Louis Roederer Portfolio Tasting

2006 Brut Nature: A pure and mineral wine. Softer mousse (lower pressure) to balance out lack of sweetness and mineral firmness. Wonderful, precise, chalky attack which opens out in the mouth to reveal perfectly ripe fruit (Cumieres) balanced with autolytic aromas. Quince, almond, lemon zest and floral notes unravel as the wine opens/warms in the glass. This is no vanity project but a brainwave from Roederer. It is not a brut nature for the sake of it, rather a wonderful exhibition of Cumieres fruit and terroir, perfectly expressed with zero dosage. (Next release probably the 2009)

Brut Premier: Classic Louis Roederer Brut Premier nose of fresh fruit and sweet floral aromas with complexity from reserve wines of several vintages, considered oak use, grapes from many villages and significant lees contact. Fresh, vibrant and mineral palate with some maturity from reserve wines. Structured and creamy mouthfeel - the quintessence of Louis Roederer.

2009 Blanc de Blancs: A very delicate aromas of citrus, almond and acacia. A truly stunning, beauty of a wine which, for me at least, is more about texture than aromas. Racy and mineral with subtle elegance, this is a tremendous effort. If you're a fan of fuller, richer styles, this will not be for you. Chalk soils and five years of lees contact add much of this wine's character, with any oak influence imperceptible to me. This will soften and develop further with time, and I look forward to seeing it age, provided I dont give in to temptation. The '09 Blanc de Blancs possesses the delicate, subtle beauty of a lone cirrus wisp in azure sky.

Brut Vintage 2008: Quite taut with honey, marzipan and citrus zest aromas. Classic Roederer palate with chalky, mineral attack but somewhat rich mouthfeel and perfect sweetness/acidity balance. Quite intense/robust flavours which linger. Already drinking well, though will also develop complexity with time.

Vintage Rose 2010: A delicately fruity nose of redcurrant, grapefruit zest and some sweet spice. Fruit from sunny Cumieres gives lovely, ripe Pinot Noir structure and body with the zing provided by Cote des Blancs Chardonnay. It's early days and this has great potential but is yet to show its true beauty, dancing the line between intense and rich on one side and elegant and mineral on the other. I anticipate this to be quite exotic in 5-8 years. The 2008 version of this wine appealed to me more with its more prominent, open fruit intensity.

Cristal 2007: Super tight and youthful, tasting this wine is an exercise in reading the future. It shows a real subtlety that makes it hard to decipher, though things get easier once the wine opens in the glass. Refined and delicate with featherlight aromas of almond, citrus and a whiff of gunsmoke. The fruit is introverted at the moment and the wine won't show it's full foliage for 15-20 years. If you do open a bottle now, choose a larger glass and take the bottle from your fridge at least 30 minutes before serving. The next Cristal release should be the 2009 sometime over the next 12 months.

Louis Roederer Vintage 1996 'Special Release': A bottle to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Roederer's UK distributor, MMD. From the heralded 1996 vintage, this luminous, light gold wine was disgorged in 2015 meaning an impressive 28 years of sur lie aging. Not dissimilar to '96 Cristal - a kind of late disgorged version - this wine offers the same tactile, chalky minerality evident in the whole LR range. The nose opens with a bang - gunsmoke aromas mingle with nuts, nougat, dried fruits and faint sous-bois. Sweetness and roundness are more obvious in this wine than all the others in the range, with a silken, creamy texture from such lengthy lees contact. I don't think this is for sale, which is a real shame!

Carte Blanche NV Demi Sec: A similar blend to Brut Premier, though with significantly higher dosage. Complex, creamy and rich, the Carte Blanche offers aromas of ripe fruits and nougat. Demi sec is not a style that suits my palate, though this is high quality and serious effort.



Bruno Paillard Blanc de Blancs 2004

I was delighted to meet Bruno Paillard in Reims this summer. With his impressive height and trademark blazer, he had a real presence amongst the hordes attending this years European Champagne Ambassador Awards (I was runner up!). Bruno presented one of the awards and also provided champagne for the reception - Bruno Paillard NV Blanc de Blancs from clear glass magnums! 

Transparent bottles are something to behold and seeing blanc (regular) champagne inside as opposed to rosé, is still something of a novelty. Bruno Paillard's NV Rosé and NV Blanc de Blancs are in transparent bottles which showcase the delicate colour of the wines, giving a sense of what to expect before the wine is tasted. The issue of light strike on champagne is not lost on Bruno - he is clearly aware and bottles in relative darkness, then ships these clear-bottle-cuvées wrapped in a protective cellulose sheet.

I recently had an opportunity to taste the latest cuvée from Bruno Paillard, the 2004 Blanc de Blancs. A regular dark green bottle holds this wine - no clear glass here - an indication, perhaps, of a more serious and age worthy cuvée. The label provides a different aesthetic from his NV wines and features the artwork of Chinese artist, Chen Jiang Hong. An abundant harvest, 2004 was notable for its high quality and quantity of fruit. Champagnes from 2004 seem to be significantly riper, softer and more generous than 2002, with excellent flavour concentration. 

The wine was a pale, light gold colour with tight, slow moving bead. Made with grapes from several Cote des Blancs Grand Cru, the nose was delicate yet complex. Disgorged in 2014, the wine has seen an impressive 9 years of sur-lie ageing, followed by a year of post disgorgement 'rest' before release. Pineapple, citrus, fennel and sweet spice were enticing, though there were also aromas of sous bois, Pierre-fusil and crystallised fruit and nuts - a real delight which made me eager to taste. The mousse was fine, the mouthfeel very silky, whilst the flavour profile was along the same lines as the nose, though with more toast, mineral feel and slightly bitter finish. 

Although a relatively young Champagne House, Bruno Paillard is gaining a reputation for producing high quality, low dosage champagnes of delicacy and finesse. This vintage Blanc de Blancs exemplifies that style and seems best suited to lobster, caviar or romance!

Available in the UK from Bibendum  RRP £60-65



Lallier Série R Collection (Multi Vintage Cuvée)

Aÿ-based Champagne Lallier has launched a new collection of 'multi-vintage' cuvées to reflect the character of one particular vintage. The idea is not unlike that used by Jaquesson for their 7 series wines.

The first release is Champagne Lallier R.012: The R denotes 'récolte' which translates to harvest/crop, and the .012 denotes the main vintage of the cuvée. A whopping 81% of this wine is from the excellent 2012 vintage, meaning just 19% is from reserve wines (2002, 2004, 2008). This is intended to express the characteristics of 2012, rather than to just reflect a house style. The 3 vintages used as reserve wines have been selected to ensure a stylistic and quantitative consistency, and to iron out any edges of the 2012 vintage. 

The wine is 62% Pinot Noir, as you'd expect from an Aÿ based producer, with the balance being Chardonnay. Grand Cru sites (Aÿ, Boozy, Verzenay, Ambonnay, Avize Cramant and Oger) make up 85% of the blend.

This first release of the R series was disgorged in February 2015 after around 2 years on lees, though the rest will be disgorged in tranches until the R.013 is released. I would like to taste one of the later disgorgements alongside this first one to compare the wines side by side.

The 24 months of lees ageing is not long enough to give super creaminess, really fine bead or complex autolytic aromas, though I can see that Lallier have kept the lees ageing at this length so the fruit of 2012 can be better expressed, rather than hidden under heavier yeasty notes.

The wine has a fairly delicate mousse, some creaminess and a nose that hints at the richness that lays ahead. Aromas of pineapple tart tatin, apple, grapefruit and xmas spice with medium weight mouthfeel and a slightly bitter finish.

The wine is sold through Boutinot in the UK and retails for around £30/bottle.




Piper-Heidsieck 'Rare' Tasting

I was fortunate enough this week to attend the William Grant portfolio tasting in London, where amongst the many high-end spirits on show, was a single table of Champagnes. In all honesty, the chance to taste some of Piper-Heidsieck's line up was my main reason for attending. Besides, I needed a tipple to console myself due to being (possibly) the oldest person in the room! A spirits tasting event brings out the hip, hairy and pierced, so tweed jackets and red trousers were a strange absence.

Piper-Heidsieck Essential Cuvée Brut NV (Limited Edition, numbered bottles)

This Pinot dominant blend is not available in the UK at this point in time, though I would love to see it over here as it's my kind of wine. The IWSC have awarded it an 'Outstanding Gold' medal.

Cépage is 55-60% Pinot Noir, 20-25% Pinot Meunier, 10-15% Chardonnay and the balance is Reserve Wine. The high percentage of red grapes and Reserve Wine content, coupled with 36-40 months of lees ageing makes this a serious NV champagne. To enhance that serious character, the wine goes against the grain of most of its PH stable mates by having a lower dosage of 7g/l. 

Perhaps a champagne for those with 'experienced' champagne palates, rather than those new to champagne, this wine is both powerful and elegant with aromas of orchard fruits, grapefruit and white flowers, accompanied by a little smokey minerality. In a wine like this, I think the Pinot Meunier is welcome, to soften the blend a bit.

Piper-Heidseick Vintage Brut 2006

The 2006 vintage is a fairly even blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with around 7 years of lees ageing under its belt. I found this to be quite a soft and generous wine - perhaps due to the full malolactic fermentation used at PH, and also due to the fairly high dosage of 11g/l. It is still elegant though, and perhaps a higher Pinot Noir content would render it a little austere.

The wine finishes long with lingering apple, almond paste and blackberry notes, merged with some toasty aromas, citrus and spice. Drinking well now but will gain complexity with patient cellaring. IWC Gold Medal.

Piper-Heidsieck 'Rare' 2002

The main event! In all honesty, this was my second or third taste of the '02 Rare and once again, it did not disappoint. The 'Rare' wines are just that - a Prestige Cuvée made very infrequently - only when the metaphorical 'planets align'. The '02 Rare is the 8th (and current) iteration of this wine since it's first bottling in 1976 and is a very impressive wine.

For all the quality of big name/well known prestige cuvées, PH Rare seems to be lost amongst them, at least to the 'nightclub drinkers' or 'special occasion buyers' - let's hope this changes, though that would leave less for those of us who already love it. Part of Rare's appeal is its (relative) readiness to drink so soon after release. (Due to Montage de Reims Chardonnay..?) Yes, of course it will take years to reach it's pinnacle, but if you were to drink this beside a recent release of Cristal or Dom Perignon, I think it would show it's cards a little more. Drinking newly released Prestige Cuvées is more about spotting potential than instant gratification, though I feel I got a little more of the latter with Rare '02 than I expected.

The blend is 70% Chardonnay (Montagne de Reims) and 30% Pinot Noir with 7 years of ageing on its lees. The wine introduces itself by means of gun smoke and light, tropical fruit aromas. Mineral nuances are in sync with others in the range, and the finish is long, silky and beautiful. I spent a while chatting with this wine in my hand and it kept developing and altering during that time. As mineral and smokey notes ebbed away, pineapple and lime curd showed themselves. A star of the future and an IWC Sparkling Wine of the Year 2014 award.

Piper-Heidsieck 'Rare' 1998 (en Magnum, as that' all it comes in)

I'm a huge fan of 1998 Champagnes, and was very much hoping this wine would take my breath away. Tasting the other wines in PH's line up and saving this until last was not easy - its large format bottle and gold, metallic, filagree label were beckoning from the far end of the table. I felt like a child being asked to finish his dinner with his pudding in sight.

Decadence aside, drinking from magnum is exciting, as wines in this format take a different ageing path than their little siblings. As per the 2002 Rare, the 1998 is a 70/30 Chardonnay/Pinot Noir split aged for 7 years on lees.

This wine has the prettiest, gently tingling bubbles delivering waves of aroma to the surface. I've never been to Marrakesh, though I swear there was a little of it in this wine. Gingerbread and orange blossom abound, followed by woody notes, dried fruits, jaffa cake and faint truffles.

The 1998 Rare has, at this point, a divine balance of primary, secondary and tertiary aromas and I would happily drink this now. Nonetheless, like most great Prestige Cuvées, it has long legs. It's a wine you find yourself holding in the mouth before swallowing, hoping that the warmth will release yet more aromas. IWC Sparkling Wine of the Year 2012 & 2013




Australia Day Tasting 2015 - 5 noteworthy wines

This week's annual Australia Day Tasting was, to me, the best yet, showcasing a wide range of styles, regionality, quality and price point - something Australia excels at. A rough guess would say 1000+ wines on display, though I only tasted 10% of these. Some highlights are featured below:

Fraser Gallop 'Parterre' Margaret River Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc 2012

This wine is not currently available in the UK, though others in the range are available through Bibendum. It was an 'under the table', unlisted wine, which easily won my 'wine of the day'.

The style is clearly 'White Graves' and the quality is right up there. A blend of 64% Semillon and 36% Sauvignon Blanc, the wine is destined to unravel beautifully over the next decade, though I'd be delighted to drink it right now. Soils are standard Margaret River gravelly/Laterite

Grapes are hand picked over 5 passes through the vineyard at an average of 11-12 baumé. The wine sees  9 months in new and older French oak barriques, puncheons and stainless steel 225L barrels, whilst Malolactic Fermentation is not induced. Wild yeasts are used to kick off fermentation, adding to the complexity of the nose. Sold at 13% abv.

With virtually no residual sugar and 8 grams of tartratible acidity, the wine has a pH of below 3.2 and finishes crisp and clean, but the mouthfeel is silky-gorgeous due to lees contact, battonage and superb fruit.

The nose is of vanilla oak, married extremely well to primary fruits like grapefruit and gooseberry with a hint of tropicality. The silken mouth feel of the wine completes the picture and makes it a staggeringly beautiful white blend.

Not currently available in the UK but should retail for approx £18-£25/bottle

Best's 'Great Western' Old Vine Pinot Meunier 2011

Another 'under the table' wine, I'm afraid, though this one is available through Bibendum.

This one is something of an oddity and I feel lucky to have tasted it. Pinot Meunier isn't that common in Australian fizz with most opting for Chardonnay/Pinot Noir blends. To find Pinot Meunier as a single varietal, still, red wine is rarer again. As if that isn't enough, the vines are from the 1860's and are in a mixed plot. Within this collection, believed to be the most extensive pre-phylloxera plantings in Australian and possibly the world, there are over 39 separate varietals planted, eight of which remain unknown and unidentified to this day! Some of the varieties grown include Chasselas, Palomino, Mataro, Gouais, Dolcetto and Gordo.

Grown on a small, 1.1 acre plot of 11 rows, these 149 year old vines are hand-harvested and yields are truly miniscule with small bunches produced. Based in Victoria's Grampians Region, soils are clay rich and the climate is cool mediterranean, which, along with the ancient vines, leads to a true 'terroir wine', if you'll forgive the parlance. The vines are dry-grown (without irrigation), leaving these dusty old vines to quench their own thirst.

The wine is also fermented with wild yeasts and in 2nd or 3rd year oak barriques for 6 months and 25% of bunches are pressed whole. With all of this going on, the wine is not about primary, Pinot Meunier fruit, more about the soils, vines, yeasts and barriques leading to a savoury and herbal wine.

Of course there are brambly red fruit notes typical of the variety, but they are muted under the savoury complexity of dried herbs and wild flowers. I can see this wine developing some light, meaty aromas in time, and losing even more of its very light ruby colour. In all honesty, I'm not sure I've tasted anything like it, though it has the structure of an ageing, cool climate Pinot Noir.

Best's also make a young vine Pinot Meunier, which is the antithesis of the old vine iteration - all purple juice and bright fruit.

I can't recall the price of this wine though £30-35 sounds about right. It's worth it for scarcity value alone.

Brown Brothers 'Patricia' Sparkling 2009

Wow! My first taste of this wine and what an unexpected delight it was. This is certainly the best Australian mainland (excludes Tasmania) traditional method sparkling wine I've tasted. High praise from this Champagne-addict.

Vine are grown in Victoria's King Valley and the Whitlands Vineyard is at a sub-alpine 800m metres above seal level. All of the fruit in this blend comes from here and the cèpage is 78% Pinot Noir and 22% Chardonnay.

Grapes were gently whole-bunch pressed in a pneumatic press so that just the cleanest 'cuvee' is run off leading to minimal phenolics or other unwanted character in the juice. All of the base wines underwent Malolactic Fermentation to add complexity and temper the acidity and a slow second fermentation in bottle followed. A further 5 years of bottle ageing (on lees) prior to disgorgement, leads to a wine of dominant autolytic (yeasty/bready) character and soft, creamy mouthfeel.

Post disgorgement, the wine was topped up with older wines (to add complexity) and sugar dosage (unknown, but feels around 9 grams) leaving a wine with overall pH of 3.2.

White floral notes mix with red apple and cherry fruit floated on a strong current of bread/pastry/toasty aromas. The wine is not a light, aperitif style, but a serious and complex wine less suited to shellfish or sushi and more at home with spatchcock, goose or roast pork.

Brown Brothers 'Patricia' Retails at around £31 and blows the socks off many well known Champagnes at this price point.

Henschke 'Cyril Henschke' Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Eden Valley

Wines of this nature are often way too big and extracted for me, especially at such a tender age, though the quality here is dynamite.

A blend of 84% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot and 3% Cabernet Franc, the Cyril Henschke 2010 is matured in 45% new and 55% seasoned French hogsheads for 18 months prior to blending and bottling. 

The wine is super-concentrated and tannins are firm, but ripe. The nose sings of cassis/blackcurrants and dried herbs, with a lifting floral aroma - possibly violet. Hiding amongst the black fruits are black plums, allspice and pencil shavings. 

An epic wine that needs time to evolve and soften with an estimated peak drinking window of 2025-2030 and beyond.

Drink on its own (in time) or to accompany wonderful dark meats. Chateaubriand, rack of lamb or venison stew.

RRP for this wine is £70

Ulithorne 'Flamma' Sparkling Shiraz NV

Ok, so I rarely drink Sparkling Shiraz and many others see it as a novelty, but this is a well made and serious wine, worthy of mention.

The fruit for this wine comes from McLarenvale, South Australia, and only the pick of the crop is used. Leftover grapes are bought and sold to Penfolds and end up in Grange - no worries about fruit quality then.

The base wine is made from 11 back vintages of Shiraz reserve wines, fermented in open top fermenters before 14 months of barrel ageing. The wines are then blended before tirage and second fermentation in bottle, followed by 9 months of lees ageing to add complexity.

Following disgorgement, the wine is topped up and dosaged with fortified Shiraz which has itself gone through a solera style (think Sherry) system of barrel ageing.

Unlike so many Sparkling Shiraz' on the market, this one isn't overly sweet with a dosage of just 5 grams to accompany the small amount of residual sugar left after 1st fermentation.

The nose is black cherry, plum, violets, herbs and mocha whilst the palate is powerful but shows elegance due to the low dosage, premium fruit, restrained alcohol (13.5%) and balanced acidity.

This wine is Christmas pudding worthy, and would also work with bitter chocolate desserts, salty and funky cheeses or game stews such as 'venison, port and chocolate'.

Price unavailable and wine supplied by Hallowed Ground.