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Monday, 29 April 2013

Wine Hound‏

A review of five wines from Wine Hound, an online merchant established in 2007 and selling wines which are normally only available in UK hotels, restaurants and wine bars.

We tried the wines with a group of friends over a barbecue consisting of roasted kale leaves, home-made guacamole, rose harissa prawns, roasted sweet potatoes and burgers.

They felt very much like "restaurant wines"; lots of food-friendly acidity, low tannins, modest fruit expression. Versatile and without too much of their own personality, they are perfectly suited to matching with the bold flavour combinations of restaurant food by playing a supporting role.

Rather like the other necessary accoutrements of a restaurant - the decor, lighting, soundtrack and waiting staff - they are well-designed, well-behaved and blend in seamlessly.

Albarino Condes de Albarei - 2011 (£12.95)
Citrus, sherbert
Ripe citrus acidity, clean pure lemony fruit expression, refreshing, not especially long or complex.

Gruner Veltliner `Gaisberg` - 2011 (£14.95)
Peachy, white pepper, mouthfilling citrus acidity, good minerality - more complexity than the Albarino.

Ramon Bilbao Crianza - 2010 (£10.95)
Bramble fruit, toasty oak
Sweet ripe bramble fruit, sweet vanilla spice, long savoury palate, rounded acidity, gentle finish.

La Playa Carmenere - 2011 (£8.45)
More expressive nose - soy, coffee, elderberry, nutmeg spice
Dark berry & black cherry fruit, rounded acidity, vanilla sweetness, mouthfilling, low tannins, touch of grippy persistence on the finish

Geoff Merrill Shiraz Pimpala Road - 2010 (£10.95)
Ripe, spicy and chocolatey
Ripe bramble and dark berry fruit, sweet vanilla, mouthfilling acidity, savouriness, low tannins, long palate, smooth accomplished finish.


Overall, the wines scored highly for consistency of quality and style - they have, perhaps, more in common with each other than with the typical characteristics of the regions they are from.

It proved fortuitous that we ended up matching them with the sort of strongly-flavoured, quite challenging foods they are designed for; I suspect they might not show as well with a simple piece of fish or plain roast meat.

Recommended wine
With six of us trying the wines, there was no clear consensus on an overall favourite, so it probably comes more down to personal preference (and the accompanying food).

For me, the reds generally had more complexity and depth on the palate and the most accomplished of these was the Shiraz.

All wines provided for review.

Other related articles
Families and Friends Dinner at Fitzbillies
Losehill House
Ramon Bilbao Dinner at Hotel du Vin
The Box Tree Ilkley (for Jancis Robinson)

Wine Hound - website, twitter

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Marks & Spencer Spring Tasting: Italian Reds‏

A review of the Italian reds shown at M&S's spring tasting at the invitation of Elizabeth Kelly.

As a student, I had a housemate who was a great fan of a certain band (English Prog Rock group Yes, if you must know) - he had not only all their studio albums, but live, solo, bootlegs and collectors' limited editions.

Over time, I was converted to the cause, but my enthusiasm was always rather more tempered - I thought their best albums (Fragile and Close to the Edge) superb, but the rest rather left me cold; either dross, overblown or simply not to my taste.

I feel much the same way about Italian wines: the best I like very much, but have not yet learnt to love them unreservedly and feel that I don't generally know them all that well.

My Concise World Wine Atlas notes that, compared to France "Italy has no less taste, but order comes far down the priority list ... Italy has an equally valid, if often exasperating, wine personality"; that pretty much sums up my feelings about Italy.

Frappato 2012, Sicily (£7.99) pale translucent ruby, bright red fruits, leesiness. A pleasant light red.

Reggiano Rosso 2012, Emilia Romagna (£5.99) ruby garnet, strawberry and raspberry aromas, ripe pure cherry and raspberry fruit, savoury with a firm finish.

Toscano Rosso 2012, Tuscany (£5.99) leather, vanilla and spice on the nose, bright cherry fruit, good structure and a firm finish. This is a baby Chianti. Good.

Aglianico 2012, Campania (£6.49) bright purple, ripe, slightly cooked fruit, spice and chocolateyness. Mouthfilling and grippy.

Dolcetto d'Asti 2012, Piedmont (£6.99) dark purple, ripe, simple berry fruit, savoury and quite long with firmness on the finish.

Perricone 2011, Sicily (£7.99) dark purple, minty spice, bramble and berry fruit, good fresh acidity and firmness on the finish.

Chianti Flask 2012, Tuscany (£9.99) this reminds me of going on a date in the '80s to an Italian restaurant - they used the whicker flask bottles as candle holders and I felt ever-so sophisticated. Actually, the flask is probably the most interesting thing here.

Etna Rosso, Sicily (£9.99) pale ruby, like tawny port. Herbaceous raspberry leaf aromas, red fruit and soft gentle texture. Fresh acidity and rather grippy finish.

Lacrima di Morro d'Alba, Le Marche (£11.99) dark purple, violets, red fruit and eucalyptus, soft texture, grippy finish.

Morellino di Scansano 2009, Tuscany (£15.99) complex musky, leathery, cherry-fruit nose, dense tannins and feels much more sophisticated and nuanced. Pleasant firmness on the finish. Good.

Renato Ratti Marcenasco Barolo 2009, Piedmont (£27) tawny port colour; mintiness, red fruits and muskiness. Soft smooth texture with a firmness on the finish. Approachable, wonderfully composed and very elegant, as you would expect at the price. Good.

Recommended wines
All the wines here were well-made and free of technical or stylistic faults; the best wine here was the Barolo, but if £27 feels a bit steep for a bottle from the supermarket, then the Morellino is the one. Bargain hunters should go for the Toscano Rosso.

Other related articles
Outis - Wines from Sicily
Slow Wine Tasting - Italian Artisan Wines
Moscato Frizzante and a Jelly Recipe
Vinum Tasting of Italian Wines
A (Metaphorical) Tour Through Italy's Vineyards

Marks and Spencer - website, twitter

Main image credit: https://twitter.com/hazel_macrae/status/327382719606706176

Friday, 26 April 2013

Lay & Wheeler: World Class Cabernet and Merlot

A tasting of "World Class Cabernet and Merlot" from Lay & Wheeler at Cambridge Hotel du Vin, this was a fascinating opportunity to compare a range of wines of similar styles, backgrounds and prices. I was invited by Marketing Manager, MW student Kat Wiggins who blogs as WineKat.
The Wines were shown in pairs, with prices generally just under £50 per bottle.
As a palate warm-up, we started with a 2010 Knoll Ried Loibenberg Grüner Veltliner Smaragd. I am a huge fan of this wine and thought it superb - ripe peachy fruit and poised mouthfilling acidity.
Cabernet heavyweights, world-class quality

Pichon-Longueville 2006 (Pauillac)
Dark purple, first hints of paleness
Complex nose of red fruit, pencil shavings
Bramble fruit, leather, pencil shavings; mellow texture, full, soft, ripe tannins, mouthfilling and extremely long, savouriness and wonderful structure.
Pleasant firmness on the finish.

Very Good Indeed

Dominus Estate 2006 (Napa)
Ruby purple, some paleness and brick red hints
Red berry fruit, raspberry leaves, herbaceous mintiness, sweet soft red fruits, herbaceousness, mouthfiling and grippy on the palate with freshness.
Grippy finish
Perfectly pleasant and well made; overpriced.

Merlot & Cabernet Franc from a limestone plateau

Tapanappa Whalebone Vineyard 2007 (Wrattonbully, Aus)
Pale translucent ruby
Vegetal, herbaceous and minty nose, touch of dark spice
Ripe bramble fruit; spice, liquorice, old leather
Long and savoury, good acidity, perfectly ripe tannins
Very classy and distinctly Old World style in elegance, restraint and style
Pavie-Macquin 2006 (St-Emilion)
Dark purple
More primary fruit and youthful nose
Complex berry fruit, pencil shavings, touch of red bell pepper and leather
Ripe and mouthfilling, sweet vanilla, savoury, grippy tannins, bramble fruit and pencil shavings
Long with fresh acidity
Grippy finish - a touch overextracted


Chateau d'Issan 2009 (Margaux)
Dark purple and youthful
Pencil savings, pepperiness, bramble fruit, liquorice, hedonistic vegetal
Ripe bramble fruit, touch of peppery spice, liquorice and pencil shavings
Mouthfilling and grippy; long and savoury, minty good structure, firmness on the finish
Plenty of stuffing - lovely tannins
Approachable despite its youth, from good year
Very Good

Le Serre Nuove 2010, Tenuta dell'Ornellaia (Tuscany)
Dark purple, brick red hints
Cherry fruit, leaf tobacco, feral hints and pepper
Soft, velvety texture, sweet vanilla red and black cherry fruit, minty, firm, slightly grainy tannins, long and savoury with good acidity
Grippy, minty finish
Italian sense of purpose

Langoa-Barton 2009 (St-Julien)
Dark purple
Complex nose - bramble, blackurrant, pencil shavings, hint of spice
Ripe fruit, sweet vanilla, really lovely mouthfilling texture, mintiness, savouriness.
Feels vibrant and lively.
Very Good Indeed.

Seña, Chadwick 2010 (Aconcagua Valley, Chile)
Dark purple
Dark fruit and roasted sweet, dark spices
Sweet ripe bramble fruit - in a New World way
Lots going on; ripe fruit, bitter spices, savouriness, fresh acidity, ripe tannins, good structure
Firmness develops, grippy finish
Well-behaved New World, but Eliza Doolittle-esque

2005 La Petite Eglise 2005 (Pomerol)
Pale Ruby with a touch of brick red hints
Feral / vegetal, red fruits and dark spice
Sweet vanilla, mellow with perfectly ripe tannins. Firmness on the finish - good structural underpinnings
Feels somehow less substantial,  not concentrated. What's there is fine - just not a lot of it.
Too much time in oak ?

2006 Craggy Range ‘Sophia’ (Gimblett Gravels, NZ)
Translucent purple, some paleness and brick red hints
Red berry fruits, raspberry leaves, liquorice and mintiness, roasted spice
Mintiness, red fruits, soft texture, mellow with perfectly ripe tannins, touch of grippy firmness develops
Elegant if not especially concentrated

Recommended Wines
If you happen to be in the market for a £50 bottle of wine, then it has to be the Langoa-Barton or the Pichon-Longueville.

Other related articles
Crus Bourgeois
Ch Belgrave 5eme Cru Classe 2007 Haut-Médoc
Three aged Bordeaux
Troplong Mondot 1998 Magnum

Lay & Wheeler - website
The WineKat - blog, twitter
Hotel du Vin - website

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Tio Pepe En Rama 2013 - Launch Dinner

Now in its fourth year, the launch of Tio Pepe's En Rama bottling for 2013 was marked by a preview tasting and dinner the night before at Hispania restaurant with winemaker Antonio Flores.

For the uninitiated, En Rama is a limited edition, unfined, unfiltered fino, bottled in the spring when the flor is at its thickest; the sherry is cleared naturally and is as close as you can get to a barrel sample without actually visiting the winery.

Darker in colour than a standard fino, it has a much stronger, more concentrated and intense flavour.

It is also more of a living product and so has a much shorter shelf life; drinking is recommended within three months of bottling date.

En Rama was launched for the UK and local markets originally, but is now gaining popularity across other countries.

The formal "release date" and rush to get it from winery to consumer as quickly as possible has a whiff of the potential for Beaujolais nouveau-style gimmickery if taken too far, but the underlying reasons for bottling only at a certain time and getting it to market quickly are based on sound practicalities.

The story of the 2013 release is that Sr. Flores initially selected 100 casks in late 2012 with the potential to become En Rama, then whittled it down to 67 for final bottling.
The barrels come from two very old soleras: Constancia and Rebollo (a foundation solera). Saca - the drawing off of some of the wine from the barrel - started on 1st April with the wine bottled on 8th April.

Antonio Flores describes En Rama as something magical, "life in a glass".

We started the dinner with some elegant tapas and a crisp Tio Pepe Fino.

Tuna Tartar with mustard and citric dressing
Marinated Salmon with cold almond sauce and green apple
Black rice with squid ink, cuttlefish and prawns
Ham croquette

Iberico ham with pan tomaca
Tempura Asparagus with Romanescu sauce

Tio Pepe En Rama
Fino sherry is a perfect match for simple tapas and the savouriness and complexity of the En Rama matched with the sweet mellow jamon, but also stood up to the fat, crispy asparagus.

Steamed cod with ratatouille & cauliflower spicy mash

La Miranda de Secastilla Garnacha Blanca 2010
Made from previously neglected, 60 year-old bush vines in the cool hills of Somontano, this had a Riesling-esque nose with a hint of old oak.

On the palate, the acidity is poised precise and linear, with elegant aromatics and a long savoury palate. I thought this a really lovely wine, somewhat Austrian in style.

Slow Roast lamb with crushed paprika potato

Matarromera Crianza 2009
A Tempranillo from Riberia del Duero, this had lots of ripe bramble fruit and peppery spice. It is a very elegant and balanced wine with a velvety texture, perfectly ripe tannins and a long savouriness and a touch of grip on the finish.

Whilst both the wine and the food were lovely, for me the match here did not quite work - the gently slow-roasted meat needed an older, less-primary wine. Or the wine needed meat that had been a little more browned.

Crunchy cheese bite
Flamed Montenebro cheese with orange zest and chocolate and fig cream
Torrija / Spanish caramelised toast with yoghurt ice-cream

Matusalem Oloroso
Matusalem is a blend of oloroso with 25% PX aged for 30 years. The two wines spend 10 years in separate barrels and a further 20 years in barrel together once blended.

Aromas of sweet American oak, varnish and antique shop give way to roasted nuts, figs and raisins. Sweet, complex and long, it has a savoury bite.

A versatile dessert wine, it matched especially well with the crunchy cheese bite - creamed blue cheese between slices of roasted, sweetened filo pastry.

Homemade chocolate truffle and fig bread

Brandy Lepanto
The brandy is made from Palomino grapes, double-distilled in two alembics from Cognac and then aged for 12 years in old Tio Pepe barrels at 60% alcohol, before bottling at 36%.

An amber colour in the glass, it is fine and elegant. On the nose and palate, the attractive non-alcoholic elements of cooked mixed fruit dominate; beautifully smooth and mellow.

As Antonio noted, the only thing that could have enhanced this round off to the meal was a cigar.
Tio Pepe En Rama is available in limited quantities at £14.99 from:

- Adnams
- Cambridge Wine Merchants
- Lay & Wheeler
- Lea and Sandeman
- The Oxford Wine Company
- Majestic
- SH Jones
- Tanners
- The Wine Society

I attended as a guest of Tio Pepe.

Other related articles
Tio Pepe Fino En Rama Tasting at Cambridge Wine Merchants‏
The Great Sherry Tasting
Hidalgo Sherry Dinner With Cambridge Wine Merchants at The Punter
More Sherry Taking On Cambridge 105
Tio Pepe Fino‏ - Date-Stamped

Tio Pepe - twitter
Antonio Flores - twitter
Hispania - website

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Le Clos du Château d’Isenbourg - Alsace

Le Clos du Château d’Isenbourg is an estate of five hectares, based in Rouffac, Alsace. They recently sent me a couple of wines to review - a white blend and a Gewurztraminer with a bit of age. Both were well-made, balanced and food-friendly.

Isenbourg Les Tourelles 2010

A blend of Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Blanc.

Golden sandy yellow in the glass, subtle aromas of apricot and melon fruit with a touch of peach-skin yeastiness on the nose.

Big and weighty on the palate with more ripe apricot, peach and sweet pear fruit, white flowers, some sweet exotic spice and good savoury underpinnings, some yeastiness and well-balanced tropical citrus acidity.

There is some residual sugar, but the finish is savoury and yeasty.

Rounded, harmonious and elegant.

Match with salmon, shellfish or roast pork with horseradish apple sauce.

Le Clos Chateau Isenbourg "Les Terrasses" Gewurztraminer 2008

Golden sandy-coloured in the glass; the nose is all beeswax candles and incense with a touch of old, leatherbound books - close your eyes and you could be at a Catholic High Mass.

The palate is full of sweet ripe peach fruit and fresh tropical acidity, with a waxy, mouthfilling peachy texture and sweet exotic spice.

Good underpinnings, with old-vine concentration and savouriness coming through on the finish.

Well-balanced and well-made from good fruit - a really lovely wine.

Match with goose liver pate, gravadlax or slow-roasted pork belly with apple sauce.

Other related articles
La Cave des Vignerons de Pfaffenheim - Alsace
Dopff & Irion
Alsace archive

Le Clos du Château d’Isenbourg - website

Friday, 19 April 2013

#braaiday - Wine from South Africa‏

Another week, another trip to High Timber for a South African tasting. This time it was for #braaiday, a food and wine evening organised by Wines of South Africa.

With a mixture of wine writers and merchants, there was no set agenda - just a bunch of wines to taste and discuss over a South African dinner.

South Africa has perhaps the same image problem in this country as Australia - seen more as a "value" than "classic" region, it is a place to go for cheap, usually discounted, fruity stuff at the supermarket that detracts from attempts to make more serious wines.

But with everything on show retailing above £10 - and in some cases up to £60 - there was no lack of ambition here.

And the wines were generally good-to-impressive, with a couple that hold their own against top European classics - in price as well as quality.

In general, all the wines were well made - but I struggled with some varieties and simply did not enjoy the Chenins, Pinotage and my old nemesis Pinot Noir as much as the others - even if they ticked plenty of boxes from a technical perspective.

Here, then, is a personal summary of the ones I liked best.

The Whites
Chamonix, Sauvignon Blanc Reserve 2010 (£12.95, Stone, Vine & Sun) toasty pungent oak, ripe tropical citrus, long palate and well-balanced

Dombeya Chardonnay 2011 (£12.95, Lea & Sandeman) toasty, oaky nose, pear drops, ripe orchard fruit, oatmealy nutty savouriness, good acidity

Chris Alheit Cartology 2011 (£22, Handford Wines, SA Wines Online) mainly Chenin from 4 different vineyards plus a dash of old-vine Semillon. Ripe orchard fruit, incredible waxy, leesy texture, very long on the palate, complex and mouthfilling with fresh acidity. Very Good.

AA Badenhorst Funky White NV 37.5cl (£14.50 Swig) a blend of varieties fermented under flor in a solera system. More Jura than Sherry for me, sharp and cidery with a flavour of apple flesh and minerality, plus a Manzanilla tang - definitely interesting and different. Good.

The Reds

MR de Compostella 2009 (£39.99 Handford Wines) blend of CF, CS, Malbec, PV, Merlot; peppery spice, ripe elderberry, savoury and long. Good.

De Toren Fusion V 2010 (£35, Swig) blend of CS, Merlot, Malbec, CF, PV pepper, spice, pencil shavings, good structure.

Haskell II Haskell Vineyards 2009 (£21.50, Lea & Sandeman) a blend of Shiraz, Cab, Mourvedre; smokey, dark fruit, slightly feral, Languedoc-esque, with sour cherry fruit and minerality

Mullineux Schist Syrah 2010 (£58.95 Handford Wines) feral nose with complex pepperiness, sour cherry acidity, dark fruits, savouriness, complexity and poise, northern Rhone-esque. Great length. Very Good Indeed (if not such great value).

Guardian Peak Lapa Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (£17.99 SA Wines Online) ripe and spicy with good acidity, earthiness and black cherry fruit. Elegant and precise.

The Foundry Syrah 2007 (£22.95 Vagabond Wines) good ripe elderberry fruit, fresh acidity, savouriness. Feels significantly overpriced, however.

Recommended Wines
White: Cartology for its savouriness and length or Funky White for a Jura-esque walk on the wild side.
Red: Mullineux Schist Syrah if your rich uncle is paying; the MR de Compostella if even he baulks at the price. Otherwise the Guardian Peak Lapa Cab if it's your own hard-earned pennies.

Other related articles
Oldenberg at High Timber
7Springs at The Cambridge Tasting
Arabella Reserve Shiraz Viognier 2008, South Africa - Naked Wines
Heather Doughty's review - here.
Cooksister's native viewpoint - here.

#braaiday on twitter - https://twitter.com/search?q=%23braaiday
Wines of South Africa - twitter, website
Handford Wines - twitter
Lea And Sandeman - twitter
SA Wines Online - twitter
Stone, Vine & Sun - twitter
Swig - twitter
Vagabond Wines - twitter
High Timber - twitter

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Les 110 de Taillevent‏, Paris

It was a Very Special Occasion in the CWB household - so much so that a meal out in Cambridge, or even London, would not have sufficed.

Instead, we found ourselves in Paris for a long weekend and, thanks to a last-minute recommendation from a local, seated for dinner a deux at Les 110 de Taillevent, just 10 minutes' walk from the Arc de Triomphe.

With dark-wood and low lighting, the restaurant has a hushed, upmarket edginess and the sort of cleverly quirky touches -adding to, but not dominating, the atmosphere - that will appeal to the lawyers, ad execs and businessmen that make up much of the clientele.

The unadorned interior and small, square tables give an informal feel yet also a sense of purpose - elegance, refinement and balance, rather than eye-catching ostentation.

The set menu is not extensive - just two choices for starters and mains and three for desserts - but each course has four wine recommendations at different price points.

Each glass arrives with a little paper base, to detach and keep, with details and a reference number for buying full bottles at next-door Les Caves de Taillevent, whilst the paper place mat has a space for tasting notes.

In practice, I doubt anyone seriously scribbles tasting notes over a business lunch or romantic dinner, and this is perhaps the one unconvincing gimmick in an otherwise flawless set-up.

If the nibbles on arrival serve as an indicator of the style and ambitions of the restaurant, setting the tone for the rest of the meal, the elegant cheese straws - light, flaky and neatly topped with poppy and sesame seeds - bespoke of classic dishes perfectly but unfussily executed with great attention to detail.

The bread - a crusty, stone-baked, chocolate-coloured rye - balanced an earthy rusticity with lightness and finesse.

For it is one thing to do flavour, yet quite another to do it so elegantly, to balance intensity, refinement and precision so skilfully and to match each course with perfectly-served, food-friendly wines whilst eschewing the siren call of vulgar theatricality.

Our starters of Pot au Feu en Gelee with vinagrette was a neat, square slice of terrine with delicious little blocks of gently cooked vegetables, cubes of tender meat and a deliciously rich chicken liver pate that had us both swooning.

The wine match for this was, unusually, a red Coteaux du Languedoc "Traversée" 2010 from Domaine G. Crisfield with food-friendly acidity, precision and great elegance.

The pike quenelles for our main were likewise light and delicate, yet strongly flavoured, and served with a wonderful sauce made from cream, tomatoes and lobster bisque.

This was matched with a southern French white, Bellet "Le Clos" 2011 Le Clos Saint-Vincent; ripe, waxy and citrussy with good acidity and weightiness, it cut through the richness and strong flavours of the dish.

If dessert was a little more pedestrian in description - a cheese cake - it was enlivened through deconstruction; the rich, dense creamy, yet perfectly smooth, mascarpone layer placed on a thin, separately baked base, then topped with a sharp lemon sorbet, fresh raspberries and a coulis on the side.

After an early start that day to arrive in Paris by lunchtime, we decided to skip coffees, but made a point of booking ourselves in for a return visit before heading back to Cambridge.
The other half of the menu proved equally impressive - a crisp, yet light sardine spring roll with a creamy sauce and broad beans, followed by the most meltingly tender piece of beef I can remember eating with an intense red wine jus. The wine match, Toscana 2010 La Massa, was focused and precise, with cherry fruit, good acidity and an elegant hint of spiciness.

For dessert this time, we finally showed some independence; Mrs CWB chose the sorbets (bitter grapefruit, sharp orange, zesty lime) with a freshly-baked madaleine whilst I opted for the yeasty St Nectaire cheese.

It was a chance recommendation that had taken us to Les 110 de Taillevent - I had pulled together a long list of suggestions from various contacts and ex-colleagues in Paris and had nothing more than "a good feeling" about this one.

For whilst you would be unlucky to get a bad meal in Paris, to find somewhere as memorable as Les 110 de Taillevent takes more than just serendipity and it was an incredibly fortunate series of events that brought us there.

The set menu costs €39 for 3 courses excluding wine.

Other related articles
L'Alembic, Nuits St Georges
Fischer's of Baslow
Plachutta, Vienna
The Box Tree, Ilkley (for Jancis Robinson)
Review by Fiona Beckett - http://www.matchingfoodandwine.com/news/reviews/les-110-de-taillevent-paris---food-and-wine-matching-nirvana/

Les 110 de Taillevent - website

Friday, 12 April 2013

A Most Particular Taste: Haut-Brion 350 Years Celebration Dinner

On April 10th 1663, diarist, Cambridge-graduate and upwardly-mobile man-about-town, Samuel Pepys wrote to have "drank a sort of French wine called Ho Bryen that hath a good and most particular taste I never met with", thereby inventing the tasting note.

Haut-Brion, the only Bordeaux first growth based outside the Medoc, was purchased in 1935 by US financier Clarence Dillon, and is now run by Prince Robert of Luxembourg after Dillon's granddaughter married into the family.
To mark the 350th anniversary of this earliest recorded assessment of the wine, Cambridge University Wine Society arranged a Celebration Dinner, starting with a talk by Dr. Jane Hughes, Samuel Pepys Librarian and Fellow of Magdalene College, on Pepys, the diary and the 1660s.

This was followed by a reception and viewing of the diary entry itself (unintelligible to most as Pepys wrote in shorthand) and an earlier factual record by Charles II's cellarmaster in Magdalene College's Pepys library.
The reception, on a sunny spring evening in the college cloisters, featured a Pol Roger 2002 - a beautiful, elegant fizz with wonderful poise - whilst the finale of the evening was a candlelit dinner in the college with wines from the domaine.

Starter: pan-fried scallops with pancetta, garden pea puree and lemon oil

We started with two whites, La Clarte de Haut Brion 2009 and Chateau Haut-Brion Blanc 2003.

La Clarte is a limited bottling of 50% La Mission Blanc (purchased by Domaine Clarence Dillon in 1983) and 50% Haut-Brion Blanc from a very good year indeed; the 2003 is from a very warm year in which the grapes had to be picked as early as August 13th to preserve freshness.

La Clarte de Haut Brion 2009 a blend of Semillon and Sauvignon, just 1,000 cases made; wonderful palate length, complexity and balance. Feels extremely elegant and precise. Really lovely, Very Good Indeed.
Chateau Haut-Brion Blanc 2003 so picked early to maintain freshness; not a wine for long ageing. Starting to tire a little already, the fruit has mostly faded and it lacks the weightiness and length of the 2009. Good fresh acidity.

Main: oven roasted fillet of Norfolk venison with chanterelle mushrooms, rich red wine jus, dauphinoise potatoes, celeriac puree and green beans
Following the school of thought that serves the best wine first when people are more attentive and palates fresher, the main was accompanied by the stand-out wine of the evening, a 1989 Haut-Brion.

In her summing-up at the end, Serena Sutcliffe MW referred to this wine as "a monument" and I was unable to find anyone who did not consider this the best wine of the evening.
Chateau Haut-Brion 1989 still dark in the glass, with few signs of age. Incredible, complex secondary aromas of leather, bell pepper, soy and well-hung game with good fruit; wonderful freshness, matched with elegance and precision. Very Good Indeed - and then some.
Chateau Haut-Brion 1995 lots more ripe fruit on the palate and much less evolution - amazingly youthful for a wine at almost 20 years and feels to have much more life left. Very Good.

Cheese: cheese board with biscuits, grapes and celery
I have never quite understood the idea of matching red wine with cheese - especially young reds with mature, hard yellow cheeses.

Whilst the cheeses were all lovely, for me this was the one part of the meal where the matching did not work.

Le Clarence de Haut-Brion 2008 this could easily be the top wine at any other tasting, but coming after the poise and refined elegance of the previous reds, it feels too young to be drinking now; lots of primary ripe fruit feels like a slap round the chops compared to the preceding wines. Good.

Dessert: traditional creme brulee, shortbread biscuit and seasonal berries

There are few desserts better than a creamily unctuous creme brulee with a thin, crisp, perfectly-browned topping. Add in a rich sticky dessert wine and you have pudding heaven.

A dessert this good needs no additions and the shortbread-and-berry additions were a case of more is less.

Clarendelle Amberwine 2003 lovely dessert wine with peachy, beeswax aromas, waxy texture and plenty of concentrated botrytis. Long on the palate with good fresh acidity; reminds me of a Ruster Ausbruch from Austria, but with just a touch more levity. As expressive and lithe as a ballerina. Very Good.

The Celebration Dinner, organised by CUWS, cost £120 for Society members; I attended as a guest of the domaine.

Other related articles
Troplong-Mondot 1998
Crus Bourgeois at The Cambridge Tasting
Château Lynch-Moussas 2004, Pauillac‏
Ch Belgrave (5th growth)
Affordable Right-Bank Bordeaux

Domaine Clarence Dillon - website
Chateau Haut-Brion - website, twitter

More links

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Wine of the Month - April

April is the first full month of spring - a time when the grapes for this year's wine will start to burst as buds on the vines.

It is also the month of Earth Day, St George's Day and the London marathon, so take your pick. Also, April Fools Day and the cruellest month, according to TS Eliot.

St George himself was a Greek who became an officer in the Roman army before slaying the dragon and achieving sainthood. As he is the patron saint of shepherds, it is only appropriate that we should celebrate his feast day with lamb and some appropriate wines.

Bodega Mengoba, Breza Blanco 2011 (£11.35 Joseph Barnes Wines)

From the Bierzo region in northwest Spain, the vines (mainly Godello and Doña Blanca) are grown at an altitude of 550m giving both freshness and depth to the wine.

Vinified in a single barrel and aged in 500 litre foudres, there is some subtle oak influence; a pale lemon in colour with greenish tints. Scents of lemon-edged chalky fruit.

On the palate, fresh with a pronounced minerality. Bright, creamy tropical fruit flavours and rounded in texture. The finish is lingering

Columbia Crest, Two Vines Cabernet Savignon, Washington State (£6.99 Bacchanalia

This US Cabernet Sauvignon is from Washington State - much further north than California with a more moderate-climate feel as a result.

Ruby in the glass, it has aromas of plummy fruit, mocha and oaky spice.

The palate shows ripe bramble fruit with good acidity and a lick of spicy, toasty oak; it feels soft and harmonious but with good savoury underpinnings and a firmness on the finish. 

Handsome and well-groomed in an all-American sort of way, this is Richie Cunningham - no rough edges, no hidden depths, just a good ol' boy.

A bin-end in limited quantities, it's just £6.99 and something of a bargain.

Magpie Estate 'The Thief' Mourvedre-Grenache Rosé (£11.95 Noel Young Wines)

From Noel's own vineyard in Australia, this is not so much a rose wine as a red without tannins, and should be served no more than slightly chilled.

And with the sun finally coming out and temperatures possibly into double figures this weekend, it's time finally to shake off the winter funk and party like it's spring.

Made from the classic Languedoc grapes of Mourvedre and Grenache, with a touch of Cab Franc thrown in, it is a cranberry-red in the glass and has a smokey spice and soft red fruits on the nose.

The palate is mouthfilling with more soft red fruit and a wonderfully food-friendly savouriness. Perfect for these sunny-but-still-chilly days.

Match with picnic food and especially cold meats, or any spicy food with tomato.

La Chamiza Malbec 2012 Mendoza (£8.50, Cambridge Wine Merchants)

And if the reappearance of the sun has convinced you to dust down the barbecue, this spicy Argentinian red from Cambridge Wine Merchants is just perfect.

Dark purple in the glass, there is smokey spice and ripe plummy fruit on the nose.

The palate is ripe and spicy, with more pure plummy, black cherry fruit, fresh acidity and savouriness. Long on the palate and well balanced, the tannins are mouthfilling and perfectly ripe with a pleasant savoury firmness on the finish.

This is a wine geek's barbecue red - ripe, fruity and quaffable, yet supremely well-made from really high-quality fruit.

Match with some smokey barbecue meats or, failing that, peppery steak.

Recommended Wine

The Malbec from Cambridge Wine Merchants and the Magpie Estate "The Thief" both score highly as well-made wines, but my recommendation this month is the lovely Two Vines Cab - available only in limited quantities, it is a handsome and cultured American at a bargain price.

Other related articles
Wine of The Month archive

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/
Columbia Crest - website, twitter

Image credit: St George cross: http://beardedgit.com/?p=423, Richie Cunningham: http://www.retrocrush.com/archive2008/redheads/

Friday, 5 April 2013

Oldenburg Wine Dinner at High Timber

If South Africa's Oldenburg Vineyards were a person, it would be Grace Jones - the multi-talented, transatlantic, edgy, androgynous Jamaican-born diva.

It's not as if Oldenburg owner Adrian Vanderspuy bears any resemblance to the singer, model and muse.

But, like Jones, he is a polymath global citizen - born in South Africa, he spent time in Asia, the US and Europe working for an investment bank before settling in Switzerland and deciding to establish a winery in his homeland.

His wines, mostly from international grape varieties, have a warmth and ripeness that is New World, but an elegance, precision and food friendliness that is European - like Jones, they are naturally beautiful, but have a touch of edgy, angular linearity to them.

They are soft and welcoming, yet also muscular and lithe, big yet deft, internationally recognisable and yet with their own particular style.

They are also very good.

The Quality Factor

The vineyards are actually on land that was Adrian's grandmother's farm, but were held by a trust that was not so much interested in making wine, as in merely preserving its assets. A study of soil samples revealed, in his words, that he'd be mad not to go ahead but it still it took five years and the gradual relocation of 120 people to achieve it.

The existing vines on the farm were all replanted - there was leaf roll and row direction was wrong for the tempering effects of the winds that come off ocean, over mountains and drop down and to cool the vines.

The final pieces of the terroir jigsaw are altitude and aspect; the vines are at around 300m - 450m, keeping average temperatures a couple of degrees cooler than down in the valley, but also with lots of exposure to the sun. Adrian likens the meso-climate to New Zealand, whereas a few kilometres further inland it is more like Australia.

With no particular role model or style in mind, he selected a winemaker, Simon Thompson, who shares his focus on viticulture over vinification, whilst "research" on styles consists Adrian bringing back various bottles he likes from Europe and sampling them with Simon.

The Proprietor

In person, Adrian is very impressive - he has a purposefulness and clarity of vision that come from years spent in a senior management role. Yet he is also very affable in a way that you might not expect from a banker, so it was a very pleasant evening chatting with him over dinner at High Timber.

On South African politics, he believes in Black Empowerment - but by developing the business into a successful enterprise rather than by, say, giving the land away to the black community and concedes most of the senior level positions are held by whites; he does not see spill-over from Zimbabwe as a potential risk and feels South Africa is stable.

His key markets for sales and tourism are Switzerland ("visiting South Africa is a walk on the wild side for the Swiss") and Germany as well as the UK - much less so for the Netherlands, despite a broadly shared language / cultural heritage.

The Wines

These are all young vines - just a few years old - so it was not surprising that the newer wines generally showed better. They were served with a dinner:

Ham hock croquette this was lovely but being deep fried, rather overpowered the wine
White truffle risotto creamy, al dente, lovely musky flavours, good match with the oaky chardies
Rib of beef, broccoli and feta meltingly tender meat, full of flavour and well-matched with the reds
Cheese plate comte and morbillon, perfectly served, but not a great match with red wine

The vineyard does not grow Sauvignon Blanc as Adrian foresaw a world glut in 2004 (one of his best calls, he says), and we started with the oaked Chenin Blanc - a grape variety I have historically struggled with.

Chenin Blanc 2012 50% new French oak 8-9m; lots of floral / herbaceous Chenin character on first pouring, lovely balance of judicious oak and Chenin sharpness. Ripe fruit and florality, precise acidity - pure and focused, elegant. Feels rounded and very pleasing. Elegant and balanced on the finish, feels quite old world, really lovely. Approachable now, it has has another 3-5 years in it according to Adrian.

Chardonnay 2011 Single block; ripe fruit, toasty musky - layers of buttery oak. Ripe citrus and tropical fruit acidity. Clean and precise.

Chardonnay 2012 made from all blocks, toasty, musky - more oak; vines are older and can cope with more oak. Bigger, more complex Bottled in December 2012, so will benefit from some further age.

Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 50% new French oak, the remainder is second fill; minty, spice, black pepper - some warm, Rhone-esque elements but with varietal cigar box; ripe bramble fruit - grippy finish. Good structure and fresh acidity.

Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 More fruit expression, bramble fruit, cigar box, savouriness, softer and more sensual. The difference between these two vintages is Kiera Knightley vs Pamela Anderson.

Cabernet Franc 2009 varietal green bell pepper and bitter green herbs with bramble fruit - reminds me of a Languedoc Cab Franc.

Cabernet Franc 2010 more closed - less expressive, less varietal typicity. Ripe fruit and pencil shavings, good concentration.

Syrah 2009 a few barrels of American oak for pepperiness; dark in the glass, dark fruit and spicy with pepper and vanilla. Good ripe dark fruit, sweet vanilla spice, good acidity, just a touch grainy.

Syrah 2010 better and more Rhonesque, with elderberry fruit, spice and savouriness, balanced with perfectly ripe tannins, spicy finish

Rhodium 2010 - the name of this wine is worth a mention; 95% of the world's Rhodium is from South Africa and it is used in exhaust systems to clean air, so has a symbolic meaning. It is not, however, to be confused with Rhenium, a funk album with the track "I Call My Baby Pussycat".

50% Merlot, 40% Cab Franc, 10% Malbec - it is an elegant, and not ostentatious wine; there is prominent ripe & sweet vanilla, a very new world feel, soft texture and savouriness; beautifully structured, taut but approachable with a spicy pepperiness.

Louise Hill, who had organised the evening, suggested the analogy for this wine should be Halle Berry - dark yet pale, spicily exotic and seductive, yet also linear with a hint of androgyny.

Other related articles
Another ex-investment banker turned wine-maker, Jonathan Hesford of Domaine Treloar
Businessman-turned winery owner Tim Pearson and 7Springs
Review of the evening by Colin Smith, Jenny MacKenzie, Denise Medrano

Oldenburg Vineyards - website, twitter
High Timber - website. twitter

Image credit: Grace Jones http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/2/29/Slavetotherythm.jpg

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Love Thy Neighbour ? A Sad Tale From Domaine Jones

Katie Jones is a British expat living in Paziols, Languedoc and making wine as Domaine Jones.

I know Katie vaguely, having chatted with her by email and twitter, but have not managed to get to any of the tastings where she has been showing her wines - however she has won a number of awards and accolades; her Domaine Jones Blanc 2009 and Rouge 2009 both have Silver medals from the International Wine Challenge 2011.

More impressively, her 2010 Fitou was rated by Parker 92/100 and was a gold medal winner at the International Wine Challenge.

She and I both went to the same school in the Midlands, where I knew a Katie Jones; however, that turns out to have been a completely different person.

Katie moved to the Languedoc in 1993 to make Fitou, "my favourite red wine from the Languedoc", and bought a small vineyard in the village of Tuchan - with a breathtaking view thrown in.

Last weekend, whilst Katie was in Germany showing her wines at the Prowein fair, somebody broke into her winery and, in an act of sabotage, opened the taps on her tanks of Domaine Jones Blanc - it was just a couple of weeks away from bottling.

The news went round twitter and there were floods of commiserations and a stoic shrug resignation from Katie - one of the inconveniences of living in a small French village, she tweeted.

But you can't run a business on good wishes and the wine formerly in tanks and now somewhere in the aether via the winery floor would have represented an important cash inflow for Domaine Jones that will now not be realised.

So, if you want to help out an independent winemaker in a time of need, why not buy some of these award-winning wines this weekend ?

Buyers in the UK can order directly - http://shop.domainejones.com/ or from The Wine Society and Fareham Wine.

Minimum order from the website is 1 case delivered to the UK costing around £100 (depending on exact contents) plus £5 delivery or free delivery for orders over £250.


Domaine Jones - website, blog, twitter
The Wine Society - website
Fareham Wine - website

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Limited Edition Codorníu Brut NV

Cava, Spain's answer to Champagne is made by the same traditional method of secondary fermentation in bottle, but not from the same grape varieties.

It has a broadly similar flavour profile to Champagne but does not command the same prices, so can be something of a budget alternative when you just need something fizzy, sharp and palatable. And plenty of it.

Codorníu (aka Bodegas y Viñedos Codorníu Raventós, founded in 1551) is one of the big names for Cava and has recently released a "limited edition label", inspired by the work of Gaudi, for Mother's Day, Easter and toasting the arrival of spring generally.

Sandy yellow in the glass, it has a restrained nose; on the palate there is pleasing white pear and cox's apple fruit.

The acidity is citrussy, mouthfilling and pleasantly sharp with a touch of minerally persistence that develops and lingers on the finish.

Overall, it is a decent, basic, good-value fizz with nothing not to like; in 2012 Codorníu won the International Wine Challenge Cava Trophy and the Great Value Champion Sparkling Trophy.

At another time of year, it will make a good picnic wine. For now, drink as an aperitif or allow the acidity to cut through tapas-style starters such as mozzarella, smoked salmon, chorizo or anchovies and olives.

£8.99 from Tesco; provided for review.

Other related articles
Ramon Bilbao Rias Baxas Sparkling Albarino
Vilarnau Brut cava

Codorníu - website, twitter