Tasting of (very) small bottles and the difficulties of collective communication on wine

There are two slightly overlaping subjects in my article for today, as you will discover, and there will be a big like and a big dislike as well, for good measure.

Initially I was going to write solely about a series of wines from the Loire appellation of Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil, until another topic caught my eye in a promotional magazine for the wines of Alsace that arrived yesterday. There is of course something serendipidous in the link between these two apparently different subjects, as we will discover, since both have to do with the difficulties facing those who have to communicate on an appellation or an origin/type of wine as a whole, rather than on a single wine or producer.

Here is a line-up of the 18 different reds with one of the boxes in which these miniatures are sent. Looks neat, but in practice……

A few weeks ago I received four little boxes (see photo with the bottles) each containing six miniature bottles made of plastic and with different wines from the red (and rosé) Loire appellation of Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil which lies between Tours and Angers. This is not the first time that I have received such samples in this form from them, and I may have mentioned this before, but small plastic bottles are not, in my opinion, the ideal containers for sampling a wine. The quantity (less than 2 cl) in each bottle is enough for a tasting by one person, but very tight if you want to share with a colleague. Secondly, it is impossible to go back to a wine after a while for a second taste. Thirdly, I am unsure whether this container really shows a wine to its best advantage. Finally, six of the samples were rosés and were presented in transparent versions of these plastic miniatures. These were all altered for the worse by the effect of light, despite having been left in their cardboard casings, and were thus virtually undrinkable.

How to ruin a wine in one easy step? Stick it in a transparent bottle, the smaller the better! Works best with white or pink wines.

The 6 Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil rosés

All of these wines were affected by damage from light getting to them. Some of them smelled of something close to acetone and so a bit weird, while others were just unpleasant or horrible. The darkest one (on the right in the photo) was the least bad. I had kept the box closed until the moment I tasted them, but the white cardboard box was clearly inadequete to protect them. I cannot believe that this way of sending samples renders any service to the producer, or indeed to the appellation!

As this map shows, Bourgueil and Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil occupy identical situations on the north (right) bank of the Loire, just separated by a small affluent. They should really form a single appellation, the origin of the separation being some political/religious disagreement in the distant past. In both cases, the vineyards near the river are on sand and gravel alluvions, whereas those further away up the hill are on a limestone base, locally called tuffeau.

The 18 red Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil

No such light-induced problem here as red wines have some built-in protection against light from their colouring and in any case use dark bottles (even in the case of these miniatures), as all wines should. Each box had a theme to it, supposedly linked to the nature of the vineyard and its situation, and/or the way the wine was made. The bottles being very small, my tasting notes will be accordingly brief!

1). « Sables et Graviers » series: the soils of these wines are mainly sand and gravel, and so from the lower part of this appellation on the right bank of the river Loire.

Vignoble de la Chevalerie, cuvée Tradition 2017. Firm and surprisingly structured. Maybe not fully ripe. I noticed the alcohol too.

Domaine de la Chopinière du Roy, Ludovic 2017. Nice simple juicy fruit, supple and pleasant, as one would expect from this style.

Domaine Lamoureux 2017. Vegetal and rather rustic.

Domaine Jérome Delanoue 2017. Pronounced aromas reminiscent of violets. Deliciously fruity and with decent length.

Domaine de la Noue, Graviers 2017. Slightly vegetal, yet quite supple and easy-drinking.

Domaine Christian Pantaléon 2016. Simple, acidulous, and with a harsh texture.

2). Series « La Gourmandise à l’état pur »: meaning « simply tasty »? I suppose they just didn’t quite know where to place these wines. They were mostly very young, from 2018, and two carried no vintage. 3 out of 4 had serious defects and I suspect are trying to be « natural » (ie they were not clean at all and probably lacked sulfites and/or sterile filtration). I cannot understand who can appreciate wines that smell of manure or mice to various degrees.

Domaine Guy and Lysiane Mabileau, La Belle du Domaine 2018. This just stank of bretts. Undrinkable!

Domaine de la Cotelleraie, Le Pigeur Fou. Same comment as for the previous wine.

Domaine Olivier 2018. Good ripe fruit, nicely rounded over a light structure. One of the best of the bunch.

Les Vins d’Azel. Supple, some fruit, quite pleasant.

Domaine de la Rodaie, Elégance 2018. Totally oxydised.

Domaine Jérome Delanoue 2018. Supple with its ripe fruit. Not bad at all.

3). Series « Le Tuffeau », power and finesse: tuffeau is the limestone sub-soil type to be found on the slope above the river, at the highest part of the appellation. Understandably these wines come from older vintage as they need more time to develop and have often been aged in barrels.

Le Vau Renou (Agnès et Xavier Amirault) 2014. Not very aromatic, supple but with a greenish finish.

Domaine de la Cotelleraie, l’Envolée 2015. I have bought this wine in the past. Rich and complex, with good quality substance. Seems to have a slightly volatile or has not too clean edge to it though. Pity, almost very good.

Domaine David et Nathalie Drusse, vielles vignes 2015. Lively with its red fruit aromas. A bit vegetal in a classic (old-school?) vein for the region.

Cave Bruneau-Dupuy, l’Eclosion 2016. Nicely ripe fruit, good length and vibrant texture with a lift to the finish. Good wine.

Domaine Taluau Folzenlogel, vieilles vignes 2016. Good in a fairly classic/traditional style with lightish tannins.

Domaine Olivier, Monts des Olivier 2016. A bit herbaceous, quite lively and simple in its structure. I preferred their wine in the previous series.

So what conclusions? 

I am not convinced that these small plastic bottles are a good idea for promoting an appellation. The series was not impressive as a whole, and I am fairly sure that some of these wines would show better in other containers (glass, and maybe a bit larger). Of course one can understand the economics: smaller volumes and much lighter and cheaper to ship. But is this rendering a service to the reputation of the appellation as a whole, and to the producers concerned? I would say not.

My second subject concerns Alsace

Amongst recent unsollicitated samples received was a magnificent Riesling from Alsace and a producer whose winery is within the city of Colmar: Schoffit. I have tasted their wines on various occasions in the past and alway liked them, but this one was very special. It was a fully dry riesling from the Grand Cru Rangen. It has depth, power and finesse, with a lovely texture, beautifully integrated acidity and none of that horrible petrol-like aroma which also tends to produce an agressively grassy texture on the palate. A beautiful wine that reinforces my love of riesling and my admiration for this producer’s skill. Given that it is excessive heat that seems to be largely responsible for the petrol-type aromas in riesling, and that the Rangen plot has to be the steepest and hottest in Alsace, I think that this achievement is all the more remarkable!

This weekend I received the lasted edition of Alsace’s collective promotional magazine called « Le Mag ». It has and elegant maquette and is quite informative, but my attention was drawn in particular to the last page which contains a profile of the Grand Cru Rangen vineyard plot. Given my recent and enthusiastic tasting of a wine from this plot (see above paragraph), I read it. I learnt, for instance, that its 22 or so hectares are planted with 57% Pinot Gris, 32% Riesling, 10% Gewurztraminer and just 1% Muscat, that it faces south and is very steep (that I knew as I have been there and walked on it: clambered would be more appropriate!). Its altitudes run from 320 to 450 meters and the soils are volcanic and sedimentary.

What did surprise me was the attempt in this article to give a general flavour profile description of the wines. How can one do that with four quite different grapes being grown there? The article said, for example, that the wines have a smoky or peaty character, with intense aromas of flintstone and mineral acidity. The authors could perhaps explain to me how this applies to either Pinot Gris or Gewurztraminer, which together account for 67% of plantings on Rangen. As to the lovely Riesling that I tasted above, it was neither flinty nor (thankfully) « mineral », whatever that may mean. It was subtly fruity, somewhat floral and with fine-tuned acidity as well as all the rest. But I am sure that another producer with the same grape would produce a different style. In other words, collective descriptions of styles make little or no sense and particularly when they involve different grape varieties. No point and misleading.

David Cobbold



4 réflexions sur “Tasting of (very) small bottles and the difficulties of collective communication on wine

  1. David Cobbold

    Merci Marc André, et bravo aussi à vous pour votre article sur le « goût de souris ». Avec votre permission, je vais le citer dans une future émission de radio (In Vino, deux fois par semaine sur Sud Radio en France) à laquelle je participe depuis 15 ans..

    Aimé par 1 personne

  2. Paul L'Huillier

    Great article. However, Marcel Deiss would not agree to your statement « How can one do that with four quite different grapes being grown there? » as it seems to be precisely his own theory that under certain circumstances of viticulture and vinification, « c’est le lieu qui donne le gout du vin, pas la variété de raisin ». He even claims that the Grand Cru Mambourg is closer to Meursault that some nearer Alsace Grands Crus because of their common characteristics. It is anyways a very complex and interesting debate and many thanks for reopening it!


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