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Monday, 31 December 2012

The Co-operative Premium Mendoza Malbec 2010, Argentina

It is becoming something of a cliche to say that Malbec, originally from France, is now Argentina's signature red grape, with its crowd-pleasing, blue-collar-hero, up-front fruit and spice.

This Co-op Malbec from Bodegas Septima in the cool-climate region of Lujan du Cuyo certainly has plenty of ripe fruit and spice, but also retains a good European sense of structure and complexity.

Precise, firm and muscular with a pretty face and a broad grin, it rather reminds me of a hip-wiggling, tight-trousered, Latin ballroom dancer.

Dark purple in the glass, there is plenty of bramble fruit, spice and toasty oak on the nose.

The palate shows more ripe black fruit, leather, pencil shavings and sweet, toasty vanilla spice with good juicy acidity and perfectly-ripe tannic underpinnings, giving a soft-yet-firm, inky texture.

The fruit is pure and the finish persistent with some smokey, toasty oak and a touch of pepperiness.
Match with robust dishes, such as char-grilled rare steak or the sweetness of slow-roast chicken with pigs-in-blankets and root vegetables.

£8.49 from the Co-operative (reduced to £6.49 in selected Co-operative food stores from 2 January to 15 January 2013 inclusive); provided for review.

Other related articles
Viñalba Patagonia Cabernet Merlot 2009, Argentina - The Co-op
Argentinian Tasting At Cambridge Food and Wine Society 
Malbec and Me, by SipSwooshSpit

The Co-operative - website, twitter

Friday, 28 December 2012

Pouilly-Fuissé "Quintessence" 2011, Domaine Sangouard-Guyot

Driving back from a holiday in the south of France earlier this year, we stopped off part-way to see Catherine and Pierre-Emmanuel Sangouard who run Domaine Sangouard-Guyot in the Maconnais village of Vergisson.

The domaine, part of the Patrimoine Des Terroirs group has a commanding view of the rocks of Vergisson and Solutré, as well as of the unfolding countryside all the way to Switzerland; the vineyards are dotted all around but the vines for this wine are at the top of the rock of Vergisson, within sight of the domaine.

Sandy yellow in the glass, on the nose there are the ripe aromas of ripe orchard  fruit, yeasty pear skin and spicy new oak.

On the palate, there is more ripe orchard fruit, a pleasant malic, citrussy, grapefruit tartness, a creamy, oatmealy depth and the buzzy underpinnings of some well-judged new oak.

Mouthfilling and long on the palate, it is elegant and precise with pure fruit - it's just rather young at this stage and needs at least a few more months, if not years, for everything to harmonise fully.

Having opened it on Christmas eve, I find it just starting to come into its own a few days later; I rather wish I had bought a case now to see how it develops over the years.

Match with langoustines, smoked fish, veal in a creamy sauce or guinea fowl.

€16 from the cellar door - not currently available in the UK.

Other related articles
Views on Terroir in Burgundy: Sangouard-Guyot
Restaurant L'Alembic: Nuits St Georges
Pouilly-Fuissé "Authentique", 2009, Domaine Sangouard-Guyot

Domaine Sangouard-Guyot - website, LinkedIn
Catherine Sangouard - Facebook
Patrimoine Des Terroirs - website

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Marks & Spencer Finest Reserve Port

Port comes in various categories, from entry-level ruby up to aged tawny and vintage.

The basics of all red ports are the same, however - indigenous grapes grown in Portugal's Douro region,  fortificated with grape spirit part-way through fermentation to retain some of the natural sugar.

This Finest Reserve from Marks & Spencer is, despite the aspirational name, a basic ruby, but I like it - within its range, it is a very good example; highly more-ish with no rough edges at all.

It is still a young, however, so it does not yet feel fully harmonious - the differing elements have not yet melded together fully; nor is it especially delicate or elegant.

Rather, it is well-balanced, extremely easy-drinking and full of character - and very sensibly priced; for just under a tenner, you get all the flavour and character of what a port should be. And in a full-sized bottle, too.

Dark purple in the glass, it shows strong, primary aromas of dark berry fruit, eucalyptus and spice. On the palate, it is mouthfilling with cassis, figgy, pruney fruit, peppery spice and a good slap of eucalptus.

On the finish, there is sweetness, alcohol and a pleasant grip.

A bit more money spent at with a local independent should get you something more complex, elegant and deft - but this is either a good place to start for anyone who wants to know what all the fuss is about or equally a handy bottle to have around in case non-wine-geek friends drop by over Christmas.

I matched it very successfully with Christmas pudding and cream - it is also one of the few wines that will stand up to anything with chocolate in.

Contrary to perceived wisdom, however, I would not match this with cheese - rather I find aged tawnies a much better match.

£9.99 from Marks & Spencers.

Other related articles
Dow's Vintage Port 1975‏
Noval Dinner at Cambridge Hotel du Vin‏

Marks & Spencers - website, twitter

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Lanson Black Label Brut NV - The Co-operative‏

Founded by a magistrate in 1760, Lanson is one of the oldest Grande Marque houses in Champagne; this Black Label is currently on special offer at The Co-operative.

Pale sandy yellow in the glass, it foams enthusiastically on pouring, with aromas of white pears, brioche and biscuitiness on the nose.

The palate is complex with ripe pear and crisp apple fruit, a creamy leesiness and freshly-baked bread.

Long on the palate, it is mouthfilling and grippy with good structural underpinnings and a savoury, persistent finish with a muscular food-friendly rasp that is not quite limey nor yet cidery, but somehow a bit of both.

With pure fruit and precise acidity, it feels as powerfully balanced and elegant as a ballerina.

Use the refreshing acidity to cut through the richness of salmon en croute or even a roast chicken with all the festive trimmings.

£31.99 from The Co-operative: reduced to £21.99 until January 1st 2013. Provided for review.

Other related articles
Two Co-op Reds for Christmas
English Wine Producers at Circle of Wine Writers' Christmas Party
Veuve Monnier NV from The Co-op

Lanson - website, twitter
The Co-operative - website, twitter

Monday, 24 December 2012

Dino Chardonnay, Selezione No 7, 2011 IGT Sicilia‏

A noble grape from an up-and coming value region in Europe's new world - this Sicilian Chardonnay from Tesco is sandy yellow in the glass with orchard fruits on the nose leading to ripe tropical melon, aromas of yeasty melon skin and pleasantly balanced acidity on the palate.

Nothing to offend, no rough edges, but not much to think about here either: a thoroughly pleasant, easy-drinking quaffer.

It would make a safe present for someone you don't know well and whom you assume to be a casual wine drinker - which is how we came to receive it; a Christmas gift from one of Mrs CWB's contacts.

Match the ripeness and acidity with mixed anti-pasti, hard yellow cheeses, plain roast chicken or meaty white fish in either a buttery or creamy sauce.

It turns out to be on sale at Tesco for £4.49, which is very reasonable indeed for the quality.

Other related articles
Ogio Pinot Grigio 2011, Umbria‏, Italy - Tesco
Lindemans Chardonnay, Sydney Cove, 2009
The Spectacular Summer Entertaining Case from Tesco
Outis - Wines from Sicily

Tesco - website, twitter

Saturday, 22 December 2012

The Best of Pays d'Oc IGP Tasting and Dinner‏ at Gauthier

I have long argued that New World is more a stylistic observation than a designation of origin.

New World-style wines are typically (but not exclusively) ripe, expressive and well-made in a modern sort of way.

Classic, traditional regions have a name and a heritage to preserve, whereas the New World has nothing but the juice in the bottle to play with, so out of necessity, will tend to take a few more chances.

Languedoc is France's New World; historically the source of Europe's wine lake it has reinvented itself as a producer of characterful and well-made wines - and, like Australia, South Africa and New Zealand, its winemakers are often by immigrants to the region if not the country who bring fresh thinking and a degree of ambition.

At Gauthier restaurant earlier this week, I attended a tasting and dinner for Pays d’Oc IGP, presented by Matthew Stubbs MW who is based in the region and Roberson Senior Buyer, Mark Andrew.

The wines are reviewed individually below, but overall, they were all good to very good indeed.

Another of my basic tenets is "trust the palate" and it was clear that these wines had been selected by a very discerning taster - on a technical and stylistic level, the wines were all very accomplished and composed with no rough edges and nothing out-of-balance or lacking.

In general, the whites were all delicate and elegant whilst the reds were characterful.

Mas des Dames Blanc 2011, Roberson (£12.95) organic, old vines, 100% Grenache Blanc, grown on limestone and aged in old oak: smokey-toasty nose, melon fruit and white flowers; creamy, oatmealy palate with ripe melon fruit and citrus acidity. Long on palate, savoury depth and persistence on the finish. Chablis-esque.

Domaine Paul Mas, Mas des Tannes Reserve Blanc 2011 (€4 ex cellar) 60yo vines, organic, barrel fermented and oak aged with little filtration, 100% Grenache Blanc: delicate floral aromas, melon fruit, citrus and pith. Ripe melon fruit on the palate, good savoury depth, linear acidity. Mouthfilling and creamy, fresh and clean, long palate, persistence on the finish.

Domaine d'Aigues Belles, l'Autre Blanc 2011 (€6 ex cellar) Roussanne / SB / Ch blend from near the Rhone border: butterscotch and coffee grounds on the nose; ripe, full and fat on the palate with more butterscotch, stone fruit and a freshness from altitude. Creamy and waxy with good mouthfilling acidity and persistence on the finish.

Gerard Bertrand, Cigalus Blanc 2010 (€27 ex cellars) Ch/Viognier/SB biodynamic blend from Corbieres: floral sweetness and hints of late-harvest / botrytis; floral, fat and blowsy on the palate but cut through with good acidity, apricotty with aromas of roasted peach skins, depth and persistence

Domaines Paul Mas, Vermentino 2011, Majestic (£7.99) fresh with good acidity, melon and white flowers, good texture and depth, leesiness and tangy citrus. Good value.

Domaine Begude, Pinot Rose 2011, Majestic (£8.99) Pinot Noir rosé grown at 500m altitude: pale salmon-pink, toasty nose, linear acidity, ripe red berry fruit, savoury persistence and creaminess

Domaine Gayda, Figure Libre Cabernet Franc 2010, Noel Young (£17.75) floral nose, yeasty with dark cherry fruit, woodsy leatheriness, ripe spice and savoury persistence. Garrigue herbs, black olives and well-defined structure, with muscular finish.

Domaine de Brau, Pure Petit Verdot 2011, Vintage Roots (£12.50) grown at c. 400m altitude in Cabardes: spice, dark bramble fruit, sweet vanilla and white pepper. Ripe, voluptuous, velvety palate of pure, sweet fruit, sweet vanilla and white pepper with dark pencil shavings and a sour cherry rasp.

Domaine de Gourgazaud, Quintus 2010 Slurp (£12.25) Syrah/Mourvèdre from 40yo vines: toasty nose of dark berry fruit and coffee grounds with sulphurous notes. Soft, inky, mouthfilling tannins, dark berry fruit, long on the palate and persistent.

Le Grand Noir, GSM 2010, Roberson (£7.95) GSM blend juicy, bright fruit, pure red and black cherry, garrigue herbs and grippy tannins. Distinctly middling and the one bum note of the night.

Les Vignes de l'Arque, Saveur d'Automne 2010 Leon Stolarski (£16.50) a delicious 100% Viognier sticky; apricots, honey and floral aromas; rich yet cut through with good acidity.

Recommended Wines
Top white was the Mas Des Tannes Reserve Blanc.
Top red was the Gourgazaud Quintus.

Other related articles
Mas des Dames, "La Diva" 2007 - Roberson Wines
Domaine Begude
Domaine Treloar dinner
Languedoc Wines with Joseph Barnes

Pays d'Oc - website
Roberson - website, twitter
Matthew Stubbs MW - LinkedIn, Facebook
Gauthier - website, twitter

Friday, 21 December 2012

The Final Two Mediterranean Wines from Marks and Spencer‏

These two Mediterranean wines from Marks and Spencer were sent to me a very long time ago for review.

I had planned to try them at our regular Thursday evening Wine Club at work during the summer, but client demands and other factors meant we have not held one for weeks, months even.

But with the rain lashing down outside, and an end-of-term feel just one working day away from shutting up for Christmas, it was quite fitting to bring out these two reds from sunnier climes to taste.

I decided to start with the older Lebanese wine and work forwards in time.

Chateau Ksara Clos St Alphonse 2009, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon

A blend of Syrah, Cab Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, on the nose, there is baked bramble fruit, complex spice and a foresty earthiness.

On the palate it feels mellow beyond its three years - there is baked red plum and cherry fruit, roasted spice and prominent, almost zesty, acidity; it feels somewhat Old School, structurally well-built with fine, smooth, well-integrated tannins and absolutely no rough edges.

Really long on the palate with peppery spice developing, there is a pleasant, persistent firmness on the finish.

It is a classical-style wine to match with simple red meat dishes, either plain roasted or even better barbecued over coals for a touch of smokey spice.

Its mellowness also makes it a somewhat contemplative wine - ideal for a Sunday afternoon whilst finishing off a full roast dinner.

Red on Black Agiorgitiko 2010, Nemea, Greece (£50.94 case of six)

Despite giving the world the word οἶνος (which has come into English as wine), Greece's wine industry is actually much more modern; it does not have Lebanon's colonial past to hark back to.

This Red on Black, as the name suggests is dark in the glass. Made from Agiorgitiko (St George) from the Nemea region, there is redcurrant and red plum fruit on the nose with some spice.

On the palate, there is good cherry fruit, sweet vanilla spice and pleasant acidity. Low in tannins, it feels soft and silky, but is neither quite as long on the palate nor has quite as much structural interest as the Ksara.

As one colleague said, had I tried this wine first, I would have said it was very good, but now it just doesn't stand up to the Ksara.

I think that rather says it all - the Agiorgitiko is just fine in a juicy, quaffing, Languedoc-red sort of way. But the Ksara is a much more classy act; with its Noble grape varieties, French winemaker and oak ageing, it has a structure that is indebted to France even if its warmth comes from time spent under distinctly sunnier skies.

Both wines provided for review.

Other related articles
Two Eastern Mediterranean Wines from Marks and Spencer
Two More Eastern Mediterranean Wines from Marks & Spencer
Wines from Turkey, India, Greece and Georgia at Laithwaites
Greek Wines at Cambridge Food and Wine Society

Marks and Spencer - website, twitter

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Louis Jadot Côte de Beaune Villages 2009

This Louis Jadot Côte de Beaune Villages, a blend of Pinot Noir mainly from Chorey Les Beaune and Ladoix, is aged in oak for 12 months and comes from the rather good 2009 vintage.

A bright cherry red in the glass, there are aromas of red berry fruit, Burgundian earthiness and a touch of dark, roasted spice.

On the palate it is juicy with more red berry fruit, savouriness and a soft, mouthfilling texture.

On the finish, there is some spice and a savoury persistence.

Burgundy is France's gastronomic heartland and to me, this wine really comes into its own with food, where the lovely acidic structure can show off to its best and the subtle aromas become more prominent.

Something gamey such as pheasant would be the traditional match for this, but I found it worked satisfactorily with a slow-roast shoulder of lamb stuffed with garlic and rosemary with roast potatoes, parsnips, celery and carrots

A good, if somewhat textbook, example of what red Burgundy should be like - sadly, however, £15 is about the going rate for decent basic Burgundy, so the price is reasonable for the quality given what it is.

Louis Jadot Côte de Beaune Villages 2009, RRP £14.99 provided for review.

Available from Majestic, Nisa, Partridges of Sloane Street and other independents

Other related articles
Restaurant L'Alembic, Nuits St Georges
Wine in Threes (featuring 3 Jadot reds)
The CWB Pinot-off: Burgundy vs Chile

Louis Jadot - website, twitter
Majestic - website, twitter

Monday, 17 December 2012

On Intellectual Property Ownership‏

I recently went to a Panel Discussion arranged by our firm's lawyers on the subject of Intellectual Property.

In his introduction, one of the panel introduced himself with the following anecdote: I was looking to buy a flat in London and the estate agent asked me what I did for a living. I explained that I was an Intellectual Property lawyer to which he replied "So we're both in the same business then."

As a relatively modern concept invented by lawyers, Intellectual Property suffers from not having a snappy name, but it is essentially the ownership of creative ideas - be it music, art, inventions or journalism.

In a bricks-and-mortar world, the idea of ownership of ideas is not as deeply embedded in our thinking or societal structures as the ownership of land and tangible property; theft of ideas is more inclined to be viewed as a "victimless crime" than having one's mobile phone pilfered.

And yet that very same mobile phone may be full of illegal downloads of music and images from the Internet.

A clumsy name, public apathy and a medium that facilitates sharing of IP with few checks and balances in place to deter, let alone prevent theft - it is a perfect storm, as the Music Industry found out to its cost in the noughties with the rise of "peer-to-peer file sharing services" such as Napster.

The response of performing artists to this has often been innovative - from the move to focus on live performances rather than album sales to Radiohead's pay-what-you-like arrangement for their In Rainbows album.

Having worked in the marketing services and communications industry for many years now, and generally been the person to negotiate contracts and fees, I am all too aware of the value of Intellectual Property; discussions on fees and IP ownership usually make up the larger part of the contract negotiations.

Wine writers - more gentlemanly at the professional end, more amateurish amongst the bloggers - have not really caught up with IP ownership as an issue. Bloggers do not rely on their writing for income whilst professional freelancers seem more inclined merely to wring their hands at theft of their work.

Recently, I was able to assist one fellow member of the Circle of Wine Writers whose tasting notes and scores had been taken wholesale for an auction catalogue in another country. I put him in touch with a friend who is both a wine writer and a lawyer (and also a CWW member) and between them they solved the issue swiftly and satisfactorily.

Over the weekend, I read a piece in Palate Press accusing Canadian wine writer Natalie MacLean of extensive and sustained theft of IP from other wine writers.

I don't know Natalie personally or her writing (if it is indeed hers) so I cannot comment on the specifics here.

But the issue throws into relief the need to raise awareness of the value of IP generally - especially for those whose livelihood is based on their writings on the Internet.

Back at the lawyers' IP Panel Discussion, I was rather saddened to hear most of the speakers (except for one, the owner of an online music video service) sighing and shaking their heads at the idea that the public are simply not interested in IP ownership.

We teach our children to share their toys nicely and not take others' - with this principle firmly embedded, it is not too difficult to make the next step to not stealing ideas, be it copying homework off the Internet or downloading music and films.

If the generation before us invented the Internet, it behoves our generation to teach the next how to use it properly and with respect.

Or perhaps the Internet needs simply to be treated with the general caveat - if it's personal, don't put it on the Internet. Historically, "personal" meant you wouldn't want your Mum or a potential employer to see it, but we should also view personal as "our personal (Intellectual) Property".

It seems to me that IP theft these days is seen a bit like smoking or casual racism in the 70s - whilst nobody was prepared to argue that it was A Good Thing, it was generally deemed either Socially Acceptable or at least had no stigma attached to it.

When corporate behemoths who have spent years and billions investing in their brands aggressively assert their intellectual property rights, no-one cheers the rule of law - rather, we all talk about how brands caused the London riots.

But we can't have it both ways - either we want the rule of law to apply to all, both the Big Boys at Multinational plc and the small independent freelancers tapping away at their laptops, or we accept that Society simply does not value the ownership of property, be it Tangible or Intellectual.

Looting a pair of swooshed trainers and a flat-screen TV or copying someone else's work and passing it off as your own - it's all theft.

Update 20/12/12

This tweet says it all far more succinctly: https://twitter.com/kentonallen/status/281333664787357697

Other related articles
Jule Mahoney's Wine Riot
On Blogger Independence and Disclosure


Palate Press: Natalie MacLean: World’s Best Wine Writer or Content Thief?

Footnote: the image at the top of this piece is of the Statute of Anne, the first modern copyright law.  This image is in the public domain because its copyright has expired. Just in case you were wondering.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Two Co-op Reds For Christmas

When The Co-op sent round their Christmas offers list, I thought it would be interesting to compare two of their Cabs - one an estimable classed growth from Bordeaux, the other a much more recent upstart from Western Australia.

Ferngrove Frankland River 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Western Australia (£11.99 reduced to £8.99 until Jan 1)

Ferngrove was established less than 15 years ago and I've been very impressed with their wines previously - technically well-made with good, but not overly-dominant fruit, they mix New World ripeness with European complexity and food-friendliness.

This 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon is purple in the glass with black fruit, violets and a mix of toasty spice with liquorice and leather.

On the palate, there is more ripe dark fruit, toastiness and peppery spice, cut through with good acidity and underpinned with aromas of pencil shavings and cigar box.

It feels soft and smooth, yet full and mouthfilling with perfectly ripe tannins and a persistent firmness on the finish.

It is a lovely wine, both technically and stylistically; well-made and accomplished, it is all too easy to enjoy.

Priced at under a tenner, it is, I think, very good value.

Match with steak or rare roast beef.

Ch Belgrave 5eme Cru Classe 2007 Haut-Médoc (£24.99 reduced to £19.99 until Jan 1)

Jancis Robinson describes Chateau Belgrave as "a modest fifth growth in the Haut-Médoc hinterland around St-Laurent inland from Pauillac, now managed by the enterprising Bordeaux negociant Dourthe, which really has produced the goods".

2007 was in general a bit of a wash-out for much of France, so to find any good wines from that year is no mean feat.

Purple in the glass, on the nose there are aromas of cedarwood, black cherries, and sweet vanilla spice. The palate is soft, with perfectly ripe, smooth and mouthfilling tannins, ripe minty blackcurrant and good acidity.

Elegant, sophisticated, and accomplished, it feels very well made indeed - with a good, firm structure - and is drinking really nicely now; a really lovely, harmonious and classical wine to match with traditional roast beef.

The full article by Jancis (a review of the 2005) can be found here.


It is perhaps a little unfair, if highly instructive, to put these two wines up against each other; both are very good and enjoyable, food-friendly wines. Both are drinking nicely now and worth the price for the quality they offer.

The Bordeaux is the better wine of the two - let's not be in any doubt - but not by a huge margin and at £9, the Aussie wine is distinctly more wallet-friendly.

If it were me, I'd have the Ferngove on Christmas Eve and save the Bordeaux for the main event on Christmas Day itself.

Both wines provided for review.
Other related articles
Two Co-op Wines For Christmas
Two Ferngrove Wines at Cambridge Mill Road Winter Fair
Co-op Veuve Monnier Champagne

Ferngrove - website, twitter
Chateau Belgrave - website
The Co-op - website, twitter

Thursday, 13 December 2012

English Wine Producers at Circle of Wine Writers' Christmas Party

In this most patriotic year of the Jubilympics, it was only fitting that the Circle of Wine Writers' Christmas party was a tasting of English wines (mostly fizzes) hosted by the English Wine Producers and held at The Royal Society where, 350 years ago to the month, the "secret formula" for traditional fizz was first communicated.

Wine-making in this country dates back to Roman times, but unlike in France, it is not a continuous history and modern English wine-making is really just a few decades old.

I went through my own "English wine" phase around a decade ago, buying quite a few bottles of clean, crisp aromatic whites from various places including our local vineyard at Chilford Hall.

At the bottom end, English wine is not cheap - taxes, duty, high labour costs, low yields and small vineyard sizes mean that England will never compete with Spain or Australia for cheap and cheerful gluggers.

Rather, value is to be found at the top end, with world class sparklers - often vintage - costing no more than entry-level fizzes from more renowned areas.

The traditional grapes for fizz are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier - when grown on chalky soils in a marginal climate, they produce a thin, mean and acidic base wine that is transformed by secondary fermentation in bottle into a savoury, oatmealy, structured yet refreshing sparkler.

Just as a certain part of France that makes predominantly sparklers does not rely on its limited quantities of still wine for its reputation, so at this tasting the fizzes stole the show from the still whites, roses and reds.

Bolney Estate
Based on the Sussex South Downs, the estate is best summed up by its awards - lots of Bronze medals and the Naked Wines Zero-to-Hero UK.

Bolney Cuvée Rosé 2009 (PN) light and pleasant fizz, Prosecco-esque.

Bolney Cuvée Noir 2009 (Dornfelder) unusual red fizz with red berry fruit and toasty yeastiness on the nose; light and juicy on the palate with elderberry fruit and spice.

Lychgate Red 2009 (80% Rondo, 20%Dornfelder) purple, with dark fruit aromas, spice and hints of bubblegum and nail polish; juicy on the palate with low tannins, soft texture and toastiness.

Danebury Vineyards
Based in Hampshire, this estate also has several bronze-medal wines.

"Cossack" Brut 2005 (90% Auxerrois Blanc, 10% Ruelander) fermented in stainless steel and lees-aged for five years, this is current vintage. Fresh and light, it has good fruit, a food-friendly rasp of acidity and pleasant Pinot-esque aromas. Good.

Madeleine Angevine 2010 aromatic hedgerow nose, light with good linear acidity. Very pleasant as an aperitif.

Schoenburger 2009 less aromatic with greater weight and depth; more structured on the palate with a herbaceous minerality.

Reserve 2010 something of a misnomer, this is a second pressing of all the above grapes and combines a bit of everything; leesiness, hedgerow and depth. Rather like a dinner of warmed-up leftovers, it tastes better than it sounds.

England's largest single estate vineyard based in the North Downs. With a visitor centre, "Indoor Wine Experience" and surely the inevitable gift shop, the actual making of wine feels like a relatively peripheral activity here.

Cubitt Reserve 2006 (PN) with 8g / l dosage this is balanced and savoury; complex and leesy with good depth, it has a muscular firmness and long finish. Very Good.

Greenfields Cuvée 2006 (50%PN, 35% Ch, 15% PM) ripe stone fruit, precision and purity. Very pleasant.

Bacchus 2010 aromatic and nettley (think Marlborough), good linear acidity with Gruener-esque celery, green capsicum and puy lentils. A bit of minerality develops on the palate.

Based in Kent with sandy loam soils and high average sunshine hours, the winery is run by Plumpton-trained Jon Pollard.

Brut Reserve 2008 (37% PN, 36% Ch, 27% PM) tropical fruit, red fruits and earthiness; good acidic backbone. Yeasty toastiness, flintiness and white stone fruit. Very Good.

Blanc de Blancs 2008 (Ch) toasty, yeasty complexity, fresh with pure fruit of apples and pears. Again, good acidic backbone. Good.

Rosé NV (45% PN, 28% Ch, 27% PM) hints of ripe cassis fruit and good acidity, minerality and muscular firmness.

Guinevere Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2011 pale sandy yellow, sweet vanilla cut through with tropical fruit acidity; pleasant toastiness and good persistence. Very Good.

Pinot Noir 2010 pale in the glass, a very pretty style of Pinot with lots of ripe crunchy red fruit, good acidity, depth and firmness. Persistence on the finish.

Hattingley Valley
Newly-planted, this is a family-run vineyard in East Hampshire.

Special Cuvée (60% Ch, 25% PN, 15% PM) tart and appley with good fruit and persistence on the finish. More "interesting" and "promising" than "compelling".

Hush Heath
Balfour Brut Rosé 2009 (52% PN, 37% Ch, 11% PM) good aromatics, red fruits, purity, good minerality and acidity. Very Good.

Still Kent Cider a mix of Cox, Bramley and Egremont Russet: yeasty, appley nose, ripe simple sweetness on the palate; well-made.

Jenkyn Place
A boutique, family-owned estate in north Hampshire.

Brut 2009 (65% Ch, 25% PN, 10% PM) orchard fruit, flintiness and mineral energy. Precise with good depth and persistence. Very Good.

Rosé 2008 (44% Ch, 42% PN, 14% PM) hints of red fruit, with the same precision, minerality and depth as the Brut. Very Good.

Founded in 1994, the estate has won almost 200 medals and 26 trophies in the last 12 years.

Magnum Millenium Release 2000 (Ch) a limited release of 1,000 Magnums to celebrate the turn of the century. A sandy yellow in the glass, combines freshness, deep complexity, precision, muscular firmness, persistence and yeasty, biscuity aromas. Very Good Indeed.

Marksman Blancs de Blancs 2009 (Ch) exclusive to M&S, this has freshness, precision, good depth and firmness. Good.

Fitzrovia (Rosé) 2009 (50% Ch, 28% PN, 22% PM) salmon pink, there is toasty yeastiness, red fruits, precise acidity and biscuity aromas with depth and persistence.

The first producer of English sparkling wine, Nytimber dates back to 1988 and is on a mission to produce the finest English sparkling wine.

Classic Cuvée 2008 (79% Ch, 13% PN, 8% PM) fresh and aromatic with a complex nose and some fruitiness.

Blanc de Blancs 2003 (Ch) yeasty, leesy complexity, lively fruit and pungency. Very Good.

Rosé (58% Ch, 42% PN) fruity, Pinot-esque nose, pungent, refreshing and elegant.

Demi-Sec (Ch) fruity, yeasty, pleasantly off-dry.

Recommended Wines / Producers

For me, the top producer by a long way was Ridgeview; also very good were Gusbourne, Jenkyn Place and Hush Heath.

Top wine of the night was the Ridgeview Magnum Millenium Release 2000.

Top pink fizz was Hush Heath Balfour Brut Rosé 2009.

Top non-sparkler was Gusbourne Guinevere Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2011.

Other related articles
English Wines at IWC Taste of Gold


English Wine Producers - website, twitter
Ridgeview - website, twitter
Circle of Wine Writers - website, twitter

Monday, 10 December 2012

On Wines of a Certain Age‏

Wines age a little like people - many are interesting enough in their youth but then go on simply to become older versions of themselves.

A rare few continue to develop for many years and, whilst losing their youthful exuberance, gain in sophistication and complexity whilst still retaining the spark that made them fascinating earlier on.

If it is true that life begins at 40, then a way to represent this pictorially would be to think of a linear development for the first four decades followed by a rounding out.

Having celebrated my own 40th birthday some years ago, I'm still less than half way to the end of my own life expectancy - and I would like to think that it is not all downhill from here; hopefully, there's more than just a lingering decline into muddle-headed incontinence.

At the weekend, I invited a group of friends to try some wines of various ages and qualities. We topped and tailed with whites to be reviewed elsewhere, but the core of the tasting was a trio of Bordeaux of varying ages.

Chateau La Tour St Bonnet 1971

From the vintage of my birth year, the vines budded before I was born meaning that this wine technically pre-dates my entry into the world.

Pale in the glass, it has an complex and evolved nose of undergrowth and leather. There is a little fruit left, but it is rosehips rather than fresh red berries.

The acidity is still good and the tannins are fully resolved; mellow harmoniousness.

It is a revelation to try a wine this old - even if it is not stellar.

The jokey metaphors pointed facetiously at me abounded - it's past its best, it was once good but is now fading - and I take it all in good humour.

We drink it up quickly and move on.

Reserve de la Comtesse 1994 Magnum

I had opened this earlier in the day to check on its progress. I was pleasantly surprised to find it showing well straight out of the bottle so decided not to decant.

Still purple in the glass but with a paleness, there is good ripe fruit, balanced acidity and harmonious tannins.

I find it very pleasant indeed, elegant with no rough edges, but I had expected a little more .... what ? Detail, perhaps ?

I mentally compare it to a magnum of 1998 Troplong-Mondot I drank a while ago; this is a different time, a different vintage and a different part of Bordeaux.

1998, it seems, was an 8/10 in St Emilion whilst 1994 was a 5/10. Davy, a wine buyer for Downing college, tells me "In a good year you buy the second wine, in a bad year you buy the first wine".

This is a second wine in a distinctly average year. But with classed growths now costing 100s of pounds a bottle, it was a relative bargain.

It is elegant, well made and classy - drinking very nicely. Born into a bad year, its only real fault is a lack of tannic detail.

Chateau de La Dauphine, Fronsac, 2003

It is not a run-of the mill tasting where an almost decade-old wine is the youngest to be tasted.

Compared to the others, this middle-of-the road chateau wine was rather workmanlike. No faults to speak of - a typical and nicely-aged wine, it was mellow but still cut through with good, fresh acidity.

Tasted after a wine in its 5th decade and a second-growth second wine, however, it simply did not leave much of an impression - rather like a well-behaved accountant at a dinner party.


Of the three wines, the Comtesse was for me much the best - even if it did not have the wow-factor I had hoped for; good fruit, well-balanced and no rough edges, on one level it was faultless.

Like an entry-level BMW, it did everything well, even if it did nothing spectacularly. It was just somehow a bit better, more likeable, more accomplished than the other wines.

We kept a little of the wines back; the following day, the Comtesse had lost most of its fruit and was showing aromas of rosehips, soy and green capsicum. It still had balance and freshness, but we'd seen the best of it the night before.

The Dauphine was as pleasant and unassuming as ever - in less Grand Company, it would have seemed rather good but against the Comtesse it could only ever have been an also-ran.

However, all three wines gained something specific from the effects of age - complexity, secondary and tertiary aromas of old leather and forest floor as well as a gentle mellowness; these are qualities that only aging can bring and it was an honour to try so many aged wines in a single evening.

Other related articles
More aged Bordeaux:
- Troplong Mondot 1998 Magnum
- Lynch-Moussas 2004

I bought the Reserve de la Comtesse from Cambridge Wine Merchants for £70.

The other two wines here were provided by the "Other Cambridge Wine Blogger" - whose palate and technical knowledge is far superior to mine - @vinoremus.

We were joined by friends @cambridgelass and @pavitts_pies, the latter providing a selection of her lovely pies to match with the wines.


Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande - http://www.pichon-lalande.com/index-uk.htm
Cambridge Wine Merchants - http://www.cambridgewine.com/

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Ried Loibenberg Loibner Riesling 2003 Smaragd, Knoll - Wachau, Austria‏

Many years ago I travelled regularly on business to Austria and spent most of my per diem allowances on building an Austrian wine collection.

I say collection, but actually most of it was consumed fairly swiftly.

However, I did keep a couple of the better wines back to see how they would age - this was my last one and I was curious to see how it would be at a decade under the stairs.

Tested straight out of the bottle, there was still the ripe citrussy fruit that is characteristic of Austrian Riesling.

Opened again a couple of hours later in the evening, it showed the same citrus fruit with complexity and interest, but had not lost the streak of purity and linearity that had made it precise in its youth.

Weighty on the palate, it felt rounded out with complex tertiary aromas of damp cellar, antique leather and sherry-esque tang.

It was a Joanna Lumley of a wine - grown more beautiful and sophisticated with the years, but still voluptuous, poised and classy.

Very lovely indeed - rather like Joanna here.

I bought this Knoll from Wein & Co in Vienna for around €25 - I've no idea of the price now, either for this vintage or current release, but currency movements and duty alone will have added almost 50% to the price.

Other related articles
Other aged Wachau Rieslings:
- Knoll 2003 Federspiel
Rudi Pichler 2003 Federspiel
More on Knoll
- Austrian Tasting 2012
- Austrian Tasting 2011
More on Austria generally

Friday, 7 December 2012

Wine of the Month - December

Christmas has its origins as a midwinter festival - a time of communal celebration and feasting to mark the half-way point in the winter calendar.

It's surely no coincidence that both the Gregorian calendar and the Christian church follow pagan customs in marking out mid-winter as a notable time.

In these days of central heating, street lights and global supply chains, the purpose of Christmas has changed beyond all recognition, but it remains a time to be marked with family and food.

If the occasion is special, so should the food be - and the wine, too.

Clos Saint Michel, Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc 2009 - Joseph Barnes Wines (£25)

Chateauneuf du Pape in the Rhone is best known for its spicy southern reds, made from up to 13 grape varieties.

However, it also produces small amounts of white wines from local varieties with demand outstripping supply. This one is a blend of 30% Grenache Blanc, 30% Clairette, 20% Roussanne and 20% Bourboulenc.

Aged in old oak, this Clos St Michel  is a sandy yellow in the glass and needs quite a bit of air to come into its own so don't be afraid to decant at least an hour before the meal.

Once opened up, the nose shows hints of acacia, mint, honey and beeswax - the palate is waxy and fat, yet cut through with ripe melon fruit acidity.

This is something of an Old School wine - balanced and composed rather than showy, the interest here is in the texture, acidity and finish when matched with the right food.

Match with plain roast white meats, especially turkey.

Ballochdale Estate Pinot Noir, 2010, Marlborough, New Zealand - Noel Young Wines (£17.50)

New Zealand is fast becoming a second home for Pinot and a more reliable, if no less cheap, source than Burgundy.

From the Awatere Valley in Marlborough, this Ballochdale Estate Pinot Noir from 2010, sealed under screwcap, is quite dark in the glass for a Pinot and on first opening shows plenty of raspberry and black cherry fruit. It's thoroughly pleasant, albeit not particularly Burgundian.

With a bit of air, however, the ripe primary fruit fades away and it becomes a whole lot more interesting. The nose becomes more vegetal with toasty spice. On the palate, there is ripe sour cherry fruit, pepperiness and a beautifully soft texture; the finish is grippy, spicy and pleasantly rasping.

Match with a Christmas turkey with all the trimmings or, on another occasion, with slow-roast garlic-and-rosemary lamb.

Clos de Los Siete 2009 Mendoza, Argentina - Cambridge Wine Merchants (£13.99)

This Argentinian wine is  made by a partnership of seven producers under the auspices of Bordelais oenologist Michel Rolland.

The winery is based at Vistaflores, an estate covering 847 hectares of vineyards, in the commune of Tunuyan, a desert plain rapidly gaining international acclaim, located 80km south of the city of Mendoza.

Like many Argentinian wines, the grapes are grown at much higher altitudes than is possible in Europe (around 1,000m here), extending the growing season and giving more colour in the wine, greater development of aromas and higher acidity levels - New World ripeness without the blowsiness.

Made from a blend of Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah, it is typically dark in the glass, with aromas of dark fruit, game and herbs; the palate shows sweet black fruit with good acidity and a dense, smooth texture of perfectly ripe, mouthfilling tannins.

Ripe and fruit-forward but not overblown, this is a grown-up crowd-pleaser, a lovely, sophisticated blend of New World ripeness and European restraint; it will match best with the sweetness of slow roast chicken with parsnips and pigs-in-blankets or lamb.

Bodegas Borsao, Tinto 2011, Campo de Borja, Spain - Bacchanalia (£5.99)

Spain's Garnacha (aka France's Grenache) typically makes easy-drinking spicy, juicy wines with lots of crowd-pleasing aromas.

The vineyards for this Garnacha from Bodegas Borsao are located on the northern slopes of the Moncayo mountain range and are cooled by the Cierzo breezes.

A translucent purple in the glass, straight out of the screw-capped bottle there are expressive aromas of morello cherries, plummy fruit, liquorice, leather, vanilla and spice.

The palate is juicy and mouthfilling, with a lovely sour-cherry acidity, more plummy and dark berry fruit with sweet vanilla, spice and roughed-up herbs.

The texture is soft and smooth, with some gentle grip developing on the finish.

This is a really expressive wine with bags of crowd-pleasing character - match with darker game, such as pheasant stuffed with apricots, or spicy sausages.

Recommended Wine

There is no overall winner this month - just some great wines for Christmas drinking; the choice here depends simply on what you are eating and your budget.

Wine of the Month will be de-toxing in January, but returns in February with a Valentine's theme.

Other related articles
Christmas Wine of The Month 2011
More on:
- Bacchanalia
- Cambridge Wine Merchants
- Joseph Barnes Wines
- Noel Young Wines


Bacchanalia - http://www.winegod.co.uk/
Cambridge Wine Merchants - http://www.cambridgewine.co.uk/
Joseph Barnes Wines - http://www.josephbarneswines.com/
Noel Young Wines - http://www.nywines.co.uk/

Main image credit: http://lindentea.tumblr.com/post/1559685191/pagan-depot-mean-geimhridh-celtic-midwinter

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Croatia: A Bit of Geo-Political History

Last week, I went to a Croatian Wine Dinner with Pacta Connect at Hotel du Vin. I had planned to write a brief introduction to the country to set the scene, but it turned into the full-length piece below.

So if you just want to read about the dinner - the Croatian wines and matching dishes - click here.

If on the other hand, a shallow dive through the socio-political, ethnic and economic history of this former-Yugoslav EU aspirant grabs your attention - or if, having read about the dinner, you want to dig a little into the background of Croatia, read on.

It often seems to me that Slavic nations are shaped and defined as much by their neighbours as by themselves - Russia is more than half Asian and culturally looks back to centuries of domination under the Mongol empire for its heritage, Ukraine is a borderland passed over and through and occupied by bigger and more powerful neighbours.

Croatia, by contrast, was a teen-bride forced into an unhappy marriage of states jointly renamed Yugoslavia that never really had any shared identity - as became all too obvious in the 1990s.

If the Slovenians to the north are Little Austrians and the Serbians eastward-looking in their Orthodoxy, Croatians are urbane and proudly Catholic with a mixture of central European and Mediterranean influences.

In Balkan Ghosts, Robert Kaplan explains that Croatia has long been a battleground for East vs West struggles: Capitalism against Communism, Catholicism against Orthodoxy, Rome against Constantinople, Habsburg Austria-Hungary against Ottoman Turkey.

He sees the country as lying on a fault line of the great divisions of history, a crucible for centuries of ethnic, religious and cultural tensions which decades of Communism held barely below the surface: "there were reckonings aplenty here".

In the late 90s, I worked in Croatia for a few months on summer, driving down from my home in Vienna every week through southern Austria and Slovenia.

It was not an easy or particularly pleasant time - the countryside of northern Croatia seemed deserted whilst temperatures in central Zagreb were in the high 30s with rubbish uncollected on the streets and packs of stray dogs; most of the local restaurants were scruffy and basic, in the old school communist style.

There were buildings in the grand, Central European style, but they seemed rather sad and neglected - a sign not so much of faded glamour but of faded aspiration.

The wave of optimism at the collapse of communism throughout eastern Europe had first dissipated and then turned into a tide of despair as the aftershocks of the Asian currency crisis swept through the region with as much force as the political changes of half a decade earlier.

Against a background of ethnic tensions, politically and economically the country was on its knees and making good wine seemed the lowest of its priorities.

Around the same time, I also took a holiday in Istria in the "armpit" of Croatia just around the coast from Italy and still very heavily Italian-influenced. If there's a certain "Italian shabbiness", Istria took it a step further with Italian-feel "communist shabbiness".

Further south, the Dalmatian coast is rocky, bare and almost lunar in places but hosts a number of ancient Roman cities including the port of Split where tennis champion Goran Ivanisevic landed after winning Wimbledon in 2001.

Moving forwards, a country that seemed like a doomed basket-case is now sitting in the waiting room of EU accession, rather like the more northern states of Czech, Poland, Hungary and Slovakia were a good decade ago.

Like any country re-inventing itself, there is a new wave of people who are prepared to take risks as they have only reputations to gain and not to lose.

The communist approach to wine-making - indeed to all agriculture - was to treat it like an industrial process, focusing on volume and standardisation, not individuality.

Freed from such socio-political constraints and forced collectivisation, Croatian wine-makers are now able to get back to ideas of wine-making as an artisan activity, an expression of local terroir.

This also means they are free to choose their approach, methods and styles; often the average age of the vines is greater than that of the wine-maker.

The way I think of this new breed of Istrian wine-makers is as having a Mediterranean, Italianate love of food and wine combined with the energy levels and ambition of a new eastern European democracy.

As to the future, Trevor sees some seismic shifts for Croatia's wine industry - joining the EU will open up export markets, but will also bring a flood of cheap imports that will challenge producers of basic wines.

In the longer term, however, the best wines will gain the recognition they deserve and prices will increase accordingly.

Other related articles
Croatian Wine Dinner
A Croatian wine from M&S

Recommended reading

Balkan Ghosts by R. Kaplan (Paperback - Mar 1994) - see here

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Tour de Belfort's New Range‏

I've been following the developments of the organic, almost natural wines of Tour de Belfort from South West France ever since I met Muriel Lismonde in her adoptive home of Cheshire earlier this year.

One evening last week, I got an early train home from work and stopped by The Gonville Hotel overlooking Parker's Piece to catch up with Muriel and meet her parents, Eugene and Sylvie, who were showing their latest vintages.

Having struggled to get distribution in the UK, they decided to broaden their range and now have a shop offering wine and food courses with local chef Jason Palin.

To the basic red, white and rose blends, they have  added two colours of fizz and two oak-aged, single varietal Grands Vins.


I started with a Crémant de Bordeaux; this unusual wine is made from Bordelais grapes using the Champagne method. The family who make it originally came to Bordeaux from Champagne bringing their wine-making approach with them.

The current release does not use Tour de Belfort grapes, but simply has their name on the label - the first of the genuine Tour de Belfort Crémant de Bordeaux will be available from next year using this year's harvest.

The white fizz was light, crisp and fresh - similar to a good Prosecco.

The pink fizz was rather more interesting with good aromatics and some spice.

Unoaked Blends 2011

This year, the white blend features a higher proportion of Chardonnay. It feels as clean and pure as the 2010 with ripe melon and tropical citrus on the palate.

The red blend features more Cabernet Franc and is perfumed with good savoury depth.

The rosé, made from young-vine Syrah and Malbec, is the most well-defined of the three with crisp, linear acidity and aromatic spice.

Grands Vins

The varietal Malbec is aged in 100% new oak and this shows through in the extra complexity and spice. An accomplished and sophisticated wine.

The oak-aged Chardonnay has ripe, pure tropical fruit and lovely oaking with sweet vanilla spice. It's expertly made but stylistically more New World - and specifically Californian - than European; I'd prefer to see a streak of linear acidity and a hint of pungent yeastiness to balance out the ripe sweetness.

The Tour de Belfort range is available from the website. However readers of this blog can get a discount on the list price by contacting Muriel directly and mentioning the blog.

The wines are also available in Cambridge exclusively at The Gonville Hotel.

Recommended Wines
For me, the most interesting wines were the rosé for its linearity and precision and the oaked Malbec for its complexity.

Other related articles
Tour de Belfort - The History,The Reds,The White, The Rosé

Tour de Belfort - website, Facebook
Muriel Lismonde - twitter
The Gonville Hotel - website, twitter

Monday, 3 December 2012

Only Pacta Connect - Croatian Wine Dinner at Hotel du Vin‏

Trevor and Judith Long of Pacta Connect Wines are a lively and entertaining couple; I met them at Cambridge Hotel du Vin at a Croatian Wine Dinner where they were showing some of their wines matched to food by Chef Jonathan Dean.

After originally working in the music business, they made the decision to change careers and become wine importers. With a commercial background, they bring a pragmatic, businesslike approach to the task of making and selling wine whilst likening the task of getting the best out of a winemaker to that of keeping a performing artist happy and focused - both being creative, gifted, egotistical and rather precious types.

Trevor is an engaging rough diamond of a Brummie who would not seem out of place as a bassist-cum-roadie-cum-manager of a pub rock band (he actually tour managed Duran Duran, The Fall, The Stranglers, Haircut 100 and Then Jerico); when he says "kipper tie", he is referring not to a garment but a hot drink.

By contrast, Judith - who was previously PA to a record label Chairman - is rather proper in a well-spoken, slightly plummy sort of way, albeit one suspects she has a darker, more wayward, somewhat punkier sort of side.

They remind me a little of Tim Pearson, a Midlander who made his money in contract cleaning before setting up 7Springs winery.

So I had three questions in my head - why Croatia, whence the palate and how do they spot winemaking talent ?

Over dinner, they explained that Judith had connections in next-door Slovenia but that, popping across the border to Croatia, they had found the wines to be much better there.

The palate is apparently Trevor's - clearly a result of the rock and roll high life.

As to spotting talent, as Trevor puts it, he has had to kiss a lot of oenological frogs before finding the 70-odd wines that now make up their range and which he considers his "children".

"You've clearly been busy" I remarked dryly to which both he and Judith erupted into peals of laughter.


We started in the library of the Hotel where Judith and Trevor - who often talk over each other in their enthusiasm to tell stories - introduced the first wine of the evening - Misal Millennium, a Champagne-method fizz produced by 25 year old winemaker Ana at her grandfather's vineyards.

A blend of 80% Istrian Malvazija, 10% Pinot Noir and 10% Chardonnay, it is fermented in stainless steel and marked NV but all from 2009-harvest grapes. It is an elegant sparkler that developed some savouriness and a food friendly rasp with some air and was served with canapes of smoked salmon paté on toast and a warm beetroot gazpacho.

An oak-aged fizz with more toastiness and complexity would have stood up better to the salmon, and although both were lovely, it did not quite work as a match.

Overall, I thought all the food and wines were good-to-excellent, but the best match was with the red wine, whilst the white matches were "almost, but not quite".

All the wines are from Istria which despite being on the Mediterranean results lower alcohol levels due to sea breezes and the cooling Bora winds.

Trevor and Judith in Pula, Istria

Our first course was a creamy risotto with peas, seared squid rings and truffle oil - appropriately Mediterranean it was light, creamy and delicious.

The accompanying wine was a Piquentum Malvazija 2011. It is a natural wine, for which there is no set definition but which generally means all-natural processes with wild-yeast fermentation, no added substances and low winemaker intervention.

A straw yellow colour in the glass, it was bright and clear with a nose of mossy clay, salinity and seashells.

On the palate, there is good freshness and acidity (it is fermented in stainless steel) and minerality, with a complex, developed character that feels older than current vintage.

It also had something else slightly elusive about it that I find in many natural wines - a depth of flavour and texture.

Our next starter was baked bream with red pepper stuffed cabbage and a Coronica Gran Malvazija from 2008.

100% Istrian malvzija with 10 months' ageing on the lees in stainless steel and a further 10 months in French oak, it was weighty, complex and evolved beyond its years.

Its leesy complexity, muskiness and a fullness on the palate gave it an aged character beyond its mere four years of age - Old School and geeky, it was Very Good Indeed.

The fish was perfectly cooked and the little parcel of typically eastern European stuffed cabbage was very well done, but the food did not match and demanded something fresher, crisper and more modern in style.


Over the main course of lamb paprikash with chateau potatoes, Judith explained that they supply wines to a number of Michelin-starred restaurants and here I could see why - the Roxanich SuperIstrian 2007, again a natural wine, was Rhonesque and complex with vanilla spice, bramble and black cherry fruit and tobacco; the texture is ripe, soft, full and peppery.

A blend of 40% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Istrian Borgonja, this was a really lovely wine -  accomplished, vibrant and exciting with a strong, outgoing personality that will match easily with the sort of characterful food one hopes for at a good restaurant.

The lamb paprikash was rich, tender and full of flavour with the meat falling apart; as a match, it was absolutely spot on.


Dessert was a wonderful berry torte with lavender ice cream matched to Cattunar White Muscat 2008; 100% white muscat grape of Momjan (a small village in northern Istria, the only place where this muscat is grown, apparently), the wine had a herbal, aromatic nose of rubbed sage with white flowers - on the palate, there is crisp acidity and floral ripeness but the finish is more off-dry than fully sweet.

This, unfortunately, broke the golden rule of dessert wines: that they must be at least as sweet as the food - and preferably more so.

Although delicious, the dessert overpowered the wine which felt tart on the finish when tasted with the sweetness of the food.
I feel Trevor's suggestion of poached pears would have made for a more successful match - a lighter, sharper, less intensely sweet dish was required here.


Overall, this was a superb and hugely entertaining dinner; Trevor and Judith were excellent hosts, the food and wines were uniformly excellent and there was an interesting mix of guests with a blend of youth and experience.

If the food and wine matches were not always spot on, this was more of a minor niggle than dinner-party carnage.

The wines from Croatia were for me a revelation; not just merely something new and quite interesting, they were seriously impressive and a sign that Croatia is a place to watch - especially with EU accession due next year.

Whether the wines are typical of what is happening in Croatia generally or more a reflection of Trevor's own preferences I do not know.

But as he pointed out at the beginning of his talk, in 2011 Croatia won more Decanter awards than Chile or Argentina; and these things do not happen by accident, of course.

With something of a captive market at present, Croatian wines are not cheap - especially at the bottom end.

By contrast, the value is to be found at the top end, where broader reputations have not yet been made and prices increased accordingly.

Tickets for the dinner cost £55 per head; I attended as a guest of the hotel.

Other related articles
Champagne Dinner at Hotel du Vin
Noval Dinner at Hotel du Vin

Pacta Connect - website, twitter
Hotel du Vin - website, twitter

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Monsoon Valley Shiraz and Shiraz Rosé - Thailand

One of the key symptoms of wine geekiness is an insatiable enthusiasm for trying new things - it helps if they are good, too, of course.

These two wines from Thailand's Monsoon Valley scored on both fronts - like most people, I imagine, I associate Thailand more with green curry, dancing and Singha Beer. So it was a revelation to find that the country not only makes wine, but that it is rather good and in a classical, European style.

The PR blurb tells me: Monsoon Valley Wines are award-winning wines made from carefully selected grapes grown at Hua Hin Hills Vineyard in Thailand. The leading new latitude wine is crafted by Siam Winery winemaker

Kathrin Puff and her team, using old world values with new world enthusiasm and state of the art
winemaking equipment.

Monsoon Valley Shiraz 2010

Toasty, spicy nose with vanilla and dark berry fruit - elderberries and black cherries.

Lovely mouthfilling acidity, low in tannins.

Few clues as to its New World origins - it is reminiscent of a Languedoc Syrah.

After a day, the aromas have developed even more - dark fruit, vanilla spice are prominent with a vegetal / slightly sulphurous aroma.

On the palate, it is juicy yet persistent with good length.

It feels light, easy-drinking and elegant - with a soft, smooth texture and very gentle tannins.

What there is here feels very pleasant and technically well made with no rough edges at all. There isn't a lot of tannic structure, but it's just not that type of wine.

Match the dark fruit, juiciness and spice to a slow roast leg of lamb.

Monsoon Valley Shiraz Rosé 2011

Salmon pink in the glass, aromas of red fruits and spice on the nose.

Crisp, precise and linear on the palate with more red berry fruit, hints of spice and good minerality; good aromatics and deftness.

Long palate and persistence on the finish - this is an accomplished food rosé.

Match with European foods such as smoked salmon, summery salads and charcuterie - or maybe with a Thai red curry, too.

Both wines are good and have won awards - personally I slightly prefer the racy style of the rosé.

Both wines available from Fine Wine Sellers priced at £10.99: provided for review.

Other related articles
Wines from Turkey, India, Greece and Georgia
Uruguayan Red Dessert Wine at Cambridge Hotel du Vin
Fringe Wine and a Bit of Geo-Political History

Monsoon Valley - website
Fine Wine Sellers - website