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Tuesday, 25 June 2019

Rhône Travellers in Languedoc - And Some Thoughts on Extraction

Two Rhône grapes in Languedoc from Badet Clement - Les Jamelles and Abbotts & Delaunay

This is a bit of an about-face for me; I've always been rather meh about Viognier and historically very much liked Les Jamelles' wines with their New World / Burgundian influences.

Now I find myself preferring the northern Rhône white here and have some slight stylistic reservations about the extraction levels of the northern Rhône red (it's a good wine and well-made; it's just that, personally, I would have gone for just a bit less extraction).

Have the wines changed or have I? Perhaps a bit of both.

In search of an answer, I asked an open question on social media about attitudes to acidity vs extraction and got a range of responses:

- the largest group of people preferred fresher, less-extracted wines; these tended to be wine writers

- some people suggested both and that it is mood-dependent; again, these were in the trade

- a lone (non-trade) voice spoke out in favour of big, extracted wines

On this basis, acidity over extraction is a likely innovator / early-adopter indicator; whilst extraction over acidity is probably a late majority / laggards indicator.

Additionally, a lot of people equated high / over-extraction with Big Wines; this is not necessarily the case. A Loire red can be over-extracted just as a 16% Amarone can combine heft with deft if it is all in balance.

An analogy I've used before is that extraction is like the bass drum - you need it to know there's something there, but you also want to mix it up a bit with other elements to create interest.

Final thought: extraction in wine is a little like seasoning in food and what is OK for one or two bottles can become annoying after several. I tried the Syrah after a series of well-extracted Laithwaite's wines, so perhaps I am just in need of an extraction de-tox.

Saturday, 22 June 2019

Joseph Mellot Sancerre le Rebault Rosé

An elegant and adept Loire rosé from Joseph Mellot

When you think of the Loire's Sancerre sub-region, Pinot Noir is not the first thing that springs to mind (it is best known for its flinty Sauvignons). When you think of Pinot Noir, rosé is also not the first thing that springs to mind (it is the great red wine grape of Burgundy, Otago, Oregon and a select few other cool places).

So, what to make of a Sancerre Pinot Noir rosé? A bit like middle class London white boys playing the music of poor black rural Americans, it may sound odd as a concept. But this one is as good Mick & Keef at their finest.

Put another way, if Sancerre is not especially a reference point for you, take this wines as it comes and it is a lovely, elegant, substantial, if pricey, pink.

I could deconstruct the proposition of a Loire rosé at length. But Master of Wine Liz Gabay has done that at length already, so I shan't bother.

Joseph Mellot Sancerre le Rebault Rosé 2017 (£22.85, North and South Wines, The Guildford Wine Company) bright salmon pink, floral with delicate raspberry fruit and spice; toasty, thick-skinned richness with creamy-leesy underpinnings. Tense, poised, succulent and adept. Very elegant.

Good

Match with prawns or salmon dishes, as well as charcuterie and spiced foods.

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Harvey's Bristol Cream - The Co-op

A cream sherry from the Co-op

A bank holiday weekend took us up to my family home; a trip to the shops for a few ingredients revealed a marked-down bottle of sherry at the local Co-op. How could I resist?

Harvey's Bristol Cream is up there with Angel Delight and Old Spice as one of those things I used to think was terribly sophisticated in the '70s and subsequently decided was a bit naff.

I don't think I've had Angel Delight since I was in short trousers or used Old Spice since I clandestinely splashed on a bit of my Dad's before there was even any fuzz on my upper lip.

But sherry is different.

So put on some ABBA, make a Black Forest Gateau and indulge yourself with a deliciously sweet sherry.

Like Dancing Queen or a home-made Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, Harvey's Bristol Cream is complex and sophisticated, but hides it under sweetly crowd-pleasing exterior.

More tea vicar?

Harvey's Bristol Cream (£10 when not marked down, Co-op and widely available) fragrant and yeasty-pungent with roasted nuts and spices, savouriness and a creamy sweetness. Harmonious, mellow, complex and persistent.

The high-yet-shortish sweetness levels feel a bit unnecessary; underneath is a complex wine that can stand on its own merits.

Drink as a digestif or match with sweet rich, desserts such as sticky toffee pudding.

Sunday, 16 June 2019

Hancock & Hancock Rosé

A poised and expressive rosé from Australia's Hancock & Hancock

After a soggy start, there are signs of it actually being a bit summery now; good rosé need not be a purely light, sipping, outdoors affair but a bit of warm sunshine helps.

This is a serious rosé and is priced accordingly; it is made under the auspices of Australia's Robert Oatley whose wines I've always found impressive.

The packaging is distinctive and a screwcap always comes in handy for picnics.

Robert Oatley Hancock & Hancock Grenache Rose 2018 McLaren Vale (£14.95, Cambridge Wine Merchants and other independents) salmon-pink with pithy grapefruit, zippy-zesty thick-skinned yeastiness, raspberry, pomegranate and sour cherry fruit, sweet spices and florality; fresh, elegant and saline-mineral. Textured, poised and expressive.

Good.

Drink as an aperitif (in good weather) or match with grilled chilli prawns, spicy dishes or charcuterie.

Saturday, 15 June 2019

Pillastro Primitivo 2018 - Laithwaites

A heavily-extracted southern Italian red from Laithwaites

Laithwaites is the greasy take-away of wine, the slutty pizza of plonk; heavy-handed, unsubtle and lacking in finesse.

Sometimes, simple-and-uncomplicated is what you want; fish and chips on the beach, Friday night curry, Pret sandwich at your desk.

But - and here's the rub - there's a difference between being uncomplicated and being inelegant. Coco Chanel's LBD is uncomplicated and fabulously elegant. Bernard Manning's comedy act is unsubtle and brash.

Imagine you've made a pot of tea and served everyone; there's now a few teabags sitting at the bottom of the pot in their stewed, dark brown juices and you fancy another cup. You put the kettle on, pour over some boiling water and squeeze the last few drops of flavour out, then add a generous dash of milk hoping for the best.

That's your Laithwaites wine - thick, heavy and extracted all the while claiming to be "sumptuous", "powerful" or "velevety". These are all euphemisms for "unsubtle and extracted".

In the words of Doctor Evil, Laithwaites are not quite elegant enough; they're semi-elegant, quasi-elegant, the margarine of elegance, the diet Coke of elegance, just one calorie, not elegant enough.

Extraction does for a wine what the bass drum does for rock music - it gives you a hit of something substantial that you feel more than hear or taste. But it needs to be used judiciously or it soon becomes dull and repetitive. You need to mix it up a bit with tom-tom, snare and high hat.

And this is where Laithwaites dishonesty annoys me - I've said it before, Laithwaites are a wine seller and not a wine educator, but a more honest description would be "extracted and unsubtle" rather than "sumptuous and velvety".

Granted, they'd probably sell fewer wines and alienate their customers, but hey.

Pillastro Primitivo 2018 (£10.99) dark-berry fruits and sweet spices; heavy on extraction, yet otherwise balanced fresh and long. Becomes tedious after more than a couple of glasses.

It's not faulty or a bad wine; it is popular with Laithwaites customers - the oenological equivalent of a greasy pizza and a best of Bernard Manning DVD.

Thursday, 13 June 2019

Father's Day Cognac from The Co-op

I am your father

- Darth Vader, Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back

Daddy wasn't there

- Ming Tea ft Austin Powers

We all have dads.

Some of us are dads.

This Sunday is Fathers' Day; a day for Dads, a day to think of our Dads and about how much we love them. And maybe even tell them (if we can).

My Dad is generally happy drinking whatever is put in front of him; I can't be with him this Fathers' Day, so I'll toast him with a glass of something suitably Dad-like. And tell my kids some dad-jokes.

Irresistible Cognac (£20, the Co-op) warming, alcoholic and spicy with some nail polish on the nose; smooth and rich, with mixed fruit, baked apple and sweet caramel.

Drink as a digestif; match with espresso and dark chocolate or a raspberry meringue.


Thursday, 30 May 2019

Indigo Wines at Thirsty

A tasting of Indigo Wines at Cambridge's Thirsty & Hungry

He doesn't have spiky hair and studs, but Sam Owens is still something of a punk; the man behind Thirsty and now Thirsty & Hungry (they also serve food), he is energetic, visionary and iconoclastic.

The Thirsty empire is not just about selling drinks, but more a social way of life and bringing people together. The wine list changes regularly and is low on classics or standards; instead there is a real mixture of places, grapes, production methods and packaging.

The consistency of Thirsty is in the quality and the style, a well-made, vibrant freshness; it is a place where you go to explore rather than simply return to the same again.

The latest addition is a range of wines from Indigo, a multi-award-winning importer with a reputation as one of the UK's most interesting independent importers of quirky, artisanal wines. With a particular strength in Iberia, they champion small producers who practise low intervention approaches.
My highlights were:

Dão Branco (Alvaro Castro, Portugal)  bright and fresh Portuguese white made from indigenous varieties with zesty citrus and a  mineral finish

Soplo (Rafael Cambra, Spain) fresh, perfumed Garnacha with touch of earth and leather

Dajoar (Andreas Bender, Mosel)  off-dry with a playful sweetness that balances out the crisp acidity. This is beautifully bright and fresh, with plenty of green and yellow fruits, great intensity and grip on the mid- palate and a long mineral finish

7 Fuentes (Suertes del Marqués, Tenerife) a blend of several plots, all on volcanic soils, and its main component is the wildly aromatic Listán Negro, followed by a small amount of Tintilla (aka Trousseau), juicy and refreshing