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Sunday, 30 September 2012

A Guest Post on Pavitt's Pies


A few weeks ago, Dan de la Mare-Lyon won my pie of the month competition and received some hand-delivered Pavitt's Pies from Carri Pavitt - here he tells me what he thought of them.
The Pies!

So, after a few hectic weeks of work, Carri kindly dropped off the "whole family friendly" selection. We went for the Mushroom, Onion and Thyme, and the Cheese and Onion (having a veggie wife and always being on the look-out for new stuff to try it seemed a good plan).

Carri kindly knocked back the seasoning a little in the Cheese and Onion as my wife isn't hugely fond of overly-peppery dishes.

Both pies looked fantastic, and bit thanks to Carri for dropping them off. We kept it simple, pies, lightly roasted charlotte potatoes (done in an air-fryer so they don't take up any fat) and fresh veg.

I was expecting to need two wines to pair with the "meatiness" of the mushroom pie, when compared to the cheese and onion, but I was it seems wrong.

I'd got a Chablis on standby for something light to accompany the cheese (as with caramelised onions it could take on quite an onion edge, and I find crisp whites are a nice contrast to the sweeter oniony edge - but I was pleasantly surprised in that one wine I think worked well with both pies, and the rich chocolate pudding that followed afterwards.

In keeping with the uncomplicated but delicious ingredients in the pies, and the simple but fresh nature of everything, the bottle of Virgile Joly Merlot (Naked Wines) was what I was thinking would pair well with the mushroom pie. I was impressed however, that it complemented the cheese and deliciously caramelised onions just perfectly too with the cheese taking a cheeky grin though after the initial sweet edge of the onions.

Lovely pies, a very nice light and fruity Merlot (that I'd not had before and was a recommended choice after my last order). The slightly spicy edge of the Merlot balanced nicely with the meaty mushrooms and fragrant edge of the thyme, as well as complementing the cheese and sweet onions nicely.

Yum. Thumbs up from me. Might have to get the same two again and try with something else now!

Links

Pavitt's Pies - http://www.pavittspies.co.uk/

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Chris Kissack's Pocket Guide to The Wines of Bordeaux

Chris Kissack's Pocket Guide to The Wines of Bordeaux, published by the somewhat clumsily-named MagBook, aims to have the depth of information of a book with the turnaround time of a magazine and is priced part-way between a book and a magazine.

Bordeaux was my first proper introduction to decent, reliable wine - for me, Bordeaux has never been about particular, world-famous First Growth chateaux or the great appellations; rather, I've more generally found enjoyment and value in good, everyday wines.

And that's the problem with Bordeaux - it's so many things to so many people; with an output greater than the whole of Australia, it can be a status symbol for Asian billionaires or an investment vehicle for speculators; an eye-wateringly expensive indulgence or an everyday wine; a wine to mature for years, decades or even more or something to drink shortly after vintage.

It can be red or, increasingly, white. It can be rosé. It can be sweet.

The book is extremely well-written (all of it, unusually, by Chris himself) and is laid out logically and clearly.

In his introduction, Chris says that the book is aimed at everyone from the novice to the deep-pocketed enthusiast with introductory sections on the minor regions and more in-depth analyses of the great Chateaux, plus a review of the last decade of vintages and some more off-the-cuff magazine articles on topical issues, such as the rise of China and changes to the en primeur system.

There are also a few "static" sections on professional storage and the right type of glasses that feel like they've come straight out of the wine-book identikit archive.

Overall, however, this MagBook's strengths are perhaps also its weaknesses - the almost 150 pages of it contain vast amounts of information and Chris' enthusiasm for and depth of knowledge about the region is patently clear.

But for me, it feels in many ways like an old-fashioned reference book and would benefit from more in the way of wisdom and less base information.

Moreover, there is very little price information, and since we know prices for Bordeaux can vary greatly, it might have been useful to structure some of the sections around price - I am rarely, if ever, going to spend several hundred pounds on a bottle of wine, for example, so why not put the details of all those wines in a separate section that I know is out of my range.

Since there is also no information on where to source the wines described or recommended, the guide feels more like a compendium of background information than a useful what-and-where-to-buy.

And this is a pity - because Chris is clearly an expert in Bordeaux with a huge depth and breadth of knowledge. But with so much information available on Wikipedia and the ability to read it on the daily commute with an iPad, the general background information here is of less use than it would have been even a few years ago.

So, I'd really like to see a bit more emphasis on something different and unique - be it value-added expert wisdom or even just entertaining anecdote and opinion of which I'm sure Chris must have plenty.

Also, some information on indicative pricing would help to provide something of a structure - it is one thing to read a description of a sub-region or specific chateau, but another thing altogether to be able to afford it these days.

£6.29 (hardcopy) / £4.99 (kindle) from amazon - provided for review.

Additional review by Jim Budd here.

Links

Chris Kissack - website, twitter
Pocket Guide to The Wines of Bordeaux - ebook on amazon

Friday, 28 September 2012

Cappuccino Pinotage 2011, Boland Kelder, South Africa‏

Every wine geek knows that Pinotage is South Africa's best claim to a signature red grape.

A frankly rather inauspicious blend of the noble but finnicky Burgundian Pinot Noir with the little-seen southern ruffian that is Cinsault, it feels like a mismatch of "minor-royal-marries-glamour-model" proportions.

Pinotage does not feature heavily on this blog, but when Matt Ellis of St Neots merchant Smiling Grape dropped me a note to say he had a rather unusual wine for me to try and I would I like a sample, I was instantly hooked.

Named Cappuccino Pinotage, it is made by South Africa's Boland Wines and claims to combine the best elements of coffee and wine.

Of course mocha and coffee aromas in wine are nothing that unusual - especially in a cool-climate Merlot, for example; but according to the back label, the wine is designed to show "the mocha of ground coffee and cacao".

Purple in the glass, the nose shows aromas of cassis and, yes, mocha.

The palate is soft and full with ripe smokey plum and damson fruit, red berries, mocha aromas, a touch of spice and a chocolatey texture with a lingering persistence on the finish.

Whilst it is distinctly ripe, fruit-forward and New World, it also feels well-balanced - the gentle, soft tannins are very much in the background and it is reminiscent of a smooth after-dinner coffee liqueur.

A pleasant, well-made, South African easy-drinker with a distinct coffee edge, I rather like this wine - I'm not sure exactly when I'd drink it or with what, but it reminds me nostalgically of those little mocha chocolates one eats at Christmas.

£8.99 from Smiling Grape; provided for review.

Links

Smiling Grape - website, twitter
Boland Wines - http://www.bolandwines.co.za/

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Tio Pepe Fino‏ - Date-Stamped

One of the "wine facts" about fino sherry - the palest and freshest of all the styles - is that it is best drunk soon after bottling and immediately after opening.

Fino sherry is aged - often for several years - in soleras under flor (a naturally occurring yeast) that keeps out air and, feeding off the glycerol in the wine, imparts a distinctive pungent, yeasty tang to the wine which gives a crisp sharpness and makes it a perfect aperitif.

Refreshing, precise and elegant, rather than easy-drinking, fino is not, to me, a quaffing wine. Rather, it makes most sense under a hot, Andalusian sun, or failing that, with a simple plate of hard cheeses, cured meats and bread with olive oil on a hot day.

I was recently sent a bottle of Tio Pepe Fino by producers Gonzalez Byass to show off their newly-introduced date-stamp process.

From now, all bottles will carry a date stamp that allows you to establish how fresh your bottle of fino is - mine was just a few weeks old and tasted like ... well, exactly like a fino should.

Of course, a good merchant should rotate his stock properly and ensure that all the wines are in top drinking condition or else marked-down as bin ends needing immediate consumption. However, in the real world, a date-stamp allows consumers to check the age of a fino and, if it is more than say 9-12 months, look for somewhere else to buy it.

Widely available for around £10; provided for review.

Links

Tio Pepe - twitter, website (UK)
Gonzalez Byass - http://www.gonzalezbyass.com/

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Voyager Estate Masterclass and Dinner‏

Australia seems to be tying itself in oenological knots these days; gone are the days when we were all mad for oaky chardie and now Australian whites often come with a distinctly cool-climate feel.

Meanwhile, at the bottom end of the market, the country still provides bucket-loads of cheap, fruity quaffing plonk that is usually on special offer somewhere, but taxes and currency movements are making this harder to sustain.

The solution for Steve James - head of winemaking at Voyager Estate in Western Australia's Margaret River - is for the country to focus on its higher-end wines and its terroir.

That's certainly the approach at his own winery where the philosophy is "the best of everything" and the wines are priced well above the retail points of supermarkets.

Steve started by explaining a little about Margaret River - 5 hours' flying time from the major population centres on the east coast and three hours' drive south of Perth, the word "remote" springs to mind.

The climate is warm-maritime, with cooling sea breezes from the Southern Ocean often taking night-time temperatures down to low teens, meaning a long growing season and higher natural acidity as a result.

With the first vines planted only in the late 1960s, he describes Western Australia as the New New World. And yet with a climate similar to Bordeaux, the resulting style is much more European Old World, a fact that was not lost on an appreciative audience.

The wines were in three flights of four - each with a wild-card / benchmark from another producer for comparison.

The Chardonnays

2009 Voyager Estate Chardonnay, Margaret River, WA (12.8%) a slightly pungent nose of complex oak and tropical fruit; the palate is extremely precise and structured with ripe fruit, toastiness, some vanilla sweetness. There is a nutty, oatmealy creaminess and good palate length with a persistent finish.

Low-ish alcohol and just 30% new oak, medium toasted, with wild yeast fermentation help to give balance and depth to this wine. Very elegant and poised.

Kumeu Rive Mate's Vineyard Chardonnay Kumeu, NZ (13.5% £29.95 BBR) by comparison, this benchmark kiwi chardie felt less precise, less structured, a bit woolly. Well made, but not as thrilling as the Voyager Estate.

2008 Voyager Estate Chardonnay (13.3%) from a warmer year, this feels fuller and plumper; still good acidity and toastiness.

2006 Voyager Estate Chardonnay (13.3%) from a very cool year, this has lots of fresh acidity and still feels quite youthful, developing in the glass over time. There is some funky spice on the nose with citrus and refreshing tropical fruit acidity.

The Shirazes

During the Masterclass, I found the Shirazes a little restrained and elusive - later over dinner, I found them much more expressive. I am at a loss to know quite why that is, but my notes here are from the Masterclass and I don't feel fully do them justice. In any case, they showed great deftness and elegance - and a food-friendly versatility to rival Pinot Noir.

Voyager Estate Shiraz, Maragaret River, WA 2010 (13.5%) rather elusive nose, dark fruit and pepperiness with savouriness on the palate; good acidity and tannins, feels full and soft, not the usual raisiny style. Good length.

Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier, Canberra District, NSW (14%, Liberty Wines, £52.99) expressive, herbaceous nose with minty oleander; on the palate floral and oleander aromas, with ripe elderberry fruit. Very poised and precise. Impressive for sure, but very expensive and I don't know that I would want to live with it.

2009 Voyager Estate Shiraz (13.9%) again, slightly elusive nose, dark fruit and some menthol hints; dark fruit, pencil shavings, vanilla spice and savouriness on the palate with soft, full perfectly-ripe tannins.

2007 Voyager Estate Shiraz (14%) with a bit more age, this feels softer, mellower and more harmoniously integrated.

The Bordeaux Blends

The precise blend varies year-by-year, but generally these were around 80% Cab, 15% Merlot and a small amount of Petit Verdot or Malbec.

Oaking is 18-24m in 50% new oak and 50% 2yo.

2008 Voyager Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot, Margaret River, WA (13.6% £31) complex and intense nose of tobacco, earthiness and spice. Mouthfilling palate with good fruit, balanced acidity and soft, grippy tannins. A dead ringer for a Cru Bourgeois Bourdeaux, it was agreed.

2008 Wynns Coonawarra John Riddoch Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra, SA (14%) ripe and blackcurranty with sweet liquorice. Good, well-made and impressive but a touch monolithic.

2005 Voyager Estate Cabernet (14%) mintiness, coffee, spice and pencil shavings on the nose and palate; more aromatic than the 2008.

2004 Voyager Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (14.2%) bramble fruit, leather and spice on the nose, cool mintiness and fresh acidity with ripe fruit. Balanced acidity and tannins, mouthfilling with a long palate. Harmonious and fresh, drinking very nicely now.

Recommended Wines

With a trend for lower alcohol levels and less oak over the years, the youngest wines often felt the most balanced, classical and elegant.

That said, at this stage in their evolution, they lacked the harmonious mellowness of the older wines - particularly in the case of the reds.

In all cases, I found myself preferring the Voyager Wines to the benchmarks. Within the flights, favourites were:

- Chardonnay 2009 for its precision
- Shiraz 2007 for its soft harmoniousness
- Cab/Merlot 2004 for its complex secondary aromas

Voyager Estate wines are sold in the UK by Justerini and Brooks - not all vintages currently available.

Links

Voyager Estate - website, twitter, Facebook

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Tandem Ars in Vitro 2008, Navarra, Spain‏

Being a practical, pragmatic, long-suffering sort of person, Mrs CWB has a knack for summing up a wine's qualities far more tersely and succinctly than I - many a respectable but middling white has been dismissed with a sniff and the words "It's not as good as those Austrian wines we used to have", for example.

In this case, Mrs CWB summed up the Ars In Vitro 2008 from Tandem as "autumnal" and much to her amusement, I then tweeted this to Tandem's General Manager Jose Fraile who responded that he liked this description better than his own of "mountain wine", finishing with "Cheers to Mrs CWB".

My own assessment is, inevitably, rather less succinct.

Made from a blend of Tempranillo and Merlot grown in the Yerri Valley in the north of Navarra at an altitude of 600m, the wine is aged for 24 months in concrete vats before bottling.

On the nose there is ground coffee, red fruit, spice and a hint of woodsy-muskiness.

The palate is long and shows red-plum fruit, juicy, fresh acidity and firm tannins; with greater aeration (ie re-sampled the next day), it shows perfumey aromas of blueberries, violets, even lavender soap. At the same time, the texture becomes softer and fuller.

The finish is persistent, cut through with acidity, leaving grippy, mellow tannins.

Match with autumnal dishes, such as beef stew spiced with cloves and paprika.

Provided for review.

See here for more on a tasting of Wines from Navarra.

Links

Tandem - website, twitter, Facebook

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Win Tickets for a Champagne Dinner at Cambridge Hotel du Vin‏

For any Cambridge foodies or wine enthusiasts, one of the highlights of the autumn / winter season of events at Cambridge's Hotel du Vin has to be a Champagne dinner on Thursday October 25th.

Sommelier Nicolas Arthuis has chosen an number of different Champagnes from Gosset for chef Jonathan Dean to match with food to show that the French fizzy stuff is as much a food wine as something for weddings and Formula 1 podium celebrations.

Located on the Grand Cru Aӱ since 1584, Gosset is the oldest house in Champagne. According to Nicolas "The house's traditional style brings a lovely elegance and a purity which competes with all the other renown houses - for me, Gosset is the Champagne where tradition meet elegance."

Nicolas has chosen different Gosset Champagnes to accompany a 4-course meal put together by chef Jonathan Dean and I have a pair of tickets for the event to be won (worth £65 each).

The full menu is as follows:

Bouchée of sautéed Crayfishand Sweetbread with Julienne of Vegetables

NV Gosset Grande Réserve

***

Pork medallion, fresh choucroute and Champagne jus

NV Gosset Grand Rosé

***

Selection of Cheese from the Region

2000 Gosset Grand Millésime

***

Tarte au sucre, Biscuit Rose de Reims and Champagne Granité

2000 Gosset Grand Millésme or Cognac Château de Fontpinot Grande Champagne XO


Entering is really easy; just tell me your favourite Champagne moment and leave it as a comment on this post: it could be a real event or imagined; it could involve food or not; it could be special because of the quality of the wine or just because the circumstances.

The competition runs until Friday October 19th and entries will be judged by Sommelier Nicolas and General Manager Jacqui Griffiths.

When you enter, please remember to ensure there is some way to contact you in the event you are chosen as the lucky winner. You'll need to be able to attend the dinner itself, but there are also a couple of runners-up prizes of a complimentary glass of Champagne in the bar at Hotel du Vin at a time of your choosing.

And if you want to know just how good these food and wine matching events at Hotel du Vin are, just see my review of a Noval Port and Wine Dinner.

Now, what are you waiting for ???

Links

Hotel du Vin - http://www.hotelduvin.com/hotels/cambridge/cambridge.aspx
Gosset - http://www.champagne-gosset.com/

Thursday, 20 September 2012

A Cambridge Institution: The Orchard in Grantchester‏


I often tell potential visitors to Cambridge that you can pretty much "do" the city in a day; for all its renown, Cambridge is, after all, a small place - a city by dint of its university rather than, say, size.

A few of the more famous colleges, punting along the backs and a stroll around the mediaeval street layout of the centre and you've covered the main tourist bases of the city.

Moreover, Cambridge is set in the middle of farming country - flat, unwooded, arable land - with not much to see beyond the historic centre and a dining scene that is best described as "pockets of excellence".

If, however, you visit Cambridge and restrict yourself to the historic centre, you will miss out on The Orchard in Grantchester - a Cambridge Institution in a city of Institutions.

The Orchard is best accessed either via Grantchester Meadows, a 2-mile stretch of the river from Newnham to Grantchester with fields and cattle or - if you have the time and energy - by punting there up the river.

Describing itself formally as The Orchard Tea Gardens, it has provided a genteel, quintessentially English form of refreshment to pretty much anyone who is famous and went to Cambridge - from Rupert Brooke and Virginia Woolf to most of the Monty Python team.

Its origins date back to students at the University making the trip upriver and, arrived at Grantchester, demanding to be brought tea and cakes.

These days the clientele is more the affluent middle-aged and trendy upper-middle class - usually with families - but The Orchard remains true to its aristocratic origins and retains a rustic insouciance to urban sensibilities; the food is hearty and straightforward, the coffee comes in a one-size-fits-all filter variety and the deck chairs are left out in all weathers and bear the marks of the orchard's many feathered visitors.

There is a small indoor seating area with windows looking onto the orchard for when then weather is bad, but the main reason for a visit is to sit out in the orchard itself on a hot summer's day.

There have not been too many of those recently, but the other week we took advantage of the brief Indian Summer and the arrival of guests to make our way out there for lunch.

The menu is straightforward and seems barely to have changed since our first visit over a decade ago; with generous portion sizes and the prospect of cakes to follow, a number of the party opted for a simple carrot-and-coriander soup about which there is little that can be said except that it was a delicious bowl of soup.

And yet, that somehow sums up The Orchard - unashamedly old school, unfussy, well-made food with absolutely no attempt at catching the zeitgeist.

For my own main, I chose at hot-smoked salmon and asparagus quiche that was dense and richly eggy and came served simply with boiled potatoes and salad leaves.

Perhaps The Orchard's one concession to modernity is the ordering system - a hand-held numbered unit flashes when your food is ready and alerts you to look out for the waiting staff coming with a tray of food.

With the savoury food over, we popped back inside for the main event with any trip to The Orchard - tea and cakes.

My staple is always the freshly-made and enormous scones with jam and clotted cream - with a choice of cheese, fruit or plain, they are rich and crumbly and, frankly, better than any shop-bought scone I have ever had. In fact, better than any other scone full-stop.

In the interests of research, I tried a little of the lemon meringue pie that #1 child had ordered - the pastry base was suffused with lemon curd that was sharp and zesty, yet also light; the meringue topping crisp, chewy and dapple-browned.

#2 child's chocolate cake, with chocolate cream and chocolate sprinkle topping was ... well, dense and very chocolatey; a perfect example of what it should be, but not my thing.

Like many of the trappings of an aristocratic lifestyle - sailing, ski-ing or horse-riding especially come to mind - The Orchard is rather basic, quite expensive and very outdoorsy.

But that's how I like it - it has resisted the temptation to become a caricature of itself, an "experience" theme park where you exit through the gift shop; there are no Orchard key fobs or "My friend went to The Orchard and all I got was this stupid t-shirt" t-shirt.

In a decade of dining out, it is our most visited eating place in Cambridge, the one we keep coming back to. Long may it remain.

Links

The Orchard - http://www.orchard-grantchester.com/

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Villa Maria 50 Years Tasting and Dinner‏


Last night, I was at Bafta for a Villa Maria tutored tasting and dinner with founder Sir George Fistonich and winemaker Alastair Maling MW.

I don't know exactly when New Zealand went from being a small backwater island off the coast of a much-larger backwater island to a place of high-tech wineries, stunning scenery and ski resorts.

In my head, the tipping point was the Lord of The Rings trilogy, but the earlier film The Piano and waves of hardworking kiwis in the hospitality and accountancy sectors must have also been a factor in the general build-up.

Sir George Fistonich's family arrived in New Zealand from the beautiful Croatian island of Hvar in the mid 20th century as way of escaping the advance of communism, and since modern wine-making in New Zealand can barely be measured in decades, his entry into wine 50 years ago is positively ante-diluvian.

The tasting started with four Pinots. I have had my doubts about Villa Maria Pinot Noir before - not that there's anything wrong with them. Rather the opposite; they are well-made, reliable and distinctly inexpensive, compared to Burgundian Pinot.

Put an entry-level Villa Maria Pinot in front of an enthusiastic novice keen to see what the fuss is about and you can say "There - that's what a Pinot should be". Ripe cherry fruit, some mushroominess, well made and balanced, it ticks every box.

And as you move up the scale, they get correspondingly better, more concentrated and complex.

An automotive analogy is a base-model Mercedes - you get great build-quality and reliability, but ultimately it's a lump of stodgy, underpowered German metal.
The Romantic in me sees Pinot as something more free-spirited, an Italian Prancing Horse, untamed and unreliable - not a three-pointed star with lots of airbags.

Villa Maria Private Bin Pinot Noir 2011 good entry-level Pinot, cherry fruit and mushrooms, well-enough made

Villa Maria Cellar Selection Pinot Noir 2010 more spice and concentration, same family characteristics, but a definite step-up.

Villa Maria Reserve Pinot Noir 2009 good, ripe cherry fruit, more spice, still rather textbook. Acidity a little overly prominent with just a hint of a rough edge.

Villa Maria Single Vineyard Seddon Pinot Noir 2007 bright fruit with ripe cherries and mushrooms, spiciness, silky, velvety palate. Feels clear and precise, very well-balanced and concentrated, good gentle grip.

Villa Maria Private Bin Arneis 2011 the northern Italian grape with a kiwi twist; highly, stereotypically aromatic nose with crisp herbaceous aromas, fresh acidity on the palate.

"We can't do a non-aromatic wine in New Zealand" said Alastair with a grin and suggested this could prove an alternative to kiwi Sauvignon. A Grüner is due to follow as well.

It proved popular with fellow tasters, but for me it had all the usual family hallmarks and not enough that was stylistically new or interesting.

Villa Maria Organic Cellar Selection 2012 by contrast, I thought this SB did offer something different; a tank sample, it has a precise, zesty, pungent nose, the smell of freshly-cut garden-picked string beans which Alastair described as a touch of "wildness". It feels lively, almost spritzy, and there is a fullness on the palate, leading to creaminess, and aromas of blackcurrant leaf

Villa Maria Reserve Syrah 2009 Alastair explained that "Syrah" is something of a hard sell as consumers know Shiraz and know the Rhône, but don't know Syrah. And this wine was not quite either, with a European emphasis on texture and palate but a New World ripeness.

On the nose, there are mixed peppercorns, liquorice and dark fruit; the palate shows violets and plum fruit, sweet vanilla spice. The texture is velvety with soft tannins.

Again, this one was popular with fellow tasters, but for me was a little tick-box and worthy, rather lacking in the touch of Gallic insouciance I look for.


Recommended Wine

The best of the Pinots, I thought, was the single-vineyard Seddon. And I believe that this is no concidence, given Pinot's origins in the minutely-detailed vineyards of Burgundy.

Is Pinot a grape so expressive of its terroir that it should never be blended, for in doing so it will lose something of its wilful personality ? I can't help wondering.

To return to my earlier automotive metaphor, maybe the solution for New Zealand Pinot is not to have to choose between being either a Mercedes or a Ferrari. Rather, to combine the best of both as a Bugatti, the Italian supercar made by a division of the behemoth VW Group -  a sensible Tutonic heart combined with a Latin soul. Oh, and very expensive, too.

As to the whites, I am generally very cynical about organic wines, and yet each time I try them, I find a quality that is recognisable yet eludes description - a fullness and sophistication. For that elusive rounded assuredness, for me the best white was the Organic Cellar Selection SB - whether it reaches our shores and, if so, how similar it is to the tank sample remains to be seen.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

The Great Sherry Tasting


Sherry is one of my favourite wines - not least, perhaps, because it is generally under-appreciated and therefore represents great value.

As a generic name, "sherry" is a bit like "curry" - a foreigner's oversimplification that lumps everything together and hides the potential variety and complexity of everything from a pale fino, to a complex palo cortado and an intensely sweet PX.

For his Masterclass on oxidative ageing at The Great Sherry Tasting, Beltran Domecq drew the distinction between paler sherries aged biologically (that is, under flor), the subject of an earlier Masterclass, and the darker styles aged oxidatively.

Beltran noted that this was the largest sherry tasting in northern Europe and possibly even bigger than ones in Spain and then kicked off with a recap of the key components of sherry-making:

- the region, a triangle between Jerez, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, and El Puerto de Santa María
- the chalky albariza soil
- the palomino grape
- the naturally occurring flor that grows atop the paler sherries and gives them their characteristic pungency

What was new for me was the precise conditions need for flor and the description of the local micro-climate determined by the straits of Gibraltar; winds from the west bring cooler, damper air providing favourable conditions for the flor whilst the hot, dry, eastern air from the Sahara provides the opposite.

On entering the tasting room, the aroma of aged, complex sherries had been utterly delicious and I soon discovered the reason - all 10 samples had been pre-poured and, with spaces for 30 attendees, that meant the heady aromas from 300 glasses of dark sherry wafting around the room.

With no overt fruit, the tertiary, evolved aromas of sherry often elude easy description and one tends to fall back on references to roasted walnuts, old leather and so on.

The Palo Cortados

Leonor, Gonzalez Byass (£12.10 Cambridge Wine Merchants and others) a golden topaz colour, this was a delicate and elegant wine, with nutty, raisiny aromas, a touch of muskiness and a firmness on the finish. Good.

Antique, F de Castilla (£29, Noel Young and others) this was much older and had an aged complexity with a touch of saltiness. Greater length, too.

Capuchino, VORS, Osborne (£33.29 The Wine Society) a darker mahogany colour on the nose, this is complex and aged with aromas on the palate of old leather, antique shop and roasted nuts. There is also a fresh acidity, good length and a touch of spice. The finish is balance and persistent. Very good.

The Olorosos

Collecion 12 anos, Williams & Humbert (£7.99 Waitrose) aged not in a solera, but statically (i.e. In a single butt), this is a pale topaz colour. The palate has a fresh acidity and feels elegantly harmonious. It feels vibrant and seems quite youthful after the previous wine.

VORS, Tradicion an amber colour, it seems pale for its 30 years' age, there are toasted walnut aromas on the nose. The palate has fresh acidity and nutty, evolved aromas; it feels balanced, very soft and harmonious.

The Sweet Olorosos

Royal Corregidor VOS, Sandeman (£14.99 Harrods and others) a treacly colour, there are musky aromas and walnuts; the acidity is fresh with a balanced sweetness and an aroma of roasted orange peel. The sweetness comes, incidentally, from early stopping of the fermentation and not the addition of PX.

Rich Old Oloroso VORS, Harveys (£21.10 Gordon & Macphail) a dark mahogany colour with aromas of seasoned oak and concentrated walnut, this has a lower sugar content and feels very fresh - the bitterness, saltiness, sweetness and acidity all feel very balanced. Good.

The PXs
These wines are all made from the Pedro Ximinez grape and are intensely, deliciously sweet.

Cisneros, Sanchez Romate (£17.74 Selfridges, Soho Wine) almost black in the glass, there are raisiny aromas and dried figs. It is mouthfilling with really intense sweetness, burnt aromas and toasty vanilla, but the fresh acidity cuts through.

Don Guido VOS, Williams & Humbert (£15 Harrods and others) older and more complex, this is absolutely black in colour and yet seems less sweet - overall, it is more balanced with a better mix of bitterness, acidity and saltiness. Complex burnt aromas on the finish.

Venerable VORS, Osborne (£33.29 The Wine Society) intense yet complex nose with bitter, toasty, roasted-spice aromas. It is complex, harmonious and elegant with great length and a wonderful finish. Very good indeed.

With residual sugar of 430g/l, it is quite possibly one of the sweetest wines in the world, with the exception only of Tokaji Eszencia which @BorVilag tells me is typically above 450g/l.

Food matches for this were suggested as dark chocolate (especially with sea salt) and blue cheese. For more on sherry and food matching, see this Hidalgo Sherry Dinner at The Punter post.

As a general rule, Beltran suggested that all these darker sherries should be chilled slightly when served with food - around 15C to 17C.

A Note On Pricing

Most wines are produced to be drunk young and proper ageing is an expensive process, not least because it ties up money in the business for years.

So, given that over 99% of all wine sold in the UK is under a tenner, these wines might seem expensive compared to a bottle of supermarket wine or even something more interesting but still current-vintage from an independent merchant.

And whilst a bottle of good, entry-level fino or manzanilla can be had for under a tenner, the mellowness and complexity that comes with ageing measured in decades inevitably costs a bit more.

Recommended Wines

As a long-standing sherry enthusiast, I did not feel I needed any conversion to the cause. However, what did strike about all the wines was how well made they were and also the extraordinary palate length.

So whilst it may seem iniquitous to single out favourites, let it be said that the benchmark here was generally extremely high but some towered above. Inevitably, perhaps, it was the older wines that impressed most:

- Palo Cortado Capuchino VORS, Osborne for its aged complexity
- PX Venerable VORS, Osborne for its intensity, complexity and balance

Here's what The Wine Kat has to say about The Great Sherry Tasting.

Links

The Sherry Institute of Spain - www.sherry.org
Osborne - http://www.osborne.es/
Cambridge Wine Merchants - http://www.cambridgewine.co.uk/
Noel Young Wines - http://www.nywines.co.uk/
The Wine Society - http://www.thewinesociety.com/

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Two Wines From Domaine Begude‏

These two wines from Domaine Begude were hand-delivered to Cambridge via a somewhat circuitous route that does not bear re-telling.

Of more interest is that the domaine, run by James and Catherine Kinglake (pictured above), is based in the Pyrenean foothills near Limoux and makes use of altitude to grow grape varieties that are rather atypical for the region - including Pinot Noir and a personal favourite, Austria's signature Grüner Veltliner.

According to the winery's website, Domaine Begude is a 29 hectare family-owned, historic estate set high at 320m altitude in the foothills of the Pyrénées in the Limoux region of the South of France. The vineyard was established in the late 16th century and has always enjoyed a reputation for excellence, producing elegant cool climate wines from this wonderful terroir.

Begude fruit is of the very highest natural quality thanks to our long growing season and our belief in a healthy, sustainable environment through organic farming- we are currently "in conversion" to Ecocert and NOP certification- full certification due July 2013.

The style of these two wines can be summarised as cool-climate with modern techniques - think New Zealand; technically well-made with good, pure fruit expression - rather than, say, traditionally rustic French.

L'Exotique 2011

Made from an blend of Grüner and Chardie, this is a golden sandy colour in the glass; the nose is quite restrained with just some hints of minerally white pepper, a touch of lime zest and puy lentils.

The palate is citrussy, rounded and mouthfilling, with a lively, tropical, almost spritzy acidity and good savoury underpinnings, plus hints of grapefruit, celery and lime zest.

Good length and a persistent, mineral finish with just a touch of smokiness.

Well-structured and focused with good purity of expression; very enjoyable.

A very versatile food wine, this will match with meaty fish or creamy dishes, such as salmon with risotto; also with roast chicken or pork and apple sauce.

Austrian winemaker Markus Huber assisted James with this wine.

Pinot Noir 2011
Ruby-red in the glass, on the nose there is strawberry and red cherry fruit with a hint of mushroominess and spice.

More juicy red fruit and spice on the palate, but the real interest here is the acidity - prominent, slightly rasping and yet rounded - with savoury underpinnings, good length and pleasant, firm finish.

It feels well-made, balanced and food-friendly.

Match with typical Pinot food, such as darker game; also steak or, as we did, beef with sour cream; best served gently chilled.

Neither of these wines are available at the multiples - the only stockist in UK is Stone, Vine & Sun- www.stonevine.co.uk
Links

Domaine Begude - website, twitter

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Lunch at Hotel du Vin Cambridge

Last week, I met with Hotel du Vin's Sales Manager for Cambridge, Lucie Marina for a catch-up on their events calendar for this autumn.

Lucie suggested that we chat over lunch, so I strolled into town on a hot, Indian Summer's day to meet her in the informality of the downstairs bar.

Although originally from near Cambridge, Lucie has most recently moved here from my home town of Manchester, so we kicked off by talking about the different food scenes in each city; in Manchester, a city of around 2m people, the Malmaison (a sister to Hotel du Vin) is just one of a range of sophisticated restaurants including places such as Vertigo and Michael Caines' Abode.

By contrast, the foodie buzz in Cambridge is more focused on the Mill Road independents and assorted gastropubs, such as The Punter and Fitzbillies, with Alimentum and Midsummer House providing the fine dining options.

Hotel du Vin doesn't quite fit into any of these categories and whilst that might be a marketers' nightmare, it makes the place rather unique for the diner; the vibe is informal, unpretentious sophistication that does not try too hard and it permeates the whole ethos, from the bare-brick walls to the simple-yet-delicious food, matched superbly with great wines.

I started with one of my favourites, a Grüner Veltliner "Loessterrassen" 2011 from Schloss Gobelsburg in Austria's Kamptal. The name, by the way, means terraces of loess, a reference to the terraced vineyards on mixed, loess soil with a high chalk content. The mixed subsoil gives Grüner a more rounded mouthfeel compared to, say, soil with a higher granite content.

Crisp, rounded and minerally, it worked superbly in the midday heat as an aperitif, and also matched perfectly with my starter choice of scallops from the specials board.

We had been given a choice of menus and decided that it was only fair to let chef show us what he could do when given free rein - and besides, I have experienced his food and wine matching abilities previously at both a port dinner and a cigar dinner and know him to be very talented indeed.

The starter came as three large, fresh and perfectly-cooked scallops - browned top and bottom, perfectly soft and sweetly juicy in the middle - atop slices of delicious warm black pudding with a smear of apple sauce to cut through the richness; great flavours, well matched and the presentation as straightforward and classical as the food itself.
For my main, I chose venison haunch with fondant potato, chocolate sauce and fresh cherries and asked for a glass of red to match, confident that the waiting staff would pick something appropriate.

The wine that came turned out to be a Quinta Lagoalva Tinto Reserva 2010 from Portugal and was a superb match - with cherry fruit, hints of eucalyptus, good grippy tannins and prominent acidity, it cut through the perfectly-cooked rare meat and complemented the chocolate and cherry jus.
Again, the presentation was classically beautiful, clean and unfussy - no foamed vegetables or extrovert garnishes, just great ingredients well cooked and well matched together.

Over mains, Lucie explained that Hotel du Vin had originally started out as a restaurant in Winchester with accommodation only added into the mix for guests who had driven there to dine, but did not wish to abstain from drinking for the whole evening.

And today, it remains at heart a restaurant with rooms, rather than an hotel that does food.

For desserts, my eye was caught by a Uruguayan wine - specifically an Alcyone Tannat, Vinedo de los Vientos, NV. When it proved to be matched to a chocolate pavé with candied pistachios and Chantilly cream, the decision was made.

It was a series of firsts for me - my first Uruguayan wine, my first sweet Tannat - and it was gastronomic heaven; the pavé dense, rich and chocolatey, the wine equally so and with good acidity to cut through.

Over coffee and a wonderfully smooth Armagnac, we talked about upcoming events which include:

Cheese Masterclass on  11th October
Gosset Champagne Dinner on October 24th
- Steak Masterclass on on 8th November
- Croatian Wine Dinner on 22nd November
For more details, or to book, contact Lucie Marina at the Hotel - 01223 227 330 / info.cambridge@hotelduvin.com or tweet her @HdV_Cambridge

I will be running a competition on the blog to win a pair of tickets to the Champagne dinner - details coming shortly.
Hotel du Vin & Bistro Cambridge, 15-19 Trumpington Street, Cambridge CB2 1QA

I ate as a guest of the hotel.

Links

Hotel du Vin Cambridge - websitetwitter

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Argentinian Wines With Wink Lorch at Cambridge Food and Wine Society‏

O Fournier in Uco Valley‏, Mendoza: photo by Wink Lorch
It's been seven years since I last saw Wink Lorch presenting on Argentinian wines to the Cambridge Food and Wine Society, but at the weekend, I got a chance to catch up when she returned to present eight wines from the Salta and Mendoza regions.

Having travelled several times to Argentina, Wink knows the country well and really brought the wines to life with stories about the wine-makers behind them and the regions.


Some key facts about Argentina from Wink:

- the country is very dry and vines have to be irrigated, often using canals built by the native inhabitants which visiting Scottish engineers declared "impressive"
- whilst the country cannot claim (as neighbouring Chile can) to be completely phylloxera-free, most of the vines are ungrafted with correspondingly higher vine ages
- almost all wines are made at high altitude; ranging from 700m to 1,500m in Mendoza and between 1,600 and 3,000m+ for Salta
- Salta, in the far north of the country, is technically in the tropics - hence the need to plant vines at altitude for coolness and length of growing season
- the grape varieties (of which Torrontes and Malbec are the most famous) are a mix of descendants of those brought by the Spanish settlers (Torrontes), those brought over from Europe in the mid-C19th (Bordeaux varieties, Tempranillo and Bonarda) with Chardonnay as a more recent addition
- grape varieties are 30% white and 70% red
- Argentina has the largest plantings of Tempranillo outside Spain
- distances between the vineyards and the wineries can be huge with the grapes trucked in bulk; this is reducing, however, for quality-led export wines
- with a large Italian immigrant population, Argentina has something of an Italian feel that is reflected in its lifestyle, culture and the wines themselves

The Whites
 
 
We started with an example of Argentina's signature white grape, Torrontes (which I have historically struggled with).

Faldeos Nevados Torrontes 2011 Salta 13.5% (£7.50, The Wine Society)
A relative of Muscat d'Alexandria and Mission, it is a sandy yellow in the glass; ripe, floral aromas with peaches and apricots. Pleasant hint of yeasty apricot skins.

The palate is mouthfilling and waxy, with pineapple and exotic fruit - peachy texture reminiscent of Viognier, but balanced by good fresh acidity and not cloying. Good length.

I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this wine and was reminded of a Gelber Muskateller from Austria's high-altitude Styria - both floral grapes that, for me, benefit greatly from high acidity being maintained to offset the perfumey aromas.

Very well received by the group.

Mendel Semillon 2010 Mendoza 13.5% (£9.75, The Wine Society)
A yellowy-green in the glass, with not so much on the nose - just some hints of diesel, ripe citrus and a touch of lime zest. On the palate, there is good lime fruit, a creamy leesiness and fresh acidity.

Less extrovert than the previous wine, this initially felt a little elusive and underwhelming after the all-singing, all-dancing Torrontes. However, after a little "palate acclimatisation", it revealed itself to be well-made and well-balanced; a soul-mate rather than a bouncy young thing.

Catena Chardonnay 2010 Mendoza 13.5% (£12:20 Waitrose)
A golden yellow, there are aromas of spicy oak and exotic fruit. Ripe, buttery and creamy on the palate, with more exotic fruit - a slight hint of hot alcohol on the palate.

Distinctly New World in style, not at all Burgundian, yet fresh and not blowsy. Wink observed that the nearest comparison would be a cool part of California, such as Carneros.

Overall, this was considered to be a solid, workmanlike example, but lacking a touch of individuality - especially at the price.

The Reds
 
 
Faldeos Nevados Bonarda 2011 Mendoza 13% (£8.25, The Wine Society)
Bonarda is Argentina's second-most planted red grape after Malbec. There is Bonarda in Italy, but it turns out to be a completely different grape and the true European equivalent is Savoie's Corbeau (aka Charboneau in California).

Lots of ripe, primary bramble fruit on the nose. Juicy acidity and low tannins on the palate with some black and red cherry fruit.

Distinctly Italian in style, it has a rasping acidity that demands to be matched with tomato-based dishes - not at all a quaffer, then.

Gestos Shiraz 2009 Mendoza 14% Bodegas Finca Flichman (£9.99 Majestic)
Lots of ripe bramble fruit, baked fruitcake and vanilla spice and sweetness. Ripe, rounded tannins.

For me, and others, this was rather overdone and a case of more is less.

Catena Zapata The Wine Society Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 Mendoza 13.5% (£10.75 The Wine Society)
A version of Catena CS (not really Catena Zapata which is a higher level of wine), this specific blend is unique to The Wine Society and features a higher proportion of wines from higher altitude and all aged French oak - overall, a good thing. For completists, there is also some Malbec and Cab Franc in the blend, adding spice and perfume.

A complex nose of liquorice and leather, blackcurrant and red peppercorns. On the palate, there is blackcurrant fruit, more acidity, chocolatey-ness and spice. It feels elegant and balanced, with good structure and lovely ripe tannins.

Drinking well now, it still has good ageing potential.

A really lovely wine - for me and many, the best of the reds, perhaps because it is the most European in style.

Amalaya 2010 Salta 14% Bodegas Colome (£10.79 Majestic and Noel Young Wines)
A Malbec blend, this also features some Cab (15%), Syrah (5%) and Tannat (5%); the nose shows spicy bramble fruit, something floral and some fruitcake.

On the palate, there is red and black cherry fruit, peppery grip and juicy acidity, plus some subtle oak and soft tannins.

Noel Young describes this wine as "a touch lighter than straight Malbec ... makes a nice change; really bright and vibrant."

O Fournier Alfa Crux 2004, Valle de Uco, Mendoza 15% (£22.99 Waitrose)
A blend of Tempranillo (50%), Malbec (30%) and Merlot (20%), this is a big beast of a wine - in the glass, it shows some brick-red hints of age around the rim. The nose is complex with meaty aromas, iodine / medicinal hints, cherry fruit, spice, leather and roasted coffee, whilst the palate is mouthfilling and fruitcake-rich.

From old vines all grown at over 1,000m and 17 months in new oak, it is an accomplished and impressive wine - with many awards.

And yet, and yet ... it feels just too much, too over-the-top. That full-on ripeness and everything-including-the-kitchen-sink may wow the critics at tastings and competitions, but for me, it's a Nancy Dell'Olio of a wine - smart and not unattractive, but I couldn't live with it.

Conclusions

In a word association game, you say Argentina and I think of Malbec and Torrontes.

Wink's presentation showed that Argentina is a more diverse wine-producing country than one might first think and gave some great insights into what the country is like.

With the 33 colleges that make up the university here, each with its own cellars and buyers, and a large number of independent wine merchants, the average palate in Cambridge is probably rather classical. As a result, whilst all the wines were recognised as being well-made, those that were most appreciated by Society members were generally the more European-style, lower-alcohol ones.

Recommended Wines
 
My own favourites were:

- the Torrontes for its peachy texture, long palate and fresh acidity
- the Catena Zapata Cab for its elegance, complexity and overall assuredness

Both from The Wine Society.

Links

Wink Lorch - website, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn
Wines of Argentina - http://www.winesofargentina.org/
Cambridge Food and Wine Society - website, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn

The Wine Society - http://www.thewinesociety.com/
Noel Young - http://www.nywines.co.uk/
Majestic - http://www.majestic.co.uk/
Waitrose - http://www.waitrosedirect.com/wine

Image Credit - Main picture: O Fournier in Uco Valley‏ reproduced by kind permission of Wink Lorch


Friday, 7 September 2012

Affordable Right-Bank Bordeaux At Cambridge Wine Merchants‏

A tasting of right-bank Bordeaux organised by Hal Wilson of Cambridge Wine Merchants

Good affordable Bordeaux may seem like a contradiction in terms, but away from the headline-grabbing en primeur prices of first growths, Bordeaux actually produces more wine than Australia - most of it at the more "everyday" end of the market.

Bordeaux wines are almost universally blended and the key distinction is between the left bank (where Cabernet Sauvignon dominates) and the right bank (Merlot).

In general, Merlot produces softer, more perfumed wines for earlier drinking, so it is the obvious place to look for more affordable examples.

Earlier this week, I sat down with a group of Cambridge Wine Merchants staff, owner Hal Wilson and a number of other guests to blind taste our way through a dozen samples, all retailing at around £10 - £12 and give our opinions.

Into the mix, Hal had added one "ringer" - a non-right-bank wine to see if we could spot it, and had arranged to taste blind himself.

The wines had all been uncorked an hour or so before the tasting started, but there was no decanting or aeration and we had been told that all the wines were 2006 - 2009 vintage.

Because Bordeaux wines are blends both of varieties and vineyards (second wines apart), the key driver is vintage, so where guesses were made at a wine's identity, it tended to start with year - young, ripe wines generally proved to be from 2009 (a warm year), whereas thinner, less concentrated wines turned out to be 2007s (a cold, wet year).

Below are my notes in the order we tasted the wines - my 3-tick scoring system is:

- good (1 tick)
- very good (2 ticks)
- very good indeed (3 ticks)

Everything else is either passable / pleasant enough (no ticks), or where there are stylistic / technical faults, these are noted as comments (harsh acidity, drying tannins etc)

Ch Pay La Tour Reserve Bordeaux Superieur 2008 smokey, truffley aromas on the nose with some bramble fruit, starting to become secondary; palate shows pencil shavings, good acidity and grip, structured and persistent - Good.

Ch Grand Village Bordeaux Superieur 2008 bramble fruit, vanilla spice on the nose; less going on generally. Vanilla sweetness, juicy acidity, good grip, rather stalky.

Ch Brondeau 2009 Bordeaux Superieur cassis and pencil shavings on the nose, with coffee and spice; good complexity. Plump and ripe on the palate with bramble fruit, sweet vanilla, a soft velvety texture, mouthfilling. A spiciness develops and there is a good, long, grippy finish - Very Good.

Ch Reynon Bordeaux 1er Cotes de Bordeaux 2007 truffley, mushroomy nose, with vanilla, coffee grounds and liquorice but less intense and complex; mintiness and bramble fruit on the palate. Perfectly competent, but less interesting overall.

Ch de Fontenille 2009 Bordeaux on the nose, spice, liquorice and coffee dominate, some bramble fruit; palate is soft with some minty-pepperiness. Pale in the glass, it feels light and rather insubstantial but was popular with the group.

Ch Reynon Bordeaux 1er Cotes de Bordeaux 2006 dark and dense in the glass, complex blackcurrant aromas and a touch of funkiness (Brett ?); good, mouthfilling texture, pepperiness and cool mint, good finish, firm and structured - Very Good.

Domaine de Courteillac 2009 Bordeaux Superieur fruit and boozy on the nose, lots of sweet vanilla and raisiny fruit, tannins drying and generally unbalanced.

Ch Marjosse Bordeaux 2007 truffley aromas with some furniture polish, insubstantial on the palate and disappointing texture.

This proved popular, with one college buyer declaring it his top wine so far - on resampling, I found a little more of interest, but nothing tick-worthy here.

Ch Val du Roc 2009 Bordeaux Superieur dark in the glass with blackcurrant and vanilla aromas, hints of eucalyptus and orange peel, ripe bramble fruit on the palate, mintiness and good mouthfilling texture and grip. Long, structured finish - Good.

Ch Pey La Tour Reserve Bordeaux Superieur 2009 aromas of leather, woodsiness and cedar on the nose with a touch of brettiness. Soft and juicy on the palate - a grippy pepperiness develops.

Initially, I felt the tannins on the finish were overly prominent and drying, but as the wine proved popular with the group, I decided to go back and try it again at the end of the tasting. On re-sampling, however, I found it much improved and thoroughly balanced.

Ch Faizeau Les Chants 2009 Montage St Emilion ripe bramble fruit, blackcurrant, violets and meaty aromas; soft, plummy fruit, juicy acidity, mouthfilling. On the finish, good length and grip, ripe tannins - Very Good.

Rousseau de Sipian 2002 from the Medoc on the right bank, this was the ringer. Meaty truffley aromas, with pruney fruit, iodine, cedar wood and vanilla. On the palate, bramble fruit and sweet vanilla, with a minty eucalyptus; good juicy acidity, a peppery grippiness develops.

Amazingly fresh and youthful for a 10 year-old wine.

Long palate and good grippy finish - Good.

Ch Curton La Perriere 2009 cedar and iodine on the nose; soft and juicy on the palate with some red fruits. Nicely balanced, mouthfilling and long.

Recommended Wine
Overall, my favourite wine of the evening was the 2006 Ch Reynon Bordeaux 1er Cotes de Bordeaux for its mouthfilling texture and good structure.

It also proved popular with chef Mark Poynton of Alimentum and Mark Anstead of Cambridgeshire Wine School.

Other Very Good / two tick wines were the Faizeau Les Chants St Emilion 2009 and the Brondeau Bordeaux Superieur 2009.

A special mention also goes out to the Rousseau de Sipian 2002 - it is also currently my September Wine of the Month.

Links

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

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Wine of the Month - September

After an August break during which the CWB household travelled to Burgundy and the south of France, we returned to a cold, wet and miserable late British "summer".

Now, with the schools just back, that seems like a distant memory with temperatures rising and a barbecue Indian Summer in the offing.

It's hard to know what to recommend when the weather is as unpredictable as this, so here is a varied collection of wines that hopefully will suit all occasions this month.

Rousseau de Sipian 2002, Medoc - Cambridge Wine Merchants (£11.99)

From the left-bank region of Bordeaux, this Medoc wine has a high proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon, giving it structure and ageing potential and even at 10 years old, it still feels relatively youthful.

There are meaty, truffley aromas on the nose with pruney fruit and cedar wood; the palate shows bramble fruit, sweet vanilla and minty eucalyptus with good juicy acidity, with pepperiness and grip developing.

Long on the palate, the finish is nicely grippy. Match with plain roast red meat or something gamey such as duck or pheasant.

Magpie Estate "The Beak" 2010, Barossa - Noel Young Wines (£9.75)

From Noel's Magpie Estate vineyard in Australia's Barossa Valley, this newly-released wine is blend of southern Rhone varieties - Syrah / Shiraz and Grenache.

A dark purple colour in the glass, on the nose there is lots of expressive, ripe, dark berry fruit, cassis and aromas of liquorice, leather and spice.

The palate is soft, full and rounded with an inky, custardy texture, juicy acidity and good savoury underpinnings.

Long on the palate, the finish is firm, structured and persistent with more black fruit and spice.

Fresh off the boat, this is still a young wine and whilst drinking nicely now, will also repay some cellaring - for drinking now, it is best decanted an hour or so before drinking.

Match with either roast lamb or lamb koftas if it's barbecue weather.

Bodegas Pittacum, Bierzo 'Tres Obispos' Rosada 2011 - Joseph Barnes Wines (£10.99)

This is something of an unusual beast - a rosé made from the Mencia grape in Bierzo, a remote region of northwest Spain located on the border of Galica and Castilla y Leon and considered by many to be the next 'big thing' in Spanish wine.

A deep, raspberry red in colour, there is strawberry and raspberry fruit on the nose as well as something a little more unusual that I can only describe as "workshop" - a mix of swarfega, tyres and used engine oil. It's in no way unpleasant and rather intriguing.

On the palate, there is more red berry fruit, good acidity and a persistent, clean finish; this would be perfect for an Indian-summer barbecue.

Recommended Wine

Whilst the rosé and the Aussie Shiraz will prove great if you get the chance of a barbecue, for me the winner this month is the Rousseau de Sipian 2002 for being a good, affordable Bordeaux with a bit of age that is drinking very nicely now.

Links

Cambridge Wine Merchants - http://www.cambridgewine.co.uk/
Joseph Barnes Wines - http://www.josephbarneswines.com/
Noel Young Wines - http://www.nywines.co.uk/

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Château Reynon Bordeaux Blanc, 2010 - The Wine Society‏

This Château Reynon Bordeaux Blanc from The Wine Society was chosen by by the Association of Wine Educators for the Good Food Would Choose Bordeaux campaign as an example of a good, everyday Bordeaux.

With crisp, pure, herbaceous aromas on the nose and good linear acidity, it feels like a good, textbook straightforward Old World SB with faults neither technical nor stylistic.

Well-made and balanced it initially feels good, but no show-stopper - and priced in low double-digits, seems a little expensive based on a casual quaff. However, with a little concentration and consideration, the superior depth of flavour and length on the palate become evident.

Well-crafted, correct and precise, it reveals its charms slowly but surely.

Wine geeks may be interested to note that website states that: Reynon is situated in the Entre-Deux-Mers. [Winemaker] Denis is a noted professor of oenology at Bordeaux university specialising in white wines, and now advises many prestigious estates.

So, a talented winemaker with grapes from a lowly region - and that's rather how it feels; as technically well-made and correct as it can be.

Match with herby chicken dishes, mozzarella and pesto or white fish in a herby broth.

£10.95 from The Wine Society; provided for review.

Links

The Wine Society - website, twitter
Good Food Would Choose Bordeaux - www.goodfoodwouldchoosebordeaux.com/
Bordeaux Wines UK - twitter, Facebook

Monday, 3 September 2012

Le Coin, Bordeaux 2010 - Laithwaites‏

This Le Coin Bordeaux blanc from Laithwaites is somewhat unusual in being made from 100% Sauvignon Gris, an obscure clonal mutation of Sauvignon Blanc - a fact which turns out to be the most interesting things about this wine.

A sandy colour in the glass, on the nose there are citrus, lightly herbaceous and melon aromas.

The palate is full and ripe, with a touch of buzziness from gentle oaking.

So far, so alright.

Sadly, it all goes completely wrong on the finish; the acidity feels harsh and unpleasant and, ironically, hangs around for quite a while, rather like a house guest reluctant to leave.

Not cheap and one to avoid.

£9.49 from Laithwaites; provided for review.

Links

Laithwaites - website, twitter, Facebook

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Côtes du Rhône at London Double Header, Twickenham


Yesterday, I spent a very pleasant couple of hours as a guest in the company of Olivier le Grand, export marketing manager for Inter Rhône, and the chaps from ad agency Breakfast, sampling some Côtes du Rhône wines over lunch at Twickenham rugby ground before watching a couple of matches.

As it was a sit-down meal rather than a tasting, note-taking was not so easy, but Olivier brought round a couple of special bottles and I managed to scribble down a few impressions (with price and availability where indicated).


Les Dauphins Côtes du Rhône Villages 2011, £7.99 / £5.99 Waitrose - good entry-level Rhone; dark berry fruit and sweet vanilla spice.

Saint Cosme Cotes du Rhone Blanc 2011, £11.50 / £14.00 Bibendum - a blend of the usual Viognier, Marsanne and Rousanne with - unusually - some Picpoul; a touch of Picpoul seashell aromas on the nose, white stone fruit; fresh and lively on the palate, good fresh acidity, good depth, peachy texture

Cave de Tain l'Hermitage Epsilon 2005 - complex nose with dark berry fruit, spice and eathiness, no signs of age in the glass, elderberry fruit, leatheriness, mintiness and firm, structured grip, attack on the senses, good balanced acidity, long on the palate, long persistent and grippy finish; really superb and still young

Domaine Jaume Côtes du Rhône Villages Vinsobres 2009,  peppery, spicy, dark berry fruit and inkiness, good long palate, pleasant finish; very good

Gigondas '09 - earthy woodsy nose, dark berry fruit, spice - spicy, elderberry fruit palate, dense and inky, minty, grippy, lively and muscular

Cave de Tain Gambert de Loche 2007 - Hermitage; inky, dark berry fruit, spice, sweet vanilla, great texture, lovely grippy finish

Recommended Wine

All the wines here were good, but the Epsilon 2005 was utterly superb - a really great wine.

Links

Côtes du Rhône - http://www.vins-rhone.com/en/
Olivier Le Grand on Twitter - https://twitter.com/O_Legrand_IR
Breakfast - http://www.breakfastagency.com/