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Thursday, 31 December 2009

A Red Bordeaux at Christmas - Troplong Mondot 1998

A while ago, after a couple of years' very good results, my boss presented me with a rather special bottle of Bordeaux - a magnum of Troplong Mondot 1998, no less.

Troplong Mondot is a St Emilion Grand Cru Classe, meaning it is officially one of the top properties on the right bank of the Gironde in Bordeaux where the dominant grape variety is Merlot. Unofficially, it is considered one of the best chateaux in St Emilion with 1998 being one of the best recent vintages.

So, this was a little way above my usual "everyday" drinking and I wanted to be sure to appreciate the wine fully. Usually, I buy new wines in pairs at least; with the first bottle you learn how the wine develops once opened so that you can serve the second bottle at the ideal temperature and with the right amount of airing, be it straight from the bottle or after several hours in a decanter. With a half-case, or even a full case, you can also see how the wine develops in bottle over the weeks and months between the first and the last tasting. I once had a couple of cases of Austrian Weissburgunder (Pinot blanc) which matured beautifully from a crisp, apples-and-pears aperitif to something much richer and rounded over the 18 months or so that it took to drink it all.

Sadly, my boss's generosity "only" ran to a single magnum of the St Emilion, but I figured that we could decant half for one meal, then stopper the bottle and finish it off the next day and hopefully at some point during that time, it would reach a peak. So, here are my tasting notes from the 36-hour period during which the wine was consumed and some afterthoughts:

Immediately on opening:

Wonderful nose of cassis and vanilla, smells richer and "bigger" than a more basic Bordeaux; colour still quite dark for a wine of this age; however, first impressions on the palate are disappointing, all acidity and tannic grip with little evidence of any fruit.

With the meal after two hours in the decanter:

Starting to open up now, more balanced with some fruit on the palate, lovely texture but feels a little overwhelmed by the food (free-range slow-roast chicken plus trimmings)

With dinner the following evening:

Keep the food simple this time - roast beef and Yorkshire puddings; wine much improved, has really opened up and feels much more balanced, still has that wonderful cassis and vanilla on the nose, same on the palate with added hints of pencil shavings and mint, good fruit, but not as fruit-driven as a younger wine would be, exceptionally smooth with wonderful texture, continues to improve during the meal and, sadly, seems to reach a peak just as we finish it off.

Afterthoughts:

Before trying this wine, I wondered what it would be like, how it would be different from a €10 Bordeaux - and if I would be able to tell !

Having drunk quite a lot of Bordeaux in general and right-bank Bordeaux in particular, I found it quite familiar on the nose and palate; it did not taste fundamentally different from a ordinary Bordeaux. The most noticeable difference was that the fruit on the palate was not as prominent as with a younger wine.

However, where the wine really showed its superiority was in the texture, the mouth-feel. It's very difficult to describe, but rather like looking at the original of a great painting after having seen only a reproduction in a book - it's all there, all the same, but somehow better, more complex, more textured.

It may be just my imagination, but also since trying the Troplong-Mondot, the more everyday reds I have been drinking seem a bit thin and two-dimensional - rather like returning to the family runaround after a lift in your rich uncle's posh German saloon.

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Troplong-Mondot 1998 is available in the UK - not cheaply, though. One site I found it on suggests it is ready for drinking any time between now and 2017, and that seems entirely possible given how it developed after opening. Magnums generally age more slowly than single bottles (same air gap below the cork, double the amount of wine), so even at 11 years, this one may have been a little young.

We had some other excellent drinks over Christmas including a sweet sherry that tasted like Christmas pudding in a bottle and a very smooth Ukrainian brandy. Appropriately enough, after all that indulgence, my next wine tasting has a "credit crunch" theme.

Links

Chateau Troplong-Mondot - www.troplong-mondot.com/

Wine searcher - www.wine-searcher.com/

Monday, 7 December 2009

International Wine Challenge - blind tasting of trophy winners by Cambridge Food and Wine Society

Wine competitions have had something of a bad press in the last few years with the perception that they are little more than a profile-raising, money making exercise in which the only loser is the consumer. The "anti-competition" argument goes something like this: cynical competition organisers hand out too many medals to undeserving wines simply to encourage more entrants and increase their income from entry fees. The wine-makers benefit as they get to put a medal sticker on their wines and maybe get a little extra shelf-space from the supermarket and the poor consumer is duped into thinking an overpriced ordinary wine is something special.

I think this is a journalistic distortion, or at least selective exaggeration, of the underlying truth; for sure, medals help a wine stand out on a supermarket shelf but the International Wine Challenge has, for example, amongst its judges, 370 winemakers, merchants and writers from around the world, including an number of Masters of Wine, and a rigorous, multi-stage judging process. You may not agree with what the judges consider to be a good, excellent or even best-in-class wine, but a medal is no guarantee that you will actually like a wine, only that it is a good-to-excellent example of that type of wine.

This year, 45,000 wines were entered into the International Wine Challenge and only a select few won one or more trophies. The blind tasting at the Cambridge Food and Wine Society included a sample of the trophy-winners, including the Champion Red Wine, Runner-Up Red Wine and (a popular one on the night) the Great Value Champion Sweet Wine.

There were also the usual few curve-balls, such as the Greek White Trophy wine and the International Viognier Trophy wine.

As usual, the tasting was done blind, with Society members invited to hazard a guess at the country of origin, main grape variety, vintage, alcohol content and price. This made for plenty of discussion and some surprising results. It is worth pointing out that the highest score achieved on the night was a shade over 50%, so there is clearly no GCSE-type dumbing down here !

Most of the wines are available at local independent wine merchants such as Noel Young (who garnered a couple of merchant accolades himself) and Cambridge Wine Merchants, whilst others are more generally available at Waitrose, Tesco, M&S and Majestic.

With, apparently, 40% of all wine being bought between September and Christmas, the list below would make a good Christmas shopping list if you are looking for something special for the festive season.

The Wines

Tim Adams Riesling, 2008 (Australia, £8.99, Tes, 3 trophies)
Domaine de Bel Air, 2008 (Pouilly Fume, £13.99, CWM, NY, trophy)
Laurent Miquel Verite Viognier, 2007 (Languedoc-Rousillon, £13.99, Wai, 2 trophies)
Ktima Biblia Chora Ovilis White, 2008 (Greece, £17.50, NY, trophy)
Vinedos Emiliana Carmenere / Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007 (Chile, £7.99, NY 2 trophies)
Bodegas y Vinedos Pascal Toso Malbec, 2008 (Argentina, NY, £7.99, 5 trophies)
Guardian Peak, Lapa Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007 (South Africa, NY, £16.95, 4 trophies)
Chateau Caronne Ste Gemme, 2004 (Haut Medoc, Maj £12.99, trophy)
Matetiq EQ Syrah, 2007 (Chile, Maj, NY, £18.49, 3 trophies)
Weingut Darting Scheurebe, 2005 (Germany, M&S, £14.99 trophy)

Abbreviations

CWM - Cambridge Wine Merchants
Maj - Majestic
M&S - Marks and Spencer
NY - Noel Young Wines
Tes - Tesco

Links

Cambridge Wine Merchants - http://www.cambridgewine.com/

Noel Young Wines - http://www.nywines.co.uk/

International Wine Challenge - http://www.internationalwinechallenge.com/