A Week of Scandinavian (over) Indulgence. It's all about Style...
I don’t usually write about wines we’ve drunk here unless there’s a theme or a purpose. There needs to be a story, or something of interest. Otherwise it smacks too much of ‘look at what we are drinking’ and an impression that my tasting comments must be pearls of wisdom. Not so. But we have some serious wine loving friends who are Norwegian and Swedish and with the pandemic and chaotically disco-ordinated governmental travel bans, it’s been a long time…
So when Andre phoned up from Bergen and said that they were so fed up that they were taking a PCR test and going to drive 14 hours to see us (and the cellar), I knew we were in for some fun. He also had 8 full cases of wine sitting in my garage waiting for collection. Finally, we had an excuse to (over) indulge in something nice and sup the roller coaster of emotions that you get with what should be fine wine. The big labels that fail in a criminal waste of money, and the unexpected ‘lesser’ wines that shine with beauty.
Twenty years is, or should be, a great age to drink a red wine, and 2001 is generally a pretty decent vintage. So we started with a trio of ‘bordeaux blends’ all served blind as usual just so that we could get an honest opinion of quality. Not a test, just an assurance of honesty. It’s much more difficult to say ‘yuck’ when you see some $$$ label in front of you. (Or is it?).
It’s only when you taste wines side by side that you really see the difference and the quality. The Calon on its own would have been a good wine, but it was somewhat rigid and rustic, as if the years had not really softened its rather stern demeanour. I guess you’d call it ‘classic’, blackcurrants and earthiness, but so often that means a slight lack of ripeness. Nice but not very generous.
In contrast the Ducru was younger, more polished and just way more classy, balanced and elegant, with a long way to go if needed. No rough edges or slightly poky tannins, just ripe blackcurrants, nice oak and lovely secondaries.
I thought that Ridge Montebello would top the trio as to me it’s the most restrained star of California and full of complexity, but in 2001 the wine was very much wearing the California label on its sleeve, perhaps a decade too young but massive, very ripe and dare I say it heading towards the porty. Very impressive, but certainly at this stage, far more of brute force than charm. For a favourite wine it was disappointing, but luckily I only have one 2001. Here you could feel the sunshine transcend that mountain fruit and reticent winemaking. It shouted more of Napa than Santa Cruz, not my songsheet…
If cabernets are usually pretty reliable (apart from the odd dodgy cork) the next day I rolled the dice and filled the fridge. I started with 3 hidden burgundies, with a fourth in the fridge as we’d almost undoubtedly hit one that was oxidised. I have no idea when, or if, the premature oxidation horror has receded, but the first decade of the 2000s was a mess and I’ve had far too many bottles that went down the sink at prices that I can no longer afford to replace. I just hope that the second decade sees a huge improvement as it’s a total disgrace that the big domaines in some cases watch their prices triple whilst knowing that a significant proportion of their bottles are destined for the drain, or, in our case, for the freezer and poulet au vin jaune…
So, I opened all 3 with trepidation and, hurrah, all 3 were spot on, lovely examples of what they should be. But whilst every wine writer now obsesses with the mantra of terroir, as if their supreme palate could really taste the geological differences of this side of the path versus that, or this indentation in the slope or extra garnish of limestone, we sometimes seem to forget the massive difference in winemaking styles. Oh yes, one vineyard made by X should taste different from another by X, but the winemaker can make far more difference than the geology and geography. And here we had 3 stars on display with very differing profiles.
The Ramonet was the ripest. I love their wines, but in some vintages they can be a little too sunny for me. Here we had good balance but definitely an opulence to the fruit, more yellow fleshed than white. But supported by a nice bit of lemon and plenty of extract, (so enjoyable that we opened the second, reserve bottle too). The Leflaive, which I was the most worried about as sadly their winemaking seems to have been all over the place of late (bottles oxidised, so reductive as to be undrinkable, picked too late etc), but this was thankfully on point – notably Leflaive reductive (that smell of struck match), a ripe core and solid minerality. Good, but I think a little too much on the reduction, which leaves a hard edge to the finish which some people mistake as glorious minerality but is actually a wine starved of oxygen. Very good but slightly hard, and reduction is not terroir.
Perrieres suggest stones and I often find it just that, and the Sauzet was the most austere of the group but the best balanced, hardly a whiff of reduction, lovely green fruit, citrus, chalky, chewy minerality and a lovely long finish. Impeccably pure and balanced, Bravo.
You’d be very happy to drink any of the 3, but the Ramonet had the ripest fruit, the Leflaive was the biggest and most reductive, the Sauzet the most elegant and stony. Theree different ways to photograph a golden slope.
And so, as we were on a roll with the top domaines, I decided to jump down to the Rhone and try something I’d not done before – the greatly lauded 3 ‘La La’s’ of Guigal, Cote Roties that have the American wine critics falling over themselves to bestow perfect 100 point scores.
But first Andre slipped in a blind ringer. In general Saumur, and Loire reds made from cabernet franc have a rather green, mushroomy side that I don’t get too excited about. Yes, there are good Chinons from the likes of Joguet, Roches and Couly-Dutheuil that can age for two decades and more, and I have in the cellar a 1961 Bourgeuil that was still good at 50, but they are light in weight and often a little green.
But at Clos Rougeard they seem to attain a level of ripeness that the others do not, and under the Foucault brothers (and now the Bouygues family) a cult following that has gone orbital (as have the prices) since one of the brother’s deaths in 2015. Whether a Loire red can really be worth 300 euros (or more) I can’t comment, but was about to find out unknowingly.
I have to say it smelled nothing like a normal Loire red, the green pepper was simply not there. Instead, you had ripe, slightly exotically spiced fruit, lovely oak and a very plush feel. I guessed top St Emilion which I suppose was not too far off if you consider that Cheval Blanc is largely cabernet franc. Seriously good, though I am still not really sure about the crazy price tag.
Anyway, the big 3 awaited. 2004 may not be the best year in the northern Rhone, but what could we expect from the 3 stratospheric Guigals?
I must make a confession – I have had a couple of top Guigal whites and found them over-oaked and clumsy. Indeed, I once served a 2007 Hermitage ex Voto to Mark Williamson of Maceo/Willis Wine Bar and let’s just say that we were all so unexcited that, well, it made the most delicious langoustine sauce. And so it should for the price, but then at that level you’d rather hope to drink it. And the reds, well, let’s see…
I served la Mouline first, thinking that the Cote Blonde would be the more floral and elegant of the trio. Hmm, well, it certainly has a powerful aroma, but it was all oak. In fact, the wine just tasted to me of very plush oak. I mean it was nice, but not my idea of syrah. Okay, again, I admit to being in love with the wines of Jamet and the Cornas of Clape and Allemand, my yardsticks for the region. The Mouline costs a lot less and was like a person in a very expensive fur coat. You notice the coat and the extravagance, but what’s underneath..?
Time to flip over to the Cote Brune and I think add a bit of viognier white grapes to the mix, La Turque. I was hoping for a significant difference, and, yes, there was perhaps a brighter cassis fruit, but once again the 5 star oak treatment seemed to efface any hint of place or grape.
Finally, La Landonne, the male weightlifter of the Cote. I have drunk it from Rostaing and find it almost too much. But here at least the muscle and that ‘bloody’ iron tang did take me to syrah, though I’d have guessed it as from the hill of Hermitage further down the river and on the opposite bank, but I’d far prefer Chave’s rendition. The oak was better balanced by the power of the wine, but still for me overdone, and if a wine isn’t balanced at 17 years old from a lighter vintage, I frankly don’t think it ever will be.
I have another 3 bottles bought before the prices attained their current heights and they are now on sale on IdealWine, so if you are a fan of luxuriating in 3 Michelin starred oak and elevated critics’ scores, please bid high!
Once again, winemaking style against terroir… you love it or you hate it. In this case I am very happy to console myself with far more balanced wines at half the price or less.
When our Swedish friend Peter arrived, with a magnum of 2000 Savigny from none other than Emmanuel Rouget, nephew of the deceased demi-God of Burgundy, Henri Jayer, I wanted to start with something super.
Or so I thought.
A 2007 grand cru Batard Montrachet from Pierre Morey, the man who had made so many glorious bottles of Domaine Leflaive. My last bottle of 3, with, thus far, a 50% mortality rate…
And now 66%. We didn’t even need to taste it. One look was enough. And one sniff too much. Oxidised beyond death. Disgustingly undrinkable and by today’s prices 400 euros straight down the sink. Good start to an evening.
As back up I’d dropped all the way down to a village wine, but Meursault from a superstar (and these days also at a ridiculous price). How Jean-Marc Roulot does it I do not know, but he achieves (when not oxidised) and hint of reduction, a laser purity of fruit (a la Sauzet) a teeth cleaning citrus acidity and lovely tooth coating minerality. A grand cru with less volume, it reminded me of listening to the stupendous Joan Sutherland when she was retiring, well into her 70s. The voice and the notes were all their, crystal clear, the limpidity and amazing vocal technique, just the volume was turned down. Awesome.
As for Rouget, a twenty-year-old village wine? Lovely creamy elegance and mature damson fruit, a touch of the sauvage and of licorice, the sort of wine you can drink all night. Again, style is key – uncle Henri was the doyen of destemming whereas nowadays DRC, Leroy, Dujac etc are all stars of whole cluster winemaking and including stems. The nice thing is both styles can attain brilliance. It’s interesting as with global warming and fashion, more and more domaines are experimenting with the inclusion of stems. When well done it can dampen the alcohol a fraction and add a definite florality. When overdone it can mask the fruit with a slightly bitter greenness. Again, not the effect of terroir, but winemaking choice.
So how to end up? With two megstars in one vineyard?
Charmes-Chambertin. How many times have I walked along that road, heading out (south) of the village of Gevrey, past Clos St Jacques and Ruchottes to the monumental slopes of Chambertin itself and Clos de Beze and on to the humbler Charmes, salivating all the way? A roll call of names, tastes and memories, even if these days they are wincingly expensive.
And of course if you wanted to pick Mr Gevrey and maybe Mr Chambolle I’d wager that many would cast their vote for Rousseau and Roumier.
2007, a lighter year, but one that can be approached earlier, a blessing as you get older and no longer want to bet on the luxury of longevity and extended cellaring…
The styles? The Roumier more powerful, sauvage, mineral and still tight, a wine that you felt did not really want to be drunk now, still a bit sullen. The Rousseau at first seemed less impressive, but then the elegance and beauty of the wine shone through.
So many labels, so much money, so many tastes. All in all, we only tipped one down the sink, and well, the reds were a mix of styles, from the sun drenched and powerful (but still balanced) Montebello to the lavish oak coating of Guigal to the classicism of Ducru and the supreme elegance of Burgundy. The whites too had their contrasts, though for me the crystalline restraint and balance of Sauzet and Roulot were like a beam of sunlight shining through a cloud-strewn sky.
But above all, to taste, discuss and enjoy wines like these with great friends and wine lovers is a pleasure and a privilege. Let’s just hope the pandemic retreats next year and we can indulge is such festivities again. Soon.