Popular Posts

Friday, 24 May 2013

On "Wine Grapes"

The Circle of Wine Writers' presentation of rare grapes by José Vouillamoz left me with more questions than answers.

The questions were, of course, all rhetorical and aimed at myself - how I feel about wine, about homogeneity and obscurantism - but they were unresolved.

Dr Vouillamoz gave a presentation of 12 of the rarest grapes in the world - starting with a Versoaln from Switzerland that has just 350m2 under vine and ending with a Kisi from Georgia with just 50ha.

To have so many rare / borderline extinct grapes at a single tasting is perhaps a once in a lifetime opportunity but for me, something was missing.

Two questions from the audience were the lightening rod for my nagging sense of disquiet - one attendee noted that grapes become obscure either because they make bad wine or because they are hard to vinify; as all the wines tasted were good, was the difficulty for the wines we had tried in the making of the wine ?

A second person added that these wines taste palatable must be due in part to modern methods of wine making that a century ago would not have been available, so what we experienced must have been very different to how the wines had historically tasted.

As can be expected, all the wines were indeed good - yet, whilst not mainstream, they were generally recognisable, almost familiar in style. My tasting notes do not contain any especially unusual descriptions and had I been given them to taste blind, I would not have had any sense that they were amongst the rarest in the world.

So, is rarity and obscurity of itself a good thing - and if not, does that inevitably make homogeneity a good thing ?

If there is a reason why we listen to Mozart more than to Salieri these days, it is the same reason as why the dinosaurs died out.

If Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon are the Mozart and Beethoven of wine, does that make these rare grapes obscure dinosaurs with no reason to exist any longer ? Is my glass of Grk merely a museum-piece curio, a fossil relic from an earlier age ?

And yet, over-familiarity with, say, the opening bars to Mozart's 40th symphony or Beethoven's 5th symphony renders them dull and predictable, part of the aural furniture. We demand variety as well as quality and predictability.

It would be nice to argue that these grapes represent a sense of individuality, a refusal to conform to modern global standards - and yet, whilst perfectly good and interesting, they had none of the challenging wackiness of wines made from far less obscure, in some cases quite mainstream varieties.

To me, the obscurity of the grape variety is a chimera - it is but one piece of the puzzle and the human story of how the grapes are grown and the wine made and aged is its fascination.

Dr Vouillamoz's presentation focused more on the stories of the grapes - their origins, background, parentage, acreage - and less on the stories of the people who make them, and how and why they persist in maintaining varieties on the verge of extinction.

In its ambition - the breadth of tasting twelve obscure wines from different regions and countries - the presentation perhaps lost a chance to provide some depth, the stories of the wines.

For it is one thing to preserve a grape variety, but it is another to understand that variety's heritage, to pass down the story of what it is and why from generation to generation.

Like assimilated urban immigrants, these wines had some back story, but ironically did not show enough individuality and character to enthuse me about their continued survival.

Character, where it was evident, came more from production method than from the innate qualities of the grape.

So whilst the grapes were obscure, the wines themselves, generally were not.

The conclusions I come to are:

- obscurity of grape variety for its own sake is meaningless; rather we should celebrate diversity in wines. Just as a mainstream grape can be made in an unusual style, so an obscure grape can be made in a mainstream style

- the character of a wine comes as much from its geography and how it is made as from the grape variety; there is an historic affinity between certain grapes, regions and production methods (sherry, ripasso, vin jaune, Champagne and so on) that gives a heritage to a wine. Together, these are what give a wine a sense of place and individuality.

And so it comes back to the people behind the wine and the choices they make - to choose to plant a certain variety in a particular place, to make it into a particular type of wine according to a certain method.

The story of the grape, its origins and parentage, can only ever be a part of the story of a bottle of wine and perhaps wines made from the rarest of grapes have an in-built disadvantage here; for the greatest grape varieties have a versatility that permits endless, subtle distinctions that grapes grown only in very limited quantities are unable to display.

Other related articles
"Wine Grapes" Seminar With Dr José Vouillamoz

José Vouillamoz  - twitter
Wine Grapes - website

Thursday, 23 May 2013

South Africa's Kleine Zalze

South Africa's Kleine Zalze is based in the Stellenbosch region; the vineyards are at altitude and no more than 50km from the ocean, providing some coolness and freshness in the wines.

Winemaker Johan Joubert came over to London to present a tasting exclusively of Chenins at The Orrery in Marylebone, followed by dinner.

Part of the evening was a vertical of Chenin Blanc museum pieces back to 2003, along with the launch of a new-style Family Reserve, written up here.

In between these, we also tasted some more widely-available Chenins from Kleine Zalze's range.

I have historically struggled with Chenin, finding it often thin, tart and sour and decided that Victoria Beckham might be a suitable analogy - inherently rather dull, but ambitious enough to become interesting with a few makeovers.

Organiser Louise Hill suggested Carey Mulligan as an analogy; "pure blond raw material which is gorgeous and seductive, given the right character". This, I think, is spot-on; I liked all of these (very different) Chenins unreservedly.

Foot of Africa 2013 (not available in UK, but a best-seller in Sweden) herbaceous, Sauvignon-esque nose, with varietal "mustard and cress" aromas; fresh, soft texture - very pleasant entry-level wine.

Zalze Bush Vine Chenin Blanc 2013 (Waitrose RRP £7.99) from low-yielding bush vines, aromatic and herbaceous, crisp and fresh yet rich and round. White pepper aromas, white pear fruit. Good linear acidity with a grippy mouthfeel; persistent finish.

Cellar Selection Chenin Blanc 2013 (independents, SAWinesonline.co.uk, £8.49) aromatic white flowers, subtle cress aromas, lime zest / lime marmalade. White tea tanninic buzz and some firmness on the finish; this feels softer, more rounded than the Bush Vine.

Vineyard Selection Chenin Blanc 2012 (independents RRP £9.99, SAWinesonline.co.uk £10.19) pale in the glass, fresh and floral, lots of aromatic white pepper, lanolin texture, good length, salinity and minerality.

Recommended Wine

Of the three here, my favourite was the racy, zingy Bush Vine Chenin Blanc 2013; Jancis Robinson includes it in her Best Buys under £10 and marks it as VGV - very good value.

The dinner after the tasting gave a chance to see how versatile these wines can be with food and they matched very well to the strong flavours served up by The Orrery.

Starter: seafood raviolo and lobster bisque
Main: sea bass with an orange and orange zest garnish
Other related articles
Chenin Blanc Style Council

Kleine Zalze - website, twitter
Waitrose - website, twitter
The Orrery - website, twitter
SAWinesonline - website

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

"Wine Grapes" Seminar with Dr José Vouillamoz

A tasting of wines made from some of the world's rarest grapes with Dr José Vouillamoz, Ampelologist and co-author with Jancis Robinson MW and Julia Harding MW of the book "Wine Grapes", organised by the Circle of Wine Writers.

What does a wine made from one of the world's most obscure grape varieties taste like ?

Does the degree of obscurity of the grapes that go into the wine make it a better or less good wine ?

Are obscure grape varieties a symbol of diversity and heritage to be celebrated and preserved - or the oenological equivalent of dinosaurs or minor composers who merit no more than a footnote in history.

I am - still - undecided on these points; I want to see diversity and variety in wines, but I am not interested in obscurity for its own sake, wine tasting as a competitive, acquisitive, box-ticking exercise.

11 wines from 11 obscure and rare grape varieties.

The Whites

Versoaln 2009 - Castel Katzenungen, Sudtirol, Italy (Versaoln), 350yo vines, 350m2 acreage, can only be bought by the bottle at the winery: light sandy yellow, green apple and mineral nose; peachy and waxy, with ripe tropical fruit and some spiciness. Light with good acidity.

Rudesheimer Berg - Schlossberg Orleans 2011, Georg Bruer, Rheingau, Germany (Orleans Gelb) one parent is Gouais Blanc, making it related to Chardonnay, Riesling and Furmint; was considered extinct in the 1920s, but now made by two wineries. Golden sandy yellow, floral and marzipan aromas, very high acidity initially, leading to salinity and minerality with some yellow stone fruit. Persistence and a touch of almond bitterness on the finish.

Lafnetscha 2011 - Chanton Kellerei, Visp, Switzerland (Lafnetscha) first mentioned in 1627, the name is apparently a local dialect for "don't drink too early", a reference to its high acidity. Parents are Humagne and Completer. 1.5ha grown, 4 producers. Fermented in stainless steel, medium straw colour, floral nose with almonds and green apples, high acidity and dense structure; white pear fruit and some sweet spice.

Grk 2011 - Branimir Cebalo, Korcula, Croatia (Grk) around 50ha, 2,400 bottles only, a difficult vine to cultivate. Deep golden sandy, aromatic, toasty nose; melon, honey and toastiness with some orange peel aromas. Fresh acidity.

Kolorko 2010 - Pasaeli Hoskoy, Turkey (Kolorko) almost nothing known about this grape's history, origins or acreage, but in decline since the 1960s; Pasaeli is the only known producer. Barrel fermented, then aged in glass demijohns. Golden sandy yellow, with volatile aromas of nail polish. Prominent sharpness, on the palate, quite challenging, with bitter lemon and pink grapefruit; zesty, bitter finish.

Vigna del Lume 2012 - Antonio Mazzella, Ischia, Italy (Biancolella) related to another local grape on this island, San Lunardo, only 6,000 bottles produced, a touch of late harvest. Medium golden straw, tropical fruit and sweet spice, pineapple and honeysuckle with some dried apricot. Well-balanced with a persistent finish.

The Reds

Negre de San Colonia 2010 - Vins Toni Gelabert, Mallorca, Spain (Callet) 134ha grown, Callet means "black" in the local dialect, spends 13m in French and American oak - a favourite of Wine Grapes co-author Julia Harding MW, apparently. Dark purple, sweet oaky spice, vanilla and coconut, red fruits and tobacco on the palate; fresh acidity, supple tannins and a long finish.

Karasi 2011 - Zorah Wines, Rind, Armenia (Areni) almost nothing is known about this grape, but it is the most-cultivated in the area.

Winemaker Zorik introduced the wine and explained that Rind has evidence of winemaking back to 4,000 BC. He mentioned the loss of winemaking culture as the Soviets insisted on Armenia producing brandy.

20,000 bottles are produced, ungrafted vines, fermentation in stainless steel with ageing in French and American oak. Dark purple with truffles, mushrooms and cigar; some yeasty pungency and dark fruit. Mid-palate of blackberries and vanilla custard, grippy firmness with orange zest bitterness on the finish.

Jancis Robinson calls this a "gypsy wine" and gives it 17 points.

Gelsaia DOCG Piave Manalotte 2009 - Az. Agr Cecchetto, Veneto, Italy (Raboso Piave) Raboso means "acidic", or perhaps "tannic". 1,100ha and 7,000 bottles produced. Around 20% of the grapes are dried for 35 days, ripasso-style; ageing in a mix of new and used barrels. Almost opaque, complex nose of rich, dark dried mixed fruit and tobacco. Sweet ripe fruit, it feels big and grippy, full-bodied with ripe, red-tea tannins. Grippy finish with some liquorice aromas.

The Orange Wines

A term coined in 2004 for wines fermented in amphoras / kvevri / karasi etc.

Gringet Amphore 2010 - Domaine Belluard, Haute-Savoie, France (Gringet) nothing known about this grape, except that it is not Savagnin, as some have said. 15ha, fermented in amphoras with 2 months' skin contact using indigenous yeasts, 1,200 bottles. A slightly cloudy pale orange colour, sweetly pungent and spicy nose. Floral orange blossom and jasmine, lanolin texture, tannins and minerality, with some aniseed and persistence on the finish.

Kisi 2011 - Pheasant's Tears, Georgia (Kisi) 50ha, nothing known about the grape, 3,500 bottles made by American John Wurdeman. Fermented in kvevri, 100% natural wine, 6 months' skin contact. Bright golden orange, the colour of brandy; floral aromas with camomile, straw and herbs. Musky, smokey palate, chewy tannins and dried apricots. "Not for the fainthearted" was José's description of this wine.


The Orange wines were the most unusual and interesting here, but that comes more from production method than grape variety.

The Whites were generally pleasant and well-made, but as wines, I felt they generally lacked any compelling individuality.

The Reds then seemed to have the most innately characterful personalities and made virtues of their idiosyncracies, whilst also being recognisably contemporary wines.

Fans of obscure grape varieties may wish to check out this blog devoted to the oenologically unusual, Fringe Wine.

Jim Budd's photos of the event are here.

Other related articles
On Wine Grapes
De Martino at Circle of Wine Writers
Virginia Wine at Circle of Wine Writers
English Wine at Circle of Wine Writers
Greek Wines at Circle of Wine Writers: part 1 and part 2

Circle of Wine Writers - website, twitter
José Vouillamoz - twitter

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Chenin Blanc Style Council with Kleine Zalze

A tasting of Chenin Blancs from Kleine Zalze followed by dinner at The Orrery.
I have historically struggled with South Africa's signature white variety, Chenin Blanc; in its most basic form, it is tart, lean and has a slightly unpleasant herby cress aroma.

It's rather like a young Victoria Adams in the days before she became fashionista and lingerie model Mrs Beckham - all flat hair, bad skin and lacking any real sense of style. Just another Young Turk wanting your attention.

But she has an inner hustle, a desire to be something different - she hangs out with all the right people for long enough and a few make-overs later, her sass is revealed.

Suddenly, she has learnt how to be complex, interesting and worthy of attention, even if she is still fundamentally rather dull.

Johan Joubert, winemaker at Kleine Zalze since 2003 showed us a range of his Chenins, but first explained a little about the estate and his philosophy.

Based just outside Stellenbosch, he concentrates on bush vines with no irrigation. He believes that to be financially viable, the vineyards need to focus on producing distinctive wines.

His wine-making principles are:

- regionality
- cold harvesting and reductive crushing
- extracting flavour from skin contact, usually around 24 hours
- long cold fermentation (9C - 12C)
- extensive lees contact

We started with a vertical tasting of Chenin from 2003 to 2008, before winemaker Johan Joubert revealed his new style of Family Reserve.

Kleine Zalze Vineyard Selection 2003 - 2008

Made from 25-60yo low-yielding bush vines, with 10% - 40% botrytis, extended skin contact, a touch of malo, lees aging, a mix of new and old oak and only light filtration, a lot of work goes into coaxing a good performance out of these grapes.

They are all surprisingly dark in the glass - a deep golden colour, with the 2003 only marginally darker than the 2008.

2008 botrytis aromas, rich and full, leesiness, fresh acidity, peachy lanolin texture. Good.
2007 feels fuller than 2008, a warmer year and so a little less well-balanced.
2006 gaining some mellowness now, still floral, fresh and complex. Again, a hot year and less balanced.
2005 starting to develop some aged character, more texture and mellowness, soft and full on the mid-palate. Good.
2004 again, fuller and more mellow, aromas marzipan and ripe peach with some lime zest.
2003 aged petrolly and complex evolved aromas but still some white flowers; fresh acidity yet mellow and harmonious. Very Good.

Susan Hulme MW summed these wines up superbly as well-textured, wines for enthusiasts and like a dry Sauternes.

Family Reserve

Family Reserve is the flagship label of Kleine Zalze and Johan took a very different, more modern approach for the 2012 - only just released, we were some of the first to try this wine.
The Family Reserve is based on ever smaller plots and expression of the terroir - gone is the botrytis, the golden colour of the wines and the old school / "produced" feel - the wines are fresh, zingy and modern. The grapes for the Family Reserve come from three distinct soil types - granite, duplex and shale.

Pale in the glass, the wine feels young and still tightly wound - it opens up with lots of vigorous swirling, but the overall impressions are of minerality, length, linear acidity, balance and salinity.

But like Grueners from the Wachau, Mosel Rieslings or white Burgundy, if Chenin is going to make a claim to being one of the great grapes of the world, responding minutely to its terroir, I would like to see this made into a single-vineyard wine; impressive as it is, I hope it proves a stepping stone on the journey to the really distinctive, terroir-driven wines Johan referenced in his introduction to the evening.

Other related articles
South Africa: Oldenburg, braaiday, Vondeling
Terroir and soil types: Angerer, Huber, Domaene Wachau

Kleine Zalze - website, twitter
The Orrery - website, twitter

Image credits: Young Victoria Adams, Victoria Beckham in Armani

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

First London Jura Wine Trade Tasting 2013

A tasting of Jura Wines in London organised by the Comité Interprofessional des Vins du Jura (CIVJ) – the official regional body representing Jura wine, with a Masterclass by Jura expert, Wink Lorch; more details on the region on Wink's Jura website, http://jurawine.co.uk/

Arriving after work just in time to see most of the producers packing up to leave - but chef Raymond Blanc still there - I asked the few stragglers for recommendations of what to try from the 150 wines on show - see my detailed tasting notes below. Wines marked "TWS" are now available from The Wine Society.

Jura - Overview

Nestling in the lower western foothills of the Jura mountains above the Bresse plain, Jura is just 80km east of Burgundy.

It is home to a range of styles - almost none of which is familiar to outsiders.

Jura wines are different, and something of an acquired taste. For me, the key characteristics of Jura's wines are pale reds and sharp, cidery whites; the wines are not without fruit, but it plays a secondary role to more structural matters such as acidity and texture. These then are food wines, best matched with the local hams and cheeses.

Wine styles particular to Jura include Vin Jaune, aged oxidatively under a flor-type yeast, Vin de Paille, a straw wine from dried grapes and Macvin, a liqueur made from grape juice and brandy / marc.

Already something of a niche, Jura wines have also embraced organic, biodynamic and sometimes natural wine methods in the same way, perhaps, that sci-fi geeks love both Star Trek and Dr Who.

Cellier Des Tiercelines, Arbois Chardonnay 2011 pleasant citrus and melon fruit, recognisably Chardonnay.

Arbois Savagnin 2009 "Benoit Mulin" Jura-esque nose of sharpness and wet straw, cidery acidity, good savouriness and grip.

Domaine Baud, Cuvee Flor 2011 cidery sharpness, musky oak, mouthfilling and long.

Domaine Badoz, Cuvee "Dedicace a Pierre" 2009 (Pinot Noir), good fruit and grip.

Domaine Berthet-Bondet, Cotes du Jura Rubis 2011 (Poulsard, Trousseau, Pinot Noir) cabbagey nose, ripe soft red fruits, lots of stuffing, long and well-balanced. Good.

Cotes du Jura Nature 2011 (Savagnin) muskiness on the nose, ripe tropical melon fruit; mouthfilling with a grippy finish.

Chateau-Chalon 2006 (Savagnin) a vin jaune, aged for 6 years in barrel and only just released. Complex Jura-esque nose, sharp and cidery with brown apple flesh and wet straw aromas. Grippy.

Domaine de la Pinte, Arbois Vin Jaune 2005 (Savagnin) wet straw aromas, sharp linear acidity yet softened and mellow, glycerol texture, dry finish.

Domaine de la Renardiere, Jurassique 2011 Arbois-Pupillin TWS £12.95 (Chardonnay) lots of ripe tropical fruit, savouriness, less challengingly sharp

Domaine Morel-Thibaut, Trousseau 2011 Pale red in the glass, vegetal, slightly sulphurous nose. Ripe soft red berry fruit, vibrant with a silky texture and good, but gentle acidity. Persistence on the finish.

Vin de Paille 2009 wet straw aromas, sharp cidery nose, complex sweetness of sultanas and sweet spice. Very Good.

Domaine Hughes-Beguet, Arbois Pupillin Rosé de Ploussard 2011 TWS £11.95 a salmon-pink fizz, touch of muskiness and bubblegum on the nose. Refreshing acidity, good mousse, ripe redcurrant fruit with hints of vegetal farmyardiness. Long on the palate, good linear acidity and mouthfilling. Savoury and persistent on the finish - a good picnic wine.

Ploussard 2011 Arbois Pale red in the glass; musky, vegetal aromas red fruits and a touch of spice. Soft silky texture and sweet ripe red berry fruit on the palate - hints of vegetal farmyard. Long with a firm, persistent finish.

Domaine des Ronces Cotes de Jura Pinot 2010 relatively dark red - the colour of cranberry juice. Red fruits and bubblegum. Sweet ripe red fruits, mouthfilling texture, soft yet mouthfilling acidity.
Very long and savoury on the palate, feels concentrated, firm and persistent on the finish. Very Good.

Henri Maire, La Vigniere Vin de Paille 2008 Arbois Mahogany in the glass, Jura-esque nose - cidery, pungent, honey and beeswax, intensely sweet, cut through with sharpness, savoury bitterness of honey, rancio with roasted nuts and figs. Long palate and well-balanced finish. Very good.

Attendees included a local chef from the region, name of R. Blanc (r)
Other related articles
The Wines of Jura - An Overview
Organic Jura Wines - Tasting Notes

CIVJ - http://www.jura-vins.com/
Jura wine - website, twitter

Image credit: picture of Wink by Brett Jones

Friday, 10 May 2013

Two Bordeaux Wines from The Wine Society‏

I've had nary a disappointing bottle from The Wine Society and these two Bordeaux for under a tenner each are both good examples from a classic region.

Both are also good value.

Dourthe No. 1 Bordeaux Blanc 2012 (£7.95)

Bordeaux is one of Sauvignon Blanc's spiritual homes - fuller than the Loire, less tropical than Marlborough.

Sandy yellow in the glass, there are typical aromas of blackcurrant leaf and nettles, with slightly more unusual hints of sage and salinity.

The palate is elegant and fresh, with mouthfilling, linear acidity and a clean, persistent finish.

Good aromatics matched with solid structural underpinnings.

Match with herby roast chicken, pork with horseradish apple sauce or meaty white fish.

Chateau Pey La Tour 2008 Bordeaux Superieur (£9.95)

A right-bank Merlot with a bit of bottle age, this is purple in the glass.

On the nose, there are aromas of coffee grounds, cigar box, forest fruits and a touch of spice.

The palate is soft and supple with an inky texture and generous, well-rounded tannins - the ripe fruit is balanced by savouriness. Nicely mellow on the mid-palate, the finish is gently persistent.

Match with slow-roasted red meats - there is just a touch of gaminess, so venison would be an especially good match.

Provided for review; Pey La Tour also available from Cambridge Wine Merchants

Other related articles
Ch Reynon Bordeaux Blanc 2010 from The Wine Society
Ch Perponcher Bordeaux Blanc 2010 from The Wine Society
Ch Borjaud 2007 from The Wine Society
Affordable Right Bank Bordeaux

The Wine Society - website, twitter
Dourthe - website

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Pastis Henri Bardouin, Provence

To be classed as Pastis under French law, a spirit need contain merely liquorice, anethole and not more than 100g/l sugar. This Pastis Henri Bardouin made by Distilleries et Domaines de Provence, however, is made with an extensive blend of 65 Provencal herbs and imported spices.

Golden sandy yellow in the glass it turns a milky white with the addition of a splash of water.

On the nose there is spirit, aniseed and fennel, a touch of something medicinal and complex sweet spices with bitter herbs.

Tasted neat, the herbs on the palate leave a bitter finish, but a splash of water releases the aromas and emphasises the sweetness - an intense hit of sweet aniseed, complex spices, warming spirit and a herbal bitterness that goes on for a long time.

Different - if not unique; for maximum enjoyment, sip gently as a digestif at the end of a particularly pleasant evening. Ideally on a veranda with the aroma of wild hillside herbs wafting gently on the breeze as the sun sets on the Med.

Available from Waitrose for £20.75 (70cl, 45% vol); provided for review.

Other related articles
Hungary's Unikum
Shabo Cognac from Ukraine
Luis Felipe Brandy Gran Reserva (100yo) from Spain
Reserve de la Vennerie, Liqueur Gazeifiee, Pineau de Charentes‏

Henri Bardouin - website
Waitrose - website, twitter

Monday, 6 May 2013

Two Wines from Lidl's "Wine Cellar" Range

German no-frills discount retailer Lidl launched its "Wine Cellar" premium range last last year aimed at affluent but spend-savvy customers.

We don't have a Lidl in Cambridge, but they got in touch and sent me a couple of their range to review. Since all the wines are tested by Master of Wine Richard Bampfield along with fellow MWs, Ed Adams, Caroline Gilby and Nancy Gilchrist, quality and typicity should not be an issue.

Brauneberger Kurfürstlay Feinherb 2011 Riesling (£4.99)

Classic entry-level Mosel Riesling; pale sandy yellow in the glass, it is ripe and citrussy with sherberty, sweet-sour acidity and lots of ripe yellow fruit (apricots, peaches and pineapple).

Off-dry yet refreshingly, it is light and well-balanced, with a brief hint of a minerally finish.

"Thoroughly pleasant" is perhaps the best summary - not a complex wine, but of its level and style, faultless and very enjoyable.

Match the gentle sweetness with lightly cooked salmon and baby sweetcorn. Or sip on the garden on a sunny afternoon.

2010 Grand Cru St. Emilion (£9.99)

Another textbook classic - this right-bank Bordeaux is a much more ambitious and accomplished wine.

On the nose, there is bramble, cigar-box and spice; the palate is well-balanced, mouthfilling and long with fresh acidity and firm tannins on the finish.

It's still young so will benefit from some aeration - worth decanting an hour or so before dinner.

Match with plain roast beef or a steak.

These days, £5 does not buy you much wine at all, so a really pleasant German Riesling at this price is no mean feat, whilst a tenner for a very drinkable and accomplished Bordeaux is impressive, too.

Definitely worth checking these out.

Other related articles
Dourthe Reserve Montagne St Emilion (Waitrose)
Ch La Tulipe de la Garde Bordeaux Superieur (Sainsbury's)
Ch Borjaud Premieres Cotes de Blaye (The Wine Society)
Aged Mosel Rieslings at Cambridge Wine Merchants
Review of these wines on The Wine Kat: The Great Lidl Taste Test

Lidl - website

Main image credit: http://i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/01659/lidl-fashion_1659823i.jpg

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Wine of The Month - May

Named after the Greek goddess Maia, May is the month when spring turns into summer - or should do, at least.

With two bank holidays in the month, opportunities for leisurely eating outside should be plentiful - and in case we get the inevitable bank holiday wash-out, there are also some reds.

This month, we also have a guest entry from Waitrose.

Cave de Lugny Sparkling Burgundy Blanc de Blancs NV Crémant de Bourgogne (£12.99, Waitrose - 25% off until May 21st)

Made by the traditional (i.e. Champenois) method, this cremant de Bourgogne is made from 100% Chardonnay.

The grapes are from the Maconnais region of southern Burgundy - a significantly warmer climate than Champagne, several hours' drive to the north, meaning more ripeness.

On pouring, it foams enthusiastically; sandy yellow in the glass, there are aromas of ripe pear and toasty leesy aromas and a hint of sweet spice.

On the palate, there is ripe, white pear fruit and a fine mousse. The acidity is refreshing with a leesy biscuitiness and a persistent finish.

Elegant and approachable, this is a classy fizz with a sunny disposition.

Serve as an aperitif or match with shellfish, choucroute or soft white cheese such as brie.

Vina Leyda 'Kadun Vineyard' Sauvignon Gris, Chile (£11.99, Noel Young Wines)

Sauvignon Gris is a relatively unusual mutation of the more familiar Sauvignon Blanc - it shares Sauvignon's linear acidity and minerality, but is less herbaceously aromatic.

The grapes for this varietal Sauvignon Gris are cooled by sea breezes in Chile's Leyda Valley, leading to long, slow ripening and more complexity as a result.

Bright sandy yellow, touch of flint and green pepper on the nose.

Linear, mouthfilling citrus acidity and good minerality. Ripe pear fruit cut through with fresh acidity, hints of honeydew melon and green nettles.

Clean, minerally finish, fresh, balanced and elegant; really good, versatile food wine. Match with fish dishes or light starters.

La Petite Syrah du Mas Montel, 2011, Pays du Gard (£8.99, Joseph Barnes Wines)

Mas Montel is based near Montpellier on the French south coast, whilst Petite Syrah is a cross of two southern French grapes, the noble Syrah with the rough-and-tumble Durif.

Translucent ruby in the glass, there are ripe red fruits on the palate and some warming sweet spice.

With just 12.5% alcohol, this is quite a light red; the texture is soft with fresh acidity, the finish gentle and warming.

Match with a plate of mixed anti-pasti; mozzarella, salami and roasted vegetables, ideally served in the garden on a warm, lazy evening.

Grignon Monastier Shiraz 2012, Pays d'Oc (£7.99, Bacchanalia)

From the vibrant Languedoc region of southern France, this wine is unusual in being labelled a Shiraz.

Firstly, because the French name for this grape is Syrah (Shiraz is generally its New-World name) and secondly because the tradition in France is to label by place of origin, rather than variety.

Dark purple in the glass, there are lots of ripe, dark berry aromas on the nose, with hints of sweet spice.

On the palate, there is black cherry and elderberry fruit; the texture is pleasantly soft and slightly inky with a touch of firmness and persistence on the finish.

With fresh acidity and low tannins, this is an easy drinker that will match strongly-flavoured foods, such as leg of lamb with a Mediterranean spice-and-citrus rub.

Bodegas Neo Ribera del Duero Disco 2011, Ribera Del Duero (£12.99, Cambridge Wine Merchants)

Just up the road from Rioja, Ribera Del Duero is the modern wine miracle of Spain, and produces wines from the same principle red grape - Tempranillo - but in a very different style on a wide, high plateau.

Ribera del Duero's fierce continental climate, tempered by altitude to give a long growing season, results in intense, concentrated wines with a lively acidity.

The label features a vinyl LP (Radiohead's The Bends, apparently)and I can't help hoping the millennial vintage featured Pulp's Disco 2000.

Dark, almost opaque, in the glass, there are aromas of bramble fruit, pencil shavings and complex oaky spice.

The palate shows rich dark fruits, chocolateyness and some bitter herbs; the texture is soft, mouthfilling and velvety with a touch of vibrant mintiness; it feels well-structured and poised.

Long and savoury on the palate, with firm, perfectly ripe tannins on the finish. Very classy indeed - match with plain roast red meat or steak.

Bacchanalia - website
Cambridge Wine Merchants - website
Joseph Barnes Wines - website
Noel Young Wines - website
Waitrose - website, twitter

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Vondeling Wines at Cambridge Wine Merchants‏

A tasting of South African estate Vondeling with winemaker Matt Copeland at Cambridge Wine Merchants' Cherry Hinton Road Wine Bar.

Vondeling Estate dates back to 1703, but its recent history begins in 1999 when it was bought and modernised by a British couple.

Based in Paarl in the Western Cape, it is around 20km from the ocean on a low mountain with the vineyards on slopes at altitudes of 230m - 360m.

Winemaker Matt Copeland aims to balance New World vibrancy with a classic well-structured style.

The estate uses a range of production methods from modern, temperature-controlled steel fermentation, to more serious oak-fermentation and even a quasi-natural wine.

Overall, I found the whites to be most consistent - the reds had something of a rustic edge and a tendency for drying, grippy, grainy tannins.

Where quoted, prices are retail at Cambridge Wine Merchants.

The accompanying food included artisan scotch eggs from Gog Magog Farm Shop.

Signal Cannon Chenin Blanc 2012 from 50yo vines, sandy golden yellow, herbaceous and aromatic, fresh yet mouthfilling and rounded. It has the look and structural feel of an oaked wine, but actually gets its character from extended lees ageing and gravity settling. Good.

Vondeling Sauvignon Blanc 2012 from 30yo vines, temperature-controlled fermentation to preserve aromatics. Zesty, flinty, aromatic with ripe citrus; minerality and old-vine depth. Somewhere between Marlborough lushness and Loire steeliness.

Vondeling Petit Blanc 2012 65% Chenin / 20% Viognier / 15% Chardonnay; unoaked, aromatic and herbaceous; fresh acidity, well-structured floral lift from the Viognier, linear acidity on the finish from the Chardonnay.

Vondeling Chardonnay 2009 (£11.99) spontaneous fermentation in oak, wild yeasts and extended lees ageing - a bearded, sandal wearer. Earthy, musky nose, touch of pungent, wild funkiness. Creamy brazil nut, layered texture, waxiness and a touch of tannic buzz. Mouthfilling with a savoury, persistent finish. Good.

Vondeling Babiana approximately 50% Chenin / 20% Viognier / 20% Chardonnay / 10% Grenache Blanc fermented separately in oak and then blended.

2008 (£12.99) golden yellow, melon skin and musk, ripe tropical citrus, freshness and savoury persistence, spicy nutty oaky depth.

2009 (£12.99) a more balanced year than 2008, a touch more freshness on the nose, the palate is more viscous, balanced and fuller. Good.

Signal Cannon Rose 2012 Pinotage rose, a pale salmon pink with a whiff of burnt rubber. Ripe red berry fruit, custardy texture.

Signal Cannon Merlot 2011 ruby colour, fresh red fruits, coffee grounds and mintiness. Fresh and juicy with vibrant raw fruit.

Vondeling Petit Rouge 2011 Cab / Merlot blend, fermented in old French oak; black fruit, blackcurrant, liquorice mintiness and spice. Pure fruit expression, fresh acidity but tannins overly firm and grippy. Not entirely harmonious.

Vondeling Baldrick Shiraz 2011 (£10.99) fermented at a cooler temperature for more aromatic freshness. Viognier adds florality, also some Mourvedre. Pure sweet ripe dark fruit, spiciness, floral, vibrant. Drying, rather grainy tannins, especially on the finish.

Vondeling Erica Shiraz 2009 (£13.99) some Carignan and Grenache in the blend. Fresher on the nose with a touch of sulphuriness. Spicier than Baldrick, black cherry fruit and sweet vanilla. Tannins feel drying again.

Vondeling Cabernet Merlot 2007 a more ambitious Bordeaux blend; ripe dark fruit, spice, tobacco leaf and sweet cedar wood. Nicely mellow and complex - but grainy tannins. Well-made Bordeaux look-alike otherwise.

Vondeling Sweet Carolyn 2009 (£20) a straw wine from Muscat de Frontignan (aka Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains). Amber in the glass, aromas of roasted peaches and nectarines. Intensely sweet and mouthfilling but with fresh acidity; tastes like peaches roasted in caramelised butter. Slight hint of harsh bitterness.

Recommended Wine
The whites were the best here; of those available from Cambridge Wine Merchants, try the Chardonnay for some pagan earthiness or the '09 Babiana for more sophisticated elegance.

I attended as a guest of Cambridge Wine Merchants.

Other related articles

Vondeling - website, twitter
Cambridge Wine Merchants - website, twitter
Wines of South Africa - website, twitter
Gog Magog - website, twitter

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Fonseca Bin 27 Reserve Port

This Fonseca Bin 27 Reserve from Tesco is a basic ruby full of character, albeit in a somewhat rustic style.

Dark purple in the glass, there are aromas of dark berry fruit, raisins, eucalyptus and spirit, but it does not feel completely balanced and harmonious.

On the palate, there is more of the same - all the usual port hallmarks in a bundance - fruit, sweetness, aromatics and strength - with good depth of flavour and length too.

So it scores highly for expression, but rather lacks finesse and elegance.

Match the rich fruit with chocolate-based desserts.

£12.99 from Tesco; provided for review.

Other related articles
Taylor's LBV Port 2007
M&S Finest Reserve Ruby Port
Andresen Port LBV 1997
Dow's Vintage Port 1975

Fonseca - website, twitter
Tesco - website, twitter