think twice. More especially that I had not tried the 2010 vintage for a while, so it was a good opportunity to do so.
A blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Petit Verdot, beyond its deep garnet color, Chateau Cantemerle 2010 boasts a "Classic Bordeaux" nose with aromas of blueberry, cassis, and plums mingling with earth, pencil shavings, and slightly leafy hints. Medium to full-bodied, the palate is quite smooth and gentle, with juicy fruit, refreshing acidity, and, present yet integrated tannins, conferring backbone, grip, structure, and texture to this crowd pleaser with a bit of a chewy finish.
It is funny somehow that no matter what wines they can be up against, in general, Bordeaux wines always seem to please the mass. And, when we did this tasting, it was once again the case. Tasty, approachable, satisfying, and definitely pleasing. Was it the best wine of the tasting? no. Definitely not. But, was it the one that everyone liked right away? Yes! It was definitely the one that reconciled everyone unanimously about the fact that we should definitely serve that wine for these 5 up-and-coming dinners. No brainer.
What can I say? It is Bordeaux! No matter what else you like to drink, at some point or another, you'll always go back to Bordeaux. That's just the way it is when it comes to wine. 😁👍🍷
Domaine du Pegau Chateauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Réservée Southern Rhone Valley 2017
Average Market Market Price HKD 415 (Euro 53 / USD 53)
Domaine de Pegau was an easy choice, as I have been in love with their wines for decades, and, (like for a few of the producers/wines cited above), I even had the chance to visit the winery and taste at the barrels, back in 2013, which was an eye-opening experience, which confirmed my love for their wines.
That said, the tasting panel (including myself) did not retain this wine for the dinners, as we found it way too young and too overwelming for the food.
I must admit that this Domaine du Pegau Chateauneuf-du-Pape Cuvee Reservée 2017 is a very youthful powerhouse that still deserves to spend a bit more time in the bottle to tame its temper and round down some of its edges. The nose boasts some aromas of blackberry and cassis, with earthy, scorched pebbles, and floral and peppery notes. The palate displays flavors of dark and red fruits, as well as ripe fig notes combined with hints of warm earth, herbs, and leaves. Overall, the wine is quite full-bodied, juicy, and powerful with a lingering finish, and definitely promising, yet, it also presents some rough edges like the alcohol, too present in the back end, for now, and a good grip of tannins that will need a bit more time to get integrated. I still love it as it offers a lot of bang for the buck, but needs a few more years of cellaring to be better appreciated.
As always, thank you for reading my post. Drink responsibly, and take good care of yourself and your loved ones.
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