Last week was a big week in the Fine Wine Trade, probably the second biggest week of the year in terms of releases. So, with my electronic ‘in-tray’ piling up and my to-do list too big for one page, what better time than to throw caution to the wind, said list into the Thames and cross town in heels on a dodgy Santander bike to engage in some good old-fashioned tasting to remind myself why I joined this gallant trade…
I wouldn’t risk the wrath of my in-tray and seniors for many tastings, but the CVBG ‘Bordeaux & Beyond’ was worth the worry. Easing my way into the ‘beyond’, I kicked off with Catena Zapata 2016. An exceptional vintage, the coolest they’ve had in 30+ years, in addition to it being the first vintage where they’ve included Cabernet Franc. The immediate effect, in contrast to previous vintages, is that it is much more Bordeaux-esque. There’s a leaner, more restrained Cabernet vibe of bramble and red fruits and the round, luscious power of the Malbec is brought to perfect balance by the firm and sturdy Cabernet Franc tannins, leaving a lingering blueberry and floral note which sits on the palate.
Next onto Almaviva which sad to say, was a little disappointing. A tough year of fluctuating temperatures has produced a wine, albeit intense with bright red and black fruit, with a little too much heat and a overt palate and soft edges, I will be first to admit though that if It weren’t in such a regal line-up, it would have fared better. The Solaia 2016, however, was a wonder to behold and a Tuscan stand out; one of those wines that demands more than five minutes contemplation and delivered a journey from front to back palate. Bright, elegant raspberry and sweet red fruit hits the tip of your tongue, this transforms on the mid-palate to incorporate a difficult to pin down clayish minerality, which in turn takes you to a firm back palate of grainy tannins brought to life with juicy acidity. It snds as if it shouldn’t work but together it’s exquisite, a journey one can only fully appreciate with hindsight. A real lesson of what is achievable with Sangiovese in the right hands. The Masseto, in contrast, living up to, and indeed exceeding expectations, offered up a dark, brooding powerhouse of a nose; all black cherry, cassis, truffle and liquorice. So deeply intense that you’re sure it will overwhelm the palate, yet somehow manages to translate into such an abundance of rich, fresh fruit, beguiling tobacco and nuanced elegance you wonder if it’s the same wine.
Over to Vérite and due to time constraints, I headed straight for Le Désir (Cabernet Franc being my favourite underdog). A combination of enhanced, micro-cru pruning techniques following years of drought and a cooler than usual ripening season has elevated this wine into the exceptional. I was immediately taken in by an intruiging nose of sharp nettles and strong earl grey tea amongst the bright and floral bramble fruit. This was followed up by a gloriously balanced palate, juicy acidity held unashamedly in place by firm, grainy tannins that brought the palate together harmoniously. In the end I tasted the Muse too, having received 100 points and Moritz Möller being the charmer that he is, it seemed rude not to. I’m glad I did, it was indeed technically perfect, the intensity and complexity of deep red and black fruits an example of perfect balance with an interesting burnt-clay, tobacco smoke fringe which will no doubt live for decades; all said and done though, it was the characterful oddity Désir that played on my mind after the tasting had finished.
The final standout for me in the Beyond was the Klein Constantia. I’ll admit I am a first timer here and was blown away by its uniqueness. This late harvest ‘pudding’ wine is a melange of contradictions that balance each other out to perfection. For starters I would not do this wine the disservice of pairing it with food, it is a complete palate in itself, an off the wall mix of juicy, white peach, aromas of oregano and hemp rounded off with strong Arabian spices; cardamon, saffron, cloves and ginger. Even the mouth-feel is that of a dry wine, there’s no heaviness or residual cloying. I know they rely on late-harvest with no botritised grapes which could account for this, but there is still exceptional, uplifting acidity which seems to defy production methods. It’s no wonder everyone from Jane Austen to Charles Dickens prescribed it for a broken heart, I certainly left healed.
A swift run through Bordeaux was all I could afford. Brainaire-Ducru 2016 was resplendent in floral elegance; firm, silky tannins, juicy fruit sharpened with lean eucalyptus was drinking beautifully already. Figeac 2010 still inky in colour, delivered an intense, black palate. Juicy, but with firm, silky tannins it was interesting to compare with 2011; Lighter in weight but dislaying a broader red fruit palate.
Latour 2011 exuded an abundance of nervous energy at first taste; piquant nettles, sophisticated floral notes and and edgy graphite threatening to burst out of its initially strict and linear palate. After a quick five minutes it’s tentacles had spread to an earthy leadiness and savoury smoked cedar unfurling over the tongue. Although a looked-over vintage, it embodied ‘jolie Millesime’. I would have loved to have come back to the glass in a half-hour, and can only imagine at what other secrets it was yet to offer though this was not to be; work was calling in the distance, and Yquem was calling from the next table.
The Yquem, of all the wines, was the most intellectually challenging. Personally I find it an enigma to write about as although it embodies everything you want from a Sauternes; rich, sharp orange, honeysuckle and blossom, ginger and spice, It’s something otherworldly that sets Yquem apart though. No other way to describe it other than utter, ethereal perfection.
Fast forward a couple of hours, I’m now back in the office, early evening, having fished out my to do list from the Thames. However, somehow with the lingering taste of this afternoons delights still playing around the palate, my in-tray seems altogether more digestible. I’m considering myself reminded.