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Tuesday, 8 January 2013

On Typicity - Exhibit A: 2009 Ch Clément-Pichon Cru Bourgeois Haut-Médoc

It's one sign of being a wine geek when you start to look for typicity in a wine.

As I have written before, the casual drinker tries a wine and either likes it or doesn't - by contrast the wine enthusiast (geek), tries it, assesses it, considers it and mentally compares it to other wines they have tasted, categorising and pigeon-holing it.

Regional typicity is essentially the idea that a wine should conform to certain stylistic parameters given its place of origin - Sancerre is steely and minerally with flintsmoke; red Burgundy has farmyardy, vegetal aromas and a soft texture, Champagne is biscuity and elegant.

Master of Wine and Team Jancis Robinson writer Alex Hunt penned a very thoughtful piece questioning the significance of typicity - it can be found here, albeit you'll need to be a PurplePages subscriber to  to view.

Whether it is valid to expect, require even, a wine from a certain place to display certain characteristics is something of a moot point and there are, of course, degrees of typicity - my own view is that it is a bit like the 10 Commandments: more of an aspirational guideline.

Or, to put it another way, typicity should not get in the way of making a good wine.

At its most basic, the concept of typicity is helpful to all wine drinkers - if you like a white wine with crisp acidity and herbaceous aromas, then Sauvignon Blanc is probably your thing. And if you prefer the lush, aromatic, tropical style of Sauvignon from Marlborough, you may find the steelier versions from Loire or Austria's Styria not to your liking.

I tend to think of typicity as more of an Old World concept than a New World one; the idea that a wine from a certain place should display certain characteristics is central to the concept of terroir and (in very broad terms) terroir vs varietalism is what separates the Old World from the New.

The question, then, is how one defines the Old World and the New - by geographic location or wine-making style.

Whilst one may legitimately have expectations of what a Barossa Shiraz or Otago Pinot Noir should be like, wine traditions do remain more deeply set in Europe's classic regions: 30 years ago, there was no benchmark for Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc; 20 years ago, Chile was only just discovering that it had plantings of Carmenere.

So, on opening an Haut-Medoc Cru Bourgois 2009 at the weekend, I had a set of expectations about what it would be like - from the left bank in Bordeaux, Cab-dominated, there should be bramble-blackcurrant fruit, pencil savings, maybe some cigar box, good acidity and mouthfilling tannins.

What I got was rather unexpected, albeit not unpleasant - the fruit is darker, more elderberry, it is riper and there is a distinct spiciness.

The rest of the wine is good and well-made - acidity, tannins, length, balance and so-on all fine; the ripeness is held in check, so this is not simply an over-cooked version.

Rather, it is a wine from one region consciously made in an atypical style; it reminded me more of a Rhone with lots of southern warmth, dark fruit and spiciness.

I initially wondered whether there might be a higher-than-usual proportion of Petit Verdot in the blend to account for this, but Jane Anson very kindly noted the grapes are limited to Cabs Franc and Sauv plus Merlot, explaining the Rhone-esque character comes from late harvesting, long maceration and some new oak.

The ever-concise Mrs CWB agreed with my assessment, noting "It doesn't taste like usual Bordeaux".

So, I find it a slightly strange experience - I like this wine as a Rhone; I'm just less convinced by it as a Bordeaux.

Whether that matters at all is of course entirely subjective and something of a moot point.

This wine was given to me as a gift, but a little Internet research shows it is available from Tesco online for £99 per case (£16.50 per bottle) here.

The 2008 is available from Jascots at £20.45 per bottle - here

With thanks to Elizabeth Kelly, Kat Wiggins, Lenka Sedlackova and Brent Bracamontes for joining in a twitter discussion on this subject.

Footnote: as often happens, I decide keep a bit back to see how it develops. After a couple of days the character becomes more Bordelais, the tannins and acidity now more prominent than the ripe primary fruit. I find I prefer this.
Other related articles

Chateau Clement Pichon - website
Jane Anson on twitter

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