A year in the Mosel that was at first celebrated for its richness and power, then reviled for its perceived lack of longevity, and now one that is experiencing a certain positive reassessment. How much we put our beloved wines through. While I understand the human impulse to categorise and build hierarchies, I’m coming to believe wine is an object quite unamenable to such endeavours. For all the effort that goes into “assessing” each vintage, not all of which is wasted by any means, what matters is how a wine tastes at various points in its life.
Clearly, this wine is connected to its vintage. At ten years of age, it remains a powerful, bold wine of strikingly rich flavour and somewhat blocky palate structure. It’s far from nearing the end of its life; I’d say it’s at a point of some flavour development but isn’t yet showing many flavours I think of as indicating full maturity. So, there’s a mixture of primary fruit on the aroma — rich mandarin, flowers — and tertiary characters like honey and toast. This is clearly the product of ripe fruit with plenty to give. As with so many Rieslings from this area, relatively high levels of sugar disappear into the fabric of the wine’s acid and minerality, making it both fresh and low in alcohol.
The palate is mouthfilling and generous, with more ripe citrus, mineral and honey notes. Granted, this is a bigger wine than many others I’ve tasted at this quality level from this vineyard, but the elements are in balance. Good length, good acid and plenty of flavour both primary and developed. As it stands, this strikes me as a wine that could lend support to several views of 2003 – praise for its fullness of flavour, criticism for its scale and relative masculinity. And to that I say: “who cares?” What matters to me is that it tasted damn good last night.
Note: I’m currently working the vintage with Weingut Kerpen.
While in Portugal, I made a visit to Quinta do Panascal, Fonseca’s flagship estate in the Cima Corgo sub-region. It’s an incredibly good visit; the self-guided audio tour, in concept quite off-putting, is actually fantastic, and the estate itself is one of the more scenic in the Douro. I was there during harvest and, in a region that is discovering ways to ease the cost and pain of making wine, Quinta do Panascal is quite old-fashioned in the winery. Lagares were full and hordes of Portuguese men were treading the grapes for hours on end. It was like stepping back in time and, although none of this necessarily means a better wine, it’s certainly fascinating to see such old traditions being practiced.
One can taste though a pretty comprehensive range of wines at the Quinta, which of course I did. I’ve chosen to write this one up as a companion note to the Quinta de Noval 40 Year Old Tawny. Both show an angularity of flavour that pushes them into more distinctive territory than their 20 Year Old counterparts, though this wine much more so than the Quinta de Noval.
Whereas Fonseca’s younger tawnies have the sort of familiar generosity one expects of this style, the 40 Year Old is immediately more challenging. There are some pretty funky aromas here that move past a familiar nutty oxidation into territory that encompasses sardines, sea spray and decaying vegetation. In the mouth it comes alive by presenting its flavours within a strikingly rich, yet incredibly clean, palate structure. This feels more structured than, say, then 10 Year Old, with a good whack of tannin on the finish, carried easily by its rich body. I love the combination of funky and clean here, and find it the most characterful wine of all the Fonseca tawnies.
Price: $AU200 (approx)
Ah, German wine labels; uniquely intimidating. The key to this one, though, is “trocken,” or dry. For a region associated in the Australian mind with sweet Rieslings, the Mosel churns out a fair few dry versions of its signature variety and I’m especially keen, while working here, to taste as many as I can.
My vintage hosts in the Mosel are the kind folks at Weingut Kerpen (a disclaimer in addition to a hopefully-interesting factoid). Martin Kerpen, the proprietor, excitedly called me over after a tasting this evening and shared this particular wine with me. A bottle from his private cellar, this shows the benefit of its glass stopper and cool conditions; it’s in exceptional condition. And what a lovely wine too.
I keep coming back to the word “pretty” when tasting this. It has a delicate charisma running right through its refined body, and this plays out through its flavours, which are bright and delicate, and its structure, which is firm and fine. Only the first signs of toasty development are evident on the aroma, which is composed primarily of citrus blossom, talc and a hint of cumquat juice. Absolutely no kerosene here.
The palate is intensely flavoured within the confines of a fundamentally delicate wine. The acid is spectacular in its finesse and balance. A hint of sweetness fills out the juicy mid-palate, but the wine finishes dry and its flavours don’t read as overtly sweet. I suspect this will develop for several years yet, and I envy those with a few bottles in their cellar.
Another standout Albariño from Rias Baixas. It’s worth pointing out how often I came across wines of exceptional value while in Galicia; this, for example, goes for a modest €16.50 on the wine list of moderately swanky O Beiro Vinoteca in Santiago de Compostela. A bargain at that price, let alone whatever it must go for at retail.
This fresh beauty has seen some time on lees but no oak. The nose is crisp yet full, with fresh melon fruit, fragrantly ripe flowers, almonds and spice. It’s not a sharp aroma but it shows nuance and vivacity. What I like about the palate is the way it combines fullness of body, a reasonably complex texture and flavours that are both worked and fresh. In particular, an almond meal note through the after palate is a nice segue from melon fruit that fills the mid-palate, so the wine’s narrative moves from fresh to warm down its line. Good intensity, good length and flavours that show real coherence.
I wish I could drink a few more bottles of this.
Adegas Castro Brey
Price: €16.50 (wine list)
When in Galicia recently, I made an effort to taste as many Albariños as I could, particularly those from the Rias Baixas sub-region. In tasting through these wines, I was interested to note the diversity of styles applied to the variety, with many houses having a simply made wine followed by one or more labels with more winemaking input, in particular techniques like barrel fermentation and extended lees contact. Although some such wines I tried had lost their varietal definition, I was pleasantly surprised by how well Albariño can stand up to a fair bit of manipulation and still retain its flavour, structure and impact.
This wine, made by the ubiquitous Martín Códax co-operative, sees a period of oak ageing and lees stirring before it is finished off in stainless steel. Compared to a simply made Albariño, this has immediately evident yet measured barrel-derived aromas akin to vanilla and almond. As one might imagine, these mesh superbly with fruit-driven notes of melon and stonefruit. The aroma is highly expressive and well balanced, with a lovely rich vibe.
In the mouth, predictably full and round, owing to both variety and winemaking. Its flavours are quite complex; more vanilla, nuts and stonefruit; with texture becoming a dominant feature through the after palate. It’s reasonably, if not overwhelmingly, concentrated. Rather than all-out impact, though, this wine is about rich flavours that lend the wine a luscious, generous feel without heaviness. Nicely judged in the winery, and quite delicious to drink.
Price: €24 (wine list)
I’ve tasted so many wines over the past couple of weeks it’s difficult to know where to start in terms of writing them up. I’ll begin with a highlight of my recent visit to Northern Portugal. Tasting in the Douro Valley and Vila Nova de Gaia, it’s at times tempting to focus on the new breed of table wines, as there’s considerable excitement in the region for these styles. But in tasting both these and the vast array of more traditional Port wine styles, I was struck by the effortlessness of the fortified wines, whereas the table wines, at times truly excellent, also showed an occasional struggle to achieve finesse. The strengths of some regions are just self-evident.
This particular wine jumped out during my tasting blitz of the region, not because it was the best wine tasted by any means (that honour goes to various 2011 vintage ports) but because it provides such deep satisfaction. Tawny port is such a great style in terms of the immediacy and ease of its pleasures; there’s no digging deep here, just a pure, hedonistic wine experience. The aroma is wild, certainly wilder than its 20 year old counterpart, with a striking savouriness and clarity of aroma, well articulated and clean despite its richness. Indeed, this isn’t a combatively expressive wine. There’s no shortage of aroma, but it doesn’t suffocate the nostrils as some richer fortified wines can. Interestingly, the typically nutty oxidative aromas are here, but not in as much abundance as in the 20 year old. Perhaps it has evolved past even those notes.
As good as this smells, it’s all about the palate. It’s amazingly unctuous and mouth-coating, seeming to press its flesh against every last corner of the mouth. Interestingly, there’s still good tannin and decent freshness, and it’s not a heavy wine, despite its rich flavours. Indeed, this is a pretty good example of how refined a very old tawny can be. It’s tempting to look to these styles for impact and overwhelming intensity of flavour, but that sort of scale isn’t an inevitability; this has plenty to give, but it never feels assaultive.
Quinta de Noval
Price: €60 (375mL)