Archive for February, 2011

Tastings, Wine Tasting

White Graves screwcap challenge

During the WSET L2 course today, we conducted a cork/screwcap challenge. The wine in question was Château Couhins-Lurton 2007 white Pessac-Léognan, a 100% barrel fermented Sauvignon Blanc from the Graves in Bordeaux, kindly donated by Véronique Bouffard from André Lurton. All the students left the room while I poured the wine into 2 glasses. On their return they tasted the 2 wines and wrote down (in a kind of secret ballot) which wine they preferred. Wine A was cork, Wine B was screwcap. Wine A received 2 votes, Wine B 4 votes. A victory for the screwcap.


What was interesting is that there was a clear difference between the 2 wines. Wine A (cork) was deeper in colour, very expressive with more  evolved aromas of lanolin, bootpolish and honey. Wine B (screwcap), in contrast, was less aromatic on the nose but the palate showed a highly clinical purity of citrus fruit, tighter structure of oak and acidity and a more youthful vitality.

OK, so it’s not particularly scientific, but it does show that for these styles of wine consumers (and not just wine trade professionals) clearly appreciate the tauter, refreshing profile brought by the screwcap. These are consumers who before expressed no particular preference but were willing to approach the trial with an open mind. It worked well in a controlled, educational environment. I realize selling it to the wider French wine drinking public, especially here in Bordeaux, would be a much tougher challenge.


MW exam practice Blind Tasting weekend – January 2011

Another eleven students, this time from 8 different countries, turned up for our second MW exam blind tasting weekend at the end of January. The group, which included a big Scandinavian contingent and a fairly even split between first and second years, stepped up to the challenge Juliet and I had prepared for the weekend. The wines as usual contained a mixture of classic styles, well known and a few lesser known varieties and a few “curved balls” to test everyone’s knowledge and reasoning. In detail the wines were as follows :


Paper 1

1. Leeuwin Estate Chardonnay 2007, Margaret River, Australia

2. Temporada Chardonnay 2009, Mendoza, Argentina

3. Talmard Macon- Chardonnay, Mallory et Benjamin 2009, Macon, France

4. Carillon Puligny Montrachet 2007, Burgundy, France

5. Château de Fesles Anjou Sec 2008, Anjou, France

6. Grosset Springvale Watervale Riesling 2009, Clare Valley, Australia

7. Millton Te Aria Vineyard Chenin Blanc 2007, Gisborne, New Zealand

8. Villiera Chenin Blanc 2010, Stellenbosch, South Africa

9. Condrieu Chéry, Perret 2009, Condrieu, France

10. Clay Station Viognier 2009, Lodi, California

11. Vina Real Rioja, CVNE 2006, Rioja, Spain

12. Picpoul de Pinet, Cave de Pomerols 2009, Languedoc, France


Paper 2

1. Nicolas Catena Zapata 2006, Mendoza, Argentina

2. Yalumba “The Menzies” Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, Coonawarra, Australia

3. Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste 2006, Pauillac, France

4. Ridge Montebello 2007, Santa Cruz, California

5. Clos Mogador 2006, Priorat, Spain

6. Laderas de El Seque 2009, Alicante, Spain

7. La Rioja Alta, Vina Arana, Reserva 2001, Rioja, Spain

8. Bohorquez Ribera del Duero 2004, Ribera del Duero, Spain

9. Castello di Brolio Chianti Classico, Barone Ricasoli 2007, Tuscany, Italy

10. Gerard Bertrand Merlot IGP Pays d’Oc 2009, Languedoc, France

11. Quinta da Rigodeira Bairrada 2005, Bairrada, Portugal

12. The Den Pinotage, Painted Wolf 2009, Coastal Region, South Africa


Paper 3

1. Graham’s Vintage Port 1980, Douro, Portugal

2. The Wine Society’s LBV (Symington) 2005, Douro, Portugal

3. Dow’s Colheita 1996, Douro, Portugal

4. Château Sociando-Mallet 2005, Haut-Medoc, Bordeaux

5. La Demoiselle de Sociando-Mallet 2008, Haut-Medoc, Bordeaux

6. The Wine Society’s Chilean Pinot Noir 2009, Leyda, Chile

7. Leyda Lot 21 Pinot Noir 2008, Leyda, Chile

8. Côte Rôtie, Les Bécasses, Chapoutier 2006, Rhône, France

9. St Joseph, Deschants, Chapoutier 2007, Rhône, France

10. De Bortoli Noble One Botrytis Semillon 2007, Riverina, Australia

11. Samos Anthemis Muscat 2004, Samos, Greece

12. Jurançon Moelleux La Megendia de Lapeyre, Clos Lapeyre 2006, Jurançon, France



MW exam style Blind Tasting weekend – Dec 10

Juliet Bruce Jones MW and I hosted our first MW blind tasting weekend in December. The idea was simply to give MW students experience and practice at answering the practical under exam conditions – a sort of mock exam. The tastings follow the exam format (2 and a quarter hours for each paper) and these are then followed by feedback sessions, whereby the students are given constructive advice on how to answer in a manner the examiners are looking for.

Eleven people from five different countries participated in this first event with one first year student coming from Vancouver for the weekend ! It’s not all school and exams : there are also dinners where people share bottles they’ve bought (more about this in an upcoming post) and even some free time..The main focus, however,  is the tasting papers and as any MW student will tell you, the more you practice the luckier you get….


The wines tasted over the weekend as follows :

Paper 1

1. McHenry Hohen Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc 2009, Margaret River, Australia

2. Domaine de Chevalier Blanc 2005, Graves, Bordeaux

3. Tyrell’s Vat 1 Hunter Semillon 2002, Hunter Valley, Australia

4. Isabel Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2009, Marlborough, New Zealand

5. Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett JJ Prüm 2007, Mosel, Germany

6. Forster Pechstein Bürklin-Wolf Riesling 2007, Pfalz, Germany

7. Erbacher Marcobrunn Riesling Kabinett Von Simmern 2007, Rheingau, Germany

8. Kumeu River Estate Chardonnay 2006, Auckland, New Zealand

9. Kumeu River Village Chardonnay 2008, Auckland, New Zealand

10. René Muré Signature Pinot Gris 2009, Alsace, France

11. AS Sortes Godello 2008, Valdeorras, Spain

12. Tesco Reserve Chenin Blanc 2009, Western Cape, South Africa


Paper 2

1. Clos St Denis Grand Cru Jadot 2006, Morey St Denis, Burgundy

2. Volnay Vieilles Vignes Nicolas Potel 2006, Volnay, Burgundy

3. Bourgogne Cuvée St Vincent, Vincent Girardin 2006, Burgundy

4.Vosne Romanée 1er Cru Les Suchots, Conferon-Contedit 2006, Vosne Romanée, Burgundy

5. Brunello di Montalcino, Gianni Brunelli 2003, Tuscany, Italy

6. Brindisi Vigna Flaminia Vallone 2007, Puglia, Italy

7. Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso Torre del Falasco 2008, Veneto, Italy

8. Barolo Monprivato Mascarello 2005, Piedmont, Italy

9. De Martino Legado Reserva Carmenère 2008, Maipo, Chile

10. Cline Zinfandel 2008, California, USA

11. Domaine Pierre Cros Minervois, Les Aspres 2008, Minervois, France

12. Faldeos Nevados Malbec 2009, Mendoza, Argentina


Paper 3

1. Nyetimber Brut Classic Blend 2005, Sussex, England

2. Pelorus Brut Cloudy Bay 2006, Marlborough, New Zealand

3. André Gallois Vin Mousseux NV, France

4. Billecart-Salmon Brut Réserve NV, Champagne, France

5. Barroubio Muscat de St Jean de Minervois 2009, St Jean de Minervois, France

6. Stanton and Killeen Rutherglen Muscat (av 12 years), Victoria, Australia

7. Cave de Beblenheim, Muscat Sec 2009, Alsace, France

8. Asti Spumante Villa Jolanda NV, Piedmont, Italy

9. Hardy’s Nottage Hill Cabernet Shiraz 2008, SE Australia

10. Château Musar 2003, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon

11. Lustau Oloroso Don Nuno, Jerez, Spain

12. Henriques & Henriques Bual 15 y.o. , Madeira



Outsiders – What’s In A Name?

Some may argue that calling yourself an “outsider” in your adopted country may lead to a certain scepticism and reticence on behalf of the locals. Others would say it should be seen as a compliment and proof that people from beyond the French territoire are proud to invest their time and considerable ressource in an area that deserves recognition. Whatever your opinion it’s always great when a bunch of like-minded people group together to put on an excellent tasting.

Held in a super “cool” bistro in downtown Montpellier, Chez Boris, 11 producers from all over the region put on a total of 4 wines each. Less is often more in the wine business, a maxim that many importers should consider when presenting to buyers, and all the more manageable in what turned out to be probably the most tightly packed tasting I’ve ever attended. Sadly the crush became so intense towards the end that I couldn’t actually reach the table (long given up on the spittoon) and so was not able to get round all the producers.


Nevertheless, I did manage to give it a good go and highlights of the evening included : Rives-Blanques Dédicace, certainly one of the best 100% Chenins outside of the Loire, Classique Blanc La Clape White from Château d’Anglès, a really refreshing Bourboulenc based blend from a generally arid location, and Jones Blanc 2009 a lovely 100% Grenache Gris from the eponymous vineyard of Katie Jones in the foothills of Queribus castle.

New to me were the impressive estates of Mas des Dames, close to Saint Chinian and Domaine de Cébène on the outskirts of neighbouring Faugères. I loved the concise named ‘La Dame’ from owner and winemaker Lidewiji van Wilgen of Mas des Dames, a quintessential Languedoc red blend of Grenache/Syrah and Carignan. The Cuvée Ex Arena from Brigitte Chevalier at Cébène, on paper a blockbuster Grenache/Mourvèdre blend but in reality a triumph of subtlety and elegance, was also a revelation and a steal at what I guess amounts to around 10€ retail in France.

To round off the tasting a visit to some regular friends, Combebelle the Biodynamic Estate owned by Catherine Wallace whose “Fleurs Sauvages” captures the high-top, garrigue fuelled plateau of Saint Chinian to a tee, and O’Vineyards Proprietor’s Reserve Cabardès, a big, bold Atlantic/Mediterranean blend that would rival many a Cru Classé Bordeaux in a blind tasting challenge. The least you would expect from Ryan O’Connell , a man who has done more to put this most westerly Languedoc Appellation on the map.


With the distance to the bottles, table and spittoon increasing, the persistent inward flow of restaurant diners it became impossible to taste further so I was unable to reach Domaine Treloar, Calet, Vella Frontera and Domaine Sainte Rose. Still a good reason to visit when next in their respective areas.

All in all a very good tasting, superbly organised and arranged by Louise Hurren. I managed to catch up with some old friends and discover something new. For the record I think the Outsiders is a great name, it embodies the notion of a struggle for acceptance, a very necessary quality when setting up a domaine in the Languedoc-Roussillon ! It seems appropriate to leave with a quote from Albert Camus whose most famous novel carries the same name : “Charm is a way of getting the answer yes without asking a clear question.”