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Thursday, 28 November 2013

Three Seasonal Wines

Most Wanted, the lifestyle magazine from VoucherCodes.co.uk recently got in touch and asked me to recommend three wines for Christmas for under a tenner each.

Christmas is traditionally a time when we spend a bit more on wine; hopefully some of the uplift goes into quality as well as quantity, but we also need to stock up on decent gluggable wines.

We need supplies of presentable, good-but-not-bank-breaking quaffers to go with third-day left overs of turkey, to take along to parties and to break out in the event of unexpected visitors.

Aperitif - the fizz: La Delfina Prosecco Spumante NV Special Cuvée £8.99 (Cambridge Wine Merchants)

The rule of thumb for inexpensive fizz is well-chilled and plenty of it, and this elegant Prosecco ticks all the boxes.

Spritzy with Conference pear fruit and a slight seaside tang, there is ripe orchard fruit and rounded acidity; refreshing, elegant and balanced.

Also suitable for bucks fizz with salmon and scrambled eggs for breakfast, gifts, parties, celebrations or simply whenever you feel in need a pick-me-up

With starters or brunch - the white Domaine de Menard, 'Cuvee Marine' 2012 £9.15 (Joseph Barnes Wines)

This white wine from Joseph Barnes is a blend of the local Colombard, Ugni blanc and Gros Manseng from southwest France.

Aromatic with zesty grapefruit and orchard fruits, it is crisp, fresh and slightly herbaceous with peach and pear fruit, zippy acidity and a persistent, minerally finish

Also suitable for aperitifs (if you have drunk all the fizz), fish and seafood dishes or creamy pasta

With mains - the red Bodegas Borsao 'Monte Oton' Campo de Borja Garnacha Noel Young Wines £5.99

From the northern slopes of the Moncayo mountain range in Spain, cooled by the Cierzo breezes. Translucent purple with expressive aromas of morello cherries, plummy fruit, liquorice, leather, vanilla and spice.

The palate is juicy and mouthfilling, with a lovely sour-cherry acidity, more plummy and dark berry fruit with sweet vanilla, spice and roughed-up herbs. Soft, smooth texture, some gentle grip developing on the finish.

Also suitable for mixed anti-pasti, salami and cheese, bolognese or herby sausages.

Vouchercodes provided me with a budget of £80 to sample and select my wines for this article.

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

Main image credit: http://collectiblesxgifts.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/Christmas-Wine-Bottle-Accessories.jpg

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Marks & Spencer - Beaujolais nouveau re-booted‏

A review of Marks & Spencer's Beaujolais Nouveau 2013

I think I need a re-booty
Freeek!, George Michael

If you are old enough to remember when Beaujolais nouveau was the height of middle-class dinner party fashion, then you probably still have some deeley-boppers and a pair of day-glo socks lurking in a drawer somewhere next to a copy of Smash Hits.

So-out-it's-in, Beaujolais nouveau is now "doing a sherry" - making a comeback with a revived image for a new generation, just as George Michael turned his back on the teenage pop of Wham! to re-cast himself as a solo white funkster-cum-balladeer.

This M&S Beaujolais nouveau, released in accordance with tradition on November 21st, is packaged in a lightweight, recyclable PET bottle and is shipped by rail to the UK for a lower environmental footprint.

So far, so eco-friendly and new-millenium.

The wine itself is lovely textbook Beaujolais nouveau - gluggable pure ripe cherry fruit, just a hint of vegetal funk and a lovely poise and balance; really classy and enjoyable.

With a sharp, food-friendly acidity, it will match well with autumnal game dishes.

£7.49 from Marks & Spencer; provided for review.

Other related articles
Beaujolais and Beyond
Jamie Goode's review

Marks and Spencer - website, twitter

Main image credit: http://www.hellomagazine.com/imagenes/news-in-pics/2002/02/28//george.jpg

Monday, 25 November 2013

Pass the Courvoisier

A review of Courvoisier VSOP

Oh yea, I like this, Ladies & Gentlemen
The time you all been waitin for
"Pass the Courvoisier, Part II"
Floral, cooked fruit and vanilla nose - sweet cooked fruit, lovely fresh acidity and good structure on the palate. Good finish.

Very elegant, well-balanced and smooth; mellow and harmonious.

Very Good.

Other related articles
Cognac Frapin
Luis Felipe Brandy Gran Reserva

Courvoisier - website

Main image credit: http://image.space.rakuten.co.jp/lg01/86/0000031086/27/img7efb5c9czik8zj.jpeg

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Wine Trust 100

A review of six autumn wines from Wine Trust 100

Wine Trust 100 sent me six wines from their autumn selection to review - long on current-vintage, good-value standards, rather than a trove of revelations or fascinatingly eccentric oddities, the wines are selected by MWs, so fault-free quality and typicity is pretty much guaranteed.

Unsurprisingly, all the wines here score at least a Good  - safe, classy, reliable, enjoyable drinking; so, unless you have some aversion to mainstream wines (no biodynamics, natural or qvevri wines), what's not to like?

2011 Calmel J Joseph‏ (Cotes du Roussillon) a dark purple in the glass, it has an expressive and complex nose of ripe black cherry fruit, pencil shavings, oaky spice and new leather.

Wonderful long palate - soft, mouthfilling texture and perfectly ripe tannins. Concentrated with good ripe fruit and fresh acidity. Lovely balanced finish with a savoury persistence.

Plenty of stuffing and feels like it will age. Very Good.

2010 Taltarni Tache Rose (Australia)‏ - from Australia and Tasmania, a very classical, elegant and composed cool-climate Champagne-style fizz - pale salmon pink, it foams enthusiastically.

Restrained yeasty-citrus nose; ripe white pear and white peach with redcurrant. Assertive, well-structured, linear acidity and leesiness. Savoury persistence on the finish.

Really poised and precise, it is drinking nicely now, but will repay a few years' cellaring.

A good picnic wine or Christmas-Dinner aperitif. Match with Boxing Day cold cuts or light starters, such as a seafood vol-au-vent. Good.

2011 Chardonnay Chamonix  (Franschhoek, South Africa‏) From vines with a bit of age grown at altitude for a more complex, cool-climate feel. Precise citrus nose, oak and muskiness. Sweet, ripe citrus fruit, layers of complex, oatmealy toasty oak underpinned with fresh acidity.

A classical, elegant Burgundian Chardonnay, it is long, balanced and thoroughly more-ish - it reminds me of how I first fell in love with oaky Chardonnay.

A highly versatile food match - try with roasted pumpkin risotto, seared tuna or tafelspitz. Good.

Lawson's Dry Hills Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand aromatic, pungent Marlborough Sauvignon; gooseberries, cut grass and lemongrass; ripe tropical fruit, crystal clear acidity and minerality. Perfectly balanced with no rough edges; good, persistent finish.

Part of me acknowledges that it is a very good example of a distinct style - and yet, and yet ... somehow, another part finds the rather predictable, textbook conformity a little constraining.

With a start, I realise the source of its dullness is the approachable, easy-to-understand nature - I feel like the worst of old-school wine snobs for denouncing approachability, but with this wine, I really would wish for more restraint, more ... elusiveness.

It's feels like a page 3 girl with a PhD: well, here I am, boys, what do you think of these aromatics?

Resampled over the course of the following week, the obvious elements start to fade and the more interesting aspects become more prominent - maybe, like a callow-but-beautiful 19-year-old, it just needs a couple more years to mature.

Match the racy acidity and aromatics to Thai dishes or tuna carpaccio with lemon and ginger. Good.

2012 Bodegas Borsao, Tinto (Campo de Borja, Spain) From the northern slopes of the Moncayo mountain range, cooled by the Cierzo breezes. Translucent purple with expressive aromas of morello cherries, plummy fruit, liquorice, leather, vanilla and spice.

The palate is juicy and mouthfilling, with a lovely sour-cherry acidity, more plummy and dark berry fruit with sweet vanilla, spice and roughed-up herbs. Soft, smooth texture, some gentle grip developing on the finish.

Match with darker game, such as pheasant stuffed with apricots, or spicy sausages. Great value for money.Good.

2012 Domaines Felines Jourdain, Picpoul de Pinet (Languedoc‏, France) Picpoul is typically a light, fresh wine to drink on holiday in the south of France for a few Euros - a sort of southern Muscadet. This, however, is a more complex and weighty example.

Golden sandy yellow; citrus and yeasty melon-skin. Crisp and fresh, but with honeyed weightiness and beeswax. Long and persistent.

A summery aperitif, but weighty enough for light starters and seafood mains. Good.

Other related articles
Nick Adams MW on Champagne at Alimentum

Wine Trust 100 - website, twitter

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

The Third Cambridge Tasting - Dinner at The Gonville

The third Cambridge Tasting consisted of a game-themed dinner at The Gonville with a group of friends invited to bring along a bottle of something with a bit of age to share with fellow enthusiasts.

Overlooking Parker's Piece, The Gonville had not been on many people's radars as a potential venue - it has the look and feel of a traditional, old-school hotel. However, three things made it a great venue for the dinner:

- a new chef with ambitions to make the restaurant a venue in its own right
- a smart, new and discrete boardroom dining area that seats a party of 14
- a very helpful staff who got all the details of the planning and execution of the dinner just right
On arrival
We started with a current-release Tour de Belfort Cremant de Bordeaux to refresh palates after long weeks at work, journeys back to Cambridge or possibly both.

A traditional method fizz made from Bordelais grapes, it is elegant, crisp and refreshing with a touch of salinity and a fine mousse; as good as many an entry-level Champagne and available exclusively in Cambridge at The Gonville.

Seated for dinner
We tried the wines for each course in reverse-age order, starting with the older, more delicate wines.

Starter - terrine of rabbit
Prince Poniatowski Aigle Blanc 1990 Vouvray a slightly off-dry Chenin from the Loire; bright golden yellow, complex aged nose, tropical citrus, candied lemon and honey with floral aromas. Rounded and mellow. Lovely and well-balanced.

2001 R. López de Heredia Rioja Blanco Crianza Viña Gravonia old-school white Rioja - nothing fruit-forward here; with four years in old oak, it has an oxidative nose and an unusual, pungent, sherry-esque tang. Fresh, lemony and mellow palate. Smells older than the Vouvray but tastes younger.

More structurally precise than the Chenin, it is technically better - and certainly more unusual - but lacks the complexity of an extra decade in bottle.

Kurt Angerer Ametzberg Riesling 2006 Kamptal the first of two Austrian whites from Kamptal - golden sandy yellow, a hint of petrol on the nose; zippy, citrus and mineral, it feels positively youthful. Good structure.

Kurt Angerer Spies Gruener Veltliner 2011 Kamptal white pepper and mineral nose, fresh pure acidity, long and linear; peppery finish.

Both Austrian whites might have benefitted from greater aeration and being served a degree or two warmer.

Magpie Estate "The Thief" Rose 2012 Barossa incongruous young rose from Noel Young's Barossa-based estate - musky nose, fresh ripe red berries; like a sturdy footsoldier in the Officer's Mess.

Main - trio of game birds
Ch Labegorce 1999 Margaux this first of two aged Medocs - dried red bell pepper and dried green herbs; more dried sage on the palate, fresh acidity, soft texture, mellow harmoniousness, well-integrated.

Rousseau de Sipian 2005 Medoc a popular Bordeaux that was familiar to a number of people - truffley undergrowth, fresh acidity, good grip and mouthfeel with bramble fruit and some green herbs.

Alain Voge, Les Chailles 2005 Cornas well-balanced, expressive northern Rhone - mushrooms and truffley hints with complex spice; dark elderberry fruit, spice, freshness and precision.

La Boussole Pinot Noir 2012, Pays d'Oc a Pinot from Montelimar - cooked strawberries and red fruits with good freshness; drinking nicely now, but not an ager.

Dessert - individual berry crumble with ice-cream
J Touchais Coteaux du Layon 1959 Loire - not quite the oldest thing in the room; dark golden, complex aged nose with some hints of mustiness. Dried pineapple pieces, cooked mixed fruit, sultanas and golden syrup with a hint of cognac. Very accomplished and very popular.
Montofoli 1998 Greece mahogany brown, roasted chestnuts, complex, fresh and savoury, long.

Quercia al Poggio, Vin Santo del Chianti Classico 2003 fermented in barrels over four years, golden mahogany, complex aged nose, cooked fruit with roasted bitterness of chestnuts and walnuts.

The Little Wine Company 10yo Tawny NV Australia deep mahogany, port-like eucalyptus, complexity, rich and sweet, mellow with some firmness, long, good finish.

Gutierrez Colosia, Moscatel Soleado NV golden syrupy brown, complex bitter roasted nuts, syrupy and viscose with savoury persistence. Full-on and a little lacking in balancing acidity.

Possibly the most diverse tasting I have ever been to, it was a fascinating exercise to put these wines up against each other.

- the couple of more entry-level wines here were good enough in their own right, style and price bracket, but were simply outclassed by the company they were in.

- the two Austrian wines were also both good, and I felt should have shown better, but by dint of their youthfulness, seemed to struggle against the much older wines

- the dessert wines were surprisingly hit and miss; the later ones all struggled to match the assuredness of the Coteaux du Layon

- the list was long on old school classics - Loire Chenin, Bordeaux and sherry - re-emphasising my belief that ageing potential is what makes a region classic

- assessing the more unusual wines (of which there was no shortage) was extremely difficult; with no obvious reference point, how to decide on a short taste whether it was an ordinary or superior example of its particular style?

- the oldest wines had an aged complexity and mellowness that the younger wines all lacked, making them them all the more interesting; maybe it's my own age, but I feel I could happily drink nothing but mellow, aged wines from now on.

We graded the wines as we went along and at the end of the evening, elected top white, red, sticky and overall winner.

Below are the group results, with my own personal choices in brackets afterwards:

Top white -  Aigle Blanc (Gravonia)
Top red - Rousseau de Sipian (Les Chailles)
Top sticky - J Touchais (J Touchais)
Overall winner - J Touchais (J Touchais)

Other related articles
The Cambridge Tasting #1
The Cambridge Tasting #2

Gonville Hotel - website, twitter
Tour de Belfort - website

Friday, 15 November 2013

A Century of PX‏: Toro Albala

A review of PX going back to 1911 with Antonio Sorgato Godeau of Toro Albala and Michael Palij MW of Winetraders

Aged wines and dessert wines are two of my favourite things - a masterclass on aged dessert wines, the most extensive tasting of PX ever held in the UK, left me rather speechless.

Pedro Ximenez is the grape of sweet sherries - air-dried, it produces wines with the colour and consistency of used engine oil.

But well-made, with good balancing acidity and complex aromas of roasted spices, nuts and fruitcake, it is one of the world's great wines.

PX is most commonly blended with aged solera-method dark sherries - amontillado or oloroso - to add some sweetness to their complex bitter flavours, resulting is the sort of sweet, dark "cream" sherries associated with grannies and vicars.

It is, however, also made into varietal wines in its own right with no solera method and therefore has a vintage association.

Toro Albala makes PX every year, storing the wine in old oak casks and only bottling when the wine is considered ready for drinking - this means they are released not necessarily in vintage order.

We started with a youthful, entry-level 2010 before moving on to the Gran Reserva Selection going back in time not just beyond my own birth year or that of my parents, but to a time when my grandparents had not even been born.

The basic process for making PX is the same each year, but the details vary; the length of air-drying, the amount of Amontillado added to adjust sweetness and flavour.

One constant is that both the concentration and the proportion of acidity increase with time due to evaporation.

Don PX Dulce de Pasas 2010 two years in steel tanks, organic, the grapes were sun-dried in temperatures of 45C-50C with zero humidity for 10 days. 400g/l residual sugar, 5kg of grapes per per litre of finished wine. The result is viscose and difficult to filter. Dark golden mahogany, cooked mixed fruit and Christmas cake, a hint of nail polish. Viscose and syrupy with fresh acidity; cooked mixed fruit and raisins.

Match with blue cheese or ice-cream.

Gran Reserva Selection

Don PX Gran Reserva 1983 380g/l I have colleagues who were not born when this wine was made. Opaque black, with some clearness around the rim. Restrained nose of roasted spice and dark chocolate. Spice, dark chocolate, black coffee, roasted nuts; some savouriness on the finish. Longer, mellower and more harmonious.

Don PX Double Label 1976 from an era of flares and platform boots. 350g/l with 20% Amontillado, bottled in 2009. Opaque black, fragrant nose of raisiny cooked fruit. Spice, fruitcake, roasted nuts and dark chocolate. Lively, fresh and long.

Match with a dark chocolate dessert.

Don PX Double Label 1962 pre-dating the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, 350g/l, 95 Parker Points, bottled in 2011. Opaque black, roasted spice, liquorice and tobacco. Sweet vanilla and toffee, espresso. Fresh with savouriness on the finish.

Don PX Double Label 1949 the first of two post-war bottles and Antonio's personal favourite. 280 g/l, bottled in 2011, 97 pts. Black but more faded translucence around the rim. Tobacco and toffee, mellow and savoury, harmonious.

Don PX Double Label 1946 100 pts, this one is The Daddy for trophy hunters. Black and completely opaque with cinnamon, marzipan and white pepper. Fruitcake and cooked prunes; fragrant, intense, concentrated and long.

Don PX Double Label 1939 from the year that Nazi Germany invaded Poland, 400g/l, bottled in 1997. Black but faded around the rim with some translucence. Taken directly from barrel to bottle with no filtration, slightly cloudy with some sediment in the glass.

Fragrant and mellow with mocha aromas, creamy texture, spiced fruitcake, raisins and prunes, balanced fresh acidity. Long and savoury.

Don PX Double Label 1911 only 106 bottles made, from the owner's private collection, this century-old wine dates to an almost-Victorian era when Germany and Russia were still empires ruled by royal houses.

Bottled in 2003, translucent black; coffee and liquorice, some industrial hints. Sweet vanilla and toffee, fragrant and floral with black chocolate savouriness. Harmonious with a gentler texture than any of the other wines, it has a mellowness that comes only from extensive ageing, yet also a freshness and vibrancy that belie its centegenarian status.

Rather like Mick Jagger or Sean Connery, its youthful, rogueish charm is still present - it has an energy - but it is matched by the assurance that comes with longevity.

It is hard not simply to be in awe of such great aged wines, to be overwhelmed by their longevity, their very existence and presence all in one place.

And yet, conclusions must be drawn if the experience is to be shared, rather than merely indulged:

- all the Gran Reservas showed both family characteristics, with subtly nuanced variations from vintage to vintage, as well as a linear progression with age

- all the wines were lovely drinkers with a loose-limbed hedonism; they did not require thinking, intellectualising or analysing to understand. After the formal masterclass, it was a joy simply to taste through all the wines for the pleasure of drinking them

- whilst the 100-pointer 1946 may have been the most technically adept wine, for me the unique, harmonious mellowness made the 1911 the most enjoyable wine on the day

All the wines are available (in very limited quantities) from Winetraders. They come in a hand-made box with a vial sample to try in advance of opening the bottle itself.

Other related articles
Aged Greek Dessert Wines at CWW

Toro Albala - website
Winetraders - website

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Rhône Tasting with H2Vin‏

A tasting of Rhone wines with H2Vin at the St James' Hotel

2012 was a relatively cool year in the Rhone, resulting - according to my guide notes - in beautiful fruit, freshness, lower alcohol and fine tannins.

These characteristics were all certainly in evidence in the 2012s I tried, but I started with a couple of whites.

Prices are IB per case of 12; all 2012s unless indicated

Francois Villard
Some lovely, fresh white Rhones here - and it's not often I say that.

St Peray Version (Marsanne/Roussane) £130 honeysuckle, yellow stone fruit, perfumed, fresh and lively yet composed.

Condrieu De Poncins (Viognier) £310 floral, apricotty, elegant, balanced. Fresh and long, concentrated. Good.

Clos du Caillou
I picked this wine for its evocative name - "scent of garrigue"

Cotes du Rhone Bouquet des Garrigues (Grenache Blanc, Clairette Rose, Viognier, Bourboulenc) £90 light, crisp, refreshing and floral, a waxy creaminess develops.

Equis and Domaine des Lises
Some lovely textbook northern Rhones that just get better going up the price points.

Crozes-Hermitages Equinoxe (Syrah) £90 truffley undergrowth, ripe dark berries, vanilla sweetness; fresh, elegant and balanced.

Crozes-Hermitage Les Lises (Syrah, 2011) £132 truffley, liquorice, more complex; fuller palate, more concentrated and substantial. Good.

St Joseph Equis (Syrah, 2011) £140 tarry, mushrooms, dark fruit and spice; more elegance, length and savouriness. Very Good.

Cornas Equis (Syrah, 2010) £275 even more savouriness, concentration and length. Very Good Indeed.

Pierre Gaillard
Pierre Gaillard's wines were all technically impressive, but somehow restrained, closed up, not thrilling. I wondered if this was a factor of their youth but was told that it is his style.

St Joseph Les Pierres (Syrah) £220 spice, dark fruit, restrained and elegant. Prominent fruit and fresh acidity with savouriness.

Cote Rotie (Syrah, Viognier) £280 perfumed, dark fruits; vanilla sweetness, a velvety texture, fresh lively acidity, savouriness and a peppery finish.

Cote Rotie Empreintes (Syrah, 2011) £395 spice and dark fruit; sweet vanilla, fresh acidity, more dark fruit with cool mint, savouriness and a softly assertive texture.

Cote Rotie Rose Poupre (Syrah) £540 complex, assured nose; dark fruit, spice and cool mint. Incredible texture - velvety, long, savoury and elegant with a persistence on the finish. Very Good Indeed.

Recommended Wines
Top White - De Poncins
Best-Value White - St Peray Version
Top Red - Cornas Equis

The Pierre Gaillard wines proved something of an enigma for me - in a short tasting, they seemed a little wallflower-elusive; my head said "Good", but my heart didn't skip a beat.

However, I can well imagine falling quietly in love with them in the course of an evening's closer acquaintance.

Other related articles
Rhone and Iggy Pop
Rhone at Justerini's
Rhone En Primeur 2010 at Cambridge Wine Merchants

H2Vin - website

Monday, 11 November 2013

Pierre Chanau St Emilion 2010‏

A Pierre Chanau Bordeaux purchased at Auchan Calais for around €6 on the way back from a holiday in the south of France in 2012

Pierre Chanau is Auchan's own label for wines. This St Emilion is a right-bank Bordeaux with a silver medal from concours de Bordeaux.

Plum fruit, earthiness and coffee grounds.

Good plum fruit, fresh acidity, some pepperiness and savouriness; good structural underpinnings and firm tannins on the finish.

Drinking nicely now, it will continue to improve for a few more years.

Textbook right-bank Merlot. Good.

Match with beef dishes.

Other related articles
Pierre Chanau Pacherenc du Vic Bilh
Affordable right-bank Bordeaux
Wine-buying in France - Calais

Auchan - website

Sunday, 10 November 2013

More Nino Franco Prosecco

A review of two more Prosecco wines from Nino Franco

Grave di Stecca Brut packaged like Lucozade (for those old enough to remember). Pale straw yellow, citrus and melon skin nose; pure, elegant white pear fruit, gentle mousse and some persistence.

Precise, correct and well-behaved, if a little dull - rather like an accountant at a dinner party. 

Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore Rustico Brut‏ from higher-altitude vineyards, an enjoyable textbook Prosecco - good, precise orchard fruit, well-balanced acidity and somehow more substantial.

Elegant, discreet and well-bred, it is not so much rustic - as the name suggests - as minor aristocracy.


Serve as an aperitif or with light starters, such as prawns en croute.
Both wines provided for review.

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

Nino Franco - website, twitter

Friday, 8 November 2013

Taylor's 10 Year Old Tawny Port

A review of Taylor's 10yo tawny port - and a competition on Jazz FM

Unlike basic ruby, vintage or even LBV, aged tawny ports spend extended time in oak before bottling - in this case 10 years, but up to 40 is possible.

This oak aging strips the port of much of its colour (compared to a younger ruby or LBV), leaving it a brick red with pure acidity, complex red fruits and eucalyptus aromas.

Aged tawny is, for me, the one port that actually matches well with cheese - its sweetness and low tannins complement hard yellow cheeses perfectly.

Brick red in the glass, there are aromas of fruit, nuts and eucalyptus on the nose; it's quite a forward wine, which I rather like. The palate is viscous and sweet with good balancing acidity and plenty of balanced warmth on the finish.

Priced at £23 for a 75cl bottled  from E.H. Booths, Majestic, Morrison, Sainsbury, Selfridges, Tesco, Wholefoods Market, Waitrose - provided for review.

Taylor's ports will also feature on Jazz FM - along with suggested food matches - on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 7pm on Dinner Jazz for twenty six weeks starting from Tuesday 22 October. There is also a competition which will run for six weeks offering a mixed case of Taylor’s Port just in time for Christmas.

Other related articles
Dow's Vintage Port 1975‏
Noval Dinner at Cambridge Hotel du Vin‏

Taylor's - website, twitter
Jazz FM - website

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Hardy's Chardies - #AllAboutChardonnay‏

A tasting of Hardy's Chardonnays presented by Belinda Stone

To a certain type of person, Chardonnay is rather passé - apparently, it's all Bridget Jones' fault.

You can trace the parabola of Chardonnay's rise and fall as a fashion icon by decade, just as you can observe trends in hemlines, facial hair and dressing up vs dressing down.

Chardonnay was never my first love (that was Austrian Riesling), but to me it is the great grape of ripe, oatmealy Meurseult, of lean and elegant Chablis and of celebratory Champagne.

It's pretty much found all over the world and is the most widely-planted white grape you've heard of (unless, like me, you are a geek and know about Airén).

It is versatile and varied - a grape that responds to both climate and the wine-making process, especially the use of oak.

It may not make the headlines or get talked about right now as much as other, trendier grape varieties, but it is ubiquitous - the Mars Bar of white wines.

Perhaps its very ubiquity is the reason for it languishing in the fashion doldrums; there's just not a huge amount to say about Chardonnay per se. We know its name and flavour profile well enough - whilst the trendy set have moved on to Georgia, qvevri or natural wines. All three, perhaps.

But back on planet mainstream, a drinkable wine for just over a fiver is no mean feat.

And so Belinda took us through a tasting of six varietal or Chardonnay-based wines from Hardy's to reacquaint ourselves with this noblest of white grapes.

Stamp Sparkling Chardonnay / PN NV, (£9.49) a charmat-method fizz, this was fruit-forward and modern. Floral, limey and crisp with some cut-grass aromas; clean and refreshing, uncomplicated. No Champagne alternative, it was a solid example of its style.

VR Chardonnay 2013 (£6.49) a basic, glugging supermarket Chardonnay. Pale sandy yellow, ripe tropical fruit, floral. White peach, lime cordial with high acidity.

Stamp Chardonnay / Semillon 2012 (£6.99) nicely textured wine with more leesiness. Restrained on the nose, the palate is richer, fuller and waxier, with ripe citrus fruit.

Nottage Hill Chardonnay 2013 (£8.49) a more interesting and complex wine. Pale sandy yellow with a restrained nose. Sweet vanilla, pineapple fruit and nicely oaked buttery oatmeal, tempered by fresh acidity with some persistence on the finish.

A classy, enjoyable easy-drinker.

William Hardy Chardonnay 2013 (£8.99) a more European style of Chardonnay from cooler-climate regions. Pineapple and white peach, toasty oak hints, sweet spice. Elegant.

Eileen Hardy Chardonnay 2008 (£25) a very complex and adept wine that is a good half-decade off being ready to drink. Almost half Tasmanian, a mid-golden yellow, complex nose of toasty spice and musk. Sweet vanilla, butterscotch, fresh acidity toasty oak with apple and banana fruit, hot cross buns and a persistent, mineral finish. Long and savoury. Good. Needs decanting.
Overall, there was nothing to offend with any of the basic Chardonnays, which at the price point is realistically as much as you can expect.

The slightly more ambitious Chardonnays were distinctly more interesting - as ever, proof that a few more pounds can bring disproportionate improvements in quality.

The Eileen Hardy Chardonnay was a very serious wine indeed and my favourite of the evening.

Other related articles
Australian Tasting With Noel Young Wines

Hardy's - website, twitter
Miss Bouquet - website, twitter

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Lunch at Le Vin La Table

A review of Le Vin La Table in Hale, Cheshire

It was another Special Day in the CWB household - and, as I like to do things a bit differently, I told Mrs CWB I would take her out for lunch to Le Vin La Table.

But first a bit of history: around 10 years ago, Eugene Lismonde sold his business and, not feeling quite ready to retire, decided to plant a vineyard and restore an old tower in his wife's home village in Belfort de Quercy near Cahors.

Grapes were grown, picked and made into wine and the family was brought in to help with selling it.

The wine - all organic, almost natural - is made to a very high standard with an absolute focus on quality, but the UK proved a tough market to crack.

After doing the rounds with the Three Wine Men tour and building a smart website, daughter Muriel, who now lives in Cheshire, decided to open a Wine Shop and Cookery School in Hale with chef Jason Palin.

Le Vin La Table is divided into two sections - at the front is Muriel's wine area, whilst a compact professional kitchen at the back is Jason's - Muriel defies national stereotypes and is (by her own admission) actually not very good at cooking, a fact she says came as quite a disappointment to her English husband.

Le Vin La Table opened around a year ago and I had been meaning to visit for some time - when a trip to my ancestral home coincided with a car service and the need to be up for a long weekend, an exchange of emails led to Muriel inviting the whole CWB family over to have lunch cooked by the children whilst we adults watched - and since the kids were rather excited at the idea, it seemed to good an offer to refuse.

Muriel had suggested a menu of popcorn chicken and souffles - partly because they are easy for children, but also it turned out because she loves chocolate souffle herself.

Pinny-ed up and divided into girls vs boys, Mrs CWB and #1 child were set to making a cheese souffle for starters whilst I watched over #2 child (also a budding chocoholic) making the dessert; we melted butter and added flour to make a roux, cracked and separated eggs, whisked the whites into fluffy peaks and folded them in, before preparing ramekins and adding the gooey mixture.

The cheese souffles - golden on top and richly eggy with strong Gruyere cheese and a touch of mustard powder - were perfectly cooked and made a wonderful starter.

Our main of popcorn chicken turned out to be chicken breast nuggets with a spicy flour-and-egg coating deep fried until golden, then served with popped corn, caramel and plum sauce.

However, the main event was the greedy chocolate souffles which were not quite indulgent enough on their own, needing a generous pouring of double cream to finish them off - plus a bit more again halfway down.

Fun and informal, it was a wonderful way to have a family meal together without having to worry if the kids would sit quietly and behave nicely in the hushed surrounds of an upmarket restaurant.

We cooked and ate at Le Vin La Table as guests of Muriel and Jason.

Tour de Belfort's range of wines (red, white, rose and fizz) are available in Cambridge exclusively at the Gonville Hotel.

Other related articles
Le Tour de Belfort - the history
Tour de Belfort at CFWS

Le Vin La Table - website, Facebook, twitter
Jason Palin - twitter

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

On Madeira - The Tasting‏

A tasting of Madeira wines led by Rui Falcao at the Portuguese embassy in London

It is a special tasting where the youngest vintage is 2001 - all these wines were very impressive for their refreshing acidity, aged complexity and intensity.

Henriques & Henriques, Single Harvest Sercial 2001 a mid-level wine, it is an amber mahogany in the glass.

Aromas of antique leather, roasted nuts, ginger and fresh acidity - on the palate there is toffee, caramel, roasted nut bitterness. It feels dry, but actually has 50g/l of sugar.

Match with blue cheese, cured ham or drink as an aperitif. Good.

Justino's Madeira Wines, Harvest 1995 Tinto Negra, half-dry. Dark mahogany in the glass, aromas of cooked mixed fruit and spice with a minty eucalyptus bite. Rich and sweet on the palate with raisins, Christmas spice and fruitcake. Good.

Vinhos Barbeito, Verdelho Frasqueira 1992 made by the enfant terrible of Madeira who is constantly experimenting and whose signature is high acidity.

Dark mahogany, aromas of fresh acidity. On the palate, it is rich and savoury with cooked fruit, roasted nuts and spices and a geeky intensity. Long, linear acidity. Good.

Susan Hulme MW who was also there described it as "clean, precise and nervy - a surprising discovery".

Blandy's Madeira, Bual Harvest 1996 from an established but innovative producer. Dark mahogany in the glass, antique leather, spice and cooked fruit on the nose - said to be prominent "curry" aromas, but I did not especially find this.

Rich cooked fruit on the palate, with spice and long acidity that seems to go on forever - zesty and intense with orange peel aromas. Very Good.

Pereira D'Oliveira, Bual 1984 the smallest producer on Madeira, a family-owned company dating back to 1850. A bit crazy, they still have a barrel of 1850 Madeira that they bottle on demand, so each bottling is different.

The colour of used engine oil, with a raisiny, cooked fruit nose. Raisiny, coffee and intense on the palate - long and savoury with a persistent finish.

Described as "bottled electricity" it is intense, muscular and vibrant - a savoury wine with sweetness; match with wild boar with chestnuts, or coffee and bitter chocolate. Very Good indeed.

Other related articles
On Madeira - The Background‏
On Madeira - The Low-Down‏

Madeira Wine Institute - website

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Wine of the Month - November

November brings bonfire night - a smokey, spicy, chilly celebration of fireworks, oohs and aaahs. It is also the month of Remembrance Day and Movember.

The wines from our regular Cambridge merchants are, like many a fuzzy upper lip, bigger and fuller this month - and we have not one but two guest appearances - firstly from newly-established WineTrust100, plus a welcome return from Beaujolais and Beyond.

We start, however, with an off-piste natural wine from Joseph Barnes.

Vina Almate Tempranillo 2012, VdlT Castilla y Leon (£10.50 Joseph Barnes Wines)
If brambly, vanilla Spanish Tempranillo is a style you are familiar with, don't expect to find it in this elegant-yet-rugged natural wine.

Dark in the glass, the nose gives little away, except perhaps for a touch of dark fruit and funk.

The palate is sharp and refreshing, with pure black-cherry and dark berry fruit, an elusive savouriness and a hint of fermented fruit.

It's a curious wine - as natural wines often are - yet strangely alluring. Intense, focused and uncompromising, this is something of a punk wine; like the mohican-ed toughs who used to hang out in my East Midlands town centre on a Saturday when I was growing up, it demands your attention and feels edgy, yet underneath the scowl, spikes and studs, it's actually very civilised.

Match with something equally edgy - such as steak tartare. Also beetroot with cream cheese.

Domaine du Diamant Noir, Cotes du Rhone 2012 (£8.99, Cambridge Wine Merchants)
The start of autumn can be said to be heralded by opening your first Cotes du Rhone - warming, dark and spicy, it is perfectly suited to hearty stews and gamey dishes.

This Domaine du Diamant Noir from the southern Rhone is a blend of Carignan, Syrah, Grenache and Cinsault - with dark berry fruit and some spice on the nose, it has a classic, southern Rhone profile.

On the palate there is more plummy fruit, sweet peppery vanilla spice and fresh acidity with perfectly ripe tannins underpinned by grippy savouriness - classy and elegant, if perhaps a little lacking in concentration.

Match with roast beef dinners and hearty stews.

Sottano Malbec 2012, Argentina (£9.99 Noel Young Wines)
From the Llujan de Cuyo region of Argentina, where vineyard altitudes are from 800m - 1,100m giving wines with deep colour and ripeness with fresh acidity.

Malbec is Argentina's signature grape - historically from Bordeaux, it is also grown in Cahors where it is known as Cot.

Typically quite flamboyant, if a little rustic, Malbec often feels like it needs a bit of a wash and brush-up to be acceptable in polite company - it can be a Bruce Springsteen of a wine.

This dark, seductive Sottano, however, is more of a Bryan Ferry - with dark fruit, spiciness and a chocolatey texture underpinned by a fresh acidity and good savouriness, it is well-groomed and classy.

Don't be afraid to decant - and serve with the best Argentine beef you can find.

Bodegas Borsao, Tinto 2011, Campo de Borja, Spain - (£5.99, Wine Trust 100)
The first guest wine this month is from Wine Trust 100, a new wine retailer, set up by three local Masters of Wine - Sarah Abbott from Bedford, John Hoskins who runs The Old Bridge in Huntingdon and Nick Adams who lives in Cambridgeshire.

This Spanish Garnacha from Bodegas Borsao is a classy crowd-pleaser - with a nose of morello cherries, plummy fruit, liquorice, leather, vanilla and spice.

The palate is juicy and mouthfilling, with a lovely sour-cherry acidity, more plummy and dark berry fruit with sweet vanilla, spice and roughed-up herbs.

The texture is soft and smooth, with some gentle grip developing on the finish.

Match with darker game, such as pheasant stuffed with apricots, or spicy sausages.

2011 Chénas Cuvée Tradition (£11.50, Beaujolais and Beyond) I was so impressed with the guest Beaujolais from Beaujolais and Beyond last month that I've included another one this time.

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

Match with lighter game such as duck, partridge or a game casserole.

Beaujolais and Beyond - website
Cambridge Wine Merchants - website
Joseph Barnes Wines - website
Noel Young Wines - website
Wine Trust 100 - website, twitter

Main image credit: https://www.makewav.es/blog/180715/bonfirenight

Friday, 1 November 2013

Two More Wines from Chile's Caliterra‏

A review of two wines from Chile's Caliterra

Caliterra is a joint venture between California's Robert Mondavi and Eduardo Chadwick.

Once up-and-coming, Chile is for me these days all too often disappointing as, despite all the advantages of its varied terroirs, it seems to churn out big, alcoholic, US-style wines for export to its northerly neighbour.

Caliterra Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2013 (£8.99)

Pale straw yellow in the glass, full-on nose of ripe tropical fruit, musky melon skin and herbaceous aromatics.

Lots of sweet, ripe honeydew melon and peach fruit on the palate, but feels a little flabby and heavy-handed - rather hot and alcoholic - but not without some good persistence on the finish.

A big, gutsy, rather clumsy raging bull of a wine that is all about making a statement.

Match the ripeness to strong, salty foods, such as a plate of beechwood salami, sun-dried tomatoes and manchego.

Caliterra Tributo Cabernet  Sauvignon Single Vineyard Block "Quillay" 2010 (£10.99)

Expressive nose of berries, mocha and leather - lots of cooked fruit on the palate, but rather alcoholic and overblown.

Again, slightly hot on the finish, but not without some savouriness - more statement than elegance. Match the ripe sweetness with roast lamb.

Available from independents; provided for review.

Other related articles
Two Wines from Chile's Caliterra
Caliterra Tributo Single Vineyard Chardonnay
Caliterra Tributo "Single Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 
De Martino at Circle of Wine Writers

Caliterra - website