Wine, it really is just ‘climate in a bottle’
Anyone watching or reading the news will have seen the tremendous snowfall being experienced in California and, as wine is basically climate in a bottle, I thought that I would address this. For balance, I will also refer to the vineyards of Bordeaux as we watch the temperatures rise there.
In California, heavy snow is causing branches to break off old oak trees and folks are trapped in their homes, particularly in mountain areas; power lines are down. But here is what is happening on the positive side: Aquifers suffering from ten years of drought are being filled, waterways are cleared of debris by rushing water, vines are being allowed to “sleep” longer, insects are being better controlled and, as the vines are dormant, there is no harm by excess moisture getting to the fruit.
Later bud break at the start and later harvest at the end will have a positive effect and I sincerely hope that there will not be a serious fire season.
In my early days the French would, rather smugly at times, refer to those upstarts in California that could not control all their sunshine; this resulted in “overripe” wines with unheard of alcohol levels of 14 and even 15 per cent. Their bordeaux reds hovered around 13 per cent.
Now, with climate extremes and regardless of the potential for more hail, frost, and excess summer heat, we find that Bordeaux is entering a golden age with one good vintage after another – and with higher alcohol wines! But they are beautifully ripe. There could be trouble ahead though and warmer weather grapes are being experimented with in the vineyards. Laws have been changed to allow this.
I cannot say that one area produces better wine than the other, not in this day of travel, communication and endless internet information. The French study in California and the Americans study in France. But it is fun to taste their wines side by side.
Our 2017 Chateau Cambon La Pelouse dates back to the 1700s, when it was founded by the Cambon family, one member being adviser and secretary of the French king. In the 1970s, the estate was sold to Annick and Jean-Pierre Marie and the vineyard takes its present name Pelouse (lawn in French) from its early days. This blend of 54 per cent cabernet sauvignon, 42 per cent merlot and 4 per cent petit verdot, with vines averaging 35 years in age, has been a perennial favourite of mine for a very long time. James Suckling rates it 88-89/100. With 91 points, the Wine Enthusiast tells us, “Barrel sample. This spicy wine is structured and firm, with concentrated yet juicy cassis flavours. The tannins at the end promise plenty of ageing. Drink from 2022.” $36 (Stock #9542).
The 2018 Dry Creek Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon is close in age and price to the Cambon, and it hails from what is one of my very first Californian favourites. The winery was founded in 1972 and I still have a precious few examples from 1977 and 1978.
This lush and elegant cabernet sauvignon initially displays aromas of black cherry, nutmeg, and cedar, followed by mushroom, dried sage, and underlying floral notes. A first taste of this full-bodied offering reveals flavours of cranberry, fine leather, and espresso. A hint of dried herbs and minerality bolster its richness, while firm tannins provide structure. The broad palate and soft edges make this cabernet approachable in its youth while also perfect for ageing. Critic Wilfred Wong writes, “90/100. The 2018 Dry Creek Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon exhibits the elegance of this AVA. Tasting notes: This wine offers aromas and flavours of black cherry, dried herbs, and oak. Pair it with lightly spiced roast chicken.” $37.90 (Stock #6513).
Hailing from the commune of Margaux we have 2014 Chateau du Tertre, another wine that I have always found lovely and a very special treat. In the classification of 1855, it was among the chosen few. The Wine Enthusiast scores it a 94/100 and adds, “Made by the same team as Château Giscours, this estate continues to impress with its quality. The wine is certainly structured, but it also has lush layers of ripe fruit. Blueberry and blackcurrant fruitiness give the wine richness and potential. Drink from 2023.”
The Wine Advocate tells us that “the Château du Tertre 2014 is a blend of 58 per cent cabernet sauvignon, 20 per cent cabernet franc, 12 per cent petit verdot and 10 per cent merlot picked from 26 September until 16 October”.
“It has a slightly more opulent nose than the Giscours at the moment with red plum and crushed strawberry fruit, a slight gravel accent coming through with aeration. The palate is medium-bodied with fine tannin, crisp acidity and more weight than the Giscours. It feels harmonious and fleshly, lightly spiced with a long tender finish.” $79.50 (Stock #9572).
Not to say that one is better than the other, but just to compare and enjoy (very much) why not open a bottle of 2016 Ramey Napa Valley Claret, a 52 per cent cabernet sauvignon, 26 per cent merlot, 12 per cent malbec, 8 per cent syrah, and 2 per cent petit verdot; a “bordeaux blend” (with the exception of the syrah) that follows the Bordelaise model of blending different bordeaux varietals.
Malolactic fermentation is completed in barrel, and the blend is assembled early so it is “elevated” as the finished wine. Ageing the 2016 claret, it rested on its lees 12 months in French and American oak barrels – only 13 per cent new – with monthly bâtonnage (stirring) to coat the tannins and produce a luscious, cushioned mouthfeel. This wine was lightly fined with egg whites and bottled without filtration in February 2018.
The Wine Advocate tells us: “Medium to deep ruby-purple, it offers aromas of bay leaf, sage brush, cardamom, anise and clove with mint chocolate, underbrush, blackberries and blackcurrants. It's medium to full-bodied, rounded and easygoing in the mouth, with gentle, grainy tannins and great freshness to lift the finish. It would be all too easy to glug a bottle of this ‘luncheon cab’, as David Ramey calls it.” $77 (Stock #6392).
May I suggest that you do not take sides, but just enjoy the deliciously wonderful wines that both these climates offer us.
This column is an advertorial for Burrows Lightbourn Ltd written by Michael Robinson. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Burrows Lightbourn have stores in Hamilton (Front Street East, 295-1554) and Paget (Harbour Road, 236-0355). A selection of their wines, beers and spirits is available online at www.wineonline.bm
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