On 4 December, we played another round of “Vintage Pairs”. Our next session which will happen on 19 February. In this blind tasting session, we select five wines, serve them blind and as a group work deductively through the tasting process to uncover the wine. The trick here is we actually serve ten wines – two wines with something in common, served in pairs. In each pair the two wines will be either the same wine in a different vintage (our classic approach), or the same producer and same vintage, but two cuvées or vineyards from the same grape variety(ies); or the same vineyard and same vintage, but two different producers of the same wine. You learn a great deal about the wines and having two wines to consider and direct you in your answer can be helpful when they seem in line with each other or can totally throw you off the mark. Below is my recap of our tasting session this week.
1st Pair: Weingut Keller Westhofen Morstein Grosses Gewächs 2011(13% ABV) & 2006(13% ABV)
This pair of dry Rieslings from Weingut Keller was inspired by a quote I read from Jancis Robinson. In a 2008 article in the Financial Times, Jancis Robinson wrote, ‘If I had to choose one wine to show how great dry German Riesling can be I would choose a Keller Riesling. Those wines are the German Montrachets.’ So, I decided to include two vintages of Keller Riesling from the Grand Cru vineyard, Morstein, in our Vintage Pairs. This vineyard dates back to the 1200s, and the Keller family owns some of the oldest vines. Another well-known producer of high-quality Riesling from this vineyard is Philipp Wittman. The vineyard contains some of the most limestone rich soils in the Rheinhessen which helps to provide a racy acidity in these Rieslings.
The Keller estate dates back to 1789. Klaus-Peter and his wife Julia took over managing the estate in 2001. He studied winemaking and viticulture in Geisenheim and prior to that he went to South Africa and Burgundy to train. Klaus-Peter worked at Domaines Hubert Lignier and Armand Rousseau.
For the wines, his philosophy is that good wine is made in the vineyard. In his winemaking, he ferments his Riesling Grosses Gewächs in old oak fuder, uses indigenous yeast when possible and allows the wine extended periods of time on its lees.
With the 2006 vintage it was important to pick at the right time. Rains in August and during the harvest period created challenges, so those who waited to pick produced better wines. Prior to the cold conditions in August, the growing cycle for the grapes had started early in the spring and was followed by warm conditions in June and a hot August.
In 2011, the weather conditions were good for grape growing in Germany with the production levels returning back to their average level. During the prior years, yields were low. The 2011s tend to be open and very giving in terms of their fruit character.
For me, these wines showed true to their vintage characteristics. The 2011 had intense aromatics that included a touch of petrol, tropical fruit notes of papaya, passionfruit and star fruit combined with mandarin orange citrus. There was a lot of richness to this wine. Some felt that it was sweet and found it not as high in acidity as they would expect from a Riesling. However, I found the wine to be balanced with the ripe fruit aromas and flavours being supported by a minerally backbone and vibrant acidity. It had a medium plus to full bodied palate that left a lingering finish.
By contrast, the 2006 was less expressive but more mouthcoating and conveyed a feeling of more weight on the palate; it felt full-bodied. As a result, some guessed the Northern Rhône for this wine, finding similarities with Marsanne. The flavours conveyed on the nose included floral aromas combined with stone fruits of peaches, apricots and nectarines with a lime citrus underpinning combined with a spicy element. At the end of the evening, I asked everyone to vote on their top two favourite wines of the night. These two wines were the favourites of the evening even though they were the most challenging to guess blind. Each wine received five votes for favourite wine of the night.
2nd Pair: 2016 Philippe Pacalet Gevrey-Chambertin(13% ABV) & 2016 Domaine Perrot-Minot Gevrey-Chambertin(13% ABV)
For this pair, I’ve chosen two wines from the same village and vintage, but from contrasting winemaking styles and philosophies. One is natural in his approach, Philippe Pacalet, being very hands off in the winemaking. With the other being more hands on, Christophe Perrot-Minot, using sorting in the vineyard as well as at the winery with two tables de tri (specially designed sorting tables that aid in the elimination of unhealthy grapes), 100% de-stemming and 25% new oak for the village wines and up to 50% for the grands crus.
Philippe Pacalet is the nephew of Marcel Lapierre in Beaujolais, one of the major figures in the natural wine movement, and is himself known as one of the first natural wine producers. He doesn’t own any vineyards instead he rents land and makes the wine in a facility he purchased from the De Montille family that’s located in Beaune.
After ten years of working for an estate in the Côte de Nuits, in 2001 Philippe began making his own wine. He exudes an intoxicating energy and passion for wine. Philippe loves magnums, and that’s what he and his wife Monica shared with us when we visited them in November. Both Philippe and his wife are down to earth and revel in the joy of sharing wine.
He produces wine from some of the best vineyards in Burgundy including ones in the following villages: Pommard, Gevrey-Chambertin, Meursault, Chambolle Musigny, Puligny-Montrachet, Vosne-Romanée and Nuits-Saint-Georges. Philippe studied organic winemaking, so the farmers he contracts with farm organically and sustainably. He supervises their farming practices, and his team picks the grapes by hand.
For the winemaking, he uses indigenous yeast, does whole bunch fermentation and a long maceration and uses pigeage or traditional foot stomping of the grapes. Philippe only uses sulphur at the bottling stage. The wines are aged on their fine lees in used oak barrels. Philippe wants the terroir to speak through in his wines. His aim is to make wine in a non-interventionist manner, so that the pure expression of the fruit and the land come through in the wines.
Domaine Perrot-Minot dates back to the middle of the 19th Century. In the 1970s Marie-France Merme and her husband, Henri Perrot-Minot, joined her father Armand in winemaking at Merme. Then, when Marie-France’s father passed away, the estate became Domaine Perrot-Minot. Christophe Perrot-Minot took over from his father, Henri, in 1993. Part of the estate comes from his maternal grandfather, Merme, and the other part was acquired in 2000 with the acquisition of Domaine Pernin-Rossin. Currently, the domaine has 13 hectares. Christophe also makes some wines from top grands crus in Gevrey-such as Chambertin and Chambertin-Clos de Bèze from grapes he purchases which are labelled without the inclusion of ‘domaine’ on the label.
For the winemaking, and in general, Christophe is very meticulous with his wines. He first does sorting in the vineyard and then on two tables de tri. The grapes are 100% de-stemmed and he tends to use pumping over instead of punching down for more gentler extraction depending on the wine. Then, village wines such as this Gevrey-Chambertin see 25% new oak and are aged for approximately eighteen months in barrel before bottling and release.
The contrasting winemaking styles showed in these wines. Colour of the wines is what stood out first with the Pacalet being a lighter ruby than the Domaine Perrot-Minot. This characteristic was likely due to the use of whole bunch versus de-stemmed grapes. And, this factor also showed in the aromatics of these two wines. The Pacalet was very floral and intense aromatically with wild strawberry and other bright red berry notes jumping from the glass along with red cherry and herbal notes of tarragon. These aromas are intense yet charming in character. The body was medium plus with lively acidity, moderate tannins and a long length.
The Domaine Perrot-Minot showed toasty aromas and sweet baking spices. For most, the use of new oak seemed obvious. However, if this wine would have been paired with a different wine, I don’t think the use of oak would have stood out so much. Many times our impression of a wine is heavily influenced by the wine that comes before or after as we are prone to compare rather than judge the wine solely on its own. All agreed the wine is well made, but we also felt that the winemaking showed. The fruit was darker in this wine with dark cherry and dark raspberry flavours and more noticeable tannins and more weight on the palate. Both of these wines each received two votes for top two favourite wines of the night.
3rd Pair: 2014 Caballus Pinot Noir(14.1% ABV) and 2014 Rhys Vineyards Alpine Vineyard Pinot Noir(13% ABV)
For the next pair, I chose two New World examples of Pinot Noir; more specifically, one from Oregon and one from California. Caballus Pinot Noir is a tiny production Pinot Noir made by two friends, Véronique Drouhin and Isabelle Dutartre, who met at a riding club in Beaune thirty years ago. Caballus is made in the Willamette Valley in Oregon with grapes from two of its best AVAs – Dundee Hills and Eola-Amity Hills. In the winemaking, they use wild yeast for fermentation and then age the wine in French oak barrels approximately one third of which are new.
Then, for the California example, I selected Rhys Vineyards. They specialize in making top quality Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah in California. It’s owned by a Burgundy lover, Kevin Harvey, who had a successful software and finance career that enabled him to establish his own winery. The winemaker is Jeff Brinkman. In the vineyard, they use a combination of organic and biodynamic farming practices. The philosophy at Rhys is that great wine is made in the vineyard not in the winery. They use practices such a foot treading and native fermentation using the natural yeasts found on the grapes when they’re brought in rather than adding any nutrients. In addition, they ferment is small one-ton tanks, so they can ferment in small sections of the vineyard. Rhys is made up of seven estate vineyards. Six vineyards are located in the Santa Cruz Mountains and one vineyard is located in Anderson Valley. The Alpine Vineyard is located in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
The 2014 vintage in Oregon was known for being a hot vintage and a large crop. In California, 2014 is an outstanding vintage for Pinot Noir, and Rhys is one of the producers Decanter highlights as being one of the best producers of the vintage for Pinot Noir. William Kelley, Decanter, “California 2014 Vintage Guide”, 24 June 2016.
The Caballus displayed aromas of red raspberries and other red berry fruits combined with red cherries. The fruit notes had a purity about them but were sweeter than the previous two Pinot Noirs from Burgundy, so everyone was led to the New World with this flight. However, some thought New Zealand for at least one of the wines. The structure of the wine revealed moderate tannins, bright acidity, medium plus body and a long length.
For the Rhys, the fruit aromas and flavours were sweeter and darker with dark cherry and dark raspberry notes. Sweet spices intermingled with the fruit conveying more intensity as well as more body and concentration on the palate. The Caballus received two votes for top two favourite wines of the night while the Rhys Vineyards Alpine Vineyard received one vote.
4th Pair: La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 904 1998 & 1997
For the next pair, I chose two wines from one of my favourite regions – Rioja – and a producer that I find to be good value. The Sociedad Vinicola de la Rioja Alta was founded in 1890 by five Riojan and Basque families, and the first President was Doña Saturnina Garcia Cid y Gárate. The first winemaker was Monsieur Vigier and the first wine he made was Reserva 1980; this wine is now known as Gran Reserva 890. In 1904, Alfredo Ardanza, the founder of La Rioja Alta and the owner of Ardanza winery proposed merging the two companies. To honour this union, Reserva 1904 was created; this wine is now known as Gran Reserva 904. This Rioja Bodega continues to be a benchmark for traditionally made Rioja. The wines are made from a majority of Tempranillo with a small amount of Garnacha and Graciano. And its Gran Reservas are only made in exceptional years.
Gran Reserva 904 is a blend of 90% Tempranillo with 10% Graciano. Alcoholic fermentation takes place over a period of approximately two weeks, and then the wine is transferred to stainless steel tanks for the malolactic fermentation. Afterward, the wine goes into traditional American oak casks for four years. It also sees additional ageing time in bottle prior to release.
The Consejo Regulador DOCa Rioja rated 1998 as very good and 1997 as good; their top rating is excellent. The 1998 harvest saw the greatest production levels ever in Rioja. It began with favourable conditions from the start of the grape development process with low rain and mild temperatures. A strong growth cycle continued through August, and then rain and low temperatures in September slowed things down. These favourable weather conditions produced wines with good structure, balance and long ageing potential.
In 1997, the winter experienced quite a bit of rainfall and mild temperatures, so the development of the grapes began a month early. The spring saw healthy growth in the vineyards with just a bit of irregularity. But, the weather during the summer months saw more rain and lower temperatures than usual which created challenges for ripening. Fortunately, September was dry and sunny, so the grapes completed their ripening then.
The 1998 Gran Reserva 904 showed garnet colour in the glass with aromas of dill, herbal notes, coconut, old leather, earthy flavours, red and dark cherry fruit notes combined with more red berry notes both fresh and dried. Then, on the palate a savoury tomato note intermingling with the other fruits and earthy flavours with medium tannins, bright acidity and a medium plus body. This wine received two votes for favourite wine of the night.
The 1997 Gran Reserva 904 also showed garnet colour in the glass with similar herbal notes of dill as well as coconut combined with green leaf tobacco and cigar tobacco. The fruit was darker with more dark cherry notes dominating and a combination of both fresh and dried fruit. This wine was riper with more depth and complexity. It had medium tannins and medium plus body with a long length. The 1997 received four votes for top two favourite wines of the night including one of my votes.
5th Pair: Cayuse En Chamberlin Vineyard ‘The Widowmaker’ Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 & 2002
Cayuse is located in the Walla Walla Valley in Washington in the U.S.A. It was started by a French vigneron named Christophe Baron. In 1996, he visited the area and saw this land covered with stones and decided to plant a vineyard. He wanted to produce wine that would have a minerally character and believed this stony soil would have that effect. The vines struggle in the vineyard naturally limiting the yields and producing concentrated grapes. Cayuse is farmed using biodynamic farming practices, and they grow primarily Syrah, with Cabernet-Franc, Cabernet-Sauvignon, Grenache, Merlot, Tempranillo and Viognier as well. The En Chamberlin Vineyard comprises 4 hectares and was planted in 2000. Three different wines are made in this vineyard: Widowmaker Cabernet Sauvignon, Impulsivo Tempranillo and En Chamberlin Syrah.
The 2013 vintage for Washington State saw a hot summer but harvest conditions were favourable. These conditions produced wines with ripe flavours and in some cases the tannins are pronounced, but the alcohol levels are moderate. In 2002, the wines were also ripe while also having strong tannins.
The 2013 Widowmaker showed aromas of liquorice, blackberries, dark raspberries, herbal notes of oregano and thyme as well as gamey and meaty notes. It was fresh and very youthful with medium plus tannins and a concentrated palate with a full-bodied finish. Some thought this wine was a Bordeaux from the Pauillac. This wine received three votes for top two favourite wines of the night.
For the 2002 there was more dried fruit aromas with the dominant fruit notes being blackberry and cassis with old leather, lead pencil and a bit of earthy dried leaves intermingled. The tannins were softer and integrated but the concentration, full-bodied expression and length were still there. This vintage was the first one they ever made of the Widowmaker Cabernet Sauvignon, and it still has years ahead. The wine received two votes for top two favourite wines of the night.
The big discovery for most during this session of Vintage Pairs was that Keller makes some killer Riesling which falls outside of what we generally associate to be the characteristics of Riesling. And these are wines we’d like to learn more about. We also saw the impact of using whole bunch in red Burgundy versus de-stemming; the colour, flavour profile and structure of the wine was different as a result. Some at the tasting were reminded of their love of Rioja and how it can still be value for money. And we also saw how Cabernet Sauvignon from Washington can deliver aromas and structural characteristics that we normally associate with Bordeaux. Thank you to everyone who came and played the blind tasting game with me. I hope to see you in February. And I promise to keep it fun and filled with surprises.
|2011||Weingut Keller - Westhofen Morstein Grosses Gewachs||750ml||WA91|
|2006||Weingut Keller - Westhofen Morstein Grosses Gewachs||750ml||-|
|2016||Philippe Pacalet - Gevrey Chambertin||750ml||BH90|
|2016||Domaine Perrot-Minot - Gevrey Chambertin||750ml||-|
|2014||Caballus - Pinot Noir Willamette Valley||750ml||-|
|2014||Rhys Vineyards - Alpine Vineyard Pinot Noir||750ml||BH91|
|1997||La Rioja Alta - Gran Reserva 904||750ml||WA94|
|1998||La Rioja Alta - Gran Reserva 904||750ml||WA95|
|2013||Cayuse - En Chamberlin Vineyard 'The Widowmaker' Cabernet Sauvignon||750ml||WA969|
|2002||Cayuse - En Chamberlin Vineyard 'The Widowmaker' Cabernet Sauvignon||750ml|