FIVE very different reds recently - Australian, Bordeaux, Spanish, Italian, Californian - all within the space of a week, interesting and instructive!
Chateau Haut Marbuzet 2003, Bordeaux; Montebello 2001, Ridge Vineyards, California; Woodcutter Shiraz 2011, Torbreck, South Australia; Sori Tildin 1990, Angela Gaja, Italy; L'Ermita 2004, Alvaro Palacios, Spain.
Chateau Haut-Marbuzet 2003, St Estephe, Bordeaux
40 per cent Merlot, 50 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10 per cent Cabernet Franc.
Very dark brownish-red with very typical Bordeaux bouquet, very cedary and ripe cassis. Good fruit ripeness and concentration but seemed a little lacking in weight and freshness. Fully developed. The slight insufficiency of acidity reflected the hot dry conditions of the 2003 growing season.
A highly respected Crus Bourgeois and a favourite of mine. My first experience with this wine was with its 1982 vintage, at supper in the Brasserie Le Noailles, Alee de Tourney, Bordeaux, on Dec 31, 1984, midnight! We had just landed from London on our first ever visit to Bordeaux, making it even more memorable.
We were hungry and thirsty, this wine had just been released, and we had recently been soaking up Wine Advocate's glowing report of the 1982 Bordeaux en primeur. We were bowled over by this wine - the price was good too!
Haut-Marbuzet's warmth and rich texture owe as much to the generosity and warmth of its owner, Henri Dubosque, as it does to its high Merlot content. It is always well sought-after notwithstanding that it commands (and sells!) the same price as a Fifth Classified! This 2003 did not disappoint.
Monte Bello 2001, Ridge Vineyards, Santa Cruz, California
74 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, 20 per cent Merlot, 4 per cent Petit Verdot, 2 per cent Cabernet Franc.
A very dark brownish red, with a rich strong bouquet of cassis and cedar, rather like a St Julien bouquet but richer and sweeter. Very distinctly a Cabernet Sauvignon wine with rich cassis, blackcurrants and liquorice, black coffee and still quite a prominent vanillin element. Well balanced and harmonised, good structure and complexity, clean longish sweetish finish.
It would be wrong, neither would it be fair, to expect it to possess the final touch of finesse and elegance of a Bordeaux of comparable class, but viewed as a Californian cabernet sauvignon it stands out for its understated richness, its reticence and understated posture. This winery together with Araujo in Napa, are my preferred ones in California.
The modern history of Monte Bello may be said to have begun in the late 1940s when Dave Bennion and his three partners, all engineers at the Stanford Research Institute bought it as a weekend holiday country home. Paul Draper, a Stanford graduate in philosophy, joined them in 1969, and under his guidance (with his knowledge of fine wines and experience in setting up a winery in Chile) the international reputation of the wines was established.
Woodcutter Shiraz 2011, Torbreck, Barossa Valley, South Australia
100 per cent Shiraz from the Barossa Valley. Aboard Singapore Airlines on their Business Class list between Jakarta and Singapore.
An opaque black-red, with an attractive and appealing bouquet. Tasted very good to start, a big rather jammy fruity wine but which lacked sufficient supporting acidity. An easy-drinking wine, but after a couple of swallows, the lack of sufficient acidity tired the palate and the jamminess began to assert itself. This does not necessarily diminish its appeal. It will undoubtedly have great appeal through its soft ripe fruitiness.
Torbreck was started in 1994 by David Powell. He named it after a forest in Scotland where he had worked as a lumberjack. The Torbreck stable has enlarged considerably since the days in late 90s when David was a frequent visitor to Singapore, his wines having received their debut here through Vinum and Les Amis. (There is even a cuvee named "Les Amis Grenache" created especially for Les Amis Restaurant! Sadly the news has just come through (Wine Spectator, Sept 3, 2013), that David Powell is now no longer with Torbreck.
Barbaresco 'Sori Tildin' 1990, DOC, Angelo Gaja, Piedmont
Drunk last Sunday 2 September 2013 at Cataluna. 100 per cent Nebbiolo.
One hundred per cent Nebbiolo, the first of Gaia's single vineyard wines. Angelo's single-vineyard Barbarescos, of which this was the first, broke with the generations-old tradition of multi-vineyard origins of Barolo and Barbaresco. He led the way and was soon followed by his colleagues, such as Pio Cesare's Barolo "Ornato". However having broken with tradition, Gaja again stunned the wine world in 1996 when he de-classified his Barbaresco and Barolo wines, moving them to the lower DOC class of Langhe Rosso. It allowed him the freedom to add a small amount of other grapes into his Barbarescos and Barolos. Indeed since then, all his vineyard-named Barbarescos are blended with 95 per cent Nebbiolo and 5 per cent Barbera.
At last this wine is ready and gloriously so. A very dark opaque browning red, with a lovely soft bouquet of perfectly ripe fruit, a touch of tobacco. Taste correspondingly soft, almost lush, with very ripe red berry fruit, a little tobacco, liquorice and coffee. Lovely balance and finish, and astonishing freshness. The soft slightly lush body was a surprise, and a marked contrast to the Spanish L'Ermita 2004, Alvaro Palacios, which followed.
L'Ermita 2004, Alvaro Palacios, Gratallops, Priorat
100 per cent Garnacha (Grenache). Drunk last Sunday, Sept 2, 2013, at Cataluna.
The wines of Alvaro from his winery in Gratallops shook up the Spanish wine world. Firstly, the vineyards in the Priorat region where he had established his winery were very old, going back several centuries to the 12th century, the work of the Carthusian monks.
And had become neglected. Alvaro had joined Rene Barbier's group in the eighties in what became popularly known as the "Gratallops" project.
L'Ermita, a single vineyard wine from 100-year old Garnacha grown on a single small plot on a hill-slope site is Alvaro's flagship wine and it rapidly took its place at the top in company with Vega Sicilia Unico from Pablo Alvarez's Vega Sicilia, and Peter Sisseck's Pingus.
Intense dark red with very little browning except at the rim, with a bouquet of very ripe berry fruit, slightly cooler in contrast to the warmth of the Sori Tildin. The same contrasting effect was seen on the palate, the L'Ermita more restrained, a little more compact and less open. An interesting contrast. The Gaja despite being much older did not at all show its age, and one became conscious of it only when looking at the label. Ditto for Angelo himself!