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Thursday, 30 June 2011

Aged Mosel Rieslings at Cambridge Wine Merchants

I recently went to a tasting of a baker's dozen of  aged Mosel Rieslings at Cambridge Wine Merchants as a guest of owner, Hal Wilson.

It had been planned originally as a tasting just for staff, but was subsequently opened up to assorted trade, scribblers like myself and friends in the know.

Given this, it was quite relaxed with no formal tutoring, just CWM's Germany expert, Matt Boucher, on hand to answer any questions.

My introduction to Riesling - at a time when Chardonnay was everyone's white wine of choice - came via Austria where the style is generally drier and riper; Austria has its own historic reasons for this style and has successfully re-invented itself as a premier wine nation.

By contrast, Mosel Rieslings inhabit pretty much the same space as sherry - that is a great wine, once considered world-class, that is now deeply unfashionable not least due to the various poor-quality cheap versions seen in this country.

To extend the comparison, they are also perhaps something of an acquired taste given that they are quite unlike anything else, are great value due to being underappreciated and in dire need of a revival.

In the case of sherry, as I have written elsewhere, that is already starting to happen as Spain rediscovers its inner cool.

However, whilst Germany may be many things, cool is not one of them and there is no sign of a Mosel Riesling revival on the horizon of popular consciousness.

That's not to say that Germany does not have elements of cool - reunified Berlin is vibrant and buzzy, the Bauhaus style still feels edgy today and the Beetle camper van is an icon not just for hippy travellers and surfer dudes.

But in the popular imagination, Germany is a land of industrial Krautrock, of solidly-made consumer goods and patrician, Hanseatic cities of beer and sausages - not a place of meandering river valleys with steep slatey terraces producing crystal clear, thoughtful wines of immense aging potential.

As a result, whilst none of these wines was exactly cheap in supermarket terms, there was a 25 year-old wine for under a tenner and even the most expensive maxed out at a few pennies over £15.

To me, conventional wisdom is to taste young wines before old, but as Matt Boucher pointed out the older wines are more nuanced and secondary whose subtlety can be harder to discern after a younger, more obviously primary, wine.

As a result, I started with the older wines in each category of ripeness and moved forward in time to the younger ones.

German wine labelling is based not on geography as the French AOC or grape variety as adopted by the New World, but on the ripeness of the grapes themselves with Kabinett being the driest style, before moving on to Spaetlese and Auslese and thence to higher degrees of sweetness.

The first wine, a Carl Schmitt-Wagner from 1986, was the oldest of the night - the grapes were picked and fermented a quarter century ago.

Whilst it still had good acidity, it felt a little tired and underwhelming and, for me, was more of interest as a museum piece than as a wine in its own right.

The next, a Werner Mueller from 1997, was a QbA - a grade lower which allows chaptalization (addition of sugar) - and did not have the complexity of the other QmP wines.

The best of the Kabinett wines was a 2008 Feinherb (semi-dry) from Johann Peter Reinert - at this youthful stage it is more primary with up-front juicy, zesty acidity and a deliciously ripe, mouthfilling flavour of boiled lemon sweets.

Not for the first time in the evening, I found myself agreeing with the judges, as this one has a Silver medal.

Next a flight of Spaetlese wines: the 1988 Carl Schmitt-Wagner was a golden colour, with surprisingly youthful, lively, zippy acidity and an integrated, rounded feel; some sweetness mid-palate but a dry finish. This was very good and had a gold medal.

A Werner Mueller from 1989 showed a little more age, with a rounded fatness and hints of lanolin with a long, dry finish. Again, a good wine - with a silver medal this time.

A more-youthful Gunther Fehres from 2002 was fresh and lime-appley, but for me the sweetness dominated a little.

A 2002 from Carl Schmitt-Wagner was rich and sweet with good tropical acidity.

A 2004 from Johann Peter Reinert had all the mouthfilling, zippy, boiled lemon sweets of his Kabinett, but with everything turned up a little.

This really was a superb wine and whilst £13 might seem a lot for an old, unfashionable, off-dry German wine, it is something of a bargain at the price for the age, quality, longevity and uniqueness that it represents.

Moving on to the Auslese wines, a 1985 from Gunther Fehres felt astonishingly youthful and fresh for its quarter century of age.

A 1994 from Werner Mueller had hints of aged Riesling kerosene on the nose, an a lovely mouthfilling barley sugar palate with a complex sweet and sour finish. It has a bronze medal and was the most expensive wine of the evening - at £15.25.

A wine from the same year, 1994, from Carl Schmitt-Wagner had a little more sweetness, a little less zip and felt like a slightly lesser version of the previous wine.

A 2002 from Johann Peter Reinert was rich, sweet and intense, almost in a BA style.

Finally, a 2003, also from Johann Peter Reinert had lots of ripe juicy pears, pineapple acidity and a sweet-yet-sour finish.

Fashion in wine is a funny thing - at the time of writing the prices for 2010 Bordeaux en primeur are being released with massive price jumps fuelled, many say, by speculation and Asian billionaires' desire for wine as a gift-giving status symbol.

At the same time, here are some superb wines which fashion has left behind, many of which are sitting in the winemaker's cellar looking for a buyer at (almost) any price.

Who knows whether there will ever be a German Mosel Riesling revival with a corresponding leap in prices to Bordeaux levels, but for now, whilst these wines are seriously undervalued, surely it's worth at least trying a few of these wines to say you have had them at a time when they were almost pocket-money wines.

Recommeded wine:

If you try just one of these wines, I recommend the Riesling Spaetlese 2004 Wiltinger Schlangengraben from Weingut Peter Johann Reinart, £12.90 at Cambridge Wine Merchants.

German wines, it is said, are made for the garden more than the dining table, but for food, match with smoked salmon or goose-liver pate.

I also recommend the following too:

Riesling Kabinett Feinherb 2008 Kanzemer Sonnenberg from Weingut Johann Peter Reinert, £11.30.
Riesling Spaetlese 1988 Longuicher Herrenberg from Weingut Carl Schmitt-Wagner, £13.49.
Riesling Auslese 1994 Burger Wendelstueck from Weingut Werner Mueller, £15.25.

Quick German Glossary

QbA - lower classification, chaptalisation (addition of sugar) is allowed

QmP the highest classification with six sub-divisions depending on grape ripeness:

- Kabinett
- Spaetlese ("late harvest")
- Auslese ("selected")
- Beerenauslese / BA ("selected berries")
- Trockenbeerenauslese / TBA ("selected shrivelled berries")
- Eiswine, made from frozen grapes

No chaptalisation allowed.


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

Image credit - http://www.moseldirect.com/en/index.asp

Monday, 27 June 2011

La Delfina Special Cuvee Prosecco

I used half of this bottle from Cambridge Wine Merchants for a strawberry and Prosecco jelly terrine recipe that I was test-driving over the weekend for MasterChef finalist Alex Rushmer who, amongst other things, is about to open a new restaurant somewhere in Cambridge.

It seemed a shame to waste the rest, and as the weather on Sunday was so good, we sat in the garden and finished it off whilst waiting for the final layer of the jelly to set in the fridge.

On pouring, it froths and foams enthusiastically; the nose is spritzy, lightly fruity with Conference pears and a slight seaside tang.

The palate shows more pear fruit, ripe, rounded acidity and some complex, citrus sweetness; the finish is dry, balanced and lingering.

Overall, it is refreshing, elegant and balanced; it does not gain particularly in complexity with air - rather, it remains straightforward and up-front, and impresses by being well-made and more-ish rather than through, say, the diverse flavours and aromas one finds in a good Champagne.

It also costs a lot less than a good Champagne, too.

£8.49 from Cambridge Wine Merchants.

Provided for review.


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

Alex Rushmer - http://alexrushmer.com/

Thursday, 23 June 2011

On breadth vs depth in tasting‏

I recently tried a wine (an aged Mosel Riesling) as one of around 15 at a tasting event hosted by Cambridge Wine Merchants and noted it as pleasant enough, but not sufficiently outstanding to make a recommendation.

I was then given a bottle to take home at the end of the event and, drinking it over a few days, found myself appreciating its charms far more.

When I wrote this up (here), fellow blogger Wine Rambler tweeted me to say that he also finds this and for that reason does not always enjoy blind tastings.

This got me thinking about breadth and depth in wine tasting - a single bottle vs a flight from different vintages or terroirs or just a random selection of wines to try.

My starting point was to consider the reasons why the Riesling showed better when subsequently sampled on its own and I can think of a number of possible explanations:

- the effect of air; some wines show well straight out of the bottle but then fail to improve, whilst others gain in complexity and depth of flavour with a bit of air

- familiarity; the event was a tasting of aged Mosel Rieslings, pretty much my first tasting of this type of wine, and so the wines that impressed me most on the evening may well have been those that closest in style to something I was already familiar with

- ease of understanding; related to this, some wines are just easier to understand on an initial quick taste than others

- subtlety and restraint; the wine was elegant, subtle and balanced whilst those I had picked as my favourites on the night had perhaps more immediately obvious appeal

This is not the first time I have observed this phenomenon - a few months ago I went to a speed tasting of 30-odd assorted trade samples at Naked Wines (here) and struggled somewhat to keep up until I realised we were looking just for broad brush indications - a quick thumbs up or thumbs down.

At the end of the evening, left-overs were divvied out and I ended up taking home two half-consumed bottles - a southern French Chardonnay and a Portuguese red.

I have not reviewed them on this blog, but I clearly remember finding different aspects and nuances emerging as I sampled them over the weekend after the tasting.

Fellow blogger My Grape Escape quotes Steven Spurrier as saying you should always keep back a few bottles of a great wine until it is past its peak so you can remind yourself of how great it was (see his article here).

I tend to do something similar myself with wines for review at home, gathering together impressions straight out of the bottle, during meal and over perhaps as much as the next week to see how it develops. This gives me an opportunity to see how the wine develops, to think about the various nuances that might emerge and to establish the relative strengths and weaknesses of any particular wine.

By contrast at a trade event, I may taste around a hundred wines from many different producers and there simply is not the opportunity to give each wine the level of attention as a review bottle at home.

However, there are benefits to trying wines in groups quickly rather than alone in depth. If you want quickly to get a sense of the key aspects of a particular region, especially a new or unfamiliar one, then tasting a range of wines all together proves very insightful.

I first really learnt to spot the differences between right-bank and left-bank Bordeaux at a Bordeaux stand at the Fine Wine Fair in London last year (here). Talking to Kurt Angerer (here) about his vines growing on various different soils in Kamptal, Lower Austria a few weeks ago gave me a real appreciation of how granite, gravel, clay and loam affect the feel and level of minerality in the resulting wine. And an Italian tasting of Slow Wines (here) gave me an insight into the grapes and styles of many regions of Italy.

Tasting a range of wines together helps to make sense of what they are about as a genus - what their "family" characteristics are and the extent of the subtle differences between them - Grüner Veltliner grown on granite is much more minerally than when grown on loam, which results in a softer, fleshier, more rounded-feeling wine.

You are unlikely to pick up every nuance, but what you lose in depth, you gain in breadth. Tasting a range of wines gives the initial, outline framework for what Philip Goodband MW calls building a taste memory (here) - an overview that can be deepened by subsequent, more detailed and more considered tastings.

Perhaps the hardest tastings to do are the wide-ranging, unfocused ones - such as the speed-tasting event at Naked Wines. With different grape varieties, different countries and different styles and no unifying theme, these were all just either speculative trade samples or early trial blends.

It is even harder when they are untutored and effectively blind - that is, you get to know the grape and country, but there is no-one on hand to talk about the wine and you have to rely on your ability quickly to make an informed judgement on the quality of the wine and its key characteristics. Is it fruit-driven or does the texture or structure dominate ? Is the acidity good ? Is it balanced ? Does it have immediate appeal or subtle elegance ?

To do well at this kind of tasting requires either a really thorough wine knowledge to take in so many different styles or a single-minded focus on "do I like it ?". Perhaps both.

It certainly sharpens you up and at the end of the Naked event, I felt like I'd been put through my paces at the wine-tasting gym.

To continue the metaphor, a fully tutored tasting of a modest number of wines is like a guided tour - an easy, pleasant stroll with the key sights gently pointed out - whilst reviewing a single bottle is like climbing a hill.

You start at the bottom and you know you just have to keep moving forward methodically to the top in your own time; checking different aspects, forming judgements revising them.

What you enjoy most perhaps comes down to personality - I am not a gym bunny, even if I know I need to exercise more for the good of my health. I quite enjoy the social aspect of a strolling guided tour, but for me nothing quite beats the exhilaration and sense of achievement that comes from climbing a hill and seeing the view from the top.

My latest challenge has been my "Wine of the Month" columns - a comparison of three wines from Cambridge's local independent wine merchants - and, with such a high standard across very different styles, it proves to be much harder than I had expected to settle on a winner, calling for some serious thinking about all aspects of each wine.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Domaine Cristia Cotes du Ventoux 2009 - Naked Wines

I poured this southern French Grenache from Naked Wines into the decanter at the start of our meal, but despite this, initial impressions were a little underwhelming - yes, there were some classic "southern French" ripe dark fruits on the nose, but it was all quite restrained and in the mouth the acidity felt a little thin.

In fact, despite some bottle age, it did not really start to open up properly and come into its own until after the end of the meal and later again when resampled after a couple of days; at this stage, the nose had become much more pronounced with prunes and a hint of spice, whilst on the palate the fruit acidity feels fuller and more rounded. There is some ripe blackcurrant and pencil shavings and, whilst the texture is soft with low tannin levels, the finish is gently grippy.

Sampled a further day later and it has developed again - the perfume on the nose has died down and what remains is a really well-made, food-friendly acidity on the palate. It is dark and feels mouthfillingly inky with some savouriness, black-cherry aromas, and hints of pencil shavings and peppery spice.

Anyone looking for a crowd-pleasing quaffer, with lots of fruit to enjoy may be a little disappointed here - rather, with its prominent and sophisticated acidic structure, this is much more of an Italian-style food wine, intended to cut through the richness of something like a beef stew or a bolognese sauce, rather than being an easy-drinker straight out of the bottle.

£9.49, with £3.16 cashback for Angels.


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

Monday, 20 June 2011

Summer Picnic Fizz

Cambridge is blessed with many beauty spots, but my ideal picnic would probably start with a walk through the beautiful historic city centre followed by a punt down to Granchester.

Most typical picnic food is actually quite hard to match with wine, so the trick is to go for something well-made, but straighforward and crowd-pleasing. Nothing makes a statement quite like fizz, so finding a cheap and cheerful bottle of picnic fizz can be quite a big ask. Fortunately, here are three that will match well, won't disappoint and won’t blow your budget.

First up is a light, refreshing and elegant Italian Prosecco from Bacchanalia. It’s a semi-sparkling frizzante and you will need a corkscrew for this one. It has a light, crisp refreshing fizz, with apples and pears acidity, some yeastiness on the nose, a hint of sweetness on the mid-palate and a persistent finish.

If you want to make a bit more of a statement, pink fizz is perhaps the ultimate summer indulgence. Cava Portaceli Rosado NV from Cambridge Wine Merchants, made by the traditional Champagne method and aged for 9 months, is more of a food wine and has a greater body and depth of flavour to stand up to picnic foods.

There is some yeastiness on the nose from the Champagne-method production and a lively, foaming mousse; it feels rounded and has a complex, savoury depth of flavour with food-friendly leesiness and balanced, fresh acidity.

However, the most instantly crowd-pleasing of the three straight out of the bottle is an Italian Sacchetto Rose Brut NV from Naked Wines. Made from a blend of Pinot and Merlot, it has aromas of redcurrants and raspberries. It feels ripe and rounded on the palate and has an easy-drinking creamy texture that tingles on the tongue like sherbet.

The Wines

Primo Prosecco DOC Vino Frizzante, £7.69 from Bacchanalia
Cava Portaceli Rosado NV, £7.49 from Cambridge Wine Merchants
Sacchetto Rose Brut NV, £10.49 from Naked Wines (with £3.50 cashback for Naked Angels)

Cambridge Edition - http://www.cambsedition.co.uk/
Bacchanalia - http://www.winegod.co.uk/
Cambridge Wine Merchants - http://www.cambridgewine.com/
Naked Wines - http://www.nakedwines.com/

Friday, 17 June 2011

Riesling Auslese 2002 Kanzemer Altenberg ** (Two Star) Weingut Johann Peter Reinert

At the end of a tasting of aged Mosel Rieslings earlier this week, Cambridge Wine Merchants owner Hal Wilson handed me a bottle of this sweet Mosel Riesling from Johann Peter Reinert that had been opened but not poured, to take home with me.

It had not featured as one of my top wines from the tasting itself, but there's no shame in that as there were some excellent wines on show that evening. With hindsight, it's perhaps also quite a subtly rewarding wine that did not immediately impress as much as some of the other wines.

Moreover, at £15, it is not exactly cheap in absolute terms, even if it is something of a bargain given its age and quality.

It's from the Kanzemer Altenberg (pictured), which means old mountain and according to the winery's website is a "steep site rising directly from the Saar with full southerly exposure. Of this site, the best known of Kanzem and in fact world famous, we took over two parcels in 1999, and we gladly enjoy a superb view onto this renowned slope from our winery".

Bright gold in the glass, it has a slightly waxy, lanolin nose, with just a hint of kerosene and some wet stones.

On the palate it is rich and sensual - mouthfillingly citrussy with some liminess, ripe peach, tropical mango and pineapple.

There are slight, fleeting hints of marmaladey botrytis. It feels rounded and zippy but, as a result of its age, has a touch of mellowness and feels less in-yer-face. The finish is long, elegant and gentle - all linear acidity and balanced sweetness.

It takes me a little while to "get" and appreciate this wine - it's rather different to anything I've had before: only 7.5% alcohol, I find it reveals its charms slowly.

Initial impressions are merely that it is very pleasant, well-crafted and moderately sweet. But sampled over a few days, I gradually perceive and learn to appreciate the finesse, elegance and subtle layers and depths of flavour and complexity.

It's quietly, discreetly more-ish and charming; I find myself falling under its spell just as I finish the bottle, wishing I had another.

Semi-sweet wines are not something I often have so specific food matches are hard to suggest; as a general comment, I would recommend either sipping in the garden on a hot summer's day or with a starter of goose liver pate or some meaty fish, such as salmon or trout.

I asked fellow blogger Wine Rambler, who is the most enthusiastic proponent of German wines that I know for ideas, and he directed me towards this article - here.

The article is well worth reading in full, but in summary, below are the dishes he tried with sweet German Rieslings. All prepared by a professional chef, they may be a little complex for home cooking, but serve to give an idea of key ingredients and styles:

1. Chevice of tuna with samphire and lemon oil
lightly seasoned loin of yellow fin tuna, seared + with samphire blanched for 30 seconds + dressed in lemon olive oil

2. Smoked trout
smoked trout + cucumber pickled in weak solution of white wine vinegar, sugar and star anise + beetroot + garnished with fresh grated horseradish

3. Rosti with scallop and black pudding
seared scallops + potato rosti + black pudding mash + garnished with chervil

4. Squid millefeuille
pan-fried baby squid with garlic and chilli + crispy salami + salad of herbs and mint + honey and lime sauce

5. Pork loin
seared loin of pork + curried celeriac + apple rhubarb compote

6. Époisses crouton
époisses + toasted ciabata + truffled honey

Riesling Auslese 2002 Kanzemer Altenberg ** (Two Star) Weingut Johann Peter Reinert - £15 from Cambridge Wine Merchants.


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

Weingut Johann Peter Reinert - http://www.weingut-reinert.de/

Wine Rambler article - http://www.winerambler.net/blog/sultans-sweet-learning-about-matching-residual-sugar-mosel-riesling-food

Monday, 13 June 2011

Rudi Pichler Wachauer Riesling Federspiel 2003‏

I bought this Rudi Pichler Riesling many years ago from Wein & Co in Vienna when I used to be based there part-time for work; I think I paid around €15.

I can't quite remember exactly what convinced me to stash it away for many years but after a few Austrian tastings in recent months, I decided it was time to dig this out and re-acquaint myself with it.

Deciphering the label for those less familiar with Austria's labelling idiosyncrasies:
  • Rudi Pichler - producer
  • Wachauer - from the Wachau in lower Austria; no more specific indicator of location means it's probably blended across vineyards, rather than being a single-vineyard wine
  • Riesling - grape variety, hopefully quite obvious !
  • Federspiel - mid-level Wachau-only tag for grape ripeness, alcohol level and quality
Pichler's vineyards in the beautiful, UNESCO protected Wachau
The bottle is elegant and fluted, there are some tartrate crystals on the cork (and a chunk of them in the bottle - which is usually a good sign in my experience) and, when poured, the wine is golden in the glass.

Initial sniffs reveal it has a complex and sophisticated nose of peach, apricot, elderflower, wet stones and a hint of cellar mustiness, suggestive of natural fermentation.

After a couple of minutes, there's beeswax, leather and lanolin, a suggestion of pungent botrytis.

After a few more minutes, almost all the fruit has faded, leaving just the waxy aromas of age.

On the palate it has lovely rounded, mouthfilling acidity with apples and pears and some tropical pineapple and guava. There is a ripe liminess, an oxidative fatness and a lingering finish.

There are also hints of cindery ash and characteristic kerosene that come with age.

Given its age, I don't decant or aerate; the next glass, poured from the bottle, has a buzzy acidity and some fleeting, subtle and complex aromas that I struggle to describe - a hint of custard cream biscuit ? A touch of pastry ?

Later, with the meal - tafelspitz with sauces and salty, matchstick chips - the ash, kerosene and buzzy, tropical acidity dominate.

The finish is noticeably not quite as mineral or long as some other wines I've had from lower Austria recently, but overall it feels well-made, elegant and moreish.

The winery is located in Wösendorf, slightly towards the cooler end of the Wachau, which should give a steelier wine.

However, if memory serves, 2003 was quite a warm year and I hazard a guess at the grapes are being grown on loam / loess which result in a more rounded wine than for more minerally soils such as granite and gravel.

At this age, the wine is somewhat on a cusp - still showing what it was but with noticeable traces of what it will become with more years in bottle.

As Lukas Pichler (son of FX, and no apparent relation to Rudi) explained to me, after more than 5 years, it becomes a different wine; having tried a 20 year-old Mosel Riesling not so long ago, I find myself more capable of approaching and appreciating these aged qualities.

What is also interesting, is to see how the wine continues to develop with air after opening, even though it has so much bottle age - this, however, happens at probably a much quicker rate than would be the case if it were younger.

I save a small amount (re-corked in the bottle) for the following day; the fruit is all gone and the only aromas on the nose now are hints of waxy antique-shop polish and again the kerosene; acidity still good.


Rudi Pichler - http://www.rudipichler.at/

Wein & Co - http://www.weinco.at/

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Romania's Prince Stirbey‏ at London International Wine Fair

When I used to travel on business to Romania, I got to know its wines a little and those of Prince Stirbey were a regular order at dinner.

At the recent London International Wine Fair, I got to meet one of the people behind Prince Stirbey and learnt that the aristocratic name of the winery is no mere affectation.

As Baroness Ileana Kripp-Costinescu, granddaughter of Princess Maria Stirbey, explained, the winery, based in Drăgăşani in the south-west of the country, dates back to the 18th century, but is currently undergoing a renaissance through good practices and the creation of wines with character, individuality and a sense of terroir.

The vineyards are set on an idyllic hillside overlooking a lake, at an elevation of around 300 hundred metres which provides much better conditions for viticulture than lower down, as the altitude provides coolness in summer thus lengthening the growing season with milder temperatures in winter and breezes to keep vineyard pests at bay.

The winery is completely family-run and was built by Baroness Ileana's grandfather in an Italian-Tuscan style.

I opted to sample my way through the reds and started with a Novac.

This grape is local to the Drăgăşani area and is a hybrid which includes Saperavi as one of its parents. With dark berries on the nose, the palate shows more dark berry fruit, dark chocolate and pepper with good acidity and tannins.

The Negru de Dragasani is also a local variety and showed good plummy fruit and pepperiness.

Finally, the Cabernet, with 12 months' aging in oak showed good blackcurrant fruit with a rounded structure and pleasant tannins.

Recommended wine

Overall, the most interesting wine here is the Novac, available from  www.thedailydrinker.co.uk  at £12.50.


Prince Stirbey - http://www.stirbey.com/index.php?lang=en

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Bodegas Castaño at London International Wine Fair

I first came across Bodegas Castaño, from the small town of Yecla in eastern Spain, via a Laithwaites Mystery Case.

I was rather impressed with their Casa Virola Merlot, a grape which is little found in this part of the world (review here) where the indigenous Monastrell dominates.

That wine was not on show at the London International Wine Fair, but I was able to try a number of their others.

They were being shown by Castaño's UK importer, Liberty Wines and, sadly, there was no-one from the company there on the day to chat to, but here are my tasting notes of the three I tried.

Monastrell Rosado

Lots of fruit and richness - feels balanced and sensible.

Monastrell DO Yecla

Berry fruit with hints of pepper and liquorice, some toastiness; light but well-made and balanced, a good easy drinker.

Molino Loco Monastrell DO Yecla

Vanilla, liquorice and berry fruit, a light and soft quaffer.

Recommended wine

I can't really pick any one wine as a stand-out; they are all pleasant quaffers which manage to be both interesting and sensible, but as it's summer I recommend the Rosado.

Suggested retail prices of £7 - £8 seem a little high for such everyday wines, but perhaps that's Euro-parity for you these days.

Bodegas Castaño Monastrell Rosado, rrp £7.99

The Casa Virola Merlot is available at Laithwaites.


Bodegas Castano - http://www.bodegascastano.com/

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

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Slovenia's Dveri Pax at LIWF‏

I was impressed enough with a number of Slovenian wines I have had recently to want to try out a few more at the London International Wine Fair.

A small country wedged between Austria, Italy and Croatia, Slovenia nonetheless has a number of different wine-growing areas and I opted for the one nearest the Austrian border.

Having the same terroir as Austria's Styria, with high elevation resulting in a distinctive ripe-yet-crisp style for whites, this region is known locally as Štajerska Slovenija.

I started with a Šipon (aka Hungary's Furmint) from their entry-level Benedict range . Grown on sandy clay soils, it was crisp, yet ripe with elderflower aromas. It has a Decanter Silver.

A Riesling was well made with lots of lime fruit and fresh apples-and-pears acidity. This one has a Decanter bronze and an IWC Silver.

The winery's cellars
Moving up to the Admund range, the 2007 Šipon "Ilovci" was toasty, smokey and mineral with focused yet rounded acidity and a richness from 18 months on the lees and aging in Slavonian oak (Decanter Silver).

Aerial view
The final wine, a 2009 Riesling "M", was more intense, focused and fuller than the earlier example.

It spends 6 months on the lees and a further 9 months in tank. The vineyard is near Maribor (hence the "M" name, somewhat confusingly the same as a Grüner Veltliner from Austria's FX Pichler) where the subsoil is marl, resulting in less fruit but more minerality.

Surprisingly, this last one does not seem to have any awards.

Recommended wine

These are all well-made and interesting; based on the cellar-door prices quoted, they also represent good value, too - especially when compared to next-door Styria in Austria.

For an introduction to Slovenian wines, I recommend the Riesling from the Benedict range - €8.50.

The wines are imported into the UK by Savage Selection.


Dveri Pax - http://www.dveri-pax.com/

Savage Selection - http://www.savageselection.co.uk/

All images from Dveri Pax website

Monday, 6 June 2011

Six Summer Picnic Wines from Naked Wines

Cambridge is a great place to be in the summer - we get some of the driest weather in Europe's northern half and we have lots of green spaces.

I can think of no other city where you are likely to see cows grazing in the centre - and that it is against the backdrop of King's College and the river just makes it even more special.

After a couple of years of wash-outs, we are also shaping up for that much-promised and equally derided barbecue summer of a while ago.

There are plenty of spots to choose from, but my own favourites in Cambridge include sitting at the top of Cambridge castle with a view of the city's skyline, lounging by the river bank at Trinity College watching tourists struggling to steer their punts (answer: use the pole) or, further afield, in Grantchester Meadows.

The energetically inclined could take in all three of these, via a walk through the city's historical centre which retains its quirky medieval layout and either a punt or a stroll to Grantchester.

Naked Wines, one of the most exciting wine retailers in the internet-only space, recently sent me a case of their six best picnic wines for review; the company's "house-style" is well-made, fruit-driven wines that impress straight out of the bottle - just what you need for a picnic - and you could do a lot worse than packing one of these, pre-chilled, into your hamper. Most are sealed under screwcap, which is another handy feature.

Best for lazy lounging - Benjamin Darnault Picpoul de Pinet, £9.99

Picpoul is a somewhat unusual grape from southern France's Languedoc region; it makes refreshing, crisp wines with a hint of seashell and sandiness - in a good way.

This one is sandy coloured in the glass with aromas of ripe, thick-skinned grapes and a refreshing cox's apples and pears acidity, with varietal hints of sand and seashells; a good, light quaffer with just 12.5% alcohol, despite its warm-climate origins.

Best with light foods - Arabella Viognier 2011, £7.99

I like Arabella's wines a lot - this one is lemony, with lots of ripe tropical fruit, some typical varietal peachiness, elderflower, rounded acidity and a touch of mid-palate sweetness. There is also some ripe toastiness and a good, balanced finish.

An easy quaffer with the acidity and body to stand up to standard light picnic foods like quiche, chicken drumsticks and salad leaves with cherry tomatoes.

The most perfumed - Classic South Pinot Gris 2010, £10.49

Golden in the glass, this is very very floral and perfumey on the nose, almost Gewurz-like with aromas of lychees and beeswax; there is good, tropical acidity with passionfruit and guava and some honeyed weight.

The best rosé - Castillo de Tafalla Rosado 2010, £6.99

As something of a recent convert to food-rosé wines, I thoroughly enjoyed this ripe and juicy more-ish Spanish rosé.

With raspberry aromas, rounded acidity and a pleasing hint of spice, it has a good, savoury finish. Instantly appealing and more-ish, it also feels very well-made and is excellent value.

The most celebratory - Sacchetto Rosé Brut NV, £10.49

If you are looking to make a statement, nothing says it better than fizz and for the wow factor, a bottle of pink fizz takes some beating.

The added body of a rosé also makes this a little more food-friendly. With aromas of redcurrants and raspberries on the nose and an easy-drinking feel, it's a sure-fire crowd-pleaser.

The best with hearty food - Benjamin Darnault Minervois 2010, £9.49

If your picnic food is a little more hearty - pork pies and sliced ham, rather than mixed leaves and salad - then the Darnault Minervois is what you need.

It has ripe bramble fruit and plums on the nose, some soft vanilla-y tannins, gentle hints of cloves and spice with good, balanced acidity and tannic grip on the finish.

Recommended wine

The fizz makes the biggest statement here, but for all-round appeal - and value too - I recommend Castillo de Tafalla Rosado.

All wines are available from Naked Wines, with up to 33% cash back for Naked Angels.

All wines provided for review.


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

Main image credit: picturenation.co.uk

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Wine of the Month: June‏

This column also appears on City Connect (http://www.city-connect.org/).

The three inaugural offerings from Cambridge's "Big Three" independent wine merchants for this first Wine of the Month column have set the bar pretty high.

The brief for them was simply to select their best wine for the current month, June, within a sensible price range - from an everyday £6, to a special-occasion-but-still-affordable £12.

And they have come up with three wines of very different styles.

The first is a Touraine from Cambridge Wine Merchants - this cool-climate stretch of the Loire in northern France produces steely, aromatic, flinty wines from Sauvignon Blanc which can be as good as, and much better value than, next-door Sancerre.

This 2010 is still quite young and benefited greatly from an hour or so's aeration in the decanter.

Pale in the glass, but bright with a hint of gold, it is initially intense and steely, but opens up into a haughty, classic beauty with greengage, cut grass and nettles on the nose and a hint of flint-smokiness.

On the palate, there are more herbaceous aromas, white peach and elderflower, zesty hints and a touch of verbena with focused yet rounded, mouthfilling acidity balanced out by good minerality on the finish.

With its restrained elegance and sophisticated, classy finesse, it is understated coolness personified.

The ideal food match would be the classic Loire goat's cheese, but it will also work either as an aperitif or with shellfish.

Next up was another white; from Noel Young, this was a Chardonnay Albarino blend from Costers del Segre in Spain.

Sealed under screwcap, this is a much more contemporary, crowd-pleasing style. Straight out of the bottle, it is fruit-driven with aromas of stone fruit, peach and floral citrus blossom. On the palate it feels full and fleshy with some mid-palate complex sweetness of tropical fruit. Supple, mediumweight and rounded, it has a long, persistent finish.

What elevates this above the level of a mere quaffer, however, is a hint of thick-skinned intensity and phenolic ripeness from late harvested grapes, picked at night to retain freshness.

This is easily the most versatile of the three wines here - an easy quaffer with a hint of seriousness, its ripeness, body and acidity mean it would match with a wide range of foods such as white meat, mushrooms or pretty much anything in a creamy or buttery sauce, or a plate of farmhouse cheeses.

Ready for drinking now, it is not a wine that needs to be aged.

The final wine, an Italian Barbera d'Asti from Bacchanalia has all the exuberance of an over-excited pup.

Red wines from Piedmont in Italy are traditionally chewy, beetle-browed and rather challenging, but there is none of that here.

It has a rich, diverse, multi-faceted nose with aromas of bramble fruit, plums, cherries and vanilla as well as liquorice and eucalyptus; it feels exotic, hedonistic and welcoming.

Initially, it seems almost too fruit-driven and frivolous on the nose, but underneath, it's still a grown-up wine and delivers rounded, ripe fruit acidity and a superbly soft and smooth texture with just a hint of grip on the finish.

Moreover, once the overt, slightly baked fruit aromas start to die down (admittedly after being put back in the bottle overnight), more complex and sophisticated secondary aromas of sour cherries, forest floor, toasty oak and prunes start to become more prominent and the acidity and mouthfeel improve further, so this clearly has significant aging potential should you wish to wait.

Food matches should be kept local such as pasta with Bolognese or pomodoro with lots of fresh basil. For meat, slow roast lamb with garlic and rosemary, wild boar or meatloaf wrapped in prosciutto would also work well.

You could, with the right number of guests, serve all three wines with different courses of a meal - the Touraine with a starter, the Barbera with the main and the Spanish white with cheeses - and be impressed by them all.

However, my overall wine of the month for June is the Barbera for its sheer exuberance and end-of-term fun factor.

The Wines

Domaine de La Rablais Sauvignon Blanc Touraine 2010, £8.99 Cambridge Wine Merchants

Raimat 'Abadia' Blanc de Blancs, Costers Del Segre, 2010, £7.75 Noel Young Wines

Villa Giada "Suri" Barbera d'Asti, £9.69 Bacchanalia


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

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

Bacchanalia - http://www.winegod.co.uk/

City Connect - http://www.city-connect.org/

Thursday, 2 June 2011

On Sherry's Image

I recently went to a tasting of Tio Pepe sherries at Cambridge Wine Merchants (see here for details) - the wines were superb, yet sherry still seems to remain under-appreciated.

It is an unwritten law that you may not write about sherry without mentioning Aunties, vicars or the much-vaunted sherry revival - there, I've done it.

Sherry, it seems, has quite a lot of historic baggage these days - a lot to wade past before you actually get to that copita of fresh, tangy fino, salty manzanilla or dark oloroso.

Is any of this historic perception relevant ? Well yes and no.

In an ideal world, people would try sherry with an open mind and decide independently whether they like it or not - in reality, the idea either that it is something sweet to offer to the vicar or that there was due to be a sherry revival but now everyone's drinking Pinot Grigio instead can have a disproportionate influence on people's attitudes.

I have been a quiet fan of sherry of all hues and sweetness levels for many years now, but it does seem as if sherry is now on the verge of some kind of breakthrough in terms both of image and sales.

There are perhaps two key achievements that have brought this about: firstly, the dropping of the cultural emotional baggage around sherry. When Jancis Robinson and Heston Blumenthal recently held an afternoon tea and sherry tasting for 800 people at London's Southbank Centre (see here), it was reported without any historic references by The Times' Lifestyle section.

Secondly, the market for branded, sweetened, so-called "cream" sherries decreases every year with an increasing interest amongst a much younger generation in the drier styles, sales of which Gonzalez Byass MD, Martin Skelton, told me are growing rapidly each year.

Sherry is a curious oenological beast - as a fino, it has almost no primary or secondary aromas, that is to say, none of the fruit-driven appeal that is so popular these days.

Rather, it has only tertiary or "evolved" aromas of yeast and pastry shop and its appeal is all about freshness, acidity and finesse.

For me, fino sherry first really made sense having an al fresco lunch on a company conference in Andalusia - under a cloudless sky, with a lunch of squid ink risotto and white fish, the freshness and elegance was perfect. It matches equally well with other typically rich but flavoursome Spanish foods such as jamon iberico, manchego, olives, salted almonds and olive oil with bread.

Of the four European Latin countries (France, Italy, Spain, Portugal), Spain is the one that, culturally, feels the most vibrant and buzzy - be it El Bulli's topping of the best restaurant in the world lists for a several years, Barcelona's nightlife, rediscovering the vibrancy of Picasso's art and Gaudi's buildings or the Pamplona bull-running.

For open-minded but uninitiated, sherry is best approached initially via a fresh fino with some appropriate food, ideally but not necessarily in Andalusia, before moving on to the more complex and challenging styles.

The arrival in London of a number of Sherry Bars, including my own favourite Dehesa, is also a major marketing coup for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the mere existence of such a thing as a Sherry Bar repositions the drink in the mind of the consumer as something rather more sophisticated than what your Auntie may drink.

Dehesa in Soho, London
The mention of sherry in the phrase also makes it feel new and cool. It emphasises the social aspect of drinking sherry - in a bar, with friends, over shared plates of top-notch sliced meat and cheese. The fact that these bars generally have stylish and chic internal decor does no harm either.

A pattern evolves - drink sherry on holiday in Spain, relive the experience in a Sherry Bar, recreate it at home with a bottle and some tapas from the local deli or supermarket.

Maybe that much-promised, oft-delayed Sherry Revival is about to happen after all - if so, next-door Portugal, also spoken of as being on the cusp of greatness, would do well to take note and learn.


Tio Pepe - http://www.tiopepe.co.uk/

Gonzalez Byass - http://www.gonzalezbyass.com/en/intro.htm

Dehesa - http://www.dehesa.co.uk/