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Saturday, 26 February 2011

Steendrift Fairtrade Merlot, Western Cape WO,2009 - Laithwaites

This Western Cape WO Merlot was provided by Laithwaites under their 100% Satisfaction Guarantee (see here for how it works) - along with the few others sent along as replacements for some wines I had thought were not great, it was presumably intended to be an example of their most popular, flagship wines.

In the mid-level, in a warm climate, Merlot generally produces likable-enough wines with plenty of flavour and a pleasantly soft texture - it scores high as a crowd-pleaser with plenty to enjoy and nothing too challenging or serious.

This South African example, however, feels more like a hothouse wine, with lots of baked up-front New World character, cherries, prunes and figs plus some vanilla and spice.

With lots of perfumey aromas, this wine then is more about juicy ripeness and sheer quantity of flavours than texture, structure, restraint or finesse.

Thankfully though, it's also reasonably balanced with good acidity and neither too sweet nor too jammy - however, it does have a rather baked, blueberry, perfumey aroma on the finish which is not to my taste and almost unpleasant. A bit like sitting next to someone who has given themselves a few too many squirts of Chanel No 5, in moderation it would be nice, but not when excessively done.

We had this with a simple margherita pizza and it matched well enough - rather like a loud guest at a party, it would have overpowered anything more subtle or sophisticated.

I gave this wine a pretty low review score on the Laithwaites website and, perhaps predictably, they sent me a money-off voucher as recompense. I have to say I have not spent it yet and that was several months ago now.

£6.99 from Laithwaites, it's also Fairtrade.

Links

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

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Brewery Hill Shiraz, South Eastern Australia, 2008 - Naked Wines

I reviewed the Brewery Hill Reserve Shiraz a while ago (see here) as part of a case Naked Wines sent me for review - this is effectively its little brother and I bought it with my own funds, albeit on special offer as part of a pre-selected mixed case.

Aussie Shiraz is something of a "modern classic" wine - fruity, warm-hearted and spicy, it's a real crowd pleaser with complex aromas and smooth texture when made in a warm climate. The grape originally hails from the Rhône - where it is known as Syrah and produces something much more textured and rarified - but made its way to Australia in the 1830s and is now the country's most-planted red variety.

This wine, from the generic catch-all region of South Eastern Australia, is all about crowd-pleasing aromas - there's plenty of typical New-World plums and prunes, some earthy woodsiness and vanilla on the nose, with peppery spice and minty eucalyptus on the palate. Technically well-made, with a smooth texture, some fruit sweetness and just a touch of tannic grip on the finish, it's seductive and quaffable.

It feels more restrained than the Reserve, but although it's a less serious wine, that also makes it perhaps rather more enjoyable.

The list price for this wine is £8.99/£5.99 for Angels.

Links

Naked Wines - http://www.nakedwines.com/

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Petit Villebois, VdP Val de Loire, 2009‏ - Naked Wines

A while ago, Naked Wines emailed me with an offer that was too good to refuse - a case of six wines for just the cost of the taxes and delivery, working out at about £2 per bottle.

The wines were a pre-selected mixed case which is always a good way to get a sense of a retailer's "house style".

This Petit Villebois is the "younger brother" of a Sancerre lookalike which Naked invited me to review some time ago and which I thought was an interesting mixture of the New World and the Old (reviewed here).

The winery is owned by Dutch interloper Joost de Villebois who fell in love with the region whilst on holiday; he graduated from wine-making school in Bordeaux (where they also make Sauvignon Blanc) and has been making wine since 1996, in as environmentally-friendly way as possible.

From a lower VdP appellation, this wine has characteristic Loire flinty gunsmoke on the nose and an apples-and-pears acidity with some cantaloupe melon on the palate. It is balanced and less herbaceous than many a Sauvignon; it is also lighter, with less intensity, structure or minerality, although the length does improve with some air.

Naked suggest this as a mid-week quaffer, and it certainly is light enough to drink without food - it was a little overpowered by the cheese that we had with it, and would probably match better with plain white fish.

To my mind, this is just the sort of white that should prove really popular at the moment - with plenty of fresh Sauvignon character but less in-yer-face than the overly tropical New World versions and a very easy-drinking crowd-pleasing style, but still grown-up and sophisticated.

The full list price for this wine is £8.49, with 33% cashback for Angels (for more details on the Angels scheme, see here - or an article by Arnold Waldstein here).

Links

Naked Wines - http://www.nakedwines.com/

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Kracher's Dessert Wines

At the Annual Tasting of Austrian Wines in London recently, I bumped into Noel Young - a fellow Cambridge resident.

It was no surprise that he should be there as he was representing three merchants and having won the International Wine Challenge award for best Austrian Wine retailer (more than once), must be considered one of the top sources of Austrian Wines in the UK.

Noel was getting used to the cold of a British winter having recently returned from Australia where he had been overseeing the blending of his 2010 wines in the Barrossa Valley.

I asked him which of his wines we should taste and he suggested a Kracher dessert wine - one of my favourite stickies when I used to visit Austria regularly.

The eponymous Alois Kracher who died prematurely in 2007 was widely considered to produce the greatest dessert wines in Austria. After his death, son Gerhard took over running of the winery with an attitude of don't "change what isn't broken".
The Kracher family, with the late Alois Kracher (second left)
Kracher's vineyards are located in Illmitz in Burgenland near the shallow Lake Neusiedl where ideal conditions for botrytis exist and the warm southerly air currents help produce big, rich, intense dessert wines.

This Grande Cuvee TBA from 2008 is made from 50% Chardonnay and 50% Welschriesling and is both fermented and aged in new French oak. It was rich, marmaladey and intense, yet also fresh and balanced with an extremely long finish.

The 2008s are the second vintage for which Gerhard had sole oversight, having won with his father Late Harvest Winemaker of the Year for the 2006s at the 2009 International Wine Challenge.

The Wine

Grande Cuvee Nouvelle Vague Trockenbeerenauslese No.6 £27.50 (ex VAT, trade price)

Links

Alois Kracher - http://www.kracher.at/

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

Monday, 21 February 2011

Fritz Wieninger‏ - Wines from Vienna

There are probably not many capital cities that have vineyards located with the city boundaries - probably even fewer that can claim to produce wine of any note.

However, there is a ring of forested hills on the northern side of Vienna whose foothills provide suitable growing conditions for grapes.

Historically, most of the wine produced in Vienna was intended to be consumed young and unquestioningly in the city's wine taverns known as heurige - these started off as a cottage industry when on August 17, 1784 Emperor Joseph II granted subjects the right to sell their own produce on a set number days of the year.

Over time, the popularity of heurige has grown to the point where on any summer's eve, the main street of Grinzing, Vienna's heurige district, is lined with tourist coaches of people "doing the heuriger experience".

During my time in Vienna, I went to quite a few heurige where the wines tended to be at best light and crisp. And whilst Vienna still does not produce anything to threaten the superiority of the Wachau (in terms of either quality or price), Fritz Wieninger's wines show a marked step up from basic heurige table wine.

The first wine, a 2010 Grüner Veltliner from the Vienna Hills, was fresh and perfumed; this was followed by a GV from Herrenholz which was richer, but more restrained.

Next came a Riesling from the Vienna Hills which is still not bottled commercially, but had been brought over as an early trade sample - 2010 was not an easy year for much of Austria with late frosts, cool conditions and frequent sporadic rain to contend with.

Moreover, although Vienna gets a double boost of warm southerly air plus a degree or two extra warm from the city itself, this Riesling was still high in acidity and a little underwhelming.

For his final wine, Fritz showed me something a little different and special - from 50 year-old vines in Nussberg, and with 18 months' aging on the lees, this one was impressively rich, creamy and full in a much more old-school fashion and still needs another 6-12 months in bottle to start showing its best.

Fritz explained that the characteristics of this wine, from the Nussberg vineyard (incidentally, round the corner from where I used to work) come from the terroir and not from any wine-making technique.

Very different from Austria's "new-style" wines, which match with modern international cuisine, this would pair well with equally traditional Viennese food, such as meat, a potato salad or even a Wiener schnitzel.

Yields for the 2010 wine (not due for release for some time yet) will be well down due to a wild board running amok through the vineyard - Fritz is still having talks with the local hunters about how to avoid a repeat incident.

Wieninger's wines are distributed in the UK by Noel Young Wines of Cambridge.

The Wines

Grüner Veltliner, Vienna Hills, 2010, £11.95
Grüner Veltliner, Herrenholz, 2010, £13.50
Riesling, Vienna Hills, 2010, £11.95
Nussberg Alte Reben, 2009, £19.00

Links

Wieninger - http://www.wieninger.at/

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

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Rotes Haus Gets Naked


The "Rotes Haus"
Having recently become a Naked Angel, I was keen to have a chat with Gerhard Lobner at the recent Annual Tasting of Austrian Wines in London about his Rotes Haus wines, sold exclusively through Naked Wines in the UK.

The Rotes Haus vineyards are located in the 17th and 19th districts of Vienna - just round the corner from where I used to live and with a view over the city.

The first wine we tried was a Gemischter Satz; otherwise known as a mixture of odds and sods, the grapes for this wine not only all come from same vineyard, but are also picked and fermented together, all at different stages of ripeness.

With mostly Grüner Veltliner (but also a further 12 varieties) in the mix, the end result was a crisp and balanced wine with some aromatic notes and a richness on the finish due to around 4% traminer.

Gerhard explained that the subtlety and harmoniousness of the flavours is much better achieved through fermenting the grapes together than through blending separate finished wines - even if it means that the end result is effectively decided at the moment the decision to pick the grapes is taken.

This wine was picked as the winner of the European Wine Bloggers' Conference in Vienna last year and bought up by Naked Wines for exclusive sale in the UK.

Refreshing and crisply aromatic with some Old-World restraint, it is right on the zeigeist for mid-level whites in the UK at the moment. If you've done oaky Aussie Chardonnay, had enough of ripe NZ Sauvignon and are now looking for an alternative to Pinot Grigio, this could be just the thing.

The second wine was Gerhard's Grüner Veltliner which Naked snapped up straight away after tasting - again for exclusive sale in the UK. And I can see why - it is a more interesting wine than the Gemischter Satz, shows plenty of typical GV aromas of lentils, celery and white pepper and has good structure.

The final wine Gerhard showed me was a Riesling from Ried Alsegg under his Mayer am Pfarrplatz label which is currently not distributed in the UK - the Mayer wines are from different vineyards to the Rotes Haus and are in general lighter in style.

The Wines

Rotes Haus Gemischter Satz, 2009, 12.5%
Rotes Haus Gruener Veltliner, 2009, 13%

Mayer am Pfarrplatz, Riesling Ried Alsegg, 2009, 13%

Links

Rotes Haus - http://www.weingut.rotes-haus.at/

Mayer am Pfarrplatz - http://www.pfarrplatz.at/

Naked Wines - https://www.nakedwines.com/

Friday, 18 February 2011

F.X. Pichler

FX Pichler's Kellerberg vineyard
F.X. Pichler is one of the great names of Wachau wine and it was a real pleasure to meet current Chief Winemaker Lucas Pichler (son of Franz "F.X." Xaver) and wife Johanna in London for the Annual Tasting of Austrian Wines recently.

They make a glamorous couple - she elegant and understated, he intensely rugged with charismatic charm; together they are almost a metaphor for their own wines.


I was keen to work through the wines in order to get a sense of Wachau terroir; with very few exceptions, all their wines are from single vineyards and were from the moderately warm 2009 vintage - cooler than 2008, but not as difficult as 2010.

F.X. Pichler's vineyards are located towards the warmer, eastern end of the Wachau where achieving the top Smaragd level of ripeness is easier, and the wines correspondingly bigger and riper, than at the cooler western end.

We started with a mid-level, light and refreshing Riesling Federspiel from Loibner Burgstall which showed lots of aromatic white pepper and elderflower.

Next came a Riesling Smaragd from the Dürnsteiner Hollerin vineyard which has a warm, south easterly aspect; this wine felt richer and fuller with a graceful minerality and finesse.

A Smaragd from Loibner Steinertal at the eastern end of the valley showed racy minerality and a long finish.

Next came the Dürnsteiner Kellerberg Smaragd Riesling which enjoys a special microclimate with steep terraces, a south easterly aspect with early-morning sun and large diurnal temperature swings due to the cool air flowing in from the bordering woods at the ends of the day, thereby extending the growing season.

As a result of all this, the wine shows a great balance of ripe exotic fruits, linear structure, mineral length and great elegance.

A Grüner Veltliner from the same vineyard was equally impressive lots of typical aromas of celery, white pepper and lentils and, again, great structure and minerality on the finish.

Finally, the last wine was the "M" Smaragd Grüner Veltliner, a blend of grapes from Pichler's top two vineyards ("M" standing for Monumental) producing a richly complex and intense wine which is also at the same time delicate and nuanced; full-bodied with great minerality and slightly smokey, tabaccoey notes, it is impressive now but Lucas feels will not show its best until around five years from the vintage.

The grapes for the "M" come mainly from the steep slopes of the south-facing Loibner Berg vineyard and are usually harvested several weeks after the grapes for the single vineyard wine, no mean feat when the usual harvesting range is from October to early December.

The minimum alcohol content for a Smaragd is 12.5%, but these wines were at almost New World levels of 13% and 14%; yet, whilst undeniably big, they expressed this ripeness with a distinctly Old-World degree of finesse as rich, full-bodied mouthfeel, balanced with great linear structure, extract and mineral length.

F.X. Pichler wines are available through Richards Walford Importers of Wine in the UK.

The Wines

Loibner Burgstall Federspiel, Riesling, 2009, 12%
Dürnsteiner Hollerin Smaragd, Riesling, 2009, 13%
Loibner Steinertal Smaragd, Riesling, 2009, 13%
Dürnsteiner Kellerberg Smaragd, Riesling, 2009, 14%
Dürnsteiner Kellerberg Smaragd, Grüner Veltliner, 2009, 14%
"M" Smaragd, 2009, 14%

Links

F.X. Pichler - http://www.fx-pichler.at/

Richards Walford Importers of Wine - http://www.r-w.co.uk/

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Terroir and Vintage in Austria's Wachau Valley with Domäne Wachau



A panoramic shot of the Wachau, facing north with Dürnstein just visible in the far left.
I have been enthusiastic about Austrian wines for many years, but it was only recently at the Annual Tasting of Austrian Wines that I gained a really thorough insight into the subtle nuances of terroir and vintage fluctuation from Roman Horvath MW, Managing Director of Domäne Wachau (who had organised my invitation to the event).

In very general, perhaps oversimplified terms, Austrian terroir has three main distinct regions for its top white wines - the Wachau and surrounds for minerally Rieslings and Grüner Veltliners, Styria in the south for crisply aromatic Sauvignon cultivated at altitude and Burgenland on the edge of the Pannonian plain near the border with Hungary for rich dessert wines.

I had always thought of the beautiful, meandering, UNESCO-protected Wachau valley as relatively homogeneous with the key differences being aspect (north bank vs south bank) and elevation (from the flat vineyards on the valley floor to the elevated and steep terraces higher up).


Roman Horvath MW (left), with Oenologist Heinz Frischengruber
However, as Roman explained, the key distinction is actually east-west along the valley. This is due to a combination of climatic and geographic factors - warm air from the south enters the valley at its eastern end, whilst cold northern air enters from the western end. In the middle is a sharp bend creating two quite distinct meso-climates, whilst along the north side cool air flows down from the forested Waldviertel plateau at night, thereby increasing the diurnal temperature variation and extending the growing season.

Whilst the wines from Domaene Wachau's "Terrassen" range are blended from gapes from all along the valley to produce a balanced style, those from a specific vineyard will show characteristics of their terroir, slightly fuller and less perfumed to the east and lighter, fresher with more floral notes and spice from the west.

Whilst Austria generally has a fairly reliable climate, I know from personal experience that it can rain for weeks on end in what is supposed to be summer and this was the case for 2010, making for a tough vintage with yields 30% - 50% down due to early frosts compared to a much easier 2009.

However, whilst this makes life harder at the entry-level point, Roman feels that the top, single-vineyard Smaragd Rieslings from and GVs from 2010 have the potential to be even better than the 2009s.

It was not possible to try these wines as they are still being aged on their lees in the winery with only the lighter Federspiels released so far from 2010.

I sampled the wines Roman had brought to show, mostly 2009s, and you can find links to more detailed reviews of these from earlier tastings below.

Of note was that whilst the 2009 Terrassen wines are showing well now, the single vineyard wines really need another six months or so in bottle to start to open up - or some time in a decanter.

The final wine we tried was a Beerenauslese from 2008 - a lighter fresher style than the Burgenland dessert wines due to the slightly cooler climate. In general, conditions are warm enough to achieve BA in 8 out of ten years, but TBA-level sweetness is only possible in around 3 to 4 years out of 10.

Roman finished off by explaining that international demand for his wines now means that he has no problem in selling them, especially with the low 2010 yields - but there is no opportunity to increase volumes given the size limitations of the Wachau Valley itself where the winery has 440 hectares of land (around 30% of the entire Wachau area).

As a result, the only way up is through quality and pricing - and ever-more specific terroir will surely play a big part in that.

The wines are imported into the UK by Alliance Wine.

The Wines

Grüner Veltliner Federspiel Terrassen 2010, 12% (reviewed here)
Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Terrassen, 2009, 13%
Riesling Smaragd Terrassen, 2009 13% (reviewed here)
Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Achtleiten, 13.5%
Riesling Smaragd Kellerberg, 2009, 13.5%
Cuvée Beerenauslese Terrassen, 2008 9.5% (reviewed here)

Links

Domäne Wachau - http://www.domaene-wachau.at/

Alliance Wine - http://www.alliancewine.co.uk/

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Feiler-Artinger's Dessert Wines‏

My introduction to Austrian dessert wines came at a restaurant in Vienna many years ago after a friend had recommended I try the Meinl am Graben restaurant located in the upmarket Julius Meinl food store on Vienna's central Graben.

The food and service in the restaurant, and likewise the decor, was smart, distinctly modern and sophisticated but with an eye to tradition.

I would go on to have many superb meals, and wines, there, but on this first evening, looking down the floodlit Graben at the gilded Plague Monument, as ordered dessert I asked for a Tokaji to go with it. "Would you like an Austrian dessert wine ?" the waitress asked.

Naively, I queried "Does Austria make dessert wines ?". With superbly good grace, she let me off with a mock-severe face and said "I bring you an Austrian dessert wine", returning with a choice of three bottles.

I forget how we decided which one to try, but I do remember it was a Feiler-Artinger Ruster Ausbruch, a liltingly poetic mouthful of a name.

Ruster Ausbruch is a sweet wine from Rust, a picturesque historic village full of storks' nests on the edge of the Pannonian plain and next to the shallow Lake Neusidl which forms part of the border with Hungary.

Here, warm southerly air helps create the damp, humid conditions in which the botrytis fungus thrives before the sun burns off the morning mist to provide ripeness to the grapes, as the picture below shows.

The Ausbruch tag, unique to this part of Austria, means the sweetness level is between Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese.

The wine itself was a revelation - mouthfillingly unctuous and deeply complex with rich, marmaladey fruit and a refreshing structural acidity and finesse, it is superb.

I got a chance to sample it once more at the Annual Tasting of Austrian Wines in London recently and was impressed all over again.

UK importer Clark Foyster Wines had brought along three stickies from Feiler-Artinger and, after this one, I also sampled a Pinot Cuvee made with Pinots Blanc and Gris in the mix.

This was lighter and fresher in style than the previous wine, but equally complex, long and with impressive finesse.

Finally, and somewhat in the wrong order, I tried the Beerenauslese, one grade of sweetness down from the previous two. This felt like the little brother of the Ausbruchs or, as I noted down at the time, the same wine but with the volume turned down just a little.

The Wines

Feiler-Artinger Beerenauslese 2009, 10%, Burgenland
Feiler-Artinger Ruster Ausbruch, 2007, 11%, Burgenland
Feiler-Artinger Ruster Ausbruch Pinot Cuvee, 2007,11%, Burgenland

Links

Feiler-Artinger - http://www.feiler-artinger.at/

Clark Foyster Wines - http://www.clarkfoysterwines.co.uk/

Monday, 14 February 2011

Forget-Chauvet Premier Cru Brut Selection, NV Champagne, France‏

There's no denying that Champagne has a certain cachet - other sparkling wines may pop and fizz like Champagne, but they don't quite make the same statement when there is a cause for celebration.

For many years, I failed to see the point of Champagne - over-hyped and over-priced, it always struck me as a triumph of marketing over common sense.

Last year, however, I went to a number of Champagne tastings and began to see what the fuss was all about, remembering again why I had been so impressed by the samples on offer at the end of a cellar tour at one of the better-known Champagne houses in Epernay over 20 years ago.

A chalky hill 90 miles north east of Paris may seem an unlikely place for what is generally held to be the world's most prestigious sparkling wine - and indeed the still wine it produces is generally quite thin and acidic.

The montagne de Reims

But, a few years' aging on its lees and a secondary fermentation in bottle can turn this ugly duckling of a wine into an elegant oenological swan.

Champagne's approach to wine-making is surprisingly New-World, with blending across vineyards and vintages to achieve a consistent "House Style" with little sense of specific terroir, which puts it somewhat at odds with most of the rest of France.

A further parallel with the New World is that many Champagne houses do not grow all their own grapes but buy in from growers across the region.

The grapes used for Champagne, however, are amongst the most noble there are - Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the great grapes of Burgundy (plus the lesser-known Pinot Meunier which it is generally not found anywhere else).

There are of course Champagnes and Champagnes - there are around one hundred Champagne houses and 19,000 smaller vignerons (vine-growing producers) in Champagne, but only a small number of these have achieved the kind of household-name status that allows them to command premium prices.

The producer of this Champagne Brut, Forget-Chauvet (pictured left), is based in Ludes and is part of the Patrimoine des Terroirs association, whose wines have I have been finding impressive recently, so I had reasonably high expectations.

Ludes, according to the company's website, is a "typically Champenois village situated 8km from Reims with 275 hectares of vines on the Montagne de Reims" (see map below for more details on location).


Pale gold in the glass, it pours with a fine mousse and is initially crisp and elegant, with a rich, creamy texture from long aging on the lees. There is plenty of ripe fruit acidity, giving both good structure and balance.

After around 90 minutes, with a bit more air and warmth, typically complex Champagne aromas of nutty, oatmealy brioche and biscuity yeastiness are revealed whilst the texture becomes rich and mouthfilling with a long, refreshingly smooth yet savoury finish.

Possessed of plenty of finesse, it also has the richness to match with food and we had this with roast pork.

Forget-Chauvet is not yet available in the UK, but costs €15 per bottle in France and can be ordered from the producer. At that price, it represents much better value than many of the household-name brands that are more instantly familiar.

Champagne Forget-Chauvet - 8 rue Victor Hugo 51500 LUDES - Tél. +33 3.26.61.11.73, email forget.chauvet@wanadoo.fr.

Provided for review.

Links

Forget-Chauvet - http://forget-chauvet.isasite.net/

Patrimoine des Terroirs - http://patrimoinevin.canalblog.com/

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Domaine des Cassagnoles, 2009, Côtes de Gascogne IGP - Laithwaite's

I've had two bottles of this southern French white from Laithwaite's under their 100% satisfaction guarantee; drinking the second, I remember now why I didn't bother to write up the first.

Colombard is something of a workhorse grape and is generally distilled into Armagnac; its main claim to fame is that it retains some freshness even in the sweltering heat of a Gascon summer - noble, then, it is not.

So full marks for pluck to anyone who tries to make a decent table wine out of Colombard; sadly, however, the end result in this case is something of a curate's egg.

On the nose, it is herbaceous, pungent and mineral and rather similar to a New World Sauvignon. Initially, the palate is also quite full and honeyed yet crisp.

Unfortunately, it is on the mid-palate and finish where it all ends in disaster - tart, thin, mean and chalky, it is almost quite unpleasant, especially after the reasonably promising build-up.

Winemaker Gilles Baumann, originally from Alsace, writes on the back label that his aspiration for the wine is for it to be crisp, aromatic and a benchmark for the region.

He clearly has not quite succeeded yet; whilst the Alsace influence is clear here - it is indeed aromatic with typical Alsatian fullness and structure - he just needs to sort out the finish and he may then have something worth talking about. Sadly, however, the rest of this particular bottle is going in the cooking.

Interestingly, Wikipedia suggests the grape may be related to Chenin Blanc - that would certainly explain the mouth-stripping acidity; with a bit more time, the acidity fades, but then so do the aromatics.

Inexplicably, it has a medal from the Concours General Agricole de Paris 2010, whilst the Laithwaite's website describes the wine as their bestselling white for 15 years.

£7.49 (plus delivery) from Laithwaite's.

Links

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

Friday, 11 February 2011

Côtes du Rhône Village Visan Veilles Vignes, Domaine La Guintrandy 2009

This is the second of three wines from La Guintrandy from the village of Visan in the southern Rhône - I was impressed with the entry-level Le Devès (reviewed here), but this is a rather more serious wine.

Made from low-yielding old vines aged between 30 and 50 years old, it is 90% Grenache with small amounts of two other southern red grapes, Carignan and the more noble Syrah.

The Guintrandy vineyard
The grapes for this wine are grown in the warmest part of the Le Devès area of Visan and, after a long maceration, the wine is aged completely in oak and is bottled unfiltered.

The end result is a whopping 15%; just pouring it into the decanter, I can already smell the rich nose of bramble fruit, prunes, tobacco, spice and vanillary oak. It's a heady combination - there's more of the same when sniffed from the glass but the palate is initially more dense and subdued. It's a big wine, but in a concentrated, old-world way without being too overcooked or perfumey.

With a bit more time, it opens up in the glass and shows more of the same rich cooked fruit, a sharp, sour-cherry acidity, some hints of truffley, woodsy undergrowth and pleasingly firm tannic grip on the finish.

It clearly has serious aging potential; with the bottle re-stoppered and sampled four days later it's still as intense as ever - more woodsy vanilla spice on the nose with a slap of leather and hints of coffee and menthol. On the palate, there's some sweet dark cherry fruit, pepperiness and spice and still plenty of grippy finish.

This is definitely a wine to lay down for a while to see it at its best, whereas the earlier Le Devès is drinking nicely now. There's also a strong sense of terroir here; Grenache usually makes big wines with perfume and richness, but little sense of restraint. By contrast, these old vines at altitudes of up to 230m have produced something much more focused and intense.

Like all the Patrimoine des Terroirs wines I have had so far, it is rounded enough to be drunk alone, but seems designed to go better with food and we found this matched well with simple roast lamb, seasoned with garlic and rosemary.

Links

Domaine La Guintrandy - http://www.vins-cuilleras.com/wine-domaine.htm

Patrimoine des Terroirs - http://patrimoinevin.canalblog.com/

Thursday, 10 February 2011

More on Naked Wines - Offers and Competitions‏

As a Naked Angel, I get occasional emails from the company's founder, Rowan Gormley, with details of special offers and competitions to enter.

A while ago, I was tempted into buying a case of mixed wines for just the cost of the duty plus delivery - that worked out at the bargain price of about £2 per bottle.

I subsequently failed in my attempt to persuade Portuguese wine-maker Mário Negreiros that he should pick me as the winner of a competition to win a trip to visit his winery, but I learnt quite a bit about Portuguese wine in the process.

More recently, I was prompted into spending the £40 voucher I got when I signed up to the Angels scheme by the combined offer of a free bottle of D'Aquino Merlot (pictured left), apparently, one of just 400 available, along with 33% cashback (for Angels) and free delivery (overs over £100).

Naked's current competition, open to anyone in the UK, whether an Naked customer or not, is to declare their undying love to a sweetheart (just one, mind) on the Naked Wines site with a chance to wine a romantic prize, courtesy of winemaker Alessandro Botter.

Many years ago, I harboured ambitions of becoming a poet and scribbled down a few sonnets but common sense and financial realities subsequently prevailed and a career in accountancy beckoned.

It's a while now since I wrote any poems and, as someone who eschews the idea of over-priced gift-shop tat at this time of year, the closest I usually get to a declaration of love is surreptitiously supervising the kids making home-made valentine's cards for their Mum.

However, with the offer of a weekend in Venice on the cards, it's time to dust down those rhyming couplets and get composing - much harder than writing a tasting note.

Links

Naked Wines - https://www.nakedwines.com/

Naked Wines Valentine's Competition - http://www.nakedwines.com/groups/valentines-competition.htm

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

A Cup of Coffee in Vienna - Cafe Hawelka‏

For me, Vienna is synonymous with many things - the seat of the Habsburgs, the Holy Roman Empire, historic palaces and grand cathedrals, the waltzes of Strauss and clandestine assignations between cold-war spies and their spymasters.

So, it's hard to pick one thing that sums up the city - and that diversity and wealth of heritage is one of the reasons I love it so much.

One of the things I also loved when I lived there was sitting in coffee house, making a small cup of coffee last several hours, if I was in the mood, without ever feeling like I was being encouraged to move on.

In 1683, Vienna lay on the edge of civilised Christendom (some locals believe it still does); the Ottoman armies had lain siege to the Austrian capital and were only defeated when the combined forces of King Jan Sobieski of Poland and Duke Charles of Lorraine came to help.

Amongst the silk tents and banners left behind by the retreating Turks (who would take another 200 years to leave Europe) were sacks of mysterious brown beans.

Eschewing the other, more obvious plunder, one of the Austrian spies, a Polish-Ukrainian named Franz George Kolschitzky, took the beans and opened Austria's first coffee shop - mixing the thick, dark Turkish brew known as "Kahve" with milk and thus inventing the melange (ask for a cappuccino in Vienna and it will come with whipped cream on top).

The culture of the coffee house later received a boost from an unlikely source - namely, Emperor Franz Josef's eating habits; a bluff military man, he was a picky eater. However, as custom dictated that not only the sovereign be served first but also that everyone else stop as soon as he put down his knife and fork, this left many an attendee going hungry at what should have been a grand banquet and relying on a visit to the coffee house afterwards for sustenance.

Vienna's coffee houses have a rich tradition, then, of supporting courtiers, poets, musicians and even the odd exiled revolutionary, but when I lived in Vienna, my favourite coffee house was always the shabby but unhurried faded glamour of Cafe Hawelka - its Slavic name both indicative and typical of the mass immigration from the vassal states which Vienna experienced.

Situated just off the main pedestrianised street, the Graben, Hawelka epitomises gemütlichkeit - Austrian gentrified, down-at-heel cosiness; all the furniture has a reassuring romantic faded-glamour and a well-worn shabbiness to it and the welcome is as warm as any in Vienna.

One of the things we noticed living in Vienna was how low rents were compared to London. This is due to low land values, in turn as a result of a closed socialist economy.

It is these low overheads which allow a cafe in the centre of the city to welcome visitors for a coffee costing just a few Euros and not encourage them to leave the minute they have finished.

What I also like about Hawelka is how genuine it feels - in some cities it would have been turned into a quasi-tourist attraction, with a queue to get in, high prices and t-shirts plus other assorted souvenirs available for purchase as you exit through the gift shop.

That said, the Austrians are not too shabby when it comes to marketing themselves and there is a range of Hawelka merchandise available from coffee (obviously) to posters and playing cards.

In other cafes, you would feel the need or at least the obligation to move on as soon as you have finished, but here an atmosphere of relaxed, calm lounging pervades, in which it feels rude to move on too quickly.

This love of la dolce vita in a Germanic country confirmed my suspicions that the Austrians must be the missing link between the Germans and the Italians.

Yes, they like to lounge and they have a propensity for petty politics and scandal, but they can also make the trams run on time and keep the street clean.

It's one of the reasons Austria is such a special place for me and why, for me, coffee is one of the things that symbolises Vienna above all.

As the Hawelka website puts it: while the Glory Years may have passed, it is the outside world that has changed and not the Café Hawelka. It still provides a refuge for many artists, writers and musicians.

Links

Hawelka - http://www.hawelka.at/

Monday, 7 February 2011

Further Confessions of a Bin-End Browser - Actino Airén VDLT, 2008, Bodegas Juan Ramirez‏

When buying a bin-end wine for 25p, one's expectations are pretty low - hopefully, it's at least good enough for the cooking.

When it's an out-of-date, non-descript Airén - unofficially the world's most widely planted and dullest white grape - from "somewhere" in Spain (VDLT, Vino de la Tierra, is lowly, generic "country wine"), one's expectations are further lowered.

On opening, it has an earthy, yeasty toastiness on the nose and a pleasant lemoniness on the palate. Also on the plus side are that it's balanced and restrained. It pretty much goes without saying that there's not much in the way of complexity - texture and finish are pretty minimal too.

So, what there is here is enjoyable enough - there's nothing bad; it's just that there isn't much at all. I've had worse - usually at works' Christmas parties - but after a few mouthfuls, I decide that the rest can go in the cooking sometime and reseal the bottle.

Out of curiosity (I've never had Airén before), I sample it a couple more times over the next few days and, amazingly, it improves - after five days in a cool kitchen (it's currently winter in Cambridge), it develops a pleasantly minerally backbone, rather like a reasonable Muscadet.

It's still no show-stopper, but worth every one of the twenty-five pennies it cost me - realistically, I'd happily pay around four quid for this.

Finding the Bodegas Juan Ramirez website (see links), I see that some of their wines are prize-winners, but there is no mention of this one - the bottle itself has a plain "white-label" front and no back, so it is probably some kind of prototype trade sample.

Links

Bodegas Juan Ramirez - http://www.bodegasjuanramirez.com/

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

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Chateau Les Vieux Ormes, 2006, Lalande-de-Pomerol

Lalande-de-Pomerol is a small region just to the north of the more well-known Pomerol, famous as the home of the world's most expensive wine, Le Pin.

Lalande-de-Pomerol is said to produce at least some wines with a distinct resemblance to those of Pomerol - however, lacking any familiarity with Pomerol wines, it's hard to know what that resemblance might be or establish whether it is indeed there or not.

So this bottle has to be judged on its own merits alone, and not in relation to any other, more famous neighbours. That said, it is made by winemaker J. Paul Garde of Domaine du Grand Ormeau (but does not appear on the domaine's website - perhaps it was a limited run of lesser grapes).

At five years old, instinct tells me this wine may be a little young to be showing its best, but we decide to try it anyway - there's always the decanter to help open things up if need be.

There is not so much on the nose, but the palate shows lots of ripe blackcurrant, bramble fruit and some spice; the texture is soft with good length. Overall, it is impressive in an enjoyable and well-made way, rather than being overly chewy or densely structured, as I had expected, or overly complex.

It has a Decanter Bronze, which feels about right.

 There is no indication of the grape varieties, but being from a right-bank AOC, it is likely to be mainly Merlot.

Price unknown, as it was a gift, but available from Freixenet (DWS) Ltd, Berkshire.

Freixenet (DWS) Ltd
Unit 23 / Wellington Business Park
Dukes Ride
Crowthorne
Berkshire RG45 6LS
01344 758500

Links

Domaine du Grand Ormeau - http://www.domaine-grand-ormeau.com/
Château Les Vieux Ormes on Decanter - http://www.decanter.com/dwwa/2009/dwwa_search.php?rsearch=FRX

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Clos De La Bressande, Mâcon-Villages, 2009 - Domaine Sangouard-Guyot

Burgundy is perhaps the least homogenous of all French wine regions and is really four distinct areas lumped together as one.

The southern, white-wine Mâconnais area is generally dismissed as one of the lesser regions, albeit it does have a couple of slightly more regarded sub-regions- Mâcon-Villages and Pouilly-Fuissé.

If the geography and vineyard ownership of Burgundy is immensely complex - a legacy of the Napoleonic inheritance system which divided up plots of land into ever smaller sections - thankfully, the grape varieties are much more straightforward and familiar; essentially, Pinot Noir for reds and Chardonnay for whites.

These two, now stars in their own right, have vastly differing profiles - Chardonnay is every New World wine-maker's favourite and reliably produces vast quantities of tropical, buttery toasty whites, whilst Pinot Noir is the Prima Donna of the wine world, demanding just the right conditions to coax out its greatest performances.
It can come as quite a surprise then to remember that Chardonnay's spiritual home is actually France and not the Australian outback, but, once remembered, it should be no shock that the style of wine from this temperate-climate region is typically Old-World.

This Mâcon-Villages from Domaine Sangouard-Guyot, a member of the Patrimoine des Terroirs winemakers' association, is therefore quite different from a New-World chardie; there's not so much on the nose, and whilst the palate shows plenty of clean, refreshing lemony fruit and some elderflower, there is not the array of exotic, tropical exuberance that leaves one reaching for the Thesaurus.

There's no oak either, but this is no steely Chablis; rather, there's a mouthfilling, savoury richness; focused but rounded, it is - curiously but pleasantly - almost approaching a Riesling in style.

What impresses most, then, is not any vast variety of flavours or aromas, but the more structural matters - the mouthfilling texture, the rich-yet-refreshing balance between fruit, acidity, body and richness, and especially the depth, intensity and length of the flavour. Again, more like a good Riesling than a New-World chardie.


Re-reading wine-maker Pierre-Emmanuel Sangouard's notes on the wine, the reasons for this become obvious - the grapes are all hand-picked and gently pressed for freshness and quality and aged for 10 months on the lees in tanks to give a savoury, creamy richness.

Catherine Sangouard also explained to me that she feels the New World has done a disservice to the Chardonnay grape through excessive oaking and, as she puts it, "people are not so keen on woody stuff", adding "there is no oak at all, our Mâcon-Villages is aged in tanks; we strongly believe in the notion of terroir and it is important to work as close as possible to nature in order to extract the best of it. No need to add things (like wood) to make a good Chardonnay !".

The back label suggests this is a wine for early drinking rather than aging, but I suspect it will continue to improve for at least bit longer.

Chardonnay is one of the most food-friendly white wines around and matches well with roast chicken, white fish and almost anything in a creamy sauce.

Provided for review.

Links

Domaine Sangouard - http://www.domaine-sangouard-guyot.com/

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Domaine de La Sanglière, Cuvée Prestige Rouge, Côtes de Provence, 2008‏


When you think of Provence, if you think of wine at all (rather than, say, retired middle class Brits in smocks doing art courses), it's probably of rosé.

A southern land of long, lazy lunches, a slower pace of life and the scent of oleanders and lavender, favoured by writers and artists, Provence is not generally known for its seriousness - or for any serious claims to be a classic wine-making area, either.

The local grapes do not generally help matters - one of the main red / rosé varieties, Grenache, is a big blowsy Essex girl of a grape with lots of up-front personality, but not too much class or breeding.



Recently, that has all started to change; although vines were first introduced to Provence over 2,500 years ago, it is only since the 1970s that cultivation of poorer varieties has been reduced and new technologies and methods have improved the quality considerably.

Domaine de La Sanglière, a member of the Patrimoine des Terroirs association, based in the idyllically-named Bormes les Mimosas, traces its history back to just 1980 when Francois Devictor moved from Vaucluse to start a winery here. It is now run by his two sons (pictured right, enjoying the fruits of their labours) and enjoys a Mediterranean climate with marine breezes which moderate both the high temperatures of the summer and the lows of the winter; production is mainly - inevitably - rosé, but also reds and whites.

This Cuvée Prestige Rouge shows an interesting mixture of styles - part blowsy Grenache, it has some more serious Syrah and Cab in the blend and is made from vines almost 30 years old, with fermentation in steel and aging in oak, so that at each turn there are elements of seriousness alongside pure fun.

The result is a wine that seems undecided on whether to waltz, or kick off its shoes and dance round a handbag.

Dark in the glass, it has a rich Mediterranean nose of garrigue herbs, ripe bramble fruit, toasty oak, woodsy forest floor and vanilla.

Decanted initially and then sampled over a couple of evenings, the aromas vary - first strawberries, then coffee and finally some tarriness.

On the palate, it is mouthfilling and juicy-fruity, with a pleasantly baked character and more toasty oak; it is very smooth and moreish with soft tannins. The long finish is mouthwateringly juicy with a final hint of tannic grip.

It matches well with the classiness of a roast beef dinner, but is equally at home with a simple plate of salami and cheese.


€9.50 - provided for review

Links

Domaine de La Sanglière - http://www.domaine-sangliere.com/

Patrimoine des Terroirs - http://patrimoinevin.canalblog.com/