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Saturday, 29 June 2013

Chateau d'Angles - La Clape, Languedoc

Earlier this year, the CWB family spent a week in the gite of Chateau d'Angles as guests of owners Eric and Christine Fabre.

La Clape is a rocky hill covered in low scrub, known as garrigue - and forest lying between Narbonne and the Mediterranean in France's Languedoc region.

Where Provence, further round the coast, is dusty and lavender scented, La Clape is greener and home to colourful songbirds, bats, hares and even wild boar.

La Clape's history dates back to Roman times, when it was an island, until a programme of draining the marshes joined it up to the mainland.

These days it is a protected natural park and retains an unspoilt character, nestling between the buzzy, developed sea-fronts of St Pierre and Valras.

Eric Fabre moved to the region around ten years ago from Bordeaux where he was wine-maker at first-growth estate Lafite-Rothschild.

After almost a year of searching, he found a long, low farmhouse at the foot of the hill, just back from the sea and overlooking two vineyards - La Riviere Haut and La Riviere Bas - whose names recall the ancient river which once flowed here and result in two very different terroirs for winemaking.

The vineyard just below the farmhouse is mainly rocks washed down the hill of La Clape where old bush vines produce the concentrated, mineral whites that go into the Grand Vin Blanc. A row of almond trees marks a border with the next vineyard which is made of pebbly alluvial soils where Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre grow to make ripe gamey reds.

Chateau d'Angles produces five wines of all colours - an entry-level classique white, fermented in vats, whilst the Grand Vin adds some aging in oak for more texture; a red-berry rose with fresh acidity; a classique red and the Grand Vin rouge.

With the winery just a few metres from the vineyards, early-morning picking ensures freshness whilst the hillside location allows for gravity-based settling preserving flavour.

Whilst the red grapes are the familiar Languedoc GSM, the whites are more unusual - a mix of Bourboulenc, Roussane and Marsanne which are all more at home in the Rhone, as well as Grenache Gris.

The white have aromas of beeswax, sweet spice and honeysuckle - the reds have ripe bramble fruit, pepperiness and very fine, perfectly ripe tannins; both wines are big and warming.

After a tour of the vineyards and the winery, including samples from vat and barrel, we had lunch with winemaker Eric, wife Christine and local ex-pat PR, Louise Hurren.

Christine had prepared a starter of parma ham with cherry tomatoes and pine nuts which Eric matched with a 2001 white, his first vintage, which showed incredible freshness and just the merest hints of aged character.

The main of guinea fowl was matched to a 2005 red which, again, felt like it was only just ready for drinking and surely has many more years' life in it.

A week's accommodation at Chateau d'Angles costs from €640 to €1500 all taxes included

To book: contact Christine Fabre: info@chateaudangles.com or phone +33 619 58 15 68

Chateau d'Angles wines are available from Ocado and Wine Rack at £12 for the classiques and £20 for the Grands Vins.

Other related articles
Languedoc wines at Ampersand

Chateau d'Angles - website, twitter

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Greeks Bearing Gifts

At the end of his presentation to the Circle of Wine Writers earlier this year, Konstantinos Lazarakis explained that he seemed to have one too many of all the wines he had brought and that he had no intention of carting them all the way back to Greece.

So we should all help ourselves to one each.

I had been impressed by all the Xinomavros and picked the first I could find which turned out to be a 2006 from Alpha Estate.

My original tasting note, along with all the others, can be found here.

Alpha Estate Xinomavro, 2006 - from ungrafted old vines grown on sand, this wine is unfiltered. The grapes are grown at altitude, which brings a freshness to the wine.

Although a 2006, it still feels youthful and primary; it is still a little closed initially but opens up over the course of a couple of days.

On the nose, there are aromas of red fruits, cherries and roasted spices.

The palate is fresh with more ripe cherry fruit, really fine tannins and a long savouriness. There are occasional hints of the herby gameyness I noted at the CWW tasting that will surely develop with further ageing.

For now, it feels extremely focused - pure ripe fruit and savouriness - and rather uncompromising; but there is a depth, elegance and sophistication behind a somewhat feisty exterior.

With aeration, it opens up more, so don't be afraid to decant or cellar for a further 5-10 years.

As Konstantinos noted, Xinomavro is a surly bitch of a grape, a mouthful of acidity and tannins - this, then, is Patti Smith: energetic, assertive and purposeful, feisty yet complex, darkly intriguing and beautiful.

I thought it would be interesting to compare this to another wine - also Greek, also a gift.

Gaia Agiorgitiko & Syrah, 2008 - from the Nemea region in the Peleponnese, the home of Agiorgitiko.

The name means St George and the style is ripe with lots of crowd pleasing fruit.

Dark purple in the glass, lots of aromas of red and black cherries, dark berry fruit, spice and a lick of oak.

Ripe with lots of crowd-pleasing fruit, floral aromas, soft tannins and some pepperiness; classy and appealing, but unchallenging, this is more Gwynneth Paltrow.

Other related articles
Greek Wines Under Different Lenses
Greek Wines at Circle of Wine Writers
Gentilini Wines, Kefalonia - Greece

Alpha Estate - website, twitter
Gaia Wines - website, twitter

Image credit - Patti Smith album http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/c/c1/Because_the_Night_-_Patti_Smith_Group.jpg

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

На здоровье ! Legend of Kremlin Vodka

A review of Legend of Kremlin vodka

Many years ago, I lived and worked in Russia and Ukraine as a footloose language student.

Based initially in the Urals city of Sverdlovsk - now restored to its original name of Ekaterinburg - I later moved to the slightly milder Ukrainian capital of Kyiv.

In both cities I had a network of friends and was a regular guest at people's houses - there is no Russian or Ukrainian word for a party, you just invite someone round "as a guest" and commence the feasting around a table groaning with food and vodka; this is an environment where beer is considered a soft drink.

The traditional way to drink vodka is to fill up everyone's glasses, say a toast - to welcome the guest, to thank the host or the cook - and then down the drink in one.

The bitter taste of the vodka is taken away by nibbling on pickled gherkins, rye bread, preserved tomatoes and peppers and so on. Other zakuski (a word meaning "tasters" and equivalent to tapas) may include salamis, fish cooked in egg batter, a beetroot and sour-cream salad known as vinagret, or cold cuts.

Potent, flavourless and bitter, vodka is best matched with sharp, strong foods, such as pickled vegetables, that would overpower a wine.

This Legend of Kremlin vodka traces its history back to 1430. It was not one of the vodkas I drank in my early 20s and I don't recall it being around at all then - perhaps partly because production volumes are relatively low.

However, it has won eleven “Grands Prix” and nine Gold Medals at Russian and international competitions as well as being the provider of vodka to the Kremlin, the state Duma and the House of Government of the Russian Federation

Made from well water and grain spirit in traditional copper vats, it has a characteristic bitter / volatile vodka nose, but feels balanced and elegant.

There is some brief initial sweetness leading on to a smooth, oily, slightly creamy texture, with a pleasant bitterness and long persistence.

It feels refined,balanced and enjoyable - not at all harsh, as some lesser vodkas tend to be. Good.

Around £35 (70cl) from wine merchants, online retailers, Harrods and thedrinkshop.com; provided for review.

На здоровье !

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It was 20 years ago today
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Das ist ein Unikum !
Review of Legend of Kremlin by Aoife Maxwell


Image credit: http://image.spreadshirt.net/image-server/v1/designs/14902959,width=178,height=178/wodka,-vodka,-Cyrillic.png

Monday, 17 June 2013

Les Pionniers Champagne NV - The Co-op‏

The Co-op has been on a roll recently with its Champagnes - winning two Gold Medals for its Les Pionniers 2004 vintage and a Bronze for this non-vintage (NV).

It is almost a blanc de noirs - made from 90% red grapes (70% Pinot Noir and 20% Pinot Meunier -  for fruit and weightiness) with just 10% Chardonnay for freshness and elegance.

In the glass it is a golden sandy yellow, with aromas of ripe orchard fruit and some toasty, musky hints.

On the palate, there is more ripe apple and white pear fruit and good linear acidity with savoury leesiness. The mousse is fine, there is some weightiness and the finish is balanced and persistent.

This is an easy-drinking yet classy fizz with plenty of flavour and character; it is more expressive on first opening than the vintage - but lacks some of the complexity, precision and extended ageing potential.

It matches especially well with creamy white cheeses, such as Brie and, particularly, Vignotte, but can also stand up to cold cuts of ham with crusty bread.

Buy this NV for earlier drinking (any time over the next few years) but get a case or two of the vintage to lay down for a while and then share with those who'll appreciate its greater sophistication.
£19.99 (on offer at £16.99 until July 16, 2013) from The Co-op; provided for review.

Other related articles
Les Pionniers 2004 Champagne

The Co-op - website, twitter

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Rock and Roll Crisps in Space - Corkers

The press pack for these Corkers Crisps tells me they are made from a unique variety of potato (Naturalo, apparently), are sliced thinner for a better texture, are made locally and sustainably in Cambridgeshire, are served on BA, at Kew Gardens and The British Library, have been on television and even travelled to space.

That's quite a series of achievements for a company that is only 4 years old and was dreamt up on a ski lift.

Founded in 2009 by friends Ross Taylor and Rod Garnham, the entire business is based at the Taylor family farm just outside Cambridge, meaning that everything is done in one place, so visitors can dig their own spud and see it made into crisps in under an hour.

All of this would be for nought, however, if the crisps were not any good. But they are actually some of the best I've ever had.

Where mass-market branded crisps tend to be greasy, overly salted and rather harsh, these feel like they have been made with real attention to detail; not at all greasy, with good, well-balanced flavours, they are very good crisps.

The CWB children were naturally keen to help out with a tasting so we opened up all six packets and got to work.

The quality of all varieties was uniformly high and choices for best crisp really just came down to personal preference.

For me, the more traditional flavours worked best - the Sea Salt was fine, the Sea Salt and Black Pepper had a lovely kick of aromatic black pepper whilst the Sea Salt and Cider Vinegar was nicely sweet-sharp and salty.

The more ambitious flavours of Sweet Thai Chili, Red Leicester and Caramelised Onion plus Pork Sausage and English Mustard I found a bit less convincing overall and rather sweeter, but from equally well-made base materials.

Corkers Crisps 40g bags are priced around 75p each; provided for review.

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Corkers Crisps - website, twitter

Monday, 10 June 2013

Jean-Luc Colombo Crozes Hermitage Les Gravieres 2010

I've reviewed plenty of Jean-Luc Colombo's Rhône reds previously - see the links below for details.

This northern-Rhône Crozes Hermitage is made from 100% Syrah grown on gravelly soils in what was a very good year.

There are garrigue herbs, violets, pencil shavings and spicy, toasty oak on the nose; the palate shows more herbs, red fruits, black cherry, sweet vanilla, peppery spice, pencil shavings and minerality.

Good acidity, soft, smooth texture, perfectly ripe tannins.

Complex, smooth and balanced. Good.

Needs some air to show its best, so don't be afraid to decant for an hour or so before drinking. Or consider cellaring for a couple of years.

Match with roast red meat or barbecue foods.

£13.99 from Waitrose and Ocado; provided for review.

Other related articles
Jean-Luc Colombo, Les Forots, Côtes du Rhône Syrah, 2009
Three red Rhônes from Jean-Luc Colombo
Les Collines De Laure, Syrah, Collines Rhodaniennes, 2009, Jean-Luc Colombo
En Primeur Rhone Tasting With Cambridge Wine Merchants

Jean-Luc Colombo - website, twitter
Waitrose - website, twitter
Ocado - website, twitter

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Les Pionniers 2004‏ Champagne - The Co-operative

This Co-op Les Pionniers 2004 Champagne has just won two Gold Medals - at the IWC and the DWWA (meaning that it's really rather good).

Most Champagne is non-vintage, NV, a blend of several years' wines to create a consistency of style. Occasionally, however, along comes a doozy and the wine-maker will create a vintage Champagne from only that year's fruit.

My general rule of thumb for vintage Champagnes is that they need at least a decade's aging before being even ready, let alone mature, so this one is still rather young.

Made from 2/3rds Pinot for red fruits and body, plus 1/3rd Chardonnay for white fruits, elegance and freshness, it is a pale straw yellow in the glass with a fruity, Pinot nose and slightly musky, toasty aromas.

There is ripe apple and pear fruit on the palate with hints of red berries; well-structured acidity, touch of pleasant sharpness, good savoury leesiness; the mousse is fine and elegant.

It is long and balanced with a persistent finish.

This is a lovely, complex and still youthful Champagne; it improves significantly with aeration and develops for several hours after opening, so will repay cellaring. Very Good.

It is priced below many more-mainstream NV Champagne brands, so really is a bargain; buy a case whilst you can and watch it develop over the years.

Match with shellfish, white fish or roast pork.

£26.99 (and currently discounted to £23.99); provided for review.

The Co-op's Les Pionniers NV also won an IWC Gold, a DWWA Bronze and is reduced from £19.99 to £16.99 until 16 July, 2013.

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Veuve Monnier NV (Co-op)
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The Co-op - website, twitter

Friday, 7 June 2013


PIWOSA. PieWHOHsuh. Not the snappiest or most elegant of acronyms - ironically enough. But then Premium Independent Wineries of South Africa is also quite a mouthful too. So, PIWOSA it is.

Until recently, I would have summed up South Africa as mostly a source of cheap and cheerful, somewhat rustic, supermarket wines - a sort of less-sophisticated Australia - whose main characteristics are a banana-ey rubberiness from overstressed vines.

Perusing a wine list, my eyes would skip over any South African entries in search of the classics or emerging European regions.

And yet at one tasting after another recently, I have met winemakers and winery owners who have told me that South Africa has terroirs that are as good as anywhere in the world - and who have the wines to prove it.

The "wine safari" tasting at The Groucho (whites) and Quo Vadis (reds) was a presentation of the wines of all 15 PIWOSA members, covering all regions in the Western Cape.

It is hard to pick out any single wine that stands out above all others as quality and consistency were high, but the ones that I found most interesting were:

- the Chardonnays generally; the word Burgundian comes up a lot in my notes, lots of fresh acidity, pure fruit, savoury, leesy butteriness and complex, elegant oaking.

- the Pinots generally; like a ballerina with a sassy attitude, they showed a classic Pinot funky nose with lots of ripe, red berry fruit

- Ken Forrester's wines generally; a fresh, linear Old Vine Chenin, a rich-yet-fresh single vineyard FMC Chenin, a mellow harmonious GSM-blend Renegade 2007 and a fresh, brambly Gypsy 2009

- Raats' wines generally; the Chenins, the varietal Cab Franc and Cab Franc blend, Jasper, all show an assured elegance and balance with great attention to detail.

- the 2002 Journey's End Chardonnay; standing shyly amidst a bunch of (very good) current vintage chardies was this little aged beauty - golden in the glass with an evolved nose, it was complex and weighty yet incredibly fresh
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Kleine Zalze

PIWOSA - twitter, website, FB

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Grant Burge Summers Chardonnay 2011‏, Australia

This Grant Burge Summers Chardonnay from Australia is a muscle car of a wine; there's lots of everything here - except elegance. But I rather like it.

 Pale straw gold in the glass, there are aromas of musky oak and ripe, tropical citrus fruit.

More ripe fruit on the palate, with toasty oak, sweet vanilla and some leesiness. So far, so textbook; more interesting is the lime zest and green apple flavours with a touch of white peach sharpness to the acidity that gives a more cool-climate edge.

Good length with a pleasant, balanced finish.

Perhaps a better analogy is the Austrian sportsman, actor and now politician Arnold Schwarzenegger - pumped up and likeably populist for sure, but not without a degree of ambition, intelligence or sophistication.

Match with roast chicken, pork or monkfish.

£15.99 from Eagle Wines, Le Canon Wines, Partridges of Sloane Street, North & South Wines, Field & Fawcett; provided for review.

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Grant Burge Wines - website, twitter

Image credits: Muscle Car, Arnie