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Saturday, 21 September 2013

Crus Bourgeois 2011‏

A review of 2011 Crus Bourgeois Bordeaux

To use an airline metaphor, if basic Bordeaux is Economy, and Cru Classe is First Class, then the Crus Bourgeois sit squarely in the middle as Business Class - pay a bit more than for entry level and you get a glimpse of what First Class is like without the hefty price tag.

2011 was not an easy year in Bordeaux - cool and wet with hail is no-one's idea of a good vintage.

The wines have just been released, so after listening to a panel discussion on the Crus Bourgeois, I sampled a couple to pick out a 2011 to drink now and one to lay down:

For drinking now

Chateau Le Crock, St Estèphe (around £16 from BBR and Seckford) - dark in the glass, ripe fruit, well-balanced, good fruit and perfume, soft and supple texture, good length, drinking nicely now.

For laying down
Chateau Larose Perganson, Haut-Medoc ( around £14 - £24 from slurp, The Fine Wine Company) - rather closed up at the moment, dark purple with some aromas of leather, liquorice and bramble fruit; very good structure and texture from which the fruit will emerge with some ageing.

Other related articles

Crus Bourgeois - website, twitter

Friday, 20 September 2013

Crus Bourgeois Panel Discussion‏

A review of a panel discussion on Crus Bourgeois

Hal Wilson (Cambridge Wine Merchants)
Laura Jewell MW (Tesco)
Dirceu Vianna MW (Coe)
Stephen Brook (journalist)
Francois Nony (Vice President, Alliance des Crus Bourgeois)

Stephen Brook, who led the panel, started with a brief introduction to Crus Bourgeois:

Covers wines from one of the 8 Medoc appellations; must be a blend of any 2 permitted grapes
Assessed via an annual competition - entry is voluntary not obligatory
Wines are tasted double-blind; the judges are not told about what score is needed to gain Cru Bourgeois status

Francois Nony then talked about the advantages of Crus Bourgeois

Value for money (especially compared to Crus Classes) - priced at £9 to £30

Testing is independent, the use of Crus Bourgeois stickers improves quality control (fixed number reduces risk of fakes / forces producers to put sub-standard wines into a second wine)

Quality is comparable to a minor classed growth, but with a focus on drinkability

2011 was complicated vintage, heterogeneous - wet, with a late Indian summer that was not warm; also hail.

The previous Crus Bourgeois system had over the years fallen into disrepute, was overhauled in 2001 with higher standards and many thrown out - but producers became litigious and the system collapsed in 2007, so was revised again into its current format with an annual competition.

Stephen posed the question of what Crus Bourgeois means to the panel's customers

Laura - Crus Bourgeois is not esp relevant to many of Tesco's customers; the company sells 1 in 4 bottles in the UK; France is holding its share and Bdx gaining some momentum. Tesco don't do anything with Crus Bourgeois instore but do use it to help educate consumers via Tesco's wine community, the wine fairs, and the magazine (distribution is 500k)

Dirceu - consumers have now lost touch with what Crus Bourgeois is; Coe have 6 wines selected as good value Bordeaux, not specifically because of being Crus Bourgeois they have little direct contact with customers

Hal - a fan of Medoc personally, his customers have long memories but not deep enough pockets for top Bordeaux, so Crus Bourgeois is the answer. CWM work with c60 producers, of whom 48 are included in Crus Bourgeois. One caveat, it's a club, but needs to be wide to have full validity.

Crus Bourgeois is perfect for CWM profile - price, range, ability to work with negociants and merchants; he can make money and stock the wines with confidence over the years "vinous nirvana".

Well-promoted via Decanter tastings and the Bordeaux Council.

The timing of the 2008 overhaul helped introduce Crus Bourgeois to a new generation of drinkers; the ripeness of 2009/10 also made the transition from New World wines easier. Crus Bourgeois was 50% of CWM's en primeur volume.

Francois Nony addressed the point of why some chateau who are not Crus Classes choose to exclude themselves from Crus Bourgeois status: some turned away because the system was too complicated, they felt they had enough of a reputation not to need Crus Bourgeois status or they aspired to Crus Classes status - the challenge in bringing all Medoc wines in the tier below Crus Classes under Crus Bourgeois is down to French state bureaucracy but they working to have all included

The UK is one of top 3 markets for investment amongst Crus Bourgeois members - it is the most competitive market, but it is birthplace of claret.

Stephen Brook observed that Crus Bourgeois are sensibly priced whilst Crus Classes are insanely priced and asked the panel to comment on pricing:

Laura: Tesco bought Crus Bourgeois en primeur and brought over in cases of 6 (not 12) for affordability.

Dirceu - fair and consistent pricing year-on-year

Leigh Claridge from Maison Sichel (from the audience): the '11s are ready for drinking now, so we can wait for 10s and 09s to mature. He has only been asked for a Cru Bourgeois wine 5 times in his career; like biodynamic or organic, people just want value for money, so Crus Bourgeois status is just a nice to have.

There is now a shortage of stock in Bordeaux chateaux: 2000 - 2010 were all good vintages, but since 2010, the vintages have been weak, so people are buying older wines over the new, and this plays to strength of Crus Bourgeois as ready-to-drink now.

Francois Nony observed that the UK is only market that likes older wines and that he would take this message back to his members who cannot afford to release selectively over time to maintain demand (as the Crus Classes do).

Question: could Crus Bourgeois system be expanded outside the Medoc?

Francois replied that it is the only system that has worked in improving quality - CIVB would like to do so, but no prospect of it happening; he would be happy to help transfer know-how but could not cope with the increased volume from expansion.

Other related articles
Crus Bourgeois at IWC Dinner
Crus Bourgeois 2010 at Cambridge Tasting

Crus Bourgeois - website, twitter

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Pere Magloire Calvados

A review of Pere Magloire Calvados

If cider is north-west France's answer to wine (it being too cold to grow grapes there), then Calvados is its answer to Cognac.

Calvados is the name of the département as well as of its most famous drink; records show that cider distilling dates back to the 16th century.

Only one area and one method of production is permitted for AoC Calvados du Pays d'Auge - the cider from which it is made must be fermented for at least a month, then double-distilled in a pot still and aged for at least a year.

Pere Magloire was established in 1821 and by 1900 had become the best-selling Calvados brand in France - owned for a time by Veuve Clicquot, it is now a family company.

Pere Magloire VSOP Pays D'Auge Calvados

Aged for 4 years, it is correspondingly mellow. Mahogony in the glass there are aromas of cider, apple blossom and a touch of floor polish.

The palate is elegant and harmonious with some apple fruit sweetness and refreshing acidity; well-balanced and finishes well.

It is reminiscent of a cognac but has an underlying linear sweet-sharpness without the cooked fruit aromas of cognac.


Drink as a digestif or trou Norman.

£30.35 for 70cl from The Whisky Exchange, £21 for 50cl from Waitrose; provided for review.

Other related articles
Pastis Henri Bardouin, Provence
Cognac Frapin
Reserve de la Vennerie, Liqueur Gazeifiee, Pineau de Charentes‏

Pierre Magloire - website

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Hoxton Gin

A review of Hoxton Gin

I am, if truth be told, something of a gin novice.

I've tried it only a few times and, whilst able to mention the names of various brands, could not tell you which are supposed to be better than others.

My perception of gin is a neutral, white spirit most commonly flavoured with juniper berries.

Crisp and refreshing, it has a rasp of bitterness derived either from the juniper berries themselves or the quinine in the tonic water with which it is most commonly mixed.

Hoxton Gin, however, is something quite different to this - it is flavoured with coconut, tarragon, grapefruit, ginger, juniper and iris.

On the nose, the sweet coconut dominates - the aroma takes me back to coconut rums from the Caribbean.

On the palate, first impressions are of lots of sweet coconut, followed by the more interesting flavours of the other ingredients - sharp grapefruit and juniper bitterness.

Unlike traditional gin, the flavours here do not lend themselves to food matching - except perhaps with a chili, which benefits from a touch of sweetness and coconut.

It is pleasant and enjoyable - easy to sip neat whilst relaxing in front of the television after dinner.

We end up watching a re-run of Dr Who and afterwards #2 child announces he is making a "tardis shield generator" from his lego - and that's a bit like how I feel about this gin.

Like Dr Who, all the individual elements are well done and it is pleasantly entertaining - it does not aim to be either challenging or complex, and does not benefit from being overly analysed; it's just enjoyable as it is. But probably won't appeal to gin purists - who'd rather watch Star Trek.

£26.19 for a 70cl bottle from Tesco; provided for review.

Other related articles
Legend of Kremlin Vodka
Pastis Henri Bardouin, Provence
Hungary's Unikum

Hoxton Gin - website

Friday, 13 September 2013

Mr Trotter's Great British Chestnut Ale

Inspired by a pre-hop age when brewers would add all sorts of seasonal ingredients to spice up their brews, Mr Trotter's Great British Chestnut Ale uses roasted chestnuts for a nutty creaminess and is the only chestnut beer to be brewed and bottled in the UK.

This all rather reminds me of a university housemate who made his own coffee oatmeal stout, but perhaps the less said about that particular experiment the better.

Autumnal copper-brown in the glass, there are warming aromas of roasted sweet chestnuts and freshly-baked bread.

Sweet roasted chestnuts, maltiness and honeyed, warming spice on the palate give way to sharp, hoppy grapefruit and a pleasing, food-friendly bitterness on the finish.

Match with pies, rustic pates, autumnal stews or roast beef - or a couple of bags of Mr Trotter pork crackling.

Priced at £2.45 per 50cl bottle or £26.10 for a case of 8 from Selfridges, Booth's, farm shops and delis; provided for review.

Other related articles
Marston's Single Hop Ales
Little Creatures Pale Ale
Orval - Trappist Abbey and Beer‏
Mr Trotter - website

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

The Cambridge Tasting - Vinho Verde

A tasting of a range of Portuguese Vinho Verde wines held at Cambridge Wine Merchants

On the edge of Europe and next to 3,000 miles of ocean, Portugal's relative isolation has allowed the country to keep a taste for less-international styles of wine made from native varieties.

For a small country, Portugal is blessed with a wide range of climatic conditions - coastal, inland, valleys and mountains - and a range of soil types.

The north of the country is home to Vinho Verde; the name means "green wine" and refers not to colour but youthfulness - it is a light, fresh wine to be drunk young, rather than after a decade's ageing.

With a nine examples to try, I invited a group of friends and fellow enthusiasts to taste through a range of whites, rosés, varietals and blends from different sub-regions.

All the wines (with perhaps the exception of the roses, which I rather liked) were well-received, but there was no overall consensus on a favourite wine.

In general, people preferred the more contemporary-looking labels - especially the Casal Garcia - and noted that they would be put off by the old-school labels and Germanic flutes of the Deu Le Deu and Mulharas de Monçao if choosing from a supermarket shelf.

We tasted the wines in approximate order of increasing weightiness and sophistication.

Aveleda Casal Garcia Branco NV light, just 10% alcohol, citrussy and zippy; refreshing, pure and precise

Aveleda Casal Garcia Rosé bubblegum and red fruits; more texture and salinity than the branco

Arca Nova Rosé cranberry red in the glass, more substantial than the Casal Garcia; ripe red fruits with texture and persistence. A good picnic wine.

Arca Nova Branco pale sandy yellow, sandalwood and pear skin on the nose, orchard fruit, yellow apricot and salinity on the palate; good texture and persistence, precise and pure.

Quinta de Gomariz Loureiro pale sandy yellow, aromas of honeysuckle, beeswax and musky hints; tropical fruits, honeyed richness, green apple. Precise with fresh acidity and persistence on the finish.

Anjos de Portugal very pale straw yellow, a slight spritz, ripe apple fruits, crisp - a bramley / crab apple sharpness develops on the palate.

Adega de Monçao, Deu La Deu pale sandy yellow, honeysuckle on the nose, citrussy and sweet-sour, reminiscent of a Mosel Riesling (and packaged like one, too). Elegant and long with a persistent finish. Good

Quinta Da Lixa, Terras do Minho Branco 2012 pale sandy yellow, slight spritz, peach-skin aromas, ripe peachy-apricotty fruit, well-balanced, rounded and complex. Has a Gold Medal from Brussels. Good.

Muralhas de Monçao from further inland, this is higher in alcohol and more weighty; pale sandy yellow, slight spritz, peach skin aromas, ripe peachy, apricotty texture, hints of late-harvest richness and roasted peach flesh, some sweet spice and a warmness on the finish. Very Good.

Recommended wines
There was nary a bad wine here and, as the group's opinions showed, favourites come down to personal preferences as much as anything.

The Casal Garcia Branco was widely liked for its attention-grabbing zippy freshness and slight spritz; it is perhaps the essence of what Vinho Verde should be.

Both Casal Garcia wines are available online from http://www.portugaliawines.co.uk/ and http://www.winedrop.co.uk/.

Less typical, but more complex and interesting were:
- Alvarinho Deu La Deu
- Muralhas de Moncao

Other related articles
Portugal's Vinho Verde
The Second Cambridge Tasting
Review of this event by Rachel Gordon, one half of Gastronomic Girls

Vinho Verde - website

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Wine of The Month - September

September means back-to-school time - neither quite the end of the summer weather, nor yet fully autumnal, it is the start of a gentle slide into gradually cooler weather, shorter days and general decline.

But with an Indian Summer still a distinct possibility, we need a range of wines for all potential outcomes.

Legaris Verdejo Rueda 2012 (£7.99, Noel Young Wines)

Spain may be generally better known for oaky reds, but this is a good, fresh, crisp white from Rueda, to the north west of Madrid.

The secret to the steely crispness (and relatively low alcohol level of 12%) is the combined effects of altitude (between 600m – 800m) the influence of the river Duero and night-harvesting of the grapes to maintain freshness.

Verdejo originated in north Africa but was brought to this part of Spain hundreds of years ago and is now associated with the area - it is aromatic, like a Sauvignon Blanc, but a bit more textured.

With a steely acidity, green apple fruit, aromatic notes and persistence, it's a good alternative to Sauvignon if you are looking for something similar-but-different.

Crisp enough for aperitif, food matches are as per Sauvignon - goat’s cheese salad, grilled vegetables or seafood.

La Boussole Pinot Noir 2011 (£9.25, Joseph Barnes Wines)

One would be forgiven for expecting a Pinot Noir with a French name to be from Burgundy; however this is actally from Montelimar in Ardeche - an area of the south of France better known for its nougat than its Pinots Noirs.

As with the Verdejo, the wine benefits from an unusually moderate microclimate that favours the grape's preference for cooler climates.

Pinot is a good autumnal wine for various reasons - it's one of the lighter reds, and matches well with game which is just coming into season.

This wine is light and approachable with cherry fruit – a good easy-drinker, it will match with food such as duck or leg of lamb, or can be sipped, slightly chilled, in the garden on a hotter day.

Tenuta Vitanza Volare 2009 Toscano Rosso (£8.99, Bacchanalia)

A Sangiovese more akin to Brunello's style of soft tannins and ripe fruit than the challenging Chianti style, this shows lots of ripe fruit on first opening.

With aeration, it becomes more distinctly Italian - with dark cherry fruit, a rasp of acidity, some spice and a firmness on the finish.

Match with rich beef dishes, such as bolognese or meatballs.

Domaine Gayda Syrah 2011 (£8.99, Cambridge Wine Merchants)

A Syrah from Languedoc, this is geographically European, the Old World, but from a sunny cornerand comes with a touch of New World swagger to it.

It’s big and ripe, with lots of sweet dark fruit, but also some complex spiciness, acidity and savouriness - a classy crowd-pleaser; good concentration and poise.

Match with roasted red meat or hearty stews with a bit of spice and some root vegetables.

Other related articles
Wine of The Month archive

Bacchanalia - website
Cambridge Wine Merchants - website
Joseph Barnes Wines - website
Noel Young Wines - website

Main image credit: website

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Nino Franco Prosecco

A review of two Proseccos from Nino Franco.

Prosecco is not quite Italian Champagne - that would be Franciacorta; Prosecco is both a grape (now known as Glera) and a wine. The Prosecco method, involving secondary fermentation in tank rather than bottle, is much cheaper to carry out even if the the result is not quite as sophisticated as bottle fermentation.

However, a good Prosecco will fizz and foam, and show pure, ripe orchard fruits of green apple and white pear for much less than the price of a rather ordinary Champagne. In other words, whenever budget is a consideration (and when isn't it?), your limited funds are better spent on a good Prosecco than a (more-expensive) ordinary Champagne.

Primo Franco - Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG
100% Glera from high hillside vineyards, it foams enthusiastically; pale sandy yellow, aromatic ripe pear skin aromas.

Off-dry, sweet ripe conference pear, fresh acidity and savouriness.

Drink as an aperitif, or match the sweetness to gravadlax, chicken liver pate or plain roast pork.

Vigneto Della Riva Di San Floriana - Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG
100% Glera, exclusively from the San Floriano vineyard, it foams enthusiastically, pale sandy yellow in the glass.

Pure white pear fruit, some light floral aromas, savouriness and elegance, good length, acidity and persistence on the finish. Good.

Serve as an aperitif or match with roast salmon or chicken.

Other related articles
La Delfina Special Cuvee Prosecco
Moscato Frizzante Piemonte Volpi - and a Prosecco jelly recipe

Nino Franco - website, twitter

Friday, 6 September 2013

Innovation And Change in Bordeaux

A review of wines from different vintages from three Bordeaux chateaux: Chateau de la Dauphine, Chateau Marquis de Terme and Chateau Couhins.

The best, most established businesses combine a sense of continuity with innovation; it's not an easy balance to keep - stay relevant but don't alienate your core audience.

As a region, Bordeaux has no lack of heritage - but it's not exactly a youthful brand; say "Bordeaux" and I think of be-whiskered crusty colonels and sea-lords with bottles of claret.

Yet Bordeaux remains my first love for red wines - at its best somehow more elegant, nuanced and sophisticated than, well, almost any other region.

Bordeaux's main problem then - to me, at least - is more one of style than of substance; however, three winemakers attempting to address the latter point gathered in London to present their "new-style" wines - they are not part of a homogeneous movement, but rather individually have each taken a step forward in a new direction.

Guillaume Halley at Ch de La Dauphine has engaged consultant oenologist Michel Rolland to bring an immediate pleasure to their wines (no more long ageing required) and has converted to organic methods.

Romain Baillou at Ch Couhins uses specific hi-tech geo-positioning vineyard mapping techniques to ensure optimum ripeness of their grapes - plot by plot, almost vine-by-vine.

Ludovic David of Ch Marquis du Terme has modernised his cellar techniques and uses concrete eggs for fermentation to give more fruit and roundedness to his wines.

The wines were matched to a dinner by Alyn Williams at The Westbury.


Chateau de la Dauphine Fronsac AOC 50ha in a natural amphitheatre, 60m height difference top to bottom, limestone soil, 90% Merlot

Michel Rolland is ambivalent about organic methods; his focus is to advocate later picking of the grapes for more ripeness (described by Guillaume as a more high-risk approach) and more extensive work in the cellar.

2012 (barrel sample, £14) lots of ripe bramble fruit and overripe strawberries, liquorice and spice, coffee grounds, soft texture, with a firmness on the finish.

Recognisibly Rolland-esque - a Kylie Minogue of a wine; attractively pleasant and crowd-pleasing, yet assured with longevity potential.

2009 (£18) similar flavour profile, but more interesting secondary aromas, more feral on the nose.

2001 (Fine & Rare Wines, £24) surprisingly youthful appearance, just some fading around the rim; feral / gamey nose, complex and elegant with good aged character. Good.

Chateau Marquis du Terme, Grand Cru Classe Margaux

A third-growth estate of 40ha based in the middle of Margaux on gravelly soils; they are trying out an organic approach on 2ha of vines.

2011 (£28) CS/M blend with 2% Petit Verdot; ripe fruits, dried herbs, complexity and elegance

2009 (£30) CS/M with 2% PV; sweet ripe fruit with hints of mushrooms and tannins, poised and still youthful.

2005 (£30) CS/M with 5% PV; purple with some fading around the rim, neither fully youthful, nor fully mature - rather like an awkward teenager. Good concentration and a favourite with a number of people, but for me, on the night, not quite one thing nor the other.

1990 (£55 - £58) CS/M blend with some PV and CF; brick red hue, typical aged Medoc aromas of soy and bell pepper, truffles, dried herbs, sweet spices, old leather and gaminess - soft, fully-integrated tannins.

A really lovely wine drinking very nicely now - Very Good Indeed.

Chateau Couhins Grand Cru Classe Graves a 25ha estate in Pessac-Leognan, it is owned by the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique which conducts research on grape and wine production there.

Couhins Blanc 2011 (£18 En Primeur Ltd) SB with 5% Sauvignon Gris; smokey mineral nose, aromatic and elegant. Crisp, precise and pure with white pear and white peach fruit, hints of aromatic herbs. Good.

Couhins Blanc 2007 (N/A) golden sandy yellow, surprisingly deep colour with a complex, intense aged nose - musky beeswax, diesel and aromatic herbs. Fresh acidity, good savouriness and length, concentration and richness. Very Good.

Couhins Rouge 2010 (£16 - £17 Fine & Rare Wines) M/CS/CF blend with 1% Petit Verdot; red fruits, spice and liquorice, plummy coffee grounds, savoury concentration and persistence. Some firmness on the finish.

Recommended wines
Despite the innovation and change theme of the evening, for me it highlighted the elegance and complexity of these Bordeaux wines and their aging potential - so, I found the oldest examples the most interesting on the evening:

- Couhins Blanc 2007
- Dauphine 2001
- Marquis de Terme 1990

Other related articles
Haut Brion 350th Anniversary Dinner
Crus Bourgeois at The Cambridge Tasting
Chateau Belgrave 2007
Chateau Senejac 2008

For much more authoritative detail on the technical aspects of the innovation and change, see this excellent article from Laura Clay - Brave New World.

Chateau Couhins - website
Chateau de la Dauphine - website
Chateau Marquis de Terme - website

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Two More Co-Op Reds

A comparison of two red wines from The Co-operative - an entry-level New Worlder and an older, more complex Bordeaux

Château Sénéjac Cru Bourgeois 2008, Haut-Medoc (£16.99)

Some signs of age, faded round the rim, some brick-red hints.

Complex nose with bramble fruits, pencil shavings and spice with some liquorice and aged aromas of dried herbs and bell peppers.

On the palate, there is mellow black cherry fruit, cedary cigar box and a touch of leathery gaminess with fresh acidity and fine, firm tannins. Soft supple texture and persistent finish.

Very Good.

A really good example of what an aged Bordeaux (and specifically an Haut-Medoc) should be like. Ready for drinking now, it does not need any further aging.

Match with plain roast beef or, even better, venison.

Zalze Shiraz Grenache Viognier 2012 (£7.99, reduced to £5.49 until 17th September)

Exclusive to The Co-operative, this is dark purple in the glass with plummy, leathery spice aromas.

Ripe, plummy, black cherry and black olive fruit with warming, spicy fruitcake, fresh acidity and mouthfilling texture. Long palate and firm, grippy finish.

Enjoyable and thoroughly crowd-pleasing in a ripe, spicy and full-on sort of way; match with spicy barbecue foods.

Other related articles
South Africa's Kleine Zalze
Ferngrove vs Belgrave

The Co-op - website, twitter