Helen’s blog

Thoughts and tastings from Helen Savage, wine writer.

Archive for June, 2011

Johner – Germany and New Zealand

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

The Johners are probably the only family that makes wine in both Germany and New Zealand. What they make is undoubtedly very good, but is not entirely typical of either country.

From Germany (Bischoffingen in the heart of the Kaiserstuhl in Baden): their Rivaner 2009 is a minor revelation. Has Muller-Thurgau ever tasted so good? Just a little sees oak (thank goodness), enough to add a creamy, spicy overlay to the fresh, apple and pear fruit.

Sauvignon Blanc 2010, fresh gooseberry and rather mineral, with creamy peachy fruit too is fine, if a little expensive. From New Zealand: their Gladstone Sauvignon Blanc 2010 is huge and exotic, with guava and Patrick Johner insists, truffle oil, which seems a bit reductive, but is unusually complex.

Back in Baden: I was impressed by their Grauer Burgunder 2009, which shows just a little oak and has nicely concentrated gingery fruit. They are not afraid to acidify. It  allows them to increase hang time in order to get more flavour in the grapes (this was allowed for the first time in 2003). Weisser Burgunder and Chardonnay 2010 (70/30) combines creamy apple fruit with a hint of pineapple and a subtle peachiness. Chardonnay  ‘SJ2007 is oakier, spicier then all lime and pineapple. The oak is well integrated. Weisser Burgunder SJ, 2008 is more obviously oaky, with gentle apricot fruit, very clean acidity  and excellent, lingering minerality. It is made from 35 year old vines, yielding around 50 hl/ha. Grauer Burguner ‘SJ’ 2008 is like smelling ginger nuts stored in a wooden box, but is intriguing and interesting, with melon, quince and spice in the mouth and a dry, rather phenolic finish, Blanc de Noirs 2010, a blend of two thirds Pinot Noir to one third Merlot is extremely fruity (raspberry and cherry), spicy and juicily acidic  – it is very well done. Roséwein 2009 , a similar blend is altogether more spicy, with rich, soft, strawberry fruit.

From New Zealand, Pinot Noir 2009 from Wairarapa shows crunchy cherry fruit, a silky texture and soft tannins. It is a little savoury. The grapes are given maximum hang time.  Pinot Noir 2008 from Gladstone is hugely ripe, with a cherry menthol aroma and has quite chewy tannins. They have planted a wide variety of Pinot clones in New Zealand. Over time, they have found that over time the berry size decreases, though the bunches, for Pinot Noir are quite open. Pinot Noir Reserve 2007 from Gladstone is hugely concentrated, big and even a little baked, with cherry, chocolate and cloves. I was not wholly convinced by it, but a tank sample of the 2010 was much fresher with more focused fruit.

Pinot Noir 2008 from Germany ‘Spätburgunder von Kaiseerstuhl’ has a lovely delicate perfume, with spicy red fruits and an elegant minerality, though firm tannins. Blauer Spätburgunder 2008 has a fine purity of fruit and good focus – again with cherry fruit and an almost floral perfume – crunchy, fresh and relatively light. Pinot Noir Bischoffinger Steinbuck 2007 is very spicy and rich, perfumed and complex and very mineral, with terrific acidity and minerality. It is a very good example of distinctively German Pinot Noir, and I have to admit, I like it better than any of the New Zealand wines. Blauer Spätburgunder ‘SJ’ 2008 from old German clones is a bigger wine, but not altogether better: huge, rich and perfumed, but at this stage of its development, also a bit oaky. It’s silky and promising.

Two New Zealand red to finish: Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc/Merlot/Malbec 2009 from Wairarapa, twelve months in oak, bursts with bright berry fruit, and is rather sweetly ripe, herby and minty. Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc/Merlot 2008 from the Lyndor vineyard is also very sweet and perfumed, with blueberry, raspberry and chocolate, with a salty finish.

In the group of fourteen souls who came with me to taste, some were more impressed by the New Zealand wines than I was; but the flair and quality of wine making in either country is considerable.


Ugly ducklings and old wine

Wednesday, June 15th, 2011

I took some clients to taste at Domaine Vacheron in Sancerre a few days ago. The estate is one of the finest in the appellation and one of the pioneers of biodynamic viticulture in Sancerre. After tasting the latest releases we headed into the cellars to the family vinotheque with Jean-Laurent Vacheron. He selected a sufficiently ancient bottle of red Sancerre and asked us to guess the vintage.

It was clearly an old wine: quite tawny, though not yet brown. The aroma was remarkable: cherries in alcohol, complex yet delicate and full of promise. It did not disappoint. Still quite fruity, with soft tannins it was certainly nearing the end of its life, but was a lovely, lingering drink. After about fifteen minutes a faint, but rather lovely scent of truffles began to appear and added even more complexity to the wine.

So what was it? I know little about old vintages of Sancerre so I  suggested 1983 – a stab in the dark (though this was far less fine in Sancerre than in Bordeaux).  It was older. I tried again. Might it be 1976 – though it had such good acidity that I realised I was probably wrong. I was. It was 1977, an ugly ducking vintage, that produced rather ungenerous, acidic wine. But the acid had protected it and ensured its unusually long life.

Beware vintage charts!