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Friday, 30 September 2011

Alsace's Marcel Deiss with Barry James Wines at Boutique Wineries‏


At the recent Boutique Wineries tasting, I got to try a range of Deiss wines from Alsace with Barry McCaughley of Barry James Wines.

We started with an Alsace Nature - a somewhat unusual wine on many levels.

Deiss's philosophy is to express in each wine the three factors that make a wine complete : the grape variety, the vintage and the terroir and the wines have been pretty much all organic and biodynamic since before it became trendy to do so, so we are in somewhat eclectic territory already.

The Nature, an Austrian-style vineyard blend (the equivalent of a Gemischter Satz), is sealed with a glass stopper and is a "natural wine", that ill-defined term which means little but generally stands for low intervention.

With "four or five" varieties in the blend, it had a startlingly intense purity, crisp, linear acidity and a structured minerality that had me thinking of my favourite Austrian whites.

But there is also a hint of oxidative, sherry-like character and the end result feels like a blend of Wachau Riesling, Grüner Veltliner and some fino thrown in.

Strange and unusual, I found I liked it a lot, marking it down as the best wine I tried that day and arranging to do a separate, in-depth review of it.

The rest of the Deiss wines were very different in character from both the Nature and what one thinks of as typically Alsatian generally.

Although not so far apart, geographically, historically, linguistically or culturally, the Alsatians and the Germans have very different ideas about what a white wine should be like, with the Alsatians plumping for a food-friendly, dry, aromatic, full-bodied style whilst the Mosel, in particular, excels in refined, delicate, off-dry wines more suited to the garden than to the dining room.

If the Nature was distinctly Austrian, then the Alsace 2010 was the most traditionally Alsatian in style.

Like the Nature, it is a vineyard blend (but different vineyards in this case) and felt crisp with pear and lime fruit and a focused acidity.

The Riesling 2009 felt soft and full with a hint of residual sweetness and a long finish.

The Englegarten 1er Cru 2007 with mostly Riesling but a small percentage of Pinot Blanc, was a Mosel-style wine, felling gentle and balanced.

The Rotenberg 1er Cru ("Riesling and a blend of Alsatian Pinots") was fuller with more sweetness.

Recommended Wine

None of these wines is exactly cheap - entry level is almost £20 with prices going up to £40.

However, for me the best wine here was actually the cheapest - the Nature at £18 for its startling intensity and structured minerality.

Links & Contact details

Barry James Wines:
1 Park West
40 Tanner Street
SE1 3LG
Tel: 07917 668550

Marcel Deiss - http://www.marceldeiss.com/
Boutique Wineries - http://www.boutique-wineries.co.uk/

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Ste Michelle Estates at Boutique Wineries Tasting

Wines from the USA generally means California in this country - and even on a trip to Pennsylvania I made a few years ago on business, where my hotel had a fairly limited range of native wines.

However, the reality is that many other states produce wine and I got a chance to try some Washington State and Oregon wines at the Boutique Wineries Tasting event in London recently.

We started with the Chateau Ste Michelle Dry Riesling from 2009.

On the nose, there was a hint of what I took to be botrytis, but turned out to be the result of the grapes having been frozen on the vines and then thawing before picking (this is not icewine), as well as characteristic petrolliness.

On the palate, I found it ok-ish but underwhelming so, as the bottle had been open for quite a few hours, we then tried a fresh one.

This was a vast improvement - much crisper and more focused and a good textbook medium-bodied dry Riesling; very pleasant and refreshing, it retails for around £10.

Next was the Eroica Riesling from 2008 - its Beethoven-referencing name a nod to its origins as a joint venture with Germany's Dr Loosen.

And indeed, it is somewhat Germanic in style - with white peach on the nose, a lovely balance of fruit and minerality with a Mosel-esque sweet-sour finish.

This bottle was newly-opened and had a tautness to it that suggested it would benefit from more aeration or bottle age.

As a wine, it is somewhat off the beaten track - who out there buys Germanic Rieslings from Washington state ? - but it is fairly priced for the quality at £14.

We then moved on to a range of Pinots from Oregon. I had been underwhelmed by a Canadian Pinot I tried last week, so I was keen to see if these from just the other side of the border would be any more impressive.

The pale Erath Pinot Noir 2008 (£19.50)had a light nose of forest floor and mushrooms, simple but clean fruit on the palate and a touch of spice on the finish.

Not, in my book, a highly typical Pinot, but it did have the soft, seductive texture one associates with this grape.

The Erath Estate Selection Willamette Valley Pinot Noir (£29.50) from 2008 was darker in the glass with a fuller, more intense nose and sweet fruit and liquorice hints on the palate.

In fact, I rather preferred this wine to the final Prince Hill Vineyards Dundee Hills from 2008 (£34) which had a more mouthfilling texture and a more nuanced nose of forest floor, but was somehow less interesting overall.

Recommended Wine

I can't really recommend any of the Pinots as, for me, they don't really offer the whole Pinot package of aromas, fruit, acidity and texture.

And whilst the same can be said of many Pinots out there, that alone is not a reason to recommend them either, even before we consider price and value-for-money.

By contrast, both Rieslings were good and priced sensibly - and of the two the Eroica is the better.

Links

Ste Michelle Wine Estates - http://www.smwe.com/

Boutique Wineries Tasting - http://www.boutique-wineries.co.uk/

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Reserve de la Vennerie, Liqueur Gazeifiee, Pineau de Charentes‏

Celine Bridier recently contacted me asking if I would be interested in reviewing her Pineau de Charentes - an unusual oaked, semi-sweet sparkling wine with 1/3rd Cognac - added made by her family at the picturesque Domaine de la Vennerie in Reparsac, a little way north of Bordeaux in France.

After a couple of weeks' delay whilst she had a baby, she stopped by, looking extremely glamorous, to drop off a bottle and as we had visitors that weekend, it seemed like a good occasion to open it along with a pear and almond cake which proved to be an inspired match.

A golden straw colour in the glass, it is lightly sparkling and has a floral nose, with butterscotch and acacia honey aromas, as well as some more unusual notes - hints of rotting hay sourness and a touch of camping gas which are mild enough to be not unpleasant.

On the palate, it feels rounded and lively with a fine mousse and sweet vanilla.

There is a buttery texture from new oak, aromas of almonds and pear drops and some cooked mixed fruit.

There is a long, warming finish of vanillary oak and cooked fruit.

At an intellectual level, it is one of the strangest wines I have ever had, with so many different things that would not normally go together - two or three, perhaps yes, but not six or seven - new oak, old oak, sweetness, fizz, spirit and table wine.

And yet at the level of simple enjoyment, it really works - not least due to all the different elements being in balance - and is a very lovely and enjoyable wine; definitely unusual at first but one that I could easily come to love.

The label suggests serving as an aperitif or dessert wine - given the oak, sweetness and spirit, I think it works better at the end of a meal than at the beginning, but it would work well with a rich goose-liver pate starter.

Researching on Wikipedia, I discover that Pineau des Charentes, a regional French aperitif made mainly in the département of Charente, is a fortified wine made from a blend of lightly fermented grape must and Cognac eau-de-vie.

According to legend, during the harvest of 1589, a winemaker accidentally added grape must into a barrel that he believed was empty but in fact contained eau de vie. The mixture was duly returned to the cellars for fermentation. A few years later, the barrel was retrieved and was found to contain the drink that is now associated with the region.

For white pineau, such as this, the dominant grape varieties are Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche and Colombard, with occasional Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Montils. The mixture is aged for at least 18 months, including a minimum of 8 months in oak barrels, whilst finer varieties are aged for over 5 years in barrel, and often for several decades.

Celine herself explains that her sparkling pineau "is often incorrectly known as pineau champagnisé. The production method is rigidly adhered to five year old pineau is gasified for bottling. The age of the drink reduces the sweetness, and the addition of carbon dioxide allows the natural flavours to develop. Fantastic as Aperitif or with desserts. Serve very chilled."

She adds "Trust me you will love it." And we certainly did.

The product is not currently distributed in the UK except on a small scale by Celine herself who can be found on Twitter @celinebridier.

Links

Domaine de la Vennerie - http://www.domainedelavennerie.com/index.php

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

French Connection Premier Cru NV - Co-op

Every now and then I am somewhat wrong-footed by a wine - the region or variety on the label gives the expectation of a certain style or certain characteristics, whilst the reality proves to be something rather different.

In a game of wine word association, say "Champagne" and I immediately think of crisp, green apple acidity and yeasty brioche.

By contrast, at first acquaintance, this French Connection Premier Cru NV from the Co-operative seems to have gone all Prosecco - approachable with ripe pear fruit and little in the way of yeastiness.

Very pale in the glass, it froths enthusiastically on pouring and has light, delicate pear fruit on the nose and sweet up-front pear fruit acidity on the palate.

Rounded and approachable, it is light, elegant and balanced in a crowd-pleasing, easy-drinking sort of way.

We match it with some yeasty, soft brie and find it works well - the brie adding a welcome degree of yeastiness.

I'm not sure how much typical Champagne character it has, but as a wine it is more about enjoyment than adherence to a particular style - and it is certainly a pleasant quaffer.

After a day stoppered in the fridge, the primary fruit has faded noticeably leaving a more interesting savouriness and a food-friendly acidity.

After two days, it has improved further with a more pronounced minerality, a linear crispness and a longer, savoury finish.

According to the Co-op itself, the wine is "a specially-selected and beautifully-balanced blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, sourced from some of the most promising sites in the Champagne region, a wine of reassuring elegance, finesse and character".

It is, apparently, available in market town stores and superstores and is reduced from £29.99 to £14.99 between 14 September and 4 October 2011 inclusive.

Provided for review.

Links

The Co-operative - http://www.co-operative.coop/

Monday, 26 September 2011

A Day's Sailing - and a Piper Heidsieck Brut NV‏

Another week, another last-minute invitation - this time it was not wine-related, but the opportunity to go sailing in the Solent off Portsmouth with London legal firm Lewis Silkin at the Advertising and Brands Cup in support of Helen & Douglas House hospice.

After an inordinately early start (Cambridge is a long way from the sea), we eventually arrived in Pompey as it's known locally, got dressed in waterproofs and had the obligatory Health-and-Safety briefing from our crew from OnDeck.

In Kenneth Graham's The Wind in the Willows, Ratty declares "There is nothing quite so much fun as messing about on the water", which rather gives the impression of sailing as something lazy and idyllic for a hot summer's day.

In this case, it was early autumn with some sunshine and a light breeze, which made for more or less perfect conditions for a group of mainly novices and amateurs such as we were.

However, there was little in the way of idling around as we had to raise sails, drop sails, move from one side of the boat to the other at speed, clip and unclip things and generally work pretty hard to go not very far in any one direction.

Sailing a 40ft yacht with three sails and a crew of seven meant that there was a job for pretty much everyone with no-one's role being that of "ballast" - so, demanding and exhilarating more than idyllic.

The event has run for three years now in its current format and is organised by London lawyers Lewis Silkin for advertising and marketing services clients - chief organiser Brinsley Dresden, who invited me as his guest, heads up the marketing services practice and is a keen yachtsman himself.

I found my introduction to the world of sailing - with its confusing jargon and complex procedures to be carried out quickly but in the right order somewhat reminiscent of learning to drive over two decades ago.

It is also somewhat clubby and as an outsider having to get up to speed not just with the basics but also the subtle analysis and minutiae of strategy and tactics, I perhaps experienced what it is like for a novice wine enthusiast to be amongst a group of serious afficionados.

However, what struck me most about the day was the sense of it being a team effort.

For me, wine writing is a very solitary exercise for much of the time, whilst my day job as a company director is very hierarchical, so although I manage groups and get to meet some very talented and visionary people, I rarely get to work as part of a large, diverse collaborative team these days.

By contrast, the hierarchy on our yacht was completely flat with just the skipper in charge getting us all to fulfill different but interrelated roles to keep the boat moving in the right direction at speed.

So, the sense of achievement in working with mostly strangers whom I had met for the first time that day to complete new and challenging tasks in a real-time situation is something that I have not experienced probably for several decades - since sports lessons in my school years.

As a topic, it is of course very much the stuff of team sports and at a primaeval level takes us back to our collaborative hunting instincts, so no wonder that it is so beloved and fruitful a subject for motivational speakers and captains of visionary industries.

Corporate hospitality is going somewhat out of fashion these days - my industry is as famed for its long, boozy lunches and expenses account excesses as for its superb creative work during the golden age of the 1980s.

Several recessions, a wave of corporate acquisitions and consolidations and the rise of client procurement teams later, the industry has become more cost-conscious and ostensibly hardworking.

However, it remains a people business - as creative industries must be - so networking and team-bonding with clients are still important as sources of new business and for improving existing working relationships, even if they need to be rather more restrained and have a more demonstrable return on investment than in times gone by when company jollies were merely the done thing rather than an indulgence to be justified on financial, strategic and reputational level.

And whilst breakfast briefing seminars on industry hot topics with nothing more intoxicating on offer than coffee, pastries and networking small talk may feel more appropriate to these straightened times, getting to know a group of people over the course of a day whilst working together to achieve a common goal brings you together in a very different way.

And after the hard work of pulling ropes, tacking and jibing, returning to dry land to chew the fat over a few drinks is the obvious thing to do.

In a corner of the jetty, overlooked by the Spinnaker Tower, there was a Champagne reception, trophies for the winners (our team came third) and the usual - but no less worthy for it - charity raffles.

The Champagne, I was pleased to note was a Piper-Heidsieck Brut NV.

A mushroomy colour in the glass, it has a pronounced Pinot nose with red berries and fruity aromas of organic, vegetal decay and farmyard; it seems to announce "I say ! Look at me, what ho !" in an eccentric but aristocratic sort of way.

However, despite the initial exuberance, it can't hide its breeding and the palate is rich, savoury and mouthfilling with a fine mousse.

The texture is creamy with toasty brioche aromas, apples-and-pears fruit, rounded, sour-cherry acidity and a savoury finish.

Outgoing and classy, as well as an aperitif, it would also work with lighter game dishes such as partridge, pheasant or pigeon.

Links

Helen & Douglas House - http://www.helenanddouglas.org.uk/

Piper Heidsieck - http://www.piper-heidsieck.com/

Lewis Silkin - http://www.lewissilkin.com/

Main image credit - OnDeck: http://www.ondeck.co.uk/ondeck.htm#

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Spanish Rosé from Gonzalez Byass‏

On one level, early autumn seems like an odd time to be reviewing a clutch of roses.

However, if autumn is the season for pale reds, such as Pinot, and heavier whites to go with game, then there is a logic to having a well-made food rosé at this time of year.

Moreover, in these centrally-heated days, as long as the wines are good and versatile, the season almost doesn't matter-  and who knows, we may still even get a bit of an Indian Summer ...

Vinas Del Vero Rosado 2010 DOC Somontano (£7.29)

This one is made from two quite beefy grapes, the Cabernet Sauvignon of Bordeaux and the Tempranillo of Rioja - and is a correspondingly deep red in the glass.

On the nose, there are red berries, a tarry liquorice and a touch of hoppy grapefruit.

The palate is full of strawberry and raspberry fruit with notes of prunes, plums and more liquorice; the acidity is ripe, rounded and mouthfilling with a just touch of mid-palate sweetness.

The finish is long, savoury and balanced.

This is a very pleasant wine indeed - in a more-ish, easy-drinking but sensible sort of way - and works as both a quaffer or with heavier picnic food, such as quiche, salad and cooked chicken, or even lighter game such as partridge served with a jus.

Vilarnau Brut Rosado NV DOC Cava (£10.49)

Deep red colour, this is made from a combination of the Burgundian Pinot Noir and the little-known Trepat, a grape native to north east Spain, with only around 1,500 ha of vines planted.

Restrained on the nose, it shows redcurrant and raspberry fruit on the palate with a pleasing, balanced acidity.
 
With some air, the nose develops and becomes a touch yeasty, the palate fills out with a touch of white pepper edge, the acidity becomes more rounded and the finish lengthens and becomes strawberry-ish. There is some mid-palate sweetness.
 
Overall, well-made and very enjoyable even if there is not a huge amount of complexity or intensity. Made by Methode Traditionelle (i.e. secondary fermentation in bottle) with 18 months' aging before disgorgement.
 
For more on the elusive Trepat, see this post from Fringe Wine - here.

Gonzalez Byass Altozano Tempranillo Shiraz Rosado 2010 VdlT de Castilla (£7.49)

The fruit-driven Altozano adds Syrah into the blend and shows more smokey spice and pruney fruit as a result.

The acidity is gentler and it is a more easy-drinking wine with lots of juicy red-berry fruit.

Beronia Tempranillo Rosado 2010 DOCa Rioja (£7.99)

Made from 100% Tempranillo, this has an intensity and focus with a balance between fruit, body and minerality.

Less fruit-driven, with some air it develops a lovely, rounded mouthfeel and a long savoury finish, making  it a great food wine.

Despite their various origins and grape varieties, there is a distinct "house-style" to all these wines - a crisp structure, prominent food-friendly acidity and a pureness of fruit.

All are technically well-made, rounded and fresh and whilst they express different characteristics, they feel united by a single, unified vision.

Recommended wine

It is hard to pick out a single wine - all are of equal quality and priced similarly, so there is an element of "you pays your money and you takes your choice".

Whilst the Altozano is perhaps the most crowd-pleasing and fruit-driven, for me the most interesting and well-made wine here is the classical Beronia for its minerality and food-friendliness.

Provided for review.

Stockists
 
Tanners - http://www.tanners-wines.co.uk/
Noel Young - http://www.nywines.co.uk/
Ocado - http://www.ocado.com/
Winehouse - http://www.winehouse.co.uk/
Rhythm & Booze - http://www.rhythmandbooze.co.uk/
 
Also, Iberica restaurant in London - http://www.ibericalondon.co.uk/ibericalondon/

Friday, 23 September 2011

Slovenia's Gomila at Boutique Wineries


Slovenia is a country that seems to have come almost out of nowhere onto the wine scene.

A year ago, Slovenian wine was not on the radar and the last time I had had it was over a decade ago on a business trip to Ljublana where I was somewhat underwhelmed as I was left gurning at its harsh acidity.

But with a listing at Waitrose and Naked Wines now selling Slovenian wines, suddenly the country is the new kid on the oenological block.

As a big fan of Austrian wines, for me the most interesting part of Slovenia is Štajerska which, political borders notwithstanding, shares the same terroir as Austria's Styria, with high altitude and cooling breezes providing a long, cool growing season and a fossil shelf subsoil that gives a distinct smokiness.


The Gomila Exclusive Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (£12), sampled at the Boutique Wineries tasting,  had an aromatic smokey nose and lively, focused crisp acidity with varietal gooseberry and elderflower and a piercing finish.

The Exceptional 2010 (£13) had a more rounded feel, with greater minerality on the palate, linear acidity and a more composed finish.

To finish off, I tried something quite different - a Muscat Ottonel demi-sec sparkling (£15); crisp, elegant and light, it is well-made and refreshing with distinctive grapey, Muscat aromas.

Recommended Wine

Slovenia's Štajerska is fast becoming a viable value alternative to Styria for those who appreciate its crisp, linear, aromatic whites.

The best wine here was the Exceptional Sauvignon.

For more reviews of Slovenian wines, see here:

Links

Gomila - http://www.gomilawines.com/

UK distributor: Harlington Wine - http://www.harlingtonwine.com/

Boutique Wineries - http://www.boutique-wineries.co.uk/

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Prince Stirbey at Boutique Wineries Tasting

A while ago, I reviewed a clutch of Prince Stirbey's wines having met owner Baronness Ileana Kripp at London International Wine Fair.

Ileana's husband Jakob got in touch recently to let me know that they would be exhibiting at the Boutique Wineries Tasting as part of the Romanian Winegrowers group in London and invited me along.

I started with their white Feteasca Regala Genius Loci from 2007 - it shows some exotic, floral notes on the nose along with vanilla from aging in large, new oak barrels.

The palate is fresh with rounded acidity, buttery oatmeal and a touch of pleasant and complex sweetness and the finish is long.

The red Novac, an indigenous grape, is light with prominent berry fruit, hints of vanilla and liquorice as well as a touch of spice and grip on the finish.

The Negru de Dragasani, also indigenous, is a darker purple colour and feels more rounded on the palate with blueberry and elderberry fruit and a medium body.

Revisiting these wines, what strikes me about them is the pureness of the fruit which is somewhat New World in style, contrasted with an old world level of restraint and focus; they feel technically very well made and approachable, yet focused and precise.

Jakob explained that his aim is precisely to avoid the overly alcoholic, blowsy New World-style of wines which could be easily done in a country as southerly and hot as Romania.

Rather, he opts for picking grapes at the optimal moment of ripeness and ferments in stainless steel for freshness.

For a Romanian winery, the management is very international - Jakob himself is from Innsbruck in Austria and can trace his family back several hundred years, whilst his wine-making team includes an Austrian and a German.

In style the red wines have the purity, focus and low tannins of Austrian reds but also the prominent acidity and food friendliness of Italian wines - a country with which Romania has significant historic links.

Recommended wine

I have reviewed the reds previously - see here.

Definitely worthy of recommendation on this occasion is the Feteasca Regala (£13.00) for its lovely oaking balanced nicely with varietal expression.

The Novac also gets a mention in this recent article by Jancis Robinson: http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/a201109172.html

Links

Prince Stirbey - http://www.stirbey.com/

Main UK Distributor:

Matt Cole
The Little Wine Company
62 Linzee Road
London N8
Tel +44 208 347 8886
Fax +44 208 340 7589
matt@grapevinedirect.com

UK Distributor (Novac only) - Bowes wines: http://www.boweswine.co.uk/

Boutique Wineries Tasting - http://www.boutique-wineries.co.uk/

Romanian Winegrowers - http://www.romanian-winegrowers.com/

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Liberty Wines Autumn Portfolio Tasting

An email dropped into my in-box last week inviting me to Liberty Wines' Autumn Portfolio Tasting - the following day.

However, as luck would have it, the venue was just five minutes' walk from my office so I was able to pop there in my lunchtime.

With a very limited amount of time there, I picked what I thought would prove to be the most interesting wines to try, so what follows is based on my highly idiosyncratic, spur of the moment choices.

It is worth noting that the wines were generally arranged by style / grape variety rather than country, reflecting the trend of most wine lists these days.

Unless otherwise indicated, retail prices for these wines were generally in the £7 - £15 range that is the heartland of good independent wine merchants.

Italian Varietals

I started with some Italian whites - a lovely Verdicchio was my wine of the month recently, but this Terre di Valbona from Cantine Belisario was sadly not in the same league; lemony and rounded it was well-made and pleasant, but not complex and lacked the toastiness that I associate with good examples.

Much more appealing was a Pecorino IGT Terre di Chieti from Gran Sasso; it had some toastiness on the nose, ripe peach and pear fruit on the palate and a pleasing fullness without being sweet. The finish is long and savoury.

Next came a Pieropan Soave with a minerally nose of white peach, focused acidity on the palate and a minerally finish. It was very elegant but perhaps suffered by comparison in coming after the riper, fuller Pecorino.

Grüner Veltliner

I then got the somewhat unusual chance to benchmark Grüner Veltliners from Austria and New Zealand.

The Loimer "Lois" 2010 from Kamptal showed varietal celery and white pepper with mouthfilling ripe peach and pear and a minerally finish, with none of the leanness that is characteristic of 2010 Wachau whites after a very cool vintage.

The Yealands Estate Marlborough Grüner Veltliner 2011was more aromatic on the nose with herbaceous and flinty notes and felt leaner on the palate and finish.

Both were impressive and equally good technically, but I found myself slightly preferring the Austrian wine for its fuller mouthfeel.

Riesling

I got to repeat this comparison with two Rieslings from the same producers - with the same result.

The Loimer "Lenz" was had a flintsmoke nose and structured, crisp acidity with cox's apples, pears and limes. The palate is mouthfilling with good minerality on the finish.

The Yealands Estate Marlborough 2011 was very pale, almost colourless in the glass with a greenish tinge and again had a herbaceous nose (is there something generally in the air in Marlborough that causes this?). As with the GV, it was lean but rounded with a minerally finish.

Again, I found myself preferring the Austrian example, but I do think the young, current-vintage Yealands wines have the potential to fill out with some more bottle age and a bit of time in the decanter and maybe also need some food to show their best.

As a control, I tried a multi-awarded Australian Riesling from Dandelion Vineyards.

I feel I have yet to fall in love with Australian Rieslings and, medals notwithstanding, this was not the wine to convert me.

With a typical petrolly nose, it was crisp and limey, but fuller than the two previous wines. However, it also felt less interesting and complex, even if technically well-made.

Hungary

Spotting a Hungarian dry, oaked furmint, I couldn't pass up the chance to try something a bit unusual.

This Dobogo Furmint is aged for a year in three-year old Hungarian oak and is a deep golden colour in the glass. It has an almondy, oaky nose, whilst the palate is full yet crisp with a buttery feel.

At around a tenner, I could definitely recommend it if you like the style, but its retail price is £16.99 and I fear it is not quite special enough at this price point.

Pinot Noir

Moving on to the reds, I spotted a Canadian Pinot Noir, "Le Clos Jordanne Vineyard" - at £26.99 it is priced at the level of a good red Burgundy.

On the plus side, it showed plenty of interesting varietal aromas of mushrooms, truffles and forest floor with a smooth texture and a touch of grip on the finish.

However, I found it rather too pale and lightweight, with a simple, strawberry-ish palate and a slightly odd aroma of dried flowers.

If you are an affluent appreciator of Canadian Pinot or even just very open-minded, it's probably fine - but I couldn't recommend it as an introduction to Pinot Noir.

Zweigelt, St Laurent and Blaufrankisch

There were actually more grape varieties than wines here - just two red Austrian wines from Burgenland's Heinrich.

The "Red" (a mix of all three) had simple cherry fruit and was well-made with a pleasing finish. A pepperiness develops on the palate and it is a classic "food red" rather than a quaffer.

The Burgenland Zweigelt was darker in the glass with a more intense and complex nose. It had a fuller palate and more textural complexity.

At £17.99, it is only a few pounds more expensive than the "Red" and definitely worth the extra.

It also has a Decanter Trophy.

Monstrell & Tempranillo

The Monastrell from Spain's Bodegas Castano had a tarry nose, dark bramble fruit, plums and prunes on the palate and and soft yet mouthfilling texture.

Castano is based in the lesser-known region of Yecla at an altitude of around 600m above sea level, giving the wines greater extraction and texture.

Merlot & Carménère

The 2009 Carménère Seleccion from Vina Chocalan had coffee and tar on the nose whilst the palate showed dark berry fruit and more tarriness. The texture is smooth but grippy, increasingly so on the finish, so decanting or cellaring is recommended.

Portugal

Although there was not a specific Portugal category, I tried a number of wines from this country and it makes sense to put them all together.

The 2008 Petit Verdot from Azamor, with 15% Syrah added, was a lovely wine with dark berry fruit and lovely oak on the nose.

On the palate, there is black cherry fruit, a custard cream smoothness and some spice on the finish, whilst the texture is inky and muscular.

It costs £17.99 which is fair given the quality.

The Quinta Do Infanto Douro 2008 Red is a few pounds cheaper and has a Gold Medal from Brussells, but to me was much less interesting - it felt thinner, with simpler cherry fruit, less complex and a grippier finish.

Finally, a 2008 Douro Red Reserva from Quinta Da Romaneira; dark purple in the glass, it has an intense nose of elderberries and ink. The palate shows more dark berry fruit, elderberries and blueberries.

It has a lovely texture, dense and inky yet soft, with dark spices on the finish which is grippy yet balanced and rounded.

It is a really lovely wine and has an IWC Gold to boot.

Sadly, it costs £49.99 and whilst it may just about be worth the price, it's a lot of money to spend on a single bottle.

Languedoc

The 2009 Chateau Saint-Roch Chimeres Cotes du Roussillon Villages had a Decanter Gold, but I found it rather middling and straightforward - juicy with some sweet fruit.

Syrah / Shiraz & Blends

Increasingly, I am finding myself appreciating Rhone Syrah which can rival similarly-priced Bordeaux for texture and fruit even if the wines are very different in style.

The 2007 Paul Jaboulet Aine Crozes Hermitage Rouge Domaine de Thalabert has a complex, intense nose of prunes, oak and pencil shavings.

On the palate, there is bramble fruit, vanilla and spice and the finish shows a lovely mixture of fruit and grip.

The texture is soft with a grip that is gentle yet firm, poised and commanding - rather like a masseuse, I imagine.

A really lovely wine, but again not exactly everyday drinking at £28.99.

My final two wines were both benchmark comparisons of this one:

A similarly-priced (£38.99) Charles Melton Grains of Paradise Shiraz from Australia had dark fruit, sweet eucalyptus and blackcurrant on the nose.

The palate reeks intensely of blackcurrant with prunes and raisins and a dense, inky texture.

Of the two, however, I found the less expensive, more classic French wine to be the more interesting.

The Paul Jaboulet Aine Hermitage. "La Petite Chapelle" 2007 was a step-up in terms of price at £63.99, but also a noticeable step-up in terms of quality from the already very good Thalabert, with greater finesse, complexity and definition.

You are either very lucky or very discerning if you can decide to pick one bottle of the Petite Chapelle over two of the Thalabert, but if it's your birthday and your rich uncle is feeling expansive, there's no contest.

Recommended wine - white

I loved the Austrian GV and Riesling from Loimer and they are definitely worth buying.

However, my non-Austrian recommendations is Gran Sasso Pecorino IGT Terre (£11.99) for its ripe fullness, complexity and balance.

Available through Slurp.co.uk and http://www.reservewines.co.uk/


Recommended wine - red

There were some stunning reds above £20, but at a rather more affordable, if still special-occasion, price point, I recommend the Azamor Petit Verdot (£17.99) for its lovely oaking, wonderful texture and dark sensual fruit.

Links

Liberty Wines - http://www.libertywine.co.uk/index.aspx /

Friday, 16 September 2011

On Wine Apps and Asking for Advice

We seem to have fallen in love with Apps and to see the possibilities for them everywhere.

I am not a fan of gadgets generally, in part instilled by my grandmother's oft-repeated piece of northern folk-wisdom "Owt y' ave needs lookin' after".

So I watch with somewhat puzzled bemusement and a degree of incredulity at the plethora of wine Apps that seem to abound.

As a BlackBerry user, I can't download them to try and so it is impossible for me to comment on them in detail, but in any case I find the whole concept so flawed that I'm not sure critiquing the subtle distinctions between different Apps is really the heart of the matter.

I have had a number of twitter exchanges with bloggers and wine App producers on this subject and felt it was time to put down my thoughts in more than 140 characters - a lot more, as it turns out.

This piece was specifically prompted by an exchange I had yesterday with self-confessed techno-geek @quaffable, so Charles this is for you.

As a creative process, wine-making is more art than science - and therefore assessing wines is more artistic appreciation than scientific analysis.

There are many different aspects to a wine that one can consider and write about - the fruit flavours, the balance of sweetness, acidity and so on, the extraction and intensity, the texture and mouthfeel, the typicity and overall style even before we move on to the more impressionistic metaphors.

A lab scientist in a white coat is the only person in a position to provide us with a definitive, factual analysis of the various constituent parts of a wine that is completely measurable and standardised, and that currently does not happen on a regular, extensive basis - other than occasional notes on the acidity, alcohol level and residual sugar and periodic food safety checks presumably.

But even this is limited as there are different types of sugars and acids, which can be variously harsh, rounded, complex or thin.

So, to me, wine assessment is pretty much wholly subjective and when choosing a wine I generally put my trust in the palate of the person recommending it.

Writing a wine column on Cambridge's three independent wine merchants has taught me a lot about their palates or typical house-styles and given three of their typical wines blind, I reckon I could hazard a reasonable guess at where each one came from.

The wines are all from the same fairly narrow price range, from generally the same range of grape varieties and wine-producing countries.

All the wines have been very good so far and each month I struggle over which to select as a winner - it usually comes down to very slight differences in style or approachability.

And I can't help wondering how an App could tell me which of these wines I would like or prefer.

In the early days of this blog, I reviewed a lot of Laithwaites wines which, taken individually, I generally liked.

But after a couple of cases, I got bored of their predictability, emphasis on up-front fruit and lack of subtlety - can an app tell me that ?

Obviously a lot of people like those type of wines - why else would Laithwaites be in business - but if you know you like ripe, easy-drinking, fruit-driven wines, you don't need an App; you just need Laithwaites.

I have been wrong-foot or surprised by wines on several occasions - expecting a certain style and finding another.

A Loire Sauvignon from Cambridge Wine Merchants was minerally and intense, whilst one from Naked Wines was much more up-front with more fruit and less intensity.

Can an App tell me that two wines from the same grape and region are going to be very different ?

I don't generally like the very aromatic and floral white varieties such as Gewürztraminer, Muscat or Torrontés, but enjoyed a Gelber Muskateller from Austrian producer Tement because of the structural acidity, minerality and limited varietal aromatics - can an App tell me that ?

At a tasting of aged Mosel Rieslings with Cambridge Wine Merchants, I was very impressed with a couple of wines on the night, but took home some leftovers and found myself appreciating its subtlety and balance much more after finishing the bottle over several evenings.

Would an App have predicted that ?

We may all like the same wine for different reasons - for its up-front fruit, for its elegance and finesse or its structural underpinnings.

And as I have written elsewhere, we don't generally analyse the reasons why we like a wine in any detail - we just react to it positively, negatively or ambivalently.

Moreover, when asked consciously about why we like a wine, most people are likely to find their critical faculties diminished - in Malcolm Gladwell's superb phrase, asking people about jam turned them into jam idiots.

So, how is an App to take all the various bits of information about both a wine and our unconscious preferences and find something to recommend to us ?

There are said to be people who don't like Chardonnay but do like Chablis - they presumably associate Chardonnay with oversweet, overoaked Aussie versions and don't realise that its the same grape variety that makes the steely, minerally northern French wine, too.

So clearly my App has to distinguish between ripe, oaky Chardonnay and steely Chablis even to approach usefulness.

But can it distinguish between a steely cool-climate unoaked Aussie chardie and a ripe antipodean fruit-bomb ?

When I say what wines I like best, Austrian whites and red Bordeaux, I am using a shorthand to give you an idea and avoid a long lecture on the focused, rounded structural acidity and minerality of Wachau Rieslings from Austria, for example.

I don't like every Austrian white I've ever had and some rare examples have been very disappointing indeed.

So if I tell an App I like Austrian wines, will it know how to pick the good ones from the bad ?

Moreover, when I first tried good Austrian Riesling, it was love at first sip, even though I could not at the time put into words why I liked it so much.

Now that I have learnt some wine vocabulary, I could confidently type into an App the kind of well-structured, rounded, mouthfilling acidity, lime and white peach fruit and persistent minerality I am looking for in a good Riesling, but will it know that I generally find Australian Rieslings too lean and limey and know not to recommend them to me ?

My general cynicism about the value of wine app recommendations probably also stems in part from the pathetically poor system of recommendations on amazon.

As a long haired student two decades ago, I was on the cutting edge of cool - in the great explosion of grunge, dance, alt rock and metal that was the early 90s, my friends and I would eagerly await the next Nirvana, Metallica, Primal Scream, U2 or REM album to see if it was a work of greatness, recommending the best to each other (there was no such thing as ubiquitous free music on the internet in those days - in fact there wasn't even an internet to speak of).

By contrast, amazon's approach is simply to look at the albums you've bought by a band and suggest that you simply add everything else from their back catalogue into your trolley regardless of whether it is good or not which I do not find helpful at all.

Of far more use are the professionally written reviews which give a sense of what an album is like and whether it's one of the better ones - this is more akin to a wine review than an App.

So my reasons for not trusting apps are:

- we generally cannot say why we like a wine, and if we can we don't need an App to tell us

- wines from the same grape variety / blend, region and year can vary so much based on the wine-maker's approach that no App can yet achieve the level of sophistication to tell us whether we will like a steely Loire if we are used to Naked's more tropical one

- an App that limits itself to key varietal fruit characteristics or mere geographical indications, for example, is so limited as to be useless, in my opinion

- sometimes the things we specifically don't like about a wine are relatively subtle or minor - a touch too much sweetness or conversely leanness - which a tick-box approach may well not pick up on

Other considerations are that serendipity can be a great thing and sometimes you will come across a great wine that you did not expect to like.

By definition, of course, serendipity is not guaranteed and you will probably end up putting a lot of oenological frogs to your lips before you find eventually your bottled prince.

So it helps to have a reliable guide, someone who has tried the wine and really knows what it is like.



So, here I come to my main objection to apps; surely it is better to ask the sommelier or your local wine merchant for advice rather than a simplistic App that you downloaded for free - or even paid for.

Of course many people feel intimidated by the language of wine and the idea that you need to know the lingo.

For that reason, the unstaffed wine aisle of your local supermarket is a reassuringly anonymous place where no-one knows you are a wine novice.

But it also has an overwhelming range of styles from different grape varieties and countries which makes choosing an uphill task.

So, the appeal of Apps seems to have a logic for the enthusiastic but over-awed novice wondering where to start, but to me it is a solution to the wrong problem.

I have discovered so many new and interesting wines since I started blogging and attending trade tastings; I've spent a number of wonderful afternoons trying wines from all over Italy, Austria and Germany and really getting to know them.

I have spoken to producers, MWs and people with years of experience in the trade.

At restaurants, I typically ask the waiting staff for a recommendation - seeing and assessing their reaction is a good way to get a sense of how knowledgeable they are.

Ordering a duck main course at a restaurant recently, I asked for a suggestion expecting a Pinot but was given a Riesling - it proved to be a superb match as it had the body to stand up to the duck and the freshness to cut through the garlic and ginger jus that would have overpowered a Pinot.

That advice came from the waiting staff who knew the menu and knew the wines, not an App.

So a wine App - whilst it may be a bit of fun to show off to you mates and play around with - does not really seem to do anything properly useful to me.

My own solution is rather more straightforward, if somewhat old-school (a bit like me, to be honest) - if you want to be confident of drinking nice wines, learn about the subject, read a few books, go to some wine tastings, find a friendly merchant or retailer whose wines you generally like (we are very fortunate in Cambridge to have not just one but three excellent ones, I know) and just keep trying different wines.

Learn - and keep learning - what aspects of a wine it is that you like and then confidently ask the merchant or sommelier for what you like.

As a final tip, my favourite question is always to ask the person recommending - have you tried it, what's it like, do you like it, or some such variant.

Go on, don't be afraid - you might even end up putting your iPhone gadgety thing away and having an interesting conversation in the real world.

Main image credit: http://twoweekstotravel.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/iphone-apps-300x300.png

"Help button" - http://studentbranding.com/the-art-of-asking-for-help/

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Naked Wines at Cambridge Food and Wine Society

I have been a customer of Naked Wines for around a year now and as a committee member of Cambridge Food and Wine Society, it made sense at some point to bring the two together.

So I invited Rowan Gormley, a charismatic South African entrepreneur who has worked as the right-hand man of charismatic British entrepreneur, Richard Branson and founded Naked Wines in 2008, to come and present some of his wines to a mixture of Cambridge Food and Wine Society regulars plus a group of Naked's own customers.

It proved to be a fascinating evening - for a number of reasons, mostly unrelated to the wines themselves as most fitted into, for me, a fairly standard pattern.

I find that Naked's wines have a very strong sense of identity or "house style" - well-made quaffers with generous up-front fruit, but not overblown in style, they are perhaps best categorised as "restrained New World style", coming generally either from the New World itself or Europe's New-World-style regions such as southern France or inland Spain.

We started with a Sachetto Prosecco NV; with simple, straightforward pear fruit, a ripe palate and a touch of yeastiness developing on the nose, it was a good example of what an enjoyable Prosecco should be.

With an eye to the mood of the audience, Rowan asked how many people preferred Prosecco to Champagne before going on to explain how many Champagnes can be just too acidic to be enjoyable as compared, say, to more drinkable Proseccos.

This was just the first of a series of communications master strokes from Rowan who clearly understand his audience, for whilst good Prosecco can indeed be more enjoyable (and cheaper) than poor Champagne, no Prosecco that I have ever tried has matched really good Champagne for complexity, intensity or sophistication.

With 15 wines to get through, we sampled them in pairs, generally from the same producer and usually a red and a white together.

Historically, I have generally found myself preferring Naked's white wines for quality of their structural acidity rather over the reds which, for me, are a little lacking in tannic structure and texture.

However, at this event, trying reds and whites side-by-side, I generally found myself preferring the reds.

Our first pairing of wines was from South African producer Carmen Stevens - the Chenin Blanc was herbaceous and fresh with lively acidity and a gentle minerality and showed a degree of restraint and sophistication from being grown on cooler, elevated, south-facing slopes.

The Shiraz showed typical pruney fruit with pepperiness, an inky texture and some grip on the finish.

The next two wines were from souther France's Benjamin Darnault - a Picpoul and a Faugères.

I have had the Picpoul previously and whilst it is a good example of the variety, at £9.99 I find it a little overpriced for such a straightforward wine which often retails for just a few Euros on its homeland.

The Faugères I found much more impressive - mainly Syrah, it had a toasty, tarry nose with eucalyptus notes whilst the palate shows bramble fruit, prunes, liquorice with a soft texture.

The next pairing, from Spain's Carlos Rodriguez, was an Albarinho that was crisp, fresh and floral with peach and apricot fruit followed by an unoaked Rioja which showed lots of up-front varietal fruit rather than the vanilla and secondary aromas one associates with Rioja.

In another commuications coup, Rowan outlined the oaking and aging regimes of Rioja, noting that a top-level Gran Reserva will have much less up-front primary fruit than an unoaked or more lightly oaked version and that people might well find themselves therefore preferring something with less oak.

The next wine was a Loire Sauvignon from Villebois whose wines I reviewed a while ago here and here - in style it is half-way between a traditional lean Loire and a full-on tropical kiwi, so it came as no surprise to learn that it was made by a French winemaker who has spent time working in New Zealand.

Next up were a pair of Argentinians from Mauricio Lorca which were both well-made, but not to my taste - a floral Torrontes with ripe fruit sweetness and a light, juicy Malbec with sweet prune fruit.

The logic of the next pairing, a Macon Uchizy from Burgundy and a red Alentajeno from Portugal, was not immediately obvious until Rowan pointed out the theme here was the use of oak.

The Macon Uchizy I thought was very impressive - the nose is toasty, whilst the palate is buttery-oatmealy with a creamy, smooth and rounded texture, balanced with fresh acidity and a toasty finish.

This was, for me, the most interesting white wine of the night - perhaps because it is the most different from Naked's usual style.

I was less impressed by the Portuguese wine which showed bramble fruit, black cherry and oaky tannins, but this is a country whose wines I feel I still haven't quite "got" yet.

We followed this oaky pairing with something designed to refresh palates - a Castillo de Tafalla Angels Selection Rosé which I reviewed here and was very impressed with once again.

Our final pairing was a couple of hot-climate big reds - a Cabernet Franc from Chile's Kimbao which I had expected not to like (albeit from fairly limited experience of Cab Franc) but which I enjoyed, perhaps because it was a far-from-typical example, and a sweetish Ishtar Shiraz with a Pinot-esque nose of decaying compost that I was less impressed with.

At the tasting, I sat next to fellow blogger Davy Kurniawan who blogs as Vinoremus and is an IWC judge, comparing notes as we went along rather like two avid trainspotters.

I also managed to get a very insightful appraisal of the Cambridge Food and Wine Society's website from someone who does this sort of thing for a living and whose website is here.

I note that for a nominal fee, she will advise whether one's blog stands any chance of being turned into a book - a process one client describes as being like root canal surgery, painful but necessary; which reminds me of the old adage that during a goldrush, the best money is in selling spades.

Recommended wines

White - Le Moulin de l’Oeuvre Macon Uchizy 2010, £11.49
Rosé - Castillo de Tafalla Angels Selection Rose 2010 , £7.99
Red - Benjamin Darnault Faugeres 2008, £9.99


Angels get 33% cashback on all purchases - details of the Angels scheme is here:

Links

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

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

The Wines - details

Sacchetto Prosecco NV
Carmen Stevens' Angels Reserve Chenin Blanc 2011
Carmen Stevens' Angels Reserve Shiraz 2010
Benjamin Darnault Picpoul de Pinet 2010
Benjamin Darnault Faugeres 2008
Carlos Rodriguez Artemisa Albarino 2010
Black Label Bargondia 2010
Villebois Prestige Sauvignon Blanc 2010
Mauricio Lorca Angels Reserve Torrontes 2011
Mauricio Lorca Angel's Reserve Malbec 2010
Macon Uchizy 2010
Montaria Tinto 2010
Castillo de Tafalla Angels Selection Rose 2010
Kimbao Syrah Cabernet Franc 2009
Balthazar Barossa Ishtar Shiraz 2009

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

7Springs Sauvignon Blanc, 2010, South Africa

According to its website, South Africa's Seven Springs Vineyard is "a premium winery, situated in the picturesque Western Cape where [cooling] oceanic influence, coupled with shale-derived soils, gives the vines the potential to produce exceptional grapes."

The story behind the winery is quite interesting and worthy of re-telling- UK-based founder Tim Pearson (pictured), with a background in agronomy and marketing, eventually made what he describes as "sufficient money, but by no means a fortune" in the somewhat unglamorous commercial cleaning business in the West Midlands to move into wine production where his real passion lies.

Tim's background as a businessman with marketing experience is very evident - he has an easy, relaxed charm, combined with a tenacity, purposefulness and attention to detail that is very impressive.

However, he seems to talk little about the subject of wine and rather reminds me of one of those Victorian patriarchs whose role is more or less limited to fathering the child and then ensuring it gets into the right places (Eton, Oxford, the House of Lords, that sort of thing).

It's certainly good business practice to stick to what you know, but it perhaps does not make for such a Romantic a story as the investment banker who gives it all up to work the land and prune the vines with his own hands in a tumble-down farmhouse in a village in the south of France.

All of this is of course irrelevant to the quality of the wine itself.

In the glass, it is a pale, sandy yellow; the nose is relatively restrained with green, herbaceous aromas, a touch of mineral edge and a hint of seashells.

The palate is full and rounded, with ripe peach and pear, tropical-fruit acidity balanced with good minerality and just a touch of gunsmoke mixed in with green nettles.

The finish is dry and minerally and it feels well made throughout.

In style, it is a slightly curious mixture of the Old World and the New - with the restraint and minerality of a Loire combined with the ripe palate and mouthfeel of a Marlborough.

It is very much a wine-drinker's wine - crowd-pleasing yet sophisticated - rather than a wine critic's wine that, say, impresses more on a structural or technical level.

To me, this wine is Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver: easy on the eye, with the potential to develop into something more complex, challenging and sophisticated once it's grown up a bit and is no longer quite so keen to impress - say, into Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling - once the young vines gain a few more years' age.

It can be enjoyed pretty much straight from the bottle, but benefits even from just half-an-hour's airing and is still developing the following day.

We matched it simple grilled plaice and goat's cheese risotto, but found the simple, classic food a little overwhelmed by the wine; a better match would be something richer with stronger flavours such as Thai fishcakes, a creamy fish pie or sushi.

Current UK retailers are:

City Beverage Company, London – http://www.citybeverage.co.uk/
Cybercellar (online) – http://www.cybercellar.co.uk/
Fraser Group / Budgens, Yarnton, Oxon – http://www.frasergroup.co.uk/
Proteas Wines, Northumbria – http://www.proteaswines.co.uk/
C.A. Rookes, Stratford upon Avon – http://www.johnfreeland.plus.com/
Underwood Wines, Warwick – http://www.underwoodwines.co.uk/
Vin Neuf, Stratford upon Avon – http://www.vinneuf.co.uk/

Provided for review; selling price is around £10, which is towards the upper end of what I would expect but still reasonable for something of this quality.

There are also blog reviews of this wine by Quaffable (here), Grapefan (here) and Simon Woods (here)

Links

7Springs - http://7springs.co.za/

Monday, 12 September 2011

Outis - Wines from Sicily

A while ago, Guido Scelso sent me a couple of wines to review for his business, Outis. The company, which has just launched, specialises in selling the wines of Sicily and southern Italy via the Internet in the UK.

With a list of mainly organic and bio-dynamic wines priced from £10 to £25 and beyond, these boutique wines are clearly not set to compete with either the supermarkets or Internet retailers such as Laithwaites and Naked Wines.

Sicily is a country I know little about oenologically, other than that its reputation has been increasing over the last decade or so as this article from Jancis Robinson in 2002, entitled "Sicily - Italy's New California" demonstrates - here.

Set roughly in the middle of the Mediterranean, historically Sicily was a Greek colony of great political significance and later had Germanic, Byzantine, Arab and Norman eras before unification with next-door Italy.

Geographically, it is complex - hilly-to-mountainous, with fertile deforested soils, active volcanoes, rivers and sea breezes.

Guccione Veruzza Trebbiano 2007, Sicily (£14.60)

The first of the wines I tried was this biodynamic Trebbiano. Italy's most widely-planted grape variety with a not entirely undeserved reputation as producing its dullest and most neutral wine, it is also capable of producing interesting wines when well made.
 
On pouring into the decanter, it is a dark gold / straw colour (indicating both age and oaking), but still bright.
 
There is some oldish oak on the nose and with time it becomes richer, with just a touch of toastiness and a distinct, briny tang of seaside, sand and shells.
 
The saltiness continues on the palate which is rounded and mouthfilling with smooth, well-integrated tannins, with some aged characteristics of old books and antique leather around the edges.
 
The lively acidity is lemony with a touch of pineapple sweetness whilst the finish is long, balanced and weighty.
 
The lack of up-front fruit and level of oxidisation are somewhat old-school, but it is not overdone and the acidity remains fresh.
 
Food matches would be lighter game, such as a partridge or smoked salmon.

Guccione Gibril Nerello Mascalese 2009, Sicily (£20.90)

The second wine was a red from the Nerello Mascalese grape which is native to Sicily and named after the Mascari plain where it is thought to have originated; it is typically used for blending and recent research has suggested it may well be a cross of Sangiovese with another, as yet unidentified, variety.

On pouring, the wine was a surprisingly pale, reddish colour with a nose of red berries, some undergrowth, chestnut mushrooms and oak.

On the palate it feels vibrant and shows red berry fruit, sour cherries and a hint of pepper, spice and liquorice.

There is a pleasing touch of mid-palate sweetness and some gentle tannic grip on the finish.

The acidity is prominent, mouthfilling, focused and linear.

Rather like the oaked Trebbiano, it feels somewhat Burgundian (it is priced at Burgundian levels, too) and would also match with typical Burgundian fare such as pheasant or beef bourguignon.

As well as wines, Outis are enthusiastic promoters of Sicily generally and also offer wine tours the this historic and much-fought-over island with five world heritage sites and an array of archaeological remains from various eras.

Links

Outis - http://www.outis.co.uk/

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Bordeaux Tasting at Cambridge Food and Wine Society



Bordeaux is perhaps the most famous wine region in the world - and with good reason; its First Growth chateaux produce some of the most expensive wines in the world (with prices for the 2010 vintage rising dramatically due, in part, to the effect of China) as well as perhaps the most famous sweet wine, Yquem, with top Bordeaux now almost more of an investment medium than a mere fermented beverage.

Moreover, with a viticultural history dating back almost 2,000 years, Bordeaux is the spiritual home of such noble grapes as Merlot, Cabernets Sauvignon and Franc, Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon.

Red Bordeaux, made generally from a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot (sometimes with smaller amounts of other varieties) is typically tough and chewy in its youth, but matures into a wine that gives a blast of blackcurrant fruit with aromas of pencil shavings, tobacco and resin - with generally high tannins and acidity, it is very much a food wine and traditionally matches with plain roast dark meat, such as beef.

All of this makes the Asian-billionaire fascination with young Bordeaux all the more surprising, as drinking it young with the strong, hot flavours of oriental food is as sure a way as any to overpower the wine and make it seem thin, bitter and dull.

The answer lies in both the rarity value and relative ephemerality of Bordeaux (say compared diamonds, gold or yachts) as well as the Asian tradition of gift-giving and obsession with overt demonstrations of status) - a gross oversimplification, of course, but not a bad one as these things go.

Away from the over-priced, over-hyped, under-aged Bordeaux, the region is home to a further 8,500-plus chateaux producing over 700m bottles of wine every year - around the same volume as the whole of Australia.

And as Anthony Stockbridge, a CIVB-accredited wine educator and therefore something of a Bordeaux specialist, pointed out, not all good Bordeaux has to cost a small fortune.



There are over 60 appellations in Bordeaux (see map), but the main distinction - for the reds that make up almost 90% of production - is between the right bank where Merlot dominates and the left bank where mainly Cabernet Sauvignon is grown.

However, Anthony started his presentation with two white blends. In Bordeaux, the whites pretty much have the status of also-rans amongst the very top wines but in the real world of wines under a tenner, they are increasingly gaining in quality and reputation.

The first from Château Bel Air, Perponcher Réserve was a 2009 Entre Deux Mers, made from 60% Sauvignon Blanc, 20% Sémillon and 20% Muscadelle (The Wine Society, £7.95). This had an unusual amount of Muscadelle in the blend but was fresh and dry and went well with Brie.

The second white, a Château Dubois Challon Fleur Amandine 2009 Bordeaux was 45% Sémillon, 50% Sauvignon and 5% Muscadelle (The Wine Society, £9.50); this was a more typical blend, barrel fermented and with the skins left in contact with the wine.

The wine spends around three months in oak casks, giving it a distinctive, oaked feel, although very different and more subtle than an oaked Chardonnay, for example. The palate showed ripe tropical fruit with a sweet almond finish and it proved the favourite of the two whites.

Moving on to the reds, we started with a Château La Grave de Bertin, 2009 - a Bordeaux Supérieur (meaning the alcohol content is slightly higher from riper - and theoretically better grapes) 70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Cabernet Franc (The Wine Society, £7.25)

It was a very young wine but the high proportion of means it is low in tannins, making it a good everyday Bordeaux. The palate shows cherries, red fruit and plums and it was matched with cheddar to break through the ‘youthful’ taste.

The next wine was Château du Tailhas, 2005 Pomerol with 80% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Cabernet Franc (from the producer, £18.99)

2005 was one of the great years for Bordeaux and this wine needs a bit more time to mature fully, but is start to drink well now, with a soft and smooth nose, a good level of acidity and lots of fruit, it feels elegant, soft and velvety, with lowish tannins that make it a better match for lamb than the more traditional beef.

It will improve for a few more years and keep for another 10.

The next wine was a Château Tour St. Bonnet, 2003 from Haut-Médoc; a Cru Bourgeois, it was 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc (Lay & Wheeler, £19.30).

The nose on this wine was quite different nose to the previous one, with cassis and leather from the Cab. Anthony described this as a good, middle-of-the-road wine with good structure and tannins and it was very popular on the night.

Moving further back in time, the next wine was a Château La Gurgue 2001 from Margaux, a Cru Bourgeois with an undisclosed blend, but dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon (Lay & Wheeler, £19.00)

This was really lovely wine with finesse and secondary aromas of liquorice, pencil lead and spices from aging and a complex, velvety palate.

The final red was a Château Batailley, 2003 Classé Pauillac with 65 % Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot and 10%Cabernet Franc (Lay & Wheeler, £24.00).

This was another absolutely wonderful wine with floral notes of violets on the nose and pine needles, cedar, spice on the palate; it is still relatively youthful and another two or three years' aging will soften the tannins.

The final wine of the evening was a sweet Château Cantegril Sauternes, made from 91% Sémillon and 9% Sauvignon Blanc (The Wine Society, £20.00).

With a complex nose and palate of honey, barley sugar, spicy apple, candied fruit, orange peel it was delicious and matched superbly with Roquefort.

With prices for 2010 Bordeaux first growths reaching astronomical levels, and moreover the wines not ready for drinking for a good 10 or so years, the event was a timely reminder that there is much better value to be had in wines of slightly lesser reputation from older vintages which are closer to being ready to drink now.

Links

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

Anthony Stockbridge & Associates - www.asa-training.co.uk

CIVB - http://www.bordeaux.com/Civb.aspx?culture=en-US&country=GB

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

Lay & Wheeler - http://www.laywheeler.com/

Image credits:

Main image, Château Lafite-Rothschild (listed first in the 1855 Classification - although whether this was actually ordered by rank remains controversial, it continues to achieve the highest prices of the Médoc first growths): http://www.interestinwine.co.uk/images/categories/Lafite_Rothschild/lafite_10.jpg

Bordeaux appellations - map: http://www.terroir-france.com/picts/bordeaux_map.gif

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Wines That Improve With Air‏

I have written a couple of times already about the effect of air on wine (here and here).

In the simplest terms, a wine will generally open up and improve with a bit of air, but too much exposure to air will eventually spoil it.

Getting the right amount of exposure of the wine to air is more a case of trial and error than of there being any hard and fast rules.

I often take a couple of days to finish a bottle of wine - if we don't finish it all off one evening or if it's something I'm reviewing and I want to see how it develops.

From my unscientific observations, it seems that full-bodied wines with lower alcohol contents, and for reds plenty of tannins, seem to be able to take more air than riper, more fruit-driven wines with an extra few degrees of alcohol.

This is about as much guidance as I can give on the subject and I should also add I've found plenty of exceptions to this rule-of-thumb, too - such as 14% wines from the Rhone or the Wachau which don't reach a peak until they've had a couple of days' airing in an opened and resealed bottle.

However, a friend emailed me the other day with a related question; he explained that he and his wife were until recently in the habit of sharing a mid-week bottle of wine, but as she is now pregnant, he finds a full bottle a bit too much if he has work the next day.

However, saving it until the following evening doesn't seem to work either as by then the wine has faded.

Did I have any suggestions ?

Options I considered and rejected were:

- only buy half bottles (too limiting)
- change to beer (just not a long-term option)
- cocktails (ditto, and too fiddly anyway)

Instead, I suggested he buy wines that will improve with a bit of air and then they will actually be better on the second day.

It turns out that he buys a lot of his wines from the Sunday Times Wine Club (supplied by Laithwaites) and Naked Wines.

Of the two, I am more impressed by Naked (read what I think of Laithwaites here), but in both cases the wines generally tend to impress straight out of the bottle rather than improving significantly with extended airing.

However, I thought back to the wines that I have found most improved with a decent amount of air and that are priced at a similar level to Naked and Laithwaites and came up with a list of four priced around £8-£10 from Cambridge Wine Merchants, as their wines often seem to improve significantly with some air.

I then emailed Hal Wilson at CWM to ask if he could recommend two more wines to make up a half case and the result is my suggested mixed half-case of wines that you do not need to drink all in one go as they will actually improve with some air and be better on the second day.

To get the most out of them on the first day, I suggest using a decanter and plenty of vigorous swirling in a large glass.

Reds

Collines De Laure - an autumnal, inky, northern Rhone Syrah (reviewed here)
Rousseau de Sipian - a wonderfully textured Bordeaux (reviewed here)
Dom Sarabande 2009 Faugeres

Whites

Domanie de la Rablais - a classic minerally Loire (reviewed here)
Alpha Zeta Garganega - a mouthfilling and crisp Italian (reviewed here)
Chablis 2009 Jean Marc Brocard

Cambridge Wine Merchants are based not just in Cambridge, but also Royston, Amphill and Edinburgh; they also deliver nationally.

Links

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

Image credit: http://sedimentality.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/Decanter.gif