Last Wednesday (16 October), we played another round of “Vintage Pairs”. Our next session will happen on 4 December. 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 from this month.
One of the first blind tastings I attended when I moved to Hong Kong was all Champagne. I find it quite challenging to taste Champagne blind, so I love tackling the topic. I’m fascinated by Krug ‘Grand Cuvée’ and have wanted to do a tasting of the editions side by side for a while, so decided it would make for an enlightening discussion as part of our “Vintage Pairs” this round.
The inspiration for Krug ‘Grand Cuvée’ came from Joseph Krug who wanted to create an outstanding Champagne every year regardless of changes in climate or grape growing conditions. It’s a blend of more than 120 wines from ten or more different years. In 2011, Krug started labelling their ‘Grand Cuvée’ to identify the base wine used in this multi-vintage Champagne by providing a code that could be entered into the Krug website to generate information about the bottle of Champagne. Then, in 2016, they began identifying the base wine in the ‘Grand Cuvée’ by including an edition number on the front of each bottle. And there is also a Krug ID on the back of each bottle to enable the purchaser to read specific information about their bottle of Krug.
For the ‘Grand Cuvée’ Edition 166 that we tasted, there are 140 wines in the blend from thirteen different years with the oldest being from 1996 and the youngest from 2010. The blend is 45% Pinot Noir, 39% Chardonnay and 16% Pinot Meunier. It spent at least seven years in the cellar at Krug and received its cork in the spring of 2017. The base wine for Edition 166 is the 2010 which was a challenging vintage because of the many climate changes and the fact that the year ended with cool conditions. To counterbalance the lack of freshness shown in the Chardonnay from 2010, Krug used Pinot Meunier as well as 42% of young reserve wines especially from vintages such as 2000 and 2006.
For the ‘Grand Cuvée’ Edition 164 that we tasted, there are 127 wines in the blend from eleven different years with the oldest being from 1990 and the youngest from 2008. The blend of the wine is 48% Pinot Noir, 35% Chardonnay and 17% Pinot Meunier. It spent at least eight years in the cellar at Krug and received its cork in the spring of 2016. The base wine is the 2008 which ended up being a stellar vintage for Champagne.
Initially, when the 2008 grape growing time began there was concern that the grapes wouldn’t reach full maturity as there were cool conditions in the spring and summer. A severe bout of hail in the Pinot Meunier vineyards were also of concern. However, the year turned around in September, and the final result was an outstanding vintage.
Upon tasting, Edition 166 was more giving; it showed toasty brioche aromas, notes of nutmeg spice mixed with apple and pear flavours with underlying lemony acidity. The Champagne was round, rich and full-bodied.
By contrast, Edition 164 showed brighter, livelier fruit and purity and precision came through while still showing depth and concentration. Flavours of white peach and apple, zesty citrus and refined mousse came through on the palate leaving a lingering finish and inviting another glass.
At the end of the evening, I asked everyone to vote for their two favourite wines of the night. Edition 166 received two votes for top two favourite wines of the night while Edition 164 received six votes. Edition 164 came in second as the overall favourite wine of the night.
The region of Châteauneuf du Pape is one of my favourites, and I was lucky to have learned about it through one of the greatest collections in the world for these wines that of Park B. Smith at his now closed restaurant, Veritas, in New York City. Château de Beaucastel is unique in Châteauenuf-du-Pape as it’s one of the oldest estates in the region (it dates back to 1549), and it uses all of the thirteen allowable grapes for this area. They are the following: Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah, Cinsault, Vaccarese, Counoise, Terret Noir, Muscardin, Clairette, Picpoul, Picardan, Bourboulenc and Roussane. While Grenache is king in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Mourvèdre is featured prominently in the blend of Beaucastel. It has high quality Mourvèdre in its vineyards some of which came from cuttings from vines of Domaine Tempier in Bandol. Mourvèdre brings a savoury, animal like quality to the wines of Beaucastel. The blend is usually 30% Grenache, 30% Mourvèdre, 10% Syrah, 10% Counoise, 5% Cinsault and 5% other varieties.
In terms of vineyard practices, Beaucastel was also one of the first estates in the region to start farming organically; they began these practices in 1950 and by 1974, they were using biodynamic farming practices.
The 2009 vintage in Châteauneuf-du-Pape was a warm and dry year where the grapes experienced good ripening with cool temperatures at night enabling the grapes to retain acidity. Thus, the resulting wines have pure fruit expression and rounded tannins. Some reviewers compare the 2009 vintage to 2007 with 2009 having more acidity and freshness.
The 1989 vintage was of such strong quality in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, especially for Mourvèdre, that the Perrin family decided to create a new cuvée, Hommage à Jacques Perrin. It’s quite unique because of its high concentration of Mourvèdre in the blend. The blend for this wine varies from year to year, but it is usually the following: 60% Mourvèdre, 20% old vine Grenache, 10% Counoise and 10% Syrah.
During the tasting, the 2009 showed aromas of lavender, menthol, dark raspberry, and blackberry. The warmth of the 2009 vintage came through on the palate conveying a medium plus body. However, there was still lively freshness, so the wine didn’t show as jammy or overly hot and alcoholic. The 2009 received one vote for top two favourite wines of the night.
The 1989 vintage was garnet in colour so showing its age in the glass. Then, its aromas were a combination of animally notes, olive tapenade, and dried and fresh raspberry and dark cherry flavours intermingled with forest floor and old leather. This wine received seven votes for top two favourite wines of the night including one of my votes and was the overall favourite wine of the night. I think we were all reminded of the beauty and complexity of old Beaucastel with this pair.
Now, we move to Spain with two vintages of a wine estate that’s likely its most highly regarded – Vega Sicilia. Click here to read Linden's review of the 36-vintage two-day event we hosted with Pablo Álvarez of Vega Sicilia in October 2014. The estate is located in Ribera del Duero in Northern Spain about a two-hour drive from Madrid. It’s original founder, Don Eloy Lecanda Chaves, brought cuttings from Bordeaux – Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot - which he planted alongside their indigenous grape, Tempranillo. ‘Unico’ is the flagship wine of Vega Sicilia and is made from a blend of Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon.
For the winemaking, the fermentation takes place in wooden tanks with indigenous yeast. The malolactic fermentation also takes place in wood. Then, the wine is aged at different stages of the process in both French oak and American oak barrels with a combination of new and used barrels. After the ageing in barrel, the wine is also aged in bottle prior to release. On average, ‘Unico’ spends approximately six years in wood and three years in bottle prior to release.
The 2004 vintage for ‘Unico’ was described by Pablo Álvarez (the Álvarez family has been the owner of Vega Sicilia since 1982) as a textbook vintage. It’s a blend of 87% Tempranillo and 13% Cabernet Sauvignon.
The vintage 1998 was good for Ribera del Duero but yields were plentiful, so in some cases the grapes didn’t ripen enough. Vega Sicilia didn’t have this problem. However, by comparison, the 2004 will likely outshine the 1998, but let’s see what we think of these two top vintages side by side.
At the tasting the 2004 showed aromas of new leather, vanilla, sweet dried tobacco, blackcurrant and dark cherry combined with a tomatoey, savoury note as well as minerality. This wine is still quite youthful with medium plus tannins, vibrant acidity and a full-bodied finish.
The 1998 showed notes of coconut, green leaf tobacco, old leather, fresh and dried dark cherry and plum notes and was also minerally. The fruit displayed lively acidity with medium tannins and a medium plus to full-bodied finish. This 1998 is drinking well now but is also a wine that will continue to develop well in your cellar. The 2004 received four votes for top two favourite wines of the night while the 1998 received three votes for top two favourite wines of the night including one of my votes.
Marchese Lodovico Antinori found the property for Tenuta di Biserno in 1995 when he was looking for property to extend Ornellaia. This property was hillier and stonier than the vineyards of Ornellaia, so in the end it became clear this new property should be its own winery. Also, the sale of Ornellaia to Robert Mondavi in 2002 prompted the Marchese to create this new estate, Tenuta di Biserno.
Marchese Lodovico founded Ornellaia and went on to create 100% Tuscan Merlot Masseto, so he is a real revolutionary in Tuscany. With his latest estate, Tenuta di Biserno he feels the area of Maremma where the estate is located is similar to Pomerol and St.-Emilion. Thus, he has planted Cabernet Franc with a little Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot as well.
Tenuta di Biserno is made up of 49 hectares located in Bibbona on the Tuscan coast. The estate is located right next to the town of Bolgheri. It was planted between 2001 and 2005. The wine, Lodovico, is made from 6 hectares of the best area within Tenuta di Biserno.
This wine is only made in vintages where it shows its best. The first vintage was the 2007. When the wine is produced, approximately 6,000 bottles are made. For the winemaking, fermentation takes place in stainless steel vats.
In the 2012 vintage, the wine was made predominantly from Cabernet Franc with a little Petit Verdot. Harvesting began at the end of August and finished on the 3rd of October. For the malolactic fermentation, 20% went into oak barrels with the remainder staying in tank. Then, for ageing the wine goes into new French oak barrels for sixteen months followed by twelve months of ageing in bottle prior to release. It is a strong vintage for this wine with the added maturity of the vines bringing depth and structure.
For the 2008 vintage, harvest began in mid-September and continued until early October. Then, for the winemaking, 50% of the wine went into oak barrels for malolactic fermentation with the remainder staying in tank. The wine was aged for eighteen months in new French oak barrels and then for another twelve months in bottle prior to release.
The 2012 showed flavours of ripe dark berry fruit, herbal aromas of thyme and oregano, and earthy notes of forest floor. It had ripe tannins that were velvety with a full-bodied finish. While there were some developing notes in the wine, it still has years ahead.
The 2008 displayed aromas of vanilla, sweet dark berry fruits, roasted coffee and cocoa. It’s also full-bodied with velvety tannins. The 2012 received one vote for top two favourite wines of the night while the 2008 received three votes for top two favourite wines of the night. Most of the attendees had never had this wine, and it was a welcome discovery.
We ended the tasting with sweet wine, and more specifically, two vintages of Château Doisy-Daëne. This estate is located in the Bordeaux commune of Barsac and is classified as Sauternes 2ème Cru Classé.
The vineyards at Doisy-Daëne comprise 18.2 hectares and are planted with 86% Semillon and 14% Sauvignon Blanc with a small section of Muscadelle. Lots of replanting took place during the 1950s and 1960s. Today, Doisy-Daëne has a higher percentage of Semillon planted in their vineyards. The vineyards are located close to Château Climens, and the soils are made up of red sand, clay and limestone.
For the vinification, the wine is put into French oak barrels for an average of ten months with 65% new, and then the wine goes into tank for an additional eight months prior to release.
In Clive Coates book Grands Vins: The Finest Château of Bordeaux and Their Wines, he describes the 1962 vintage in Sauternes as one with ideal conditions where it would have been difficult not to make good sweet wine. He explains the wines are characterized by the following profile: ‘plump, soft fruit and a fine, ripe acidity’. (p. 803). When the wines arrived in London in 1966, Coates noted that they sold for 15 shillings(75 pence) to £1.00. (p. 803).
In 1953, Bordeaux experienced a hot, warm growing season with lots of sunlight. Rain came in September delaying harvest, but otherwise the year produced favourable conditions for the grapes. Wine critics give this vintage high praise.
The 1962 Doisy-Daëne displayed aromas of sweet spice, crème brûlée, and smoky minerality. It was viscous and mouthcoating on the palate with more creamy texture and riper flavours than the 1953.
For the 1953 Doisy-Daëne, the wine showed a bit of tarragon combined with lively fruit notes of apricots and orange citrus combined with honeysuckle. The vintage was leaner and more elegant in character than the 1962.
For top two favourite wines of the night, the 1962 Doisy-Daëne received one vote and the 1953 received four votes. What was remarkable about both of these wines was their youthfulness. No one suspected they were from these vintages, and most pegged them as being much younger. It just goes to show the longevity of Barsac and Sauternes.
|NV||Champagne Krug – ‘Grand Cuvée’ Edition 166||750ml||WA96+|
|NV||Champagne Krug – ‘Grand Cuvée’ Edition 164||750ml||-|
|2009||Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape Rouge||750ml||WA94|
|1989||Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape Rouge||750ml||WA97|
|2004||Vega Sicilia - Unico||750ml||WA97|
|1998||Vega Sicilia - Unico||750ml||WA98|
|2012||Tenuta di Biserno - Lodovico||750ml||WA95|
|2008||Tenuta di Biserno - Lodovico||750ml||WA93+|
|1962||Château Doisy-Daëne Barsac||750ml||-|
|1953||Château Doisy-Daëne Barsac||750ml||-|