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Jefford on Monday: Tastes from the Torrent

My 24th year as a surrogate drinker is drawing to a close. 2012 has been a torrent of stimulation, some of the highlights of which I'll describe this week and next. Each wine, of course, is a year's work for its creator or creators. I thank them. That sometimes lonely labour, and the strength and courage it implies, is often in my mind as I drink.

Photo: Eric Michel and Lydia Bourguignon

Drinking validates tasting, and my intent was to compile these notes based exclusively on wines which had taken a one-way trip down my throat. It’s hard, though …. There were some exciting bottles that I only got to taste, so I include those on the basis that I would have sent them speedily south had circumstances permitted. (I’m excluding, too, wines which I have written about at length previously.)

My trip to Châteauneuf at the beginning of the year was a memorable one, not least for its terrifying chilliness, as an implacable Mistral thrashed sub-zero vineyards. Paradoxically, it’s impossible not to be impressed by the solar force in many Châteauneufs, but I know from having cellared a few of these that the captured sun can linger and burn the throat a decade later, no matter how many points they were christened with. The Châteauneuf I’ve been dreaming of drinking since February is the 2007 La Nerthe: the wonderful presence and depth of a great site and season, but expressed by Christian Voeux’s team with a suede-glove restraint and refinement which Pierre Lurton at Cheval Blanc wouldn’t be unhappy with. Amongst the whites, Vincent Avril’s 2010 Clos des Papes Blanc recalled a Hokusai print of cherry blossoms: orchard flowers, billowing about a vividly almondy core.

The most impressive Rhône discovery of the year, meanwhile, came at the end of March: Eric Michel’s Cros de la Mûre. I wish I’d bought more of his majestically dense, mossy 2009 Massif d’Uchaux than the three bottles I did, of which only one remains: it’s one of the greatest Côtes du Rhône-Villages I’ve ever tried, and a wine that begs most of a decade in a cellar.

Much later in the year in Lyon, looking down on the Rhône from Les Trois Dômes on top of the Sofitel, I renewed drinking contact with one of my favourite Rhône whites both for value and lusciusness: Bernard Gripa’s St Péray Les Figuiers. In its 2010 guise, this low-acid white is succulent and marrowy — a style of white the Southern Hemisphere should produce in profusion but doesn’t, or at least not yet.

I loved wallowing, for two days in early March, in flesh and fur in Bandol. It’s hard to pick one from at least a dozen great wines, but let me just say that you couldn’t really find a better summary of Mediterranean aromas and flavours than those hidden inside the 2009 Bastide Blanche: pines, citrus groves, olives, thyme, rosemary, stones, all arrayed with impeccable precision and definition by the influential Michel Bronzo. The flavour spectrum of St Estèphe (where I found myself a couple of weeks later) is very different, but there are structural similarities between the wines of these two zones.

A taste of the 2009 and 2010 Montrose, side by side, was revelatory, blowing a fuse in my hitherto carefully calibrated scoreometer: the 2009 mingles bergamot with meat and graphite, and has mouthfilling length and breadth, while the 2010 smelled still more sublime (more cedar, more Havana leaf, more thigh) and tastes denser, darker, tauter, deeper and more penetrating. I can’t wait to re-taste these wines, and hope to drink them one day, though both are striding out in seven-league boots.

The greatest mature wine of the year was served to me, with unwarranted kindness, in Australia: the celebrated 1962 Penfolds Bin 60A (alongside Haut-Brion 1986). Mushrooms, incense, leather: classic notes in old red wine, and they were all here. What was so unusual was the volume and activity of the scents, and exuberance and liveliness of the palate: utterly improbable in a 50-year-old wine. Its articulacy made the Haut-Brion seem sombre and quiescent alongside it, though grand.

Of the 20 or 30 outstanding younger wines I tasted in May in Australia, none have continued to haunt me in quite the same way as a handful from the Hunter Valley: McWilliam’s 2005 Lovedale Semillon, all moist dust, powdered stone and parsley, a lacemaker’s wine; the 2006 Brokenwood Graveyard Shiraz, savoury, refined and burgundian in its articulation and inner glow; and the 2011 Harkham Old Vines Shiraz, a more concentrated wine with enchanting purity and freshness of textured fruit.

The meteorological travails of Hunter Valley winemakers must often make them want to give it all up. Please don’t.

Written by Andrew Jefford

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