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Friday, 27 November 2015

Tour de Belfort - Annual Gonville Tasting

The now-annual tasting of Tour de Belfort at Cambridge's Gonville Hotel

A year ago, I wrote that I did not know whether the people behind Tour de Belfort's organic wines from South West France were fools or pioneers, they seemed so intent on making life difficult for themselves.

A year on and not only are the wines better, but they seem to be working things out a bit more - the wonderful oaked Sauvignon Gris and Grand Vin Malbec are now both drinking nicely out of the bottle and no longer need a long spell in the decanter to open up and become harmonious.
The entry-level wines are as well made and technically adept as ever - the Chardonnay Sauvignon has a gold from Paris, the fizzes of both colours are enjoyable traditional-method wines for Prosecco-ish money and the rosé is smart and sophisticated.

And The Gonville continues to modernise and attract a younger crowd too.

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Fools or Pioneers? Tour de Belfort at The Gonville Hotel

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Cognac "Bolgrad" 4 Stars

A brandy from Ukraine

Brought over from Ukraine by a friend, this is an entry-level but thoroughly-pleasant four year-old brandy.

A dark walnut colour, warming, fiery and youthful with dried fruit and sweet vanilla with woody-oaky spices; a touch of nail polish.
Drink as a digestif, with mature cheeses, fruit crumble or dark bitter chocolate.

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Main image - tweet by @CanadaNato

Friday, 20 November 2015

Grahams Late Bottled Vintage Port 2009 - The Co-op

A Late Bottled Vintage Graham's port from the Co-op

This LBV port from the Co-op is ripe, vibrant and complex; it has a classic port nose of ripe plum fruit, eucalyptus, liquorice and freshly-picked mint, leading to ripe sweetness, peppery tannins,  minerality and balanced acidity. Very adept. And good value.

Very Good.

The bold flavours match best with chocolate and cherry torte or brie with grapes; or drink as a dessert in its own right.

Other related articles
Enter Sandeman - Marking Sandeman's 225 Years

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

And The Winner Is ...

Announcing the winner of Wine Australia's Daniel Pontifex Scholarship

A while ago, I put up a post about Wine Australia's Daniel Pontifex scholarship and thought little more about it other than to note that quite a few people had read it so some may be inspired to apply.

It turns out that the winner is a friend and Cambridge local - albeit an interloper from the New World; Quinby Frey, Events and Tasting Manager at Cambridge Wine Merchants.

Quin spent a week in South Australia and has now joined nine industry guests who are travelling with Wine Australia, culminating in Margaret River’s Gourmet Escape festival.

The Daniel Pontifex Scholarship, run in conjunction with Wine Australia and The Daniel Pontifex Memorial Trust, supports up-and-coming hospitality professionals by providing them with an educative visit to Australia’s vineyards.

As a long-term fan of Australian wine, Quinby says the wine and hospitality industry in the UK needs a greater appreciation of the varieties within Australia. ‘One message that I shall be keen to take back with me will be to encourage people to try some of the newer styles and varieties,’ she says.

Judge Laura Jewell MW noted that of the record number of applicants, and a short-list of half a dozen, Quinby’s submission stood out. ‘Quinby impressed the judges with her enthusiasm and inspirational desire to share her knowledge of wine,’ she says. ‘In her education role with Cambridge Wine Merchants she will be able to use the experiences gained during her visit to the regions of Australia to great effect.’

And for those that didn't make it this time, there is always next year.

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Australia Day Tasting

Monday, 16 November 2015

Domäne Wachau - The Tasting

A tasting at Domäne Wachau with Kerstin Klamm

A return visit to Vienna after more than a decade away reveals little change in the appearance of the city; it still feels like a village - albeit, an extremely grand one - with South Eastern Europe as its back yard.

The cathedrals, palaces and coffee houses of the First District welcome the same melting pot of visitors speaking obscure languages - I make out Hungarian and Yugoslav peppered with a little Italian and the occasional American accent.

Like so much in Vienna, however, the changes are below the surface and if the city still plies a lucrative trade in packaging and selling its imperial past to former vassals and new upstarts, the city's own residents demand something edgier and more progressive.

Seeking respite from a surfeit of imperial heritage, we take a trip up the Wachau to Dürnstein where we meet Winemaker Heinz Frischengruber and Export Manager Kerstin Klamm of Domäne Wachau.

We start with a tour of the vineyards where grapes are still on the vine, followed by the bottling line, Kellerschlossl and cellars.

Up in the tasting room, between calls to a client in London about an impending restaurant opening night, Kerstin opens a range of bottles for us to try in pairs.

Light wines

Terrassen Steinfeder 2015 a blend of GV, M-T, FV the lightest of the Wachau styles; fresh, light, mineral, peppery and elegant

Neuburger 2015 not without reason is the neutral Neuburger an obscure grape; this wine has been developed with the Sommeliers Association specifically for the Vienna restaurant scene. Fresh and citrussy with orchard fruits and some leesy richness, it has wood fermentation and maturation to help round out its innate blandness (aka "versatility").

2014 GVs

2014 was a cool year and the wines are correspondingly high in acidity, but also elegant.
Achtleiten Smaragd light and pure but concentrated; mineral.

Kellerberg Smaragd from the hill behind the Kellerschlossl, which we can see through the window of the tasting room, this is the warmer end of the Wachau. The wine is fruitier, riper and fuller.

2014 Rieslings

Austrian Riesling was my first love - it is like no other and is fundamentally different from Germany, Alsace or Clare Valley.

Achtleiten Smaragd pure, fresh and concentrated with the gingery alpine herbs of local soft drink Almdudler.

Loibenberg Smaragd from a warmer site with more peachy, apricotty fruit.

Two unusual wines

Roter Traminer 2014 Reserve Setzberg a local synonym for Gewurztraminer, this is fresh, elegant and mineral; a terroir-led wine showing more Wachau typicity than varietal character.

Riesling Amphora 2013 de-stemmed grapes left for 6m in amphora, then pressed and vinified in stainless steel for 3-4 months before bottling. Slightly sulphurous nose, spicy-peppery and mineral with high acidity, white tannins and good structural underpinnings.

Two reds

I have always preferred Austria's whites to its reds which are mostly grown in the warmer part of the country near the Hungarian border, but I couldn't resist the chance to try these.

Zweigelt 2013 dark fruit and grippy tannins, slightly stalky.

Pinot Noir 2012 the first vintage since 2009; elegant with black cherry fruit and fine tannins.

Two sweet wines

GV Vin Doux Natural 2014 just three barrels of this experimental fortified GV exist. Harmoniously sweet, strong and fresh. Pure and elegant, a white-port-alike.

BA Terrassen 2014 just 7% alcohol, rich intense and fresh with baked apple fruit and sweet spices. Fresher than Burgenland stickies, this rivals many a Sauternes.
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Domäne Wachau - The Tour
Terroir and Vintage in Austria's Wachau Valley with Domäne Wachau

Saturday, 14 November 2015

A Fizz Tasting With Friends

A tasting of various fizzes with friends from First Intuition, Cambridge Champagne Company and a trainee MW - including two wines from Italy's Cuvage

Years ago, I felt I could take or leave Champagne - these days, I find entry level fizz remains no more than wine with bubbles, but good Champagnes (and, by extension, traditional method Champagne-alikes) have a complexity and sophistication that makes them world class.

The aim of this tasting was to compare and contrast fizzes of different origins, grapes, climates and production methods.
Quartet, Anderson Valley Brut, Roederer Estate (California, USA) - traditional method approach and grapes, but lacking in elegance. Not so much a muscle car as a clumsy and wonky Ford Edsel.

Vilarnau Brut Nature Vintage (Cava, Spain) citrussy and fresh with cava's textbook "waxed jacket" finish

Cuvage Rosé Brut NV Metodo Classico (Acqui Terme, Italy) not visibly a rosé, but actually a classic Champagne mushroom colour; ripe, rounded and very adept. Very Good.

Cuvage Blanc de Blancs NV Metodo Classico (Acqui Terme, Italy) toasty-leesy with ripe orchard fruit, white flowers and some aged honey-nutty character. Very Good.

Dominique Boulard Reserve NV (Champagne) - ripe orchard fruit and citrus; textbook NV Champagne. Good.

Dominique Boulard rosé NV (Champagne) red berry fruit and linear acidity. A little closed up and not as complex as the NV

Dominique Boulard Brut Grand Cru Mailly NV (Champagne) opulent and complex with toasty leesiness and ripe orchard fruits. Very Good.

Volpi Moscato Frizzante NV (Piemonte, Italy) a reliable semi-sweet frizzante, with sherberty citrus, elderflower and gentle fizz. Context is all, however, and on this occasion it was utterly outclassed by its peers.

After all those high-acidity wines, we finished off with ... another high-acidity wine, albeit rounded out with vast amounts of residual sweetness; a D'Oliveiras Madeira
Bual 10 years dark brown with complex roasted nuts, raisins and figs and a refreshing acidity. Very balanced. Very Good.

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An Italian Wine Evening with Friends

Friday, 13 November 2015

Jadot Burgundy 2014 En Primeur - and an Oregon PN

A tasting of Jadot's 2014 En Primeur Burgundies - and an Oregon Pinot Noir

I know Louis Jadot as a reliable producer of safe, sensible Burgundies; I was not aware of the extent to which they also produce some very high-end wines from the region.

However, what really piqued my interest was the opportunity to try one of their Pinots from Oregon.

Oregon is the US's Mornington Peninsula or Tasmania - a cool-climate region that is attracting a new wave of winemakers (mostly from down the coast in California) keen to explore its potential for more European-style wines.
Resonance Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013 generous nose with lots of fruit and varietal aromas; ripe, plump fruit on the palate with good underpinnings, suppleness, freshness and persistence. Drinking nicely now, but the firm tannins mean it will age. Good.

Darker and more fruit-forward, a purist may find it lacks the chiselled elusiveness of the Burgundies of what Jancis describes as an "expressive and transparent" vintage.

Like many New World wines on the way up, it is perhaps better described as an elevated version of an entry-level wine, rather than a basic version of a top wine.

I compared it against some similarly priced Burgundies.

Givrey-Chambertin Petite Chapelle plenty of tannin, but pretty and well-structured

Corton Pougets Grand Cru ripe red fruits with complex, persistent underpinnings

Morey-Saint-Denis Clos Les Ormes red berries and spices, well-structured and drinking nicely now
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Thursday, 12 November 2015

On (Re-)Branding and Positioning

A case study on the subject of re-branding and repositioning from the IPA - image from instachaaz

Talking to George Sandeman about his aspirations for port as a more versatile drink than just something at Christmas in a gift box with cheese, I was reminded that there is no shortage of wines (often, but not exclusively old-school) trying to reposition themselves - for various reasons.

Think of sherry, Madeira, Provence, Austria and, yes, port. And that's before you get on to craft beers and gin.

And don't get me started on German Riesling.

For classic wines, especially the food-friendly ones, the solution is pretty standard; improve quality (well done, sherry and Austria), get somms and the off-trade interested and then focus on improving pricing by hand-selling high-end examples to knowledgeable buyers by influencing the influencers.

I mentioned this in passing to a colleague who works in communications for the advertising industry and she drew my attention to an IPA case study.

It shows how a beverage (Ovaltine) moved from being second (of two) in its specific niche (the malted sleep aid market) to gain a slice of a much bigger category (the £1.65bn daytime hot drink market).

Perhaps there's something in here for all those great-but-under-appreciated wines to learn.
Summary

Faced with a category in steep decline, Ovaltine needed to recruit younger drinkers and enter a new market space.

Using a six-month sponsorship of ITV3 daytime and various creative solutions, Ovaltine established itself in a different occasion and grew rapidly as a consequence.

It has been estimated the campaign will generate up to £1.12m of additional gross profit in the long term, resulting in a ROMI of 5:1.

Download the paper from the IPA here:

http://www.ipa.co.uk/effectiveness/case-studies/Ovaltine-Small-slice-big-pie-IPA-Effectiveness-Awards-Case-Study-2011/8048

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On Wine, Branding And Behavioural Economics
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Substance and style - Champagne

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Enter Sandeman - Marking Sandeman's 225 Years

Marking Sandeman's 225th Anniversary with George Sandeman at The Sign of the Don

This year marks the 225th anniversary of Sandeman. As part of the celebrations, I got to talk with George Sandeman at the launch event for a limited edition collection of his 2000 vintage port.

It has been something of a year-long party, first with the release of the Cask 33 and then the Single Quinta 2013.

This event, held at The Sign of the Don, is all about the release of a limited edition case of six bottles of the 2000-vintage port, each with a different label representing a key phase in the company's history.

I suggest to George that you might buy one of the limited edition cases and drink a bottle each decade; he replies with a twinkle that once you got to the last bottle, you would wish you had bought two cases.

Port is in an interesting place at the moment - there are high-end ports costing hundreds of pounds a bottle with white port and tonic, pink port and port cocktails at the lower end; all the supermarkets stock a port-and-cheese gift set at Christmas, but it doesn't have the broad profile of a regular drink.

Unsurprisingly, George's aim is for port to be seen as a more versatile drink than just that Christmas wine with cheese; he feels that elements of the etiquette and ritual around port drinking can add to its enjoyment, as long as it does not tip over into elitism.

He believes cocktails are the way forward for generating interest in port - and that this is merely the revival of a tradition of serving drinks like hot port (essentially, an instant mulled wine).

But tonight is all about celebrating Sandeman's 225 years with the 2000 vintage port - and I am lucky enough to get to try some.
Sandeman limited edition 2000 port vibrant, ripe plump fruit and complex spices underpinned by a firm, assertively muscular structure. Harmonious, balanced and drinking nicely even now, despite its relative youth. Very Good.

There are only 225 full cases of the wines, but single bottles are also available, priced at £70.

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The Sign of the Don - And A 1937 Sherry

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Oaked Sauvignon Tasting

A tasting of oaked Sauvignons organised by Richard Bampfield MW, Jean-Christophe Mau and Chris Kissack at 67 Pall Mall

Sauvignon Blanc is currently the UK's favourite white grape; zingy, crisp and aromatic, it is a characterful antidote to oaky 90s chardie - if a bit of a one-trick pony.

So what happens when you give it a bit of deft oaking, lees-stirring and age?

Master of Wine Richard Bampfield invited me to find out at 67 Pall Mall.

Loire

Cailbourdin Pouilly-Fume Triptyque 2008 ripe, opulent and complex with orchard fruit. Good.
Masson-Blondelet Pouilly-Fume Cullus 2002 some aged funk on the nose, but pure orchard fruits on the palate. Complex, mellow and adept. Good.
Bordeaux

Ch Brown 2009 pure, fresh, elegant and poised with a mellow harmoniousness. Good.
Smith-Haut-Lafitte 2012 floral and aromatic; opulent, substantial and fullsome with a rich, leesy-creamy nuttiness.

Chateau d'Yquem, Y d'Yquem

- 2012 apricot and quince, supple elegant and very long; incredibly harmonious and balanced; adept and assured. Very Good Indeed.

- 2006 even richer, fuller and more complex than the '12; dried apricot, peach and tropical fruit, incredible persistence. Very Good Indeed - and then some.
As you might expect with an MW in charge of selection, these were all excellent wines - with an old-school elegant, adept complexity.

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Monday, 9 November 2015

Reys Cambridge

A late lunch at Reys

Reys is Cambridge's newest eaterie; I couldn't make their opening night event so they invited me to bring the family along for a weekend late lunch.

Housed in a former pub-cum-pizzeria, the makeover that has resulted in Reys completes the transformation of Bene't St from back-end of nowhere to a dining destination in its own right; here you will now find a Jamie's, Cau, Pint Shop, Fitzbillies and Caffe Sicilia.
As befits its neighbourhood, Reys has the distinctiveness of an independent with the reliability of a small chain (the website states that although there is only the one restaurant for now, you never know).

Its signature dish is rotisserie chicken with bbq sauces and with a sensible price-quality-quantity ratio there's nothing here not to like.
A short but well thought-out food and drinks menu make choosing easy; friendly service and talking-point design make it a an enjoyable place to hang out with family or friends.

A welcome addition, then.

We ate:

- avocado on toast with chilli and coriander (*2)
- pulled chicken brioche bun with Asian slaw
- half flame rotisserie chicken with Reys bbq sauce

For the children:

- half a quarterly chicken with bbq sauce
- side of fries
- ice-cream
We drank:

- Coke
- Limonata, Aranciata
- Cider

The bill came to just shy of £60 and we found we didn't need to eat for the rest of the day.

We ate as guests of Reys.

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Saturday, 7 November 2015

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Casal de Ventozela Vinho Verde, 2014

A light, well-made and thoroughly enjoyable vinho verde from Majestic

Vinho Verde is Portugal's young "green wine" for early drinking; at its best, it is an easy sipper in summer in the garden or at other times of the year with friends or for an aperitif. Or if you just want something a little lighter and lower in alcohol.

Ripe citrus and orchard fruit with a touch of musky melonskin; sherberty, refreshing and technically flawless.

An easy-drinking aperitif, or match with seafood starters.

£9.99 from Majestic; provided for review.

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Tuesday, 3 November 2015

CAVA London Experience‏

A cava tasting at 67 Pall Mall with the President of the CRDO del Cava, Pere Bonet, hosted by Ronan Sayburn MS
Low-priced supermarkets have a lot to answer for - when I think of cava, it is of cheap, generic fizz on deep discount at Christmas, sold to me with a distinctly East End accent: "And don' forgit the CAHvah; on'y [insert deep discount price here]".

Did I know cava is made by the traditional method of secondary fermentation in bottle? Albeit from non-champenois grapes?

Did I know there are vintage canvas, spending extended periods of time on the lees before disgorgement?

Did I know it has a cool-climate elegance, linearity and precision?

Well, yes and no. I knew some of this technically, but I never really thought of cava as a Champagne-alternative. I certainly didn't have the same enthusiasm for cava that I have for sherry or Champagne.

Until now.

A tasting of 20-odd cavas at 67 Pall Mall taught me this - cava is fresh and elegant with orchard fruit and citrus acidity. If it lacks the opulence of aged vintage Champagne, it is priced more competitively; choose wisely and you'll get Champagne quality for Prosecco money.
The only problem is cava's image - it's that rather blue-collar ad again.

Would I choose cava for my goddaughter's Christening or niece's wedding?

Let's put it his way; I wouldn't necessarily drink it with a whole meal, but I would happily order a bottle as a group aperitif or with canapés and be pleasantly surprised.
With an audience of mainly on-trade and high-end buyers, don't expect to see too many of these in your local supermarket any time soon.

But do be prepared to accept a sommelier's recommendation to try a cava at the start of your meal.
The wines

1. NV Freixenet Reserva Real, Brut (Freixenet)
2. NV The Wine Society Cava, Brut, Reserva (The Wine Society)
3. NV Segura Viudas, Gran Cuvée, Brut, Reserva (Bibendum)
4. 2012 Parxet Brut Reserva
5. 2012 Codorníu, Reina Ma Cristina, Blanc de Noir, Brut Reserva (Codorníu)
6. 2010 Parxet Titana Pansa Blanca Brut Reserva
7. 2010 Torello Brut Reserva “Special Edition”
8. 2006 Freixenet, Casa Sala Gran Reserva (Freixenet)
9. 2009 Gran Juve y Camps, Brut, Gran Reserva (Ehrmanns)
10. 2010 AA Migrin Brut Nature Gran Reserva
11. 2010 Vilarnau Gran Reserva Brut Nature (Gonzalez Byass)
12. 2008 Pedregosa Reserva de l’Hereu Brut Nature
13. 2009 Pares Balta, Blanca Cusine, Gran Reserva
14. 2009 Albert de Vilarnau, Gran Reserva (Gonzalez Byass)
15. 2009 Augustí Torelló Mata Gran Reserva Brut Nature Barrica
16. 2008 Gran Torello Brut Nature Gran Reserva
17. 2007 Gramona, III Lustros, Brut Nature, Gran Reserva (Fields, Morris & Verdin)
18. 2007 Mestres Visol Brut Nature Gran Reserva
19. 2006 Recaredo, Brut de Brut, Serral del Vell Estate, Brut Nature, Gran Reserva (Les Caves de Pyrene)
20. NV Marta, Passió Rosado Reserva Brut

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Monday, 2 November 2015

Modern Greek - Moi, Je M'en Fous

Three wines from Domaine Messenicolas, Greece - via The Greek Delicatessen

Roughly translating as a coarse Gallic shrug, Moi Je M'en Fous is a range of three wines from Domaine Messenicolas in Karditsa in central mainland Greece.

The wines are available in the UK via either The Greek Delicatessen, or if you are in Cambridge, The Olive Grove restaurant.

With edgy name and distinctive labels, you might think this is style over substance - but these wines have won numerous international awards and are definitely worth seeking out. 

White 100% Malagousia; fresh white peach and ripe, baked apple fruit sprinkled with sweet spice; flawlessly adept and rounded. Very Good 

Red 100% Limnionas fresh red-plum fruit notes with some pepperiness and a substantial minerality. Very Good. 

Rose 100% Muscat Hamburg; translucent pomegranate red. Musky red berry aromas and fresh, pure fruit. Long and precise. Very Good.

Match with salmon or prawns.

They retail for around £12; provided for review.

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Sunday, 1 November 2015

Domäne Wachau - The Tour

A tour of Domäne Wachau with Kerstin Klamm

A special occasion took us back to Vienna for a short break; so we decided to accept Roman Horvath's invitation to travel up the Danube to the pretty village of Dürstein and a tour of Domäne Wachau.

Outsize bottles in the visitor centre
Domäne Wachau is a co-op with around 250 growers, but not all the wine is blended - soil profile of the single vineyard sites
The bottling line - strangely hypnotic
The Kellerschlössl - built by the monks in the 1600s when they ran out of room in the monastery
The vines
The Kellerschlössl ghost (part 1)
The Kellerschlössl (interior) - now used for weddings and functions
The cellar - with bottles back to 1947 (everything previously was consumed by the Russians during occupation)
1969 is an especially good vintage - the bottles are 70cl and feature a "halo, gifted by an angel"; humidity gets up to 100%, so wine labels (and other things) deteriorate very quickly
Austria's foreign minister conducted the post-war negotiations down here
The Kellerschlössl ghost (part 2)
The old telephone
Big butts - the best wines are fermented in 2-3 year-old oak
The cellars extend around 1km in total - and at this time of year, there is the gentle plop-plop of wine fermenting
Some experimental wines - three barrels of fortified Riesling (plus three of fortified rosé)
A trainee cellar-hand scraping crystals off the barrel
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