Château Chauvin 2005

Another Costco purchase. I have no prior familiarity with this estate.

The nose is quite heady, with pungent brambles, some dust, brown spice and oak resin. There’s a thickness to the aroma profile that, while communicating a sense of generosity, also masks detail and makes the wine smell a bit monolithic. There’s also a slight suggestion of meat and band-aid.

The palate validates all these impressions. It’s bold and liquerous, entry and mid palate full of juicy, dark berry fruit. Thankfully, it’s not an overly sweet flavour profile, and there are attractive hints of savouriness right along the line. The oak, while very prominent, also helps the wine stay on the right side of fruit sweet. Through the after palate, tannins begin to appear, adding texture and variation, but arguably going beyond where they ought in terms of dryness.

A very drinkable wine, perhaps more so with food, but not great.

Château Chauvin
Price: £27
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Laherte Frères Blanc de Blancs Brut Nature NV

Disgorged 04/2012.

A photograph of soil underpinned by chalk on this wine’s label certainly makes the point; Laherte Frères positions as a grower-maker wishing to express terroir in its Champagnes. As part of this, dosages are low and, in the case of this wine, zero. To compensate, fruit is allowed to ripen further than is customary.

This technique comes through clearly on the nose, which communicates an impression of slightly candied citrus one might mistake for added sugar. It’s certainly not a bone dry experience, all technicalities aside. On the nose, quite pretty and citrus-driven, with undercurrents of baked bread and overtones of florals. Moderately complex and willfully refreshing.

The palate is lively and fresh, showing a level of effervescence that, for my taste, is a little over the top. A strong line of grapefruit juice drives down the line and, as with the nose, it shows fruit sweetness that is both fun and a bit simple. Some savoury complexities edge in but this is a fruit-forward expression of Champagne. Acid is firm and zingy. As such, it’s a highly appropriate celebration style and one I’d be happy to serve to a mixed crowd looking for something a bit different. For my tastes, though, I’d like to see more finesse.

Laherte Frères
Price: $A60
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

J.L. Vergnon Brut Conversation NV

A blanc de blancs made from Grand Cru fruit, this is one of a series of reasonably priced grower Champagnes I’ve been having of late, and one of the tastiest, too. Fruit comes from three villages — Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, Oger and Avize — and the wine spends three years on lees.

The mousse is quite coarse and dissipates quickly, leaving behind an enthusiastic bead. The aromas are very much in the yeast/bread/brioche spectrum, sweet and pungent, leading into soft, pastel fruit notes. Fruit is in the citrus spectrum, and is delicately pretty.

The palate shows a wonderfully soft, creamy mouthfeel, with fine acid and well damped spritz. Flavours are again in the citrus spectrum, grapefruit mostly, with mellow peel notes, quite rounded and soft. If I’ve a criticism, it’s that fruit becomes a little blunt here, losing its lightness of touch and showing too much relaxation. Some may find this broadness delicious. Dosage seems right to me, with some sweetness evident but nothing over the top. Flavours are persistent and complex enough, especially through the after palate, where there are hints of honey alongside fresher fruit notes. A delicate finish.

With the exception of slightly too broad a countenance through its mid-palate, this is a fine and delicious wine.

J.L. Vergnon
Price: $A50
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Clos des Lambrays tasting

I recently attended a tasting of Clos des Lambrays with a selection of vintages spanning 1990 to 2010. Thierry Brouin, longtime oenologist at Domaine des Lambrays, was a charming (though jetlagged) host and humbly provided a view of the domaine’s history and its evolution under his stewardship. This was my first time tasting Clos des Lambrays and I can’t think of a better crash course.

Clos des Lambrays 1990
Defiantly tertiary with a range of old red wine aromas: mushroom, leather, spice. Despite this development, it retains a vibrancy of aroma and is certainly not past it. In the mouth, light bodied with a seamless line, this tastes saucy in the brown sense. A light dusting of tannin arches over an elegant finish. There is still lively acid and freshness. Charming.

Clos des Lambrays 1993
Noticeably more full than the 1990, this wine’s stylings are more masculine and chunky. The flavour profile is quite developed but with an underlying fruit weight missing from the older wine and a sense of minerality that underlines the fruit. Structurally, a bigger, more prominent wine, with more tannins and less exposed acid. At first this dipped through the after palate but some swirling saw that right.

Clos des Lambrays 1995
A really distinctive aroma that shows a pine needle (Thierry suggested camphor) note missing from the other vintages tasted. Light, fresh, with bit more primary fruit, this also came across slightly closed. In the mouth, more masculine than expected with dark berries and a litheness of line, perhaps a bit simple but hugely drinkable and attractive.

Clos des Lambrays 1999
This has a heavy brow, much more inclined to brood than any of its older siblings in this tasting. Dark fruit notes dominate an aroma that is the first of the tasting to seem mostly primary in character. In the mouth, very structured, tannins still prominent and drying, great concentration of dark berry fruit. Oak is also a noticeable influence.

Clos des Lambrays 2006
Very primary, this shows a lighter shade of fruit, spiced oak, heaps of minerality and a slightly raw vibe. The aroma is heady, oak-influenced and quite intoxicating. Exciting. The palate unfolds with cherry essence, vanilla, luxurious richness and chewy density in a framework of powdery tannins. This is fresh, structured and was quite my favourite wine of the tasting.  I wish I had some in my cellar.

Clos des Lambrays 2008
There was quite a bit of burned rubber on opening that never quite blew off, though it did become less prominent after about fifteen minutes of swirling. Once past this, there’s a light, red fruited aroma profile that is pretty and delicate. On the palate, fleet of foot, fruit seeming sweeter here and red rather than black in character. Not sure if this is typical.

Clos des Lambrays 2009
This seemed a favourite amongst the group and I can understand why. Very dense and dark on the nose, but expressive too, and almost a little rustic in its lilt. In the mouth, prickly mineral acid, coffee spiced oak and dark fruit. Also a meaty, umami-esque edge. Quite tannic in a surprisingly loose-knit way, and with very juicy acid, this is screaming for more time, though it’s already reasonably generous. Thierry suggested this vintage clearly expresses the Clos des Lambrays terroir.

Clos des Lambrays 2010
Very tight for now. Even so, there’s great purity of fruit on the nose, along with nougat oak and a dose of adolescent brooding. In the mouth, structure is predictably raw, acid sizzling away and tannin equally firm, flavours tending as much towards coffee oak as dark fruit. Quite hard to assess but, despite its youth, seems of beautiful form and line to me, perhaps more refined, if less obviously characterful, than the 2009. I liked this very much.

Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque 1985

The bottle is indeed very pretty.

To the wine’s appearance first, there’s little mousse apparent on pouring and a reticent bead thereafter; this certainly looks an aged wine. Colour is honey-gold with a pleasing richness of hue. Immediately a range of tertiary notes emerge from the glass, including a prominent browned apple note that is the clearest sign of age. The influence of oxidation isn’t overwhelming, though, and beneath it there is a complex aroma profile of citrus, mushroom, bread and an attractive nuttiness. Certainly one to smell at length.

The palate is surprisingly fresh, with good spritz in evidence and a fascinating tension between still-firm acid and a decidedly tertiary flavour profile. Cut apple is less obvious in the mouth, and the wine’s butterscotch note takes centre stage from the middle palate onwards. It’s rich and unctuous, mouthcoating in intensity and impressive in length, all the while freshened and firmed by spritz and acid. The elegance of its finish is especially fine, and I love the way caramel lingers on the tongue, becoming softer and a mere echo of itself some time after swallowing.

A nice start to an evening’s entertainment.

Price: $N/A
Closure: Cork
Source: Gift

Domaine Alain Chavy Bourgogne 2010

In some ways, the styling of affordable wines is just as interesting to me as the achievements of great, no-holds-barred labels. It’s a mantra nowadays that with great fruit, the wine “just makes itself;” even allowing for hyperbole, that does suggest there may be a bit more thought required to make average grapes into wine that’s both accessible and enjoyable.

One option is to make the sorts of cheerfully anonymous wines that, I admit, have their place in the industry and in many peoples’ lives. Another is this – a clearly artisanal wine from a small producer in Puligny-Montrachet that comes in at, given the context, a decent price.

The approach here is one of moderation. The fruit that went into this wine seems of modest quality – it’s too sweet-edged and simply flavoured to be truly fine. But it’s clean, and the winemaking that surrounds it has given it enough counterpoint to frame it with graceful appropriateness. The aroma mixes bright, bouncy fruit with overlays of mealiness. The fruit, at first, showed a slightly distressing pineapple character, but that has mostly blown off and settled to a still-bright but more attractive melon note. There’s no complexity to speak of, but it’s a delicate, polite aroma that knows its boundaries and works well within them.

The palate is fresh and flavoursome, with moderately intense waxed lemon fruit and oatmeal. Here again the fruit edges towards a confectionary vibe and is held in check by savouriness that seems winemaker-led. The fact that it’s not overly driven works in its favour; there’s nothing outsize about this wine, and that means its limitations as well as its strengths are modest. A nice creamy after palate leads through to a finish that is fresh and juicy, with only a hint of sweetness marring the flavour profile. Acid is fine. Serving this wine on the cool side helps to temper the fruit’s more vulgar tendencies.

Some wines seem to squander their potential; this makes the most of its humble beginnings. Nothing more than cheap Chardonnay, really, but a little marvel of styling nonetheless, and attractive for its honesty.

Domaine Alain Chavy
Price: $A18
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Le Domaine du Père Caboche Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc Élisabeth Chambellan 2003

A little oxidised, but still in good-enough condition to taste and enjoy. I must admit, I have little experience with Châteauneuf-du-Pape whites, so was quite curious to taste this. I can see no evidence of this label on the producer’s site, which suggests it is no longer made. Perhaps a knowledgeable reader can further enlighten us.

The nose definitely shows some bottle age, with honey alongside a crisp biscuit note and beeswax. There was some discussion at the tasting bench regarding what type of biscuit the wine’s aroma most resembles; consensus was Milk Coffee. Fruit isn’t represented much within the aroma profile, but the array of notes feels complete in its own right.

The palate shows a structure that remains alive with acid and texture. Again, there isn’t much fleshy fruit of note, but a gentle spiciness joins honey and biscuit to create an attractive flavour profile, only slightly marred by oxidiation. The wine has good thrust through the palate and decent length. It’s weighty and surprisingly fresh-feeling.

A pristine bottle would be a lot of fun; even this was pleasurable and interesting.

Le Domaine du Père Caboche
Price: $N/A
Closure: Cork
Source: Gift

Domaine Rapet Père et Fils Pernand-Vergelesses Les Combottes 2005

After a rather poor run of white Burgundies, I was half expecting this to be oxidised, corked or both. Happily, and despite a rather spongy cork, this is in excellent condition. In fact, its fruit is remarkably vibrant and is a real feature of this wine.

Primary fruit, though, isn’t the first impression this wine makes. Rather, a mix of aromas deriving from winemaker input emerge from the glass first, and I let out a little cheer for highly interventionist winemaking when I gave it a good sniff. Chardonnay is, let’s face it, often ripe for a bit of rough handling, and styles like this justify such treatment. Nougat, caramel, oats, cream. It’s a tight aroma despite the range of notes, and I like how its aromas feel packed into a small space, jostling for attention, a little rambunctious perhaps but in their own way disciplined. Fruit is there, pushing through; when it breaks out, I see crisp grapefruit and hints of fuller white stone fruit.

The palate’s acid structure echoes the coiled aroma and complements the character of the fruit. Here, as with the nose, the vibe is complex and fresh at the same time. Again, there are caramel, nuts, nougat and citrus fruit, wrapped in a savouriness that sings of acid minerality. Texture is a comparative let-down, and I feel a wine with this sort of flavour profile and structure deserves more textural interest. As it is, a slippery, full, somewhat one-dimentional mouthfeel. It’s not a ruinous feature, though; there’s more than enough flavour interest and intensity to make this wine a very enjoyable one.

Good value wine.

Domaine Rapet Père et Fils
Price: $A30
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Domaine Rapet Père et Fils Pernand 1er Cru Le Clos du Village 2000

Rather too oxidised to be fully enjoyable, I’ll write this up for completeness’ sake. And because I worked my customary magic on the rather crumbly cork.

The colour is an attractive golden straw. The nose immediately betrays excessive oxidation – whether it affects just this bottle or the wine generally is something I’m not in a position to know. I tasted a similar wine (vintage, producer, classification) in 2009 and it was on song. In any case, that softly rancid brown apple aroma pervades an otherwise rather attractive, fruit-driven profile that seems quite cuddly but with a savoury, herbal edge.

The palate shows good acid and crisp flow down the line. There’s enough fruit here for me to know this would have been a nice wine, once. Good weight and generosity of flavour – the fruit tends towards white stonefruit, with a repeat of the herbal, basil-like notes seen on the nose. The palate’s texture is creamy and soft, but not flabby, thanks to that acid.

I wish I had known it in better times.

Domaine Rapet Père et Fils
Price: $A60
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Domaine de la Bongran Viré Clessé Cuvée Tradition 2002

I have a few Jean Thévenet wines in my cellar and they always provide a completely different view of white Burgundy from pretty much anything else. This wine, from the Mâconnais, is startlingly young for its age and shows the distinctive, botrytis-tinged character that I’ve come to enjoy from Thévenet.

I experienced not-entirely-irrational anxiety as I was opening this wine, based partly on a ridiculously oxidised 2005 white Burgundy I was excited, then disappointed, about last week. This wine’s cork, on extraction, proved to be long and of an apparently high quality. Colour in the glass is beautifully golden, with not a hint of the distressing brown hue that I had feared. So far so good.

What’s really enjoyable about this wine is how it flips between the mineral-driven austerity of tighter Chardonnay styles and the opulence granted it by a hint of residual sugar and botrytis. The palate is grippy and textural, combining with a grapefruit-accented flavour profile to give the impression of pith and pips. So it moves between modes, tight then loose, acid and slight bitterness an intriguing foil to notes of marmalade and richer, riper fruit. If there’s something missing here, it relates to intensity of both aroma and flavour. This isn’t a blockbuster as its 14% ABV and slightly hot finish might suggest. Instead, the wine’s demeanour is laid back, and I suspect what it loses in impact it makes up for in food friendliness.

Cleverly made and provocative in style. Given its freshness, I might taste this again in a few years’ time.

Domaine de la Bongran
Price: $35 (ish)
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail