A few weeks ago, we played another round of “Vintage Pairs”. Our next session will happen on 14 August. 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 in June.
One of you regulars at our “Vintage Pairs” asked me about how to identify Chablis blind, so that’s where the idea for this pair originated. And then I wanted to show two contrasting producers of Chablis, so that’s why I selected Billaud-Simon and François Raveneau. ‘Les Blanchots’ comprises 12 hectares and is located on a steep, south-southeast facing slope with soil made up of Kimmeridgean clay.
Domaine Billaud-Simon owns .18 hectares of ‘Les Blanchots’, and it’s planted with old vines with an average age of 50 years old. Their style is to ferment and age their wines primarily in stainless steel vats to promote freshness and minerality in the wine. The wines also tend to be bottled late. For the 2007 vintage, they were bottled in 2009. Some of their premiers crus and grands crus spend a small amount of time in oak barrels depending on the vintage and vineyard. For ‘Les Blanchots’ 100% is vinified in oak barrels. In 2014, Domaine Faiveley purchased Domaine Billaud-Simon.
Domaine François Raveneau owns .64 hectares of ‘Les Blanchots’. The two sons, Bernard and Jean-Marie lead the domaine today. The average age of the vines is 55 years old. For the winemaking, the malolactic fermentation takes place in barrel, and then ageing occurs for a period of 18 months in used barrels and feuillette, a small percentage of which is new.
The 2007 vintage in Chablis saw challenging weather conditions for the development of the grapes. It began with warm weather conditions that resulted in early flowering. Then, July and August were grey and cool with warm, favourable growing conditions returning in early September. Hail between April and late July caused problems for the grapes and the hailstorm on 24 June affected part of the Blanchots vineyard.
The 2007 Domaine Billaud-Simon ‘Les Blanchots’ was minerally and lively with vibrant lemony acidity and green apple and other crunchy orchard fruit notes. The palate was savoury and dry leading through to a pleasing saline finish.
By contrast, the 2007 Domaine François Raveneau ‘Les Blanchots’ showed richer flavours on the nose and palate with sweet spice notes of vanilla and nutmeg, bosc pear, and golden delicious apple. The overall structure of this wine was bigger than the Billaud-Simon with greater concentration and body; it feels like there are many years ahead for this Raveneau.
At the end of the evening, I asked everyone to vote for their two favourite wines. For this pair, both wines received four votes for favourite wine of the night.
Jean-Marc Roulot © Linden Wilkie
Roulot is likely most famous for highlighting and differentiating the qualities of Meursault’s lieux-dits. The vineyard, Meursault ‘Les Tessons, Clos de Mon Plaisir’, comprises .85 ha with soil made up of clay and limestone. The vines were planted in 1951 and 1961.
Jean-Marc Roulot likes his wines with food, and he believes minerality and acidity in his wines will make them best suited for enjoyment with food. If the grapes are healthy, Jean-Marc will crush the grapes before pressing them which tends to produce a greener juice with a bit more acidity. He likes this quality because it enables the wines to age. Then, he vinifies the Chardonnay in wood. Jean-Marc likes some lees contact because he sees it as a preservative to help prevent oxidation. However, he wants purity in his wines and feels bâtonnage can create heaviness. He stirs the wine on its lees every two weeks. For the ageing of his Meursault, Roulot uses 15-18% new oak and ages the wines for 11 months in barrel and then for 7 months in stainless steel.
The 2004 vintage for white Burgundy is likely known best for its racy acidity. It’s a year that saw cool temperatures and quite a bit of rain, so mildew and odium were issues. However, by September warmer temperatures and drying winds from the north moved in to help clear up the threat of disease.
With 2010, there was poor flowering, so the crop was small. This reduced crop meant more concentrated, flavourful grapes and resulting wine. The year experienced a cool growing season, and when I visited in September close to the harvesting time, rain was coming in each day, so that was a concern. Fortunately, winds were also present to dry out the moisture and prevent against disease. The vintage is characterized by reviewers as a classic Burgundy vintage with vibrant acidity while also maintaining ripeness.
This pair was very interesting as the 2010 performed as being more ready to drink while the 2004 showed lots of youthful character. The 2010 Meursault ‘Les Tessons, Clos de Mon Plaisir’ displayed aromas of yellow peach, lime citrus combined with savoury herbal notes like sage as well as having a minerally quality about it.
However, the 2004 was very minerally driven and precise, the fruit was tart in character with green apple and quince flavours combined with lime citrus.
The 2010 received ten votes for top two favourite wines of the night (It was the second overall favourite wine of the night) and the 2004 received three votes.
Edouard Parinet showing TFWE the 'Croix des Vérillats' vineyard, 2018
Linden and I visited Château du Moulin-à-Vent last July. What struck me right away as we got out of the car was the wind. You feel it immediately. It’s fitting that the Beaujolais Cru, Moulin-à-Vent takes its name from a windmill that sits as a landmark in the vineyards. This wind combined with the iron and manganese in the soils help to limit the yields of the vines resulting in wines of power, concentration and the ability to age for many years. The average age of their vines at Château du Moulin-à-Vent is 55 years old.
The ‘Croix des Vérillats’ vineyard is one of their highest altitude vineyards, so there is lots of wind. Edouard Parinet, the current family member who is managing Château du Moulin-à-Vent, took us to see this vineyard, so we could experience the wind as well as see the soils. The vineyard is made up of granitic sand, and the soils are quite shallow. It’s my favourite wine from Château du Moulin-à-Vent. The grapes are small and concentrated creating an intense wine.
The 2012 vintage was very challenging. Frost and hail were problems early on. Lots of rain in April, May and June caused millerandage, so small, not fully developed berries. Mildew and odium were other problems caused by the rain. As a result, the crop was small for 2012, but proper sorting like occurred at Château du Moulin-à-Vent resulted in pleasing wines with concentration and depth.
By contrast, 2015 was very strong for Beaujolais. In July, there was concern for drought stress on the vines due to the warm weather, but August saw rain and cooler nights to ease these concerns. The resulting wines have good phenolic ripeness and acidity to balance the sweet fruit with velvety tannins.
The 2015 ‘Croix des Vérillats’ conveyed a perfumed nose with floral aromas, red raspberry and other red berry notes with a bit of dark raspberry too. The tannins were medium in character and rounded out by the fruit with a medium to medium plus body.
For the 2012, the garnet colour revealed an older wine in the glass. Then, on the nose more dried fruit notes in addition to fresh fruit with red berry fruit dominating along with aromas of thyme and earthy notes of potting soil.
The 2015 received one vote for top two favourite wines of the night and the 2012 also received one vote.
Cairad Vineyards at Colgin Cellars © Colgin Cellars
Colgin Cellars is located on Pritchard Hill in St. Helena, California. The winery was completed in 2002 and is a gorgeous, state of the art facility. Anne Colgin and her husband, Joe Wender, are passionate wine collectors.
The ‘Herb Lamb Vineyard’ is one that Colgin Cellars stopped making after 2007. The vineyard comprises 7 hectares in Howell Mountain. In 1992, Anne Colgin entered into an agreement to purchase fruit from this vineyard; this relationship continued for the next fifteen years, and this fruit was the source for her top wine, the ‘Herb Lamb Vineyard’ Cabernet Sauvignon. With the 2004 vintage, they brought in David Abreu during the middle of the summer to start managing the 14 rows they purchased fruit from in the Herb Lamb Vineyard. He managed the canopy and reduced the yields quite low to increase the intensity and concentration of the wine. After fermentation, the wine was aged in new French oak barrels and bottled without fining or filtration in March 2006. The wine was released in November 2007, and they released approximately 170 cases.
‘Cariad’ is a Bordeaux style blend made from three vineyards managed by David Abreu. The 2004 vintage is a blend of 54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Merlot and 8% Cabernet Franc from Madrona Ranch and 10% Petite Verdot from Thorevilos vineyard. For ageing, the wine was put into new French oak barrels without racking for 18 months. It was bottled without fining or filtration in March of 2006. The wine was released in November of 2007, and they released approximately 600 cases.
The 2004 vintage was an early one. Three weeks of heat in March pushed the development of the grapes early, so harvest was early. Because of the warm conditions throughout the growing season, some of the wines saw high sugar levels but lacked flavour development.
For the 2004 ‘Herb Lamb Vineyard’, the nose showed rosemary, thyme and other herbs de Provence combined with red and dark cherry fruit and cassis. The aromas and flavours are still quite youthful with few secondary aromas showing; this wine still seems to have many years ahead with tannins that are medium plus and just starting to integrate leading through to a full-bodied palate. Even with its big structure there is refinement and elegance here.
The 2004 ‘Cariad’ displays a sweeter and riper nose with more dark fruit character. Specifically, the aromas and flavours from this glass were filled with blackberries, dark raspberries and other dark berry fruit that combined with notes of violets and sweet tannins on the palate to carry through to a full-bodied finish.
The 2004 ‘Herb Lamb Vineyard’ Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon was the hands down favourite wine of the night with eighteen votes out of twenty-six.
Syrah grapes at Domaine Georges Vernay © Olivier Fischer
For the final pair, we venture to the Northern Rhône, and more specifically, the wine of Domaine Georges Vernay. This domaine is most famous for its Condrieu. However, when daughter Christine took over after her father, Georges, retired in 1996, she started placing more emphasis on improving the reds. She wants elegance and finesse in her reds, so her practices in the vineyards and in the winery are with those goals in mind. In this pair, we are tasting the two Côte-Rôties from Domaine Georges Vernay: ‘Maison Rouge’ and ‘Blonde du Seigneur’.
The ‘Maison Rouge’ comes from a 2-hectare plot located at the southern part of the Côte-Rôtie appellation. The average age of the vines is 50 years old; they grow in sandy, granite soil on steep hillsides. This wine is 100% Syrah, and the fermentation takes place in oak vats. After fermentation, the wine goes into barrel, 30% of which are new, for 24 months. Approximately 8,000 bottles of this wine are made each year.
The ‘Blonde du Seigneur’ is a contrast to the ‘Maison Rouge’ and highlights the violet perfumed and more elegant side of Côte-Rôtie. The average age of the vines is 30 years old. For the winemaking, the grapes are fermented in stainless steel vats to preserve the delicate fruit aromas. They blend in 8% Viognier which is what gives the wine a sense of softness. Then, the wine is aged for a minimum of 18 months in barrel of which 25% of the barrels are new. Annual production is approximately 15,000 bottles per year.
The 2015 vintage is considered “excellent” by wine reviewers of the Northern Rhône. It’s a ripe and intensely concentrated vintage with tannins that are velvety in character.
We began this pair with the ‘Blonde du Seigneur’, and the 8% of Viognier in the blend here shows through in the wine giving it a pretty perfumed nose with floral aromas combined with notes of white pepper, saucisson and charcuterie. The fruit is fresh and lively with flavours of red and dark raspberry dominating. Then, the tannins are medium and the overall weight of the wine is medium plus; it’s an elegant style of Côte-Rôtie.
The older vines and 100% Syrah in the ‘Maison Rouge’ are evident on the nose and palate. This wine displays intense purity of fruit and concentration with dark raspberry and blackberry notes. The tannins are firmer here and carry through to a fuller bodied finish. These wines received no votes for favourite two wines of the night.
Thank you to everyone who joined me at our “Vintage Pairs” blind tasting session in June. You did a great job with uncovering the wines I selected for you; I believe I need to make it a bit more challenging next time. There were some definite standouts this round too with the 2004 Colgin Cellars ‘Herb Lamb Vineyard’ Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon winning out as the overall favourite wine of the night, then the 2010 Domaine Roulot Meursault ‘Les Tessons, Clos de Mon Plaisir’ coming in second and the two Chablis tying for third – 2007 Domaine Billaud-Simon Chablis ‘Les Blanchots’ Grand Cru and 2007 Domaine François Raveneau Chablis ‘Les Blanchots’ Grand Cru. I’ve included the full list of the wines from our session below, so you can enjoy some of these gems too. Be sure to sign up and come join our blind tasting game on 14th August!
|2007||Domaine Billaud-Simon Chablis Blanchots Vieilles Vignes Grand Cru||750ml||BH93-96|
|2007||Domaine François Raveneau Chablis Blanchots Grand Cru||750ml||BH94|
|2010||Domaine Roulot Meursault ‘Les Tessons, Clos de Mon Plaisir’||750ml||-|
|2004||Domaine Roulot Meursault ‘Les Tessons, Clos de Mon Plaisir’||750ml||BH90|
|2015||Chateau du Moulin-a-Vent - Moulin-a-Vent 'Croix des Verillats'||750ml||-|
|2012||Chateau du Moulin-a-Vent - Moulin-a-Vent 'Croix des Verillats'||750ml||-|
|2004||Colgin Cellars ‘Herb Lamb Vineyard’ Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon||750ml||WA95|
|2004||Colgin Cellars ‘Cariad’ Napa Valley Red Wine||750ml||-|
|2015||Domaine Georges Vernay Côte-Rôtie ‘Blonde du Seigneur||750ml||WA93|
|2015||Domaine Georges Vernay Côte-Rôtie ‘Maison Rouge’||750ml||WA94|