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Friday, 24 November 2017

Worldwide Winter Reds

Two Worldwide Winter Reds - Western Australia's Robert Oatley and a Beajolais from Louis Jadot

From different corners of the world and different grapes, both these two have an atypicity, a difference from the norm.

Beaujolais is best-known as a juicy glugger for early drinking - not a wine to age.

Equally, Western Australia's wines are more considered and European than standard-edition Blockbuster Aussie.

What both these wines also have in common is an elegance and food-friendliness to match with, for example, winter game.

Louis Jadot Château des Jacques Moulin à Vent 2013 (£18.00, Sainsburys and independents) red plum and cherry fruit with some spice and leather; fresh and juicy with tobacco leaf, fine tannins and minerality - drinking nicely now and will comtinue to improve for a few more years.

Good.

Match with darker game, especially duck in cherry sauce - or something mushroomy.

Robert Oatley Signature Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 (£13.75, The Co-op, Cambridge Wine Merchants, independents) juicy dark-berry fruit with blackcurrant leaf, pencil shavings and spice; fresh, pure and crystalline with a supple texture and a muscular core.

Drinking nicely now, will gain complexity with age.

Good.

Match the juiciness to a rare steak with plenty of garlic and pepper, be it beef, venison or tuna.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Three Wine Men in Cambridge

Three Wine Men event in Cambridge

The Three Wine Men are - in vintage order - Oz Clarke, Tim Atkin MW and Olly Smith. Their line-up for this event inclued a mixture of producers, retailers and local-to-Cambridge merchants.

I got around as many as I could and noted down my top wines.

Wines of California
"Big and bold" is the hallmark of California - my top wine was the Edna Valley Pinot Noir 2015 (£14.99, Majestic); well-made, typical Pinot with cherries and earthiness, relatively low alcohol (for California).

There were bigger, better and more complex wines on show - if high-alcohol and high prices are your thing, try Carlisle Wines Zinfandel "Papera Ranch 2013" (£39.50, Noel Young).

Bordeaux
By contrast, the Bordeaux wines showed much more Old World structure; I liked all the wines here from the complex dry white Graves (M. de Malle 2013) to the precise, mineral  rosé (M de Mangot 2016).

If you want to experience the improving effects of age on a wine for the price of a current vintage, then try the 2002 Peyrabon from Cambridge Wine Merchants.

Top wine, however, was the complex and deft Sauternes Pineau Du Rey 2012 (£11.99, Laithwaite's).

Villa Maria
New Zealand's Villa Maria have made a name as a reliable producer of well-made wines with New World fruit and kiwi freshness. In their Cellar Selection range, a varietal Sauvignon Gris 2016 (£14.05) and Clifford Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (£15.55) both impressed.

But my top wine was the layered, complex, substantial and extremely sophisticated Keltern Chardonnay 2016 (£19.50).

New Zealand
Best wine here was the amazing and somewhat legendary Greywacke Pinot Noir 2014 (£32.99, The Wine Society), a lovely, elegant Burgundian Pinot with cherries and spice.

At the other end of the price scale, Peter Yealands Sauvignon Blanc 2017 (£8.99, Co-op, Sainsbury's) is a well-made kiwi SB that really overdelivers for the price.

Alpine Wines
I've long wanted to check out Alpine Wines' range; there were two stand-out wines here:

Cicero Pinot Noir Alte Reben 2012, Graubuenden, Switzerland (£26.40) pale, almost rosé-coloured; red-fruits and farmyard, delicate yet with a structured and muscular core.

Heidi Schroeck Suesse Loewen Spaetlese 2012, Burgenland, Austria (£16.80) complex roasted stone fruits, light and incredibly fresh, almost dry on the finish.

Sud de France Top 100
Languedoc is a great source of well-made characterful wines; some sub-regions, such as St Chinian, are now beginning to establish their own local identity.

Cave de Roquebrun, Le Grange des Combes 2015, AOC St Chinian (£10 - £12.49, Majestic) floral, almost like perfumed soap, with crushed red fruits and smoke. Long and supple.

Local heroes
Cambridge Wine Merchants had an excellent white-label vintage port from 1983, whilst north-of-the-river Thirsty had two deliciously zippy-citrussy Mosel Rieslings on tap, Meierer and Mikeller.

Monday, 20 November 2017

South Africa Does Europe

Two good-value South African wines that follow European archetypes; from KWV and Laborie

Champagne and port are oenological standards; great for starting and ending a meal - especially around Christmas time.

Whilst plenty of wine regions make fizz of one sort or another, port-alikes are less common.

These two wines are great value and bear more than a passing resemblance to the styles they imitate; even better, they are significantly cheaper.

Laborie Blanc de Blanc Brut MCC 2010 (£15.95, slurp, independents) delicate mousse, pure and clean with ripe orchard fruits, citrus, biscuity brioche and minerality; elegant, complex and layered. As good as many a Champagne BdB costing several times more. Drinking nicely now and will repay cellaring for several years.

Very Good Value. Good.

Drink as an aperitif or with light starters.

KWV Classic Cape Tawny (£9.00, The Wine Society) red fruits, eucalyptus, spice, toffee and marzipan, orange peel and cooked mixed fruits. Harmonious, rich and warming with an oily texture.

Drink as an after-dinner sipper, with dark chocolate and cherry torte or mince pies.

Good Value.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Yealands - Pinots, Tank Samples and Trials

Yealands tasting with Natalie Christensen, Senior Winemaker

Yealands wines tend to have a number of signature features - they are always fresh and pure, well-made and good value for money. Entry-level wines are very pleasant and they become more complex and nuanced as you move up the scale.

Billed as “The Perfection of Pinot Noir”, this tasting focused on Yealands' Pinot Noirs, including 2017 examples showing developmental work with non-irrigation and yeast trials, followed by a first view of some 2017 Sauvignon Blancs.

Natalie started with an introduction to Yealands' terroir, the Awatere Valley: cooler and drier, the vines struggle here - which is a good thing for Pinot Noir. Diurnal temperature variation (hot days, cool nights) provides herbal aromatics, a layered and brooding character plus freshness and minerality.

2017 was a difficult vintage with high winds and a cool season leading to thicker skins and small berries; the resulting wines are high in perfume and colour. 2015 was an exceptional year with everything a winemaker could ask for.

The Regular Pinots
Yealands Estate Single Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016 (£16, Great Western Wines) aromatic with dark fruit and smokey-toastiness; concentrated, mineral and long. Fine tannins with a firm core, soft and supple. Good.

The Crossings Pinot Noir 2015 (£14.50, Fortnums and others) fresh, vibrant, mineral and long; floral and aromatic with lovely berry fruit and fine tannins. Good.

Yealands Estate Single Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015 (£16, Great Western Wines) soft, supple and long; harmonious with ripe berry fruit and freshness. Fine tannins. Very Good.

Yealands Estate Winemaker's Reserve Awatere Valley Pinot Noir 2015 (£20, Dulwich Vintners) fuller, more substantial and concentrated; very long, very harmonious. Very Good. 


Off-piste Pinots
Yealands Estate Pinot Noir 2016 tank sample using Concerto Yeast floral and apricotty with red-berry fruit; plush, supple texture. Fresh, elegant and long. Good.


Yealands Estate Pinot Noir 2017 barrel sample, no irrigation trial at Seaview meaty, spicy and savoury with red fruits; fresh, mineral and long with fine tannins. Deft and delicate. Very Good.

Yealands Estate Single Vineyard Pinot Noir 201 barrel sample redcurrants, lifted apricots, dried herbs and a plush texture; long, fresh, mineral, harmonious and elegant. Good.

Yealands Estate Winemaker's Reserve Awatere Valley Pinot Noir 2017 barrel sample savoury, spicy toasty with dark berry fruits, firm grippy tannins; fresh and long, but not yet harmonious. Substantial and concentrated. Very Good.


The Sauvignons
Peter Yealands Sauvignon Blanc 2017 (£8, Sainsbury's, Co-op) fresh, aromatic, pure and mineral; delicate and elegant. Good Value.

Yealands Estate Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2017 (£11.95, Great Western Wine) more substantial core, longer. Good.

Yealands Estate Single Block L5 2017 (£14.75, Great Western Wine) fresh, precise and mineral with crushed oyster shells and sea-spray; citrus, herbal lift and flinty minerality. Very Good.


The Crossings Reserve Wild Saugnon Blanc 2016 (£15, independents) textured, barrel-fermented, almost Burgundian-meets-white-Bordeaux; toasty-smoky, richer, bigger and more substantial with leesy complexity and minerality. Very Good.

Peter Yealands Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2017 (£11.95, Waitrose) unique-to-Waitrose blend with white peach flavours; aromatic, fresh and mineral with a firm core. Good.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Two Co-op Wines For Christmas

Two Co-op wines for Christmas

Christmas wines should be a step-up from everyday drinking, and versatile enough to match with Christmas foods.

Start the day with fizz, but when you sit down to eat, you'll need a good food wine plus something rich enough to match with Christmassy treats.

Take a Bordeaux from a good producer in a favourable year plus one of the world's great complex sweet-yet-fresh fortified wines and you can't go wrong.

Serve with a Christmas roast (with pig-in-blankets and sprouts with bacon and chestnuts) followed by Christmas pudding and mince pies.

Château Sénéjac Cru Bourgeois (£16.99 - reduced to £14.99 from 22/11/17 to 12/12/17) red berry and bramble fruits with herbs, spice, earthiness and juicy, fresh acidity; fine, firm tannins and good length. Drinking nicely now and will improve with either age or aeration.

Good.

Duke of Clarence Madeira (£12.99, reduced to £10.99 from 22/11/17 to 12/12/17) caramel, roasted nuts, dates and figs; rich and unctuous yet all held in check by a fresh acidity. Harmonious and mellow.

Good.

Versatile enough for an aperitif, with almost any type of rich cake or pudding or even just as an after-dinner sipper.

Friday, 10 November 2017

Californian Wines under £20

Three Californian Wines under £20

Big, bold and brash yet resolutely crowd-pleasing, California is - oenologically speaking - the flashy and attention-grabbing Hair Metal of wine.


These three Big Wines are - like poodle-haired rockers in leather, studs and make-up - big on brash statement, but also easy-to-enjoy if you like lots of everything and a bit more too, as well as technically well-made and, underneath it all, rather sophisticated.

Chateau Souverain Chardonnay 2014 (£10.99, Waitrose) sweet, ripe melon and poached pear fruit with buttery oatmeal and toasty spice; big, layered and warming yet fresh and harmonious.

Match with heavy, substantial food, such as tarte flambée or pork medallions with cream and mushrooms.

Ironstone Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel 2015 (£13.99, Laytons and independents) earthy and woodsy-truffley with dark fruit and peppery spice; sweet, ripe blackberry, red plum and raspberry fruit. Good freshness and an old-vine concentration.

Good.

Match the earthiness with a venison casserole.

Frei Brothers Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 (£17.99, Waitrose) Cab blend from the Alexander Valley; port-like with plums-and-cherries fruit, eucalyptus, oaky spice and fresh damp earth; ripe, juicy and slightly jammy dark berry fruits. Hefty, warming and substantial with a glycerol, almost oily texture and soft, fine-grained tannins.

Good.

A big wine that needs big food to match - smoked duck breast or hare.

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Sorgin: A Gin for Wine Lovers

Sorgin: a gin from winemaker Francois Lurton made from Sauvignon Blanc

Francois Lurton is something of a winemaking legend - or at the very least, a prominent name from a legendary family.

His new gin, Sorgin, is made not from grain or potatoes but Sauvignon Blanc grapes from Gascony that might otherwise be distilled and aged into a brandy; to this is added a range of botanicals: grapefruit zest, lemon, violets, gorse, lime-zest and redcurrant buds, with juniper added as a distillate.

For the linguistically curious, Sorgin is a basque name for a witch - but not a witch wearing a basque.

Sorgin delicate and complex nose with aromatic herbs, fruitiness and sandalwood; elegant and long with an oily texture and an harmonious, persistent finish. No rough eges whatsoever.

Very Good.

Drink neat as an aperitif or, as Lurton recommends, garnish with a slice or orange or grapefruit.


Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Four Christmas Wines From Virgin


Four wines for Christmas from Virgin

A Special Day in the CWB household gave me an opportunity to road test some Christmas wines from Virgin.

The food was not especially Christmassy, but if you are looking to create a multi-course sense of occasion with accompanying wines, you could do worse than start with this classy line up of fullsome en rama sherry, vibrant English fizz, structured Italian red and complex Loire sticky.

With canapés; olives and roasted almonds
Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana en Rama, NV, Spain (£16.99 - details here) intense, pungent and concentrated en rama Manzanilla sherry; nutty, floral and bone dry with dried apple fruit and a citrussy finish. Long and elegant.

Good - absolutely demands tapas-style food. Drink now.

With starters; asparagus and parma ham gratin
Bolney Bubbly, NV, Sussex (£22.99 - details here) yeasty, nutty brioche and orchard fruits; well-structured and elegant with a fine mousse. Creamy, citrussy and floral.

Good - works as an aperitif, with light starters or mackerel fillets. Will further improve with age.

With main; beef cobbler
Il Cascinone Rive Barbera, 2014, Piedmonte (£15.99 - details here)
black cherries, plums, spice and violets with a dusting of cocoa; very fresh and well-structured and elegant with firm, very fine tannins. Good underpinnings.

Good - needs rich, red-meat dishes.

With dessert; spiced apple and vanilla cake
Domaine Baumard Coteaux du Layon Carte d'Or, 2015, Coteaux du Layon (£11.99, 37.5cl - details here)
floral and savoury complexity; rich, honeyed and waxy-oily with pineapple, overripe melon, sweet lemon and candied orange peel. Very precise, fresh and lively. Utterly delicious and could age for many years.

Very Good - match with a range of lighter desserts such as cakes, pastries and fruit tarts (but not Christmas pudding).

Friday, 3 November 2017

Ribera Del Duero - Tim Atkin's Picks

Tim Atkin's pick of the best wines from Ribera Del Duero

I had found the wines in the main Ribera Del Duero section to be always made from excellent raw materials - freshness, concentration and intensity - but sometimes lacking harmony or balance; as if a more experienced hand in the cellar might have brought about a better result.

Presented separately were 30-odd wines chosen by Master of Wine Tim Atkin.

There was certainly a higher hit rate of approving ticks in my notes here; but without time to try them all, I focused on merchants whose wines have previously impressed.

Here is what I liked best:

Bodegas Dominio de Atauta, Dominio de Atauta 2014 (Boutinot) vegetal, leather and spice with fresh red berry and plum fruit, cool mint. Harmonious, concentrated and fresh. Incredibly adept.Very Good Indeed.

Dominio Del Soto, Crianza 2011 (N/A) complex, vegetal and oaky nose; fresh red and dark berry fruits with vanilla sweetness. Dense and inky with a long, supple texture.Very Good.

Bodegas Aalto, Aalto 2014 (Justerini & Brooks) dark fruit, spice and leather; sweet ripe berries and vanilla. Concentrated, firm, long and fresh.Very Good.

Bodegas Antidoto, La Hormiga de Antidoto 2014 (H2Vin) restrained nose, harmonious and balanced with dark fruit; supple, firm texture; concentrated and long.Very Good.

Bodegas Pingon, Carramimbre Altamimbre 2014 (Amathus) vegetal and farmyardy, focused and fresh with dark fruits and sweet vanilla; firm, structured , fresh and concentrated. Long and supple.Very Good.

Bodegas Hermanos Perez Pascuas, Vina Pedrosa Reserva 2012 (Bancroft) toasty and farmyardy with liquorice, dark fruits, cherries and coffee grounds, sweet vanilla and spice; fresh, vibrant, dense and concentrated.Very Good.

Bodegas Trus, Trus Reserva 2012 (Georges Barbier) vegetal with fresh dark berry and plum fruit, sweet vanilla; concentrated, harmonious, supple and long with fine tannins. Still youthful.Very Good.

Bodegas Vega Sicilia, Valbuena No 5 2012 (FMV) vegetal and dark fruits; fresh, intense and vibrant with juicy berry fruit.Very Good.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

La Rosa Bianca - Amaretti From Sardinia

A Sardinian take on amaretti from La Rosa Bianca

This year's annual Real Italian Food and Wine included a section of producers from Sardinia. I had earlier attended a masterclass on the wines of this Mediterranean island and was keen to try out some local foods.

As well as the salamis, cheeses and a semolina-based flatbread (rather like a Sardinian poppadom), there were amaretti from La Rosa Bianca.

Traditionally, amaretti are light Italian biscuits, crisp on the outside and slightly chewy inside, made from almonds and amaretto liqueur, as well as egg white and sugar.

La Rosa Bianca amaretti are slightly different, replacing the liqueur with apricot kernels and adding honey.


The result is softly chewy, more cake than a biscuit, and highly aromatic, with the sweet, nutty marzipan-almond flavour leading to the fresher, more savoury apricot kernel.

Not too sweet, it will match perfectly with a morning espresso or an after-dinner dessert wine, such as a sweet moscato.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Sardinia Hidden Gems Masterclass


A tasting of wines from Sardinia with Peter McCombie MW

200km off the Italian coast and previously ruled by the Spanish and the Savoyards, Sardinia is something of a hidden gem itself; it is one of those places of which the only thing I know about it is that everyone who goes says it is lovely.

I came away from this Masterclass with some appreciation of the complexity and largely non-Italian heritage of the island, but not yet a fully-formed sense of what Sardinia stands for - if anything.
That may be expecting too much - viticulture has not been as important in Sardinia as in Italy proper and the requirement of the wines has historically been no more than the ability to beef up blends from cooler climates.

If Sardinia does not yet have a strong oenological identity, it is definitely moving towards something more defined.

The grapes for many of these wines were mostly non-Italian, sometimes Spanish albeit by another name - Cannonau is Garnacha, for example - increasing the sense of unfamiliarity. A number of the wines, especially the reds, improved with extended aeration on a subsequent tasting, with the tannins softening and the aromas opening up.
The whites

Cantina di Mogoro Il Nuraghe Anastasia 2016 fragrant and floral with white pepper aromatics; good fruit and rounded with a supple texture. 

Tenute Soletta Kyanos Bianco 2015 herbaceous and lemony-herbal, with some fresh Riesling character; fresh and mineral with a honeyed, leesy richness. 

Tenute Olbios 'Lupus in Fabula' 2016 Riesling-esque with yellow stone fruit and minerality; rich-yet-dry.

Tenute Gregu Selenu 2016 expressive honeysuckle with some late-harvest character; ripe stone fruits, rich full and substantial

The reds
Carlo Pili Monica di Sardegna Ipno 2016 fresh, light, and fruity with cherries and berries

Cantina Mulleri "Cenere" 2016 bubblegum and red fruits; fresh, berryish and juicy with substantial old-vine underpinnings. A quaffer - but with class.

Cantina Nuraghe Crabioni Sussinku 2016 tar, spice, pepperiness and bramble with undergrowth; fresh, substantial and oaky with a firm texture.

Tenute L'Ariosa 'Pedrastella' 2014 floral, but still rather closed up; red fruits with sweet vanilla and freshness. Long with a good structure. Rioja-esque.

Cantina Meana Parèda 2015 smokiness, some jamminess yet fresh and firm with good backbone and structure; long and grippy.

Agricola Soi "Lun" 2014 quasi aged-character nose with sweet spice, balsamic and florality; caramelised fruits but with freshness, length and a supple texture.

Cantine di Orgosolo Neale 2015 fragrant with juicy red berry and cherry fruits, fresh and juicy, with fine tannins. Beaujolais-esque.

Tenute Rossini "Rosso Rossini" 2015 meaty and leathery with black fruits and fresh, slightly chunky tannins. Long and firm. Nebbiolo-esque.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Two Yealands Whites

Two single vineyard whites from New Zealand's Yealands

After making a short video on the topic of Yealands, inspired by five of their wines, Yealands sent me a few more bottles to try.

From the entry-level to the very top, all the wines are characterised by a freshness, purity and balance that makes them sophisticated and adept, yet all-too-easy to enjoy.

Yealands Estate Single Vineyard Pinot Gris 2016 aromatic and complex nose with ripe tropical fruits, sweet spices and a rich fatness. Waxy and full, yet fresh and mineral.

Good.

Match the richness with Alsatian food, such as tarte flambée or paté.

Yealands Estate Single Vineyard P.G.R 2016 a blend of Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Riesling; dieselly nose, white stone fruits and ripe pineapple; sweet spices and limey freshness. Well made and easy-drinking.

Match the zippy freshness with soused fish or caesar salad.

Friday, 27 October 2017

Ribera Del Duero Tasting

Ribera Del Duero Trade Tasting in London

I have long known of Ribera Del Duero as a new Classic region, but have actually tasted few of the wines - nothwithstanding one very special evening with the outstanding Vega Sicilia.

The 100+ wines at this trade tasting were enough to give a sense of what Ribera Del Duero is all about and why it is held in such esteem - the raw materials here were quite amazing; freshness, intensity and concentration.

The difference between the most compelling wines and those that merely had potential was down to winemaking skill. The impression was of a prodigiously talented youth who has not quite got to grips with her natural ability; there was on occasion a rawness to the talent that needs time, experience and maturity to find its place.

Here are the wines I enjoyed best:

Bodegas Resalte de Penafiel, Resalte Crianza 2012 (£21.99 Champagne & Chateaux) spicy, meaty, vegetal with dark fruits. Concentrated with fine, firm tannins. Elegant, fresh and still young.

Very Good.

Lopez Cristobal, Reserva 2012 (Raeburn Fine Wines) dark fruits, meaty and vegetal. Long, fresh and firm with fine tannins. Well-structured and still young.

Very Good.

Aster Crianza 2013 (Armit) vegetal, fresh and juicy. Very harmonious.

Very Good.

Bodegas Cair 2011 (Alliance Wine, £44.50) fresh, berry fruited and spicy; vibrant, concentrated and harmonious. Juicy, long and supple.

Very Good.

Bodegas Fuentenarro, Reserva 2011 (£23.99, Les Caves de Pyrene) complex, farmyardy and mature with fresh berry fruit; vibrant, supple, concentrated and very harmonious.

Very Good.

Bodegas Fuentenarro, Gran Reserva 2010 (£34.50, Les Caves de Pyrene) fresh, red berry fruit and spices. Supple, harmonious and balanced with excellent old vine underpinnings.

Very Good.

---xxx---

Not the main event, but there were also some interesting rosés.



Cillar de Silos, Rosado de Silos 2016 (£14.25, FMV) crisp, fresh and linear; aromatic and spicy with good old vine underpinnings.

Good.

Bodegas Arzuaga Navarro, Rosado 2016 (Loeb) supple, with delicate red fruits.

Dominio del Aguila, Picaro del Aguila Clarete 2015 (£26, Indigo Wines) more complex and rounded with old vine concentration.

Good.

Monday, 23 October 2017

Pays d'Oc Collection 2017

Three wines from the Pays d'Oc Collection 2017

I have long been a fan of the ripe-yet-serious wines of Languedoc - a broad, diverse region, it has multiple variations and nuances. But the key thing you need to know is the wines are, generally, substantial, well-crafted and complex.

Here are three lovely wines from the 2017 Collection; an alluring warm-climate Chardonnay, a substantial and convincing varietal Petit Verdot and a gently-made red blend.
Calmel & Joseph Villa Blanche Chardonnay 2016 ripe tropical fruits and toasty-oaky nose; pure, substantial and leesy with well-balanced freshness and a mineral backbone. Fault-free with no rough edges.

Good.

Match with meaty fish and roast white meat.

Domaine De Valensac "Entre Nous selon Valensac" 2015 liquorice and dark berries with spice and mocha. Substantial, supple with juicy fruits, freshness and very fine tannins. Very long and mineral.

Needs aeration and will improve with age.

Very Good.

Match with darker game, such as venison or duck.

Domaine du Grand Chemin "Clos Rogé" 2014 S/CS/PV blend; dark berries and bramble fruits with spice, cocoa and a leathery gaminess; light-ish, juicy and supple with fine tannins.

Good.

Match with lighter game, such as guinea fowl or tuna.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Three Bordeaux Wines

Three Bordeaux from 2015's good vintage - available nationally from Waitrose, M&S and Laithwaites

After some difficult vintages, Bordeaux has been on a roll recently with good years in 2014, 15 and 16; some chateaux say that each year has been better than the one before.

These three wines from 2015 - all at different price points - are generally well made and very pleasant.

The freshness of the first two makes them rather more typically Burgundian than Bordelais; you might almost think they had come from a cooler year. The last delivers more substance, but trades this for the deftness and elegance of the others.

Les Chartrons, 2014, Bordeaux (£7.99 Waitrose) Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc; light, fresh and well-made with  a good backbone of acidity and gentle, fine tannins. Elegant with delicate red and blueberry fruit with some peppery spice. Improves with air as the fruit emerges.

Light enough to match with salmon, fresh enough for hard cheese or keep it traditional with roast meat.

Grand Plessis Grand Réserve, 2015, Médoc (£10.00, M&S) Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Carmenère; expressively toasty-oaky nose with juicy red and black fruits, liquorice, a firm grip and plenty of spice. Good backbone of acidity and fine tannins.

Match with butcher's sausages or roast red meat.

Vieux Château Guibeau, 2015, Puisseguin Saint Émilion (Laithwaites £14.99) Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon; typical Bordeaux cassis and pencil shaving aromas with tobacco leaf and tar; substantial and supple with cooked bramble fruit, violets, mint and spicy vanilla. Grippy and slightly alcoholic.

Match the ripe fruit and firm tannins with garlic-and-rosemary roast lamb.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Wines for Curry Week

Two wines for Curry Week - Cune and Robert Oatley

October 9th - 15th is Curry Week - if you didn't already know. According to research, the most popular curry is a korma, traditionally a sweetish, slightly bland coconut-based dish.

Indian curries are not always a natural match for wine, being rather heavy and rich and needing a pint (or two) of beer; if, however, you like the more delicate and nuanced flavours of a Thai coconut curry, here are two that will match.

Cune Barrel Fermented Blanco 2016 (£10.15, Waitrose, The Co-op) orchard fuits and pineapple, with oaky, leesy minerality and good underpinnings. Clean, pure and harmonious.

Good.

Robert Oatley Signature Riesling 2015 (£13.15, Cambridge Wine Merchants and other independents) classic flintsmoke-dieselly nose with ripe, zippy lemon-lime, pineapple and a fresh, pebbly mineral backbone.

Good.

Monday, 9 October 2017

Top Selection Portfolio Tasting

The Autumn portfolio tasting from Top Selection

Top Selection is an award-winning boutique wine and spirits merchant that has been running since 2000.

This autumn portfolio tasting featured over 80 wines - in general, they were all well-made and fault free, reasonably typical and fair value for money.

Some were more interesting than others, so here are the ones I liked best:
Fizz
Andre Jacquart Le Mesnil Grand Cru NV, Champagne complex, leesy and adept. Good.

Whites
Angel Sequeiros Albarino "Foudre" 2010, Rias Baxas complex, oaky, mineral and very long. Incredibly youthful, will age and age. Good.

Laurent Boussey Meursault "Clos du Pre" 2015 citrussy, deft and complex with layers of sophisticated oak; still young. Good.

Reds
David Duband Chambolle Musigny 2013 mushrooms, truffles, red berry fruit and spice; complex, long and supple. Good.

Alves de Sousa Caldas Reserve Touriga Nacional 2012, Douro minty eucalyptus, ripe dark fruit, gaminess and pappery spice; supple and fresh with fine tannins. Good.

Kracher Blend 2 2013, Burgenland vibrant with fresh, ripe, juicy blueberries, coffee grounds and spice. Good.

Ceretto Barolo 2013 fresh and elegant with a firm grip; cherry fruit and long. Good.

Dessert wines
Kracher Beerenauslese 2015, Burgenland roasted peaches in caramel with good freshness. Good.

Clos le Comte Cuvee Emilie 2015, Sauternes sweet spices, buttery roasted stone fruits and caramel. Good.

Szepsy Aszu 2000, Tokaji cognac coloured and complex, with roasted peaches and sweet spice. Long and mellow with aged complexity. Very Good.

Alves de Sousa Quinta da Gaivosa LBV, 2012 fruited, fresh and delicious, typical LBV. Good.

Spirits
La Gabare is one of the last independent cognac houses - founded in 1992 they select, age and sell rare old cognacs.

La Gabare Petite Champagne 1970 complex, vibrant and fiery (60% strength!), spicy and expressive. Very Good Indeed.

La Gabare Petite Champagne 1982 complex, with mixed fruit and sweet spice. Mellow and harmonious. Very Good.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Two Wines from Dievole Estate

A Chianti from Dievole Estate - and a Bolgheri from Tenuta Le Colonne

A classic-yet-modern Chianti and a Bordeaux-blend Super Tuscan.

Dievole
With a history dating back almost 1,000 years and an offering that includes wine, olive oil, tours, restaurants and accommodation, Dievole is in every sense a blend of the old and the new.

Based just outisde Siena, it was acquired in 2013 by an Argentinean with Italian roots; the focus is now on classic wines with a back-to-nature approach.

Dievole Chianti Classico 2015 very fresh, cherry fruited and floral with spice; structured, mineral and concentrated with fine tannins and a firm, muscular core. Fine and precise, it is still very young; it needs extensive aeration now and will improve with several years' cellaring.

Good.

Match with steak or gamey stews.

Tenuta La Colonne
The current Bolgheri DOC classification dates back only to 1994 - wines made from Bordeaux blends prior to that were typically sold as mere Vini da tavola.

Tenuta Le Colonne, owned by Dievole, sits right on the coast, overlooking the Tyrrhenian sea; the wine is a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Tenuta Le Colonne Bolgheri DOC 2015 floral and perfumed with raspberry leaf, black fruits and vanilla spice; intense, mineral, concentrated and muscular with very fine tannins. Fresh, very long and elegant. Benefits from aeration and will only improve with age.

Good.

Match with roasted red meats.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Frieze and Mazzei Gran Selezione 2013

A Chianti Classico parcel tasting of the Gran Selezione master blend with the Mazzei family

I have long held a working assumption that Great Wine is like Great Art - beyond merely being superficially pleasant, it is, at a deeper level, somehow compelling; it evokes in us some kind of emotional response.
Good wine is enjoyable wallpaper; Great Wine speaks to us.

Greatness is, then, ultimately subjective, a purely personal opinion. What moves me may leave you cold. However, a consensus may arise as to whether something is great or not; you may not personally "get" Picasso, Warhol or Mapplethorpe, but there are plenty of people who do.
Walking through Frieze 2017 - a vast, wide-ranging and rather corporate exhibition of contemporary art - it was impossible, as a mere amateur, to discern nuances or themes; too much sensory overload.

The only way to make sense of the breadth and volume was simply to walk briskly and see what catches the eye.
Of course what attracts us to something - be it art, wine or a potential spouse - is not what binds us over time; yet there needs to be an initial spark of attraction that then develops into something deeper and more sustained.
The wines of Giovanni Mazzei, 25th generation of a Tuscan winemaking family dating back to 1435, Marchesi Mazzei, possess this quality; attractive, compelling and intriguing they are also sophisticated, elegant and complex.

Over lunch at a pop-up café from Petersham Nurseries, we tasted Giovanni's award-winning Castello Fonterutoli Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2013 alongside five of the single Cru wines that go into the master blend.
For those not in the know, Petersham Nurseries Café follows the Slow Food philosophy with seasonal, Italian inspired food.
On arrival
Villa Marcello Prosecco DOC with Pinot Blanc in the blend, a fresh, crisp, structured and mineral aperitif that also works with the canapes

With sharing starters

Vineyard: Siepi, Parcel: I Sodi from the lowest altitude vineyard, fresh and structured with cherry fruit, mushroomy gaminess and oaky spice. Elegant, supple, long and harmonious.

Vineyard: Caggio, Parcel: Orto darker, denser, more spiced and aromatic.

Vineyard: Belvedere, Parcel: Piano darker, more brooding and intense, a Heathcliffe of a wine

With sharing main course

Vineyard: Fonterutoli, Parcel: St Antonio fresh and more elegant with lifted fruit and freshness; very complex and balanced


Vineyard: Le Ripe, Parcel:Trebbio sweet, ripe dark fruit and spices; fresh yet plump and supple with ripe tannins. Concentrated and long with a peppery finish.
Giovanni had encouraged us to keep a little of each wine in our glasses and make a pop-up blend of our favourite parcels; this would have been like grabbing a piece of each favourable artwork in the exhibition and hoping to assemble them into a masterpiece and served only to demonstrate how much skill there is in the blending process.

My favourite parcels were 3, 4 and 5 - with 3 and 5 having the darkest, most expressive character and 4 being the most nuanced.
Castello Fonterutoli Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2013 the master blend, assembled from 47 of the estate's 120 parcels of vines; spices and pepper with red and black fruits, dried berries and plums along with a musky leatheriness. Balanced and fresh.
A comparison of Giovanni's favourite individual parcel, the Fonterutoli, with the master blend was like comparing two very beautiful women - the Fonterutoli had a sophisticated and individual beauty that was not perfection, yet needed no addition. The blend, by contrast, was no less attractive but, plumped and preened down at the salon, had lost something of its individuality in the process.