Dr Loosen in the Mosel

May 19, 2011

A Boot-full of Wine
Tasting notes from Italy (and beyond!)

Dr Loosen in the Mosel

When I decided to visit Germany, the Mosel region was top of my list. And in terms of producers, Dr Loosen topped the Mosel list. I was familiar with Dr Loosen wines – readily available at varying quality levels in Australia – and of course, with Ernst Loosen himself.

Ernie Loosen has won more awards than you can poke a stick at, including being Decanter’s Man of the Year in 2005. Many of his vineyard sites contain very old Riesling vines (over 120 years old) on their own rootstocks (phylloxera cannot trouble the vines in the red/grey slate).

When I sent him an email, he kindly forwarded it to Michael Stahlman, Event Manager, who kindly arranged to see me. Ernst Loosen’s dynamic, ebullient and irreverent nature extends to selecting staff with the same qualities.

Though I arrive late (I got the Bernkastel and Kues sides of the River confused…) Michael kindly agreed to see me. A sommelier of some note, and with extensive experience in the on-premise trade in the past, Michael and I chatted for almost two hours, tasting as we went along. The mood became less formal, and Michael’s cheeky and playful nature emerged.

“What is the residual sugar in that one?!” Time and again, I underestimated it – all because of the (superb) rousing level of acidity.

Other gems I picked up from Michael included the debunking of the term “balance” in a wine – between tannins and fruit, or acidity and sweetness for example. He spoke instead of a triangle involving a third factor, that of the individual taste preference of the client or taster. In his work as a sommelier he rarely recommended a wine until he understood the preferences of the client. And then and only then did he ever so gently nudge them out of their comfort zone. He used this method to introduce his father to halbtrocken (“semi dry”), no I really should say feinherb (“elegant dry”) these days, wines.

He spoke of four methods to match food and wine – the wine supporting the food flavours, the food supporting the wine flavours, a matching of flavours in both (such as a smoky cheese with a ‘smoky’ wine), or going for contrasts (like a Beerenauslese with paté, for example).

What did we try?

Dr L Riesling 2010
Superb quality for the price – 40g/l residual sugar (RS) and 8.5% alc – widely available in Australia

Bernkasteler Lay Riesling Kabinett 2009
RS 50g/l with greater complexity – I thought field mushrooms – and depth.

Erdener Trepchen Kabinett Rielling 2009
This site has red slate soil, and I found a core of citrus wrapped around minerality and shitake mushrooms! Michael liked that – “People say normal mushrooms, but I don’t agree…shitake mushrooms I like!”

Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett 2009
Grown on blue slate, and at 10% alcohol, this was like crunching into a crispy ripe Pink Lady apple…!

Ürzinger Würzgarten Riesling Kabinett 2009
This time the soils are volcanic, with the palate displaying hay, pepper and herb, and tropical fruit in the background. 7.5% alc

Wehlener Sonennuhr Riesling Kabinett 2009
Grown on rocky blue slate, I found the minerality in this wine the highest, with lively underlying lychee fruit.

Wehlener Sonennuhr Riesling Spätlese Riesling 2009
Sweeter yet balanced by the acidity, with the signature minerality and this time citrus and passionfruit. 7.5% alc

Dr. Loosen Riesling Beerenauslese 2006
Needless to say we finished on a high. No cloying sweetness here, just clarity and balance (oops! Sorry Michael). At only 6.5% alcohol, I could swallow with a clear conscience.

All the wines were of exceptional quality, irrespective of style and price point. I would venture to suggest even the entry level wines would age gracefully. I am grateful to have had the opportunity of meeting Michael Stahlman and try Dr Loosen wines – it was well worth the 2 hour drive from Mainz!

Ciao! Auf wiedersehen!

Brendan Jansen


Who is Felix Peters?

May 19, 2011

A Boot-full of Wine
Tasting Notes from Italy (and beyond!)

Who is Felix Peters?

Who is Felix Peters? Well may you ask.

In a previous article, I wrote about a new generation of German winemakers who are breaking the mold, and in doing so taking German wine to new heights. Felix is one of the new vanguard.

Winemaker at the medium sized (annual production about 165,000 bottles) St Antony Weingut in the Rheinhessen (being the lone winemaker makes the title “Chief” redundant), he went through his oenological studies at Geisenheim, but has spent some time working vintages in other countries, including in Burgundy, France. Felix has a special admiration for Burgundian wine, and in particular with the regions attempts to produce terroir wine.

Indeed we began the visit with a tour of the nearby vineyards. Felix spoke with intimate knowledge of each site – the merits of their differing soils and slightly different aspect. He is keen to produce wines that reflect a sense of place, in this case the set of variables that come together in his part of the Rheinhessen.

Riesling is king here, as it should be, but Felix has Pinot Noir in his red portfolio, both German and French (777) clones. His philosophy with Pinot Noir vinification is usually only incomplete destemming, cold maceration, higher fermentation temperatures, and a proportion of new oak. We tasted barrel samples of two examples, both with Cote de Nuits like structure and silkiness.

But it was with Felix’s Rieslings that I was most impressed. His “basic” (entry level) dry Riesling was anything but. And as the quality level climbed, so did complexity and aromatic scope, with Felix’s said aim of reflecting the specific conditions of the site. Bottle and barrel samples were tried. I especially liked his Rotschiefer Riesling 2009, a combination of perfume and minerality, in a trocken or dry style.

I have mentioned previously that there has been a swing back to maturation in large inert oak barrels in Germany. The traditional method in times past was also to ferment in oak vats and even concrete (and continued to be employed in some regions such as the Mosel) until the merits of stainless steel were “discovered”. Though stainless steel provides a purity and freshness, producers are seeking greater softness and complexity, especially in wines from better sites.

Felix goes one step further. With his best grapes, from his best parcels, he is experimenting with barrel fermentation and on-lees aging. Yes, this is Riesling we are talking about. With some effort, he was able to source barrels from Meursault, seeking a similar style. For me, the comparison lay with Grand Cru Chablis – with the evidence of some oak influences, but with that racy, minerally acidity to boot. The barrel sample of the 2010 Nierstein Pettenthal Riesling (Grosses Gewächs – or Grand Cru if you like), just a minute part of the overall production of St Antony, was simply amazing.

Felix continues to experiment. I was privileged to be able to sample some of the latest fruits of his endeavours!

Ciao for now! Or maybe auf wiedersehen!

Brendan Jansen

Germany – first impressions

May 19, 2011

A Boot-full of Wine
Tasting notes from Italy (and beyond!)

Germany – first impressions

Much has changed – and continues to change – in the German wine landscape. After much effort, Germany’s reputation for dilute, overcropped, insipid, sweet wines has given way to one of a producer of quality wines, especially from that most noble of varieties, Riesling.

The change has been marked by a preference for dry wines amongst German wine drinkers, and the emergence of a new generation of talented winemakers with university qualifications and international oenological experience, committed to crafting wines that reflect Germany’s unique terroir. Some would argue that Germans still do not fully appreciate the vinous treasures produced within its own borders; Germany imports more wine than, say, the UK.

I had never visited any of the German wine regions before my recent trip, where I was based in Mainz near Frankfurt, the venue for Weinbörse, a trade show showcasing the best of German wines and organized by the VDP – Verband Deutscher Qualitäts- und Prädikatsweingüter (I shall use the abbreviation!) The VDP as an association is not a new one – it has celebrated its centenary recently – and has always had a commitment to promoting wines of quality. The organization has been at the forefront of proposing a new classification system for German wines, one which emphasizes the importance of vineyard sites, much in a similar vein to the French system. The system devised in 1971, however, based on must weight and potential alcohol, continues to prevail.

Nonetheless, producers of quality wine are invited to become members of the VDP, and have their vineyards classed as Grosses Gerwächs (or in the Rheingau, Erstes Gerwächs, which means the same thing) – meaning Grand Cru – if they pass stringent requirements including yield restriction, grape varieties grown and selective harvesting, and produce wines from what are regarded as the best sites in Germany.

Weinbörse itself was preceded by an afternoon’s tastng focusing on just the Rheinhessen, called Orstweine Vintage 2010, where intermediate VDP level vineyards – akin to Premier Cru – in the Rheinhessen were featured. This was quite an education, with tastings organized according to soil and terroir types, in addition to specific houses. As an example, wines from Kalkstein (limestone) soils showed uniformly greater body and viscosity, while those from loess soils a more fruity, even tropical, edge. In my book anyway.

Weinbörse followed for two days – I chose to focus on the Mosel, Baden, Pfalz and Nahe on day one, and then on the Rheinhessen (again), Rheingau, Ahr and Franken regions on day two. My only criticism is that many, if not most, of the wines were tank samples, with bottling due to occur for some in the coming weeks. The situation, it can be argued, is at least better than is the case for the even larger Prowein trade show, which occurred two weeks before (and is scheduled for an even earlier start in 2012.)

What were my overwhelming impressions? Firstly, as already mentioned, Germans prefer dry wines, and it is us foreigners that continue to be enchanted by the exquisite balance of residual sugar and piercing acidity that their off dry and sweeter styles offer. For the most part, dry German Rieslings have that inimitable finesse, that minerality, and linearity that is so typical. Occasionally, however, as in 2010, Rieslings without that hint of residual sugar can be just too tart and acidic to be enjoyable. (2010 was not the easiest vintage in Germany, particularly in the Rheinhessen, with lower yields and high acidity.)

[As an aside, when exporting dry white wine, German producers routinely label them QbA wines as opposed to QmP wines, even though their must weight would allow QmP classification, as consumers in many importing countries expect a sweet wine when labels such as Auslese or Spätlese are encountered.]

Secondly, increasing numbers of producers are returning to, or continuing in the case of Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, the use of large (old and inert) oak vessels, and on-lees aging. I have always thought that with dry aromatic whites, and with Riesling in particular, protective handling was de rigueur. But at Weinbörse I found many a producer using oak cooperage, in the main to add complexity (but of course still handling protectively.) And I have to say, it works.

The days after Weinbörse I hired a car and visited wineries in the Mosel, Rheingau and Rheinhessen. The wineries I visited tell a story in themselves, and I shall write about them in a subsequent post.

Ciao for now!

Brendan Jansen

Thinking of visiting Burgundy?

May 19, 2011

A Boot-full of Wine
Tasting notes from Italy (and beyond)

Thinking of visiting Burgundy?

While I do not claim to be an expert on Burgundy or its wines, I can say that I have had a long-held passion for Burgundian pinot noir. After my recent and only visit to Burgundy, I can now say my passion extends to the place also.

Beaune almost bisects the Cote d’Or, with the line separating the Cote de Beaune from the Cote de Nuits a little north of it, and is a great base from which to explore the area. A small town, well set up for wine enthusiasts, it has a myriad of boutique wine shops, traditional restaurants and accommodation options. Beaune itself is a short train ride from Dijon, in turn accessible from Paris (about 2 hours by train).

I chose to stay in a bed and breakfast close to the centre of the town of Beaune, and do not think I could have made a better choice. The rooms offered by Chez Marie were clean and well decked out – at a 4-star hotel standard. Her breakfasts – replete with fantastic coffee, crispy French bread and home made preserves – gave me the sustenance required for the days of wine tasting and touring that followed.

As for a tour operator, I do not think that you can find a better one than Cristina Otel and her partner Christian Knott. Both are winemakers in their own right, Christian hails from Sydney, and both have worked vintages in Margaret River and France. Their company, Taste Burgundy, organizes tours for those with more than a modicum of knowledge about the area and its wines. A third staff member has just joined their team.

They are able to book appointments for you directly with producers, and drive you to them, providing translation while there. In truth, much more is provided – Cristina’s interest is in giving you a complete cultural experience of the area, including visits to the markets and specialty shops, the important Grand Cru vineyard sites, and the Hospices de Beaune (once a charitable almshouse and now a museum, and a must see).

Cristina and Christian’s passion for the wines of Burgundy, their attention to detail, and ability to put both hosts and clients at ease, makes for an in-depth experience.

What then will you find when you visit the local producers? Here, our focus was on small vignerons, and not large negociants. Well, there are those who vinify their pinot noir with a proportion of whole bunches and those who do not. There are those who use a majority of new oak, and others who do not. Some who use battonage for their whites while others who do not. Some who do a cold prefermentation maceration. You will find a range of fermentation temperatures and times employed. And all will tell you that what they do depends on the vintage and the quality of the fruit.

So you will encounter many a formula of how to make good red and white Burgundy. However, and most importantly, each producer will have a well thought out philosophy guiding his/her thinking. As an example, Thierry Violot-Guillemard uses 80% new oak for his pinot noir, yet the oak flavours are in no way overwhelming – he uses oak which has been seasoned for a lengthy 4 years. His reasoning? It allows him to leave his wines on its lees without having to rack or disturb the wine – both malolactic fermentation and sur lie are reductive processes – the newer oak results in greater oxidation as a counter, and therefore he does not have to touch the wines. He believes the less the wine is handled the better. The result? Silky powerful pinot noir, stunning at each quality level.

Those who made the greatest impression? Thibault Liger Belair – a young, up and coming genius, who works biodynamically, for the sheer restrained power and complexity of his reds. Thierry Violot-Guillemard – for his engaging personal story, his warm generosity, and his silky pinot noirs. Blair Pethel (Domaine Dublere) – an American turned Burgundian – for his linear and true wines, especially his whites. And Gérald Cacheux (at Domaine René Cacheux) for his down-to-earth personality and down-to-earth wines.

Ciao for now!

Brendan Jansen

Burgundy 2008

March 3, 2011

A Boot-Full of Wine

Tasting notes from Italy (and beyond)

Burgundy 2008

One of the most important events on the calendar of the Institute of Masters of Wine is the Annual Burgundy tasting. This year, the 2008 vintage was featured, and the tasting was organised in association with Les Domaines Familiaux de Tradition. I was lucky enough to be able to attend.

2008 was a difficult year in Burgundy, and has been christened “the miracle vintage”. The miracle to which they refer is the burst of sunshine the region experienced, accompanied by fresh (and, importantly, drying) northerly winds from the second week of September to the beginning of October.

The cool and humid start to spring was a harbinger of things to come. The whole growing season was wet and cool, with the crop beset by coulure climatique (physiological failure of fruit set) and millerandage(variation in berry size). 2007 was also a cool and wet vintage, but by the end of June, the 2008 vintage was further than three weeks behind where the 2007 grapes were at the same time.

Rot and mildew were a constant threat (those growing organically or biodynamically were particularly challenged), and called for attentive vineyard management. The period of sunshine helped greatly to keep these maladies at bay in the weeks before harvest, but though the sun shone, it was cool, especially at night. Thus the wind concentrated the sugar in the grapes, but full physiological ripeness was difficult to achieve.

The other key to producing good wines in this vintage (other than obsessional vineyard practices) was strict and often laborious sorting. I have heard that some producers rejected up to 40% of their fruit, giving yields as low as 16hl/ha.

As a result, I went to the tasting expecting that acidity levels would be very high (they were – in fact malolactic fermentation took ages to be completed), and that some wines (both red and white) would be a bit lean (indeed some were).

My overall impression was that whites fared better than reds, and that the Cotes de Nuits shaded the Cotes de Beaune (though I enjoyed several of the wines from Corton). I will confess that I am, as Michael Schuster puts it, one who likes my white Burgundy “taut, refreshing, aromatically complex and minerally”. There were no fat white Burgundies here!

But this vintage (though some would argue, every vintage) was more about the producer than the provenance of the wine. Those producers who were fastidious in both the vineyard practices and in their sorting were able to do great things. Below I will highlight a few producers whose wines I thoroughly enjoyed.


Chassagne-Montrachet, Les Chenevottes, 1er Cru (White)

Lean and tight, rhubarb and citrus on the nose, good length and depth of palate. 17.5 pts

Beaune, Clos des Féves, 1er Cru (red)

Wonderfully complex and balanced, amalgam of fruit and secondary flavours, silky tannins. 18.5 pts

Savigny-lés-Beaune, La Dominode, 1er Cru (red)

Bright red translucence, very expressive nose, fruit and savoury elements, elegant and balanced. 18.5 pts


Chambolle Musigny (red)

Sulphurous initially, which blew off. A thoroughly well made wine – each element of fruit, tannin and acid playing a part, but not individually intrusive. 17 pts

Morey-Saint-Denis, Clos de la Bussiére, 1er Cru (red)

Lifted nose of sweet strawberries and cherries. A leanness to the palate but fruit flavours not unripe. 17 pts

Bonnes-Mares, Grand Cru (red)

When one tastes wines like this one realizes why people just go crazy about red Burgundy. This was a near perfect expression of pinot noir – cherry fruit, silky tannins, austere but with a rustic edge. Controlled power. 18.5 pts


Corton-Charlemagne, Grand Cru (white)

Full, rich and powerful, with layers of complexity – palate variegated but integrated. Effects of battonage, MLF and oak evident, good acidity, and very persistent length. 18 pts

Corton, Grand Cru (red)

Intense fruit concentration, with ripe tannins. Far too young – has a great future ahead. 18 pts


Bienvenues Bâtard-Montrachet, Grand Cru (white)

A bigger yet balanced expression, stylish, subtle and long palate. High quality oak. 17.5 pts

Gevrey-Chambertin, Les Cazetiers, 1er cru (red)

Serious nose gives way to a serious palate – with fruit and savoury flavours, silky mouthfeel, good balance. 17.5 pts

Mazis-Chambertin, Grand Cru (red)

After the initial sulphur has blown off, this is the proverbial peacock’s tail. Aromas keep building in the glass, flavours likewise on the palate. 18.5 pts


Chablis Grand Cru les Clos

Citrus minerality, austere and lean. Acid levels high. Evidence of oak and malo (not atypical for Grand Cru Chablis) 17.75

Beaune, Clos des Mouches Blanc, 1er Cru (white)

Depth to olour and flavour. Wet stone and lychee notes. Elegant mouthfeel. 17.5 pts

Grands Echézeaux, Grand Cru (red)

Depth to aroma and palate, cherry and even soy. Again, far too young, (and in this case, a bit cold also – new bottle recently emerged from the cellar and opened ~12 deg C. Showed better when warmed.) 18 pts


Vosne-Romanée, Aux Malconsorts, 1er Cru (red)

Hints of coffee on the nose (probably from oak). No lack of phenolic ripeness here – the particular mingling of fruit and tannins and acid suggest long aging potential. 18.5 pts


Latriciéres-Chambertin, Grand Cru (red)

Layers of complexity, luscious and classically expressive. 18.5 pts

Ciao for now!

Brendan Jansen

** Chanson is not part of Les Domaines Familiaux de Tradition but is an Institute sponsor

Vin Santo

February 27, 2011

A Boot-Full of Wine – Tasting Notes from Italy

Vin Santo

As a young altar boy, I remember sneaking a taste of the altar wine before mass one day. It counts as my first ever wine! I remember it as being sweet, with a heady perfume. The style of wine was that of a vin santo.

There are many theories as to how vin santo got its name, some no doubt more apocryphal than others, but the widely held belief is that the origin of the name derives from the wine’s association with Eucharistic celebration.

Tuscany and Umbria are the centres of vin santo production, though many other regions around Italy produce their own versions. (The vino santo from Trentino, however, is made from the Nosiola grape, and is a different wine altogether, and usually less oxidised. More on oxidation below.)

Grape varieties used for vin santo are traditionally Trebbiano and Malvasia. (Trebbiano is a fairly neutral variety, and high in acid, much like the Palomino used for sherry in the former but not latter sense.) A red or rosé example of vin santo, called occhio di pernice (eye of the partridge), is made from a blend which includes Sangiovese grapes, but employing the same techniques.

This technique involves drying the carefully selected, hand harvested grapes in ventilated rooms for a period of about four months, which greatly concentrates the sugar levels. (I am writing this article in late February, and the Capezzana winery has just pressed its “passito” Trebbiano grapes for their vin santo two weeks ago. This after harvesting the Trebbiano in September!) The length of time the grapes are dried influences the degree of dessication and hence potential levels of residual sugar for a given alcohol reading.

Fermentation can be sluggish due to the potentially high sugar levels, and traditionally was “kick-started” by placing the must in small barrels used for a previous vintage of vin santo, being careful to leave some of the lees in the barrel. This represented a yeast innoculum, and was called “madre” or mother. It was felt that this “madre”, combined with wild or ambient yeasts, added to the complexity of the wine.

The barrels were then left in attics to age for a period of at least three years, but often longer. Ullage was allowed to develop and thus oxidation would occur in the headspace of the barrels. Unlike other wines, the barrels were allowed to heat and cool according to the diurnal and annual temperature cycles. Thus a degree of “madeirisation” also occurred. Fermentation would naturally stop at around 14% alcohol, when the yeasts were rendered inactive. Many a Tuscan still produces his/her own vin santo, using the time honoured methods above.

These days, however, with concerns about hygiene, stuck ferments and wine stability, most commercial vin santo is produced in new or newish barrels, and the fermentation is begun by an introduced, cultured yeast which works well in the high sugar, high alcohol environment (though some producers still add a portion of “madre” to add complexity.) Levels of oxidation are also less than that which was found traditionally.

The similarities between vin santo and other wines (such as sherry and madeira) are notable, in particular the oxidatively aged oloroso style of sherry, and Boal and Malmsey madeiras. An important difference between sherry and vin santo is that vin santo is not fortified or sweetened – it derives its alcohol and sweetness from the dried grapes themselves. (On the rare occasion wine spirit IS added, the wine is called vin santo liquoroso.)

Vin santo can come with varying levels of sweetness (like sherries) but is usually regarded as a dessert wine. An oft-suggested food pairing is that of the almond biscuits (‘cantucci’) from Prato!

Here are a few examples I have tried:

Fattoria Viticcio (Chianti Classico region) Dolce Arianna Vin Santo 2001

Grapes were dried for three months, and barrel fermentation and aging proceeded for five years. A blend of Trebbiano, Malvasia and Canaiolo.

A deep amber colour, with nutty, oxidised, even rancio characters on the nose. Intense, persistent with complex biscuit, honey and dried fruits, medium sweet (residual sugar 53 g/l) with good acid. 16.5 pts

Fattoria Artimino Vin Santo Occio di Pernice 2004

Made with 60% Sangiovese and 40% Malvasia Nera that were left to hang on the vines for as long as possible before being hand picked and dried for 3 months, this wine was then matured for three years in chestnut barrels.

A complex nose with some candied notes, the palate was reminiscent of ripe nectarines. Brisk acidity and pleasant woody notes were in evidence but the wine finished with some bitter/astringent phenolics. 15.5 pts

Fattoria di Bacchereto Vin Santo di Carmignano 1999

This from a biodynamic vineyard not far from Prato (that produces a fine Carmignano also). A blend of 80% Trebbiano and 20% Malvasia, dried for four months. Vinification with natural yeasts in small chestnut barrels for a whopping eight years!

A wonderfully complex wine, sweet (I would estimate residual sugar at about 100g/l) but not cloying, with flavours of dried apricots, orange peel, honey, and toasted almonds, and generous persistence. Confirms my preference for sweeter styles of vin santo. 17.5 pts

Baddia A Coltibuono Vin Santo Del Chianti Classico 2002

A blend of 50% Trebbiano and 50% Malvasia, matured/fermented in oak casks for four years, and subjected to the swings in temperature as was the case traditionally, the production of this wine is extremely limited – only 6500 bottles in this difficult year.

This is a wine of enormous complexity, depth and length. Apricots, honey, citrus, fig, vanilla, butterscotch and a gorgeous creaminess of texture. Just stunning. 18.7 pts

Fontodi Vin Santo Del Chianti Classico 1997

A blend of Malvasia and Trebbiano grapes, this time dried for five months and aged for five years in a combination of chestnut and oak barrels. Production about 4000 bottles.

Darker amber in colour, caramel and butterscotch on the nose carries through the palate. Crisp acidity which gives a drying lift to the finish. 18.3 pts

It has often been said that sherry is one of the world of wine’s great untapped secrets – I agree, but to this I would add vin santo. Procure a bottle in the stead of a Sauternes, Trockenbeerenauslese or Tokaji next time you are in search of a dessert wine!

Ciao for now!

Brendan Jansen

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

December 6, 2010

A Boot-full of Wine
Tasting Notes from Italy

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

Every year, the Associazione Italiana Sommeliers (AIS – Italian Sommeliers Association) publishes its edition of Duemila Vini (“Two Thousand Wines”). One of the biggest and most respected compendiums of Italian wine, its closest Australian counterpart would be James Halliday’s or Jeremy Oliver’s annual handbooks.

To celebrate its annual launch of a new edition in Tuscany, a tasting is organised in Florence where all producers from the region who have been awarded 4 or 5 Grappoli (“Grapes”, but perhaps better understood as “Stars”) are invited to show their wines. This year 142 producers responded to the invitation, and the event, as is the case annually, was held in one of Florence’s oldest and most beautiful hotels.

Here then were showcased the best of Tuscany – from Chianti Classico to Brunello, to the IGTs made from predominantly international varieties in Bolgheri, and of course, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. It was the last appellation that I chose to focus upon.

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is the descendant of centuries of winemaking tradition in the region. Montepulciano itself is said to be Etruscan in its origin, and artefacts thought to be wine goblets have been found dating back to these times. There are also documented references to Montepulciano wines as early as the 8th century, and the English court was said to enjoy Montepulciano wines in the 19th century.

Formalisation of the “formula” for Vino Nobile only occurred in the last century, with DOC status being accorded in 1966, and promotion to DOCG status in 1980. The appellation laws specify maximum yields, minimum aging times and grape varieties permitted. Today, Prugnolo Gentile (a clone of Sangiovese, cf Sangiovese Grosso) is the main varietal used, with smaller amounts of indigenous varieties (such as Canaiolo, Colorino and Mamolo) used, but with French (“International”) varieties (such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot) also permitted. White grape varieties are no longer allowed.

Hence the appellation laws mirror that of Chianti Classico (to the north), and the similarities continue between the Chianti appellations and with Brunello di Montalcino (just to the west) – there are producers using more “traditional” methods (use of large old inert Slavonian oak butts, ambient yeasts, and authoctonous varieties) while others use a more “modern” approach (with the use of French oak barriques and French varietals).

Indeed, the wines of Brunello and Chianti Classico form the main competitors for Vino Nobie di Montepulciano, and my view was that producers were seeking to find a point of difference, setting the Vini Nobili apart, to produce “terroir wines”.

My own general impressions were that Brunello is a more robust and denser wine, with Vino Nobile being midway between a good Chianti Classico Riserva and Brunelo. My overall preference was for the more traditional style wines, which had weight, body and structure (indicating age-worthiness) but also enormous drinkability. They also tended to provide a vehicle for Sangiovese to be expressed.

Three final points before moving to my tasting notes (the high points are reflecive of the quality of the tasting). Most Nobile producers also produce a Rosso di Montepulciano, which, like the Rosso di Montalcino, can be excellent though less expensive. The area is especially well known for its Vin Santo (produced all over Tuscany also), to which I shall have to devote a whole article next year. Finally, most examples tasted were from the 2006 and 2007 vintages, both excellent, with the 2007s probably just shaded by the superb 2006s.

Bindella Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2007

All Bindella’s Vini Nobili are fermented in steel tanks, with malolactic fermentation completed in tank before transfer to barrel. They also do a 3-4 day prefermentation soak, thus adding more acqueous extraction and therefore fruit aromas. Only the 50% of the I Quadri spends time in French barrels (6 months), the others are matured in large oak butts.

Red cherry fruit, fine dusty tannins, seamless palate, very gluggable! 17.5 pts

Bindella Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva 2006

Similar fruit profile but with a greater elegance, and more complexity. 17.75 pts

Bindella Vino Nobile di Montepulciano “I Quadri” 2007

The oak elements were immediately evident, but well integrated into the wine, with more spicy notes in evidence. 17.75 pts

Canneto Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva 2006

An example of a more international style, this had 90% Sangiovese and 10% Cabernet and Merlot combined. French oak barrels (500 litre size), a percentage of which were new, were employed (aging for 30 months). The wine showed good structure with firm, ripe tannins, but in my view was far too young for the degree of extraction. 17 pts

Contucci Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2007

Excellent for their “base” Nobile – this is a blend of 80% Sangiovese, 10% Colorino and 10% Canaiolo. Maturation in large oak butts for 24 months. Seamless, with a midweight palate. 17.75 pts

Contucci Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Pietra Rossa 2007

Spending an additional 6 months in large oak butts (ie 30 months in total) and from a “better” vineyard, this wine has the same blend of varieties. Softer and more persistent than its cousin above. 18 pts

Contucci Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva 2006

Again, the grape blend is the same, but there is a percentage of smaller French oak barrels used, with an even longer aging process (36 months). The result is a wine of good structure, yet approachability, added spicy complexity, with all elements of fruit, acid and tannins in balance. 18.25 pts

Dei Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2007

A “traditional” producer, this “entry level” vino nobile managed to attain fresh, aromatic notes (without carbonic maceration) possibly due to the lift provided by the supporting cast of Canaiolo and/or Colorino (the website does not say). 17 pts

Dei Vino Nobile di Montepulciano “Bossona” Riserva 2006

This time 100% Sangiovese with 24 months aging in large Slavonian oak butts. Elegant, complex and long, with velvety tannins and spicy/violet notes. 18 pts

Fattoria del Cerro Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva 2006

A blend of 90% Sangiovese, 5% Colorino and 5% Mamolo, this is in a traditional style. Bright cherry fruit with ripe tannins and hints of roasted meat (the last flavour leads me to suggest it might go very well with roasted meat!) 17.75 pts

Nottola Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2007

Again aging only large oak butts, but this time 10% Merlot added to the 80% Sangiovese and 10% Canaiolo. Lovely mouthfeel with soft tannins, good balance. 17.5 pts

Podere Le Bérne Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2007

A producer with an integrated approach – half modern, half traditional – with wild yeast fermentation in stainless steel and cement tanks, use of only indigenous varieties, but the employment of smaller French oak barrels (in the case of their Riserva below, all first pass). This was the only wine which I felt finished a little hot (alc 15%). 17 pts

Podere Le Bérne Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva 2006

The oak treatment added tannic structure and spice, but was harmonious with the wine’s core of dark and red fruits. Alc 14.5%. 17.75 pts

Poliziano Vino Nobile di Montepulciano “Asinone”2007

Indigenous grapes but new French oak, this is a serious wine. It displayed tannins of wonderful texture, cinnamon and clove aromas, deep dark fruit flavours, and exceptional length. Notwithstanding my previous comments about a general preference for minimal oak influence, this wine was so powerful and complete, it was my Nobile of the tasting. Will mature well into its second decade. 18.5 pts

Tenute Flolonari Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva “Torcalvano”2006

I thought the 10% Cabernet Sauvignon component and the (probably second pass) French oak tended to create a wine in which harsher tannins dominated, with the fruit muted and closed in the background. 16.75 pts

A final note on alcohol levels. All the wines tasted had alcohol levels of between 14 and 15%. Most were balanced so that the high alcohol levels did not overtly declare themselves as being out of balance. However, these levels will surely become an issue in the ever-increasing alcohol-level consciousness of consumers, especially in the UK. No more are high alcohol levels seen only in the New World. Global warming may play a part, as would the excellent ripe fruit from two good vintages. When will the now EU sanctioned methods of alcohol reduction come into play in southern European countries? Watch this space….

Ciao for now!

Brendan Jansen

Bordeaux – vintage 2006

November 10, 2010

A Boot-full of Wine
Tasting Notes from Italy (and beyond!)

Bordeaux 2006

Just off the plane from London and the Institute of Masters of Wine Annual Claret Tasting of the 2006 Vintage, I thought I would pen my thoughts while they are still fresh.

The Annual Claret tasting has a long history and dates back to when the IMW was the Vintners’ Company, one of twelve Great City of London Livery Companies. It is held annually in Vintners’ Hall, a wonderful venue worth a visit in its own right if you are ever in London.

The 2006 vintage in Bordeaux was a difficult one, and was always going to struggle in the shadow of the stellar 2005 vintage. In summary, bud break was late, and flowering affected by coulure (failure of fruit set). April frosts were followed by variable temperatures over summer, with June/July being very warm and August very cool, but worryingly, also damp. The heat returned in September, and then heavy rain hit in mid September. Dry conditions then returned till harvest in October.

Therefore, there was some water stress to contend with (which, with the earlier frost damage, reduced yields), fluctuating temperatures (the cool August led to uneven ripeness), the risk of dilution due to the rain near harvest, and for some, the risk of rot. The last concern was compounded by the fact that many did not spray for rot given the warm July, and no leaf thinning (or green harvesting, which usually go hand in hand) was done due to the smaller yields and earlier heat. These conditions produced a real test of terroir.

In terms of soil types, and in particular relating to water delivery to the vine, the current state of thinking is that the quality of soils relate to their ability to deliver a modest level of water even in dry conditions, yet be free draining enough not to be affected by too much water in times of excess.

So in the best sites, 2006 has the potential to be a great year. In other areas, there might be dilution effects due to the rain, or lack of phenolic ripeness in those forced to pick early and quickly due to the risk of rot, with Merlot particularly at risk.

Though there were 96 wines at the tasting, and I got through 45 of them, I will not outline tasting notes for all of them – that would be just too boring! I thought instead I would outline my approach to the tasting, and share some of my discoveries.

On to the tasting….

So, here we were, in this beautiful, grand setting, in a Hall filled with Masters of Wine, who know Bordeaux like the back of their hand. Where to start?

The tables were laid out thus – one table for the slightly more southerly regions of Pessac/Graves, Haut Medoc and Margaux, another for the northerly St Julien, Pauillac, St Estéphe and Médoc, a third table for right bank St Emilion and Pomerol, and finally, a (small) table for (5) First Growths.

This is what I decided to do – taste 5 or 6 examples from each region, looking for similarities and differences. I would then try 5 or 6 from another region. I paid special attention to the potential differences between left and right banks, ie Cabernet Sauvignon vs Merlot dominant wines, using two glasses to taste representative samples of each at the same time.

For the First Growths, I decided to try a good producer from the exact same region (where I could, a Second Growth) and then try the relevant First Growth, again, in a pair.

What did I learn from the tasting? Well, there are some very smart 2006 Clarets out there. But there certainly are a few that show the dilution effect mentioned above. Some were very sulphurous on the nose, possibly indicative of the late need to spray on several occasions for rot, though I cannot be certain of this.

Some wines showed incredibly high levels of alcohol – 14% – reflective of warm conditions during parts of the growing season. Perhaps the earlier ripening Merlot based wines were more likely to show this tendency to a greater extent, if not picked early to avoid problems with rot.

Quality variability was at times striking, though most striking when the First Growths were compared against ‘lesser’ counterparts. They inevitably showed more power, more length, more complexity, more finesse, or indeed a combination of all of these.

Let me share just one example. On tasting the Château Lafite-Rothschild, I found it initially closed and rather austere and angular. Certainly there was less of the powerful fruit than the Mouton-Rothschild. It had nonetheless good complexity, and the essence of Cabernet fruit, with tomato leaf notes, cassis fruit, and firm tannins. Though not exactly underwhelmed, I wondered about what all the fuss was about. Then, as is my usual practice at tastings, I waited for the flavours to dissipate so that I could move on to another wine…. I waited and waited… I cannot remember when I have had to wait as long – the persistence of flavours was amazing!

The art and science of distinguishing between Left and Right bank wines is a real mug’s game. Cabernet and Merlot are not as distinctive in Bordeaux as they are in Australia. However, I came to the conclusion that palate weight rather than structure of the tannins was more helpful for me.

As for the distinguishing features of each region (like telling a St Julien and a Pauillac apart), I found picking them even more difficult.

Quality based on the classification system too is difficult to gauge. The Cru Bourgeois Château Chasse Spleen being the most obvious example.

Here are a few of the 2006 Bordeaux wines that caught my eye:


Château Brown

Mocha notes to start, with blackcurrant fruit breaking through on the subdued palate – clearly needs time. 17.25 pts


Château Belgrave, 5éme Cru Classé

Tomato leaf and capsicum on the nose, herbaceousness on the palate without being too ‘green’. Blackcurrant fruit, the essence of cabernet. 17 pts


Chateau Lascombes 2éme Cru Classé

Deep and dense, great “line” (to borrow Len Evans’ term, which I mean to imply lip to throat flavour presence) despite predominant Cabernet fruit. 17.5 pts

Château Rauzan-Gassies, 2éme Cru Classé

A bit sulphurous to start, but soon blew off. Delicate (in this case in keeping with the reputation of Margaux), and good structure. 17.25 pts

Château Rauzan-Ségla, 2éme Cru Classé

Perfumed nose (again, in keeping with Margaux), rich with cassis, evident also on the palate. Lovely mouthfeel. 17.25 pts


Château Chasse-Spleen

Capsicum and blackcurrant nose and palate with firm but not overwhelming tannins. A beautiful mid weight Cabernet dominant wine that still needs time. 17.25 pts


Château Gruaud-Larose, 2éme Cru Classé

Well proportioned wine with leafy Cabernet notes and enticing spicy complexity. Elegant mouthfeel. 17.75 pts


Chateâu Pavie-Decesse, Grand Cru Classé

Big nose of coffee and dark red fruit. Menthol hints add complexity to a bold palate, ripe tannic grip. 18 pts

Chateâu Trottevielle, Premier Grand Cru Classé

Again, coffee evident on the nose. Rich full palate of currant fruit. 17.5 pts

Château Figeac, Premier grand Cru Classé

Strong Cabernet – perhaps Franc – notes without being ‘green’, fresh and lightly tannic. 17.75 pts


Château Clinet

Inviting nose of rich redcurrant, kirsch and plum fruit, with a lovely round palate. 17.75 pts

Château Gazin

Less ‘heavy’ than the Clinet, with a menthol, even eucalypt lift, to a cassis driven palate, very persistent. 17.75 pts


The vintage was thought to be at its best in Saint Julien and Pauillac (not represented above – perhaps I just chose the wrong examples to taste in the limited time available) and in the free-draining gravel slopes of Saint Emilion and Pomerol (better represented by wines that created an impression on my palate above).

For the record, all the First Growths scored gold medal points, each impressing for various reasons – the Haut-Brion for its complexity, the Margaux for its power and length, the Lafite for its modesty yet persistence, the Mouton for its incredible depth, and the Cheval Blanc for its ballet of flavours on the palate that just went on and on….

Ciao for now!

Brendan Jansen

Other Piedmontese varieties

November 1, 2010

A Boot-full of Wine
Tasting Notes from Italy

Other Piedmontese varieties

Following on from the previous articles on Piedmontese wines, here are a few wine varietals that are well worth checking out. Some are better known, others rare. All are different, distinctive, and in the main, delicious. They will be illustrated by a relatively typical example.


La Colombera “Derthona” Timarosso Colli Fortinesi 2007

Timarosso is an aromatic white variety. The example I tried was given to me by my Piedmontese friend Marco, whom I must thank for my Piedmontese wine education. Timorasso was abundant pre phylloxera, but with the arrival of phylloxera, other varieties like Cortese (see below) were favoured. Various projects to revive its cultivation have led to its reemergence, especially in the province of Alexandria. I found this Timarosso to be rather Riesling-like in quality, but with a fuller middle palate. High acid was present, with citrusy lemon-lime flavours and even early aged characters of lanolin as seen in Rieslings. The finish was a touch bitter, but all in all an enjoyable wine, perhaps as an aperitif! 16.75 pts


Picollo Ernesto Gavi di Gavi “Rovereto” DOCG 2008

Cortese is grown in several areas within and without of Piedmont but it only has DOCG status in Gavi. It has centuries-old history of cultivation and is thought to pair best with seafood. I have found the examples of Gavi di Gavi that I have tried to have moderate acidity, strong citrus notes, but also that hint of viscosity so common in European wines, giving the best examples a rather ethereal quality, as in this case. 17 pts


Tea Costa Roero Arneis DOC 2009

Arneis literally means “little rascal” in the local Piedmontese dialect, and the name is apt as the variety is difficult for several reasons – susceptibility to powdery mildew, easy oxidation, low yields, lowish acidity – though modern winemaking nous has overcome most of these difficulties. Available in oaked or unoaked versions, the latter is the more aromatic entity. Our visit to the Tea Costa Winery occurred during the final stages of their harvest – Nebbiolo the last to come off – yet we were still welcomed. To boot, the proprietor is also the local mayor, and in between talking to us and delivering hand-picked grapes to the winery via tractor, he was fielding phone calls from his constituents!!

This wine was clean and crisp with herbal and citrus notes, with no oak influence. Apple and straw, with that slight viscosity again – giving it a different palate weight to most Aussie whites – completed the picture. 17 pts


Comm. GB Burlotto Verduno Pelaverga 2009

A light ruby colour in the glass, with a fragrant nose of raspberry, also present on the palate, accompanied by dried cherry flavours and light dusty tannins. A fresh wine with medium acidity, with added hints of green pepper and fennel. No oak is evident on the palate (fermentation would have taken place in steel tanks, with time spent post fermentation in large oak botti). I have heard that care should be taken during handling as this (rare) variety oxidizes easily. Piedmont’s answer to Beaujolais, without the carbonic maceration? 17 pts


Cascina Gilli Bonarda “Moyé” 2009

Another one of those rare red varieties from Piedmont, here produced in a slightly effervescent style – the first fermentation to dryness, then some sweet juice set aside earlier introduced for the second fermentation. Dry, berry fruit, savoury and spicy hints, soft tannins with a light fizz. An accompaniment for Piedmontese salamis? Or maybe Chinese roasted meats? 17 pts


Aldo Conterno Dolcetto “Masante” 2008

Dolcetto is by no means a rare variety – it is widely planted in Piedmont. Though its name means literally “the little sweet one”, Dolcetto is usually fermented to dryness. Rich in anthocyanins which impart colour, only brief maceration times are usually necessary. This example was fermented in stainless steel – no wood influence is present. Aldo Conterno is a well-known Barolo producer, and this is one of the best examples of Dolcetto available. Deep ruby in colour, it nonetheless has a mid weight palate, a touch fuller than a Pinot Noir. On the nose, cherry and blueberry are evident, along with savoury notes of leather and tobacco. The mouthfeel is silky with soft tannins and it has remarkable persistence of flavour. 18.25 pts

Final thoughts

Though Piedmont is rightfully known for its austere and powerful reds – the Barbarescos and Barolos in particular – it has a variety of cultivars – white and red – that offer wonderful drinking in the dry and aromatic white styles, and the lighter bodied dry red styles. Well worth seeking out!!

Ciao for now!

Brendan Jansen

Growers’ Champagne

October 31, 2010

A Boot-full of Wine
Tasting notes from Italy (and beyond!)

Champagne de vigneron

Though the dichotomy between growers and makers has blurred somewhat over the years, with more vigneron producers on the one hand, and extended vineyard holdings by makers on the other, the peculiarity of the separation of growers and producers in Champagne continues. Though quality can vary among the large houses, due to their buying power, there is more consistency of quality.

Among growers, quality levels can vary much more. Note that where a vigneron or grower is located influences greatly the varietal type/s used, and therefore the style of wines produced.

The Grandes Marques of Champagne are responsible for over two thirds of the production of Champagne, and around 90% of Champagne exports. This is despite growers in Champagne owning 90% of the vineyard land!

The Champagnes reported on below were tasted at a large Champagne tasting, highlighting growers’ Champagne in particular. All in all there were 27 producers represented by 124 different wines! The tasting was hosted by Vinoteca Al Chianti, a wine shop on the outskirts of Florence, on Chianti’s doorstep. I am choosing to highlight those producers that particularly caught my eye – or should I say, my palate.


A small producer located in the Montagne de Reims, most of the vines in this area are Pinot Noir, and all Gatinois vineyards are Grand Cru. Bollinger is also in the area, and indeed Gatinois sell some grapes to them.

Gatinois Ay Grand Cru Reserve Brut

(85% Pinot Noir, 15% Chardonnay) The essence of red fruit and apples. Crisp and fresh lively creamy mousse with some biscuity notes. 17.5 pts


A family run operation since, they claim, 1687, located in the Marne Valley.

Tarlant Brut Zero

Zero dosage in this blend with equal thirds of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. Crisp, clean, bone dry, uncomplicated. Would be a great aperitif wine. 17 pts

Brut Prestige Vintage 1996

(65% Chardonnay, 35% Pinot Noir) Amazing wine – great body and length with almond, brioche and honeyed characters with lively citrus fruit still very much in evidence. Fresh acidity, possibly contributed to by minimal, if any malolactic fermentation. 18.5 pts

Henriet Bazin

Again, located in the Grand Cru villages of Verzy and Verzenay in the Montagne de Reims, this is mainly Pinot Noir country. They use steel tanks – no oak, and like the house of Roederer, avoid malolactic fermentation. I think Ross Duke stock Bazin wines.

Champagne Grand Cru Blanc de Noirs

Red fruit and flint with bready hints, and even a touch of oysters – which would certainly make them a perfect match for this wine! 18 pts

Champagne Grand Cru Brut Millesime 2004

A lovely textured wine, with both Pinot Noir (70%) and Chardonnay (30%) components contributing – red fruits, mineral notes and citrus, with a lovely rounded mouthfeel. 17.25 points

Champagne ‘Carte Or’ Brut Premier Cru 2005

The Chardonnay component hails from Premier Cru vineyards, hence the designation. Complex, with yeasty autolytic characters and flavours from secondary development with age – caramel and honey notes. 17.75 pts

Barnaut Edmont

Located in the Montagne de Reims, the property is in the Grand Cru vineyard of Bouzy.

Champagne Blanc de Noirs Brut Grand Cru

Again, red fruit character on the palate, fine mousse, good acid, well balanced. Some brioche character evident. 17.25 pts

Champagne Grand Reserve Millesimé Grand Cru 2000

Toasty, biscuity and honey flavours from evolution in the bottle. Peach and citrus evident on the palate. 50% each of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. 6g dosage. 18.25 pts

Marc Chauvet

Situated in Rilly la Montagne, a village in the Montagne de Reims and classed “premier cru”.
Champagne Brut Selection
One of their “base” wines, composed of 80% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir, this was the best value for money at the tasting (34 Euro/ A$50). Fresh and crisp, with citrus and nectarine fruit. More feminine and less “angular” than the Pinot dominant wines above. 18 pts


Millesime 2002

This is a Blanc de Noirs consisting of half each components of Pinot Noir and Meunier. It spends 5 years on lees before disgorgement (ie current vintage actually 2003). Dosage is at 5g/l. A versatile Champagne, with excellent red and white fruit aromas, could be an aperitif or food wine. 18 pts

Coulon Cuveé Prestige “Les Coteaux de Vallier” Premier Cru

This Chardonnay dominant (80%) Champagne has spent 10 years aging in the Coulon cellars. Post primary fermentation, the Chardonnay component spends 12 months in barrels on its lees. The result is a complex and rich wine, with stonefruit, brioche/toast, butter and honey flavours which retains an fresh acid lift. 18.5 pts

Raymond Boulard

These guys have over 10 ha of vineyards spread over the Montagne de Reims and the Valleé de la Marne, including Grand Cru holdings in Mailly. I tried two of the three on offer and both were sensational.

Grand Cru Mailly Brut (90% Pinot Noir, 10% Chardonnay)

Complex and long, with red fruit and biscuit characters. There is a proportion (about 15%) of old reserve wine vinified in oak. Dosage at 7g/l. Website says full malolactic fermentation. 18.5 pts

Petraea XCVII Brut Solera En Futs (60% Pinot Noir, 20% Pinot Meunier, 20% Pinot Noir)

Petraea refers to the oak quercus petraea. This explanation is lifted from their website:

“Every year, the wine from the latest harvest, vinified and aged separately, is incorporated in the blend (up to ¼ of the whole quantity) and an equal quantity is then taken from the blend for bottling. This principle known as ” Solera ” assures the presence of old wines in the blend.”

That is, the blend contains 75% reserve wine, at least a minute quantity dating back to when the “solera” was begun over 50 years ago. The result is a complex fuller bodied style superbly suited to food. I’m pretty sure Ross Duke has wines from Boulard. 18.5 pts

Paul Dethune

Again, a small operation, with 7 hectares of vineyards in the Montagne de Reims, all Grand Cru.

Paul Dethune Champagne Grand Cru Blanc de Noirs (100% Pinot Noir)

The use of barrel aging evident on nose. Fine structure with spicy notes and yet subtlety. 17.75 pts

Paul Dethune Champagne Cuveé Prestige “Princesse Des Thunes”

A blend of 50% each of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, this wine displays bready characters, preserved apricot and lemon zest and has great length, complexity and elegance. 18 pts

Final thoughts

It occurs to me that I have highlighted more wines with Pinot dominance, possibly reflecting my own taste preferences. Also, a significant number of vigneron producers still use traditional barrel maturation techniques, more so, I would venture to suggest, than non-grower Champagne.

Ciao for now!

Brendan Jansen