Julien Schaal Releases His 2017 Flagship Grand Cru – Tasting the Schaal Riesling Rangen de Thann Volcanique…

I recently review Julien Schaal’s new Riesling Rosacker Grand Cru 2017 – a very impressive wine in its own right. There is no doubting the pedigree of the Rosacker vineyard which is home to one of Alsace’s greatest wines, Trimbach’s Clos st Hune. But when you want extra muscle power and frame, mineral austerity, age-ability and intensity in your Riesling, you can do no better than the Rangen de Thann Grand Cru vineyard.

Often regarded as the grandest of all the Grands Crus, this is the only Cru vineyard located on volcanic rocks. This volcanic soil, combined with a 60 degree slope results in tiny yields of hard-won fruit – but the results are worth the struggle and the concentration and depth of the Riesling wines produced can be extraordinary. This exceptional 2017 is a vintage not to miss!

Julien Schaal Riesling Rangen de Thann Grand Cru Volcanique 2017, Alsace, 13 Abv.

It may be auto-suggestion but when you first nose the Rangen Volcanique 2017 Riesling you can’t help but notice the incredible dusty, flinty basalt minerality that pervades the wine. Like it’s attractive sibling, the Rosacker, this wine is taut, restrained and initially very tightly wound with shy dusty stony aromatics and subtle hints of lime peel, grated Granny Smith apples and fresh fennel. The palate too is powerful, intense, compact and flinty but also shows off the grand pedigree of Rangen with incredible piercing lime cordial concentration, lemon bon bons and tart crunchy pineapple zest interspersed with pithy, phenolic tannin grip and a flinty, stony, saline, wet river pebble finish. Another fantastic vintage expression for Julien, this wine is built to impress and delivers on so many levels. Drink on release or cellar for 10 to 15+ years.

(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Julien Schaal Masters Grand Cru Rieslings – Tasting His New Release Rosacker 2017…

Not only does Julien & Sophie Schaal produce some fantastic Chardonnays from South Africa, but for the past few years, Julien has been making an array of Grand Cru Alsace dry Rieslings under his own name separate to his partnership with Olivier Biechler and the Biechler & Schaal wines. When it comes to Alsace vineyard pedigree, they don’t come more illustrious than the Rosacker Grand Cru vineyard in the village of Hunawihr that is also the source of Domaine Trimbach’s Clos Ste Hune Riesling, probably Alsace’s most famous white wine.

The official Rosacker Grand Cru classification covers over 26 hectares on predominantly limestone soils at between 260 and 330 metres above sea level, facing east and south east. Permitted varieties include Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and of course Riesling, which forms 65% of the Rosacker Cru.

Julien Schaal Rosacker Grand Cru Calcaire 2017, Alsace, 12.5 Abv.

Vibrant and youthful, this delicious dry Riesling made from 41 year old vines bristles with dusty limestone mineral lift, lemon rind, spicy citrus, crushed gravel, fresh fennel and dried baking herbs. Initially quite restrained and tight, the nose slowly starts to reveal notes of waxy green apples and wet slate petrichor notes with time in the glass. The medium bodied palate shows fine intensity and a wonderful harmonious balance between sweet lemon pastille fruits, dried herbs, boiled apple bon bons and bright linear acids. A mouth watering example that has ample glycerol palate weight and a lovely dry mineral finish. Drink this beauty now and over the next 5-8+ years.

(Wine Safari Score: 93+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Exploring Bordeaux Second Wines – Part 6: Petit-Figeac de Château Figeac 2014, Saint Emilion Grand Cru…

The latest edition to the Wine Safari Bordeaux second wine series features a wine from one of my favourite Saint Emilion Grand Cru estates, Château Figeac owned by the Manoncourt family. Only the third vintage of this new second wine produced, Petit-Figeac de Château Figeac was created starting with the 2012 vintage.

Figeac is the largest estate in Saint-Émilion with 40 hectares (99 acres) of vineyards. Due to its soil, which is dominated by gravel, the estate is planted with grape varieties more reminiscent of the left bank, including 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Cabernet Franc and only 30% Merlot. Most other Saint-Émilion wines are dominated by Merlot, and Figeac therefore bears a certain resemblance to the wines of the Medoc and Graves despite being situated on Bordeaux’s right bank.

From 1945 to 2011, the estate produced a second wine called La Grange Neuve de Figeac and since 2006 a ‘special wine’ named Petit-Figeac. From the 2012 vintage, Petit-Figeac became the single official second wine of Chateau Figeac.

Petit-Figeac de Château Figeac 2014, Saint Emilion Grand Cru, 13 Abv.

A blend of 50% Merlot, 44% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc, the aromatics reveal a real melange of plush ripe black fruits tinged with graphite spice. There are layers of cassis, blueberry, black bramble berries and black plum. As the wine unfurls in the glass, distinct notes of black cherry, mocha, espresso, sweet tobacco and milk chocolate become more pronounced. The palate texture is ultra soft and seductive, super supple with beautifully plush powdery tannins, vibrant cherry pith, hints of cola and liquorice and a subtle saline finish. A thoroughly charming high quality effort that Claret lovers can drink now or cellar for another 5 to 8+ years.

(Wine Safari Score: 92/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

The First “First Growth” of the Languedoc – Tasting the New Release Wines from Mas de Daumas Gassac…

Within half a century, the pioneering winery of Mas de Daumas Gassac has reached the rare status of a “cult wine,” one of the few in the Languedoc region. After being identified in 1971 as a unique terroir by Professor Henri Enjalbert, 50 hectares of vineyards in the Gassac valley were planted on virgin soils using 40 different uncloned grape varieties, laying the foundations for the iconic whites and reds of Daumas Gassac.

It was Professor Emile Peynaud, the genius behind classic French wine making techniques who defined the vinification and maturation procedures at the Domaine, allowing for some truly unique terroir specific wines to be produced. The Noble red wine is made from vines planted on red glacial deposits and incorporates up to 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, blended with Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Tannat, Malbec, Nebbiolo, Dolcetto and others.

The domaine’s white is a blend of mainly four noble varieties including Viognier, Petit Manseng, Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay, but can include up to 20 varieties in the final wine, many picked and co-fermented.

I recently tasted the domaine’s new releases in London with their importer , Les Caves de Pyrennes.

Mas de Daumas Gassac 2016 IGP Saint Guilhem le Desert Blanc, 14 Abv.

The 2016 IGP Saint Guilhem le Desert Blanc is a ripe, opulently fruited white made from a mix of Viognier, Petit Manseng, Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc. The nose initially offers up notes of white peach, tangerine peel, stem ginger and waxy green apples. Underneath the fruity fragrance lies a more complex melange of limestone, crushed gravel and dried baking herbs. The palate is full, opulent and quite glycerol, rolling around the tongue with real concentration and intensity. The fleshy weight of white citrus and white peach stone fruit is nicely counter balanced with fresh bright acids and a pithy, spicy minerality. A really delicious glassful of white.

(Wine Safari Score: 92+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Mas de Daumas Gassac 2015 IGP Saint Guilhem le Desert Rouge, 13.5 Abv.

The 2015 was a seriously good vintage in France and this is a seriously good red from Daumas Gassac. The 2015 IGP Saint Guilhem le Désert Rouge is a blend of mostly Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with a smattering of multiple other varieties including Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo and Dolcetto. The nose is taut and tight, initially quite broody, offering complex notes of graphite, peppercorn spice, tobacco leaf, liquorice, incense and black currant spice before relaxing a little in the glass to show more fragrant, perfumed nuances of lavender, violets and dried garrique. The palate is quite classically proportioned, ripe and opulent yet fairly broody and restrained. Medium bodied, there is a real polish to the ripe mineral tannins that show a piquant grip and gravelly minerality before melting away into a melange of black berry confit, earthy black bramble berry fruits and spicy blueberry that has just the most subtle kiss of vanilla pod oak spice. Wonderfully compact and focused, this is an impressively regal wine from the vineyards of Aniane. Cellar this beauty for a few more years before cracking and then drink comfortably over a decade or two.

(Wine Safari Score: 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Beginning of a New Era at Champagne Taittinger with the UK Launch of Comtes de Champagne 2007…

Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger was in London last week to present the fabulous new Comtes de Champagne release, the first since 2016. With new winemaker and chef de caves, Alexandre Ponnavoy at the helm, it looks like the beginning of a new chapter in the history of Taittinger.

The 2007 vintage is regarded by Taittinger as a very good vintage in Champagne with an especially warm winter resulting in early vegetative growth. The harvesting started with Chardonnay being picked in early September.

Greg Sherwood MW with UK Taittinger importer Patrick McGrath MW and Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger, President of the Grandes Marques.

The character of the vintage, according to Alexandre, “showed fine freshness, crystalline purity, ample complexity and an intricately bright acidity underpinned by a fine, pin point salinity” which is generally regarded as the key to the 2007’s great success.

The Four Principles of Comtes de Champagne:

Extremely small production, 10 years of bottle aging on the less before disgorgement, five top Grand Cru sites, making a wine that is “an affordable luxury”… appealing to real Champagne connoisseurs, not just millionaires or billionaires.

1 Unique terroir

2 A long vinification history allowing a wine personality to develop

3 Vinification with attention to detail

4 Good forests, using a small amount of oak foudre for ageing a portion of this wine to add a little “salt and pepper” to its character and complexity.

Tasting with new chef de caves Alexandre Ponnavoy.

Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Brut 2007, 12 Abv.

A fantastic young Champagne with a colourful personality. Chalky aromatics bristle out the glass, interwoven with dusty limestone minerality, lemon and lime cordial and yellow grapefruit notes. Sublime balance, harmony and creamy textural elegance, this really is such a sympathetic wine with delicious mouth watering acidity and vibrancy. The wine oozes breeding and regal heritage but without any pretentious airs or graces, delivering palate depth, structure and a focused creamy mousse with delectable notes of lemon biscuits, buttered white toast, lemon bon bons, hazelnuts and a wonderful zesty white peach pastille complexity. A luminous bright citric core, refined palate breadth and a creamy sour dough and buttered brioche finish. So, so lovely. A worthy successor to the block buster 2005 and 2006. Drink now or cellar for 15+ years.

(Wine Safari Score: 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Some of the other “treats” at the launch lunch.

Celebrating Eleanor of Aquitaine’s Marriage to Henry Plantagenet with Chateau d’Issan – The Foundation Stone of the English Love Affair with the Bordeaux Region…

On Friday 18th May I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a superb celebratory dinner at the Palace of Westminster, also known as the Houses of Parliament. Arranged by the Cruse family from Chateau d’Issan in Margaux, the dinner commemorated the day in 1152 Henry Plantagenet married Eleanor of Aquitaine, which ensured the city and vineyards of Bordeaux and Gascony would become an English possession for the next 300 years.

As Duchess of Aquitaine, Eleanor was the most eligible bride in Europe. Three months after becoming duchess upon the death of her father, William X, she married King Louis VII of France, son of her guardian, King Louis VI. As Queen of France she participated in the unsuccessful Second Crusade.

Queen Eleanor in the Palace of Westminster

Soon afterwards, Eleanor sought an annulment of her marriage, but her request was rejected by Pope Eugene III. However, after the birth of her second daughter Alix, Louis agreed to an annulment, as fifteen years of marriage had not produced a son. The marriage was annulled on 21 March 1152 on the grounds of consanguinity within the fourth degree. Their daughters were declared legitimate and custody was awarded to Louis, while Eleanor’s lands were restored to her.

Neal Martin from Vinous chatting to Max Lalondrelle from Berry Bros & Rudd in the Grand Hall.

As soon as the annulment was granted, Eleanor became engaged to the Duke of Normandy, who became King Henry II of England in 1154. Henry was her third cousin and eleven years younger. The couple married on Whitsun, 18 May 1152, eight weeks after the annulment of Eleanor’s first marriage, in Poitiers Cathedral.

The newest art instalment in the Palace commemorating the suffragette movement.

Over the next thirteen years, she bore eight children: five sons, three of whom became kings; and three daughters. However, Henry and Eleanor eventually became estranged. Henry imprisoned her in 1173 for supporting their son Henry’s revolt against him. She was not released until 6 July 1189, when Henry died and their second son, Richard the Lionheart, ascended the throne.

As Queen dowager, Eleanor acted as regent while Richard went on the Third Crusade; on his return Richard was captured and held prisoner. Eleanor lived well into the reign of her youngest son, John. She outlived all her children except for John and Eleanor.

Wines Tasted With Dinner:

Chateau d’Issan 2008, Margaux

This is classic, delicious, elegant Margaux claret. Complex layers of hoisin sauce, macerated plums, earthy black currant and just a little tease of graphite spice. Gloriously elegant and refined, this is another claret 10 years on that ticks so many drinking boxes. Classy classical Margaux and many guests favourite wine.

(Wine Safari Score: 92+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Chateau d’Issan 2003, Margaux (Jeroboam)

Rich, opulent exotic nose of black cherry kirsch liquor, creme de cassis and dried tarragon baking spices. Lovely and expressive, this wine speaks of the vintage and its ample sunshine and ripe fruit. The palate is fleshy and opulent, lush and showy but all quite finely proportioned. The finish show hints of bramble berry, hedge row spice and bruised black plums and soft mouth coating concentration. Drinking well now, it is impossible not to enjoy this sexy wine.

(Wine Safari Score: 90/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Chateau d’Issan 1988, Margaux (Imperiale)

Served from an Imperiale, this wine has classic, old school Bordeaux written all over it. But 1988 Bordeaux always illustrates a cool vintage in such an animated manner, a fresh year in the Medoc showing dusty crushed gravel, parma violets, crushed leaves, wet hay, herbaceous garrigue depth and pithy cherry skin spice. Still wonderfully youthful, vibrant and fresh with a fine, complex smokey intricacy and grainy mineral tannins, superb hints of coffee bean and tannery leather. A lovely glass of wine, in a style we will probably never see made again.

(Wine Safari Score: 88+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Chateau d’Issan 1978, Margaux (Imperiale)

From such a large ex-Chateau format, there was every expectation that this 40 year old wine would be super youthful and indeed it was. The aromatics are delicately tertiary and complex, loaded with sweet tobacco, herbal cedar spice, hedge row, brewed tea and tannery leather nuances. Sleek textured, super polished, pithy and fresh, this is an immaculately vibrant, classically proportioned old school claret. A really wonderful treat to drink a large format 40 year old Chateau-cellared wine of this age.

(Wine Safari Score: 91+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Several regular 75cl bottles of the 1978 were also served and were equally delicious.

(Picture by Neal Martin, Vinous)

England’s youngest ever prime minister, William Pitt the Younger.

Champagne truffles to end the dinner.

Tasting a Range of Rhône Specialist Delas Frères’ Wines in London…

In 1835, Charles Audibert and Philippe Delas purchased the Maison Junique wine merchant in Tournon-sur-Rhône, which they renamed “Audibert et Delas”. In 1924, Henri and Florentin Delas took over the company which they renamed “Delas Frères”. They continued to develop the trading business and the family estate by purchasing a vineyard in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and expanding the Hermitage vineyards in order to ensure consistent quality for their production.

In 2015, to celebrate Delas Frères’ 180th anniversary, the Deutz-Delas Group purchased a new property in the middle of Tain-l’Hermitage. Its showcase technical facilities will be used to vinify the highest quality appellations produced by Delas Frères.

I recently caught up with Export Manager Etienne Defosse to taste through a small selection of their classic Delas cuvees.

Delas Viognier Vin de Pays 2016, 13 Abv.

Vibrant cool and fresh, fine mineral balance, pithy white citrus and lovely elegance. Plenty of interest here.

(Wine Safari 87+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Delas Cotes du Rhône Saint Esprit Blanc 2016, 14 Abv.

Grenache Blanc and Viognier blend, sweet blossom, peach and marmalade opulence. Hints of Turkish delight and pineapple pastille depth. Really delicious offering.

(Wine Safari 88+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Delas Syrah Vin de Pays 2016, 12 Abv.

Sweet intense nose with piercing red plum, peppercorn spice, savoury meats and a supple, fleshy, overt finish with a kiss of wood smoke.

(Wine Safari 88/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Delas Cotes du Rhône Saint Esprit Rouge 2016, 14 Abv.

Northern producer view with Syrah base with a touch of Grenache. Nose packed with black cherry, gun smoke, liquorice and graphite nuances. Wonderful sweet black cherry pastille, supple elegant soft tannins and a long , polished pure savoury bramble berry mineral finish.

(Wine Safari 89/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Delas Domaine des Genets Vacqueyras 2015, 14 Abv.

Rich dark and broody, packs plenty of plummy, savoury, black peppery depth. Five spice, black cherry pithe and supple, dark brambly finish. Punchy but not rustic, plenty of focus and freshness with intensity.

(Wine Safari 90/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Delas Chateauneuf-du-Pape Haut Pierre 2015, 15 Abv.

Sweet tannery leather, grilled herbs and spices. Touch of dusty garrigue. Full, plush and elegant, wonderfully fleshy, never heavy, impressively polished tannins and a long, sweet brambly finish.

(Wine Safari 91+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Delas Crozes Hermitages Les Launes 2016, 13 Abv.

Deep, dark, peppery dusty crushed gravel and wood spice nose with hints of barbecue smoke. Broody, savoury black berry and garrigue spice with subtle cured meats and German deli savoury complexity on the finish. Classy.

(Wine Safari 92/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Delas Domaines des Grands Chemins Crozes-Hermitage 2015, 14 Abv.

Intense, pithy, piquant nose with dark exotic peppercorn spice, black cherry, grey slate and barbecued meats. Dusty, very mineral with a saline edge, this has depth, length and graphite complexity with focused power.

(Wine Safari 93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Delas Saint Joseph Les Challeys 2016, 13 Abv.

Beautiful melange of soft black pastille fruits, perfume, violets and cherry blossom. But delicious red berry fruit opulence is never far away. Wonderful notes of cassis, and graphite follow to a deliciously pure palate with supple tannins, mineral spice and a fresh, vibrant elegance. Iron fist in the proverbial velvet glove. Wonderful Syrah class.

(Wine Safari 93+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Delas Domaine des Tourettes Hermitage 2015, 14 Abv.

Broody dark nose with massive complex array of perfumed aromatics. Layers of sweet cassis, salty liquorice, violets, black olive, and black cherry with wonderfully fresh, piercing concentration. A very noble wine, profound depth, delicious Syrah power and impressive intensity.

(Wine Safari 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)