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Thursday, 21 May 2015

Private Cellar 10-Year Tasting

Private Cellar's 10-year anniversary tasting at the Portland Gallery

My professional training would have me believe that the real work in running a wine merchant is in the rigorous selection of excellent wines, the technical stuff.
 
Increasingly, however, I'm inclined to believe the real skill is in the commercialising of a great idea, with buying as something of a commodity, albeit a specialist one.
 
Perhaps the true business genius lies in a combination of both - an attention to detail matched to a customer-focused approach.
 
In any event, there is clearly something special about Private Cellar who, despite their rather old school, elitist name were declared top independent wine merchant in the UK by Jancis Robinson and this year celebrate their 10th anniversary.
 
With an MW buyer, Private Cellar's wines are elegant, technically correct classics - that much comes as standard.
 
Perhaps their greatest asset is consistency, but not at the expense of excitement - just as I want my car both to start every time I put the key in and also be fun to drive, I've yet to try a disappointing wine from Private Cellar.
 
With eight wines to try, what struck me above the general quality, typicity and consistency was:

- all the wines were elegant and precise
- the Burgundies had a noble elegance and elusive, Dukedom superiority to fall quietly in love with
- by contrast, the New World wines, all equally good, seemed rather brash and look-at-me, as if they'd donned a flashy suit, Stetson and snakeskin boots
Whites
Pouilly Fume Domaine Thibault, Andre Dezat 2013 £15.75 elegant, aromatic, fullsome, creamy and flinty
 
Chateau Picque Caillou Blanc, Bordeaux 2012 £23.50 fresh and citrussy, lovely texture, subtle yet muscular oaking, deft
 
Bourgogne Blanc, Domaine Laflaive 2009 £39.50 supple and fresh, creamy oatmeal and cashew, long - plenty of life ahead of it
 
Joseph Phelps Vineyards Freestone Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, California 2011 £39.90 New World oak and fruit, more look-at-me
Reds
Givrey Chambertin la Brunelle Domaine Joseph Roty 2007, £34.95 soft, supple, deft and elegant; still youthful and assertive
 
Joseph Phelps Vineyards Freestone Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast California 2011 £39.90 all present and correct, but there's a whiff of New World attention-grabbing brashness about it
 
La Belle Connivence, Pomerol 2010 £76 pure, fresh, precise, long, focused and mineral; incredibly poised and youthful. Not cheap, though.
 
Napanook, Dominus Estate, California 2009, £42 lots of everything here - fruit, oak, alcohol; makes its presence felt

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Sunday, 17 May 2015

Les Jamelles Reserve Mourvèdre 2013 - The Co-op‏

A Pays d'Oc Mourvedre from Les Jamelles - from the Co-op
 
This enjoyably warming and spicy Les Jamelles wine is exclusive to the Co-op; it has typical Languedoc ripe fruit and southern warmth with a deft, balanced complexity.

Dark plummy fruits, garrigue herbs, liquorice and spice. Supple texture, freshness and fine tannins with a mineral streak.
 
Good; excellent value - match with charcuterie, roast lamb with rosemary and garlic or hearty stews.
 
It has an IWC silver; provided for review - £7.25 from the Co-op (reduced to £6.25 until May 19th, 2015)
 
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Saturday, 16 May 2015

Two Aussie Chardies‏

Two elegant, European-style cool-climate Australian Chardonnays - from Dalrymple and Vasse Felix
 
Say Aussie Chardie and I think of big, blockbuster, oaky "sunshine in a glass"; these two are nowhere near that.
 
Dalrymple Cave Block Chardonnay 2012 (£22.99) Tasmania is cool-climate central for Australia; pale in the glass, this chardie is zippy and zesty-limey, yet also incredibly pure and rounded underneath it. Precise, focused and concentrated.
 
Good and will improve with age.
 
Think Chablis or Sancerre and match with goat's cheese, oysters or shellfish.
 
Vasse Felix Chardonnay 2013 (£21.99) there's oak on the nose, but it's very tastefully done; ripe citrus fruits, fresh acidity, lime flowers and layers of creamy, nutty oatmeal. As deft and assured as David Beckham in a Savile Row suit. Very Good.
 
A versatile food wine, match with any white meat - roast chicken, pork terrine or mushroom risotto.
 
Provided for review.
 
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Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Torres Dinner

Dinner with Miguel Torres Maczassek of Torres
 
Bodegas Torres is a 140 year-old business best-known for its range of mainstream Spanish wines; family owned and with no corporate shareholders or the stock market to answer to the family the company reinvests the vast majority of its profits in development, making long- term decisions.
 
In Chile, it has formed a co-operative for growers to make a sparkling rosé out of the workhorse grape Pais - with impressive results.
 
There is also a 20-year project to develop the country's first slate-soil vineyard, where challenges have included netting each bush vine by hand to keep predatory birds away from the grapes.
 
Miguel's view is that Chile is yet to fulfil its oenological potential and that the future involves moving in a more European direction. Asked about his local heroes, he mentions only his father who went there in the late 1970s and single-handedly modernised the local wine industry.
 
Back in Spain, they are helping to rediscover forgotten indigenous varieties in Catalunya (36 and counting) and are tapping into the growing success of Albarino with Pazo de Bruxas, a blend of grapes from the Atlantic coast for freshness and inland O Rosal for weight.
 
The Wines
 
Miguel Torres, Santa Digna Estelado, Sparkling Pais NV (£12 Fareham Wines, Soho Wine Supplies, Hailsham cellars, Sandhams Wines) fresh, elegant, fruit-led fizz
 
Torres Pazo de Bruxas Albarino 2013 (£12, mostly on-trade, some online) named after local Celtic witchcraft, fresh, lemony and precise
 
Miguel Torres Cordillera Chardonnay 2013 (£10.99 Yorkshire Vintners, Thos Peatling, Fareham Wines) New World fruit, subtle oaking and a European sensibility
 
Torres Salmos (Priorat) 2011 (£18-20, Taurus Wines, Hedonism, Aitken Wines, Waitrose Cellar) ripe, plump and crowd-pleasing, lots of fruit with good structure; a Nigella of a wine
 
Torres Mas La Plana 2010, Cabernet Sauvignon (£35-40, Slurp.co.uk, Penistone Wines, The Soho Wine Supply, Oxford Wine Co) - a technically correct, fault-free, textbook Cabernet with ripe blackcurrant fruit and fine tannins, but somehow not completely compelling; a bit Ed Miliband
 
Torres Grans Muralles 2009 (£68.90 in Hedonism) a blend of grapes including the recently-rediscovered Querol (not even included in the Wine Grapes tome); a big, personality of a wine with baked fruit, but complex and sophisticated beneath it; like charismatic ex-investment banker Nigel Farage
 
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Saturday, 9 May 2015

Centre Loire Wines with EASCA

A tasting of Centre Loire wines with EASCA at Cambridge Wine Merchants

Of the Centre Loire areas, Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé are pretty much household names; less obvious are Reuilly, Quincy and Menetou Salon whilst Coteaux du Giennois barely registers in any of my wine books.

Northerly and cool-climate, Loire wines are fresh and elegant - the whites are flinty, mineral Sauvignons; the red and rosé, both Pinots, show fresh red fruits.

Centre Loire suggested these wine would match with Chinese food, but their light freshness suggests something more local and European.

2013 Pouilly-Fumé Champalouettes 2013 (£13, Sainsbury) fresh, crisp and aromatic in a modern way, but otherwise lacking much of interest and a little harsh.
 
Match with shell fish or goat's cheese.
 
Domaine de Villargeau, Coteau de Giennois (£9.99, M&S) complex and substantial, with ripe orchard fruit, melon and sweet spice - further improves with extended aeration. Good.
 
Match with mackerel pate or salade nicoise.

Reuilly Cuvée Nathalie 2014 Nathalie Lafond (£11.99, Majestic) Crisp, fresh, precise Sauvignon with gooseberries and lime; good aromatics and minerality.
 
Match with seafood or goat's cheese.

Etienne de Loury, Sancerre rose 2012 (£17, Oddbins) smoky-spicy with red fruits; fresh and balanced with a leesy-creamy texture. Impressive, but you pay for the Sancerre name and low- yielding, cool-climate vines.
 
Match with salmon or cold cuts of ham with double Gloucester.

2013 Sancerre Rouge au Bois de l’Épine, Maison Foucher Lebrun (£15, M&S) an attractive Loire Pinot with ripe red fruits and freshness. Elegant and pretty.

Match with duck, wild salmon or tuna sushi.

Other related articles
Matching Loire Wines and Food‏ - with Fiona Beckett
Matching Loire and Sushi with YO!Sushi
EASCA Tasting at Cambridge Wine Merchants
Quentin Sadler's review - in which he does actually match them with Chinese food

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Vin Jaune with Wink Lorch

A tasting of Jura's vin jaune introduced by Wink Lorch
 
For the uninitiated, vin jaune is Jura's answer to sherry; a wine aged extensively in barrels over which a voile (film) of yeast grows giving the wine a pungent, nutty tang.
 
Like sherry, it is one of the world's great wines with curious, distinctive flavours of cidery baked apples, nuts and spice, for which an affection creeps up over time with greater acquaintance.
 
Unlike Fino sherry, the wine is not fortified and the barrel is not topped up. It is sold in a  62cl clavelin (1l of initial fill results in 62cl of vin jaune, apparently) whose shape is, like the wine, curious yet distinctive and satisfying,
 
Recently arrived back in the UK from New Zealand (via the Americas), Jura expert and author of Jura Wine, Wink Lorch gave us a deeper dive into the world of vin jaune.
Like sherry, vin jaune is defined by its production method, but it is not homogeneous; the barrels are stored under varied conditions, open to the elements to promote the growth of the voile and so some develop more reliably and consistently than others.
 
There is no science to the storage conditions - it may be production-method led, but the scale is not industrial. However, the CIVJ provides a monitoring service, checking barrel samples every six months to indicate which barrels are developing better than others.
 
Given that vin jaune is such a niche product (making up only 4% of all Jura wine), this allows lesser barrels to be bottled or sold for blending for cash flow purposes, leaving only the best to kept for the minimum six years and turned into the much more expensive vin jaune (it is around double to treble the price of ordinary Jura wine).
 
The free-pour tasting of a dozen bottles of vin jaune from 2007 back to 1988 was the largest collection of this type of wine that I have ever seen in one place and certainly the most extensive in terms of age.
 
All the wines had a distinct family resemblance - the sharp, cidery acidity, baked / preserved apple fruit and a nutty-yeasty tang. Within this, there were variances of emphasis by bottle and also due to the effects of air - for each newly-opened bottle, there was one that had been opened earlier in the day and which had generally opened up and rounded out as a result.
 
Finally, there were variances by chronology - the younger wines (2000 - 2007) were sharper and fresher, whilst the acidity in the oldest wines ('80s) had softened revealing more of the complex nutty flavours beneath.
With this many wines of a distinct style in one place, there were no particular favourites that stood out (as Jancis Robinson note) - except to say that, for me, the very oldest wines were superb.
 
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Monday, 4 May 2015

Production-Method Wines‏

A tasting with friends of wines defined by their production method
 
It seems the factors we celebrate as bringing greatness to a wine change over time; the iconoclasts of yore told us it was all about grape variety. Then it became the winemaker's art and now we seem to have come full circle back to terroir.
 
Celebration of a production method in winemaking feels antithetical, almost heretical - certainly not on the zeitgeist.
 
Yet many of my favourite wines are defined by the way in which they are made - sherry, Madeira, port, vin jaune; production-method wines are mostly either obscure or unfashionable. Or both.
 
The only exception is Champagne, which is not really considered a wine at all.
 
With a trainee Master of Wine in our midst, we picked a course each and provided some matching wines.
 
It was also a chance to put my recently-acquired set of antique decanters through their paces.
 
Aperitif
Cremant du Jura, Marcel Cabelier 2012
 
I asked the MW trainee what she would make of this in a blind tasting exam; her analysis was - appley fruit suggests Chardonnay, fullness indicates a warmer climate than Champagne, more fruit character from shorter lees aging, fine mousse from in-bottle fermentation.
 
Production method - secondary fermentation
 
Starters - a mixture of tapas, goose liver pate and bleu d'Auvergne cheese
 
Colosio Fino tangy, pungent fino, full of flavour and depth
Blandy's Madeira Sercial Aged 10 Years age on a Madeira bottle is more a stylistic indication than an objectively measured fact. Fragrant, tangy-nutty and complex.
Domaine de Durban Muscat de Baumes de Venise 2011 I've never quite acquired the habit of starting with a sweet wine, but well-chilled and fresh, this worked perfectly with the pate and cheese.
 
Production method - fortification (all), flor-aging (fino), Madeirisation

Main - chicken with sherry and mushrooms in a creamy sauce
 
Jean-Claud Credoz, vin-jaune, Chateau-Chalon made from Savagnin, aged for six years in barrels under flor and sold in a wax-sealed 62cl clavelin, this is an oddity - and delicious; complex, nutty and tangy with a charming freshness.
 
Production method - flor and extended barrel aging
 
Cheese course
Federico Paternina Rioja 1982
Contino Rioja Reserva 2001
Vina Tondonia Rioja Reserva 2001

With a little reluctance, I had allowed Rioja on the basis that the production method specifies a minimum amount of barrel aging and that it is associated with a particular type of oak.

The 1982 wine was fully mature and complex with red fruits, old leather and gaminess. The two that followed seemed like mere babes in comparison with plenty of primary fruit.

Production method - 3+ years in American oak
 
Dessert - chocolate and raspberry cake
Taylor's Quinta de Vargellas port, 2001 full of ripe red and black berry fruit with raisins, prunes and molasses plus eucalyptus and spice. Complex, vibrant and fresh
 
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