Thoughts on: A trend towards freshness – alcohol levels in wine

The question of how intrinsic alcohol is to the enjoyment of wine was discussed at some length in 2017, amongst some of the more thoughtful bloggers and wine writers of the world. The consensus seems to be that, mostly, alcohol is indeed an important part of the picture and this is conveniently confirmed by just how awful non-alcoholic wines currently are, without needing to touch upon the pleasant numbing effect of having a few drinks. Yet despite that, my personal experience is that consumers are intentionally opting for wines with lower levels of alcohol. Just in the last few weeks, I’ve seen this first-hand on several occasions, in slightly different guises. From a Polish man looking for help choosing wine but didn’t want “anything Parkerised, you know, anything over 14% alcohol'” to a surprising statement from a Madrid-based writer that high levels of alcohol in quality wine “goes against everything I’ve been taught.”

Ignoring the obvious, logical flaws in thinking like the above, there are clearly sound reasons for wanting to drink wines with lower levels of alcohol. I’ve thought about it and whilst there’s some overlap, they seem to mainly fall into one of three categories: Health, Taste and Fashion.

Hangover demons

Health. Whilst health authorities across the world differ on what is considered to be a ‘safe’ amount of alcohol to drink, it’s commonly accepted that drinking too much has a pretty good chance of hurting you: ethanol, after all, is a proven carcinogen. In fact, if there is discussion about how much is acceptable of any substance, it’s a fair assumption that it’s probably not great for you, on the whole. The same could be said of anything, of course, and a life without alcohol is considerably less interesting than a life with it. I drink wine on an almost daily basis and as a result, it pays to be conscious of both quantity, but also the strength of the wine. There’s an enormous difference between a 9.5% ABV Mosel Riesling and a 16% ABV Chateauneuf du Pape, or even a 12% ABV Albariño and a 15.5% ABV Garnacha. If you’re drinking regularly, opting for wines with lower levels of alcohol will have a tangible benefit.

There’s also the consideration of how alcohol affects your day to day activities. Whilst the pleasures of alcoholic inebriation are an undeniably large part of why we drink, it’s not always convenient to be tipsy throughout the day, and for example, I tend to consume the majority of the wine I drink around lunch. Needless to say, too much powerful wine and productivity drops off severely afterwards, whereas a glass or two of Mosel Kabinett and I’m bounding around, full of energy (The jury’s out on which version my fiance dislikes the most). Add into the mix the dangers of driving or operating any sort of machinery under the influence, and there are clear benefits from a health perspective to opt for lighter wines.

Taste. There’s an unusual group of people in the world, who choose wine primarily on how good it tastes. Apparently they haven’t learnt that if you chill it down enough, or dilute it with sparkling water, it doesn’t taste of much. However, as they persist in going to the effort of serving wine at correct temperatures and often in the right glassware, all in the hope of enhancing flavours and textures, it’s worth considering how alcohol might affect this.

High alcohol levels in wine typically mean one of two things. Either the grapes are grown in a very warm, dry climate or have been left to ripen for extended periods of time past the typical harvest date. Sometimes, it’s even a combination of the two. Therefore, it’s not just the alcohol to consider but the invariably riper, often jammy or stewed fruit flavours and aromas that tend to coincide with potent wines. On the palate, wines with high levels of alcohol will struggle more to maintain balance. Ever had a wine and it prickled your mouth, like there’s something hot inside it? A warming sensation in the throat? That would be high levels of alcohol, without enough acidity or flavour intensity to keep it in check. Highly alcoholic wines also tend to struggle to deliver precise flavours, often tasting blowsy and generic, and often have a sensation of sweetness due to the high levels of glycerol. Tannins are typically, but not always, softer and smoother, and the wine will feel heavier and more full bodied.

This all sounds mainly negative but it’s assuming an unbalanced, poorly made wine: the inverse argument could easily have been made for cool-climate wines with low levels of alcohol. There are thousands of superb wines in the world with high levels of alcohol, with precise, complex flavours, refreshing acidity, finely-grained tannins and excellent flavour intensity. The trick, as in all wine, is finding that balance. It also highlights the dangers of using alcohol as a barometer for choosing wine.

Take the example of the Polish gentleman, looking for typical Spanish wine with less than 14% ABV This excludes pretty much all of southern Spain, 95% of Garnacha based wines (Garnacha accumulates sugar rapidly and early harvesting runs the risk of unripe flavours and phenolics), most Ribera del Duero and even the riper examples from cooler regions such as Galicia and Rioja. As a result, I was only able to recommend a handful of wines, some of which he found too tannic and tough. Alcohol levels mean very different things depending on where the grapes were grown; 14% in AOC St. Estephe is an unusually ripe, powerful wine, whereas in DO Toro it’s positively lightweight!

Grape stomping
Drawn by Peggy Wilson

Fashion. Increasingly, it’s fashion that seems to be playing the greatest role when it comes to alcohol levels. Jancis Robinson has conveniently just published something along the same lines, talking about the division in wine styles. More and more producers are now focusing on freshness, more precise flavours, higher levels of acidity and delicacy in their wines. Ambient yeasts are in, cultured out; early harvesting is preferred over grapes harvested at full phenolic ripeness; new vineyards are being planted at ever-increasing altitudes and so on. This is no bad thing in and of itself and it’s fair to say that my own personal tastes tend towards these fresher styles of wines. However, as with every fashion swing, dogma has an unpleasant tendency to creep into the conversation.

Take my second example of the person who believed that high levels of alcohol were incompatible with quality wine. Without getting into why this is categorically untrue, it does showcase how easily certain wine styles and practices can influence consumers. In wine the most obvious example of this is so-called ‘natural’ wine, where there are no additions or adjustments of any kind in the winery (sugar, acid, tannins and so on), no cultured yeasts are used and wines are generally unfined and unfiltered. With minimal spraying and treatments in the vineyards, fungi and disease around harvest become even more of an issue, so grapes are often harvested much earlier, with lower levels of sugars and higher levels of acidity. Ambient yeasts don’t tend to be able to convert high levels of sugar into alcohol past a certain point anyway, and there’s no adjustment for the lower levels of acidity if grapes are over-ripened (as grapes ripen, sugars increase and acidity decreases so most warmer climates readjust acidity levels, mainly using tartaric acid). The net result is usually a wine with a lower level of alcohol than its peers; refreshing, often delicious but certainly not the only way to produce good wine.

Overall, it has to be said that the move towards freshness and delicacy has been well received across the wine-drinking world. From the 1990’s through to roughly 2010ish, the trend was very much for maximum grape ripeness, heavy levels of oak, soft, thick textures and, almost unavoidably, high levels of alcohol. I want to drink these wines as much as I want to drink the ciderish, acetic examples of badly made ‘natural’ wine. Fortunately, the best producers find a happy middle ground, as they always do, and the improvements in viticultural sciences are allowing for a better balance of sugar, acidity and ripeness in grapes across all climates.

From a consumers point of view, context is everything. Choosing or not a wine based on it’s alcoholic level without considering the variety, style and origin is a good way to miss some of the worlds great vinous experiences. From mouth-coating, rich Barossa Shiraz to earthy, spicy Chateauneuf du Pape, the world is full of excellent quality, big, bold wines. Just don’t drink too much of it over lunch!

Thoughts on: Reflections and Planning for 2018

Bodega Catena Wine Tasting

Taking time to reflect is an important part of any development, both personal and professional. Actually having the time to do it, however, is a very different matter! After 2.5 years of almost constant studying, I’ve finally finished the last of my exams with the WSET. Between that, Christmas, New Years and taking care of my young family, I’ve barely had the chance to write over the last few months. Last week I sat down to the WSET Unit 3 exam, a 5 hour marathon of blind tasting and essay-based theory questions. Whilst I won’t know for certain how I’ve done until early April (the WSET take around 3 months to mark these papers), I have a reason to be confident as I was able to answer everything in some detail and I had a strong blind tasting.

So the question is; what next? I’ve written about the value of wine education a few times, and now I suddenly find myself without a structured course to work through. I’m not yet financially capable of starting the MW course, and likely not quite ready yet either, and there’s nothing beyond the WSET Diploma in terms of official qualifications that will help me. Which is quite exciting in itself, because it means the next year or two is entirely down to me. On that note, I sat down over the weekend with a bit of time to myself for the first time in months, opened a lovely bottle of wine and got thinking about what the next couple of years holds for me.

Get a job in the industry. This might sound odd considering I already work organising wine tastings in and around Barcelona, but it’s becoming increasingly apparent that I need to work a little more centrally in the industry. Currently I have to work incredibly hard and spend most of the money I make pursuing wine education, as I don’t have access to the information and opportunities that arise from working directly for a winery, retail outlet, distribution centre etc. When it comes to getting the inside scoop, tasting and travel opportunities and learning how the industry works, there’s no alternative. (Assuming you’re not fabulously wealthy. Spoiler: I’m not)

Every time I meet someone who’s a Master of Wine or is currently studying towards it, I ask for 5-10 minutes of their time to ask their advice, both on attempting the exams and the industry generally. The most common piece of advice I receive is exactly this; get a job within the industry. Add this to the fact that a large chunk of my work is becoming increasingly less wine focused (walking tours) and it’s something I now need to put in motion. There’s no great rush and fear not, I won’t stop organising tastings as a result!

Wine Science. The thing that most people seem to struggle with the most in wine, is the science of it. Perhaps it diminishes the romanticism of wine in their eyes, but if you want to understand why your wine tastes the way that it does, a basic understanding of wine science is essential. I intend to take my own understanding to another level, with a good amount of time studying and importantly, talking to wine-makers pointedly about it. Why add SO2 at this stage and not earlier/later? Why this sort of barrel and toasting? What would the flavour impact be if you harvested a week earlier? Sorry wine-makers; there’s a lot of very annoying questions coming your way!

Read broadly. This is a no-brainer really. I love reading and learning about wine, and now my exams are over I can spend a lot more time digging into interesting corners or going off in a completely different direction on a whim. I’ve already made a sizable order for some books I’ve been dying to read but couldn’t fit into my study plans.

Write, write, write. Considering how little I’ve written here over the last couple of months, it’d be easy to believe I don’t enjoy writing but it’s actually one of my greatest pleasures. Word Press reliably informs me that my content is nigh-on unreadable, and that only 30 or so people visit my site daily but I really don’t mind. In fact, I want to write a lot more than I have been, including more in-depth wine reviews, thoughts on certain parts of the industry and just general ramblings as they come. Writing helps me process information and as someone who reads incessantly, it’s also a personal pleasure to be able to create content of some sort. Hopefully it will be of use to someone, somewhere!

Taste. A lot of people don’t believe me when I tell them I’ve been working with/learning about wine for less than three years, because I went from knowing absolutely nothing to being reasonably knowledgeable in a short space of time. A lot of that is down to investing a lot of time and money into tasting wine. Every wine I taste, I dig into. I find out about the winery, their other products, what makes them different. Why did this wine taste the way that it did? If it’s a lovely wine and not outrageously priced, I’ll try to fit it into a tasting so that other people can share the experience first-hand. I have to keep working at tasting as broadly as possible, something that should be enhanced now that I’ve been promoted to Judge with the IWC. (Hurrah!)

Personal health and well-being. Lastly, there’s the one I tend to forget about; being a little nicer to myself. The last couple of years have been a lot of work and at times I’ve forgotten to cut myself enough slack – if you’re working 25-28 nights a month, studying full time, taking care of a newborn and trying to have a semblance of a life on top of it, it’ll catch up with you. I have no exam pressure now and whilst I tend to jump head first into things I’m passionate about, I do also need to take some time away from it all. My fiance certainly does! A little less waking up with my face attached to the World Atlas of Wine, and a little more walking around this beautiful city I live in. That’ll work for me.

That’s it. Some general guidelines to guide me through the coming year, with only one or two sizeable changes. I’ll still be available to organise private tastings and Maestrazgo Wine Club events, just hopefully with a little less of what I’ve been told is ‘La cara de papa’. Otherwise known as ‘The father’s face’ which is a lovely Spanish way of saying ‘You look tired’! Stay tuned for more ramblings, tastings and events. Happy 2018, everyone.

Thoughts on: Judging with the IWC

Last week I took a break from my relentless studies and headed to London for my first ever experience of judging a wine competition, in this case with the International Wine Challenge, or IWC. A friend of mine had done it previously and highly recommended the experience, both from a learning and networking point of view, and with my final exam around the corner, the opportunity to taste 150+ wines in expert company was obviously quite appealing. I was booked onto Tranche 1 as an ‘Associate Judge’, the lowest rank, and scheduled to judge on both Thursday and Friday.

Before I go any further, I suppose this is a good opportunity to look at the concept of a wine competition. When you go into a store and see medals pinned to bottles, or shiny stickers extolling how well these wines scored, chances are they were placed into a wine competition of some sort. On a commercial level, this sort of stuff genuinely helps to sell wines so wine competitions are still important to producers who want to stand out in an increasingly crowded market-place.

The general idea is that a producer will pay a set amount of money to enter their wine into a competition, and supply around 4 bottles of that wine to be tasted and judged. This is where everything deviates depending on the organisation in question, as some are very professionally ran, with all wines tasted blind by a large number of professionals from different backgrounds and some.. well… let’s just say that some local fairs are a little less discerning. I’ve heard stories of a 4 man judging panel where every judge had a conflict of interest in some way with the wines they were scoring, including making the wine themselves!

Fortunately, the IWC is one of the former and I was quite blown away with the level of professionalism and organisation on display, with over 160 different judges all tasting the wines blind, with the same wines often being judged by different tables throughout the course of the week. At the beginning of each day, the judges are organised into groups of 5 with one ‘Panel Chair’ who leads the group, one ‘Senior Judge’, two ‘Judges’ and a single associate. They meet together a few minutes before starting and the Panel Chair, typically a MW/MS or equivalent in the industry, and go over the ground rules for the day. The general idea is this:

Each group spends the day at a big table divided into two parts. In each part is a themed flight of wine, all presented blind with minimal information about them, such as Country/Region, Vintage and grape varieties.

The group as a whole then tastes these wines blind, scoring them using the 100 point scale. Bronze medals are awarded to wines who score 85-89, Silver from 90-94 and anything 95 or above is awarded a gold medal.

At the end of each flight, the Panel Chair goes around the group asking for a score on each wine. If the scores are mostly aligned, say everyone thinks it’s a bronze, then a bronze it is. If there is any level of discrepancy, then everyone has to justify their position on the wine including a tasting note. Ultimately the Panel Chair makes the final decision, but every voice is heard and I was delighted to find that being an associate judge didn’t make a difference when we got to debating; of more importance was your justification for the score you gave. Balance, length, intensity, concentration, finish, finesse.. the criteria for what makes a great wine tends to be almost universally accepted, and these were the yardsticks by which we measured every wine.

In this way, we tasted our way through 75-85 wines per day with a break for lunch in the middle. As soon as you’ve tasted the flight on one half of the table and moved across to the other, one of the IWC staff whizzes away your dirty glasses, bottles and brings a whole new blind flight to that side of the table. In this way, you spend your entire day moving from side to side, tasting and scoring with very little wasted time.

As the wines being judged are all entered by companies at their own discretion, the variety is about as broad as you can expect. I tasted a lot of wines with styles I was familiar with, but also wines from grapes I’d never heard of (mainly Italian) and countries I have little experience with. In a single day we might go from vintage Champagne to Italian white wines, then across to Turkey for some red blends, Argentinian Cabernet Franc, Galician reds, German and Alsatian Riesling, Ukranian white wines, mixed wines from Hungary and so on. Absolutely anything and everything is tasted, with widely varying quality levels. We dismissed a lot of wine from the competition entirely for simply not being close to a medal level, with a lot of high scoring surprises along the way.

On both the days that I judged, I had the pleasure of two excellent Panel Chairs guiding me through the process, Natasha Hughes MW and Anne Krebiehl MW. The Senior Judges were both gentlemen who’d spent well over 20 years in the industry, and the judges ranged from MW students to professionals working in laboratories for wine analysis, senior retail staff, sommeliers and a smattering of highly qualified persons not working directly in the industry. This probably all sounds very intimidating but the atmosphere was warm, friendly and inviting and I had no problem getting into the swing of things. Once you get going it’s quite a fast-paced day and you’re standing up for the entire duration, so don’t be surprised if you feel quite sore at the end of it all; I certainly did after day 1!

The IWC runs these events twice a year, ensuring that bottles are tasted once they’ve had a period of time to rest and taking into account the variation in harvests between regions on different sides of the hemisphere. When you ascend the ranking hierarchy and make the trip a few times, it’s common to receive some sort of financial reimbursement for your time and your travel costs. As an associate and a first-timer, this clearly wasn’t the case for me, but rarely has money been better spent. To taste such a gamut of wines across different quality levels, whilst surrounded by industry experts, your peers, and to talk about those wines for the entire day? Priceless. It’s also a fantastic way to keep in touch with what’s going on in the industry, as you’re tasting wine you wouldn’t necessarily buy yourself.

I shall be back as often as time and money allows. Here are a few of my highlights both in terms of wine, and general observations:

A general reaffirmation that people who choose to work in the wine industry are some of the nicest, friendliest people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. Looking at some of the names around the room I was expecting a few clashes of ego, yet the atmosphere never deviated from an inclusive one.

The wines I tasted from Spain were such a mixed bag, it’s hard to draw conclusions. There were some delicious Albarino’s, one of the Mencia wines from Bierzo was so pure and crisp I was convinced it was from Ribeira Sacra, and even the chunkier ones showed well. However the Rioja wines were universally poor, including a few outright faults and poor quality wine-making. A shame.

Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough doesn’t necessarily have to be tropical and over-blown; the Awatere Valley sub-region produced some elegant, mineral styles including a gold medal winner, with some of the purest fruit I’ve tasted from the country.

There is a lot of very average wine out there. Don’t be afraid to call it out. As Natasha Hughes MW told me “If you wouldn’t be happy serving this to your friends at home, it shouldn’t be receiving a medal”.

It really does pay to be in good physical condition for these events. 9 hours of standing and shuffling around takes its toll, as does the huge amount of wines tasted. I’m reasonably fit, but I think a slight increase in my work-outs won’t do me any harm!

Despite people having very different preferred styles of wines, a group can quickly calibrate when tasting together for a short period of time if they’re all speaking the same language. The WSET system put me in very good stead for this, whereas some struggled to understand why the wines they loved were scoring quite poorly.

Should Tim Atkin MW ever want a career outside of the wine industry, he wouldn’t make a bad DJ for parties and weddings. He was responsible for the music over the week and aside from some very questionable country music, did a pretty good job at varying the music over the day: relaxing and soothing in the morning, upbeat and energetic towards the end when we’re all flagging and looking forward to a cold beer!

Thoughts on: Wine Communication

Wine communication is getting harder and harder to define as, like so many other industries, the mediums responsible for talking about it are changing year by year. Cellartracker, Instagram, Twitter, Vivino… the list goes on, and the one pattern is that interactions are getting shorter, with less information shared in each new platform. At the risk of sounding snobbish, I can understand this strategy for a lot of industries. Take fashion for example; the most important thing about it is how it looks, right? I don’t have many friends who work directly in the business, but I’ve yet to meet someone who’s interested in the soil types where the cotton was grown, or the manner in which it was picked and for a few reasons, let’s not get into where it’s made and who’s making it. I’m sure you can dig deeply into fashion, but it seems that brief messages and pictures of emaciated people wearing clothes is still broadly accepted as the best way to talk about it. (Believe it or not I’ve actually, unwillingly, been to a fashion show or two. I didn’t hear any in-depth talk about fashion but I’ve been put off the word ‘fabulous’ for life).

Is that really true for wine, though? Whilst I think wine can, and to a certain extent should, be enjoyed simply as a beverage, for anyone who seeks to truly understand why it tastes the way it does, there’s a never-ending rabbit-hole of knowledge to invest decades in before you get there. Obviously, that’s only for those of us who forgot to get jobs in banking in our early 20’s, and a little knowledge will go an awfully long way in developing your appreciation of wine. So what’s the best way to do that? I’m a big advocate of formal study but I do recognise that it only goes so far, and isn’t ideal for anyone who doesn’t want to invest large amounts of time and money into it.

Which brings me to the humble blog. I know, I’ve heard it too; blogging is dead and only fools would bother continuing with it in the wine industry. Which is fantastic, as those fools tend to be the most interesting, dedicated people I’ve met with real passion and knowledge to share; why else would they persist? Whether it’s through a video platform of some description, podcasts or the old-fashioned internet blog, I still believe one of the very best ways to learn about wine is to pick a blog or two and follow them closely. Ideally, choose someone with a diverse and educated view of the world of wine and read everything they write. If you have time and/or masochistic tendencies, follow a few.

Wine is a delicious drink but there’s no short-cut to learning about it in detail. A picture can paint a thousand words but all I usually learn from wine-related instagram posts is that everyone seems to have more money, time and friends than I do. Good quality wine information that isn’t behind a paywall is getting harder to come by, so I’ve updated my ‘Recommended Reading’ page linked here, to help you get a head start on some of the best on the internet. Happy reading!

PS. If you’re a fan of the long-format of instagram posts concerning wine, have a quick look at my account here. It takes my fat fingers a good 10 minutes to type each one up, and I usually get angry at my phone at least once whilst doing it. If that doesn’t add to your reading pleasure, I’m not sure what will.

Thoughts on: A Tale of Two Wines from Chinon

Cabernet Franc is one of my favourite grapes in the wine world, capable of elegance and charm in its own right and adding perfume and freshness to many of the worlds Bordeaux blends. Despite being grown in warmer regions, particularly in the USA and Argentina, it really excels in cool to moderate climates, where the crunchy, red fruit profile and herbaceous flavours come into their own. This typically means Bordeaux, where it was historically planted as an insurance in case the Cabernet Sauvignon didn’t full ripen, particularly on the right bank where Cabernet Sauvignon has traditionally struggled to ripen in the cooler, clay soils. However, despite certain Chateau using Cabernet Franc as a majority in their blends (Cheval Blanc being a notably famous example), my favourite region for the variety has always been Touraine in the Loire Valley, particularly around a small region known as Chinon. (Psst, we’ll be doing a wine tasting of the Loire Valley in October with Maestrazgo Wine Club!)

The Loire Valley isn’t a warm place, being located in northern France, but as it stretches so far along its namesake river, making generalisations about style is difficult. What is certainly true is that the Loire is responsible for some of France’s best value, cool climate wines, with only really Sancerre commanding premium prices in certain markets. Touraine, located in the centre, is arguably the most important of the zones, often referred to as ‘The Garden of France’. It’s here that the best regions for Cabernet Franc are to be found, with both Chinon and Bourgueil making a strong claim, with Chinon probably the best known of the two.

Over the last year or so, I’ve drank a reasonable amount of Chinon but never in a comparative format. So, when Monvinic Store were having a small sale of some affordable wines from the region, I scooped a few bottles up and went about with the comparison! It’s worth noting that Chinon roughly comes in two different styles; full bodied, more structured Cabernet Franc from the clay and gravel soils, whereas lighter styles are made on the sandy, alluvial soils closer to the river. How fortunate then, that I managed to have wines from different producers, in the same vintage, on these two, very different soil types! It’s worth noting that 2011 was a pretty torrid vintage in the Loire, where the continental conditions make for some severe vintage variation, and typically it is the Cabernet Franc grown in the more structured style that rides the bad years more capably.

Domaine Grosbois Gabare Chinon 2011 – 12.5% ABV

Domaine Grosbois is an old estate that has been ran by the Grosbois family since the French revolution, with 9 hectares of land on the lighter, sand and gravel soils around Panzoult. Like so many estates in France, it has recently been given an injection of pace and a clear direction by a younger generation, in this case Nicolas Grosbois. My experience with wine-makers is that the best nearly always have an international appreciation of wine, and often experience in other wine regions. This is true for Nicolas who worked at one of my favourite wineries in New Zealand, Pegasus Bay, as well as Brokenwood in Australia. His main contribution to the future of Domaine Grosbois was to revitalise the land, first of all with a switch to organic viticulture and more recently to the more controversial, biodynamic system. All his Cabernet Franc is unoaked and the intention is to give a pure expression of Chinon and his vineyards in particular.

Gabare 2011 is 100% unoaked Cabernet Franc harvested from sandy soils at the base of his vineyards. A slightly murky, ruby colour and with a subtle aroma of fresh red fruits, this isn’t giving much away but slowly opens up to reveal lighter notes of fresh violets, fresh leaves and black pepper. A little lean on the palate with the same fresh flavours, and perhaps a lack of texture from the tannins. A nice, simple Cabernet Franc that feels affected by the weather conditions of 2011.

Charles Joguet Les Petit Roches 2011 – 13.5% ABV

Charles Joguet is a name that resonates in the Loire Valley and particularly in Chinon; taking over his family estate in 1957, Charles was one of the first wine-makers to start attracting international attention to the region. The estate itself is sat on deeper, clay dominated soils covering 36 hectares of prime vineyards, including some of the very best in the appellation. 9 different wines are made in total, reflecting their origins from specific plots around the estate. Since Charles retired, the estate went through a short but unwelcome period of misdirection and inactivity, before Kevin Fontaine took over the reins and brought it back on track. This is the producer I’m most familiar with in the region and I’ve enjoyed 5 of the 9 cuvees thus far, all a wonderful expression of Chinon and Cabernet Franc.

The wine itself has a much clearer appearance when compared with the Gabare from Domaine Grosbois. Aromatic and energetic, the extra ripeness of the wine is apparent with a riper red fruit profile, graphite, gravel, earth and a stronger, more clearly defined herbal note. The lovely, crunchy tannic profile comes out on the palate and there’s the energy and vibrancy I so love about wines from Chinon. A lovely balance of red fruits, herbal notes and earth; quintessential Chinon.

I really enjoyed this small experiment, and not just because I love drinking Chinon. I learn a lot of theory as part of my studies and it’s nice when something practical helps click the pieces into place. In this case, that soil type and the situation of the vineyard makes a big difference when it comes to the profile of the wines from Chinon, particularly in poor vintages. The extra ripeness and balance of the Charles Joguet made it a far more attractive wine, with more energy and more typicity. I would love to find the same two wines from a better vintage, 2010 say, and make the same comparison. Keep your eyes peeled on the 1st October as there will certainly be a Cabernet Franc or two to get your lips around in our tasting of the Loire Valley!

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