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Sunday, 31 October 2010

Pavillon de La Brie 2009, Bergerac Sec

This was the last of a batch of Bergerac wines I was sent for review - the others being red, white, rosé and dessert - and I have been impressed with all of them (even the rosé !).

Bergerac is just up the road from Bordeaux and produces similar wines from essentially the same grape varieties - for sure, it has no first-growth Chateaux, but in the mid-range, where real people buy wines, quality is good, even if the area does not get written about much (my trusty Oz Clarke and Hugh Johnson wine books from various years give it little more than a few sentences).

This wine is a zesty Sauvignon Blanc, a grape variety which originated in Bordeaux long before becoming such a star in New Zealand. It shows typical, but restrained, herbaceous aromas of cut grass and nettles.

It's light, crisp and fresh, and matched well with a simple salad of mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar.

For other food matches, keep the food light, simple and slightly herbaceous - goat's cheese and rocket, white fish poached with herbs or allow the crisp acidity to cut through smoked salmon or sushi.

£6.95 from Jascots - provided for review.

Links


Saturday, 30 October 2010

Gran Oristan Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz 2006, La Mancha, Spain - Laithwaites

This Laithwaites wine produced by Bodegas Lozano came in one of my mystery cases. It hails from La Mancha, a swathe of inland Spain which historically produced little of interest. However, in recent years, improvements in winemaking techniques have resulted in much more interesting wines being produced there and La Mancha is now Spain's Languedoc - an exciting, good value, up-and-coming region, all the more so if you are looking for something a little different.

The wine is an unusual Aussie / Bordeaux blend - Shiraz is Australia's signature red grape, whilst Cab's spiritual home is Bordeaux. On the nose it has vanilla and rich bramble fruit, it's smooth and well-structured on the palate, with dark berries and a slap of leather and good length.

Match with something equally robust, such as plain roast red meats or good-quality salamis and hams.

At £5.99 a bottle (plus delivery), it's reasonable value.

Links

Laithwaites - http://www.laithwaites.co.uk/

Bodegas Lozano - http://www.bodegas-lozano.com/ingles/home.html

Friday, 29 October 2010

Anakena Riesling Viognier Chardonnay at Fine Wine Fair

Perhaps the most unusual wine I tried at the recent Fine Wine Fair was a white from Anakena Wines at the Wines of Chile stand. It was a blend of the two great white grape varieties Riesling and Chardonnay (plus some Viognier) - the Beatles and the Rolling Stones of the wine world, if you will.

Of these, Chardonnay would be the Beatles; ostensibly straightforward, likable and easy to enjoy, but in fact superbly crafted, achieving complexity through layering and production. By contrast, Riesling would be the Rolling Stones - angular, in-yer-face, uncompromising and thrilling, yet also capable of great charm and secretly quite refined underneath that brash exterior.

And just as the Beatles never really rocked convincingly and the Stones' attempts at Beatles-esque psychedelia were less than successful, I would never think of putting Riesling and Chardonnay together in the same wine - both great varieties, but doing what they do so differently, it's hard to see how they would complement each other and benefit from the association.

And that was the conclusion I came to when tasting this Riesling Viognier Chardonnay from Chile's Anakena Wines; well-made, and well-structured with good varietal elements of Riesling and Chardonnay certainly - as you would expect with grapes from the prestigious Rapel and Casablanca valleys - but just not an obvious match.

And what does the Viognier bring to the blend? The Anakena website gives this tasting note for the wine:

- it combines the apricot and floral aromas of Viognier with the citrus and mineral notes of Riesling and the tropical aromas of Chardonnay

Oh, and to add to the palate confusion, it's also partly-oaked as well.

I am increasingly keen on Chilean wines and I have been impressed by Anakena before when I tasted their Single Estate Syrah at a recent cheese event, so I'm prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt - certainly, the wine was well made and in no way unpleasant. I just could not "get" such an unusual pairing from the brief tasting and did not know what to make of it.

If you are looking for something well-made but unusual and palatable, however, this could be just the thing.

Links

Wines of Chile - http://www.winesofchile.org/

Anakena Wines - http://www.anakenawines.cl/

Tasting note for this wine - http://www.anakenawines.cl/ona/fichas/ona_riseling_viognier_ch.pdf

Fine Wine Fair - http://www.finewinefair.org/

A Bordeaux Looking for Love - Chateau Lamour, 2007 Castillon Cotes de Bordeaux

Chateau Lamour is one of the wines of Francoise and Philippe Lannoye of Vignobles Lannoye - based just outside the city of Saint-Emilion, they have vineyards in four nearby areas; St-Emilion, Puisseguin St-Emilion plus two in Castillon.

Their Chateau Lamour site has 13 hectares of vines on clay silt and sandy soils, most of which is given to Merlot vines with an average age of 40 years.

The wine itself is 100% Merlot and undergoes a long fermentation before aging in oak for 12 months.

Very dark in the glass, it has a wonderfully full, rich nose of blackcurrant, toasty oak, liquorice, spice with truffley hints of forest floor. On the palate there is more concentrated dark berry fruit, dark cherries, and vanilla sweetness with a soft, full texture; good balanced acidity and tannic grip on the finish which is impressively long.

Unfortunately, this wine is not yet available in the UK - hence "looking for love" - but hopefully will be soon.

It has a bronze medal from Decanter.

Provided for review.

Links

Vignobles Lannoye - http://www.vignobles-lannoye.com/eng/index.html

Decanter awards - http://www.decanter.com/dwwa

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Willy Willy Shiraz, New South Wales, 2009 - Laithwaite's

Another of my "discovery" wines from Laithwaites, this is a reasonably well-made wine, with plenty of typical warming Shiraz character - bramble fruit, prunes, spice and a hint of pencil shavings.

There's also vanilla from the oak, a smooth, easy drinking texture and a good finish.

Unfortunately, it is noticeably sweet on the palate and for me, that made it too much like Ribena to take seriously (or even enjoy properly); Laithwaites replaced this under their 100% satisfaction guarantee scheme.

It's hard to know what to match this with due to the noticeable sweetness - try slow-roast chicken with root veg or lamb with redcurrant jelly.

£6.99 plus delivery from Laithwaites. It has an award from the Australian Inland Wine Show 2009.

Links

Laithwaites - http://www.laithwaites.co.uk/

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Drinks and tapas with friends - Dehesa in Soho

I recently met up with a friend after work to talk about wines, cheeses, blogging and our day-jobs (he's a freelance credit manager with a blog). We had arranged to meet at a Spanish tapas and wine bar in Soho called Dehesa.

The area has many delights for the socially-inclined and trendy media types who like to hang out in proximity to Soho's frisson of sleaze and edginess, but Dehesa offers something fairly unique there.

It's a continental-style, upmarket wine bar where everything just works - the food is good, simple and honest, the wines are elegant, fruity and well-chosen to match with the various hams, salamis and cheeses, and both the decor and the service are sophisticated, classy and straightforward. Prices are also very reasonable for one of the trendier parts of London.

According to the company's website, Dehesa is a unique woodland area in Spain which is home to the black-footed Ibérico pigs, said to produce the best ham in the world.

A dainty amuse bouche
A few years ago, I found myself travelling abroad regularly on business - for a while, I made a point of going to some very nice restaurants, but the novelty of dainty amuse bouches, foamed vegetables and multi-variationed desserts eventually wore off and, like an aging rock star who ditches the glittery outfits for something simple and all-black, I found myself drawn to simple-but-classy wine bars.

We started with a fino sherry from Colosia; one of my favourite aperitifs, it was crisp, dry and pungent.

Food was the usual mix of cheeses and hams from Spain and Italy with a fig paste, along with griddled sourdough bread and a choice of olive oil or home-made mayonnaise for dipping.

I was intrigued to see a Poggio Argentiera wine I had tried at a Cambridge Food and Wine Society tasting recently, but we eventually chose an Honoro Vera Monastrell from Bodegas Juan Gil in Jumilla, an inland region of Spain. Elegant and soft, rather than gutsy, it was smooth and perfumed with aromas of cherries, strawberries and some bramble fruit and matched with the strong, simple flavours of the food.

We finished off with something a bit special - a PX sherry from Fernando de Castilla; dark in the glass and as rich as a fruitcake, it was a mouthful of complex flavours of raisins, figs, toasted nuts and dried mixed fruit, yet had a refreshing acidity that kept it from being too overpowering.

A wine like this is a dessert all by itself and does not really need an accompaniment, but would be a great match for a Christmas cake or a home-made sticky toffee pudding.

Links

Dehesa - http://www.dehesa.co.uk/

Colosia - http://www.gutierrezcolosia.com/index_ingles.html

Bodegas Juan Gil - http://www.juangil.es/ing/index.htm

Poggio Argentiera - http://poggioargentiera.com/

CPCM blog - http://cpcmcredit.wordpress.com/

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

La Citadella Pinot Grigio, Romania 2009 - Laithwaites

For me, this Laithwaites Discovery wine was not the novelty it might be as I have been to Romania many times on business and am reasonably familiar with the wines there.

Given how chaotic and grimy Bucharest is as a city, I was pleasantly surprised at how well-made the Romanian wines I had there were - reliable, fruit-driven, food friendly and complex, they are rather like the good, value wines that southern France and inland Spain are now producing.

The first bottle was definitely faulty, or at least sub-standard - overly acidic with little flavour of anything, but Laithwaites replaced it under their guarantee, so I have no complaints about that.

The second tasted as it should and was was a text-book Pinot Grigio - crisp and aromatic, with lemony elderflower, yet balanced with a minerally backbone and good length.

Like many Laithwaites wines, the price is a bit toppy for the quality. If a fiver is the point at which, for most people, quaffing wines become something more serious, then I would like to see this retailing for around £4; at that price it would be a serious value wine.

The Laithwaites website describes this as having elegant blossom aromas with crisp citrus flavours and the irresistibly moreish intensity of top Pinot Grigio. Lovely on its own or with seafood and white meat. That's fair enough, I guess.

£5.99 (plus delivery) from Laithwaite's. It has a Decanter award in the UK

Links

Laithwaite's - http://www.laithwaites.co.uk/

Monday, 25 October 2010

Château Le Payral Bergerac Sec 2008


Another wine from Bergerac, just up the road from Bordeaux with similar grape varieties; this one is a rich, waxy, leesy mixture of Sauvignon, Semillon and Muscadelle. On opening, the waxier Semillon dominates, with good mouthfeel and length. It's a bit understated and initially lacks the attention-grabbing complexity of an oaked Chardonnay or Riesling, say, but has great balance and texture.

Opening up with some air, the Sauvignon comes to the fore with typical aromas of gooseberries and cut grass - much more interesting at this point.

Food matches need a bit of thought as there's the weight of the Semillon and the herbaceousness of the Sauvignon to consider, but try well-seasoned, slow-roast chicken with herbs (thyme, rosemary and garlic) or mozzarella with pesto and cherry tomatoes.

Classy, well-made and thoroughly enjoyable.

Available from The Bottle Bank at £6.29 - provided for review.

Links:

The Bottle Bank - http://www.bottlebankwine.co.uk/

Domaine de l'Ancienne Cure L'Abbaye, Monbazillac, 2005

I have had a long and meaningful relationship with dessert wines for many years now - my first love was Hungarian Tokaji, before then I got introduced to the wonderful sweet wines of Austria, and eventually made my way to the stickies of Sauternes and Monbazillac in France.

I tend to find that fellow wine enthusiasts share my love of dessert wines, whilst non-enthusiasts usually claim not to like sweet wines ... until they try one.

Much more than Champagne, a good dessert wine is virtually guaranteed to put a smile on even the most curmudgeonly of faces and at the end of a good meal, a dessert wine brings a self-satisfied glow to the proceedings like nothing else.

This one is from Bergerac, next door to Bordeaux, and is absolutely wonderful; like many Bergerac wines, the grape varieties are basically the same as Bordeaux and are grown just up the road.

A blend of  70% Sémillon and 30% Muscadelle, deep golden in the glass with a rich, expressive nose, it has white peach, apricots, acacia-blossom honey and honeydew melon on the palate, matched with toasty butterscotch, ripe tropical fruits and some lovely marzipan, orange peel and spices.

But that's not all - throughout there's the concentrated weight of botrytis and a crisp, refreshing acidity. Well-structured and focused with a lingering finish, this is a pudding in a glass all by itself, but would match splendidly with a lemon torte.

Even better would be a drop with some chicken liver paté to start things off as well.

Whilst it's not exactly cheap, you do get a 50cl bottle, rather than the more-usual 37.5cl half-bottle; I've also heard it said that with rich dessert wines, you don't need quite as much since a little goes a long way - but strangely, I've never found that to be the case ...

£19.45 per 50cl at Slurp or £275.39 per case of 12 at Everywine - provided for review.

Links

Slurp - http://www.slurp.co.uk/

Everywine - http://www.everywine.co.uk/

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Chocolate tasting with Baruzzo at Fine Wine Fair 2010


Chocolate, mmmmmm

 I have written earlier about cheese being an artisan product and it sometimes seems that a whole range of products are jumping on the protected name of origin / artisan bandwagon.

I'm all in favour of local, seasonal, organic free-range food, but I have to confess to some occasional cynicism about certain claims to the importance of origin; do cakes and tarts made in Bolton and Buxton really taste fundamentally different from those made just up the road Eccles and Bakewell ?

Two products about which I have been historically less than convinced are chocolate and coffee - I know there is good stuff and less good stuff, and I'd like to think I can tell the difference between the two - but once the beans for each have been roasted, ground and made into their finished products, is it really possible to discern minute differences between them as you can with wines from a handful of villages on the Côte-d'Or ?

Actually, as Raffaella Baruzzo explained in her Master Class talk at the Fine Wine Fair, it is - you just need a bit of guidance. Rafaela is originally from Italy, but first came to the UK 12 years ago, spending a few years in South America in between becoming an expert in all things chocolate.

With her lilting Italian accent and engaging manner, Raffaella could talk about the phone book and make it captivating; however, she has perhaps one of the most universally interesting subjects to talk about as she explained the differences between types of cocoa plant, how the beans are fermented, dried, roasted and finally ground ready to make chocolate.

The cocoa plant started life in Mexico and through natural processes made its way to central America. From there, it was shipped first to Africa and later on to Asia, especially Indonesia.

Raffaella explained that in the cocoa world hierarchy, South America comes tops, Africa somewhere in the middle whilst Indonesia is generally for mass-market, greasy and heavily-sugared junk.

We started our tasting by first smelling the aroma of some coarse-ground beans - they were rich and aromatic, but hard, bitter and seemingly tasteless when chewed.

The first of the chocolates was a 70% Ecuador, rich and darkly aromatic on the nose. Raffaella drew our attention to the texture which was moderately smooth due to a naturally-lower cocoa butter content.

Next came a 71% Vista Allegre from the Dominican Republic which was smoother and had aromas of liquorice, spice and mushrooms. We then tried a mystery chocolate which was also from the Dominican Republic and which Raffaella asked us to guess the cocoa content. It was rich, toasty and tannic - but not bitter - and guesses ranged from around 80% to 85%, whilst the answer proved to be 88%.

We followed this with a 76% Ghana chocolate which I immediately noticed as smelling quite different - the nose was less rich and earthy and instead had less pronounced aromas of cigar box, mushrooms and, for me, wood shavings. The texture was smoother than the Dominican chocolates but the flavour much less intense.

Here we are talking about noticeable differences between continents and so I have to question whether we will ever get to the stage of narrowly defining sub-regions of chocolate origin as we have done with wine.

However, Raffaella's next point was well-made - don't just look at the cocoa percentage, but at the origin of the beans. Certainly the people whose job it is to market quality chocolate seem to want us to focus on the former and are rather coy about the latter and some indication of origin would be helpful here, I think.

The tasting was not all serious, however, and our last chocolate was a pistachio praline infused with rosemary - it is one of my favourite herbs and tasted superb.

Links

Baruzzo website - http://www.baruzzo.co.uk/

Fine Wine Fair website - http://www.finewinefair.org/index.php

Baruzzo profile at the Fine Wine Fair - http://www.finewinefair.org/baruzzo.php

Saturday, 23 October 2010

The Laithwaites 100% Satisfaction Guarantee

A while ago I bought several cases of Laithwaites wines under two different schemes - Discovery and Mystery; the Mystery cases are an unknown batch of bin-ends with a minimum 1/3rd discount whilst the Discovery case is the first in a regular series of deliveries of what, presumably, are their showcase wines.

We worked our way through the mystery wines first and were able to approach them without any preconceptions. In practice, most were well-enough-made, but middling, with a small number of impressive ones plus a few real disappointments.

By the time we got round to the Discovery case (now re-branded 4 Seasons), I felt I had a sense of what to expect from a Laithwaites wine but also less inclined to put anything disappointing down to experience.

From the Discovery case, I found two of the reds disappointing (and overly sweet Shiraz and a thin Tempranillo) whilst one of the whites (a Romanian Pinot Grigio) was definitely sub-standard or faulty.

After finishing both sets of wines I decided to put Laithwaites "100% Satisfaction Guarantee" to the test and emailed them about the Discovery wines, also mentioning the mystery wines that we'd felt were a bit ordinary.

The guarantee itself is fairly straightforward - as the website says:

- If you're not fully delighted with any wine, we'll come and collect it and give you your money back. No quibbles, no fuss.

I was not sure exactly what to expect - a cringing apology followed by the proffering of a money-off voucher or a freebie perhaps ? (A money-off voucher or freebie seems to be Laithwaites automatic response to most things whatever the situation).

In fact, I got a reply the next day offering me a refund or an exchange. I was happy to take the exchange and a case of 10 wines arrived shortly afterwards.

Customer satisfaction guarantees were first brought in by retailers, especially supermarkets, who realised that the benefit of offering that level of certainty to the customer more than outweighed the cost of having to make an occasional refund.

Moreover, by monitoring returns, your customers would very quickly tell you which products they did not like or which batches had been spoiled.

UK supermarket Asda (now owned by US behemoth Walmart), for example, even goes so far as to offer a refund-and-replace guarantee on its own-brand products; if you don't like an Asda tin of baked beans, for example, they will give you your money back and replace it with a tin of branded stuff.

Given that there is zero marketing spend on Asda own-brand products, profit margins must be pretty healthy and the occasional refund-and-replace is quite cheap in the overall scheme of things.

There's probably a whole sociology and marketing thesis waiting to be written about retailer guarantees, but it strikes me that they are a great customer loyalty proposition; they force the retailer's buyers to think carefully about what they select and they give consumers the confidence to experiment and try new things.

However, customer satisfaction guarantees are best suited to homogeneous, familiar, everyday products - baked beans rather than caviar.

In the area of wine, ripe, fruity New World-type wines which are easy to quaff unquestioningly are perfect for this sort of thing.

However, some wines take a bit more time to appreciate - a great red Bordeaux is tough, tannic and chewy in its youth but matures to a wine of great texture and complexity that little else can match. It also generally needs to be consumed not only with food, but with the right type of food, to show its best.

Equally, Austrian whites (especially those from Styria) are bracingly crisp and can seem underripe to those accustomed to something fuller and softer, yet they are balanced, minerally and full with great texture and backbone.

Part of the fun of learning about wine is trying something new to see if you like it. Great wine should be complex, full of contrasts and, on occasion and to the appropriate extent, challenging. It's difficult to do that if you are committed to all your wines delighting all your customers all of the time.

And that seems to sum up Laithwaites - great if you want reliable, easy-drinking wines, but perhaps not the place to go for something more challenging and nuanced.

Links

Laithwaites - http://www.laithwaites.co.uk/

Friday, 22 October 2010

Bordeaux Tasting at the 2010 Fine Wine Fair, Chelsea

I've been keen on basic Bordeaux ever since my first proper wine-buying trip to France now almost a decade ago, but it's only since we had a rather special bottle last Christmas that I have begun to start looking for the kind of wines whose texture really sets them apart from the everyday.

Last weekend, I went to the 2010 Fine Wine Fair in Chelsea and decided to use the opportunity to sample a range of Bordeaux wines to get familiar with the more-nuanced differences of this region and its vintages. Almost all Bordeaux wines are blends, so as well as variations due to vintage and terroir, there are also variations from the different grapes that dominate in the blend.

We started with two whites; Bordeaux's reputation rests on its dry reds and sweet whites, but the dry whites in the mid-range are worth a look, too - the first was a Sauvignon-based Pessac-Leognan which had a great citrussy, herbaceous nose, followed by a Semillon-based Graves with a fuller, waxier texture. Next up was a rosé which was 100% Merlot and rather neutral.

However, the main event was the reds. We started with a young red from St Estephe - with plenty of Merlot in the blend, it had a ripe, earthy nose and is drinking well now without too much more aging potential.

An Haut-Medoc from the same year with more Cab in the blend had a more restrained nose, but a fuller and slightly chewier texture. The sensory distinction between the Merlot-dominated right-bank wines with their earthy, more hedonistic and perfumed nose and the Cabernet-dominated left bank wines with a more mouthfilling texture became increasingly clear as we moved along.

There were then two slightly older reds from the superior 2005 vintage; these are still quite youthful and have further aging potential, but both had typical blackcurrant fruit and good, smooth tannins. The next logical group of wines was a threesome with the first from St-Emilion (softer, lusher and more perfumed with a high proportion of Merlot), a superb Pomerol with less perfume but a wonderfully mouthfilling texture and a Lalande de Pomerol which felt a bit like the little brother of the previous wine.

The final red was a much older red from St-Julien - if 2000 was one of the great Bordeaux vintages of recent years, 2001 was not bad either and this Cab-based wine is drinking wonderfully now.

After all those serious reds, it was time to lighten up a bit with a wonderfully indulgent dessert wine from Chateau Coutet in Sauternes-Barsac - full of rich tropical fruits, toasty butterscotch, a dash of botrytis concentration and a refreshing acidity it was one of the stand-out wines of the show.

Trying so many similar, but all subtly different, wines together was fascinating - I've been to plenty of wine-tastings before and had my fair share of Bordeaux, so the basics were all in place; but to try 12 different wines within the space of about half an hour and discuss them one-to one with someone who really knows their stuff really brought me to a whole new level of appreciation of this great region.

The wines

Château Tour Léognan 2008 Pessac-Léognan, £12.34 from Waitrose
Vieux Chateau Gaubert, 2008 Graves, £10.95 from The Wine Society
Le Rose de Larcis Ducasse, 2008 Bordeaux rose, £10.99 from Averys
Chateau Haut Barandieu, 2007 St Estephe, £19.99 from Oddbins
Chateau Barreyres, 2007 Haut-Medoc, £10.99 from Sainsbury's
Chateau Caronne Ste Gemme, 2005 Haut-Medoc, £13.99 from Majestic Wine
Chateau Fourcas-Dumont, 2005 Listrac-Medoc, £14.99 from Tesco
Chateau Carteau, 2006 St-Emilion Grand Cru, £16.00 from The Wine Society
Chateau Monregard La Croix, 2006 Pomerol, £17.99 from Averys
Chateau Haut-Chaigneau, 2005 Lalande-de-Pomerol, £16.99 from Laithwaite's
Terre du Lion, 2001 St-Julien, £11.69 from Marks & Spencer
Chateau Coutet, 2006 Sauternes-Barsac from Laithwaite's

Entry ticket provided by CIVB.

Links

Fine Wine Fair - http://www.finewinefair.org/

Bordeaux website - http://www.goodfoodwouldchoosebordeaux.com/

Waitrose - http://www.waitrosewine.com/

The Wine Society - http://www.thewinesociety.com/

Averys - http://www.averys.com/

Laithwaites - http://www.laithwaites.co.uk/

Majestic Wine - http://www.majestic.co.uk/

Marks & Spencer - http://www.marksandspencer.com/

Tesco - http://www.tesco.com/

Sainsbury's - http://www.sainsburys.co.uk/sol/index.jsp

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Château de Tiregand Pécharmant 2006, Bergerac

The little written-about region of Bergerac is just up the road from Bordeaux and makes use of much the same grape varieties to similar effect. It is potentially, then, a better-value region than its more illustrious neighbour.

This Château de Tiregand Pécharmant 2006 from Tanners Wine Merchants, like a similarly-aged Bordeaux, is still quite youthful. It's made from mainly Merlot, but with some Cabernet Sauvignon and lesser amounts of Cabernet Franc and Malbec in the blend.

The Little Prince by Antoine
de St-Exupery
In his 1971 World Atlas of Wine, Hugh Johnson gives about a paragraph to Bergerac, but does single out Pécharmant as producing the best reds.

The chateau de Tiregard has 31 hectares of red vines in Pécharmant and is run by cousins of the aviator and novelist, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, best known for his children's fable, The Little Prince.

Dark purple in the glass with hardly even a hint of the rim that shows up in aged wines, immediately on opening, it has a rich, complex and seductive nose with vanilla, bramble fruit and prunes, toasty oak, truffley earthiness, hints of forest floor, cloves and spice.

On the palate, it is still quite young with dense, chewy tannins and dark fruit and coffee. A fair amount of acidity and tannic grip on the finish at this stage, needs something like roast beef to show its best.

Re-corked and sampled again the following day, it is quite a different proposition - the nose is much more restrained, but both the palate and the finish have become more integrated, balanced and beautifully smooth. The wonderful mouthfilling texture is something I am increasingly associating with next-door region Bordeaux and clearly the same can be achieved here in Bergerac which is no surprise really as the grape varieties are broadly the same and the vineyards are only a few kilometres away and enjoy a similar terroir.

This time it was slightly overwhelmed by the sweetness of a slow-roast chicken (not the first time I have found that, in fact) - perhaps we should have gone for beef.

A further 24 hours later there was a small amount left and it was at a peak with sweet prune fruit and a wonderfully soft but full texture - we had it with sausagemeat baked in pancetta with pasta and a tomato-and-basil sauce which matched with it really well.

It also has a silver medal from the Concours de Bordeaux Vins d'Acquitaine.

£11.50 from Tanners Wines - supplied for review.

Links

Tanners Wine Merchants - http://www.tanners-wines.co.uk/

Concours de Bordeaux Vins D'Acquitaine - http://www.concours-de-bordeaux.com/

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Wine buying in Cambridge


For the enthusiastic wine aficionado, the most enjoyable way to buy wine can be to get in the car and go to one or more of France's wine regions and buy direct from the producer. However, the reality for many people seems to be the local supermarket and, faced with rows of wines to choose from, the easiest option is often to pick what's on special offer.

Is there a middle way ? Some way of picking out more interesting and enjoyable wines having to travel too far. Search the Internet and you will find specialists such as Laithwaites (who also supply the wines for the Sunday Times Wine Club), who provide lots of glossy photos of beautiful hillside vineyards which can feel almost as good as being there yourself.

However, for those who prefer the personal touch and want to support local businesses, Cambridge and its surrounding areas have many independent wine merchants, educators and even its own Master of Wine and vineyard owners.

King's College - CWM
is just behind you
Stand opposite Kings College or take a look down the river on Bridge Street and you will be next to a branch of Cambridge Wine Merchants - founded 17 years ago by Cambridge graduate Hal Wilson with business partner Brett Turner, together they now run four shops in Cambridge itself, with several franchises beyond the city, and have recently won Independent Drinks Retailer of the year. If that is not enough, they also supply a number of the University's May Balls, offer professionally-recognised wine courses and have opened a tapas bar in their Cherry Hinton Road branch.

With branches on either side of the river, Bacchanalia was set up in 1997 by Paul Bowes with the philosophy of sourcing the very best drinks the staff could find and selling them at a fair price. Regularly voted amongst the top ten shops in Cambridge, it's clear that this approach has proved very popular indeed.

South of the city in Trumpington, Noel Young has been in business since 1991 and won many awards over the years and also has a vineyard in Australia.

Chilford Hall vineyard
Closer to home, Hector Scicluna of HS Fine Wines in Impington, specialises in importing fine Italian wines from small estates, whilst Steve Vincent from Histon runs the Cambridge Food and Wine Society. Slightly further afield, The Old Bridge in Huntingdon is run by Master of Wine John Hoskins, whilst Neil Courtier of GrapeSense in Bury runs a wine education business. Finally, let us not forget that Cambridge has its own vineyard at Chilford Hall in Linton.

All of these offer wine-tastings of one sort or another which is a good way to get introduced to wines of different types and see what you like; the Cambridge Food and Wine Society, a not-for-profit organisation, uses a mixture of outside experts (both specialist educators and vineyard owners) and committee members (who are all experts in different areas from Spain and Austria to the International Wine Challenge) to present its monthly events.

Tickets for a wine tasting usually cost around the same price as two good bottles of wine and for that you should get to sample around 8 wines, pose questions and discuss opinions, possibly with some accompanying food.

This article first appeared in the Histon Impington Courier (September print edition p5 - http://hicourier.com/print-editions/)

Links

Histon Impington Courier - http://hicourier.com/

Laithwaites - http://www.laithwaites.co.uk/

Cambridge Food and Wine Society - http://www.cambridgefoodandwinesociety.org.uk/

Cambridge Wine Merchants - http://www.cambridgewine.com/index.asp

Bacchanalia - http://www.winegod.co.uk/

Noel Young Wines - http://www.nywines.co.uk/

HS Fine Wines - no website, hector.scicluna@ntlworld.com

GrapeSense - http://www.grapesense.com/

The Old Bridge - http://www.huntsbridge.com/theoldbridgehotel.php

Chilford Hall vineyard - http://www.chilfordhall.co.uk/cgi-bin/ch/info.html?domain=info&name=Vineyard

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Foncaussade Les Parcelles Rosé 2009 Bergerac

As anyone who lives in this country and has small children will know, sitting in the garden sipping a rosé on a hot summer's day is something of a distant daydream.

Flared Trousers - trendy ?
Rosé wines, forever associated with a Provençal idyll, seem to swing in and out of fashion as wildly as flared trousers and Latino music.

All three perhaps tend to be most in fashion at the top of the economic cycle when their fun, frivolous nature is most in tune with the zeitgeist.

So a damp, chilly evening in mid-autumn when the economic climate is not so, well, rosy may seem an odd time to try a rosé, but then anything pink that can hold its own under those less-than auspicious circumstances surely should be taken seriously regardless of the vagaries of fashion.

This rosé is made from 50% Cabernet Sauvignon and 50% Merlot and comes from the little-written-about region of Bergerac on the rump end of Bordeaux which produces some fairly hefty wines when made as reds there.

A food rosé, then ? There are strawberries and redcurrants on the nose, hints of ripe tropical fruits, some spritz, an unusual but pleasant hoppiness; it is mouthfilling and both slightly elusive yet more-ish, well-structured with a long, balanced finish; a good summery quaffing wine but with the body and acidity to stand up to foods such as cream cheese and even a light goulash with sour cream and tomatoes.

If you are the type and don't have small children, it would probably work well with garden-party canapes, too.

£6.64 from Waitrose - supplied for review.

Links

Waitrose - http://www.waitrosewine.com/

Bergerac Wines website - http://www.vins-bergerac.fr/

Bergerac wines on Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bergerac_AOC

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Blessed are the cheese-makers - British Artisan Cheeses at Cambridge Food and Wine Society

Cheese, like wine, is an artisan product - largely hand-made, a living, breathing product that matures and changes over time, each example being ever-so-slightly different from the next and responding minutely to processes and storage conditions.

If you want to see what could happen in the world of mass homogenisation of wine under a fiver in a few years' time, just look at a row of pre-packed, industrially-made cheeses on your local budget supermarket shelf for the potential consequences.

In this country, at least, cheese has gone the way of chicken and salmon - a once expensive and flavoursome delicacy, it is now frequently a mass-market, mass-produced product whose only role is to provide bulk, but not flavour, to a meal.

But it was not always the case - in the days before refrigeration, cheese-making was a way of maintaining all the nutrients, vitamins, minerals, protein and general goodness in milk without it going off. Moreover, cheese-making was a seasonal activity - it would only be made when the milk was best suited to being made into cheese, such as in spring when the cattle went out and fed on the scented new grass.

It was also not made on an industrial scale as today - all farmhouses would have a dairy where the cheese would be made and stored to mature. The best conditions for cheese are not in the fridge at all, but at cellar temperature (about 14C, cool and damp).

The Logic of Life - recent
reading in the CWB household
It was the introduction of transport links that sounded the death knell for locally-produced cheeses and made it commercially viable to produce in much larger quantities. A book I have just been reading points out that this increasing specialisation is the basis of our modern wealth and lifestyle - well, good for us, but in the process and also as a result of post-war decisions to rationalise British farming and pursue quantity and reliability of supply, we have lost out on quality - as a trip to France or Italy will quickly demonstrate.

As Charles de Gaulle once said - How can anyone govern a nation that has two hundred and forty-six different kinds of cheese? ...

And yet, the tide is turning ... Britain certainly has become a noticeably wealthier place since the stagflation and three-day week of my childhood in the '70s. As a result of the yuppies of the ;80s and the caring-sharing '90s, we have become more interested in the quality of the food we eat and, yes, there is a resurgence in British artisan cheeses, as Meril Deal of Artisan Cheese explained at a cheese-tasting evening at the Cambridge Food and Wine Society.
 
Meril provided a range of cheeses to try, the first being three examples of the same cheese (a Berkswell goat's cheese) of different ages to show how even a few more weeks' maturing can change the quality - the youngest example at six months old was smooth and creamy and similar to a manchego, whilst an example with just an extra three weeks' age (and a washed rind) was firmer and more flavoursome. Finally, there was a 14-month example which had a much stronger, slightly farmyardy, aroma, a deeper yellow colour and a firmer texture.
 
As Meril explained, British artisan cheeses are still a very new concept and are generally made in small quantities by small businesses which cannot, yet, afford the long maturing times we associate with some continental cheese as they need the cash inflow just to make ends meet. Over time, however, I feel this will surely change as the reputation and popularity of these cheeses grows sufficiently to provide some economies of scale and allow investment in longer maturing times.
 
Next came a taleggio-like cheese called Oxford Isis; it was smooth and creamy with a soft, yeasty rind , followed by a crumbly Caerffili and a goat's cheese called Rachael; the latter was described as sweet, curvy and slightly nutty, apparently like the eponymous Rachel herself.

Then came a Waterloo, soft and creamy - similar to a Brie - a blue-veined Barkham, an organic Hafod from Wales and finally a sheep's milk Beenleigh Blue from Devon.

The cheeses all sell for around £20 - £30 per kilo, so not cheap, but then again, not much more expensive than, say, Waitrose which is the only supermarket that can come anywhere close to competing in terms of quality and flavour. Meril sells her cheeses at various farmers' markets around the Cambridge area - details below.

To accompany the cheeses, we had a selection of wines and beers, all sourced from Bacchanalia; contrary to habit, I stuck with the red wines and found that they matched surprisingly well with the cheeses ? Was it the wines or the cheeses ? As both were new to me, I can't say, but something worked well.

The Cheeses - along with Meril's tasting notes

Berkswell - an exceptional firm sheep’s milk cheese made at Ram Hall Farm in the West Midlands with raw milk and using traditional animal rennet. It has an unusual flying-saucer shape and natural exterior rind. £2.75/100g

Oxford Isis - made by the Oxford Cheese Company since 2003, this soft cheese is rind washed in Oxfordshire Honey Mead to give it a supple texture and floral, pungent aroma and taste, which strengthens as the cheese ages. £2.40/100g

Gorwydd Caerffili - traditionally made with raw cow’s milk and animal rennet by the Trethowans in South Wales since 1997, firm but crumbly, creamy and best at about 4 months old. £2.15/100g

Rachael - a washed curd and rind washed goat’s cheese with a supple, light, texture and fresh clean taste. Made in Somerset by Peter Humphries, who also makes excellent soft goat cheese. £2.60/100g

Waterloo - made by Anne Wigmore with raw cow’s milk in Riseley Berkshire. This is a brie style cheese, creamy and rich in taste, best when it begins to ‘run away’! £2.40/100g

Barkham Blue – an irresistible rich, creamy cow’s milk blue, lighter and less acid than Stilton, made by Sandy Rose with pasteurised milk. £2.40/100g

Hafod - buttery, rich, hard cheese best matured to 16 – 18 months. It’s made on Wales’ longest-established organic farm with raw milk from a herd of Ayrshire cows, and using animal rennet. The cheese first became available for sale in 2005. £1.95/100g

Beenleigh Blue – a gorgeous pasteurised sheep’s milk blue which is both sharp and sweet. It’s made near Totnes in Devon. It’s recommended to those who like strong cheese. £2.90/100g

Meril can be found at the following venues:

1st Saturday each month, 9.30am - 12.30, Linton Village College, Cambridge Road, Linton, CB21 4JB

2nd Saturday each month, 11am - 3pm, Wimpole Hall, Old Wimpole Road, Arrington, Royston, SG8 0BW

3rd Saturday each month, 9.30am - 12.30, Impington Village College. New Road, Impington, CB24 9LX

4th Saturday each month, 9.30am - 12.30, Memorial Hall, Woollards Lane, Great Shelford., CB22 5LZ

The Wines and Beers - all sourced from Bacchanalia in Cambridge

Santa Duc, Les Plans, VdP Vaucluse, 2004, France, 13.5% £8.99
Gamey, soft and very easy, great finish

Anakena, Single Vineyard Carmenere, 13.5% Valle de Rapel, 2008, Chile 
Black fruit, tobacco and spices on the nose, long finish

Red Poll, Nethergate Brewery, £2.49
Manchester Bitter, Marble Beers, £2.99
Empire Pale Ale, Burton, £2.99
Jeffrey Hudson Bitter, Oakham Ales, price unknown
Crop Circle, Hopback Brewery, price unknown

Links
 
Cambridge Food and Wine Society - http://www.cambridgefoodandwinesociety.org.uk/
 
Artisan Cheese - http://www.artisancheese.co.uk/

Bacchanalia - http://www.winegod.co.uk/

Anakena Wines - http://www.anakenawines.cl/

Lake Velence Grüner Veltliner, 2008 - Laithwaites

Grüner Veltliner is actually Austria's signature grape, accounting for over a third of all vineyards there, but is also grown to a lesser extent elsewhere in central Europe, including Czech and Hungary.

When made dry and full-bodied (the Austrian "house style" these days), it typically produces wines that are crisp, aromatic and well-structured with white pepper on the nose, and lentils or celery on the palate.

The best examples are racy, elegant and complex - and also increasingly expensive as Austrian wines generally gain a deserved reputation for themselves.

This Hungarian take on Grüner Veltliner from Laithwaites is from the Etyek Buda region just outside Budapest. Mid-weight, with good structure and acidity, very much in the Austrian style, it is refreshing enough to serve as an aperitif, but also has the weight to stand up to food.

With its high acidity levels, it cuts through roast pork beautifully and also matches well with oily fish like salmon. It is well made, well structured and benefits from an hour or more in the decanter.

At £6.49 plus delivery, it is also competitively priced for its quality and has the added advantage of being one of the more unusual wines you might serve your guests.
Overall, thoroughly recommended and good value.

Links

Laithwaites - http://www.laithwaites.co.uk/

More information on Hungarian wines from this region - http://www.winesofhungary.com/hungarian-wine/wine-regions/north-transdanubia.aspx

Friday, 15 October 2010

Flamenco sketches: Vega Oliveras, 2007 - Castilla, Spain

A few years ago, on a holiday in an apartment in Spain, we generally found one bottle of wine wasn't quite enough but two was usually a bit too much, so there would generally be a bit of yesterday's re-corked wine to finish off before opening something new from the local supermarket.

I don't remember exactly what drank or we ate with it, but manchego and jamon ibereco seem to have figured prominently. The wines themselves, all from the local supermarket, rarely cost more than a few Euros, were generally reds, often Tempranillo (but usually by another name, as it has many synonyms), generally from "value" areas (i.e. places you've never heard of) and yet included a few riservas and even gran riservas (both requiring a minimum amount of time in oak and bottle before release).

Spanish wines underwent something of a quiet revolution around the turn of the millennium, going from a robust heavily-oaked, aggressively tannic style to something still distinctly mouth-filling, but much more fruit driven; this was due partly to the impact of more modern winemaking techniques and the influence of flying winemakers which did a lot to improve quality without generally causing the inherent Spanish character to be lost.

The wines we drank then were generally from around that period and my overriding memory of them is lots of dark cherry fruit backed up by smooth, mouthfilling tannins; however, almost invariably, we found the wine from the previous evening had improved dramatically with 24 hours' airing, becoming much more open and perfumed, with a longer, smoother finish and more complexity. Not bad for the leftovers of a bottle of supermarket plonk, we thought.

So, opening up this bottle of Laithwaite's Tempranillo from La Mancha (a swathe of inland Spain historically churning out plonk, but now becoming capable of something a bit more sophisticated - sort of Spain's Languedoc), I wondered whether I would be taken back to those early Spanish reds. The wine is the first of the "discovery" case I bought some time ago, so I was expecting something reasonably impressive, as these are (presumably) intended to be the wines that inspire you to carry on with the direct debit commitment of having a case delivered once a quarter.

On opening it was unmistakably a classic Tempranillo - dark cherry fruit on the nose, plenty of vanilla from oak aging with hints of eucalyptus and spice. On the palate, however, it was less impressive - more cherry fruit and smooth tannins, but somehow a bit thin, with plenty of acid and tannin on the finish that had me mentally noting it as a "food wine" and deciding to pop it in the decanting jug to see if a bit of air would open things up.

We were having roast duck for which oaked Tempranillo is the next best match after Pinot Noir. After an hour or so in the decanting jug, it had become more perfumed and balanced, and it was definitely improved by the duck, but still felt a little thin. It was more of the same when re-corked and served the following day when with an stew of chicken, tomatoes and rosemary - more perfumed and balanced, but still lacking in texture. Laithwaites describe this wine as a silky, easy red full of soft berry fruit - that's true enough, I guess, but ultimately it was rather disappointing.

Links

Laithwaites - http://www.laithwaites.co.uk/

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Don Cayetano Sauvignon Blanc 2009, Chile - and a controversy

One of the "discovery" wines from Laithwaites, this is a decent, mid-level textbook Sauvignon - neither quite as tropical and overblown as, say, a Marlborough nor yet as lean and steely as a crisp Loire example. So, balanced, then is a good way to sum this up.

There's good, restrained tropical fruit on the nose, some but not too much of the herbaceous, green nettley aromas, some lemongrass with good refreshing acidity on the palate and a pleasant finish.

From Chile's Central Valley, it is relatively low in alcohol at 12.5% and works both with food and as a quaffing wine. Match with salmon or other meaty, oily fish or goat's cheese.

Chile has been in the news for all the wrong reasons this year - first an earthquake then trapped miners. The least we can do is help them out by buying some of their wines.

Laithwaite's response to the Chilean earthquake, when reported on Jaime Goode's wineanorak blog prompted something of a furore of differing opinions. Whatever one's views on Laithwaites' donation of 5% of sales of all Chilean wine sold during March to the Chilean Embassy’s Earthquake Appeal Fund, it highlights just how thin the line is between being seen as a force for good and being seen as taking advantage of a natural disaster and the plight of others for shameless self-promotion.

Better dust off that Corporate Social Responsibility textbook once more ...

Back to the wine; at £6.49 plus delivery from Laithwaites, the price is a bit toppy, but overall reasonable.

Links

Laithwaites - http://www.laithwaites.co.uk/

wineanorak - http://www.wineanorak.com/

Laithwaite's Chile announcement - http://laithwaites.blogspot.com/2010/03/were-donating-to-earthquake-fund-for.html

Jamie Goode's opinion - http://www.wineanorak.com/wineblog/business-of-wine/shameless-marketing

Monday, 11 October 2010

Two Wines From Bacalhoa, Setubal, Portugal



A relaxed Saturday in a Cambridge finally enjoying something of a late Indian summer; I took my son into town on my bike, got him some books from the library and stopped off at Cambridge Wine Merchants on Mill Road, a buzzy part of this University town with a strong sense of identity.

There were two reasons - firstly to thank branch manager, Matt, for his recent recommendations that had gone down well at a work do, secondly to try the wines of the week, both from the titular Bacalhoa.

Entering the shop, I learn that Matt is off making deliveries and has left the shop in the care of two deputy managers who have put on some Latin music and managed to set off the alarm but can't get through to the security company for the reset code; bringing a bored three-year-old into the shop just adds to the sense of unreality.

I take it all in my stride - YoungMan is less impressed and wants to go home, but I start with the white, a mixture of Fernão Pires, Tamarez and Rabo de Ovelha and Chardonnay. I have no idea of what the three indigenous grapes are supposed to taste like and what each brings to the blend.

However, the end result is a harmonious and balanced, smooth, lemony wine with some buttery creaminess and a touch of gentle oak. It's very good, in a quietly confident, unassuming sort of way. Classy, not grandstanding.

We move on to what I first thought / feared was a rosé (a la Mateus), but turns out to be a fortified wine made from Muscat  - normally, one of the few grape varieties I would go out of my way to avoid. But this is delicious - "rich, raisiny and fruity. Inviting nose; sweet, rich and powerful. Good length. Golden colour, intense aromas - orange zest, raisins, figs and walnuts. Rich and full bodied." The tasting note says it all; it also has a gold medal from the IWC (2006) and the 1999 vintage has just won a gold and the slightly clumsily-named International Fortified Muscat Trophy.

Footnote, December 2010

The Moscatel also appears in the CFWS IWC Tasting here (I fail to spot it !!!).

The Wines

Bacalhoa Catarina Branco 2008, £7.99
Bacalhoa Moscatel de Setubal 2002/03, £8.95

Links

Cambridge Wine Merchants - http://www.cambridgewine.com/
Bacalhoa Winery - http://www.bacalhoa.com/
International Wine Challenge - http://www.internationalwinechallenge.com/
Results for Bacalhoa Moscatel de Setubal 1999 - http://www.internationalwinechallenge.com/wine/131808/2010/Bacalh%c3%b4a-Moscatel-De-Set%c3%babal.aspx

Friday, 8 October 2010

Croftwood Estate, Horseshoe Bend Chardonnay, South Eastern Australia, 2008 - a deconstruction

This classy Aussie Chardonanny is possibly the best of my "Discovery" wines from Laithwaite's - it's £5.99 plus delivery which I think is decent value. But first some history ...

Back in his 1999 wine guide, Oz Clarke writes about the then-growing number of old world wines dressing themselves up in new world colours - wines in angular bottles with arty labels calling themselves gully-this or creek-that but which, on closer inspection of the back label, turn out to be overpriced Romanian Pinot Noir or Loire Chardonnay trading on New-World chic.

That was then - if some of the recent Aussie wines I have been having are anything to go by, terroir is back in fashion and the people in charge of wine marketing are doing their best to conjure up a sense of place. Certainly the provenance of our food (and wine is a food - just ask Gianpaolo Paglia) is moving up the agenda for many people - my local Asda has had an East Anglian produce section for some time now.

An idyllic horshoe river bend
And so this wine declares itself to be from Croftwood Estate's Horseshoe Bend and only then shyly informs you that it's a Chardonnay, before finally letting you know that it is from no more a specific region than South Eastern Australia. You then have to turn to the back label and read through the tasting note before finally learning that it is produced by McPherson Wines, a family-run company begun in 1968, whose Shiraz (also from Laithwaite's) I tried a while ago.

But back to the front label where the Croftwood Estate name somehow conjures up the image of noble, honest-yet-rugged farming folk in an idyllic, pastoral setting by a lazily meandering river - I can almost hear the bird song echoing across the valley, the orchestra about to strike up Beethoven's sixth symphony.


A typical gastropub interior
The typeface is a slightly feminine, hand-written-style script suggesting both individuality and care - the coat of arms says "heritage" and the two-tone label design is clean, simple, unfussy and classy in a gastropubby sort of way - I'm modern and unpretentious, it seems to say, but I'm also sincere and I care about quality.

Classy, self-confident, individual - this seems designed to appeal to the discerning urban drinker, but one with an artistic streak, the kind of person who watches Grand Designs, say.

But what does the wine actually taste like ? Well, it's actually rather good in fact, and certainly good value - unusually restrained and complex for an Aussie Chardonnay, it has lots of toasty oak and crisp tropical fruits on the nose; there is a refreshing, smooth, mouth-filling and buttery palate, with more good, well-balanced ripe tropical fruit, some gingery spice and a good mineral backbone. Good length with a hint of residual fruit sugar, whilst the finish itself is dry and crisp with some gentle tannic grip.

The Laithwaite's website describes it as "ultra-fresh ... new wave ... crisp ... less oak-driven"; that strikes me more as the scribblings of someone who has sat in on a focus group and heard that nobody seems to like oaky whites any more than a proper tasting note.

Oaked Chardonnay of any sort is a great food match - this would work well with roast white meat, oily fish, pretty much anything in a creamy sauce as well as my all-time favourite match, Thai green curry.

Links

Laithwaite's - http://www.laithwaites.co.uk/

McPherson Wines - http://www.mcphersonwines.com.au/

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Casa Virola Merlot, Yecla 2008 - Laithwaites

Spanish Merlot is not a concept that trips off the tongue like, say, Aussie Chardonnay or NZ Sauvignon Blanc, so this wine from Laithwaites is a little unusual in its provenance, if not unique.

The spiritual home of Merlot is Bordeaux, some 600 miles to the north of the small, and little-known-town of Yecla. As a result of the southern altitude with its searing heat by day, you might expect this wine to be baked and jammy.

However, there's none of that here - this is a right-bank-style Merlot with plums, forest fruits and a touch of vanilla on the nose, pencil shavings and spice on the palate, all balanced by good acidity and grip with a lovely firm, smooth texture and good length.

The answer to the conundrum lies in the altitude of the vineyards - Yecla is around 600m above sea level - which gives cool nights and a longer growing season resulting in a darker, fuller and more aromatic wine.

The winemaker, Bodegas Castaño, was established in 1975 and now make "The best wines of Yecla" according to the Laithwaites website, whilst Decanter gives this wine a commendation in its 2010 awartds.

This was one of the better wines from my Laithwaites "mystery" case - one of the few I would seriously consider buying again, especially as it's reasonable value at £6.99 a bottle (before delivery charges).

Links

Laithwaites - http://www.laithwaites.co.uk/

Bodegas Castano - http://www.bodegascastano.com/

List of Decanter's Commended Wines for 2010 - http://www.decanter.com/dwwa/2010/dwwa_search.php?qsearch=acow

Saturday, 2 October 2010

South American tasting at Cambridge Food and Wine Society

Bellwether Wines is a newly-established independent wine merchant based in Peterborough set up by Louise Steel with her brother, Michael. Louise recently took time out from the trials of running a successful start-up business to present some of her South American wines (mostly Chilean) to the Cambridge Food and Wine Society.

"Any colour as long as it's
black", a Ford Model T
Louise, the most charming lady you could meet who obviously knows a lot about her subject, started her career in the drinks industry working for family firm Adcocks; founded by her ancestors 100 years ago next year, in 1928 it took delivery of a then state-of-the-art Model T Ford for deliveries.

Several decades later, Louise's father was bottling and manufacturing soft drinks which were delivered locally to shops and licensed premises. Needless to say, there was never a shortage of Cherryade and Dandelion & Burdock in the Adcock household. From Adcocks, Louise gradually moved into the world of wine via Coca-Cola and later beer giant, Molson Coors.

Before setting up Bellwether, Louise also worked with Champagne houses Lanson and Taittinger and Chile's Concha y Toro, with whom she retains links and from where she sourced a number of the wines for this tasting. Earlier this year, she also spent a week in Bordeaux becoming an accredited CIVB tutor - a highly prestigious achievement as there are just 23 of these in the UK.

For this south American tasting, Louise brought along a range of good wines, including a sweet Malbec wine which was first for most people on the evening.

We kicked off with two wines from Cono Sur; founded in 1993 with the aim of making "premium, expressive and innovative wines conveying the spirit of the New World", the company now has 1,800 hectares of vineyards and is perhaps one of Chile's best-known wine producers - the first of these was a refreshing and very drinkable unoaked Chardonnay, with a good balance of acidity and fruit followed by a Riesling with good acidity and balanced fruit, probably best with food.


Concha Y Toro © Michaël Lejeune
CC-BY-SA-2.5, Wikimedia Commons
 The next wine was a Viognier from Argentinian winemaker, Trivento (actually owned by Concha y Toro) - to me, Viognier is something of a poor-man's Chardonnay and this wine one of the few disappointments on the evening, but reasonable given the price.

The next wine was from the Emiliana winery whose Pinot Noir I tried a while ago - this was a Gewürztraminer with subtle fruit on the nose followed by complex flavours on the palate and some residual sweetness on the finish.

Next, and slightly out of the usual order, was an excellent sweet Late Harvest wine from Concha y Toro - fresh, without any cloying characteristics, it was excellent value for money. Louise suggested trying with savoury starters, but that may have been a little radical for some of the audience.

The first of the reds was an Argentinian Shiraz from Trivento again - this was a typical Shiraz with nutmeg and black pepper aromas, and toast and chocolate notes from oak aging.

Chile has something of a reputation for making very drinkable Cabernet Sauvignon and the Marques de Casa Concha (another Concha y Toro label), bursting with fruit in the mouth and restrained tannins, was no exception.

Carménère grapes
Long mistaken for Merlot, Carmenere is perhaps Chile's signature red grape this 2006 wine again from Concha y Toro had 94 Parker points and was worth every one; deep in colour, it was well-structured and mouthfilling, with bitter chocolate, sweet tannins and a long finish with spice and hints of tobacco.

The last wine was something a little unusual - a port-like fortified wine made from the Malbec grape. Unfortunately, it tasted like a thin port which didn't work for me.

The Wines (prices ex-VAT from Bellwether)

1. Cono Sur, Los Gansos Chardonnay - £5.63

2. Cono Sur, Maiden Flight Riesling - £7.12

3. Trivento, Tribu Viognier - £4.83

4. Emiliana, Adobe Gewurztraminer (Organic & Biodynamic) -£6.64

5. Concha y Toro, Late Harvest - £4.89

6. Trivento, Reserve Syrah - £5.88

7. Marques de Casa Concha Cabernet Sauvignon - £8.11

8. Concha y Toro, Terrunyo Carmenere - £11.36

9. Malamado Red, Familla Zuccardi (Sweet
 Liqueur Wine) - £ 12.76

Links

Cambridge Food and Wine Society - http://www.cambridgefoodandwinesociety.org.uk/

Bellwether Wines - http://www.bellwetherwines.co.uk/

Cono Sur - http://www.conosur.com/en/

Concha y Toro - http://www.conchaytoro.com/

Emiliana - http://www.emiliana.cl/