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.

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.

 

Bordeaux 2016 Vintage report

Following a week tasting in Bordeaux and much time researching the vintage, the following is my vintage report for the 2016 vintage;

The growing season for the 2016 vintage was not typical. Come end of summer there were grave concerns for the vintage, then, at just the right moment, some rain fell. The flowering was challenged with a complicated weather pattern in spring. From the later part of June through to September 13th, it was very dry; an incredible drought, the days were very sunny and dry, though not hot (like in 2013). The fruit ripened well, though the berry sizes were very small. Then it rained, the berries enjoying the moisture and becoming more plump. With moisture, botrytis could have been an issue, though was not due to the drying winds. The nights were very cool at this time, which assisted with botrytis pressure at this point. The high diurnal temperature difference and cool nights? part of the reason for the freshness and vibrant acidity in the wines. The settled weather after this welcome rain also allowed Cabernet to be left on the vine to mature; hang time is essential for Cabernet. Young vines did not enjoy this vintage, for many the drought provided too much of a challenge.

The overarching character in all the 2016s is balance; simply put, everything is in its place. The fruit is not too much or too little; the acid lively, adding freshness; the tannins super ripe and well structured. This is a balanced, excellent vintage.

The alcohol levels generally are lower, around 13%. The extraction has been toned back; these are not super concentrated, extracted wines. The acidity and freshness a key factor.

The left bank wines are excellent; Cabernet did enjoy these weather conditions. There’s a purity to the wines, the very best are going to be long lived wines. In some of the recent vintages, it has been a little hard to taste the young wines and imagine them as old wines; not quite sure how the ripe fruit will evolve, or the atypical nature of them will evolve. Not so with the 2016 wines; these are wines that, even tasted at this very early stage, I could imagine as beautiful old wines. The very best express their terroir expertly, almost as if text book examples from the region. There are many great wines on the left bank; those of St. Julien stood out, particularly Léoville Las Cases, which stopped me in my tracks, as did Chateau Mouton Rothschild. These would have to be my top wines of the vintage.

On the right bank, the wines are equally good, though do require a little more concentration, their brilliance not as obvious as the wines on the left. The cooler nights at the end of the vintage has resulted in very fragrant, attractive wines. This side of the river not quite as harmonious; potentially it could have been, though there seems a few châteaux that have still over extracted the grapes and this has led to concentrated, syrupy wines.

2016 is certainly a great year for reds, not so for sauternes. There are great sweet wines, though this won’t be long lived sauternes, the acidity and freshness not quite enough. Noticeable exceptions to this general statement include Coutet and Suduiraut, the latter exceptional this year.

This is a year where quality exists broadly through the region and price points. There are many of the value Medoc that have over delivered their status and price point. These are wines that will be well worth seeking out and buying volume of.

Bordeaux – a turning point?

The 2016 vintage is very distinctive in character and somewhat different to the recent vintages coming out of Bordeaux. The question I was left pondering is whether the change is due to climatic conditions, market influence or a shift in the make-up of the commentators.

The overarching character one encounters in the 2016 wines is balance. Simply put, everything is in its place. The fruit presence is not too much or too little, the lively acid is adding a noticeable freshness and the tannins are decidedly ripe and well structured. This, then, is a balanced and excellent vintage. The alcohol levels are generally lower at around 13% and the extraction has been toned back; these are not overly-concentrated or extracted wines, the balancing acidity and freshness providing a key component.
So, did these factors and this freshness emerge from the drought, the sunny summer and the late-arriving rain, or was there another influence? When listening to those winemakers we visited within Bordeaux, one common theme that emerged was caution around not over-extracting. It led me to consider whether this was due a deliberate intent on their part not to draw overly upon the ripe, concentrated fruit the drought had provided, or whether they were reacting to a change in the overall make-up and opinions of the critics.

Robert Parker has had so much influence on Bordeaux and its wines; he has, indeed, been a key component in the success of many of the producers there. One thing is certain: in general, the bolder the fruit, the concentration and the flavour, the higher the Parker score. This, to me, does seem a somewhat short-sighted view; Bordeaux is a region with so much history, and yet much of what is being recalled and feted has been confined to relatively recent events. Many of the greatest Bordeaux I have tasted have been old wines, often bearing little resemblance to their younger counterparts from recent vintages. The difficulty in correlations aside, in tasting the 2016s, I could imagine them to be old wines.

The change that was apparent in Bordeaux may, in fact, have come from the vintage; these are, after all, many of the very best vineyards and châteaux in the world. Whatever it is that has resulted in these impeccably balanced wines, I do like them. If this is a turning point for Bordeaux, the region should continue at speed in this direction; for me, it’s the right one.