Thursday, 27 March 2008

AXA Millesimes Tasting

Cambridge University Wine Society
AXA MIllesimes Tasting, 4 March 2008
Robert Gardner Rm, Emmanuel College

A tasting run by the Cambridge University Wine Society (CUWS), led by the Managing Director of the AXA MIllesimes group, Christian Seely. The group itself is owned by the insurance giant AXA, but they do have a significant wine branch, if you will; the MD did say that the insurance group sees it more like investment in property, very much long term and the actual running of the wineries are left to people who love and know their wine. The portfolio of AXA MIllesimes is quite diverse, as evident from the variety of the wines tasted on this occasion. The wines are presented in the order they were served during the tasting, on specific instruction of Mr Seely himself. Here we go.

Mas Belles Eaux Coteaux du Languedoc 2005 B-

A blend of 80% Syrah, 10% Grenache and 10% Mourvedre. There is the hot, burnt clay, alcoholic nose that I normally associate with Languedoc Syrahs. There is a rather large burst of red fruits on the palate, but this quickly disappears. Very drinkable, cheerful style of wine, but nothing much worth remembering.

Mas Belles Eaux St Helene 2005 B

80% Syrah, 10% Grenache and 10% old vine Carignan. This is the reserve wine of Mas Belles, mostly sourced from older vines; it has a similar hot, alcoholic nose due to the large proportion of Syrah, with more spice and pepper on the nose. Its slightly fuller in flavour, more civilised, with some tannins that might allow a few years of aging.

Ch Pibran 2004, Pauillac Cru Bourgeois B

60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot. This Chateau borders illustrious neighbours such as Mouton-Rothschild, Lynch-Bages and Pontet Canet; the wine itself is vinified in Ch Pichon Longueville Baron, another one of AXA's property, and made under the guidance of a Bordeaux big-name Jean-Michel Cazes of Ch Lynch Bages. All of which provde good recipe for success, I must say. Tasting wise, it has a fruity and fresh nose (though not completely opened up yet), not so much of the traditional earthy/musty/rustic Bordeaux nose. What stuck with me is the softness on the palate, though feels rather hollow; the Merlot is really doing the talking right now. The tannins are there, but it doesnt have the structure or body to age long term. Drink now to 5 years.

Ch Pichon-Longueville (Pichon Baron) 2004, Pauillac 2nd growth A-(++)

Probably the flagship of the AXA Millesimes group (with Ch Suduiraut). An underrated vintage I think, somewhat lost after 2003 and forgotten after the hype of 2005. Nice aromatic nose, fruity, with rustic/earthy notes; expressive even at this very young stage, a touch exotic with the spices perhaps? The palate is big, well-rounded and surprisingly smooth; hints of cherry, dark berries and even dark plums. The poised tannins and structured body is still quite lean, almost chewy, very much needs time to soften and open up. The low notes of the wine will develop with time but the wonderful balance can be seen even now. Verdict: impressive and well worthy of classification and dare I say it, price. Will keep for serious lengths of time +10yrs.

Ch Petit Village 2004, Pomerol A-(+)

This one really has an expressive nose, fruity, fresh, and lifted, with hints of woodchips, herbs and smokiness (like that of smoky bacon). It is Merlot dominated (~70%), which gives it a plump and rounded feel on the palate; it is also quite sweet and creamy in a strange way, dont know where that came from to be honest. Style wise, its probably softer and more seductive compared to a traditional Pauillac. The tannins will allow keeping, but I doubt it has the structure for long term cellaring, 5-10yrs.

Quinta do Noval 2004, Douro DOC B+(++)

Quinta do Noval is traditionally a Port house, but this wine is an unfortified, still red which was made in very small quantities (therefore not commercially available) as a fun experiment by the good people at AXA Millesimes. This wine is predominantly (~70%) Touriga National, with other varieties traditionally associated with Port. This wine has a wonderful tannic structure; fruit is still masked, dark berries and almost quite woody. There is an interesting juiciness and shows great potential, but needs lots of time, just like vintage Port, we're talking +10yrs here. Such a shame they dont make this commercially. Comparison and parallels with vintage Port cannot be ignored.

Quinta do Noval Vintage Port 2004 A-(++)

Small quantities made, not a general vintage declaration. Raisin, sultana dominated nose, some alcohol too. There is a strong tannic structure, perhaps with touches of cigars and old leather. The purity of flavour is extraordinary here, they really picked the best grapes to go into this Port; no doubt will age sublimely and will gain complexity. Nothing much to be gained palate wise at this point in time, still way too young for appreciation. Keep 20+ years, 10 yrs just to give it justice.

Ch Suduiraut 2004, Sauternes Premier Cru A(+)

Rapidly considered to be among the top four or five in Sauternes and justifiedly so, I think. This vintage is supposed to be one of the greats for Suduiraut. The nose is nutty, with caramel and some saltiness, like cocktail nuts. The acidity and tang on this wine very much balances and complements the sweetness, which is never cloying; I always think that balance is the thing to strive for in Sauternes; anyone can make sweet wines, but getting the balance right is the difficult bit. The body reminds me of sweet marmalades, citrus fruits, white peach and sweet nectarines, quite exotic actually. There is a layered structure, with waves of flavour lasting quite long. Make no mistake, this is a very good Sauternes which will please now or for the next 20 years. If you are thinking of getting this but cant afford the price tag, the Berry's Own Sauternes sold from Berry Bros & Rudd is made by Suduiraut from the crop that didnt make it into the Grand Vin; I've had it before and it gives a good glimpse of what Suduiraut tastes like at a fraction of the price.

Disznoko Tokaji Aszu 6 Puttonyos 1999, Hungary A(+)

Nose reminds me of the chemistry laboratories, there is the organic chemistry nose, turpentine and organic solvents; smells quite heavy. The palate is really unique to Tokaji, with sweet grapefruits, tart sour apples perhaps. I expect the sugar level in this wine to be well in excess of 100g/l but there is a cutting acidity (lime/citrus) which is counteracted with tartness, again this balance provides a unique freshness to Tokaji and therefore doesnt feel cloying. Balance is supreme, and lingering acidity just holds everything together. This wine will age very well if given the opportunity and will develop further complexity. This represents the pinnacle of winemaking from Disznoko.

Overall report

Very impressed with the AXA Millesimes holding and judging by its MD, it is in very capable hands with the right attitude to winemaking. The notable wines of this tasting were the still Quinta do Noval still red and the Pichon Baron; the Suduiraut is impressive as expected and the Tokaji is a good yardstick to judge other Tokajis by.

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