Thursday, December 20, 2012

Wine Geometry

Are wine language an insider phenomenon - a commutation form only for the initiated?

Sometimes it is – sometimes not, or is it only because we assume the obvious is logical.

What is interesting about wine language is that it’s is a dynamic substance, which evolves with trends and corrections. Yet again, it could be that you discovered expressions along the way; you once had no idea what were, but now use as they were second nature.

Let’s take wine language down to a more specific level.  

“The wine is round”

You know what I am talking about, right? Round would be pleasing, soft and friendly. A wine with no hard edges, which could have a lush profile, filled with deep and intense fruit.  Velvet tannins, could also lead to round – even if the notes of chocolate and vanilla would appear, we could think of round. Yes we know round, don’t we?

“The wine is square”

Tricky! I assume a lot of people would have no idea what a square wine was or if so - our assumptions could most likely be miles apart and the term could have multiple meanings.

If we have to understand “square” properly we will have to have broader context and more information. I will give it to you now.

I heard this  “square” expression in arecent radio interview (it's in Danish) with chief sommerlier Pontus Elofsson from restaurant Noma .The host of the radio show asked Pontus why Noma and other top restaurants here in Denmark are turning more and more into natural wines – to a degree that the conventional wines are slowly being phased out.  Pontus said something like this:

“The trend at these restaurants is a more terroir defined kitchen. The distance between nature and plate is very short. The expression of the food is very brutal and honest – so is the wine. The starting point for both food and wine are the same. The conventional wines are very specific and square and might be spot on to a very specific dish. But when you pair against food, which is extremely wild, unruly and open - they fail. They simply don’t hit the right tones, like natural wine do. These natural wines work because they are flexible and open"

Does it make sense now?

(Pontus Elofsson)
Let’s try another term.

“The wine is free”

First time I got exposed to this term was the “Fri vin” event. I had a very good idea what “Free wines” were, as all of the producers attending either flirted with natural wines, organic, bio or very strong terroir orientated Champagne. Looking back – I didn’t get the term exactly right then, but I think it get it now.

A free wine…if we stay in the geometry lessons, we could say it’s a wine with no shapes – a wine that can’t be fitted into a form. A wine that is unruly, wild and open as Pontus pointed out. For me it’s also a wine that lives – filled with energy and life. Not belonging to a shape also means not forced to be a part of shape. Free wines tend to shoot in all kinds of directions because they are not forced only to go in one direction.

The most important thing for a wine to be free is that it lives.

It often takes me less than 10 seconds to know if it’s a free wine I have in the glass, but the obvious brain signal is almost impossible for me to explain. My best try would be it’s a wine I can feel – a wine that speaks to me and I can speak to the wine.

I know I’ve probably lost a few here and you been wondering what I have been smoking – but that’s the point. Free wines are an inexplicable connection between life in the wine and life in you. Those of you already exposed to free wines, know what I am mumbling about (please say yes).

I also know, when I present the geometry like this, I make the shapeless sound as the free paradise and the conventional, correct and square sound as hell on earth. Then we are back to the trench warfare of conventional vs natural wines. That’s not the case – at least not 100% ;-). You see correct and square can be great, when the variables are there. Such as my mood, food, occasion and friendship. But for my emotional barometer to get going it’s the shapeless, crazy, spontaneous, which reminds me I am alive and wine is more than just a liquid.

As all good students – I have an example for you. A square wine and a free wine – here goes.

The square wine:

2001 Felsina, Chianti Classico Riserva “Rancia”

Blend: 100% Sangiovese
Terroir: Limestone and Galestro marl
Vineyard: 6,25ha – southwest exposure – 410m above sea level.
Fermentation:  Temperature 28-30°c
Maceration: 16-20 days.
Ages of vines: Roughly 50 years
Aging: A mix of barriques and old oak casks – total of 16-18 months, plus 6-8 months in bottle
Glass: Zalto Bordeaux

Maybe it’s not fair to call Rancia a square wine. Or should I say it’s a dilemma to mark it as square. To some degree it’s exceptional square and yet again it seems like a wine have simply not woken up and I doubt it ever will.

I have tasted Rancia many times before in several vintages and know it takes time to come around. I even remember the 2001 here, which I tasted just after its release and decided to keep my six-pack well hidden in the back of my cellar. Here – many years later it’s still rock hard and not exactly a pleasure to drink

Sangiovese comes in many shapes and Rancia belongs where the red perfumes is transformed into darker cherry formations, Tuscan dust and dried herbs. We are not dealing with high alcohol or an extracted wine here – but my God I miss some life. The wine is tuned into a frequency, which I can’t listen to and no matter how gently I tried to whisper in it’s ear it seems almost offended and no contact was ever established.  

It’s the kind of wine where you take a sip of the glass and are disappointed every time, but still hope something better will appear. It didn’t happen and even though I have 5 bottles left I fear they are technical already dead.

The Free wine:

2010 Jean François Ganevat “Plein Sud”

Blend: 100% Trousseau
Terroir: Gray Marle and pebbles
Vines: Planted in 1949 and 2000
Production: approx. 15.000 bottles
Other: Almost all of Ganevat’s wines are without sulphur and can age really well.
Glass: Zalto Burgundy

To quote a friend on FB – “Ganevat is a genius”.

I couldn’t agree more and I could have picked all of his wines to represent my little experiment, but "Plein Sud" just happened to be the latest I’ve drunk and I had a couple of days after “Rancia”, which put focus on the contrast and why I thought about writing this thread.

Like all of Ganevat’s wines they are incredible delicious - drinking exceptional well with low alcohol and unbelievable juiciness. But there is also intellect – mind-blowing combination of depth, clarity and energy. You are instantly in close contact with the wine. It embraces you with open arms and the only problem is that the bottle is rapidly empty.

Ganavet can like no other from Jura lead your mind into Burgundy comparisons. He brings out an overly delicate sweetness, which in the case of this Plein Sud shapes like candy raspberry perfumes, cherries, Christmas spices and these ethereal notes. The taste is vivid – floating like a feather, yet with enormous bite and persistence.  Absolutely gorgeous and free wine. 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Varible No. 32B

What if women ruled the world?

The questions have of course been asked over and over again, and it clings like a naive cliché to ask it. Hypothetical, speculation and somewhat irrelevant one might say. Nevertheless mind joggling with theories can occasionally be interesting. 

If women ruled the world, how many World Wars would we have had; 1,2,3,4 or maybe not a single one? Would we even have nuclear weapons or at all know what they were? A Middle East conflict, dictatorship, world hunger, Global warming, financial crises or how much would Cristiano Ronaldo earn a month???

What about wine?

What if there was no male wine journalist or at least the leading wine critics were mainly female. We would be loaded with Jancis Robinsons clones. We could also assume there wasn’t a system with hats, stars or points, which ranked wine.

Wine still got reviewed in this female paradise, but the framework was far less rigid.

Systematic tasting of wine didn’t exist. Suppressing variables, which could influence our judgements was an illusion. In fact we did the opposite and highlighted everything that influenced us.  Wine tasting didn’t really exist; it was derived secondary result of drinking wine.

The tight and organized overview of the wine we have today was very different. The hierarchical subdivision of wine was far more complex, as a certain breed of wines suited our needs one day, but maybe not the next. Some would say the controlled and easy consumer overviews of wine we have today, was a big mess in the hands of the women.  A jungle no one ever thought about cleaning up or organize.   

The storytelling of wine was on a holistic level. How the taster related to the wine on all thinkable levels. We focused on symbioses between nature, culture, people, moods, occasions, food, diversity, temperature, humidity, glasses, lunar calendar…. etc. The best wines, could like today be those who were utterly complex and to a degree of supernatural. But the mojo was always drinking pleasure and how the wine was in synch with variables, our minds and emotions.

Norms didn’t exist, as there were no rules.  Sure Wine A could be miles better than wine B. But wine A, could also be horrible the following Tuesday, horrible the next week also, but utterly sensational, when you had it a week later, with some friends in Tuscany. We weren’t embarrassed to tell how a wine could appeal so differently over so short a time span, as it was a consequence of having full presence with wine and we always spoke highly focused on the variables, which changed the outcome.

We didn't think we were smarter than wine and we always needed to “nail it”. We loved being in doubt, because it reminded us that wine was a function of our complex life.

Science fiction?

Maybe, but are we/you satisfied with what we have today? When you found a love for wine, how long did it take for you to realize that wine was also about “code of conduct?” Have we in fact just jumped onboard and pressed, “I agree” without reading between the lines?

Many question – very little answers.

I don’t have them all – as I am not here to judge. I am however here to ask questions and be curious, because clinic tasting of wine it not something I believe in. I believe in variables and I embrace them.

1995 Château Montus “XL”

Grape: 100% Tannat
Terroir: Strong slopes interspersed pebbles, 3 meters of red clay
Vines: 25 years old
Vinification: Fermentation at 28 ° C in wooden vats
Maceration for 3 to 6 weeks (depending on the vintage)
Bredding: On lees, 40 months in new barrels of 400 liters
Production: 4000 bottles
Existing vintages of “XL”: 1989, 1990, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1998, 2000
Glass: Riedel Sommerliers Bordeaux Grand Cru

The other week I decided it was time to serve a wine I have basically been waiting 15 years to taste. There was only one person I could drink this wine with - my good friend, Claus whom I have been drinking wine with for almost 20 years now.

Had I chosen to share this wine with my wife, it would have failure written all over it.  I speculate she would have categorized it as what she often calls a “typical maleness wine”. Taste it myself then? No! – I can already see how I have been far more analytic (maybe…I don’t know 100%).

Together with Claus, there was a connection, which started by itself, as Montus was one of the very first wines he and I shared together. Why not use this? Why not bring myself to a state of mind, where I was already smiling, when he was blind guessing on this wine. You see, we collected Montus and held tastings, where it often acted as joker in Bordeaux flights. 

However during the years and with plenty of water flowing in the river, Montus have sunk into oblivion. Yet tasting it again made me realize, the journey we take in wine is not always about defining your taste here and now. We still have memorable moments, when our taste was different. Today Claus and I doesn’t necessarily share taste in wine, but Montus made that link back in time and that was exactly what I hoped for.

The wine was thrilling because of this special occasion. It reminded us how elegant Montus can turn out when you give it +10 years in the cellar. It also reminded me how many different wines I have actually tasted during the years.

Claus started his first blind guess with Bordeaux, which wasn’t a surprise to me. I would have guessed the same, if I were in the hot seat. Notes like; vanilla, melted milk chocolate, sweet cedar wood, cigar box and healthy ripe blackcurrant were the perfect recipe for Bordeaux. It even delivered a very classy taste, with solid good bite and structure. However after this guess he paused for some 20 minutes – had a refill and then said out loud: “Montus!!!!” We laughed and at this moment a window was opened to memory lane and the stories just floated, as we were back in our twenties.

Had I had this wine alone or at a systematic controlled tasting event, the outcome would have been very different.

So my advice to you is to embrace everything in wine that can influence you, because in the long run you can’t suppress them anyway.

Variable no. 32B is: Occasion & Friendship


Sunday, December 2, 2012

Jérôme Prévost

(Image with courtesy of Tue Juelsbo - shot with a Leica M9)

In early November I had the pleasure to meet Jérôme Prévost here in Copenhagen @ restaurant *Kadeau (*food is absolutely gorgeous – incredible deep centred with lots of earthy, gamey and umami flavours).

It always a treat - life affirming to met up with the kind of winemakers, which are so humble and relaxed like Jérôme. To me it’s in sheer contrast to the stressed “office life” most of my friends and I live.  It’s one of the main reasons, why I can never get tired of wine and why I have decided to write about it.

His wines are not bad either – in fact, he was the first - and I still consider him a pioneer – taken the sometimes one-dimensional baroque profile of Pinot Meunier into a multifaceted landscape.

Jérôme resides in Gueux – just 12 km west of Reims. He calls the estate La Closerie where he has two hectare of +40 year old Pinot Meunier. The parcel is named “Les Béguines”. Jérôme told us, that he has acquired nearby land and planted Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and pinot gris. However the vines are still in their youth – but this will of course be very interesting to follow, despite the production will be very limited.

(“Les Béguines")

Currently two wines are on display. The 100% Pinot Meunier (non-dosage) La Closerie “Les Béguines" and his rosé “Fac-Simile” (dosage: 2 g/l) – also a pure assamblage Meunier. However he also used to make a third cuvée “D’ailleurs” which I have been fortunate to taste in London in vintage 2003. Absolutely spectacular Champagne and one of the first Jérôme Prévost Champagnes I tasted. As I understand it – it’s only a two time offering – in 2000 and 2003 vintage and the difference was selective plots on the “Les Béguines” parcel and it spent one year more in barrel.  

A key element with his Champagnes is their fined tuned food pairing abilities.  Champagne are in general a treat to the table, but especially with “Les Béguines” it becomes a magical catalyst.  I think it’s very much related to the wide spectrum of spices and herbal character his Champagnes offers.

The intro wine served this evening - with six lovely snacks - was the challenging 2010 vintage of “Les Béguines".
Jérôme lost one third of his production in 2010 due to a devastating rainstorm, which torn Champagne between 15th <> 17th of August. Despite you sense it’s not a Champagne that has the depth of previous vintages – it’s still possesses good freshness and acidity sparkle.  Again – the Champagne took a step up in companionship with food.

We continued with the 2009 vintage, which has greater nerve and precision. I have tasted it before and I found some of the same keynotes present like: Black cherries, oat flakes, pear, cornfield, almonds, sour dough and these lovely spices. The 2009 are still tight, with very little oxidative character. Jérôme told us, how the bottling of his Champagnes sort of takes them into a reductive winter hides, where It can take up to six years before he can recognize the product he worked with in the cellar, before he bottled them.  Knowing this, makes we wonder if we/I are in fact drinking his Champagnes too early?

His rosé “Fac-Simile” in vintage 2009, was next. At my table the judgement was quickly leading into a nice but somewhat simple product in comparison with “Les Beguines". I was a bit sad it turned out like this – not that I strongly disagreed that his “white” Champagne is better and more complex. However I don’t  think you should always classify – especially when comparing two very different products. Bottom-line is that I think the rosé has something to offer and overall fit’s into a very elegant style of rosé, which has more to say than those somewhat fruit crazy rosé offerings, with too much oak treat.

So in order to put some focus on his rosé I decided to have the 2008 vintage a couple of weeks later. 

(“Fac-Simile” - 2008 vintage here)

I am confident “Fac-Simile”is a Champagne that can age – and WILL change a lot with cellaring. Simple is not the right label – I think some will realized in time.  

Both the ’09 and ’08 are currently very shy and taut – almost at a degree of being reductive. However the debut vintage ’07 is not at all like this and though it might not be as robust as ’09 & ‘08 it have already taken on several layers and an expressive style; revealing lots of oxidative notes.

The ’09 flirts with “simple”  - yet pleasing light red perfumes, such as raspberries, strawberries and some apricot.  Like the ’08, it’s lights on its toes and has an adorable fine structure. The ’08 are made in the same frame, but have a deeper fruit intensity and complexity.  The trick to bring out its beauty is to follow it slowly over an evening and pay attention to its structural heartbeat. A way to do that is to choose a bigger glass than a regular flute and raise it temperature. Around 14 degrees things start to happen and it’s so defined at this temperature, despite still being very youthful. Here the bitterness takes a step back and the structure unfolds far more energetic signals on the palate. When I had the ’08 at home, it never became a bouquet revelation, but more a Champagne, with enormous elegance, fascinating bite and energy on the palate. I would however be very patient with “Fac-Simile” and wait these 5-6 years.

Next was 2008 “Les Beguines". I tasted it a month before the tasting and already knew what was coming. I was not disappointed – it could very well be the most impressive vintage I have tasted and it’s so deep and complex. Will of course be even better, but there is so much adorable lush fruit and energy, so I can be enjoyed already now.

We continued with the 2005 vintage of “Les Beguines". Jérôme is not at all pleased with this vintage, which he thinks has some very unfortunate rotten notes. It’s once again the big dilemma of ’05, where many producers had to deal with rot, which can shape like mushroom, moist cellar and rotten potato notes.
I thought the ’05 was fairly okay, when being served, but the more air it attracted the more you sense these funky aromas, which is also an issue on the palate, where it breaks off a bit short.

Indeed a fine tasting and a real pleasure to met Jérôme Prévost, whom I plan (and hope) to visit again in Champagne in 2013.