At the Red Squirrel Event, which I wrote about recently, I spent quite a bit of time tasting in the same cramped spaces as Peter Richards MW. He’s quite distinctive, as a tall chap, easy to spot on the circuit, but I don’t know him and have never had reason to interrupt his concentration. But had I managed to read a paragraph from his pen in the current Decanter Magazine, I might have passed a comment.
The current edition celebrates the magazine’s 40th Anniversary, and I suppose it fits in that they asked forty key contributers (not me, alas) to name their wine of 2015 (so far). Peter Richards is Chair of the Decanter World Wine Awards Panel for Chile, and he chose a Chilean wine I certainly knew nothing about, Bodegas Re, Velado Single Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Casablanca.
The story of this wine bears repeating, and I hope Peter won’t mind me extracting this information from his entry in order to allow lovers of the unusual to hear about it. It is a wine, as he says, which “laughs in the face of terroir and other geekery”. The Bodega originally had a host of barrels earmarked for a pink wine. Then came the tragic 2010 earthquake, sending what one presumes was a stack of casks rolling around a shed somewhere. When they were finally recovered it was discovered that some had formed a layer of flor-like yeast.
Now the world has just rediscovered flor. Sherry is popular once more among wine “geeks” thanks to people like Equipo Navazos, and we are even reading about the flor’d-up Vin Jaunes from my beloved Jura in the National Press, heaven forbid. But is the world really ready for what Peter Liem and Jesús Barquin in their 2012 book on Sherry term Biologically Aged Pinot Noir?
Peter Richards called the wine unique, but to make it his wine of 2015 it must also have been exceptionally good. It was, because he says “Tasted blind alongside Montrachet, Morey-St-Denis and Haut-Brion, it stole the show. Mind-blowing”.
I don’t suppose I shall get to try this wine, although I see there should be some in the UK, albeit north of £50 for a bottle. But this is just one example of how the perception of what is fine wine has spread way beyond classic regions and styles. The forty writers selected for this article include a few who have chosen what I suppose one might call expensive trophy wines. A favourite writer of mine, known for his inquisitive and open wine mind, nevertheless selected a Rousseau Chambertin (though I thank him personally for reassuring me that Rousseau “did impressive triage in that year” – I don’t only drink weird wines and do have the odd Rousseau 2004).
But, looking through the forty wines, it is both refreshing and perhaps remarkable how many esteemed wine writers have chosen more unusual examples. It’s as if a once conservative profession is waking up to an almost hidden magnificence of (and I’m quoting examples taken from the Decanter piece) Zierfandler (Brook), Bierzo (Kemp), Teroldego (Guibert), Godello (Evans), Sylvaner (D’Agata), Picolit (Baudains), Kekfrankos (Gellie) and Cape Chenin (Rose)(to name but a few).
It may just be coincidence, but another DWWA Regional Chair for South America, Patricio Tapia (Argentina) also chose a fairly unusual wine, one of the single vineyard offerings (in this case from a 0.8 hectare plot of 90-year-old Listan Negro) from Suertes del Marqués. Now I’m pretty sure that most of the people who take time to read my Blog have possibly heard of this Tenerife producer, even if they’ve not tried one of their wines. But think about it. This year you could have read about Suertes in the Financial Times Magazine, in Decanter, or in a very good appreciation of the domaine by Tom Cannavan, either on his Winepages site or in this very issue of Decanter.
Just stop to think. Four or five years ago, would you have thought someone would list a wine from Tenerife as their wine of the year? Or one made from Listan Negro? My guess is that if you go back five or six years you would find hardly a single wine trade insider, merchant or writer, who had tasted this producer’s fabulous wines. I think that’s how fast the world of wine has changed.
Why? I think that wine from all around the world has improved quite dramatically over the past decade, building on the success of many of the well known New World producers who showed that you can make a living from quality wine outside the traditional, classic, wine regions. But an even bigger catalyst has been the market. As it has broadened and grown, there are just too many people chasing the icons. By icons, I don’t just mean the Latours and the Coches, but pretty much any producer from a classic region in France and Italy (for starters) who gets a good name.
The growth of the market has made the once supreme wine royalty and their heirs unnatainable luxuries for the ordinary wine lover, notwithstanding that the Bordelais have whole vintages lying almost unsold in Bordeaux. So it’s a damned good thing there’s a whole world out there for us to explore.
The analogy which comes to mind is the time when the powers of Western Europe woke up and discovered a New World full of riches, which they brought back to enrich their own lives and culture. Of course, these days we can pay for the vinous treasure we find without the pillage and plunder of those early explorers of South America, the Far East, India and the Caribbean. And many of those treasures are, as with Tenerife…or Bugey, Beaujolais, Friuli, Savoie, Granada and Catalunya, much closer to home. Yet all of a sudden there’s a “New Australia”, and a bunch of young winemakers finally transforming South Africa. And, poignant given my focus here on the comments of the two relevant Decanter Awards Regional Chairs for the Continent, a sudden rush of really interesting wines from Chile and Argentina which are neither soupy Syrah nor thick, alcoholic, Malbec – where did they all come from?
So, drink widely and, as the motto on the back of that Red Squirrel tasting list said, “don’t drink alike”. I like that.
Amen to that sentiment, I’d wholeheartedly agree. It is good to see more modest cépages and regions being ‘discovered’ and brought to wider attention. Some relief hopefully for those who have persisted and battled indifference. My only concern is that it doesn’t become a trendy thing to do, as often happens in music, finding something more obscure than anyone else.
I stopped my Decanter subscription a while back because of its focus on Bordeaux and Burgundy above all else so it is good to hear that they are giving space to diversity. Can I ask what Rosemary chose, assuming she was there as Languedoc champion?
Yes, Rosemary did champion the Languedoc. She should have chosen a little wine I picked up in a batch from Roberson’s this year, er, Mas Coutelou Carignan Blanc 2012. However, instead she selected “Plan de L’Homme Khi Carignan 2012 (Terraces du Larzac)”, nice countryside up there but… (only joking, Rosemary).
Trends and fashion, yes, a real concern. I argue very strongly that the unusual wines I taste and praise are GOOD. I feel able to do this because I’ve been seriously into wine since the early 1980s. I know most Bordeaux vintages from 1978 onwards quite well, and Burgundy from a few years later. But when I see mainstream newspapers promoting Jura, which as you know I’ve been interested in for thirty years, I can see that bands and wagons might be coming into the picture, and the youthful enthusiasms of twenty-something sommeliers might not deserve to be sneered at by old men in red trousers, but they might have a tiny bit of a point.
The key to reading about any “new” wines and wine regions is to read the people who really know what they are talking about. Often, it’s here that some of the established writers are actually behind the curve (a recent Jura article in a mainstream publication got the odd fact wrong and was slightly misleading on occasion). Wine experts are rarely experts in all wines, which I’m certain many would be the first to admit. The difficulty is that it’s the old guard who everyone has come to trust. But these days it’s the merchants as much as the writers who are in the vanguard and it’s in their hands that we must put our trust, and palates.