Thursday, 20 December 2012

Laithwaite's Chai au Quai

The big tasting of all the new 2012's and the barrel matured 2011's. The wines WE have made.

So much more nerve-wracking than the usual tasting of wines submitted by others … where we can just pass on any wine we don't like.

These are our wines, we own them. Most are not finished. Many far from. But we always have this Xmas meeting/tasting to assess where we are. Any younger than this is very hard for me to judge a new wine properly. Jean-Marc, Mark, Aurelie, Henry and the other winemakers can do that. Hell, they can judge a wine when its still grapes! The rest of us – the writers and sellers – need it to be more or less formed to be able to judge.
Everything, I'm glad to say is very satisfactory so far.

My outstanding white was the 'Dry Sauternes' of 2011.

Wines that smell like they will taste sweet, but then don't, have always been a big obsession of mine. I adore their cleverness. Ours is a dry white Bordeaux made from Semillon grapes, a proportion of which had been affected by Botrytis Cinerea or 'Noble Rot' responsible for making Sauternes, Barsac and the others taste the way they do. Getting hold of such precious rare grapes is not at all easy. Getting the blend just right so you get all those rich, heady aromas and then finish with a crisp, refreshing dry white is incredibly hard. Successful ones are probably the rarest wines in Bordeaux.

Jean-Marc and Mark have been fussing all year over 'Tony's white'. I've been tasting it over the year too … and worrying. Even this Summer I couldn't discern the great flavours I was hoping for but the boys told me to be patient.

Today, the flavours were all there. The wine was finished. And had been bottled the previous day. Most will go to our Chai Keyholders, of course; it is only their regular backing that allows us to undertake making extraordinary wines like this. They will love this one. 

Then there will be a hundred or so cases left over. Not much, really. So if you see some, I'd grab it. 'Le C du Chai'. Cuvée Noble. Bordeaux. 2011

My outstanding red was a secret wine called 'Hurricane' made by Mark Hoddy in the tiny garage cellar of his friend Jean-Charles in Maury High Street. To explain; I encouraged Mark to attempt this wine; what he calls 'the purest possible essence of Grenache'. 

Mark & JC

It was the ancient schiste-grown Grenache vines of Maury that caused Jersey-born Mark to settle in the village after his years of working as a winemaker around the world. Here he saw the best unrealised potential he'd seen anywhere in the world. He adores this special Grenache with which he makes 'XV' and 'Vent de Folie' for Laithwaite's.

He's now spent a dozen or more years working out where the best vines are and how to get the best out of them. It seemed a good idea to encourage him to make his own wine - this is not a wine he made for us, but for himself. I suggested he pick the cream of the crop, the 'mother's milk' of those brave old vineyards and get creative. We would, I said, buy it, whatever. Don't tell anyone, I said. Just do it.

I imagined that, like Justin Howard-Sneyd our MW consultant who also has vines in Maury, and makes great wine, Mark would be making a barrel-aged wine. Not at all. Mark says his aim was to make a wine just as big, dense and complex … but he didn't want to lose any of that grape's luscious, bright fruit character. So no barrels, no ageing either. And he used other methods to ensure minimal contact with oxygen. I haven't really found the words to describe 'pure essence of Grenache'. But give me time!

None of the other 2012 reds we tried were ready to drink. The Hurricane we finished off over lunch before we caught the plane … and it was just as enjoyable as the €54 bottle of AOC Castillon '08 we had.

His price isn't quite worked out yet but Mark thinks his wine will be about a fifth of that.Unbelievable? No, true. Only problem is Mark couldn't make much. There are few vineyards that can supply the quality grapes required and also this is very much a hand-made wine.

As I finished my last glass more and different red and black fruits seemed to be arriving in my glass. Mark reckons there are a lot more to come. He'll bottle it soon, (hasn't come up with a label yet) leave the bottles to rest a little and we'll have it in our June list.

If you want to register your interest in Hurricane - or Le C du Chai white call the Wine Advisors. They'll note your interest and call you as soon as the wine(s) arrive in Gloucester cellars. 

1 comment:

  1. "essence of Grenache" must surely be Grenachence?