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Monday, 15 September 2014

Juan Gil 12 Meses 2012

An old-vine Monastrell from Bodegas Juan Gil 12 Meses

Gutsy Spanish red - all baked fruit, oak and alcohol. Not without its attractions and will surely appeal to some, but its overblown, blowsy "look-at-me" style is not for me.

If your idea of foodie heaven is dipping a Flake into hot chocolate, this could be for you.


"Don't fancy yours much."

Image credit: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/3759970.stm

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Jura - A Rough Guide‏

A visit to Chateau-Chalon in Jura
 
Jura is like a staircase, says our hotelier; you have the plain below (and there is a magnificent view of it from our bedroom window) and we are on the first step.
 
We are in Chateau-Chalon, a small, hilltop town about an hour's drive east of Beaune. The drive is completely flat until, for the last few kilometers, there is a steep climb, emerging onto a a rocky precipice. This is Chateau-Chalon and our hotel room looks straight back at the Cote d'Or.
 
The hotelier goes on to say explain that there is a plateau behind us, before the foothills to the Jura mountains, another plateau and then the mountains themselves which lead up to the Swiss border.
 
After a brief stop-off in Chateau-Chalon, we will make this journey before dropping down to Lake Geneva and onwards.
 
Geographically located between Alsace and Burgundy, Jura shares a family resemblance to both places but also has its own personality.
 
Where Alsace's wine route is a pretty Franco-Germanic Disneyland full of timbered houses with flowery hanging baskets and Beaune the aristocratic capital of an ancient duchy, Jura feels rural and unspoilt.
That means, in part, that its charms are less immediately obvious to the outsider - as true of its wines as of its geography.
 
Arriving in Chateau-Chalon, we find a few tourists milling around the town, but not the hoards of coach-trips of Alsace or the plentiful oenophiles who descend on Burgundy's slopes and cities.
 
Instead, there is a quieter feel - and almost no English is spoken. There is a church and an abbey, view-points and caveaux with degustations, but it is not as prominent or well-developed as in neighbouring wine regions.
A visit to nearby Arbois confirms the same pattern - there are some things here for the sightseer, but in general Jura feels more like a place to enjoy living and being in than one that wears its tourist attractions on its sleeve.
 
It is quiet and pastoral rather than bustling and touristy.
We stay at the Relais des Abbesses, a hotel in the centre of the town. It is small, informal and welcoming; our evening meal takes the format of a dinner party - a long table and plates of communal food served by our host Andre along with conversation.
 
For a very modest €25, we get a starter, main, cheese, dessert and coffee plus regularly filled jugs of wine.
 
The highlight of the meal is the main course - pork medallions in a cream and wild mushroom sauce - but the choice of cheeses - Morbier, Comte and Chaorce - is a close second.
 
The following day, we walk around Chateau-Chalon then taste and buy some wine from Jean-Claude Credoz.
His reds, a Poulsard and a Trousseau, are light, cherry-fruited and clean - textbook entry-level Jura reds.
 
Of the whites, the old-vine Chardonnay has a dense texture and the Savagnin has a classic Jura cidery sharpness; the vin jaune in a 62cl clavelin is the most impressive of all - nutty, textured and evolved.
Jura wines are not cheap - entry-level prices are a few euros more than is the case in much of the rest of France; the best value, to my mind, is in the upper-end whites which offer unusual, if not unique, flavours and textures.
 
Other related articles

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Pure Chablis - The Overview‏

Impressions of Chablis from a vineyard tour organised by BIVB with Eric Szabowski
 
Chablis is all about focus - one grape, one colour, one appellation, one ideal aspect and exposure, one soil type.
 
The wines themselves are also characterised by a nervy, cool-climate focus and precision.

As with so many historic wine regions, it is really only on a visit there that one starts to understand the nuances and variations of geography, geology and terrain that result in differences in the finished wines.

Chablis is a pretty little historic market town with a feel that is part northern French, part central European; there are handsome farmhouses, shuttered windows and perpendicular architectural lines.

But there are also Germanic timber beams, hanging baskets and a pretty riverside area that would not be out of place in Strasbourg or Colmar; the existence of a small synagogue provides further evidence of links to a more central European past.

Chablis is then, like so many places on the great European landmass, subject to many influences - part of Burgundy and growing the Burgundian grape (known here as Beaunois - the grape from Beaune), the cuisine is also clearly Burgundian.

Yet it is closer to Champagne than to Dijon, has stronger historic and oenological links with Champagne and has Champagne's challenge of ripening grapes in a cold, northerly climate.

Heretical as it may be, it may even make sense to think of Chablis as more of a southerly outpost of Champagne, making still whites, than the northern tip of Burgundy.

In any case, vines, viticulture and winemaking knowhow were first brought here by Cluniac monks from the Maconnais - in the ancient order, nobles dealt with territorial matters, the peasantry worked the land and the monasteries were bastions of knowledge, both sacred and temporal.

***

The town of Chablis sits on a river, the Serein, which flows north and brings damp, chilly air to the valley floor. For this reason, vines are only planted on the hillsides of this small town and of 20 surrounding villages.

Only hillsides with a southerly aspect get enough sun to ripen grapes fully - the best, a group of seven, face due south with just the right angle of incline, undulation and shelter to produce grapes for the top wines - these are the Grand Cru vineyards and produce the most concentrated and complex Chablis with significant aging potential.

Lesser vineyards have only a partly south-facing aspect, less shelter or a slightly different soil composition, meaning the wines they produce are not quite as intense, concentrated or powerful as the Grands Crus; these are the Premiers Crus and AOC Chablis.

To be classed as Chablis, the grapes must be grown on a soil type known as kimmeridgian - once a shallow, prehistoric sea-bed, kimmeridgian soil is an undulating mix of clay and fossil limestone extending in a subterranean arc all the way to Kimmeridge in Dorset.

Atop the hills around Chablis, the soil abruptly changes to a harder, solid limestone known as Portlandian. The vines up here are exposed less directly to the sun and, less well-nourished by the mineral soil, produce Petit Chablis, a "young' or "junior" Chablis.

Petit Chablis shares its name and key characteristics with Chablis proper and is an easy entry level to the world of Chablis.

***

Making Chablis - whether petit or Grand Cru - is little short of a triumph over nature. Late frosts are the most common problem and the locals have evolved two ingenious solutions.

The first involves burning petrol at around 4am, the most frost-prone time of night, to create a small cloud of cover for the vines which burns off quickly once the sun arrives.

The second, less pollutive, is to spray the vines with water which forms a layer of frozen protection on the outside but remains liquid inside.

Fast forward to late summer and the greatest risk becomes rain which brings the right conditions for mildew and oidium. At this point, all the vignerons can do is hope and wait.

In such a demanding climate, vines do not achieve the longevity that is possible further south; in any case, the economic climate prohibits the aging of vines to the point where they produce just a handful of grapes each.

Expensive to produce, at its best Chablis is one of the world's great wines, but not (yet) adequately recognised as such. This means that the greatest value is to be found at the upper end rather than the lower.

A bottle of inexpensive Petit Chablis serves as a good introduction to the region and hints at what the Premiers Crus and Grand Crus have to offer. Light, greenish and sharp, it makes a good aperitif.

The best Grand Cru Chablis, aged to golden maturity over five to ten years, tastes strong and important, hard but not harsh, complex and assured.

Other related articles
Pure Chablis - The Tour

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Dinner with Francisco Baettig, Vina Errazuriz

Tasting and Dinner with Francisco Baettig, Vina Errazuriz
 
Chile is the Guns 'n' Roses of wine - too much talent squandered.
 
Whether Chile has it just too easy or is overly in thrall to the bigger-is-better tastes of its northern export neighbour, this country with so much potential seems to make liking its wines so difficult at times.
 
I first got excited about Chile's potential, then rather bored and eventually stopped calling.
 
So I was intrigued at the opportunity to meet Francisco Baettig, oenologist at Errazuriz, over dinner to find out where the country is at these days.
Francisco started by talking about Chile's geography - a long, thin country with mountains and cooling sea breezes. I knew all of this already.
 
It was when he moved on to the Vision Thing that I got interested: hot years being a problem, not a blessing; lower alcohol levels; a more-European style of food wines; old oak. Now he had my attention.
 
I have heard this only from a small number of vanguard, European-focused winemakers in Chile. I mentioned a few names and it turned out that Francisco knows them and shares a common vision.
 
We started with a 2014 Sauvignon Blanc - with just a month's bottle age, it felt taut, linear, precise and cool climate. More expressive and pungent than a Sancerre (especially with some aeration and warmth), but with the same underlying minerally steeliness.
 
A 2013 Chardonnay with 12m in old oak was equally well-defined with florality, buttery sweetness and fresh citrus.
 
The most interesting white and my top wine of the night was a 2011 Rhone blend of Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier.
 
A unique blend to Chile, it was floral with sweet spice, waxy-yet-fresh and densely concentrated. Initially, the oakiness on the nose dominates, but with aeration it becomes more nuanced and interesting.
 
One does not especially associate Chile with wines for laying down, but these whites all showed that they will improve with age.
 
On to the reds and the Pinot Noir was full of sweet, ripe cherry fruit with freshness and perfectly ripe tannins, just a hint of Burgundian farmyard.
 
The Syrah had a family resemblance, with ripe dark fruits, spiciness, freshness and rounded, ripe tannins.
 
Both wines were technically very correct, but not quite spot on - I had a nagging sense that something was not quite right.
 
Eventually I realised; it was a muscular assertiveness - more tannic backbone underpinning the fleshy ripeness. These wines had all the curves but just not quite enough of the frame.
 
The final flight of reds was four vintages of Don Maximiano, the flagship wine.
 
The oldest, 2007, now showing some aged character, is big and alcoholic with grippy tannins.
 
The 2008 is sweet, ripe and fruity, but still primary and quite warming.
 
The 2010 has more vanilla sweetness.
 
But the 2011 was a revelation - savoury, mineral, long and concentrated. It was both smart and sexy.
 
***
 
All the wines on the evening had a distinct personality - some were lean and angular, others big and blowsy; a couple were just the right combination of intriguing and beautiful.
 
It was like I'd had dinner with Keira Knightly, Helena Bonham Carter, Vanessa Feltz, a drag queen trio and Emily Maitlis.
 
In reality, as I headed off down the restaurant, there was Dawn French having a tete-a-tete dinner with someone - but I didn't have the courage to wink at her or ask for a selfie.
 
In any case, my favourites were the Rhône blend and the 2011 Don Maximiano.
 
Other related articles

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Miss Vicky Wine - Clairet, 2013

Miss Vicky Wine Chateau Ballan-Larquette Bordeaux Clairet from Smiling Grape

Clairet is a dark rosé style of wine originating in Bordeaux; it is the source of the word "claret", albeit that now refers to red, rather than rosé, Bordeaux.

This Chateau Ballan-Larquette Clairet from Miss Vicky Wine, stocked by Smiling Grape, was selected by a jury of 15 bloggers from France.

Dark rosé coloured, it is all about fruit and acidity, with lots of ripe, juicy red berries, freshness and a hint of minerality.

Pleasant in a fruity sort-of-way, there is nothing to offend, nothing challenging or complex; it's the sort of unassuming wine serve to guests on arrival or have with casual friends.

Serve as an aperitif, with salmon starters or as a picnic wine.

Provided for review.

Other related articles
Mateus Expressions 2013
Two Sophisticated Summer Rosés

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Les Pionniers 2004‏ At A Decade

The Co-op's Les Pionniers 2004 Champagne

Now at a decade of age, this Co-op vintage fizz is only just starting to feel mature - I first reviewed it in 2013 and felt it would continue to improve with age.

A year on, it has developed noticeably and just been awarded awarded three “World Champion” titles at the Champagne & Sparkling Wine World Championships 2014*.

Made in partnership with Piper and Charles Heidseick, it is a blend of 39% Chardonnay, 46% Pinot Noir and 15% Pinot Meunier.

Golden sandy yellow, it is complex, precise and assured, with orchard fruits and hints of redcurrant, musky melonskin, yeasty-biscuitiness and a fine mousse; taut citrus acidity, some aged, nutty character and a persistent minerality.

Very Good.

Crisp enough for an aperitif, but will match well with seafood starters and roast guineafowl.

The Co-operative Les Pionniers Champagne 2004, £24.99; provided for review.

Other related articles
Les Pionniers 2004‏ Champagne - The Co-operative
Les Pionniers Champagne NV - The Co-op‏

*Its awards are:
- “World Champion Supermarket Vintage Champagne”
- “World Champion Greatest Value Champagne”
- “World Champion Vintage Brut Blend”.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Hunter Valley's Tyrrell - Just Fine‏

Dinner with Bruce Tyrrell of Tyrrell's Wines at Hakkasan
 
The future of Australian wine is to get fine or get big, says Bruce Tyrrell to me.
 
We are having dinner at Hakkasan, the upmarket Asian restaurant in Mayfair, with a selection of Bruce's wines. He is the 4th generation of the Tyrrell family to make wine and something of a hero of Australia's Hunter Valley.
 
Bruce dates the big push into vineyard plantings as the late 1960s - a combination of fashion, tax breaks and a stock market gold rush led to a sudden increase in the number of wineries.
 
Fast forward forty-odd years and the market is in quite a different place. Bruce believes that decade from now, Australia will no longer be an easy place for suppliers of mid-market cheerful quaffers.
 
At the bottom end, there will be industry consolidation into a small number of commodity beverage producers - at the top end, it will be all about fine wine.
 
The country that gave us varietalism, it seems, will fully embrace terroir.
 
Eighty miles north of Sydney, Hunter Valley is Australia's oldest winemaking region - some of Bruce's vines, on ungrafted rootstocks, are over a century old - and is the spiritual, if not original, home of Semillon.
Hunter Valley Semillon comes in two guises - the old way was to age it in oak but these days it's all about unoaked freshness.
 
Snappy and fresh in its youth, Semillon ages to a complex, lanolin waxiness with time. Hunter Valley Semillons are also surprisingly light, just 10%.
 
If there's nothing else quite like them in the world, they are perhaps best described as resembling distant cousins of Vinho Verde and Mosel Riesling.
Zippy enough for an aperitif, they also stand up to the strong flavours of the Pacific Rim food of Hakkasan.
 
We choose a mixture of meat and fish and tuck in.
 
The entry-level wines are fresh and precise with zesty grapefruit; in better years they feel more generous yet still taut, whilst the top wines add an assured, complex, flintsmoke-mineral texture.
For the heavier sauces, Bruce serves some of his reds - the Shirazes have a poise, freshness and precision that is more northern Rhône than new world with redcurrants, sour cherries and spicy black pepper amongst the ripe dark berries.
 
If the prices are also rather Rhône-esque, that only confirms Bruce's view that it's all about getting fine.
 
The wines
Lost Block Hunter Semillon 2013 - £14.49
HVD Semillon 2007 - £28.99
Vat 1 Semillon 2008 - £35.99
Johnno's Hand Pressed Semillon 2011 - £62.99
 
Lost Block Heathcote Shiraz 2011 - £14.49
Four Acres Shiraz 2009 - £62.99
 
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