Wednesday, 13 September 2017

St-Peray - what's that?

The southernmost appellation of the northern Rhone is not a name that many wine enthusiasts know or a wine that is commonly seen on the shelves. There are some decent sparklers bubbling out, and have been since the 1820s, but now the still whites are making a name for themselves in this tiny appellation - different sizes abound on this font of all knowledge, the internet, but it seems that it is between 55 and 90 hectares (by way of contrast, Chateau Lafite claims 112 hectares).

Earlier this year, I visited Pierre Gaillard, one of the northern Rhone's great risk-takers, who was clearly very pleased with his St-Peray (indeed, he has reason to be pleased with the whole range but the St-Peray seemed to be one he was especially proud of) and it was easy to see why. It is a wine grown just south of Cornas on clay and chalk, giving acidity and tension to the wine. The Marsanne/Roussanne blend give the wine delicate floral characters, complexity and balance.

Yesterday, I was flicking through the September issue of Decanter when I spotted an 'Expert's Choice' review of wines from St-Peray. Matt Walls is quite a good reviewer, of Rhone wines anyway, so it was pleasing to see that he awarded 93 points to Gaillard's St-Peray, one of the highest scoring and, certainly, the cheapest in the line-up.

'Majority Marsanne. Bay leaf and pine needles on the nose, almost peppery - very lively and inviting aromatics. A squeeze of citrus over the rich apricot fruit; very long and perfectly balanced. Good tension in the wine; this is very well done.' (Matt Walls, Decanter 09/17)

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

New arrivals tasted and a scientific experiment

It's been a while since my last post as the arrival of the British summer saw me de-camp to the continent for several weeks where wines were enjoyed but rarely intellectualised. I found that I still don't get on with Loire reds but I did find a Beaujolais I really liked, albeit one given a traditional, whole cluster fermentation followed by ageing in barriques (so, nothing like BoJo). Other wines came and went: a Ruche impressed me at lunch in Alba but, generally, I drank either wines which I import or, otherwise, wines of little consequence. Summer wines.

Arriving back in the UK, it was time to start the post-arrival tastings of 2015s that have been sitting quietly in the warehouse since late June. Several wines from the northern Rhone's Pierre Gaillard and Domaine Ste-Anne  in the south have been opened in the last week and, youthfulness aside, all have impressed greatly. From the latter estate, the St-Gervais 'Les Rouvieres' is surprisingly approachable although, clearly, it has much more to give. The Cotes du Rhone Blanc is a cracker too (as are the others, of course, but this bottling flies so far under the radar it is worth mentioning it!).

Gaillard's Cornas is so good I may have to withdraw the remaining bottles from sale. The same applies to his 'Asiaticus' from the Seyssuel vineyards just up from Cote Rotie. I love his whites too which are more ready to drink now. I have shied away from opening a Cote Rotie at this stage as, given the prices of these wines, it would be sacrilege but the two StJo's have given good insight with 'Les Pierres' more striking now than six months ago when I last tasted it.

Now onto my experiment. I was sent a can of argon to product test. It's an inert gas which is being used for wine preservation and useful if you have an opened bottle which you don't want to deteriorate or, at least, that's the idea. I am going to test it and report back.

My plan is to try it out on three different wines - a Grenache, a Nebbiolo and a white (not sure which) - to get a proper feel for it. Grenache is rather more prone to oxidation than Nebb hence this selection. The wine has to be stored in a cool dark environment (such as a cellar) so the white will be the most problematic if I want to try it chilled, I suppose.

Otherwise, the plan is to open six bottles of each wine (so I won't be testing all three at the same time) and draw a glass from each to check there are no flaws and that they are all the same. Then they will be numbered 1A, 1B, 2A etc with the 'A' bottles being ones that gas is sprayed into and the 'B' bottles being the controls. Bottles 1A and 1B will have a glass a day poured until they are empty at which time bottles 2A and 2B will be compared with the last drops of the first set. These will then be poured, a glass at a time, once a week until they are empty at which time the third set of bottles will be re-examined, approximately a month after they are first opened. If, at that point 3B is still drinkable (it will have had a month of exposure to air), I will probably just be grateful that no wine has gone to waste and enjoy it. I may keep 3A going much longer out of curiosity though. Realistically, I would not expect any preservation system to work for longer than a month although there is no real reason why it shouldn't. It is extremely unlikely that I would keep a bottle open that long, of course. That is why I am doing this in the interests of research!