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Friday, 28 February 2014

Striking French! - Two Wines From Les Domaines Paul Mas

A review of two Striking French! wines from Les Domaines Paul Mas

With its quirky, jokey name, Striking French! wines from Domaines Paul Mas has an unapologetically iconoclastic and populist image; a touch low-brow, perhaps, but then these are ripe Pays d'Oc quaffers, not First Growth challengers.

Striking French! Viognier sandy yellow with an oaky, musky melonskin nose; ripe tropical citrus fruit, clean and fresh acidity, a touch of lime cordial, creamy-buttery oak and pleasant finish. Very enjoyable quaffer.

Striking French! Merlot translucent purple with aromas of plums, tobacco, coffee grounds and liquorice; more ripe fruit, juicy acidity and a soft texture. Again, a thoroughly pleasant and reliable quaffer.

Overall, these are very pleasant, if unchallenging wines - perhaps a little ambitiously priced, they are a safe bet for when you have a mixed grouping of people to please and a decent introduction to Languedoc.

£9.99 from Majestic; provided for review.

Other related articles
Review by Colin Smith
Best of Pays d'Oc dinner
Les Grandes Costes, Pic St Loup, 2009 from the Co-op

Paul Mas - website
Majestic - website

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Gonzalez Byass Vintage Sherries

A review of the new, limited release of vintage sherries from Gonzalez Byass

James Bond: Unusually fine sholera. '51, I believe.
M: There is no year for sherry, double-oh seven.
James Bond: I wus refurring to the original vintage on which the sherry is based, sir. Eighteen fifty one. Unmishtakable.

As any Bond fan knows, sherry has no vintage - it is blended in the solera system to achieve a consistency of style; a little is taken out and bottled, the remainder topped up with younger wine to refresh the blend.

And yet, and yet .... sherry was always originally made in vintages and the solera system was only introduced, back in the 1820s - 1830s, to meet the requirements of British importers who demanded greater consistency.

Sherry is a wine - like port, Madeira and Champagne - that is defined, somewhat unromantically, by its production process. As interest in sherry in this country increases, so do the opportunities to try out something new; first there was En Rama, the unfiltered fino bottling. Now, Gonzalez Byass are releasing - in very limited quantities - a range of vintage sherries, all darker styles, going back to 1967.

They are not cheap; all the bottle prices are in three figures. Yet they are spectacular and you could pay more money for a bottle of disappointing current-vintage claret.

A full set of the sherries costs £999 from Selfridges - where they are also available by the glass from the oenomatic machine; they are also available by the glass at The Connaught hotel in London's Mayfair.

The sherries are released tomorrow.

Other related articles

Gonzalez Byass - website
Selfridges - website
The Connaught - website

Friday, 21 February 2014

Kicking The Kremlin

A review of Kicking The Kremlin by Marc Bennetts, published by Oneworld; sub-titled Russia's New Dissidents and the Battle to Topple Putin, the book covers the grass roots anti-Putin movement (if it can be called such a thing) from around 2000 to 2013.

Situated in the centre of Moscow with walls up to six metres thick and 19m high, the Kremlin is a potent symbol of Russia's totalitarian rule.

It was the seat of power for Russia's leaders until the early 1700s when Peter the Great, affecting a more European outlook, moved his capital to the newly-constructed city of St Petersburg, before reverting back to its original status in 1918 when the bolsheviks, fighting for the survival of their revolution and the new Russian state, decided to hunker down.

Russia - the largest country in the world, spanning nine time zones - has always had authoritarian rulers, due to a combination of history and geography. A vast, flat country with long borders and a land empire acquired very quickly, it is at almost constant risk of attack or disintegration; Ukraine was for centuries more a province than a separate country, yet in 1991ceded from the then Soviet Union and became an independent nation - a fact many Russians have still not yet fully accepted.

In the early 1200s, a horseback warrior, Genghis Khan, struck out from Mongolia and conquered Russia almost overnight-  there followed nearly four centuries of eastern rule. Instead of experiencing the Renaissance, Russia was enslaved under the despotic Mongol Yoke.

Authoritarianism is not, therefore, something new in Russia - it is, rather, the normal state of things. Given a political education by the Mongols, Russia's tsars named themselves after the militaristic absolute rulers of ancient Rome, the caesars.

Russia is also heir to the original Christian church - the centre of orthodoxy moved from Rome to Moscow via Byzantium and Kiev.

Vast yet physically vulnerable and with a great spiritual heritage, Russia is a battered and wary, yet proud country. Three-fifths Asian, it did not leave the feudal era until 1861 and has not developed democratic structures and principles in the interim - a civil war, two world wars and the collapse of two empires have resulted in a focus on survival at all costs during difficult times and a tendency to stagnate at others.

The greatest threat to a totalitarian regime is a propserous, comfortable and well-educated middle class that dares to aspire to greater freedoms and can communicate that desire openly. Russia's rulers have always understood this and state censorship has long been standard practice.

Under the communists, anything that might allow the free exchange of ideas was tightly controlled - exit visas, border controls and closed cities restricted freedom of movement, whilst state industries focused more on armaments than on anything that might facilitate communication, such as personal transport, telephony or any consumer electronic devices.

The watershed moment came with glasnost, Mikhail Gorbachyov's policy of "openness" and freedom of communication. His attempts to restructure the economy ("perestroika") floundered and paved the way for the economic chaos of the Yeltsin years, but the free speech genii was out of the bottle.

The Putin years have witnessed a crude-but-effective re-taking of control over all television broadcasting  - add to this endemic corruption and weak democratic structures and the country is once more totalitarian in all but name.

For his book Kicking The Kremlin, Marc Bennets records the tales of various anti-Putin protesters - from eco-activist Yevgenia Chirikova to evangelical-yet-nationalistic lawyer Aleksei Navalny by way of punk band Pussy Riot.

The way Bennetts tells it, they are united by little more than a dislike of Putin. A fragmented and divided opposition facing an authoritarian crackdown is hardly a fair fight and the image of kicking against the bricks of the Kremlin walls is an appropriate metaphor for the futility of such protests.

The focus on personality is also a weakness - whilst it is easy to cast the ex-KGB officer, sometime Prime Minister and now President (again) as a hate-figure, totalitarianism and corruption in Russia is about more than one person, even if he is the long-term ruler of the country.

The building blocks of democracy are free and fair elections, an independent press, freedom of speech and the rule of law. It should come as little surprise to learn that Russia does not score - has never scored - highly for any of these.

Calls for the removal of one person from power - even if successful - do nothing to solve the underlying issues of an undemocratic country and merely risk the replacement of one despot with another - as evidenced by the Russian revolution.

Where both the anti-Putin protesters and Bennets' book seem to miss the point is in making their protests personal rather than structural - an undemocratic removal of Putin would do nothing to advance the cause of democracy in Russia.

But, with free and fair elections, an independent press and the rule of law in place, there would be the potential for opposition figures to emerge, cut their political teeth and stand for democratic election.

It is not as rousing a slogan as "Rossiya bez Putina" ("Russia without Putin"), but has the potential to be far more effective.

The book ends, however, on a half-optimistic note; a younger generation, wealthier, savvier and more comfortable generally, are increasingly finding Putin an absurd irrelevance, a faintly ridiculous, diminutive old man who takes his shirt off for the cameras.

As current events in Kyiv show, a peaceful and controlled hand-over of power is infinitely preferable to the alternative.

Book provided for review.

Bibliographic details:
ISBN: 9781780743486
Publication Date: 6 February 2014
Extent: 288 pages
Dimensions: 146mm× 225mm
Subjects: Current Affairs / Politics

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Three Wines From France Sud Ouest

A review of three wines from France Sud Ouest, selected by The Wine Gang

South West France is, truth be told, a bit of an oenological backwater - a mixed bag of left-over regions you haven't heard of, wedged between the more well-known Bordeaux, Languedoc and Rhone.

The Wine Gang have been championing wines from South West France for while now and I have been impressed with what I have previously tried from this diverse region - don't let geographic or varietal obscurity detract you from these wines; south west France seems to be undergoing the sort of renaissance that Languedoc experienced a couple of decades ago.

The wines from this region are generally expressive with plenty of crowd-pleasing character; this is a rugged and rustic part of France - the home of the Gascons, it is a sort of French Balkans; a place of strong foods, simmering historical tensions and intense passions.

Les Terres Basses, Cotes de Gascogne NV, Laballe modern, crisp and aromatic. Pale sandy yellow, crisply herbaceous with stone fruit; precise, zesty, linear acidity with lime marmalade fruit and a mineral persistence to round off the finish. Very modern and zingy - a Ray Winstone blue-collar hero of a wine.

Serve as an aperitif or with light starters.

L'Empreinte de Saint Mont, Saint Mont 2010, Plaimont big, fruity yet poised red. Dark purple, almost opaque in the glass; sweet vanilla, cassis and damson with liquorice and spice. A blend of local Tannat and Pininc varieties, Tim Atkin describes this as claret-meets-chianti, with its ripe cassis, pencil shavings and precise, linear acidity.

With lots of ripe fruit and soft, perfectly ripe tannins, it is drinking nicely now, but will also repay some cellaring. Good.

Match with roast lamb, wild boar or turkey with all the trimmings.

Renaissance, Gaillac Doux 2010, Domaine Rotier big, complex yet fresh sticky. From the indigenous Loin de l'oeil grape, golden, syrupy yellow with aromas of ripe quince, beeswax, roasted peaches and a touch of struck match. Intense, buttery roasted peach sweetness with dried apricots and figs, all cut through with fresh acidity. As imposing and muscular yet deft as an NBA baskeball player.

Match with a pecan pie or sticky toffee pudding.

All wines provided for review.

Other related articles
South West France Wines with Anthony Rose at Comptoir Gascon
South West France Wines Christmas Masterclass
Tim Atkin on L'Empreinte

South West France Wines - website
Laballe - website
Plaimont - website
Domaine Rotier - website

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

The Last Two Wines from Les Grands Chais

The last two wines from Les Grands Chais de France

Château Cléray Muscadet Sèvre et Maine sur lie 2012 (£9.99, Majestic) modern, New-World-style crisp white. Mid-straw yellow, on the nose it smells crisp, aromatic and decidedly modern-style; there is ripe citrus, lime zest and a persistent, saline minerality. Substantial, with bright fruit, fresh aromatics and crisp acidity, it feels rather more New Zealand than Loire. Good.

Match with light starters, seafood or, traditionally, oysters.

Also reviewed by Chris Kissak and Mary Gorman-McAdams MW

Perle Noire Crémant d’Alsace (new to UK) well-crafted appley-fresh Alsace sparkler. Sandy yellow with aromas of ripe orchard fruits; fine mousse and plenty of ripe fruit. A Gold from Effervescents du Monde is testament to how well-made it is. A good Pinot Blanc with bubbles rather than a Champagne-alike. Good.

Serve as an aperitif or with starters such as salmon mousse or chicken liver pate.

Also reviewed by Quentin Sadler.

Other related articles
The First Two Wines
Two More Wines
Les Grands Chais de France - website

Friday, 14 February 2014

Riserva Carlo Alberto - Hand-Crafted Italian Vermouth

A review of three vermouths from Riserva Carlo Alberto

Vermouth is an aromatised fortified wine flavoured with botanicals - originating in Turin, it was originally medicinal, then an aperitif before finally gaining favour as the most versatile of all cockatil ingredients, used in the Martini, the Manhattan and the Negroni.

With a name that comes from wormwood, these hand-crafted Italian Vermouths from Riserva Carlo Alberto in Turin are produced to original recipes made for the King of Savoy, Carlo Alberto, in the 19th century with herbs and spices blended with DOC wines.

Extra Dry pale sandy yellow; complex, bitter, almost peat-smoke nose; sweetly citrussy and refreshing, with complex sweet spice and botanical underpinnnings and a lingering finish. Light, elegant and harmonious. Good.

Bianco mid-straw yellow; aromatic citrus and minty, bittersweet star anise spice; sweet citrus, bitter green herbs and sweet aromatic spices and, again, a persistent finish. More expressive and less classically elegant than the Extra Dry.

Rosso cola-brown; bitter herbs, aromatic spices and botanicals; sweet orange and cherry fruit matched with bitter spices and bitter green herbs. Good underpinnings and well-balanced. Good.

Serve the Extra Dry as an aperitif; the Bianco with roast pork rubbed with coriander seeds and sage; the Rosso with roast beef with herby gravy and horseradish sauce.

Provided for review; Riserva Carlo Alberto Vermouths are available in 75cl bottles and retail from £21 - 24 at www.thedrinkshop.com, www.drinksupermarket.com, & also at Gerry’s Wines & Spirits at 74 Old Compton Street, London (www.gerrys.uk.com).

Other related articles
Salvatore Calabrese Liquore di Limone
Pastis Henri Bardouin, Provence

Riserva Carlo Alberto - website
Emporia Brands (importer) - website

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Two More Wines From Les Grands Chais de France

 A review of two more wines from Les Grands Chais de France

Ch du Cartillon, Haut Medoc 2010 (new to UK) adept, complex, Michel Rolland-influenced, Merlot-dominated Cru Bourgeois.

Dark purple with ripe plum, pencil shavings, tobacco, liquorice and sweet vanilla spice. Fresh and vigorous with ripe black cherry fruit, cool mint, liquorice and vanilla.

Long and savoury, well-balanced with perfectly-ripe tannins and as darkly seductive yet well-groomed as Johnny Depp, it will only improve with age. Very Good.

Match with roast lamb or beef Wellington.

Terres La Baume Viognier Chardonnay IGP Oc, 2010 (independents and restaurants) big, deliciously ripe-yet-fresh, oaky Languedoc white.

Mid-straw yellow with aromas of white flowers, tropical citrus and musky-toasty oak.

Ripe stone fruits, citrus-and-ginger cut through with fresh acidity and underpinned with prominent layers of buttery, toasty oak and sweet spice.

Ripe and full with lots of stuffing, it will repay some aeration or ageing. Very Good.

Match with guinea fowl or roast pork.

Other related articles
The first two wines from Les Grands Chais
The Best of Pays d'Oc IGP Tasting and Dinner‏ at Gauthier
More Crus Bourgeois 2010

Les Grands Chais de France - website
Crus Bourgeois - website, twitter

Friday, 7 February 2014

Two Wines from Les Grands Chais de France

A review of two wines from Les Grands Chais de France

Les Grands Chais de France is the largest wine negociant/producer company in France and perhaps most famously the owner of J.P. Chenet; however, the company also owns a number of other chateaux and domaines.

They sent me some wines to review:

Ch Cantin, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, 2009 (Waitrose, £23.99) almost-very-good Bordeaux that could have been a contender - complex aromas of dark fruit, sweet spices, coffee grounds and musky undergrowth; ripe black cherry, pencil shavings and cigar box. Dense and concentrated.

So far, so good. But the tannins are are touch gainy and drying on the finish, the fruit a little cooked - assured, complex and expensive yet not completely convincing, it is a Prince Edward of a wine.

Match this traditional Bordeaux with traditional roasted red meat.

Chateau de Fesles, Bonnezeau, 2010 (Addisons of Newport & restaurants) astoundingly intense and complex Loire sticky - from 100% Chenin and with 15 months in oak, it is a deep golden colour with aromas of roasted peaches and apricots, white flowers; honey, beeswax and incense with some musky botrytis.

A sweet, peachy apricottiness with heather honey, it is rich and unctuous, yet cut through with an floral freshness and underpinned by an intense savouriness. Long, complex and elegantly balanced, it is very masterful. Very Good Indeed.

Almost a dessert in its own right, match with creme brulee, tarte tatin or even game / turkey with chestnut stuffing.

Other related articles
Three Loire Wines
Matching Loire Wines and Food‏ - with Fiona Beckett
Troplong Mondot 1998

Les Grands Chais de France - website

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Three Loire Wines

A review of three Loire wines

The Loire is France's longest river, rising in Ardèche in France's Massif Central and flowing north then west to St Nazaire; as a wine region, it is confined to a strip of north-west France running from south of Paris to the Atlantic.

Being northerly, its wines have a family characteristic of invigorating lightness - a classic charm more than weight and strength. It is, in this sense, northern France's equal-and-opposite to the Rhône.

Domaine des Hauts Perrays Cremant de Loire Brut NV (£12.95 Lea & Sandeman) traditional-method Loire fizz from a blend of Chenin with Chardonnay and Cab Franc; golden yellow in the glass with fine bubbles. Ripe orchard fruit, citrus, minerality and some leesiness; very elegant, refreshing and straighforward in a light sort of way.

Enjoyable, correct and pleasant. Serve as an aperitif.

La Noë 2010 Muscadet-Côtes de Grandlieu (£11.95, Lea & Sandeman) pale, restrained and delicate; yet quietly elegant, balanced and compelling. Lemony freshness, wet stones and leesiness, poised and precise - as fresh, proper and deliciously promising as a young debutante. Good.

Serve as an aperitif or with light fish, such as plaice.

Savennières Château d’Epiré 'Mœlleux' 2009 (£16.25, Yapp) deep golden sandy yellow, the musty-cellar aromas disappear with aeration, leaving a rich and honeyed perfume with floral blossom, citrus, beeswax and slate. Generous, waxy texture with sweet spice - like baked apples sprinkled with sugar-spice.

Wonderfully balanced and very elegant - full, rich and off-dry yet refreshingly citrus and mineral. Very Good and will continue to improve with age.

Match with quiche, chicken liver pate, salmon or scallops.

Other related articles
Matching Loire Wines and Food‏ - with Fiona Beckett
Matching Loire and Sushi with YO!Sushi
Review of La Noë by Jancis Robinson

Loire Wines - twitter, website
Lea & Sandeman - twitter
Yapp - twitter