Question: I was served last week a rather pleasant wine as an aperitif that I was told used the Jacquere grape. What was it?
Answer: Probably a refreshing white wine of lower alcohol from the Savoie region in France. Jacquere is the most planted grape variety there. It delivers light wines from higher yields showing fresh acidity from mountainous marl & limestone soils that are becoming popular – either as pure varietals or increasingly blended with other grapes to provide more flavour interest. Lovely aperitif or when paired with their melted cheese dish of Fondue Savoyarde. Also being utilized more recently in their newer Cremant de Savoie appellation.
Another educational week of wine webinars with considerable focus on California insights. Elaine Chukan Brown explored some interesting Zins from Lodi AVA with Tegan Passalacqua (Turley wines) explaining how generally vineyards on the east side have red fruit brightness with finesse of more minerals compared to the west side darker style of broader earthy characteristics. Vinous Live had two fascinating sessions on emerging wine districts. Firstly relatively unknown Moon Mountain in the Mayacamas mountains on the Sonoma side led by pioneer consultant Phil Coturri (Simons & Valley House), plus principals from B Wise, Silver Cloud, Lasseter Trinity Ridge, Moon Mountain (formerly Glen Ellen) and Kamen. Secondly the Araujo family of Bart, Daphne, Jaime, and Greg who sold in 2013 to Francois Pinault (Ch. Latour, Ch. Grillet, and Dom. d’Eugenie) but are back up running with several projects looking for more structure in the wines including rugged Upper Range not in an AVA but planted in 1990 off the Silverado Trail up behind Caymus west of Pritchard Hill.
On June 4, 2020 the Napa Wine Academy by Peter Marks MW presented a useful basic overview of the cabernet sauvignon grape variety especially in detail on the 3 main wine growing regions in California but with comparisons of the expression from around the world. A brief summary of some of their points made include:
CABERNET SAUVIGNON (CS): Smaller size berries with thick skins high phenolics that generally needs a warmer climate to ripen. Ranges from cooler green bell pepper red currants to riper black currant, black cherry herbal notes (including jammy when over-ripe). Canopy protection from the sun and appropriate soils like well drained gravel important. Develop cigar box, tobacco, mushrooms, leather, earth forest floor.
NAPA: Long history – Detailed explanation of now 16 AVAs with CS 51.9% but 70% by value averaging $8000/Ton. 33 soil types. Consistent. From round & supple on the valley floor to powerful rich blackberry cherry plum balanced styles.
SONOMA: Diverse with 60+ varieties with 85% family owned over 17-18 AVAs. 12,628 acres of CS mostly valley floor but creeping up the hillsides. Cooler influenced by Pacific Ocean fogs and breezes. More rain than Napa and more vintage variation. Soils vary. Alexander Valley higher elevation picking 2 weeks later balanced blackberry aromas supple tannins broad softer style & Knights Valley most remote powerful fleshy with nuanced complexity.
PASO ROBLES: First AVA in 1983 and 3 times larger than Napa known for Zin. 200+ wineries now mostly family owned with 49% CS. Distinct micro-climates and wide diurnal swings in temperatures. 30 soil types with granite and more shale calcareous clay in the west allowing dry farming. East side of the 101 warmer with west side steeper hillsides longer hang time resulting in concentrated riper softer tannins and warming alcohol. Are now getting more elegant style of CS.
WASHINGTON STATE: History with 14 AVAs over 70 varieties. Northerly shorter season but 16 hours sunlight in summer compared to 15 in Napa. Lots of own rootstocks. Describe style as purple high alcohol acidity with firm tannins not fully mature resulting in dark earthy cassis, chocolate mint, herbs, less elegant more foursquare vs. Napa. Expect global climate change.
BORDEAUX: CS Left Bank & Merlot Right Bank. Some expensive classified growths but average Bordeaux bottle price under $7. Maritime climate (vs Napa Mediterranean) cold wet Winters, Spring frosts, hot humid Summers. Wide vintage variation. Soils high gravel on the Left Bank suits CS with sun reflecting. High tannins angular earthy some brett more acidty black currants with licorce and tobacco. Blends with cab franc providing violet perfumes and petiti verdot spice.
ITALY: Tuscany Super Tuscans with CS adding richness to acidic Sangiovese. Bolgheri sand clay and rocky alluvial. Maremma much warmer clay & sand with loam & clay limestone multi sized pebbles. Deep colour balanced but softer acidity ripe cherry black currant oaky earthy tobacco clove delicious young but capable of aging.
CHILE: No phylloxera. 32% CS from 800 wineries (80% controlled by 4 of them). Climate more east to west with coastal to mountains. Healthy fruit exuberant cherry plum menthol medicinal mocha vanilla baking spices often over-oaked getting better.
ARGENTINA: Altitude often 3000 feet but up to 10000 in Salta. Low rainfall needing irrigation by snow melt & drip. CS third most behind Malbec & Bonarda (Charbono in California). Often high pH & lower acidity dark fruits intense, voluptuous, sweet vanilla from new oak (not tobacco) fleshy approachable. Do they age?
AUSTRALIA: Coonawarra 55% CS terra rossa soils iron oxide clay Maritime cold winter frosts. European structure usually 100% CS variety rich tannins crisp acidity dark sweet fruits eucalyptus mint austere. Margaret River 47% CS granite gravel schist Mediterranean old vines innovative vineyard management machine harvest irrigation required no phylloxera. Old world blends perfumed and elegant fine tannins more Bordeaux-like red currant restrained cassis tobacco mint.
NEW ZEALAND: 800 acres. Gimblett Gravels area of Hawkes Bay red & black fruits with power and elegance spice and tomato leaf.
SOUTH AFRICA: Stellenbosch & Paarl. Cape blends with one foot in old world and one in new world. Distinctive iodine South Africa character of CS.
Question: Sid would you kindly provide a short explanation of the difference in how a wine shows when made from young or old vines?
Answer: Very difficult to do succinctly and the issue is somewhat controversial. So many factors influence how a wine shows when it ultimately is poured into your glass for tasting. Young vines with their first few crops can express an interesting explosion of fresh fruit. Generally though IMHO older vines produce lower yields of smaller concentrated berries resulting in more complex intense aromas & flavours reflecting their terroir. Some feel that opinion is a myth and you can get the same result from mature vines densely planted cropped for lower yields. Interesting to learn that the average age of cabernet sauvignon vines in Napa Valley is well below 20 years of age. A mature vine usually needs to be roughly 15-25. “Old vines” must be older but the “historic” classification required over 50 but there are discussions to move downward to 40. With global climate change it is becoming more important to note that younger vines usually show a higher pH level with lower acidity (tending to lose that acidity more quickly) than older vines of lower pH and higher acidity tending to retain it. Increasing warmer vintages everywhere may well show a difference in the balance of the wines from young and old vines in the future from the decade of 2020s.
Pleased to learn that so many of the members of IWFS are keen to get together for this new reality of virtual wine tastings. Your scribe was invited to be the guest speaker at 2 inaugural ones held this past week by the Vancouver Branch on May 25 featuring wonderfully delicious Okanagan pinot noirs and by Boston on May 31 on the topic of Chablis. President Peter Graffman with Communications Chair Sandy Kraft organized a super turn-out of enthusiastic Chablis lovers. Scheduled to open with my half hour overview on Chablis history and especially vineyard differences it turned into over an hour masterclass with questions followed by apparently another hour of further discussions after I left the Zoom meeting. Well done.
There is an ever increasing focus on terroir with a sense of place for all wines from around the world. Chablis has become one of the top benchmarks for this movement. No other wine region is better in spotlighting their unique style they are able to produce in spite of difficulties from frost, hail and global warming. Detailed analysis of the vineyards was useful in differentiating the supposed limit of 6800 hectares with on-going plantings in Petit Chablis (885+) and Chablis AC (3370+) plus Premier Cru (780) and Grand Cru (110: only 250+ acres or 2% of the total). Time spent on differences between Premier Cru Right Bank “warm rich & powerful” led by Montee de Tonnerre (in 3 parts of Pied D’Aloup at top of the slope facing East, Chapelot more South facing and Cote de Brechin on the Western slopes) next to Blanchots and on the other West end of Vaulorent 17ha of 115ha Fourchaume next to Les Preuses. Left Bank tend to be “more austere, seaweed, saline and flinty”. Opened and discussed a sensational Cuvee Guy Moreau old vines from 1933 singing in 2014 Vaillons (104 ha on Portlandian lime bed with less clay) compared with their regular 2018 Vaillons as well as some Testut Montee de Tonnerre. All seven Grand Crus (plus Moutonne monopole of Long-Depaquit of 2.35 ha 95% in Vaudesir & 5% in Preuses) reviewed in detail explaining soils of blue clay in Blanchots, Valmur (L’Endroit facing South & L’Envers facing West) more marl, Vaudesir very steep and richer in clay with less limestone, and special Kimmeridgian limestone firm bed in largest 26 ha Les Clos the best aging cru.
Lots of interest shown in Vintages and your scribe’s brief summary:
PRE-2010: 1975 a terrible Cotes de Beaune year for whites (79, 85, 86 can be great) is still tremendous. IWFS Vintage card 2020 ranks only 7/7 for 02 (outstanding), 05 (Almost too generous, alcohol, overrated), and 14 (truly the best!). Classic 08 & riper softer 09 are underrated.
2010: Classic. Lower yields. Dense concentration. Ripe yet structured. Lovely drinking plateau but no rush.
2011: Wet Summer Lighter. Early Drinking.
2012: Classic. Spring frosts. Very dry Summer. Helpful Sept. rain. Smaller crop.
2013: Wet Spring. Late flowering (end of June-mid July). Some Coulure (shatter) & Millerandage (“hens & chicks” berry size). Hot end of July. Harvest late Sept. to early Oct. before heavy rains Oct 4/5. Early pickers did best. Some botrytis rot with overly earthy mushroom character. Mixed.
2014: Classic. Your scribe’s favourite of the decade! Warm Spring. Some April frost but no hail as in Cote de Beaune on June 28. July & August cooler with rain. Saved by hottest September to date with some refreshing rains. Early pickers mid Sept. but most stopped. No rot. Acidity good but not that austere. Perfectly balanced tightness with that green flint colour of real stony mineral Chablis of olden days.
2015: Frost early on. Flowering OK. Warm dry Summer. Bad hail storm Sept. 1st damaged Les Clos, Blanchots, and Montee de Tonnerre. Rest are ripe quite fresh but forwardly without steely acidity.
2016: Somewhat classic but frost April 26/27 & May 13 & 27 reduced the crop substantially in Petit Chablis & Chablis AC by over 50% but even in 1er cru 30-40% and Grand Cru around 15% loss. Good quality from a very small crop.
2017: April frosts yet again over a two week period but not as bad as 2016 (except in the very Northern parts) with smaller crop well harvested 3 weeks ahead of 2016 in a fresh bright style.
2018: Classic but a very big crop. Hot easy year. Attractive but variable with some over-cropping. Impressive Brocard Montee de Tonnerre. Liked winemaker Fabien’s comment from Christian Moreau that it took 10 vines to fill one basket in 2017 but only 1 vine in 2018. That frost sure makes a big difference in yields.
2019: Early budding in April with frost threats continuing into May. Summer hot & dry with temperatures above 40C showing global climate change. Very little rain but some mildew issues. Normal mid-September harvest. Below average volume and variable. Monitor the potential.
You can be a Chablis expert by knowledgeably stating you prefer the even years which are more classic over the uneven ones. Get on the growing Chablis band wagon and enjoy a bottle from this amazing appellation! Do you have a special fondness for any particular vineyard or vintage year in Chablis? Consider holding your own virtual wine tasting on line.