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Thursday, 31 October 2013

Beaujolais and Beyond

Two wines from Beaujolais and Beyond

Beaujolais and Beyond is a wine retailer based in Norwich specialising, as the name suggests, mainly in Beaujolais but also in other parts of Burgundy as well as Champagne; they sent me two wines to review.

Like Chablis to the north, southern Burgundy's Beaujolais region is a once over-hyped region that is now ripe for a revival.

Made from the Gamay grape, red Beaujolais does not aspire to the complexity of great Pinot Noir, for sure, but when well-made shows a classic, alluring elegance.

Domaine de la Plaigne, 2011, Régnié (£11.30)

Translucent purple in the glass, there are aromas of red and black cherry.

The palate shows a real purity of cherry and plum fruit and fresh, prominent acidity with real elegance and precision - this is a really lovely wine. Good.

With plenty of acidity, low tannins and pure fruit, it is a highly-versatile food wine that can stand up to stronger sauces - match with autumnal foods such as duck with cherry sauce or venison with red-wine jus.

2011 Chénas Cuvée Tradition (£11.50)

Another textbook Beaujolais cru - purple in the glass with dark berry fruit, the palate shows dark fruit, cinnamon spice. Elegant and precise with good, food-friendly sour-cherry acidity, good finish. Another lovely wine. Good.

Food matches as above.

Other related articles
Louis Jadot Beaujolais Villages 2010‏

Beaujolais and Beyond - website, twitter

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

The Sign of the Don - And A 1937 Sherry

The Sign of The Don is a new bistro and bar in St Swithin’s Lane in the City of London; it stands on the site of historic Sandeman bottling cellars which originally opened in 1798.

Historically, Sandeman Sherry was produced by Sandeman Bros. & Co. in Jerez de la Frontera in Spain from specially selected soleras of Sandeman stock before shipping to the Sandeman cellars in London.

One particular bottle, drawn off in 1937, lay in the cellars for a couple of years before the outbreak of the second world war and the repurposing of the cellars as air-raid shelters led to it being sent abroad for safe-keeping.

At the launch party for The Sign of the Don, the very same bottle was presented to Robyn and Robert Wilson, owners of The Sign of The Don, by 7th-generation Sandeman, George Sandeman.

Food options at the Sign of the Don includes ham croquetta, confit duck Scotch egg garnished with Sandeman Port jelly, king prawns with chilli and Fino Sherry and an Oloroso Sherry trifle.

Sadly, the 1937 sherry is for display purposes and not drinking.

Other related articles
Tio Pepe En Rama 2013 - Launch Dinner
Bar Pepito - King's Cross
Drinks and tapas with friends - Dehesa in Soho

Monday, 28 October 2013

Truly Irresistible - Two Wines from The Co-op

Two gluggable whites from the Co-op's newly-extended Truly Irresistible wine range

Gavi Broglia 2011, Italy (£9.99)

Italian whites are traditionally quite neutral and serve simply to refresh the palate between mouthfuls.

Gavi is - like Sancerre, Chablis and Beaujolais - a wine that was once suddenly very fashionable, then over-hyped and now ready for re-discovery.

Sherbert-lemony on the nose, it is citrussy, zesty and vibrant on the palate, with crystal clear acidity and a savoury persistence.

Mid-weight and refreshing it is at once both easy-to-understand and rather accomplished, with no rough edges at all.

It's light and zesty enough to drink as an aperitif - and does not improve with air, so drink it all up on the day you open it. Match with fish and a zippy Asian sauce (think seabass with ginger, lemongrass and chillies).

Godello 2012, Spain (£8.49)

Pronounced Go-Dayo, this is another crisp, fresh white from Spain.

With melon skin and white flowers on the nose, the palate is full of refreshing citrus with a hint of sherry-esque tang.

Medium-weight with good acidity, savoury underpinnings and a well-balanced finish, it is accomplished and enjoyable.

A few months ago, it would have been a perfect summer sipper - for now, match with light but rich dishes, such as creamy pasta with mushrooms or risotto.

The two wines are surprisingly similar in style and quality; both are well-made and thoroughly enjoyable, but the less expensive Godello is the better value.

Both wines provided for review.

Other related articles
Two Co-op Reds For Christmas
Two More Co-Op Reds
Les Pionniers 2004‏ Champagne - The Co-operative

Links The Co-op - website, twitter

Sunday, 27 October 2013

On Madeira - The Low-Down‏

The second in a series of pieces based on a Madeira tasting with Rui Falcao at the Portuguese embassy in London

Madeira is a place - an island in the Atlantic just off the coast of north Africa to be exact.

Small, volcanic and sub-tropical with steep hills, it is an unlikely candidate for producing great wine in the same way that you might imagine Champagne is too cold or Jerez to broiling to produce anything of interest.

And yet the same combination of adversity and innovation that led to secondary fermentation in bottle and the solera method have in Madeira resulted in one of the world's great wines.

A small island, Madeira's wines are complex and confusing to the outsider, intriguing and nuanced to the initiated.

The history of Madeira goes back to 1450 - the unique flavours of Madeira are due to a combination of climate, soil, viticulture and production method, of which the last two are for me the most significant.

The defining flavours of Madeira are a biting acidity and complex, aged aromas of old leather, roasted spices and nuts, and rich fruitcake.

Madeira is exposed to heat and air in large barrels which "cooks" the wine over many years to bring about these oxidative aromas.

The high acidity in Madeira is due to the acidic volcanic soils, fertilisation and irrigation of the vines which leads to high yields and high acidity, plus high humidity and a year-round temperature of 20C-25C.

Varieties and Styles
Styles are defined by the grape variety used:

- Sercial: grown on the highest vineyards (600m-700m+), this is the driest style; match with consomme

- Verdelho: semi-dry from slightly lower down; match with cheeses

- Bual: sweet from lower down, a dessert by itself

- Malvasia / Malmsay: the sweetest form the lowest vineyards.

Additionally - and confusingly - Tinta Negra (which actually represents almost 75% of vineyard area) can be made into any sweetness level at any altitude.

Madeira, being fully oxidised in its creation, can last forever - it is a wine to buy for your children and grandchildren - once opened, a bottle will not spoil.

Madeira must be aged for a minimum of three years, but often for much longer.

Blended Madeira is a blend of ages - 3, 5, 10, 15, 20, 30 and 40 years are the standards.

Confusingly, these reflect neither a minimum nor an average age, but a style - as defined and verified by the Madeira Wine Institute. This feels like something from a different, less literal age, from a time when people wrote "here be dragons" at the edges of their maps.

Vintage Madeira is a single grape variety from a single year.

A Frasqueira must spend at least 20 years in barrel; a harvest wine is bottled when younger and is a quasi baby-Frasqueira.

More recent innovations are Alvara, a blend of varieties and single cask vintages - wine from a single variety, a single year and a single barrel which is a step on the way towards vineyard bottlings. As in Jerez and Champagne, terroir is not generally considered as a quality factor.

Other related articles
On Madeira - The Tasting
On Madeira - The Background

IVBAM (Madeira Wine Institute) - website

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux - 2011 tasting

A tasting of the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux 2011s

The Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux was established in 1973 to represent 134 properties - including classified and not classified - from the Médoc, Graves and Pessac-Léognan, Sauternes and Barsac, Saint Emilion and Pomerol

It is a roll call of the great and the good in Bordeaux; from some of the most lofty and prestigious wines in the world - the classed First Growths - to the solidly reputable B-list lower orders.

The tasting of the 2011s was an opportunity to compare different properties across a single vintage and, with over 100 wines to try, I picked a mixture of levels.

Overall my conclusions were not especially earth-shattering - the wines were complex and elegant, and the higher up the 1855 classification you go, the better and more concentrated the wines generally are; the best wines seemed to show a plump, fatty softness whereas others seemed rather leaner.

Others, who know this level of Bordeaux in more detail, observed that this was not a great year: Kat Wiggins was a bit underwhelmed generally, whilst  Richard Hemming thought the Right Bank showed well.

Chris Kissak: Not the easiest or most impressive of vintages unfortunately, even in the whites.

Tim Atkin: 2011 Bordeaux vintage should be remembered for Sauternes

Robert Hammond: Margaux, St Julien and St Esteph stood out. Ch Lascombes was excellent

Laura Clay: Varied but many much better than expected. Top white SML, top sweet Climens, reds Conseillante, Rauzan-Segla, Pichon Baron

Left Bank
Ch Pichon-Longueville Baron (2nd) ripe bramble fruit and savoury coffee. Long - poised and elegant, lovely texture and real prettiness. Very Good.

Ch Brane Cantenac (2nd) bramble and feral nose, red berry fruits, prominent linear acidity and grippy tannins.

Ch Lascombes (2nd) expressive coffee and bramble nose, ripe bramble fruit and sweet vanilla, plump and soft, concentrated and savoury. Good.

Ch Rauzan-Ségla (2nd) expressive bramble and coffee nose, ripe sweet vanilla, grippy - a little lacking on the mid-palate?

Ch Gruaud Larose (2nd) expressive coffee and bramble nose, sweet vanilla and bramble fruit. Vibrant, long and soft. Good.

Ch Langoa Barton (3rd) coffee and bramble, sweet vanilla and cook mint, ripe and soft texture; balanced and enjoyable with grip on the finish. Good.

Ch Marquis du Terme (4th) ripe bramble fruit, plump with sweet vanilla, pepperiness and ripe tannins. Good.

Ch Lynch-Moussas (5th) feral with red berries, soft and plump with fresh acidity; balanced with a firm finish but lacks concentration.

Ch Belgrave (5th) ripe bramble and coffee, ripe sweet vanilla, balanced and soft; enjoyable if not especially concentrated.

Ch Gloria (unclass) bramble and woodsiness, sweet vanilla, ripe bramble fruit. Good.

Ch Les Carmes Haut-Brion (unclassified, once part of Haut-Brion) ripe fruit, mintiness, good acidity and grippiness - lacks plumpness.

Right Bank
Ch Troplong Mondot (Premier grand cru classé B) spice, coffee and bramble, plump and rounded, good fruit, texture and acidity, ripe tannins. Intensity and persistence. Good-to-Very Good.

Sweet wines
Ch Climens (1st) apricot yellow in the glass, ripe peach skin aromas, lively fresh acidity with flavours of ripe apricots gently roasted in butter. Beautifully elegant. Very Good.

Ch Suduiraut (1st) focused, precise and poised nose, concentrated and peachy. Fresh, elegant and lively. Very Good.

Ch Doisy Daene (2nd) more yeasty / musky nose, unctuously rich and sticky, like buttery overripe peaches.


My top wines from this tasting were:
- Pichon Longuevillle
- Troplong Mondot
- Climens

Other related articles
Haut-Brion 350th Anniversary
Troplong Mondot 1998 Magnum
Lynch-Moussas 2004
Innovation And Change in Bordeaux
World-class Cabernet and Merlot
Reserve de la Comtesse 1994 Magnum
Affordable Right Bank Bordeaux
Crus Bourgeois 2010

UGC - website, twitter

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Substance and style - Champagne

Champagne is a triumph in many senses - it is technically very difficult to make, requiring secondary fermentation in bottle with all the remuage and degorgement that that entails; before that, it requires the the making of a base still wine in a northerly and pretty marginal climate, no mean feat in itself.

The finished product, with its fine bubbles, yeasty aromas and hints of brioche and toast is one of the great wines of the world and the consumption of it is usually also a triumph of some sort - a wedding, anniversary or significant birthday.

But it is also a triumph of marketing and pricing strategy - Champagne is the sparkling wine for an occasion; you do not need to be a fan of motor sport to be familiar with the image of Formula 1 drivers dousing themselves with a magnum of Champagne on the podium, you do not need to be in politics to talk of Champagne Socialists, you do not need to be a Socialist - Champagne or otherwise - to speak of Fat Cats and their Champagne lifestyles. It is a product that has captured the public imagination and become a symbol for so many things.

Pinot Meunier grapes
Separate the myth from the reality and there are three things that make Champagne what it is - grape variety, terroir and production method and none of these is unique to Champagne. Grape variety is easy - Chardonnay plus Pinots Noir and the lesser-known Meunier - production method is widely known and the UK at least has similar chalky soils and a similar marginal climate.

The results have even beaten certain Champagnes in blind tastings in the same way that some Californian wines have trumped claret in international competitions.

And yet people speak of English sparkling wine as being "quite good, actually" rather than de rigueur for any celebration. And producing a bottle of cava or prosecco is a subtle, subliminal sign that the occasion is not quite special enough to warrant The Real Thing.

So, Champagne has definitely got its PR right - but what of the wine itself?

If I'm honest, it would not figure in any of my desert island wines - or rather, perhaps, it would. I enjoy drinking Champagne readily enough, but as a lifelong bargain-hunter, I struggle to justify the cost of actually buying it for myself; my analytical mind says "This cost so much, it has to be correspondingly good". And of course it never is, because with Champagne, you are buying The Myth, in the same way that you are with the Porsche 911 or designer perfumes.

Other related articles
On Sherry's Image
On Madeira - the background

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

On Madeira - The Background‏

The first in a series of pieces based on a Madeira tasting with Rui Falcao at the Portuguese embassy in London

Chances are, when you go to buy a bottle of wine, you probably think of a grape or a region - a Chardonnay or a Bordeaux.

Maybe you go a bit further and think about terroir and how it is expressed by certain grapes - Central Otago Pinot or Napa Valley Cab.

Or maybe you just think: ooh, half-price - bargain!

In any event, you probably don't first think of a production method - oak-fermented white, fortified red.

Production method as a defining characteristic of a wine is not a very fashionable idea right now - their replicable, industrial, inhuman feel seems to go against a belief in a soulful approach to artisan wine-making.

It is not the grape or the soil we revere now, but the winemaker with the passion, vision and downright genius to make great wine pretty much anywhere in the world.

And yet some wines are utterly defined by their production methods - Champagne, sherry, port, amarone, vin jaune.

It is an overstatement, but illustrative, to say that wines defined by their production method are deeply unfashionable.

Champagne is the obvious exception - sherry is becoming the next one. And what these two have done is to tell us a human story, casting aside their unique production method. In the case of sherry, they have had to jettison their past to find their future and command a place on stage with the world's greatest wines.

Madeira is another such wine - defined by its unique production method, it is at best one of the world's great wines and not so much unfashionable as having almost no popular consciousness at all.

But that is changing - at least starting to change; Madeira is starting to raise its profile and may be close to "doing a sherry", even if there are no Madeira bars in London just yet.

It takes time, of course; you start with the trade - the buyers, the sommeliers and the writers, you stimulate interest and build a following.

For now, Madeira remains obscure, underappreciated and underpriced.

Like going on safari in an age before mass tourism, a trip off the beaten track to discover and learn about Madeira is not all that easily done - but all the more rewarding for having achieved it.

Other related articles
On Madeira - The Background
Madeira - The Tasting‏
On Sherry's Image
Substance and style - Champagne

IVBAM (Madeira Wine Institute) - website

Friday, 18 October 2013

40 Years of Wine at Marks & Spencer

Marks and Spencer launched its first range of wines in the early 1970s, around the same time I was born, and we've both come a long way since then.

To mark its 40th anniversary of wine retailing, M&S has launched a case of classic favourites - they sent me two to try: an elegant Chablis and a full-on, fun-loving Rioja.

Chablis 2010

Toasty citrus, melon skin nose - taut green apple and white pear with linear acidity, a touch of lime zest and a brazil-nut creaminess; lingering finish.

Absolutely textbook Chablis - very elegant and classy. Lovely aperitif or match with poached white fish in a creamy sauce. Very Good.

Marques de Romeral Rioja 2007

Black cherry, sweet vanilla spice, aged leather and hint of undergrowth with soft, mouthfilling tannins; this is a classic aged Rioja, done in a crowd-pleasing, rather full-on, sort of way.

It could not be more different to the alluringly restrained elegance of the Chablis; for me the initial exuberance falls apart slightly at the finish, but otherwise it is quite enjoyable.

Match with roast lamb or hearty stews.

Other related articles
Food Matching With Chablis at Inder's Kitchen‏
The CWB Rioja-Off
Marks & Spencer Spring Tasting: Italian Reds‏

Marks & Spencer - website, twitter

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Gallo Summer Red

A dark, chilly winter evening is an odd time to be trying this Gallo Summer Red.

The inappropriateness of the time of year, however, turns out to be the least of my concerns.

Sweet and sherberty with forest fruits, it tastes like a basic off-dry Mosel Riesling with added cough syrup.

Alcoholic sweetened fruit juice for people who don't like wine.

Far better to try this Gallo Pinot Noir recommended by Jancis Robinson.

£6.99; provided for review.

Other related articles
Columbia Crest, Two Vines Cabernet Savignon, from April WoTM
Virginia Wines

Gallo - website

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Wine Gang Christmas Wine Fairs - Discounted Tickets

The Wine Gang have three Christmas wine fairs coming up:

- Bath (Nov 2nd)
- London (Nov 9th) 
- Edinburgh (Nov 30th)

All five members of the Gang will be around all day and there are free wine walks, a pop-up shop and masterclasses on everything from Champagne to Tokaji and chocolate matching.

An entry ticket for each event costs £20, but there is a special code of BLOG40 that will reduce the price to £12 plus take 10% off any masterclass tickets.

More details on the Wine Gang's website.

Other related articles

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

The First Rule of Flavour Club

Flavour Club is, according to its twitter feed, all about lesser-known Spanish wines and gourmet, artisan food - what's not to like about that?

They sent me a sample of their October Wine Box to review:

Bracamonte 2012, Verdejo Rueda
Verdejo is Rueda's signature grape - unoaked, it is precise and aromatic, not dissimilar to a cool-climate Sauvignon Blanc.

This example, however, has spent some time in old oak which gives it more of an old-school substance - which I like.

Golden sandy yellow in the glass, with aromas of citrus and old oak; ripe melon and white pear fruit with a streak of linear acidity and a hint of salinity.

With aeration, the fresh, aromatic varietal characteristics become more prominent; pure, precise and elegant with good underpinnings, it is a versatile food wine; match with roast chicken or pork.


Yllera Tempranillo 2010
From the northerly Castilla y Leon region, this tempranillo is somewhat full-on - it has 14.5% alcohol and spends 12 months in new French and American oak.

Dark purple in the glass, there is lots of ripe dark fruits and spicy toasty oak on the nose.

The palate is soft and velvety with more smokey damson fruit, sweet vanilla muskiness and savouriness cut through with good acidity.

The tannins are fine, if slightly drying on the finish, and there is a slightly baked character to the fruit.

A good, crowd-pleasing effort with character; with plenty of alcohol, fruit and oak, it's not subtle - but it is fun. And if my old-world palate would prefer a touch more restraint, that's a minor quibble.

Red Pepper Compote
The red pepper compote that, along with some breadsticks, accompanied the wines is in character more like the red than the white: lovely, savoury roasted red peppers made into a sweet compote - is it a savoury jelly, or a sweet relish?

Match with a rustic pork terrine, crusty bread and cornichons.

Spain is pretty much on the zeitgeist now for good food and wine - I would happily sign up to Flavour Club for a couple of months to see what they can offer.

Other related articles
Gonzalez Byass Altozano Verdejo Sauvignon Blanc
Beronia Special Production Tempranillo

Flavour Club - website, twitter

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Wine of the Month - October

October is a somewhat confused time of year - the only month that can bring summer-like heat, damp autumnal chill and wintry darkness.

At this time of year, foods are gamey with intense sauces which means big wines with gamey, vegetal aromas.

This month, we also have a seasonally-appropriate guest entry from Norwich-based Beaujolais specialist, Beaujolais and Beyond

For sunny days Orballo Albarino, Rias Baxas (£10.49, Bacchanalia)
From north western Spain, this is made from the Albarino grape and similar to a summery vinho verde from across the border in Portugal.

Dark sandy yellow in the glass, there are aromas of citrus fruit and melon skin.

The palate is zesty with ripe citrus fruit, pineapple and yellow apricot, with fresh acidity.

Characterful more than elegant, it is bigger and fuller than the traditionally light vinho verde and would match with white fish, quenelles in a creamy sauce or chicken in a morel and sherry sauce.

For chilly days Domaine de la Plaigne, 2011, Régnié (£11.30, Beaujolais and Beyond)

Like Chablis to the north, southern Burgundy's Beaujolais region is a once over-hyped region that is now ripe for a revival.

Made from the Gamay grape, Beaujolais does not aspire to the complexity of great Pinot Noir, for sure, but when well-made can show an alluring elegance.

Translucent purple in the glass, there are aromas of red and black cherry.

The palate shows a real purity of cherry and plum fruit and fresh, prominent acidity with real elegance and precision - this is a really lovely wine. Good.

With plenty of acidity, low tannins and pure fruit, it is a highly-versatile food wine that can stand up to stronger sauces - match with autumnal foods such as duck with cherry sauce or venison with red-wine jus.

For wintry evenings Silvern 'Greenock' Shiraz, Barossa 2011 (£9.25, Noel Young Wines)
Made by Noel's partner at Magpie Estate in Australia's Barossa Valley, this is a cancelled order offered at a bargain price.

Dark fruits, with a warming, slightly baked character, roasted spices and a slap of leather, held together by a prominent acidity.

Soft texture and savouriness, somewhat port-like.

With roast dinners Lavinyeta Puntiapart* 2011 Emporda, Spain (£14.99 CambridgeWine Merchants)

An unusual blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Samso (aka Carignan), this is dark purple in the glass, with sliced green bell peppers and pencil shavings on the nose.

There is lots of dark plummy, black cherry fruit and toasty-oak spiciness on the palate, cut through with fresh acidity and underpinned by perfectly-ripe tannins.

Long and savoury with an inky texture and a pleasant firmness on the finish, this is an extremely accomplished wine indeed. Very Good.

For days of mist and mellow fruitfulness Jean-Luc Matha, Cuvee Lairis, Marcillac (£11.50 Joseph Barnes Wines)
From south west France, this is made from the Fer Servadou grape - "fer" being a reference not to iron, but to a "feral" character of the grape.

Bright ruby purple, with initially a slight cabbagey-sulphurous aromas on the nose (often actually a sign of low added sulphur), below which are ripe strawberries and some leather.

Pure, precise red and black cherry fruit, peppery spice and fresh linear acidity.

Very elegant, with soft tannins, medium-length, some persistence and a clean finish - quite different and very interesting. Good.

Match with in-season game, especially pheasant or hare.

Other related articles
More on Beaujolais - BoJo-Lé
Wine of the month archive

Bacchanalia - website
Beaujolais and Beyond - website
Cambridge Wine Merchants - website
Joseph Barnes Wines - website
Noel Young Wines - website

Main image credit: http://images.fineartamerica.com/images-medium-large/pheasant-shooting-henry-thomas-alken.jpg