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)

Tasting Pomerol Icon Chateau Lafleur 2017 En-primeur with Cellar Master Omri Ram in London …

Excellent tasting today with Omri Ram from Chateau Lafleur. A lot of intrigue surrounds the 2017 vintage in general and Omri feels they have a slightly different storyline to their neighbours. For Chateau Lafleur, 2017 was a good continuation of 2016 in a dry mode and rising temperatures. A hot beginning and an early start to the season normally leads to a great finish. But vine growth starting early exposes the vines to a frost risk, which has not struck in a serious way in Bordeaux since 1991. In that year, Lafleur made only 8 barrels compared to a long term average of 40 to 50 barrels and the trauma is sorely remembered.

In 2014 they bought anti-frost bucket candles, deploying 1500 of them in the vineyards in 2017 the day before the frost struck. With forecasts of frost, the candles were lit which acted to stabilised the temperatures to around 0.82 degrees C while neighbours vineyards dropped to -3 or -4 degrees C, resulting in severe losses to young green shoots.

Vintage comparisons… according to Omri Ram…

2015 = like a super 2009

2016 = like a super 2010

2017 = also more like a 2016-styled wine

Chateau Lafleur Cellar Master Omri Ram

Chateau Grand Village Rouge 2017, Bordeaux Superieur

97% Merlot and 3% Cabernet Franc in the 2017 blend with a very pure clay-limestone expression. Big, plump, opulent nose brimming with black fruits and limestone linearity. The palate is beautifully taut, crisp and pure, showing beautiful freshness, clarity of fruit and wonderful harmonious length. A real triumph for the vintage.

(Wine Safari Score: 89-92/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Acte 9 2017

100% Merlot picked on the 21st of September and 2017 is the first and possibly last vintage to be made from pure Merlot. Normally the blend includes up to 50% Cabernet Franc. Almost like a mini-Lafleur in essence, only 1,200 bottles were produced. Full and expressive on the nose, there are wonderful black plum notes, buttered brown toast, blackberry confit with just a dusting of mocha and cocoa powder. Super elegant palate, very pinpoint and precise, excellent purity, harmony and subtlety with a soft, feminine, sultry length.

(Wine Safari Score: 90-92+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Les Pensees de Chateau Lafleur 2017

Smallest parcel in Lafleur at 0.69 hectares. Not made as a second wine to Lafleur, more as a defined expression from the same clay dominated parcel. Using 52% Merlot and 48% Cabernet Franc, the aromatics are more vibrant, crunchy and fresh revealing hints of cassis reduction, graphite and a saline, kirsch note. The palate boasts sweet violet tinged black berry, cherry confit with fine core depth and a plush, long length. An accessible, classy expression.

(Wine Safari Score: 91-93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Chateau Lafleur 2017

With vineyards unharmed by the frost, the blend is 47% Merlot and 53% Cabernet Franc. Merlot was picked before the rains on the 8-12th September as the fruit was beautifully ripe. The aromatics are wonderfully precise, pure and focused, with black bramble berry fruits, black cherry and blackberry jam on buttered brown toast. The palate is broad and expansive, filling the mouth, coating it with concentrated black plum, creamy saline cassis, milk chocolate nuances and chalky, gravelly fine tannins. Wonderful front palate weight, a dense core of fruit and a really profound textural harmony and elegance. Still embryonic, this wine has the genetics and the pedigree to be another fantastic Lafleur vintage.

(Wine Safari Score: 96-98/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Note: The lovely red wines of Lafleur were blended already at the end of January 2018, allowing almost the full passage of maturation to take place as a “finished wine” in oak. Usually a more common practice of the past Omri says, but nowadays, most chateaux show “cleverly constructed wines” with a notional blend drawn from the best barrels to show trade buyers at En-primeur. So yet another subtle level of authenticity in the portfolio of the Guinaudeau family reds.

One of the Leading Lights of Champagne – Tasting the New Release Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millenaires 2004…

Founded in 1851 by the man who would become known as ‘Champagne Charlie’, this family-owned Champagne house is the smallest of the Grandes Marques. Their size and commitment to excellence, has been underpinned by a winemaking team that between them have been named ‘Sparkling Winemaker of the Year’ at the International Wine Challenge 15 times.

With commercially released stocks of the long running Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millenaires 1995 finally exhausted, the time had come for a new release to seduce the market with and what better vintage to offer than the stellar 2004. Anyone who tasted the 1995 can attest to its incredible quality and complexity… a wine that was able to convert the staunchest Champagne sceptic.

We will probably never again have something this old for the “current commercially available prestige Cuvee release” (at circa £165 per bottle) but we will  no doubt see older archive releases and special recently disgorged oddments trickle onto the market over time. In the meantime, the 2004 is another iconic Champagne release that should find a place in any fine wine lover’s cellar.

The wines were tasted before and during a bespoke lunch with specially selected courses, at the fabulous 1 star Michelin restaurant Trinity near Clapham Common in London.

Charles Heidsieck Brut NV (Current Release in 2018)

Base wine 2010, 40% Reserve wine from 2005 to 1990 (10 year old average) and 60% from 2010.

Very precise, dusty creamy lemon brioche, real reserve wine depth and opulence, concentration and intensity. Plenty of sour dough, saline briney yellow citrus complexity. The mouse is very explosive without being course, expansive yet very creamy and the palate is loaded with delicious nutty almond skin exotism. You just can’t underestimate the influence of the 40 % reserve wines in the blend. It’s signature is super intensity and pin point balance combined with real generosity. This is a fine wine in every sense… and certainly a whole lot of wine for the money!

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

Charles Heidsieck Rose Brut Reserve NV

Base wine of 75% 2012 vintage and 20% reserve wine of 5 to 6 years age. Includes a blend of red wines made by 2-3 suppliers which are aged in tank.

The nose is fairly youthful and vinous, tense and taut with real chalky minerality and overt stony nuances. Still very fresh and tightly wound, delicate savoury red fruits slowly reveal themselves. Pithy cherry skins, cherry pips and cranberry skins. Not quite as saline and briney as the NV white, this Rose NV shows great energy, fine textural shape and a long subtle mineral pithy length. Give this another 1-2 years to open its shoulders and then drink over 5-8+ years.

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

Charles Heidsieck Rose Millesime 2005

8% Pinot Noir (50% Les Riceys and 50% Reims)

Dark copper salmon colour, the nose reveals delicious savoury notes of red berry coulis, cherry pith, strawberry pips, and wet chalk. The palate is explosive, dense, super creamy and expansive in the mouth. Plenty of meaty savoury red berry notes, strawberries and cream with a minerally iron-laden, briney finish. Such impressive concentration and profound depth! Wow. A real block buster Rose release indeed.

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

Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millenaires 2004

100% Chardonnay Cuvee, 5 Crus selected from the Cotes de Blancs, 4 Grand Crus and 1 Premier Cru from Vertus, each representing 20% of the blend. 9 g/l dosage. Laid in the cellar in 2005 and aged for 11 years on its lees with disgorgement in November 2016.

Rich deep straw colour, with the most seductive nose of brioche, savoury marmite and leesy complexity, salted sour dough and burnt sugar and nutty ripe lemon biscuit notes. Very dense, weighty yet fresh, this wine shows massive concentration of lemon crumble, salted pretzel dow, and a real dusty, gravelly minerality on the long, power packed finish. So much pedigree in evidence here and expertly delivered. A profound Champagne. Drink now to 2028+.

(Wine Safari Score: 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Some of the lovely food from Trinity.

Masters of Their Terroir – Tasting the Domaine Jean-Claude Ramonet Pernand-Vergelesses Les Belles Filles 2014…

Jean-Claude and Noël Ramonet are at the head of Domaine Ramonet, the iconic Burgundy producer that delivers exceptional quality wines year in, year out, with international demand insatiable. From lowly Aligote all the way up to Montrachet Grand Cru, the wines always show intense terroir minerality, a measure of restraint and a mouth watering, salty fresh acidity.

Produced in the commune of Pernand-Vergelesses in Cote de Beaune, where red and white wine styles are both permitted, the appellation production consists of a little more than half red wine, and slightly less than half white wine. In 2008, there were 135.32 hectares of vineyard surface in production in total for Pernand-Vergelesses wine at Village and Premier Cru level, corresponding to around 750,000 bottles, including almost 400,000 bottles of red wine and a little over 350,000 bottles of white wine.

In keeping with the exceptionally high quality standards of Domaine Ramonet, they too produce one of the most exceptional Pernand-Vergelesses whites from one of the most famous village level “lieu-dits” single vineyard sites, Les Belles Filles. In the great 2014 vintage, they made an absolute cracker of a wine that was able to rival the best Premier Crus sites for quality. Always sought after, these wines can and often do represent exceptional value for money when seen on restaurant or wine bar lists.

Domaine Jean-Claude Ramonet Pernand-Vergelesses Les Belles Filles 2014, Burgundy, 13 Abv.

The 2014 Les Belles Filles starts off tight, taut and as linear as physically possible. Liquid rocks, limestone and dusty wet slate notes dominate the aromatics. A few minutes in the glass allows this wine to open its shoulders slightly, revealing a more complex array of white citrus zest, white blossom, crunchy green pears and a hint of hazelnut savoury spice. Although so youthful and tightly wound, you can already feel the wonderful textural weight that coats the palate and unfurls slowly in alternate layers of minerality and tart, saline pithy citrus fruits. Superbly focused and wonderfully precise for this ‘lesser’ Burgundy appellation wine, the finish packs plenty of punch with more liquid minerality, smokey struck match flinty citrus spice and a cool, clean waxy lemon cordial length. A wine that is initially very reticent, blossoms into a lean, complex, well honed, superbly made white Burgundy with fine nuanced complexity and good ageing potential. Drink from 2020 to 2030+.

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

Burgundies Most Revered Wineries Championing Aligoté – Tasting Domaine Coche-Dury Bourgogne Aligoté 2011…

Working a 9.43 hectare estate, Jean-François Coche took over his father Georges’ Domaine in 1973 to continue the production of some of the most profound and individual whites and reds in the whole of Burgundy. Officially retiring in 2010, he still makes his presence felt alongside his son Raphaël and wife Charline who have taken over winemaking duties.

The Domaine shows meticulous attention to detail with every stage of picking and winemaking, often resulting in very low yields that produce wines with incredible intensity, precision, and individual character. If Domaine de la Romanee-Conti produces the most sought after reds in Burgundy, Domaine Coche-Dury undoubtedly produces the region’s most sought after whites.

The white Chardonnay vineyards cultivated by the estate include 0.34 hectares of Grand Cru Vineyard Corton-Charlemagne which was acquired in 1986 and three holdings of Premier Cru vineyards in Meursault with 0.20 hectares in Perriéres, 0.07 hectares in Caillerets and 0.08 hectares in Genevriéres. Village classified vineyard holdings consist of 0.05 hectares of Chevalières and 0.29 hectares of Rougeots, both in Meursault, plus 0.20 hectares of the Puligny-Montrachet based Les Enseignières vineyard acquired in 1985.

But perhaps few grapes have been as scorned in Burgundy in the last 25 years as Aligoté, often being described as thin, acidic and insipid, capable of nothing better than serving as the historical base for a kir, in which white wine is flavoured with creme de cassis. But many of Burgundy’s most revered names, including cherished estates like Coche-Dury, Leroy, Roulot and Ramonet, Lafarge and d’Angerville, de Villaine, Ligier-Belair and Ponsot, persist in growing Aligoté.

Why? Because, when the grapes are farmed conscientiously with intent and the wines are made with precision and attention to detail, they can be deliciously distinctive, full of the energy, salinity and minerality that are the hallmarks of Aligoté.

Domaine Coche-Dury believes strongly that the white wines of Burgundy should have core nerve, and theirs are never amongst the ripest or highest in alcohol. It is their vibrant acidity, often hidden in their opulence that helps them to age so successfully and predictably and that includes their Aligoté.

Domaine Coche-Dury Bourgogne Aligoté 2011, Burgundy, France

Another beautifully expressive white from Domaine Coche-Dury. Made from Aligoté vines located behind the family home, it has a wonderfully fragrant nose of spiced crunchy green pears, white blossoms, buttered pastries and lime pastille sweets. There are some hallmark Coche-Dury struck match reductive notes but they are certainly finely integrated and secondary to the wine’s citrus fruits, green apple and liquid mineral intensity. The palate feels round and opulently textured in the mouth with a fine lemon / lime cordial acid line cutting cleanly through the lovely lemon curd and salty apple purée concentration. Superb depth, intensity and Aligoté varietal personality. I struggle to think of a better example of this variety. Drink now or cellar for another 3 to 5+ years.

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