Perhaps we're all biased, but the wine drinker's year seems one of unrivalled sensual excitement: we can relish the scents of distant places, and taste time itself via a seasonal weather pattern, on a near-nightly basis. No other drink will take you as far into the arms of earth and sky. I tracked some of those highlights from the first six months of 2012 last week. What did the second half of the year bring?
Pic St Loup viewed from a glider, Mas Morties to right
It began with an almost life-changing visit to Piedmont, one of the wine world’s evolutionary hotspots. Indigenous grape varieties come cascading out of the hills there in startling profusion, and the Italian genius for respecting nature’s gifts without feeling the need to deform or deface them means that every variety’s personality can emerge intact in the wines made from it. The most obscure varieties proved hardest to forget. Grignolino rewrites the script for rosé wine, with its crushed cherrystone scents and acerbic, tannin-dredged flavours: La Casaccia’s 2010 Poggeto version would be perfect with a slice or two of wild boar prosciutto. Wines made from the Ruchè grape are as compelling in their singularity: Bersano’s 2011 San Pietro version from the Castagnole Monferrato DOCG is exemplary, with its mixture of musk rose and violet scents and twiggy, forest-floor flavours in which berries bob about with black tea. The white variety Nascetta, now it’s been tugged back from evolutionary oblivion, needs enthusiastic planting, too: Rivetto’s 2010 Matiré (technically a Langhe Bianco) dazzled with its summer-hillside scents and doughy, amply contoured palate.
The second half of the year also gave me the chance to taste and drink finer burgundies than anyone on my income has a right to. A taste of the 2005 La Tâche at DRC would be a pinnacle of anyone’s tasting year, and I can still recall the incense ruffling its glowing red fruits, and feel that velvety width and texture. I thought (2005 and all that) it might still be forbidding, but no: there it was, arms outstretched, dressed like a sultan, beckoning the drinker inwards. DRC’s 2009 Corton was a spicier, more graceful, less oriental burgundy, tenderly ripe yet precise and fresh; while the 2007 Bâtard-Montrachet (never sold, but shown to and shared with visitors) was open, gentle, mellow and smiling: a dry wine beginning to think about becoming a dessert wine. Not much spitting went on.
Just how much better the Hospices de Beaune wines are than they used to be was proved with another Bâtard the previous night, at the Hospices Dîner aux Chandelles in the Hôtel Dieu: this was the 2009 Cuvée Dame de Flandres. Only three years old, the headspace in my glass was quickly thick with honeysuckle and pollen. After scents like that, you just have to drink, and the wine was as luscious, rich, succulent and juicy as I’d hoped. Other great burgundies I was fortunate enough to sample during those dark and foggy days included Dujac’s 2009 Clos de la Roche (clear, light, a waterfall of scent and flavour, tannin-firmed and fresh-fruited, yet with the incipient sweetness of the vintage deliciously evident, too); Château de la Tour’s 2009 Clos Vougeot (warm black fruits, mouth-coating textures, comfy as you like); and a magnum of Jadot’s 2009 Moulin-à-Vent from Ch des Jacques (poised plums given a mineral dignity, swelling to a crescendo by glass three, or was it four?).
Then there’s home. A couple of Sundays ago, I drove the family out beyond St Jean de Cuculles (a village almost as pretty as its name). We stopped to walk in the cold, light-flooded garrigue so the children could run and shout and look for fossil fragments, and so I could pick wild thyme and rosemary to post to friends at Christmas. Then it was on another half-kilometre to lonely Mas Mortiès, tucked under Pic St Loup in one of the zone’s warmest and best endowed sites, where the limestones mingle with strange black marls. The classic cuvée has become one of my two ‘house wines’, and the 2010 is proving still more gorgeous than the 2009. It’s rich, thick-textured and exotic, yet sappy and lively, too: pounded blackberries, seemingly perfumed and sweetened with the thyme we’d just tugged in handfuls from the stony earth. I also bought the white (2011) for the first time — a pure, poised yet voluptuous blend of Vermentino, Viognier and Roussanne. With genes like that, small wonder that it smells like nougat in a glass. (Strange that these great terroir wines aren’t imported to the UK.)
The sun was setting as we left, gilding the crags in the great limestone amphitheatre behind the winery. Suddenly, I heard strange bird cries from those same crags, and strained my eyes to see what could be making them. The garrigue is beautiful but tough and nutritionally sparse, with none of the profuse bird life I had grown up with in northern broad-leaf forests, so these unusual calls got me deeply excited. I hushed everyone impatiently as I scoured the heights.
They began laughing. We’d given the boys my wife’s iPhone to play with in the winery, and I’d zipped it in my pocket as we left. I was, it turned out, looking for Angry Birds roosting on Pic St Loup. Happy New Year.
Written by Andrew Jefford