Question: What are the upcoming harvest yields in France looking like for 2021?
Answer: Answered an earlier question here this year on April 14 about the wide-spread Spring Frosts in Europe. Vineyards now are realizing the major extent of this as the grapes ripen for the upcoming harvests. Website foodandwine.com this week says yields compare to 1977 and worse than 2017 & 1991 with especially Chardonnay & Merlot hard hit. They advise that “This year will likely be one of the worst – if not the worst – year for wine production in French history.” Similarly Decanter says “A French government forecast shows the 2021 wine harvest could be the smallest vintage for at least 50 years (since at least 1970).” This limited quantity may result in higher prices for sure but note that small can be very good for quality. Hopefully those Spring frosts not only reduced crop size and lowered the vine yields but will concentrate with balance some of the resulting 2021 wine around Europe into something memorable like 1961 Bordeaux!
Your old scribe carries around perhaps too much wine baggage. So when a particular wine is served some information stirs up in my memory bank about the producer, the vintage, the variety or varieties of grape and maybe even previous bottles tasted of that same wine. At a restaurant it sometimes can cause issues based on that knowledge as to whether or not the wine is slightly flawed or just not the best bottle. Often wise in those circumstances to shut up and say nothing. At home it is another thing and allows for more flexibility and discussion.
Last week we invited some wine & food knowledgeable friends over for dinner. We served blind two last pinot noir “old soldiers” that we expected based on previous experiences to be both stunning and educational. They both were from the 1983 vintage one from Rex Hill in Oregon and the other from Joseph Drouhin in Burgundy.
The acclaimed Maresh Vineyard on Worden Hill Road in the Dundee Hills of the Willamette Valley was bought by Jim & Loie Maresh in 1959 and first planted in 1970. Under the “Oregon Wine HIstory” site they note that “Back in the 1980’s the question was asked ‘Is any Oregon wine worth $20/bottle? when no Oregon wine was selling for over $15. Paul Hart (with wife Jan Jacobsen) claimed Rex Hill’s (first vintage) 1983 Maresh Vineyards Pinot Noir was worth it as it was an excellent wine. He apparently was right as the wine sold well!” This evening it showed dark colour rather young and almost “Margaux-like” at first but opened rather well with some elegant pinot noir focused perfumes in the glass as it aired.
The 1983 vintage in Burgundy was very controversial due to Summer hail followed by hot weather with rain causing rot in the vineyards. Careful sorting and selection became most crucial. Studied many horizontal tastings of this vintage in San Francisco in the eighties and one of the finest cleanest wines discovered was 1983 Clos de la Roche from Drouhin enjoyed over many decades. Robert M. Parker gave other Drouhin 1983 low scores stating they “were given an intense filtration”. However he did applaud the 1983 Faiveley “turned out to be very good. None of the Faiveley 1983s show signs of the astringent, dry tannin, or the moldy flavors caused by rot. They are very powerful, rich, deep, tannic wines…” Obviously a very variable year. Wrote previously about excellent 1983 Nuits-St.-Georges Les St. Georges & Chambertin Clos de Beze Faiveley. This Clos de la Roche Drouhin bottle was browning on the rim but quite an exquisite bouquet though drying out on the palate. Much better with the Chef Eric Ripert inspired chicken paillard main course.
Both wines had shown extremely well before so were opened this time with high expectations. Hope was that again they would shine very brightly but also allow some assessment of the aging ability of this remarkable grape from older vines in the two regions. It didn’t really happen. The wines were quite good but not outstanding and not delicious. Interesting for sure but bottle variation from previously plus probably asking for too much of a performance from wine that is after all 37+ years old.
Next night opened with lower expectations an even older last bottle of 1970 Chateau Mouton Baron Philippe Pauillac that was magnificent. This bottle would give many vintages of Mouton-Rothschild a run including the 1970. Maybe it does really pay off to always approach an older wine with lower expectations!
Question: What is the latest news on smoke taint in grapes affecting wine?
Answer: Yes this is an important ongoing problem around the world with the ever increasing number of wildfires occurring near vineyards. It is being studied intensely particularly in Australia, California and at the University of British Columbia in Kelowna. A difficult issue is that while wine grapes may absorb volatile phenols in smoke they convert it at that stage through enzymes so it becomes less perceivable. However during the fermentation process the yeasts restore that smoke taint as clearly recognizable once again in the resulting wine. Very tricky to monitor. For more details check out an excellent update article of August 2, 2021 by Wesley Zandberg at www.theconversation.com “Up in smoke: How wildfires are tainting grapes and threatening the wine industry.”
As followers of this Blog know your scribe is a long time chocoholic. It started way back in school days with those Mounds coconut candy bars coated in dark chocolate and Almond Joy using milk chocolate. Sometimes a Dairy Milk Caramel or Coffee Crisp would do. Though these bars seemed to contain better chocolate in those earlier days they also were all way too sweet for my palate. Soon graduated to purer dark chocolate with that rule of thumb of at least 70% Cocoa required. Fortunate to have tried over the decades so many of the world’s finest quality “bean-to-bar” and single origin dark chocolate bars. Some favourites among many have included To’ak, Valrhona, Godiva, and Amedei Porcelana. However for that daily “treat” of dark chocolate we turn to commercial Swiss producer Lindt & Sprungli as readily store available plus at outstanding value – especially on sale for 2/$6. Tasted their full line-up but have more recently leaned towards just three of them listed below with high cocoa solids of at least 75% but with less sugar. These deliver IMHO those healthy antioxidants, flavonoids and minerals in an almost perfect combination of cocoa mass flavours with buttery melting “delicious” textures but not too much added sugar. Also like from time to time the “vanilla” of Madagascar 70% & Orange Intense 70% but they have higher sugar levels than my three regular choices.
You need to decide which one you like best based solely on your own taste buds. Remember that the sugars vary a lot in each 100 gram Lindt bar (which divides into 10 squares) ranging from only 1 gram for 3 squares at 100% or 99% going up to 12-13 grams at 70%. Also for cooking note that sweetened chocolate chips are way sweeter than unsweetened cocoa powder or cacao nibs. Anyways, here are 3 good ones recommended and worth considering:
85% Cacao: Described well as “Intense Dark ” at 4 grams sugar/3 squares but does contain “Brown Sugar, Bourbon Vanilla Bean” you can notice in the flavours.
78% Cacao: Described perfectly as “Smooth Dark” at 5 grams sugar/3 squares with “Milk Ingredients ” resulting in an amazing smoothness as it melts.
75% Cacao: Dark impressive complex bitterness from Single Origin Cocoa Mass from Ecuador at 7 grams/3 Squares but does have “Soya Lecithin” (not used in 78% and higher is an emulsifier from soybeans that helps with uniform smoothness) and “Natural Flavour” whatever that is. They describe this appropriately as “An aromatic chocolate offering an intense cocoa flavour”. My regular daily go-to delight!