Champagne Dom Pérignon Masterclass

Hosted by our Fine Wine Manager Regan McCaffery. He is likely New Zealand’s foremost expert on the wine, having drunk every vintage  produced back to 1964.

On Wednesday evening I presented an wonderful tasting of Dom Pérignon, the world’s most famous Champagne, and one of my personal favorites. It is named after the Benedictine Monk Dom Pierre Pérignon, who produced his famous wines at the Abbey of Hautvillers from 1668 until 1715. Under him the wines of the Abbey flourished, reaching twice the price of any other and being drunk by Louis XIV himself. The Abby and it’s famed vineyards were purchased by Moet & Chandon in 1823 after the revolution and Dom Pérignon is still made from the same sites to this day.

It was the world’s first Prestige Cuvée, the 1921 vintage in its replica 18th Century bottle, was released to huge acclaim in 1936. Dom Pérignon is always a perfect blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in roughly equal proportions, the grapes coming from all 17 Grand Crus in the region, as well as the famed 1er Cru of Hautvillers. When young, it’s hallmarks are a soft citrus creaminess and exquisite balance, it’s almost too easy to drink.

For this Masterclass we looked at three different expressions of Dom Pérignon, starting with the new 2009 against the previous 2006 release. This is the first time ever that they have released a vintage out of order, deciding that the much anticipated 2008 still needed more time resting in the cellars under Epernay. The 2009 comes from quite a warm vintage and is already rich and expressive, a really showy flamboyant Dom. 2006 is a more classic year, despite being a little reticent now it will blossom and impress if you can manage to keep your hands off it for another ten years.

We then moved on to the stunning Dom Perignon Rosé, 2005 v 2004. A different blend entirely, this is around 60% Pinot Noir, with a full 27% of it being Red Pinot added to the blend in 2005!  Again the personality of the vintages showed clearly here; 2005 is beautiful now, incredibly elegant and delicate, the perfect Summer drinking. 2004 was much darker and more brooding, the sort of thing to drink with Lamb or Duck at a stunning dinner. Either way make sure you use a large Pinot Noir glass to see it’s full personality.

We finished with the  rare opportunity to taste two vintages of Dom Pérignon P2, from the 2000 and the 1998 vintages. P2 is a proportion of each vintage of Dom (around 10%) that is held back for extended aging in their cellars of 15-20 years before release. These were formerly known as Dom Pérignon Oenothèque (The library where the older wines are stored).

P2 refers to the second plénitude’ of the wine, a term Dom Pérignon uses to describe when in its lifespan the wine is showing best. The first plenitude would currently be the 2009. All the P2 wines are aged on cork and hand disgorged for a quality check. This provides an opportunity to try a perfectly aged bottle of Dom that is still fresh from being recently disgorged. P2 has much more power and intensity, it’s richer and more harmonious, complex and textured, a real pleasure to drink. Though for me, nothing beats a well stored original release bottle.

 

New Fine Wine Release – Ao Yun

Ao Yun is one of the most fascinating and exciting new wines in the world. It combines classical French winemaking and Tibetan farming, from one of the most incredible sites imaginable in the Northwest corner of China’s Yunnan province. It is produced by Moët Hennessy (Owners of Bordeaux Chateau Cheval Blanc and Chateau d’Yquem) in the foothills of the Himalayas near the legendary Shangri-La. This remote hidden paradise among the Mountains, is a world Unesco protected area in the three rivers region. It is grown on a patchwork of 314 tiny plots, on both sides of the Mekong, spread across four extremely high villages ranging from 2200m to 2600m. This breathtaking mountain terroir has no equivalent anywhere else on Earth, hence the name Ao Yun – ‘flying above the clouds’.

The local Tibetan people have worked this land for centuries, building millions of terraces that now play host to this unique expression of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Planted in 2002, no one has ever attempted to grow these varieties at this altitude before. The sunshine hours are quite short due to the shadows from the steep valleys, but UV levels and temperature variation from day to night are much higher. Combined with being situated at low latitude, but at such high altitude, means there is a significantly longer ripening period from flower to harvest than in Bordeaux or anywhere else in the World (140-160 days v 100-120). There is also very little rain fall here, which means no mildew or botrytis, allowing everything to be farmed organically.

This is an incredibly difficult undertaking in this location, Moët Hennessy searched the world for four years before finding this special site. The project is led by CEO Jean-Guillaume Prats, who was lured away from his 15 year position as Director of Chateau Cos d’Estournel. He then convinced Cheval Blanc winemaker Maxence Dulou, to bring his wife and two Children to this remote corner of China. To reach there from Shanghai, requires a three hour flight to the Yunnan capital of Kunming, then another hours flight over the Mountain tops to Shangri-La. You then have to endure a five hour drive over a twisting 4500m Mountain pass, to reach the new winery in the tiny village of Adong. Every single part of the operation was painstakingly brought in from France to ensure the highest quality, all the winemaking equipment, Oak barrels, bottles, corks and labels travelling this arduous route. This is a true human adventure in winemaking. A collaboration between Maxence, his Chinese technical team, and 120 Tibetan farming families who practice the viticulture to an extraordinarily high standard. Everything is done by hand working plant by plant, it takes 4 times more man hours in the vineyard here than in Bordeaux.

We were privileged to drink the 2014 Ao Yun at the New Zealand release, exclusively for Glengarry. This is only the second vintage and production is just 34,000 bottles with very little available in China. The blend is 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Cabernet Franc, but tastes like no other region. Ao Yun is a sophisticated and graceful wine, with a freshness and purity unlike anything else. Despite being aged in 100% new oak, it is focused and elegant. There is a superb balance between the wild black fruit and Pauillac like graphite, minerality/acidity and the sweet polished tannin structure. Ao Yun offers something truly unique to the world of Fine Wine and we are very excited to have an allocation.

Bragato Wine Awards

Romeo Bragato, an Italian Viticulturalist and visionary, was based in Australia as the Victorian Government Viticulturalist between 1888 and 1901. Romeo then moved to New Zealand and was our Government Viticulturalist between 1902 and 1909. Romeo’s work included identifying grape varieties that suited NZ’s diverse climatic conditions, grafting phylloxera resistant root stocks, vineyard layout and many viticultural practices. The Bragato Wine Awards are named after this legendary viticulturalist and are one of the two shows owned and run by NZ Wine Growers, the other of course, the Air NZ Wine Awards.
The Bragato Wine Awards are unique in many ways, more so than ever this year with the move to all wines being from Single Vineyards. The judging for the Bragato Awards occurs in August each year. As such, this is one of the first competitions to see the new vintage releases; excellent to see the new 2017 vintage with four gold medals for very such young, new to market wines. There’s also no volume requirements for this show, thus it attracts those very small producers that just don’t have the volume for larger shows. The Bragato Wine Awards also award the results to the growers, those who grew the grapes to make the winning wine. In my opinion, all of this makes the Bragato Wine Awards a very special and important show for the NZ wine industry – celebrating single vineyards and the people who grow the grapes there, people and their place.

Bragato team 2017

For this year’s judging, the chairman of the show was once again Ben Glover. Ben has been instrumental in moving the Bragato Wine Awards to the single vineyard focus it has today, a direction I strongly believe in. Wine is after all an expression of the place it comes from, interpreted through winemaking.
This year’s competition attracted 506 Entries, 49 Gold medals were awarded and 14 trophies handed out, including this year, The Glengarry Trophy for Sparkling Wine. Each year an international judge assists to provide an international view on the wines, this year that was David Stevens-Castro, an excellent taster with a broad knowledge. The Senior Judges for 2017 were Rod Easthope, Francis Hutt, Jeremy McKenzie, James Millton, Helen Morrison, Simon Nunns, Barry Riwai and myself.
The results from this year’s judging are hot off the press and I must admit, I’m super proud to have played my small role in selecting these wines. What an exciting array of wines they are, all very much an expression of the single vineyard in which they were grown.
You’ll find many of the award-winning wines here on our website. www.glengarrywines.co.nz/bragato

Pinot Noir and Truffles

Black Estate are located in North Canterbury – note the name reference, no longer Waipara; a relatively recent decision sees the producers here group together to present a unified and clarified story as North Canterbury. And what a story it is. I was fortunate enough to visit there with a few of the team last weekend and unearthed a raft of new stories, wines and wineries, so much so that I’m planning my next visit already.

Our visit there was to join the team at Black Estate for lunch to celebrate a local delicacy, NZ truffles. The day started with a visit to Limestone Hills Truffière, where we were greeted enthusiastically by Rosie the beagle and Gareth. Limestone Hills has the largest variety of truffles of any plantation in New Zealand. A super successful truffle hunt followed where Rosie found many Périgord black truffles and bianchetto white truffles.

Rosie the Beagle

Next stop was Black Estate, their restaurant sitting on the original estate that was planted by the Black family. Still family owned, Pen runs the restaurant and is married to Nicholas who is the winemaker. Nicholas worked for many years for Danny Schuster, just up the road from Black Estate, and describes driving past Black Estate every day and being able to see only a small edge of the vineyard from the road. One day his curiosity got the better of him, leading him up the driveway, the rest as they say is history. Black Estate have three vineyards in North Canterbury, the home vineyard where it all started, Netherwood and Damsteep, all producing wines with very distinct personalities.

The menu for lunch

Lunch was of course all about truffles and matched with Black Estate wines. There was no dish that stood out as being the highlight, they were all just so damned good. Black Estate and their neighbouring vineyards run truffle lunches as part of the North Canterbury Truffle Festival. My advice – book now for next year.

Champagne Veuve Clicquot Extra Brut Extra Old

Back in June this year I was in Sydney for the evening, just to attend a very special tasting. Veuve Cliquot cellar master Dominique Demarville, was in Australia to launch a very exciting new wine, Extra Brut Extra Old. This is a premium Non Vintage Champagne, made entirely from older Reserve Wines, and the first Extra Brut cuvée made by the house. Since Dominque started as the 10th Cellar master of Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin in 2009, he has been gradually improving the quality of the famous Yellow label by holding back a lot of top quality wine to increase their reserves. These add depth, complexity and richness. The idea behind this new cuvee, was to showcase the importance of those Reserve wines to the House. Extra Brut Extra Old is comprised entirely of Reserves spanning six vintages, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2006, 1996 and 1988. The Reserve Wines are all stored on their lees in a mix of Stainless Steel and Concrete vats, with the 1988 being the oldest still in their stocks, with only 50hl of this precious liquid remaining.

We were privileged enough to be able to taste all of the actual reserve wines that make up extra Brut Extra Old, and see how time gives a real concentration and creamy silky nature to these. Being a Pinot dominant house, we see that in 47% of the blend. 2009 Grand Cru Ay, 2006 Grand Cru Verzy and 1996 Loche sur Ource from the Cotes de bar. Then we have 27% Chardonnay, 2008 1er Cru Villers Marmery and 1988 Grand Cru Cramant. We finish with 26% Pinot Meunier which is all 2010 1er Cru Ville Dommange from the Montagne de Reims. The proportion of the two oldest wines is fairly small, there is just 1% of the 1988 Cramant in this blend. Trying the base wines you can see why, it had such a saline intensity up front, a real butter cream mid palate, and a powerful finish that still has strong acid. Dominique explained these older wines are like spices in a dish, you need just a touch or they overwhelm the flavour. But most surprising was just how fresh they still were.

Unlike any other Champagne this is then double aged, first the base wines are blended, and then aged together on their lees in vats for 3 years, up to 5% oak is used. They then go into bottle for 3 years of secondary fermentation and lees aging. At this stage the wine is produced with a lower pressure than usual, just 4.5 bars compared to the usual 6. This is to produce a very light effervescence, smaller and finer bubbles to emphasise the creaminess on the palate.  The wine was then disgorged in June of 2016, and given an Extra Brut dosage of just 3g/l, the lowest in the history of the house. Dominique explained that Extra But is a direct consequence of Extra Old, thus the name. Because of the richness of the older reserve wines, it requires much less sugar to keep the balance. He tried a number of different possibilities, from 5g/l all the ways down to zero dosage. He found too much sugar tended to cover the purity of the wine, and no sugar at all was too extreme, you lost some of the creaminess and silkiness of the texture.

The result of all this is a gorgeous wine of purity and finesse with a lot of complexity. Despite the name, Extra Brut Extra Old starts out very light and fresh, soft and creamy in the mouth before it builds in concentration and intensity as the older wines start to show. Finishing with just a hint of that salinity from the 1998 Cramant Chardonnay. This interesting and exciting Champagne is beautiful drinking now, but I believe also has a long life ahead, ten to fifteen years should be no problem in a good cellar.

Words by Regan McCaffery – Glengarry Fine Wine Account Consultant, Auckland, New Zealand.

 

Why you should buy so-called lesser vintages.

We are so well conditioned to seek out the best vintages, the super stars, those that the media rave about and generally that’s not a bad thing. When it comes to buying Bordeaux though, the ‘rule’ book needs rewriting as buying only the best vintages may just leave you dry between great bottles.
There’s much to consider. Firstly, wines from the great vintages of Bordeaux are meant to be aged, this is a region that can (and does) produce some of the most long lived fine wines in the world. Wines that have an abundance of tannins, brilliant bright acidity and a superb concentration of fruit. All things that are essential for long term ageing. When we talk long term ageing for Bordeaux, think 40 – 50 years or so. Now, depending on your current age (no disrespect meant), this may prove a challenge, unless of course you are purchasing to build a cellar to hand down the generations. Wines from lesser vintages do mature earlier, though keeping in the context of Bordeaux require 10 – 15 years to develop gorgeous aged characters.

The next relevant point to note is the expertise of this region and the selection that goes into the Grand Vins. The quantity made of these top wines is not what it used to be, there’s significantly less, all with the aim of ensuring that the top wines are of the very best quality. So, in years where the media does not go mad about the vintage and write such bold statements as ‘the greatest ever’, ‘the best in the decade’, the top châteaux are still going to produce excellent wines, there’s just likely to be less of them.
Last week, we hosted a tasting of First Growths from the 2014 vintage, tasting four of the classified first growths from the left bank: Mouton Rothschild, Lafite Rothschild, Margaux and Haut-Brion, together with the right bank pair, Pétrus and Lafleur. A very well attended tasting that we were very much looking forward to hosting. At the beginning of the night there was much discussion around the room about the 2014 vintage, many comments that it would be interesting, though not as great as 2009 or 2010. This is of course true, the 2014 vintage is not as good as either of these and, in fact, I’d rate it slightly behind the 2016 vintage that we’ve recently been selling En Primeur.

2014 was a relatively small vintage with inconsistent flowering. It was then extremely wet through July and August. Heading off on holiday at the end of August, many châteaux were nervous. September and October were then warm and dry. This provided a long ripening period which Cabernet loves. 2014 is a year best summed up as classic; generally, the wines are lower in alcohol, most around 12.5% and they are balanced, with beautiful freshness.
The wines looked brilliant and showed very distinctive appellation and châteaux personalities. It’s one of the things I really like about the 2014 vintage (2015 has it too), you can taste the character of the area and châteaux, more than the vintage.
The wines were in fact so good that by the next morning we had sold out of every last bottle of Mouton Rothschild, Lafite Rothschild, Margaux, Haut-Brion, Pétrus and Lafleur we had from the 2014 vintage. The stock we had should have easily seen us through to next year.

Bordeaux Blanc tasting review

Bordeaux Blanc at Glengarry Victoria Park review by Regan.
I recently hosted a tasting of the recently landed 2014 vintage from Bordeaux. The unusual aspect to this event, was that they were all white wines. Bordeaux is one of the finest red wine regions in the world, but it is often overlooked for the quality of its superb dry whites, which easily stand shoulder to shoulder with the greatest white wines of the world. Around 10% of the total production in Bordeaux is white wine, including the great sweet wines of Barsac and Sauternes.

Until the mid 20th century though, most people would be surprised to learn that around 50% of all wine produced in Bordeaux was white. Most of the vineyards were replanted with red varieties that were better suited to the terroir, after the great frost of 1956 that devastated the region. At this tasting we were just looking at the upper echelon of the region, primarily from the clay limestone soils of Pessac-Leognan, an appellation in the northern part of Graves.

The 2014 vintage had an Indian summer of record highs and sunshine in September/October, producing dry whites with generous fruit like the exotically tropical Château Carbonnieux Blanc. The top estates harvested late, and managed to keep their precise acidity, with beautiful crisp freshness and minerality we found in Larrivet Haut-Brion Blanc. This was a really outstanding flight of wines, right from the piercing Château Oliver Blanc ($50), through to the extremely rare Vin Blanc de Palmer ($400). I’ve already grabbed a number for my own cellar as these are wines with a very long life ahead. You can drink them now if you wish but they’ll continue to improve over the next two decades. We coincidentally drank the 1983 R de Rieussec at the Old Bottle Dinner the week earlier, and it was fantastic at 34 years of age.

Despite the presence of two dry whites from outstanding Sauternes estates Suduiraut and d’Yquem, the Palmer was a real showstopper. A miniscule 1200 bottles were made of this special wine, the first vintage it’s been available to anyone but the owners or guests of the Château. It’s produced from the same varieties that were found in two bottles of 1925 Blanc presented to Château Palmer by a French collector in the late 1990s. After analysis, they replanted and the wine is now made from approximately 50% Muscadelle, 35% Loset, and 15% Sauvignon Gris. With 17 months on lees in 20% new oak, this is a most unusual wine that would be extremely difficult to identify the region from. This is an outstanding and unique white, that only qualifies as Vin de France ( the absolute lowest level of French wine classification). This is due to the Loset being outside the appellation rules. A special wine to hunt out.

Bordeaux 2014 – now in bottle and in NZ

The Bordeaux 2014 vintage is the latest to arrive on the world market. Each vintage in Bordeaux is picked over with a fine-tooth comb and seems to garner more attention than any other wine region. It is, after all, very large, with a history and reputation to match. While the rest of the world are certainly no slouches in the winemaking department, Bordeaux continues to occupy an almost unassailable position of grand mystique and self-perpetuating prestige, thanks in no small part to the locals’ own canny ability to promote themselves via their natural Gallic confidence in their product.

So what was the 2014 vintage like? After the dynamic duo of 2009 and 2010, widely acclaimed as the greatest pair of vintages ever in Bordeaux (a position possibly initially instigated by the locals themselves), every vintage since would have had to climb something the size of Everest just to be noticed. The elegant 2011 was always doomed, then, as that level of hype just wasn’t sustainable. The following 2012 was a very solid vintage, one for early enjoyment, while 2013 was the kind of vintage that no one wants to talk about. Particularly the locals. So what, then, of the 2014?
Early weather conditions in Bordeaux were not great, flowering was inconsistent and the resulting volumes down. Fortunately, a long, hot September and October provided just what was required and the vintage was rescued. This lengthy warm spell was particularly good for the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, with Cabernet a variety that needs a decent amount of time on the vine to ensure ripeness. Merlot did not fare quite as well, its predominantly clay-heavy soils retaining much of the moisture bestowed earlier in the vintage. The moisture did provide ideal conditions for botrytis, thus 2014 is an excellent vintage for the sweet wines of Sauternes and Barsac.

Acidity and freshness are key characteristics of the 2014 vintage. The red wines have good balance, tension and character. Tasting through a range of the 2014s, the various characters of the differing appellations voice their presence with confidence and strength. The Bordeaux white wines benefit from the fresh acidity and have a wonderful vibrancy.
Is there a comparable reference point for the 2014 vintage? Not as great as the 2009 or 2010, of course, but neither are the wines as expensive as those vintages. The 2014s are most definitely better than the 2011, 2012 or 2013 vintages. Stylistically, there are comparisons that can be drawn with the 2004 and 2008 vintages. They represent great value, given their relatively high quality is unaccompanied by Everest pricing.

The History of En Primeur

The process of selling En Primeur is not as long-established as you might think. A little history: The role of the négociant in Bordeaux is intertwined with the region in many ways; initially establishing themselves in the region, they were first and foremost businessmen, though not from Bordeaux itself. The early négociants were of German, English and Dutch origin. Regarded by the châteaux as outsiders, it became necessary to employ a middle-man, giving rise to
the role of the courtier, i.e. one who acted as intermediary between the buyer and the seller. At this time négociants bought wine in cask, immediately after the grapes had been vinified; the négociant would then blend and bottle the wine. It was not until the 1920s that Philippe de Rothschild led the charge to change this system, with his the first château to bottle the wine within the estate. He quickly convinced all the first growths to follow suit. The négociants continued to purchase the wine immediately upon vinification, but instead left it with the château to look after and bottle. Initially only involving the five first growths, in 1967 all of the classified growths were required to estate bottle, with all French wines following shortly after. The négociants carried all the costs of these stocks and aged them until they were ready for sale. It was not until the financially hard times of 1974 that, to relieve some financial pressure, they began to sell the wines to retailers globally while still in barrel at the châteaux, marking the birth of the En Primeur system we know today.

We have recently published our complete guide to En Primeur 2016, you can download a copy here

A surprise in Listrac

Chateau Fourcas Hosten has certainly gone through a fair amount of change over the last 11 years. Located in the centre of Listrac, its history dates to 1810 when Mr Hosten inherited the vineyards and created Chateau Fourcas Hosten.

 

Ownership changed in 2006 when Renaud and Laurent Mommeja purchased the estate. Their background with Hermes, brings not only experience, the financial means but a huge amount of passion for excellence, which they have instilled in Fourcas Hosten.

Three major projects were undertaken since 2008, old plots in the vineyard have been restored; the winery, barrel cellar and storage facilities have all been full renovated; the House has been renovated and is spectacular. So, what’s the wine like?

Fourcas Hosten is something that we used to import and that I’d not tasted for years, it always represented great value. With the technology and expertise this Chateau now have and the already renowned terroir in the Listrac area, the wines have stepped up to new levels and impressed me a lot. This is not a Chateau in the super star appellations of the Medoc, it is through a winery that punches well above its weight and over delivers.

The 2016 is as you’d expect for the vintage superb. We also tasted back to the 2011. What impressed me with the tasting put on for us, was that we were not greeted with 2009 and 2010 wines, rather with 11 and 13 – the later a particularly challenging vintage. This chateau should be applauded for the confidence in showing these lesser vintages and for the wines they produced. Sure, the 2011 and 2013 were not as good as the 14 or 16 that we tasted, but they were very well made.

The 2012 showed how good this vintage is for early drinking. These are Merlot dominant wines, around 55%, the balance Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. There’s also a very smart white, 75% Sauvignon Blanc, with Sauvignon Gris and Semillon. The Blanc is made in tiny quantities, 4,000 bottles of the 2016 was produced, battonage and time in old oak give this impressive complexity.

 

A super enjoyable visit to FourcasHosten, the wines brilliant and lunch in the restored Chateau a treat.