Join us for our "Vintage Pairs" Blind Tasting on Thursday 22 October 2020

In this blind tasting session, we select five wines, serve them blind and, as a group, work deductively through the tasting process to uncover the wine. The trick here is we actually serve ten wines – two wines with something in common, served in pairs.

1st Pair: 2018 Domaine Heitz-Lochardet - Meursault En la Barre & Meursault 1er Cru 'Les Perrieres'

We’re beginning this session of “Vintage Pairs” with a pair of Meursault from one of the latest producers we added to our portfolio this year – Domaine Heitz-Lochardet.  The winemaking tradition at Heitz-Lochardet dates back to 1857.  Domaine Heitz-Lochardet is located in Chassagne-Montrachet and was founded in the mid-1980s by Armand Heitz’s parents Brigitte and Christian with initially just 5 hectares.  Armand studied oenology and then decided to take over his family’s vines after completing his studies in 2011. For years, his mother, Brigitte had contracted these vines to Maison Joseph Drouhin.  And since taking over Armand has sought about regaining control of more of the vines under the domaine.  He made his first vintage in 2013 with the help of consulting oenologist Ludovic Pierrot who had spent eight years working with Anne-Claude Leflaive at Domaine Leflaive.  Armand farms the vineyards using biodynamic practices and his winemaking style is traditional in approach with the use of new oak kept at a minimum, usually around just 20-25%.  The wines produced here express their terroir while also being quite giving in their fruit expression.

The first wine in this pair, Meursault En La Barre, is a wine coming from a specific plot in Meursault called ‘La Barre’.  Its soil is made up of limestone marl with a good amount of clay which yields richer and denser wines.  The vines were planted in 1969 and 2008.  For the vinification, this wine sees approximately eleven months in oak with 25-30% new barrels.

The second wine in this pair is the premier cru vineyard ‘Les Perrières’ which comes from an area with lots of stones in the soil.  Armand believes this characteristic is one of the factors that helps to produce wines that are rich, powerful, mineral and precise.  The vines in this vineyard were planted in 1962, 1983 and 1988.  This wine sees the same ageing and oak regimen as Meursault En la Barre, so it’s a good opportunity to compare these two distinct terroirs.    

2nd Pair: 2014 Bass Phillip - Estate Chardonnay & Chardonnay Premium

Bass Phillip is one of the top producers from Australia, likely most famous for their exceptional Pinot Noir. However, they also make very fine Chardonnay, and I bet you’ve never tried it.  So, the point of this pair is to offer something different from a producer you likely know.  The winery is located in the southeastern corner of Australia in Leongatha, South Victoria.  Phillip Jones purchased the vineyard in 1979, and it now comprises 3.5 hectares. The area experiences a continental climate with soil composed of rich minerals, clay, sands and volcanic rocks.

Phillip Jones converted to biodynamic farming practices in 2002.  The vineyard has low cropping and uses high density planting for its Chardonnay vines.  Phillip Jones began as a research engineer, so he uses a scientific approach to optimize the quality of the fruit and resulting juice he obtains from the South Gippsland’s terroir.  For his winemaking, he follows a natural approach.

The ”Estate” and “Premium” Chardonnay come from different plots within the same estate vineyard which was planted in 1979 and comprises 3.5 hectares.  For the Estate Chardonnay, it sees time in oak with approximately 20% new.

The "Premium" is made from the oldest vines from the estate vineyard.  These vines, which grow in less than a one acre (0.4 hectare) parcel, are more than forty years old now, so they deliver a wine that’s complex with lasting flavours and concentration.  Only about two or three barrels are made of this wine each year.  It’s aged in 100% new oak barrels.  Let’s see how these two wines from the same estate compare.  As a note, in April 2020, Bass Phillip welcomed Jean-Marie Fourrier as the Chief Winemaker of Bass Phillip wines.

3rd Pair: 2006 Biondi Santi - Brunello di Montalcino Riserva (Ex Estate) & Valdicava - Madonna del Piano Brunello di Montalcino Riserva

Here, I put together what for me are opposite ends of the spectrum for Brunello di Montalcino.  Biondi-Santi is very old school, traditional trying to express Sangiovese in its purest form.  Then, by contrast we have Valdicava with its darker, more opaque like appearance in the glass and more international style.  Validcava’s Madonna del Piano tends to have a darker fruit, lush and powerful style with notes of vanilla and roundness in texture on the palate; it’s a softer and more palate pleasing to many style in contrast to the more savoury, tomatoey acidity that Sangiovese tends to express.  Let’s see if we identify these wines as Brunellos.

Many people recognize Ferruccio Biondi Santi as the father of Brunello di Montalcino.  When phylloxera and downy mildew came to Italy, many winemakers looked to make wines for drinking early, but Ferruccio wanted to make wines for long ageing, so he grafted the estate’s new vines with Sangiovese Grosso and started producing wines from 100% Sangiovese.  By doing that, he was able to break free from the regulations for Chianti and created a Brunello wine of longevity.

The Riserva is the top wine from Biondi-Santi and is made from vines which are over 25 years old and only made in good years.  The ageing is the same as for the Annata taking place in Slavonian oak casks and is for 36 months.  Then, the Riserva is aged for an additional two years in bottle before release.

Here is Linden’s tasting note for the 2006 Biondi-Santi Brunello di Montalcino Riserva (from his tasting of it during our virtual masterclass with Biondi-Santi’s CEO Giampiero Bertolini back on 14th May):

A slightly fuller colour than the Annata, but still open, transparent garnet, with some fire toward the rim; the nose is lifted by a little volatile acidity, and has spices of the souk sort on the nose, complex and alluring, damp earth and damp autumnal forest, dates, balsamico; on the palate, there is concentration, real extract, depth of fruit, this is already fully evolved, and in the quintessential timeless Biondi-Santi style, richer and fuller than the more lithe ’13 Annata, this is more brooding, and attention-seeking. There is more tannic structure here, but in my view, this is now à point, though no doubt a decades-long plateau ahead. This delivers something really evocative of another time, time lost in thought by the hearth of a late evening quieting fire.

The winemaking heritage of Valdicava dates back to 1953.  At that time Bramante Abbruzzese returned to the property in Montalcino where his ancestors had been cultivating vines, and he started growing Sangiovese.  Initially, the grapes were sold to Biondi-Santi.  In 1967 Bramante founded the Consorzio di Brunello. When he started making wine in 1968, it was bottled under the Consorzio with Valdicava included on the label.  Then, in 1977, Bramante started bottling under the Valdicava label.  In 1987, Bramante’s grandson, Vincenzo, took over the leadership of the estate.

Valdicava is not only the name of the estate but it’s also the name of the valley where some of the best single-vineyard Brunellos are produced such as Montosoli, La Casa, and Vigna del Lago.  In the middle of the valley is the famous Madonna del Piano vineyard, and that’s also where the Valdicava estate is located.  For the farming practices, they farm organically at Valdicava.  Agronomist Andrea Paoletti helps with the vineyard management.  The winemaking is directed by Attilio Paggli.  Fermentation takes place in a combination of stainless steel or concrete tanks and wooden vats.  In terms of ageing and style, Valdicava uses practices that are a combination of the methods of the traditionalists and the modernisers for Brunello di Montalcino.  Vincenzo is trying to find a balance somewhere in between.

Antonio Galloni writing for his publication Vinous describes the 2006 vintage as follows:  ‘At its best, though, 2006 is a benchmark vintage for Brunello di Montalcino. Readers will not want to miss these fabulous wines.’  Vinous, ‘2006 Brunello: The Emperor’s New Clothes or Historic Vintage?’.  Let’s see how these wines show today and whether we will spot it as Sangiovese, and more specifically, as a Brunello di Montalcino.

4th Pair: 2009 & 2005 Chateau Lafleur - Pensees de Lafleur

Pensées de Lafleur offers a different expression of the vineyards at Château Lafleur.  Sylvie and Jacques Guinaudeau created this label in 1987, originally conceived as a ‘second wine’, but today it is its own wine, from its own plot, within Château Lafleur.  In addition, it’s not made from de-classified areas of the vineyard or young vines.  The wine is made from 0.8 hectares of vines that run in a diagonal shape line across the vineyards of Château Lafleur.  The soils here are deeper and are made up of sandy-silt and brown sand.  In terms of the vinification, the grapes are fermented in temperature controlled, small stainless steel tanks and then aged in exactly the same way as Château Lafleur.  The 2009 is a blend of 60% Merlot and 40% Cabernet Franc.  For the 2005, the blend is 53% Merlot and 47% Cabernet Franc.

Steven Spurrier writing for Decanter in their article entitled, ‘Bordeaux 2005 – Vintage Guide’ quoted Christian Moueix as describing 2005 as reminding him of 1982, ‘It was the same type of easy year except a little drier with yields better controlled.’  12 April 2006.  The vintage 2009 is another strong year for Pomerol with riper, more powerful fruit notes in the wines.  Let’s see how these two wines compare.

5th Pair: 2003 Quinta do Noval - Quinta do Noval Vintage Port & Quinta do Noval Vintage Port 'Nacional'

While I’ve never had Quinta do Noval ‘Nacional’ Port, it’s been among those wines on my wish list of wines to try one day.  I know some of you that attend our “Vintage Pairs” blind tasting regularly are fans of Port, so I thought I’d include this pair as something unique for our lineup this time.   It’s rare to have both the normal vintage Port from Quinta do Noval as well as the ‘Nacional’ both available, so I thought it would be good for us to engage in a side by side comparison is taste what makes the ‘Nacional’ so special. 

Quinta do Noval is an estate located in the heart of Portugal’s Douro Valley that’s been making wine since the 18th century.  The Quinta do Noval Vintage Port is made from a strict selection of the best wines from the 145-hectare vineyard.  At the very most, because of the strict standards and rigorous sorting, even in a great year, only about 15% of the vineyard’s production is made.

The ‘Nacional’ is very special as it’s made from a small area of ungrafted vines located in the Quinta do Noval vineyard that have never experienced phylloxera.  The name ‘Nacional’ refers to the fact that these vines are connected directly to the soil of the nation of Portugal since they’re still on their original Portuguese rootstock.  It’s also a special wine because it’s only made in small quantities and only for a few vintages each decade.  For the ‘Nacional’, the wine is tasted regularly throughout the ageing process, and if it’s found the wine doesn’t measure up, the vintage won’t be declared. 

The 2003 vintage was declared by all the major port houses, and while like the rest of Europe the Douro Valley experienced high temperatures, there was a good amount of rain to balance out the warm climate conditions of the year.  As a result, the ports produced in 2003 are well structured and seem to have the fruit concentration and stuffing to make them long-lived.