Earlier this year I posted my tasting notes from a week spent in Cahors, including a blind tasting of over 100 Cahors wines arranged by the association of wine growers in the region. One of the wines I tasted was the top wine from the respected Château Haut Monplaisir. Whilst I really enjoyed a couple of Haut Monplaisir’s wines, my plaisir in this one was dented by a Brettanomyces character that I found in the wine.
Brettanomyces, or Brett as it’s commonly known, is a spoilage yeast that can live in wineries and affect wines being made there, giving them a character variously described as “mousey,” or “horsey,” at its most extreme, and tending to dry the palate so the wine finishes rather short. I published this tasting note on the Haut Monplaisir ‘Pur Plaisir’ 2009: “Dry, Bretty edge to the nose, with the palate also showing that shortening effect of the Brett, but it has good fruit beneath. There’s a juiciness here and a pleasing overall character, but it could have been so much better. 85-86/100.”
A couple of days later James Bercovici, owner of the Big Red Wine Company who sell the wine in the UK, contacted me, saying “I have had this on several occasions with no hint of brett at all and the rest of your description doesn’t tally at all with my experience.” I consulted with my colleague Joanna Simon, who also attended the tasting in France, and her note read: “Deep purple but thinnish rim. Leathery nose and palate with quite a lot of oak which has smoothed out the entry and mid palate, but very dry finish. Touch of Brett which is just too much. Very dry finish. Brett spoiling a good wine? 81/100.”
James asked if he could send me a bottle to try again at home, on the assumption that the one Joanna and I had tasted in France was not a typical example. I agreed to re-taste the wine, and as James also included a Barbaresco from Italian producer Nada that has been much praised by members of the wine-pages forum, I have included my tasting note for it too. Both wines are available from bigredwine.co.uk.
Château Haut Monplaisir, Cahors ‘Pur Plaisir’ 2009, France
Made from a selection of the best parcels of vineyard, all more than 30 years old and harvested with a very low yield. The wine is aged for 22 months in all-new French oak barrels. It is interesting approaching this wine knowing that I was looking for the Brett component, and I did find it – though nowhere near as pronounced as in my French tasting. There’s just a touch of that elastoplast (band-aid) character in the background, a character that moves between cedary and savoury to lightly animal, but difficult to pin down. One thing is certain, the robust black fruit and sense of graphite is allowed to show more clearly. In the mouth this has the same delicious, juicy and sweet blackberry and plum fruit that I found first time round, with a stripe of liquorice and chicory firmness to the spicy, grippy tannins. It is just a touch short, the 15% alcohol also adding a bit of heat, but it has lots of substance and style. Overall, I still think this is an imperfect wine. Returning to it again and again in the glass over an hour my opinion flitted between definite Brett and something wild, tarry and gamey that was less easy to pinpoint. My final conclusion is that Brett is there, but for whatever reason it is not nearly so pronounced as the first bottle (maybe the bottle had been open much longer, or the wine came from a different barrel?). I enjoyed this much more and would score it 89/100. £20.00, The Big Red Wine Company.
Giuseppe Nada, Barbaresco Riserva 2007, Italy
This 100% Nebbiolo from Piedmont comes from a single vineyard called ‘Casot’, but according to James “an administrative oversight means this wine is not allowed to put (it) on the label.” It was aged two years in large, old casks. This has a lovely nose, the tar and roses of maturing Nebbiolo is there, with a crisp-edged, juiciness to the red and black fruit, a touch of something charcoally, and a layer of toast and charriness beneath. On the palate this has beautiful sweetness of fruit, a savoury black olive twist counteracting the berry fruits. It is supple and lithe, the tannins grippy but fine, and the overall sense of freshness and balance is delightful. No shortage of stuffing to age a while yet, but approachably fruit and elegant now. 91/100. £21.00, The Big Red Wine Company.