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Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Cooks & Co Oils‏

I was recently sent some samples of a new range of Cooks & Co oils for review, so one evening, we poured a little of each into a separate ramekin, made sure we had plenty of good-quality bread on hand and started tasting.

Bread and oil is one of my favourite combinations for a starter - lightly toasted bread rubbed with garlic, with a grinding of sea salt and doused in olive oil, it is pure, simple gastronomic heaven when matched with the right wine; crunchy, chewy, sweet and salty with a  peppery, garlic finish, all washed down with a tangy fino sherry.

We started with the Olive Oil with Chilli; this has around a dozen red chilis floating in the bottle which give a serious kick on the finish - the chili heat is good, not at all bitter and appears gradually, but it rather overpowers everything else.

As a dipping oil, for me this has rather limited appeal but I have subsequently found it very useful when I need to add a bit of a kick to some cooking, such as an
amatriciana or Arrabbiata.

Next we tried a virgin sesame oil - I often pour toasted sesame oil over rice and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds to accompany a soupy Thai coconut curry and it works perfectly.

This oil, from raw sesame seeds, was good, but I did find myself missing the toastiness.

The walnut-infused oil is made from rapeseed oil with added "walnut extract" - whatever that is - and apparently contains omegas 3 and 6; this was my least favourite oil as it had a distinctly fishy tang.

The hazelnut oil, by contrast, was made from, and tasted pleasantly of, toasted hazelnuts. This was a general favourite and came the closes to having the complexity of a decent olive oil.

The roasted peanut oil was pleasant, whilst the grapeseed oil felt clean and light and is perhaps the most versatile.

Overall, with the exception of the chili oil for its heat and the walnut-infused for its fishiness, these are all oils that I would happily have with bread again as a starter - however, only the hazelnut oil comes close to approaching a good olive oil for complexity and versatility.

Olive Oil with Chilli (RSP: £2.99, 250ml)
Virgin Sesame Oil (RSP: £2.99, 250ml)

Walnut Infused Oil (RSP: £2.85, 250ml)
Hazelnut Oil (RSP: £3.99, 250ml)
Roast Peanut Oil (RSP: £3.39, 250ml)
Grapeseed Oil (RSP: 3.99, 500ml)

Available from Ocado, Budgens, Booths and other specialised retailers; provided for review.


Sunday, 26 February 2012

Wines from Turkey, India, Greece and Georgia at Laithwaites

Earlier this week, I went to a tasting of wines from Turkey, India, Greece and Georgia at Laithwaites' HQ, Vinopolis.

In a game of word association, say "Laithwaites" and I will generally think of ripe, fruity, unchallenging wines that are usually overpriced and oversold - I wrote as much in a post last year On Laithwaites, and the Laithwaites wines I'd had since have done little if anything to change my thinking.

So I decided to head along to this tasting with slightly mixed feelings - it was after work and just round the corner, so easy to get to, would score me a few Fringe Wine points for obscure countries and grape varieties and finally it was a chance either to reconfirm my feelings about Laithwaites or be pleasantly surprised. And besides, it's not every wine retailer CEO that adds a comment to one's blog and I was keen to meet the man to see if the reality lived up to the persona.

In person, Tony Laithwaite is more restrained than a reading of his tasting notes would suggest - he's not all exclamation marks and exuberance, but rather told a few, stock-but-amusing anecdotes about his early days and generally has the gravitas one would expect of a company CEO with a headcount of over 1,000 keen to point out that Laithwaites is still a private company with no outside shareholders.

The tasting fell into three parts, with the first being the tasting of the new wines - to be offered from April onwards - presented by buyer Cat Lomax.

Mantra Sauvignon Blanc 2009 - £8.99, India

Of all the countries represented at this tasting, India is perhaps the most interesting precisely because it has almost no modern wine history whatsoever; viticulture was originally introduced to India by the ancient Persians, but India's wine-making traditions all but died out in the 20th century due to a combination of the after-effects of phylloxera, independence and changes in religious and public opinion.

Mostly tropical, India is not a natural wine-making country; however, as in Greece, the effects of altitude can provide viticultural potential and the grapes for this wine are grown on a plateau just outside Mumbai.

Pale gold in the glass, on the nose this wine shows green capsicum, mixed spices and touch of green chilli bitterness.

On the palate, there is rounded, mouthfilling acidity and a minerally finish.

Overall, surprisingly well-made and balanced - if a little atypical.

Thema Assyrtiko Sauvignon Blanc 2011 - £11.49, Greece

In the news for all the wrong reasons at the moment, Greece is perhaps the most mainstream of all the countries represented at this tasting. A blend of 60% Assyrtiko and 40% Sauvignon, the grapes are grown at altitude in northern Greece cooled by sea breezes.

Pale in the glass, it has a more typically aromatic and herbaceous Sauvignon nose, with stone fruit, crisp rounded acidity and good minerality, especially on the finish.

A good and well-made wine, but not one I'd pay almost £12 for - to say that Greek wines are not generally cheap is to acknowledge that the country offers poor value-for-money and perhaps they would be better not competing at this level, but like Austria, to focus on the higher end of the market where lack of economies of scale is not an issue.

Either that or wait a year or so and Greece may well find itself outside the Euro and with a Drachma currency again that it is able to devalue by 50% to stimulate exports, at which point this wine could sell more easily for the £6 - £8 price that it is worth.

Vinart Kalecik Karasi Syrah 2010 - £10.99, Turkey

The main grape in this wine is the native Turkish Kalecik Karasi, with some Syrah in the blend; the wine shows elderberry and plum fruit, with dark spice, pencil shavings and and inky texture and good tannins.

Tasted blind, this could be a Rhône Syrah - it is the classiest and most interesting wine here and also represents good value at the price. I am not surprised to learn it has various (if unspecified) Gold Medals.

Tbilvino Saperavi 2010 - Georgia, £8.99

I have had Saperavi on a few occasions before when I have been in Ukraine and recall it as fruity and grippy, but generally lacking in mouthfeel.

From the sub-tropical former Soviet Republic of Georgia, this example of the country's flagship grape shows cassis, vanilla, spice and liquorice on the nose. On the palate it is smooth and rounded, a ripe crowd-pleaser, finishing grippy and spicy.

Overall, despite a promising start, the palate and finish somehow don't quite live up to expectations. But that's just my opinion - Cellar Fella rather liked it, much preferring it to the Turkish wine.

Recommended Wine

All the wines here were surprisingly well-made, interesting / unusual and certainly above average for Laithwaites. Not all were great or particularly good value, but I would certainly consider buying the Vinart Kalecik Karasi Syrah 2010.

After the presentation of these new wines, there was a chance to try some others from Laithwaites' range (which will form a separate review later) and mix with the other bloggers there who will doubtless post their own thoughts in due course, and included @BethanWallace @thirstforwine @bigpinots @Sophie_McLean @winechick_uk @HenryGJeffreys and @simonburnton.

For more on this event, see Dave Lowe's review and Robert McIntosh's review.

Afterwards, @HenryGJeffreys commented via Twitter that he thought the Rhône-esque Turkish wine was the best of the evening, but that it was somehow not distinctively "Turkish" enough, which led us to a consideration of typicity in this fascinating article from new JancisRobinson.com writer, Alex Hunt MW - http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/a20120220.html

Laithwaites - http://www.laithwaites.co.uk/
Vinopolis - http://www.vinopolis.co.uk/

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Bodegas Beronia Rioja Reserva 2006

This Bodegas Beronia Rioja Reserva 2006 is made by Gonzalez Byass and spends 18 months in oak, with  a further 4 years' bottle age. It is made from mainly Tempranillo, but with a little Graciano and Mazuelo added in.

Mazuelo is a synonym for Cariñena / Carignan - a warm-climate, work horse grape occasionally capable of greatness when made from old vines - whilst Graciano is native to Spain, grown mainly in Rioja and whilst usually blended is occasionally produced as a varietal wine.

Rioja is typically aged in American oak which gives more intense aromas of vanilla (always a clue in blind tastings), but this wine undergoes ageing in a mixture of French and American oaks.

Poured straight from the bottle (via a decanter) it is dark purple in the glass with an aged, brick-red hue around the rim.

On the nose, there are Pinot-esque aromas of mushroomy, truffley undergrowth, dark spice, and sour cherry, whilst the palate shows ripe black and red cherry fruit and vanilla spice with an aged mellow harmoniousness, soft tannins, a smooth texture and a gently grippy finish.

With 14% alcohol, it feels like a big wine, but it is also ripe, fruity and easy-drinking with enough complexity and age to rise above the everyday.

On re-sampling a day later, the texture has filled out on the palate and it feels more rounded overall - there is still plenty of ripe black cherry fruit and truffley, Pinot undergrowth on the nose, but the palate and finish are now more perfumed and overall it feels more harmonious.

Match the ripe sweetness of this wine with roast lamb or - for the vegetarians - a roasted cherry tomato and goat's cheese tart with caramelised red onions.

£12.99 from Ocado, it has an IWSC Silver Medal; provided for review.

The reverse Wine Snob has this to say: http://www.reversewinesnob.com/2011/11/bodegas-beronia-rioja-reserva-2006.html


Gonzalez Byass - http://www.gonzalezbyass.com/
Ocado - http://www.ocado.com/

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Jean-Luc Colombo, Les Forots, Côtes du Rhône Syrah, 2009

Spent some bank - I got a high powered jumbo
Rolled up a wooly and I watched Colombo

- Beastie Boys, The New Style
In Beastie Boys' The New Style, "Colombo" is a reference to the US detective show starring the late Peter Falk as the eponymous crumpled-but-incisive detective.

The Colombo that we have here is Jean-Luc Colombo of the Rhône - who is no relation to either the "lootenant", Jean-Luc Picard of Star Trek or Beastie Boys, but somehow these are all linked in my mind by Pavlovian-esque free association.

Wine-maker Jean-Luc Columbo is something of controversial moderniser in France's Rhône valley - the spiritual home of Syrah - who favours modern techniques and less tannic grip than some.

I previously reviewed a JLC Syrah from the Rhône, the Collines Rhodaniennes 2009, in my September Wine of The Month column and, very impressed by its dense, inky texture firm, muscular tannic grip and acidity, was keen to see what this one would be like.

On first opening, this wine has an intense and complex nose of leather, Pinot-esque mushroomy, peaty earthiness, truffles, dark spices, elderberry and blueberry fruit, tarriness, cigar box and pencil shavings.

It's a heady and hedonistic blend and on the palate, it seems initially to be all about the aromas.

By the following day, the nose has become much less intense with aromas of blueberries, elderberries, spice and liquorice remaining and a more rounded-feeling palate with black cherries, soft tannins and some gentle grip on the finish. The texture is inky but smooth and it is a relatively easy drinker.

By day three, the nose has settled down into dark fruit and berries, vanilla spice, liquorice and pencil shavings and the acidity on the palate has rounded out further into a soft-yet-mouthfilling almost custardy texture with some gentle grip on the finish and it feels like a more accomplished wine overall.

£12.49 from Booze Bargains (SL4), DK Vintners (RH14), Le Parc Delicatessen (N16), Wimbledon Wine Cellars, Laytons Wine Merchants (N1), Partridges of Sloane Street (WC2), Rhythm & Booze; provided for review.

Match with roast lamb or darker game in a spiced sauce.


Jean-Luc Colombo - http://www.vinscolombo.fr/uk/

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Louis Jadot Marsannay Blanc 2008, Burgundy

This Louis Jadot Marsannay Blanc 2008 is a step up from the basic Louis Jadot Bourgogne 2009 I reviewed recently.

Served at cellar temperature, I decanted it around 30 minutes before our meal and reviewed it using two different glasses - a Royal Doulton and a Chateau Baccarat Oenology (for more on the glass review, see here).

Straw-coloured in the glass, initially the nose is fairly restrained, mainly with aromas of oakiness - "stale washing", as a colleague once observed at a tasting.

On the palate, the oak is again prominent in layers, but it does not feel completely harmonious just yet, but starts to come together much more after around an hour or so.

Poured back into the bottle and re-sealed, we try it again the following day and this time everything is much more harmonious. The nose is still relatively muted, but the "washing" aromas have gone.

The palate is leesy and savoury, with ripe, lemony-pineapple acidity, some lime-zest sharpness and hints of sweet nutmeg spice. There is also some toastiness on the mid-palate and finish which is persistent and savoury.

Overall, it feels well-made with a good depth of flavour and will match well with autumnal food such as slow-roasted chicken, lighter game, or pasta with wild mushrooms in a creamy sauce.

The price takes it well into "special occasion" territory and to get the best out of it requires quite a bit of time in the decanter and / or a couple more years' cellaring.

£16.75 from Rhythm & Booze, slurp.co.uk, Islington Wine, Well Wines, Bacchus et al., Booze Bargains, Matthew Clark; provided for review.


Louis Jadot - http://www.louisjadot.com/en/index.php
Slurp - www.slurp.co.uk

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Château Baccarat - Oenology Range Glasses (and a Bordeaux)

Wine-tasting is much more a subjective Art than a definitive Science, but I have a natural inclination to be methodical about these things so when Chateau Baccarat offered me the short-term loan of a pair of their new "Oenology Range" glasses, I saw an opportunity to test out a theory on how much influence the wine glass itself can have on the tasting experience.

My tasting glass collection is fairly limited - a couple of Riedel Shirazes, a set of Bormioli Roccos and some basic flutes for fizz. And much as I like the Riedel glasses, I have always been a little sceptical of their claim that you need completely separate glasses for every grape variety or style of port - in any case, I kept breaking the Sauvignon Blanc glasses when washing them up.
For a proper scientific experiment, I decided that I would need four different glasses and a wine that 1) I already knew 2) was of sufficiently high quality for any subtle distinctions to be apparent and 3) shows a decent amount of aromas on the nose.

For the glasses, I used my usual Riedel Shiraz, Bormioli Rocco and added an ISO tasting glass. The wine was a bottle of the excellent Rousseau de Sipian 2005 from Cambridge Wine Merchants (reviewed earlier here).

I first tried the wine in mid-2010 and was so impressed with it that I bought a couple of cases to lay down - at the time it needed quite a bit of aeration to open up and for the chewy tannins to soften.

Bearing this in mind, I opened up the bottle in the morning to let the sulphites start evaporating but did not decant until around 10 minutes before the tasting.

Swirling the wine in the decanter, there are concentrated aromas of blackcurrant, hints of liquorice and an earthy tarriness.

I filled each glass up to about the widest part, then started by simply sniffing, noting down observations. I followed this with a swirl and a sniff of each and again made notes. I sniffed the wines in the following order: ISO, Riedel, Baccarat, Bormioli Rocco then tried different orders.

Finally, I roped in Mrs CWB to have a go and give me her impressions.

Amidst all this, I also took a few sips as well.

And after an hour of sniffing, swirling, sipping, scribbling notes, considering and trying to discern subtle differences, I finally came to the conclusion that there is no significant, consistently noticeable difference between any of these glasses in terms of the intensity of the aromas on the nose or the perception of the wine on the palate.

They are all an appropriate shape for wine assessment - bulbously tulip-shaped to a greater or lesser extent with a wider base and narrower aperture to concentrate and funnel the aromas - and the differences between them (the ISO is the smallest, the BR the widest) are less influential than their similarities.

The Baccarat glass has a number of theoretical, drawing-board advantages over the other glasses that should make it the most effective tasting glass - it is flat-bottomed and wide, almost like a decanter, with a very narrow aperture - but in practice, in this experiment at least, that did not seem to translate into superior performance.

At this point, dinner was ready and we decided to move on to an assessment of the glasses as household objects for drinking from.

The ISO glass - ideal for use at trade tastings where small quantities are involved and notes need to be taken - was the least convenient for drinking wine with dinner. It is easy to swirl and light for quick sniffing, but the aperture is too small to get a nose-full of aromas when drinking.

The Bormioli Rocco - my usual glass of choice for assessing and drinking at home - in this company, felt like the least elegant; squat, fat and with thicker glass. Its width makes it quite heavy and cumbersome to swirl, certainly with any elegance.

The Riedel is shaped like a larger, more refined version of the ISO - less bulbous, it is tall, simple and elegant and its proportions all feel right. It is the easiest to swirl as it is the least wide as well as the tallest.

The Baccarat is the most visually arresting of all the glasses and looks beautiful; it has the thinnest glass at the aperture, giving it a more sophisticated feel. It is not as easy a swirler as the Riedel given its flat-bottomed width and weight.

Around this point, it occurred to me that the Baccarat glasses are not really in competition with my other tasting glasses - yes they are designed for tasting and appreciating wine, but they are really very elegant dinner glasses and should be compared against other elegant dinner glasses.

It put this theory to the test a few days later when I reviewed a Louis Jadot Marsannay 2008 (see here for the full review). An oaked white Burgundy, it is not the most aromatic of wines and even though I decanted for about half an hour before the meal, it needs significant further aeration before the oakiness starts to feel harmonious and the fruit aromas become more prominent.

Compared side-by-side with a with a Royal Doulton crystal glass - the kind of elegant glass you might use at a dinner party (see image, right) but which is not designed for wine-tasting - the difference is quite remarkable; on the nose the aromas from the Royal Doulton are significantly and consistently less intense than from the Baccarat.

Again, neither glass is an easy swirler - the Royal Doulton is not at all bulbous - but it occurs to me that these glasses are designed for drinking in the kind of company where it is not polite to swirl and sniff.

As to post-dinner practicality, whilst I suspect that most people who buy a set of Baccarat glasses will probably have "people" to do their washing up, it is surprisingly easy to wash up, having a wide enough aperture and being not too deep.

The Bormioli Rocco is big, fat and wide and therefore easy to wash up, the ISO is shallow and therefore easy, whilst the Riedel is the hardest - being narrow and deep - and also made from thinner glass is therefore the most likely to get broken by clumsy hands.

Finally, the wine itself: on the nose the Rousseau de Sipian shows (from all glasses) blackcurranty fruit, earthy tarriness and a touch of mintiness.

As I have noted in a post on the wrong type of air, even with over six years' bottle age, it still develops according to another set of rules after opening, with much greater aromas noticeable after being opened for an hour or so.

On the palate, it shows elderberry fruit, black cherries and some mintiness with prominent, linear acidity which cuts through a roast beef dinner perfectly; it feels mouthfilling with the chewy tannins I remember from the last time considerably softened.

It now feels much more integrated and is starting to show the first signs of some aged characteristics - the intensity is fading and is replaced by a harmonious mellowness - rather like the early wrinkles and salt-and-pepper hair of a dashingly handsome Hollywood star entering middle age.

The Chateau Baccarat glasses are £64 for a single glass, £125 for a pair or £360 for six; the range also includes a tumbler and decanter, all pictured above. They were provided to me on short-term loan.


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

Friday, 17 February 2012

Château David 2010, Bordeaux Superieur - Sainsbury's

Another Thursday, another Wine Club tasting at work (see here for the last one). On this occasion, we reviewed a Bordeaux Superieur from Chateau David available from Sainsbury's.

The wine, a blend of 60% Merlot and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, sources fruit mainly from the right-bank region of Fronsac and was selected by the Association of Wine Educators for the Good Food Would Choose Bordeaux campaign as an example of an easily-available, mid-range, typical Bordeaux wine.

Most Bordeaux is a blend of Merlot for aromas and Cabernet Sauvignon for tannins and texture so it’s perhaps no surprise that, at the lower end of the price scale, the blends tend to be Merlot-dominated for lots of fruit and easy early drinking.

On opening, I poured this into a jug and gave it a few swirls; on the nose, it shows plentiful aromas of ripe bramble fruit and dark cherries – “summer pudding” as one colleague observed. There is also a touch of spice, sweet vanilla, coffee and some leatheriness.

Overall it smells very perfumed and ripe in more of a warm-climate, New-World sort of way than I would expect from a traditional Bordeaux.

On the palate, it is somewhere between pleasant enough and unimpressive; there is some juiciness and whilst the texture is soft and it is easy to glug, it feels unsubstantial with no development - don't expect a food wine with good, prominent acidity and the texture to stand up to meaty roasts.

The finish is perfumey, slightly hot and alcoholic but in no way unpleasant, so overall there's nothing to be offended by here and plenty to like if easy-drinking and lots of aromas on the nose are your thing. It also shows at its best straight from the bottle and does not need any aeration to open up, again making it a good "supermarket choice" wine.

The "Bordeaux Superieur" tag means it has a touch more ripeness than a basic AC Bordeaux - however, for me, this is a case of more is less and I'd much prefer a lower alcohol level with more emphasis on structural matters, but for the price it's fair enough.

£6.49 from Sainsbury's; provided for review.

In his review for the Daily Mail online, Olly Smith describes this wine as "tightly packed with a sense of austerity" - I'm not really sure I recognise any of those attributes in it, but maybe that's bottle variation for you. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/moslive/article-2088389/OLLY-SMITH-If-love-let-breathe.html

Fellow Cambridge wine blogger Vinoremus reviews it here, describing it as a "simple, well made everyday drinking wine".

Laura Clay (http://www.birminghamimbibers.co.uk/), an accredited Bordeaux tutor suggests this is affordable, quaffable and pronounceable and that its USP is that it's an entry-level Bordeaux that can open the doors to other wines of the region. For a food match, she suggests shepherd's pie as an everyday food for an everyday wine.

The GFWCB website says "Good fruit, note of spice, decent depth of flavour, savoury. Good with food". I'd agree with the first part of that, but this is not a food wine at all; low in acidity and tannins, to me this is a quaffer. http://www.goodfoodwouldchoosebordeaux.co.uk/wine_guide_view.asp?info=237

Other related articles
Chateau La Tulipe de la Garde, 2009, Bordeaux Superieur - Sainsbury's‏
Ch La Claymore Lussac St Emilion, 2007 - Joseph Barnes Wines
Chateau Borjaud 2007 Premieres Cotes de Blaye - Wine Society


Good Food Would Choose Bordeaux - http://www.goodfoodwouldchoosebordeaux.co.uk/index.asp
Bordeaux - www.bordeaux.com
Sainsbury's - http://www.sainsburys.co.uk/sol/index.jsp

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Louis Jadot Bourgogne Chardonnay, 2009

Golden yellow in the glass, on first opening, this Louis Jadot Bourgogne Chardonnay is neutral and lemony, but very drinkable.

With some aeration, it develops into something more expressive - there are hints of ripe tropical fruit on the nose, a touch of sweet floral spice and some toasty yeastiness.

The palate is mouthfilling with a creamy texture, there is sweet tropical pineapple acidity, a leesy savouriness and touches of toasty spiciness.

The finish shows a persistent leesiness and with 13% alcohol and limited oak, it is ripe enough to be an easy drinker, but also has the body, acidity and versatility to match with a range of foods from creamy pasta to chicken and hard yellow cheeses.

The wine is made from a blend grapes mainly from the Côte d'Or and the Mâconnais; fermentation is in a mixture of stainless steel (for freshness) and oak (for body and complexity).

At a couple of pounds over a tenner, it is priced as a bit more than just an everyday wine, but it is well-made and well-balanced, and given that this is Burgundy, that feels about right.

Ideally, it should probably spend at least half an hour in the decanter before serving - and it will age for a good few more years yet.

£12.49 from Ashew Wines, Cambridge Wine Merchants, Dave's Discount Store, Eynsham Cellars, Eagle Wines, Partridges of Sloane Street, Rhythm & Booze, Wine Rack; provided for review.


Louis Jadot - http://www.louisjadot.com/en/index.php
Cambridge Wine Merchants - http://www.cambridgewine.com/

Monday, 6 February 2012

Veuve Monnier NV, Champagne - The Co-op

This Veuve Monnier Champagne (currently on half-price offer at The Co-op) is made by winemaker Dominique Pichart from a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

On first pouring it foams enthusiastically with a fine mousse; the nose shows Pinot-esque aromas with some toastiness and yeasty brioche.

The palate has sweet apple and pear fruit, more toastiness and zippy acidity; there is also a leesy depth of flavour, minerality and a pleasantly more-ish sharpness.

It feels ripe, well-structured and mouthfilling with a persistent and well-balanced finish.

Elegant and characterful, this will match well with salmon in a creamy sauce.

Fizz in general - and Champagne in particular - is somewhat in its own price bracket compared to still wines; at full price this is £26, but on offer at £13 from February 1 - 14 (just in time for Valentine's day) at The Co-op it represents good value for a Champagne; provided for review.


The Co-op - http://www.co-operative.coop/food/food-and-drink/drink/Wine/

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Gonzalez Byass Finca Constancia 2009 VdlT Castilla

This Gonzalez Byass Finca Constancia from the Castilla region of Spain is made from an unspecified blend of Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and  Graciano.

Perhaps the most interesting of these is the lattermost which is native to Spain and grown mainly in Rioja where it is often blended, but occasionally produced as a varietal wine. Its key features are a preference for hot, arid climates, good aromatics, long aging potential and a multitude of synonyms.

In the glass, the wine is dark and inky, whilst on the nose there is a rich, heady blend of dark berry and prune fruit, blackcurrant, liquorice and spice.

The palate shows the aromas and texture of bitter dark chocolate, elderberry fruit and a touch of cool mintiness.

It is mouthfillingly dense and smooth with good, rounded acidity and just a touch of grip on the finish.

Sampled over a number of days, the dark-fruit aromas become more prominent on the nose and finish with time and aeration, suggesting this will age for several more years.

The only slight downside is that the tannins feel slightly drying on the finish, but it would be churlish to let this spoil your enjoyment of this big wine.

It has a number of awards (from various vintages) - mainly bronzes and commendations. Match with roast lamb with rosemary and garlic.

£9.99 from Ocado, Rhythm & Booze, General Wine Company and independents; provided for review.


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

Friday, 3 February 2012

Gonzalez Byass Altozano Verdejo Sauvignon Blanc, VdlT Castilla, 2010

This Gonzalez Byass Altozano Verdejo Sauvignon Blanc from Spain's inland Castilla region was something of a first for me as I have no record of ever having had Verdejo before.

And with no entry for the grape in my trusty Oz Clarke Pocket Wine Book of a few years ago, I checked on Wikipedia to find that Verdejo wines are aromatic, often soft and full-bodied.

I reviewed the wine with a couple of colleagues who had enjoyed the tasting I presented earlier in the week and were keen to learn a bit more about wine in general - I selected this one as hopefully a good "introduction to tasting" wine .

I started by putting the wine in our company wine fridge at (doesn't every company have one ?) at the beginning of the day, with the result that when serving several hours later, it was at just the right temperature (and several degrees warmer than I usually serve whites at home) - the fridge notwithstanding, there are no company decanters, so on opening, I poured it into a broad-bottomed water jug as the next best bet.

Straw-coloured in the glass, on first opening the nose is floral with the yeasty toastiness of thick skinned grapes. There is some sweet spiciness whilst the fruit aromas are of ripe peaches, apricots and pineapple.

On the palate, there is more ripe, tropical fruit, with some mid-palate sweetness of melon, a fresh, rounded acidity and more toastiness. It feels mouthfilling and there is a minerality on the finish that increases with aeration.

Overall, it feels very well made and balanced in an easy-drinking, more-ish and crowd-pleasing way, as befits a wine in this price bracket; you can't really ask for much more.

The different characteristics of the two grapes are well integrated even if distinct at times; with more aeration, the Sauvignon characteristics become more prominent - especially the minerality on the finish - but the transition from the softness of the Verdejo to the minerality of the Sauvignon is seamless, whilst a curiously cool mintiness also develops on the palate.

Medium-bodied and ripe with fresh acidity, this would match well with roast chicken, salmon or hard yellow cheeses.

It also proved popular with my colleagues who had started by saying "Yes, we like this" but after an hour or so of swirling, sniffing and gentle coaching found themselves using words like minerality, balanced and botrytis-like.

£7.49 from Ocado, Rhythm & Booze, Villeneuve Wines, drinkshop.com and independents; provided for review.


Gonzalez Byass - http://gonzalezbyass.com/en/intro.htm
Ocado - http://www.ocado.co.uk/

Thursday, 2 February 2012

A Wine Tasting at Work With Cambridge Wine Merchants

Earlier this week, I held a wine tasting for colleagues at work.
I have learnt from previous experience not to challenge people too much initially or take them too far beyond their comfort zone, so I generally opted for sub-£10, well-made crowd-pleasers that would show well straight out of the bottle - with the odd curve-ball thrown in for fun, too.

I sourced the wines from Cambridge Wine Merchants from wines I have tried previously and which I confidently expected to be appreciated by a general audience, presenting each one blind initially and inviting people to hazard a guess at grape variety, country and price.

We started with an appropriately Valentine-esque pink sparkler that I reviewed in my February Wine of The Month column, an Angas Rose Brut BV which once again impressed with its good red-berry fruit, rounded acidity and mouthfilling leesiness from fermentation in bottle - and all for under a tenner.
Next up was one of my wild cards - a Barbadillo Manzanilla; sherry is one of my favorite dry white wines and the growth of sherry bars in London suggests the much-heralded revival might even be underway. Crisp, elegant and balanced with a salty, tertiary pungency from the flor, this was immediately recognised by many and even positively received by a few.

The simple food that I had arranged for the tasting - salami, cheese, bread and olive oil - was a perfect match for this wine.

The last white was a versatile Alpha Zeta Garganega - almost no-one picked the country, let alone the grape variety but it seemed to be quietly appreciated over time.

From previous experience, I know that this particular wine can be relatively neutral straight out of the bottle and its tropical, flinty, spicy aromas and honeyed texture can take a while to develop with air. All of which perhaps explains why the appreciation was more murmured than enthusiastic.

Food matches for this wine would be pasta with a creamy sauce or roast pork.

By contrast, the first red, one of CWM's best-sellers, was a real crowd-pleaser and proved very popular - the Mont Rocher Old Vines Carignan has a nose of cherries, dark berries and liquorice with a soft, smooth texture and a balanced finish.

With its rounded acidity and berry aromas, it matched very well with the salami.
For the next red, I chose something similar but a real step-up in terms of quality and interest - a Tahi 2006 from Domaine Treloar.

I got to meet banker-turned-winemaker Jonathan Hesford at a Game and Wine Dinner organised last year by Cambridge Wine Merchants and held at the St John's Chop House, so it was a real pleasure to revisit one of his wines.

Inky in the glass, it has a complex, gamey nose of woodsy forest floor and truffles; the palate is mouthfilling with a dense, inky texture and some firm grip on the finish and it really is quite superb.

I had opted for the oldest vintage available as the 2009 Tahi I had tried previously needed a lot of aeration to open up fully; however, even with six years' bottle age, it still felt a little closed-up on the palate initially with many people saying they felt it was disappointing - which I take to mean that it needed further aeration.

Nobody guessed this as a Syrah-blend from France and people generally struggled to identify it - I did hear Pinot Noir mentioned and whether this was a reference to its gamey nose or simple a random shout-out I do not know.

Food matches are perhaps hardest with this wine due to its prominent aromas, but hare would suit perfectly.

For the final wine I had originally thought of a sweet sherry, but when stocks proved hard to find (it being shortly after Christmas), I took Mill Road Manager Matt Boucher's advice and plumped for a Ramos Pinto 10-year-old tawny port.

I was impressed at how many people spotted this not only as a port, but specifically as a tawny, and it was perhaps the most enthusiastically received wine of the evening.

A pale brick red in the glass, it showed cherry fruit, a prominent eucalyptus mintiness (or "cough syrup" as people suggested), balanced by a fresh acidity and an exceptionally well-balanced mellowness.

Recommended Wine

For me, the Domaine Treloar Tahi was a clear winner from the table wines, if not the best wine overall. However, the Ramos Pinto 10yo tawny port was also excellent.

As noted above, the wines were generally sub-£10; however the Tahi and Port were both around £18 - and absolutely worth it.


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

Jamie Goode's review of the Tahi, from which the image is also taken (scroll down to April 12th) - http://www.wineanorak.com/blog/2008_04_01_archive.html