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Friday, 29 June 2012

Champagne Tasting at Alimentum

Last week, I found myself at a Champagne tasting at Alimentum with Nick Adams MW after winning a place for knowing the number of bubbles in a bottle of Champagne (49 million, apparently).

The format of the evening was three flights of fizz with a talk from Nick, followed by dinner - and more fizz.

We started on arrival with not a Champagne but a Spumante Perle D'Oro NV from Portinari in Soave. Crisp and toasty, it showed sweet apple and pear fruit, a fine mousse and a yeasty, leesy finish - a good start.

The tasting itself was divided into three flights which Nick Adams talked through. Aimed at a general audience with no background knowledge, he talked through the basics of how Champagne is made from the chalky soils to the grape varieties and the method, peppering his talk with wry observations and anecdotes.

Flight 1 - Quality

The theme of the first flight was increasing quality: the first wine was a light, uncomplicated, primary Prosecco. A Prosecco Superiore di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Brut, Rocco NV it showed hints of pear fruit and pear skin on the nose, with pear fruit and sherbert on the palate and a touch of persistence on the finish.

Next was a pair of wines from Roederer - a Quartet Brut NV from Anderson Valley in California and a Louis Roederer Brut Premier Champagne.

The New World wine was well-made but for me had rather too much yee-ha - an expressive nose of sour hay or sharp cider, brioche and Pinot-esque fruitiness. On the palate, there is crisp apple fruit, a leesy, fruity funkiness with a fine mousse and a persistent finish.

By contrast, the French wine, which showed much of the same House Style, was far more elegant and restrained, with greater subtlety and balance and a longer finish and for me was much the better wine.

It was like comparing a fake chateau in Beverly Hills with the real thing in Reims - or Pamela Anderson with Catherine Deneuve.

Flight 2 - Grape Variety

The second flight show-cased the different grape varieties used in Champagne: a 100% Chardonnay from Pierre Gimmonet Cuis 1er Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut NV had a light, slightly musky nose with notes of orchard fruits. On the palate, there is fresh, crisp Granny Smith apple, sweet pear and yeasty brioche with a creamy texture. Linear and slightly mono-dimensional, it was nonetheless extremely elegant.

A Drappier Carte Blanche Brut NV from 90% Pinot Noir had a funkier, fruiter nose with pear skin aromas. With more body on the palate, it felt rounded and mouthfilling with sweet pear fruit and a persistent, slightly grippy finish.

Finally in this flight, a Laurent-Perrier Cuvee Rose Brut NV from 100% Pinot Noir with colour from skin contact only had lots of red fruit on the nose and a funky farmyardiness. 
With ripe, rounded fruit on the palate, more funky aromas and a food-friendly weightiness, it has a persistent finish.

Flight 3 - NV and Vintage

The final flight was just two wines from Bollinger - non-vintage and vintage. The first, a Special Cuvee Brut NV, was 60% Pinot Noir with a funky, fruity Pinot-esque nose, aromas of pear skins and sharp, cidery notes.

On the palate, it was rounded and mouthfilling with yeasty brioche, green apples and soft red fruit. Great complexity and depth and a long, persistent finish.

The best wine of the evening so far.

However, the real show-stopper was the final wine, La Grande Annee 2002; aged 100% in oak for the first fermentation, it spends 6 years on the lees and comes from 71% Grand Cru vineyards and 29% Premier Cru.

Concentrated, intense and powerful, it was really quite amazing, utterly superb and despite its decade's age, still quite youthful.


Over dinner, chatting with fellow guests, I came to several conclusions about the event:

- the presentation had been very traditional and structured; Nick had stood up and given a (very informative and entertaining) talk, taking few questions

- the wines had been not just of very good quality but were very well-served, at just the right temperature

- more than this, they were extremely well-chosen, both as examples of a particular style, but also within the overall structure of the talk; the New World wine tasted exactly like the more fruit-forward, less elegant, less expensive wine that it was and the contrast between the two was excellently made. The Grande Annee not only was superb, but even more clearly so in the way we had built up to it via lesser wines.

So, for me, the quality of Nick's talk, informative and entertaining as it was, was the least of what made it a great evening - the wines ranged from the very good to the totally superb, but this was still not the clincher. It was the structure of the tasting and the quality of thought that went into the selection that I will remember; and I am minded to think that that is what a presentation by an MW brings.

After the tasting, we enjoyed a dinner by Alimentum chef patron Mark Poynton matched to various fizzes.

Other related articles
Champagne Dinner at Alimentum
Gosset Champagne Dinner at Hotel du Vin

Alimentum - http://restaurantalimentum.co.uk/
Nick Adams - http://www.firstglasswineservices.co.uk/

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Tour de Belfort: The Challenge‏ (and an offer)

The other week, I met Muriel Lismonde who, with her family, runs Tour de Belfort, a start-up winery in Cahors.

The Background

The project started when Muriel's father sold the Paris-based family business and used the proceeds to buy a ruin and some land in the village of Quercy in South West France.

I get the sense this must have felt like "another of Dad's projects" for the family, but with the funds from the sale of a successful business, it turned out to be on a much grander scale than the usual tinkering in his garden shed.

And with the family roped in to help with everything from the restoration of the buildings and the creation of a brand new vineyard and winery, to the selling of the wine directly, there is something of the cult of the amateur about it all.

Part Grand Designs, part The Good Life, the project seems to have gained a life of its own, moved along by the force of Dad's vision and drive.

Someone I met at a networking lunch the other week told me that he and his wife approached decision-making according to Harry Secombe's philosophy - I decide all the important stuff like should be in Europe, what our exchange rate policy should be or should we go to war with Russia, whilst she sorts out the minor details like what shirt I'll wear and what to have for dinner.

I rather fancy that Lismonde Père is a little like this - deciding on what vines to plant, designing the labels and determining whether the wine should be bio-dynamic, organic or natural and leaving minor matters, such as the actual selling of the finished product, to family members.

The Challenge

As a result of all this, Muriel spends much of her time travelling around trying to sell the wine directly at shows and exhibitions, such as the Three Wine Men, as they have found it so far impossible to break into the UK market.

Selling an unknown wine from a brand-new vineyard from a backwater region of France is no easy task under any circumstances.

However, wines from Cahors and the French south west in general have a reputation for being spicy, a bit rustic and mostly red, so to sell a mixture of reds, whites and rosés that are organic, well-made and balanced is all the more challenging.

Add in a price tag in double figures, a screw-cap closure and a distinctive but rather cheap-looking label and it is almost as if they are making life deliberately difficult for themselves.

And yet, having tried the wines, I have been very impressed; the result of completely organic approach and a strict attention to detail is an extremely well-made and balanced output with great depth of flavour. Not only is the vineyard free of pesticides and herbicides, the winery is almost clinically clean reducing the need for any additives in the wine - just some neutral, organic cultured yeasts and very limited quantities of sulphites to preserve the wine in bottle.

The wines are also low in alcohol, making them very food friendly, but have enough southern warmth to be welcoming and approachable.

As Muriel explained to me the problems in getting UK distribution, it struck me that there is something of a Catch-22 at play here; what would secure distribution is a definite interest, but there cannot be any interest if the wine is not widely available.

The family decided to sell directly via their website, but desperately need to raise their profile generally - and there are only so many hours in the day for everything.

The Offer

After meeting Muriel and hearing her story, I felt that I wanted to do more than just try the wines and write-up the usual tasting note and resolved to get involved in helping bring this wine to the broader audience I think it deserves.

Having agreed a deal with Muriel to cover my time, I negotiated a discount for readers of this blog: look on the Tour de Belfort website and you'll see the following prices:

- Red (09), White and Rosé: £60 for 6 (delivery extra) / £120 for 12 (delivery included)
- Red 2010: £63 for 6 (delivery extra) / £126 for 12 (delivery included)

However, Muriel is prepared to sell her wines at £60 for a case of 6 (delivery included) or £110 for a case of 12 (delivery included), to anyone who contacts her directly and mentions this blog.

Now, I realise I have staked my reputation with two sets of people - firstly with Muriel, since no-one may actually take up this offer and secondly with anyone who does buy the wine, and could potentially be disappointed at my recommendation.

If I'm honest, my greatest fear is that no-one will take up the offer - I'm sufficiently confident in the quality of these wines to believe that people are unlikely to be disappointed by them.

I also think that they are priced more than fairly and that it would easily be possible to spend more money on something less good. (For more detailed reviews of the wines, see here for the red, white and rosé).

So the real issue then is will the thousands of people who visit this blog every week - those in the UK at least - actually do more than just read my wafflings and actually take my advice to buy this well-made, organic, almost natural wine at a tenner a bottle.

I can't give any satisfaction guarantees or money-back promises like the big internet players do; I won't be adding in a free bottle of something "sumptuous" that "should sell for twice the price", or even one of those rabbit corkscrews if you order right now.

However, I am staking my reputation on this. And remember this wine is made by a family outfit with low overheads and no marketing budget, so you are essentially buying it at the producer's direct cost plus with no middle man - and then with a discount.
And if you need more than just my recommendation, then here's what a few other wine people have to say:

Isabelle Legeron MW - @MurielLismonde is one of the loveliest people I know

Three Wine Men - We're real fans of @MurielLismonde's wines

So, all that remains then is for you to try the wine and let me know what you think of it. And tell all your friends about it, too. And your family, long-lost relatives, dinner party guests, people on the bus, random strangers ... what are you waiting for ?

To contact Muriel, call her on 01625 449 031 or 07881 453 100 or email her on muriel@tour-de-belfort.com - just mention this blog to get the discount.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Joseph Barnes Wines at Cambridge Food and Wine Society

The Languedoc, according Charles Hardcastle of Joseph Barnes Wines, is a rustic, peasanty land with an ancient and bloody history - a land of impenetrable dialects, heresy and repression.

The strange, earthy character of the region is also reflected in the wines, which tend towards an expressively rustic, spicy charm.

Add to this Charles' natural showmanship and charisma, a touch of biodynamic mysticism, some meteors and space dust and it was a highly entertaining evening at the Cambridge Food and Wine Society.

The Languedoc was historically the source of Europe's wine lake - gallons of cheap, unpleasant plonk dumped on the market. But quality has been improving for as long as I can remember and it is now a source characterful, well-made rough-and-tumble wines that can be rather serious indeed.

Chateau Le Roc Fronton, NV £30 magnum

This natural wine is in simple terms a pink fizz; more precisely, it is a petillant blend of Negrette and Mauzac made by a single fermentation in bottle according the euphemistically-named Methode Rurale, with no added sulphur and fined only by racking.

A cloudy pink in the glass, there are pear drops and red berries on the nose. The palate shows good acidity and primary fruit aromas of apple and galia melon. Good depth of flavour, but not especially complex and just 9% alcohol.

A very popular seller at Charles' shop, it was well-received on the evening.

Domaine des Foulards Rouges, La Soif du Mal Blanc 2011, £14

This white blend is a mix of Grenache Blanc, Muscat and Macabeu; a pale yellow in the glass, there are Muscaty aromas of honeysuckled and blossom on the nose.

The palate shows a good leesy depth, with sweet acacia blossom, rounded, lemon-and-lime acidity, more Muscaty florality and a mineral edge.

Suggested food matches were sea bass with fennel or chili and ginger.

Domaine de l'Hortus, Bergerie de l'Hortus Blanc 2011, £12.95

This white is a blend of Chardonnay, Grenache Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and Roussane.

The nose shows pear and orchard fruit, spice, stone fruit, lemon and pineapple and a leesiness. Long on the palate, there is more orchard and tropical fruits, a soft peachy texture, good leesy depth and a persistent finish.

Chateaux Ollieux Romanis, Corbieres Rose 2011, £9.25

Mainly Carignan, but with some Syrah and Grenache, and a pale salmon pink colour, this is made by carbonic maceration which gives something of a bubblegum aroma.

With a savoury, spicy nose, there is watermelon on the palate, prominent rounded acidity, a touch of mint and pepper, minerality and a toasty-yeastiness with a good, leesy finish.

Domaine du Meteore, Faugeres, Les Leonides, 2008, £9.20

A GSM + Carignan blend, this has a rustic charm, with an earthy, funky nose of barnyardy wet hay, plus some spice, coffee and a mix of red, black and sour cherries.

On the palate, there is sour cherry fruit, garrigue herbs and tarriness.

The finish is savoury and this would match well with robust meat dishes.

The name of the domaine is a reference to a crater in the vineyard caused by a meteorite, so there may just be traces of cosmic space dust in the wine.

Ch Ollieux Romanis, Alicante-Bouschet, VdP Aude, 2011, £15.99

This is made from 100 year-old vines from the obscure Alicante-Bouschet grape - the last 2 hectares in France, apparently.

In the glass, it is dark and impenetrably inky - which apparently made it popular in prohibition-era America as it could be significantly watered down and still retain some colour.

With dark berry fruit and mocha on the nose, the palate shows elderberry fruit, peppy spice and mintiness.

It is concentrated and long, with a custardy texture and a lively, juicy acidity.

The finish is grippy, savoury and meaty and it would match well with spicy meat dishes such as tagine.

Chateau de Jau, Banyuls Rimage, Les Clos de Paulilles, 2008, £11.99 (50cl)

The final wine of the night was a Banyuls - Languedoc's answer to tawny port.

Made from 100% Grenache, but naturally sweet due to fortification up to 16.5% alcohol with grape spirit, it had aromas of raisins and garrigue herbs and a sweetness cut through with good acidity.

Utterly delicious on its own, it was a perfect match with good quality dark, bitter chocolate, and proved very popular on the evening.

Recommended Wine

If you are looking for a reason to visit an independent wine merchant, Joseph Barnes Wines is it; characterful, rounded and quirky - and that's just Charles Hardcastle.

What struck me was the quality of all the wines - mostly organic, often biodynamic and / or natural, they feel incredibly well-made, both technically and stylistically.

They are also unashamedly crowd-pleasing with lots of personality.

Given all this, it's hard to pick a best overall wine of the evening but the Domaine du Meteore was especially notable for being both excellent and under a tenner.


Cambridge Food and Wine Society - http://www.cambridgefoodandwinesociety.org.uk/
Joseph Barnes Wines - http://josephbarnes.webdev.perceptive-office.com/home.aspx

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Tour de Belfort: The Wines - 2011 Rosé

This Tour de Belfort rosé from 2001 is a blend of Merlot and Syrah from a new, family-run vineyard in the Regional Park of Causses de Quercy near Cahors in south west France.

It also features the domaine's new-style label, which is rather classier than the previous one.

Made completely organically without any herbicides or pesticides, it is the colour of Guadeloupe melon flesh in the glass.

On the nose, there is watermelon and a touch of bubblegum, underpinned by leesiness; the palate is long with mouthwateringly juicy red berries, watermelon, a mouthfilling, rounded fruit acidity and a toasty, leesy savouriness.

Overall, it feels balanced with a good depth of flavour, whilst the finish is savoury and persistent with just a hint of grip and some warming spice.

Food-friendly and sealed under screwcap, it would make a very classy picnic wine - now we just need the weather to go with it.

£10 from www.tour-de-belfort.com; provided for review.


Tour de Belfort - www.tour-de-belfort.com

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Chateau La Rose Saint Bonnet, Medoc, 2009 - Laithwaites‏

"This means nothing to me" - Vienna, Ultravox, 1981

This Laithwaites red Bordeaux has been chosen by the Association of Wine Educators for the Good Food Would Choose Bordeaux campaign.

I've had a number of these GFWCB campaign wines before and although I love Bordeaux, when I saw it was a Laithwaite's wine and 14% alcohol, my heart sank a little.

At just three years old, it already shows signs of age in the glass - with some brick-red hints and paleness around the rim.

There is a ripe, expressive nose of sweet dark fruits, spice, liquorice and leather with some hints of coffee.

On the palate, there are lots more aromas and rounded, juicy acidity with cooked - somewhat stewed, in fact - dark cherries and elderberries, but for me it is lacking in textural interest.

With air, a pleasant mintiness develops and it has a reasonably good, persistent finish albeit with some rather drying grip. It's also a little hot and alcoholic - a common issue with Laithwaites wines, I find.

Overall, then quite pleasant, even with some hints of greatness, but not especially classy and a little rough around the edges.

Sort of what one expects generally of a Laithwaites wine; crowd-pleasing but not technically very well-made and somewhat overpriced.

I opened this at work and it proved popular with colleagues, but that's a bit like a song getting to #1 vs one that stands the test of time.

So, if you are the kind of person that prefers Joe Dolce's chart-topping chirpy ditty "Shaddap You Face" to the arty synthpop classic "Vienna" by Ultravox (kept off the top spot by said Mr Dolce), then this could be your type of wine.

£9.99 from Laithwaites; provided for review.


Laithwaites - http://www.laithwaites.co.uk/
Good Food Would Choose Bordeaux - http://www.goodfoodwouldchoosebordeaux.com/
Association of Wine Educators - http://www.wineeducators.com/

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Tour de Belfort: The Wines - 2009 and 2010 Red

A while ago, I met Muriel Lismonde who told me the story behind her family winery Tour de Belfort in the Regional Park of Causses de Quercy in the Lot Valley, near Cahors and also gave me some of her wines to review.

They are currently all made as blends - the reds being a mixture of Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Syrah - since, as Muriel explained, being a new and family-run winery, they simply do yet have the resources to vinify each variety separately.

If for the moment, blended wines are the only practical option for them, it is one of the few concessions to pragmatism that they seem to have made - everything else is completely organic, both in the vineyard and the winery - and, according to Isabelle Legeron, they are just a short step away from being fully natural.

Tour de Belfort 2009, VdP Lot (£10)

This wine, only the second vintage, has won a stack of awards - Gold at the Concours Général Agricole de Paris 2010, Prix des Vinalies from Oenologues de France 2010 in Bordeaux and IWC Commendation in 2011.

Bright purple in the glass, there is smokey plum and prune fruit on the nose with dark berries.

There is more ripe, dark berry and black cherry fruit on the palate with a pleasant touch of Malbec spice and leatheriness. The acidity is bright, fresh and juicy; the tannins are ripe, rounded and soft.

Good depth of flavour, length on the palate and balanced finish.

Tour de Belfort 2010 VdP Lot (£10.50)

This wine, from a year of perfect conditions according to Muriel, has more spice and leathery liquorice on the nose, as well as more prominent elderberry fruit.

The palate is again soft and full, with ripe tannins, juicy acidity, dark fruit and leathery, liquorice spice.

Both wines feels technically very well-made indeed, very balanced with no rough edges; there is pure fruit expression and just enough ripe, southern warmness to be very drinkable.

They also both have a certain something else - a clean, vibrant feel, that comes from the organic production and attention to detail.

In a sign of increasing ambition and confidence, in the near future there will be a varietal Malbec, aged in oak and the supermarket-style label has had a much-needed makeover into something more classy and appropriate.

Provided for review; the 2009 is £10 whilst the 2010 is £10.50 - both from http://www.tour-de-belfort.com/.

There is also an opportunity to sample the wines and meet Muriel at any of the current Three Wine Men events around the country.


Tour de Belfort - http://www.tour-de-belfort.com/
Three Wine Men - http://threewinemen.co.uk/

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Tour de Belfort: The Wines - 2010 White Blend

This 2010 Tour de Belfort white blend from the Lot Valley is a blend of the Bordelais Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Sauvignon Gris with some Burgundian Chardonnay thrown in.

The story behind how Tour de Belfort came into existence is complicated and fascinating and was told to me by Muriel Lismonde who runs the winery with her parents and family, dividing her time between Cheshire and south west France (see here for Tour de Belfort - The History).

Bordeaux is the nearest classic area to the Lot, not far to the west, so the choice of Semillon and the two Sauvignons makes sense. The reason for the Chardonnay, according to Muriel, is simply that a neighbour was growing it and so it seemed like a good idea.

However, it turned out that the Chardonnay proved to be the most difficult grape to grow successfully and is always the last to ripen.

And with eight different grape varieties grown, that means eight different harvest dates making the logistics of getting down to Quercy for picking challenging to say the least.

This white blend is labelled without reference to the Sauvignon Gris as French wine law allows the disclosure of only three grape varieties.

Pale and limpid in the glass with a touch of golden straw, there are restrained herbaceous aromas on the nose with a touch of ripe stone fruit.

It is made organically both in the vineyard and the winery and, as such, is sealed hermetically under screwcap rather than with cork.

As a result of this, I find it benefits from a bit of aeration and would certainly not be harmed by an hour or so in the decanter which brings out more of the aromas on the palate.

It feels surprisingly harmonious for a blend, even if the main components still make their presence felt - the precise, mineral acidity of the Sauvignon, rounded out by the greater warmth of the south, and the ripe citrus and tropical pineapple of the Chardonnay. There's also a dash of lime zest and the toasty-yeastiness of thick skins.

Long, rounded and mouthwatering on the palate it has a Burgundian creamy texture and good depth of flavour; the finish is mineral and persistent, with the herbaceous notes returning.

Neither a full-on crowd-pleaser nor a critic's extreme and challenging supermodel, it is perhaps the thinking drinker's wine: extremely well-made, well-balanced, with good length and depth it has enough southern warmth to be an easy-drinker, but is restrained and kept in check by a linear acidity that makes it very food friendly.

Match with herby roast chicken, pasta with pesto and prawns or asparagus drizzled with home-made hollandaise.

It has a Silver Medal from the Concours Général Agricole

£10.50 from Tour de Belfort; provided for review.


Tour de Belfort - http://www.tour-de-belfort.com/

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Austria's Fine Brands at Oddbins - And Building a Market In Singapore‏

At the recent Oddbins fair in London, I bumped into Michael Thurner of Austria's Fine Brands who was showing wines from Markus Huber and Markowitsch.

I know Huber's wines (Riesling and GV from Traisental) well and am a big fan. I am a more recent convert to Austria's reds, but was very impressed with the Markowitsch Pinot Noir and Zweigelt blend - especially given their mid-teens pricing - as were two fellow bloggers, Paola Tich and Tara O'Leary.

I originally met Michael at the Annual Tasting of Austrian Wines in London a couple of years ago and since then have met the remainder of the AFB team, wife Tiina at LIWF and assistant Angela Ferrara at this year's Austrian event.

A 30-something (just !) Austrian with an MBA, Michael is now based in Singapore where he is single-handedly carving out a market for Austrian wines.

He describes the Austrian wine scene when he arrived as being "just a few hundred bottles a year".

A tiny, hot, sticky, go-ahead Asian powerhouse peninsula with a strict regime and industrious work ethic, Singapore is perhaps not the obvious place to build a market for Austrian wines, especially given its pavement cafe culture that causes wines to warm up in the glass rapidly.

Michael explained that there are two distinct markets in Singapore - outdoor drinking needs big, oaky New World whites that can bear to be drunk at a higher temperature, whilst air-conditioned cafes need wines that match the local Asian cuisine. And this is where Austria comes in.

For many years, I used to travel on business to Vienna and found Austrian whites to be great food matches with restaurant food and especially with the Franco-Vietnamese fusion style of Indochine 22.

The reds, Zweigelt and especially Pinot Noir, being lower in tannins naturally, also suit a hot climate with aromatic foods.

As a small country, Austria does not really do volume and therefore does not churn out the masses of quaffable plonk we see from Australia and inland Spain, for example. Rather, the focus is on quality, terroir and, inevitably, pricing.

However, with the world's greatest density of millionaires, Singapore has deep pockets and can afford to do more than just buy the second-cheapest wine on the list.

So, with food-friendly wines looking for a market to build an upmarket reputation, an affluent population, and an air-conditioned culture, it's only a wonder that no-one else has thought of it.

The Huber and Markowitsch wines are not yet listed on the Oddbins website, but are well worth looking out for.


Oddbins - http://www.oddbins.co.uk
Austria's Fine Brands - http://www.austriasfinebrands.com/

Paola Tich - http://www.sipswooshspit.com/
Tara O'Leary - http://winepassionista.com/

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Chateau Bel Air Perponcher Reserve Rosé, 2010, Bordeaux - The Wine Society‏

A while ago, I reviewed six summer rosés - and although there has not been much summery weather recently, a bit of unexpected sunshine today is the perfect excuse to try this Bel Air Perponcher Reserve rosé from The Wine Society.

I reviewed the Perponcher Reserve white not long ago as part of a review for the Good Food Would Choose Bordeaux campaign, and thought it very good indeed. In fact, every wine I have had from The Wine Society has been impressive.

And the good news is that this is no exception; pale salmon-pink in the glass, there is a ripe stone fruit, watermelon and a touch of aromatic spiciness on the nose.

Long and mouthfilling on the palate, there is lovely, rounded acidity, watermelon, peach and nectarine fruit and a good depth of flavour, with a touch of thick-skinned toasty-yeastiness and a persistent, savoury and mineral finish.

Well-made and balanced, it is a lovely, food friendly wine. Sealed under screwcap, it's suitable for picnics and would match well with cooked meats, hard cheeses, quiche and salad. And if there's any left-overs, it continues to improve with a bit of air.

And for indoor drinking, try matching with matching with lightly cooked pink fish, such as salmon, trout or tuna, or a starter or mozzarella, basil and tomatoes.

£8,50 from The Wine Society; provided for review.

The 2010 is now out of stock, but the 2011 is available.


The Wine Society - http://www.thewinesociety.com/
Good Food Would Choose Bordeaux - http://www.goodfoodwouldchoosebordeaux.com/

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Huber at Annual Tasting of Austrian Wines‏

At last year's LIWF, I was lucky enough to meet the very youthful and talented Markus Huber of Weingut Huber and taste my way through his wines (see here for that review), from just outside the Wachau in Traisental.

Part of the Austria's Fine Brands group headed by Michael Thurner, he was represented at this year's Annual Tasting of Austrian Wines, by his UK distributor, Mark Perna of Astrum Wine Cellars.

The wines on show, all from the cool and difficult 2010 vintage, were just starting to show well earlier this year at the event.

The Obere Steigen GV 2010 was neutral on the nose with none of Grüner signature white pepper; on the palate, there is citrus fruit, minerality and good structure.

The Reserve Alte Setzen GV 2010 showed white pepper on the nose, with sweet yellow stone fruit on the palate and a rounded, mouthfilling savouriness.

The Engelreich Riesling 2010, fermented in stainless steel, showed lemon and lime fruit and felt very pure, focused, balanced and elegant with a minerally finish.

The Reserve Berg Riesling 2010 is fermented in stainless steel then spends 5 months in large, neutral acacia barrels. It has a complex, expressive nose with touches of flintiness; on the palate, it feels rounded with zippy, zesty green fruit - gooseberries and limes - a savoury toastiness and a long mineral finish.

Recommended Wine

These wines will probably continue to improve with more time in bottle, but for now the Reserve Berg is showing best for its complexity and depth of flavour.


Huber - http://www.weingut-huber.at/
Austria's Fine Brands - http://www.austriasfinebrands.com/
Astrum Wine Cellars - http://www.astrumwinecellars.com/

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Wirra Wirra The 12th Man Chardonnay, Adelaide Hills

This Wirra Wirra The 12th Man Chardonnay hails from the Adelaide Hills in Australia and is aged in French oak.

Australia was the first country to give us big, ripe, buttery Chardonnay - a style that spread across the (New) World only to be usurped in a backlash against oak first by pungent kiwi Sauvignon and more latterly by the ubiquitous Pinot Grigio. It also led to a backlash in the style of Australian whites themselves.

This wine reminds me of what was great about Aussie chardie before it seemed to lose its way becoming either too sweet or too monolithic- or even nowadays, distinctly cool-climate.

Golden in the glass, it has a toasty-yeasty-oaky, slightly pungent nose with vanilla spice.

On the palate, there is ripe tropical pineapple fruit and layers of sweet, toasty, buttery, oatmealy oak cut through with crisp acidity and good leesy depth with added complexity from the wild yeasts used.

Whether you like this wine probably depends on whether you like lots of sweet toasty, buttery oak; personally, I do - especially given that it is somewhat out of fashion at present.

Something of a blockbuster personality, it needs big food to match and would pair well with an autumnal dish of roast chicken or pork with roasted parsnips, butternut squash and mashed swede.

£16.99 from Ocado; provided for review.


Wirra Wirra - http://www.wirrawirra.com/

Ocado - http://www.ocado.com/

This wine at Ocado - http://www.ocado.com/webshop/product/Wirra-Wirra-12th-Man-Chardonnay-2011/65990011

Friday, 8 June 2012

Tour de Belfort - The History

Rural Cheshire is a long way from Muriel Lismonde's childhood home of Cahors in the Lot Valley where she now runs a family wine-making business with her parents, Tour de Belfort.

Sitting in Muriel's lounge overlooking the leafy Cheshire plain, I listened to her explain the long and complicated but fascinating history of how she came to be involved in wine-making, starting with the Cathar history of the south west and her parents' family business in Paris, the proceeds of whose sale were invested in a tumble-down ruin based on a childhood bet about living in a tower that they would walk past on Sunday afternoon strolls.

Most people I have met who go into wine-making as a second career outsource at least the trickier parts to a greater or lesser degree - usually as a minimum purchasing an established vineyard and often buying in oenologists and vineyard help, too.

However, the head of the Lismonde family decided to do things rather differently and started with little more than a ruined chateau and some adjoining land, plus the help of a Swiss consultant oenologist. He then set about restoring the property and planting the vineyard from scratch, choosing mainly Bordelais varieties for reds and whites plus one extraneous variety of each colour.

With the financial freedom to treat the wine-making as something of a retirement hobby, they follow a mixture of organic and bio-dynamic practices, tempered with just enough real-world pragmatism to ensure the finished wine will survive on the shelves - so, there are no herbicides or pesticides, the grapes are hand-picked and the berries hand sorted, but sulphur is added to the wine (albeit in very limited quantities) to preserve it.

Muriel describes their facilities as ultra-modern and ultra-sterile, defying the quaint, peasanty image of natural wine-making; however, this focus on spotless cleanliness has a real-world benefit as it protects against oxidisation, temperature variation and bacteria in general which in turn reduces the need for sulphites or other additives in the wine.

Of course, making the wine is only the first step - it then needs to be sold and this seems to have been a far greater challenge. Muriel initially approached local restaurants in the nearby old money village of Alderley Edge only to find they had outsourced their wine lists completely and exclusively to large distributors.

Next they tried the independents; with local Premiership footballers buying cult wines at hundreds of pounds a bottle, there is definitely the affluence to afford more than just supermarket special offers, but an artisan wine priced in double figures with no track record or awareness is not an easy sell.

Especially when the label designed by Lismonde père, combined with the pragmatic but un-Romantic use of a screwcap closure creates the impression of a £5 supermarket own-brand quaffer.

A new, relatively expensive wine like this with a story to tell needs to be either hand-sold or have a pleasingly, appropriately classy label. So a much-needed redesign was finally arranged and the colour-coded quadrant layout replaced with a clean, fresh herald with a touch of gold, on a white background. Eye-catching but with a nod to tradition, it looks fresh but evokes Old World heritage and, more importantly, stands out well on a quick scan of shelves.

If the UK market is proving particularly difficult to break into, there are fewer problems in France itself where they have both a distributor and cellar-door sales - the ultimate aim is to develop a small number of holiday cottages and promote the wines jointly with gastronomic tourism.

Unable to produce the wine in the quantities needed by supermarkets or the major internet players and finding that the pricing of the few independents prepared to stock the wine was commercially unattractive, they have decided in the UK to sell the wine directly to consumers and then hope to be "discovered".
With a mixture of word-of-mouth sales and events, they have been able to arrange a number of tastings in Cambridge via a family connection (which is how we first got in touch with each other) and are touring the country with the Three Wine Men series of events.

It all feels like a very old-school approach, with almost nothing outsourced and the family having to deal with every aspect of the business themselves and rather reminds me of one of those episodes of Grand Designs where the would-be developers have the vision but no budget and so end up doing all the work themselves, from rubble-clearing to masonry.

Yet they are clearly making a success of the wines as, with only a few vintages under their belts, they have already garnered a number of awards, including golds and silvers.

Eight grape varieties cultivated meant that the early vintages were mainly blends and all were unoaked as there were simply not the resources to vinify each variety separately, let alone in oak.

However, from the 2011 vintage, there is a varietal wine made from the indigenous Côt, labelled - with an eye to the broader market - under its international name of Malbec, with some of the wines due to be aged in oak. All of this adds to the cost and increases the minimum price that must be charged for the wine - in theory making it a harder sell as the price further increases for an unknown wine.

Of course, the dream of every wine-maker must be to set prices based on market demand and not cost-plus - and, with their dedication to quality, I suspect it will not be too long before the Lismonde family are in a position to do this.

At the moment, they are still finding their way a little - the vines are young and need to be hand-harvested with yields reduced from 12 bunches to around 4; the tower has been restored but more ruins remain to be developed; they have not yet solved the problem of selling in the UK efficiently.

I can't help feeling that, whilst passion may be the best brand, they could make life easier for themselves by outsourcing more - or at least taking more specialist advice on the sales side of the business.

Making great wine is, sadly, just the start - especially in a relative backwater like Cahors that has little consumer resonance. And whilst it may go against family wishes, certain compromises to make a wine that fits into a certain pigeon-hole - a fully natural wine, for instance - might well pay off in terms of exposure.

And, indeed, they are very close to achieving it - a meeting with Isabelle Legeron resulted in just a single recommendation regarding the use of wild, indigenous yeasts alone, to meet her definition of natural wine, whilst by November 2012, they expect to be certified organic by Ecocert.

But parents, like children, need to be allowed to make their own mistakes and if it proves more difficult to build a reputation based on a no-compromises approach, the end result may be all the better for it - even if it ends up taking longer to get there.


Tour de Belfort -  http://www.tour-de-belfort.com/

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Prado Rey 2006 Crianza Ribera del Duero‏ - Vinopic

I was given this wine to review by Santiago Navarro of Vinopic Wines late last year.

We met in his flat-cum-office in a smart area of west London and he talked me through his intrinsic quotient method of scoring wines by using scientific (i.e. chemical) analysis carried out by Roger Corder as well as taste tests done by Master of Wine Rosemary George.

Chatting with Santiago, I got the impression he had accurately defined a number of key issues with modern wine retailing - the "wall of wine", the lack of information for the consumer, labelling issues and so on - but I was not entirely convinced that he has completely nailed the solutions to these with Vinopic's offering.

For a start, the use of scientific assessment and taste tasting by an MW felt a bit out of step with the "anything goes" ethos of the zeitgeist - compare Naked Wines' success using a choice-architecture-inspired model of consumer feedback with minimal technical information.

Santiago also acknowledged that they had launched the website too early and that it was not as user friendly as it should be - the latest version is now much easier to navigate, easier on the eye and features a familiar industry-standard-style layout.

And so I have been as slow to try the Vinopic wines Santiago gave me as I have been in coming to a conclusion on Vinopic itself. Which, with hindsight, is a pity as the wines are very good indeed - it's just that I'm not fully convinced that the marketing does justice to them.

More on all that later - firstly the wine itself: a Tempranillo from Spain's Ribera del Duero, it is dark purple in the glass and, as a crianza, spends only limited time in oak. As a result, despite its six years, it shows few signs of age, the merest hints of brick red and paleness around the rim.

There is a complex nose of cherry fruit, spice, liquorice, a slap of leather and some woodsy undergrowth.

The palate shows more cherry and dark berry fruit, rounded acidity, vanilla spice; the tannins are ripe, rounded, soft and well-integrated.

Savoury and balanced, it has a persistent finish that is accomplished more than grippy.

We serve it straight from the bottle and whilst it improves over the course of the meal - with air, the earthy notes become more prominent - it does not change dramatically.

A common theme with all three Vinopic wines (which have all been reds) is the balance and quality of the tannins, which are always ripe and rounded - never harsh, grainy or overly firm.


Balance in a wine is one of the hardest things to convey, as by its very definition it is a lack of something - not too much of any one thing. To me, balance is a bit like a parachute - you only really notice it when it's missing.

Even more, I tend to believe that the ability to spot balance - or its lack - is what makes the difference between a more sophisticated palate and a less sophisticated one; as novice wine enthusiasts, we instinctively react to the more obvious things like fruit and aromas whilst an appreciation of balance is something that is generally acquired over time.

Whether this balance in the Vinopic wines is due to Roger Corder's tests or Rosemary George's palate, I still don't know. However, as it is a consistent theme in the Vinopic wines, I can't help feeling the company should emphasise this a little more.

I still don't feel I fully understand the three-fold scoring system, but I do know that the wines are very well-made in a sophisticated, grown-up sort of way.


In my first ever job - in sales - I was taught to "sell the sizzle not the sausage"; and this is perhaps where Vinopic may be missing a trick.

The simple fact is that these are very good wines indeed which have passed two sets of tests and are at risk of being de-listed if subsequent vintages are not up-to-scratch. Add in that choices are limited to a manageable amount and you have a very sensible business model - straightforward for the consumer and with an overarching commitment to quality.

This, to me, is what makes Vinopic more interesting than other internet retailers I could mention and, whilst the Intrinsic Quotient score system is a very obvious point of difference, it tends to evoke a reaction of either "What is it ?" Or just "So what ?".

Perhaps over time the IQ score system will become a benchmark for the industry, but right now, I'm not convinced that it is widely understood or has any significant resonance with consumers.

If I were in charge of Vinopic's marketing, I would want to emphasise the following up-front on the home-page, not buried away in pages several clicks away:

- each wine is reviewed by an MW (no-one else does this)
- each wine is reviewed for technical quality by Roger Corder (on-one else does this)
- the company lists only a manageable range of wines with a strict emphasis on quality and typicity

£13.99; provided for review.


Vinopic - http://www.vinopic.com/

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

2009 Saar Riesling Kanzemer Sonnenberg Spätlese Feinherb, Johann Peter Reinert‏

They say life's too short for a German wine label, so let's deconstruct this apparent mouthful of a name into layman's English.

Saar Riesling Kanzemer Sonnenberg Spätlese Feinherb, Johann Peter Reinert‏

It's a Riesling from Johann Peter Reinert, slightly off-dry, late-harvest from the Sunny Hill vineyard in Kanzem on the river Saar.

There, that wasn't too painful - was it ?

Bright yellow in the glass, the nose is understated but carries hints of tropical fruit, waxy honeycomb, white flowers and minerality.

The palate is lively, with sweet mouthwatering tropical pineapple, underpinned with slow-cooked nectarine flesh and lively, zippy acidity finished off with a dash of sherbert, lime zest and grapefruit.

At just 10.5%, it is not particularly long on either the palate or the finish and will match with only the lightest of foods - I fall back on my usual staples of smoked salmon or sushi.

It is, however, extremely well balanced and well-made with great elegance and delicacy - very delicious and perfect for sipping in the garden.

With only a couple of years in bottle, it is lively, fresh and youthful - excellent now, it will only improve and become mellower with age; a really lovely wine and a great introduction to Mosel Rieslings for anyone who wnats to know what all the fuss is about.

£11.30 from Cambridge Wine Merchants; provided for review.


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

Monday, 4 June 2012

The Cambridge Wine Merchants Riesling-Off‏

Last night I went to the Cambridge Wine Merchants wine bar on Cherry Hinton Road for a Riesling-off; a comparative tasting of Rieslings from the New World and the Old, it was presented by Mill Road branch manager, the well-spoken Alex Woolgar-Toms.

Riesling is perhaps my favourite grape variety and was certainly my first love with its zippy, linear, food-friendly acidity, lemon-lime fruit rounded out with a touch of honey and persistent, minerally finish.

And although it has a very distinctive personality, it is also highly expressive of its terroir, showing distinct differences from region to region and found in all sweetness levels from bone dry and linear to unctuously sticky yet refreshing,

The benchmark areas for Riesling are mainly Germany, Alsace and, increasingly, Australia. Chile and New Zealand also do some, but my personal favourites are the powerfully ripe and full-bodied yet dry examples from Austria's Wachau.

However, for this tasting, we started in Western Australia.

Plantagenet Great Southern Riesling 2010, Western Australia 12.5%, £14.99

An expressive nose of lemon, stone fruit and mineral, with hints of petrol. Ripe lime cordial, sweet lemony fruit and good depth on the palate with well-balanced, mouthfilling acidity.

Poised, precise and long on the palate, it has a persistent finish.

To me, this was the most "Austrian" in style and proved to be my favourite wine of the evening; however, Alex explained that Western Australia is such a diverse and relatively new region, that there is no particular house-style and this should not be necessarily be seen as in any way typical of the area.

Skillogallee Hand-Picked Riesling 2011, Clare Valley, 12.0%, £14.99

Paler in the glass, with a more restrained nose, this is clearly from a cooler climate.

The grapes are grown at an altitude of 500m, giving a taut, linear acidity on the palate, with precise, austere lemon-and-lime fruit and a persistent finish.

For me, this was a textbook lean Australian Riesling; a skinny catwalk model of a wine, all razor sharp cheekbones and a deadpan expression - and probably just as difficult to live with as well.

Unsurprisingly, it was the least popular wine of the evening with the audience in general and has a Decanter 5 star award, which says a lot, I think.

Riesling Kabinett Feinherb 2008 Kanzemer Sonnenberg, Johann Peter Reinert, 9.5%, £11.30

A little closed on the nose, this is a pale lemony-yellow colour. There are hints of white flowers and greengage.

On the palate, there is sweet lemony and pineapple fruit, pear drops and a thick-skinned toasty yeastiness.

Elegant and balanced, it is slightly off-dry with sweetness and minerality on the finish.

Riesling Auslese 1994 Longuicher Maximiner Herrenberg, Carl Schmitt-Wagner, 8%, £11.99

Bright gold in the glass, the nose is developed with kerosene, minerality and a touch of industrial gas.

Weighty and mouthfilling, there is dried pineapple and yellow apricot pieces and a touch of cindery ash. Long on the palate.

Riesling Auslese 2002 Longuicher Maximiner Herrenberg, Carl Schmitt-Wagner, 8.5%, £13.25

The half-degree more alcohol here does not really do justice to how different this wine seems compared to the previous one: at eight years younger, it feels brighter, fresher  and less mellow, with a more primary, less developed nose of waxy, floral honeycomb.

The bottle is sealed with a gold foil top - wine-maker code for a particularly ripe wine pushing the limits of the next category up - but I found more to be less here, for although it is fuller on the palate, it is not as long, with the sugars perceptibly breaking down.

Palate-length aside, it is shows good, balanced sweet-sourness with lime cordial and apricots.

Riesling Rorschwihr 2007 Dom Rolly-Gassmann, 12.5%, £15.99

Alsace's Rolly-Gassmann is something of a superstar producer, selling a significant proportion of its wines through Michelin-starred restaurants.

That this is one of their entry-level single-vineyard wines is a bit like buying an expensive Fiat in the hope of a bit of Ferrari magic rubbing off.

Bright pale gold in the glass, it shows aromas of waxy honeycomb. The palate shows lots of sweet, candied fruit which then starts to fade, but is complex with a persistent finish.

It feels less balanced and elegant than the Mosels - even if there is more complexity - and it reminds me of a Premiership striker on an off-day; disparate hints of brilliance, but not the complete package.

Alex, our presenter, turns out to be something of a Romantic as he reveals that this flawed genius is his favourite of all tonight's wines.

The vote-off for the others shows a relatively even distribution - except for the piercingly challenging Skillogalee which gets a Eurovision-esque nul points from the assembled crowd.

For me, a full-on Riesling Fest would have to include examples from Austria, New Zealand and Chile, but tonight's selection seems to reflect Cambridge Wine's overall ethos, with a bias towards well-made Old World classics.

Recommended Wine

As noted, for me, the best wine of the night was the Plantagenet, which is not cheap but worth every penny of its price tag for its rounded complexity and balance.

However, the best value was the 1994 Auslese which at £12 is ridiculously cheap for a 20 year-old wine that is fresh, mellow and long.

I attended the event as a guest of CWM owner, Hal Wilson.


Cambridge Wine Merchants - www.cambridgewine.com