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Saturday, 26 April 2014

1er Cru Clos des Mouches, Domaine Berthelemot, 2009 Beaune - WineTrust100

A classy but modern and easy-drinking Burgundy from WineTrust100

I've fallen in and out of love with red Burgundy more times than I care to remember - I've mostly liked it well enough but often failed to see the point.

This classy textbook Beaune from WineTrust100, however, impressed straight out of the bottle - no diva tantrums here.

Classic farmyardy nose, ripe red fruits, complex oaky spice and a wonderful texture, it is what a really good Burgundy should be. There's everything here - balance, complexity, fruit, texture, precision. And it is very drinkable, too.

Good, complex, textbook Burgundy - and priced accordingly. But if you can, buy a case and watch it develop over the next decade.

Very Good.

Match with lighter game.

£36 from WineTrust100; provided for review.

Other related articles
Wine Trust 100
Dinner with WineTrust 100
Two Red Burgundies from Private Cellar
Laboure-Roi Cote de Beaune-Villages, 2012 - Waitrose
Loeb Burgundy En Primeur 2011‏

WineTrust100 - website, twitter

Friday, 25 April 2014

Bordeaux 2013 reviewed (and not by me)

A review of 2013 Bordeaux by Andrew Gordon, Managing Director of Private Cellar

A Grand Cercle tasting of 2013 Bordeaux en primeur in London a few weeks ago confirmed what I had come to expect of the vintage; it was not an easy year and the difficult, cool conditions favoured the whites and stickies more than the reds, where the gentlest of hands was needed in the cellar.

A few days later, an email from Newmarket-based Private Cellar dropped into my inbox and provided such an excellent assessment of the vintage, with a nuanced, insightful view of its strengths and weaknesses, that I sought, and got, their approval to put out an edited version here.

Private Cellar is offering Bordeaux 2013 en primeur – see their website for more details.

From Andrew Gordon:

The Bordelais have made enormous strides in quality over the last 20 years; Bordeaux is a better drink now than it has ever been.

But has the increase in quality kept pace with the increase in price? In some cases yes, in many cases no.

As ever the clever bit is the detail and with a vintage like 2013 - which the press have damned from the onset of the poor weather roughly a year ago - the detail is mighty well hidden.

But it is there and there is some fun to be had. However, prices must reflect quality and demand.

Should you buy or should you unsubscribe from all offers and pretend that the vintage never happened? That rather depends upon a number of factors including:

- the completeness of your cellars

- your age

- the style of wine you like (many of the best 2013 are almost Burgundian in style)

- whether you enjoy the more recent “high alcohol” style from Bordeaux (2013 is really quite low alcohol

You should probably not buy if:

- your carefully planned wine collection is already jam-packed with little gems that will electrify you over the next 15 years. 2013 will drink early and although it will be fun it probably will have no place in your well-structured cellar

- you love heavy beefy reds that will last forever

- you want to make a financial killing by investing in wine

- you loathe dry and sweet white Bordeaux.

But in amongst the press-led tirade of abuse against 2013 you can find one or two serious journos saying things like “there is a lot to like about 2013”, “…quite a few jewels in 2013”, “...higher acidity and lower alcohol-rather similar to red burgundy”, and “bright punchy red fruits”.

You probably should buy if:

- you have recently started a cellar and it is still relatively devoid of immediate drinkers

- you have any gaps for fresh early drinking wines that will sing long before your 2012s, 2010s and many 2009s

- you like lighter, less alcoholic, less tannic reds

- you are a drinker rather than an investor, and you drink for pleasure rather than to impress

- you love dry and especially sweet whites.

What you should buy is, of course, the clever bit. The vintage was very mixed with interesting wines growing directly next to filthy wines.

Edouard Moueix summed it up perfectly for us by saying that we should think of the winemaking in 2013 as an “infusion” rather than an “extraction”.  And as usual he is right. Infusion = interesting wines. Extraction = horrid wines this year.

What next then?

- do not rush into buying but do not wait forever either. This will be a quick campaign but there is stock around

- do read the tasting notes, not just the name of the wine. Tasting is believing in 2013.

Other related articles
Grand Cercle Bordeaux 2013 En Primeur
Private Cellar portfolio tasting

Private cellar - website, twitter, Facebook

Image credits: Private Cellar website

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Sandeman Vintage Ports

A tasting of 20 vintage Sandeman ports at The Sign of the Don, London
If digging out a vintage port suggests that some sort of occasion is being marked, digging out 20 would be a sign of something rather special - and if those 20 go back to the middle of the last century, then it is clearly no common-or-garden extraordinary event.

George Sandeman and winemaker Luis Sottomayor were in London for a vertical tasting of Sandeman vintage ports back to 1944, so after the brief introductions I took the opportunity to taste my way through history.
Logistics geeks may be interested to learn that the ports, which throw a heavy sediment, were decanted in Portugal and re-sealed under nitrogen before shipping to London. Due to their rarity, there were just two bottles of each.

Prices range from low three figures for most of the range to £1,243 for the 1944; this is in no way cheap, but a relative bargain compared to, say, a First Growth Bordeaux.

I did not take detailed notes as these were provided in any case, but starting with the oldest, what remains is an impression by decade.

The 1944, a pale orange colour, is unsurprisingly fully ready for drinking now; it is harmonious and mellow, the fresh fruit faded and something closer to an aged sherry character with dried fruits, roasted nuts, iodine and something slightly medicinal.
This wine rather divided opinion, with some finding it tired and faded but others impressive and venerable - a bit like the (late) Queen Mum. I liked it a lot - indeed, it was my wine of the night. With caveats.
A vertical tasting of wines provides two perspectives - vintage quality and the effects of age - which it can be hard to separate out; the 2011 vies with the 1944 as the wine of the night, but it is rather an unfair comparison to make between two wines at such different stages in their evolution.
I will be a very old man by the time the 2011 is fully mature - but as one person said to me "a very happy one - and just think of all that anticipation!".
Over a decade younger, the 1955 showed more figgy fruit and would be too young only for those that want a sherry-esque experience.
The vintages from the 1960s, of which there were many (perhaps too many) felt more youthful, with some glycerol plumpness and more than a hint of vermouth - a complex combination of red fruits, cedar and tobacco box, ginger and spicy notes.
Come the 70s and they feel, for the first time, not yet quite fully knitted together. The 80s were - as the 80s were - indeterminate.
But the 90s were perhaps the oddest bunch - like awkward teenagers, they had lost their primary, youthful vigour but not yet gained the hallmarks of maturity. One thing they all had in common was an aroma of dried red bell pepper and rosehip.
In a Médoc, this would be a sign of full maturity, an indication that the wine should be drunk up now and not aged any further, yet these were relative youngsters.
Was it, as with so many youths, just a "phase they were going through" or a result of winemaking techniques, I wondered.
Despite the presence of both qualified and student MWs in the room, as well as wine educators and even the winemaker himself, I was not able to get a definitive answer.
Come the new millennium, all the wines were still dark and primary and it was easier to make comparisons of quality; the 2007 was impressive, the 2011 superlative - dense, concentrated and full of stuffing.
For me, in general, the older wines were the most interesting - a relative newcomer to aged wines, I find they have an elusive harmonious mellowness and complexity that, like jazz, is impossible to describe but instantly recognisable when you find it.
Henry Jeffreys, by contrast, brought up on wines stored well beyond their customary - and often advisable - limits preferred the younger wines.
Theories on peak beard and the role of personal preference in qualitative assessment come into play here; we both preferred a style of wine that was different to our most-common experience and inevitably allowed personal preferences to colour our critical views.
For me, a comparison of the 1944 with the 2011 is not so much apples vs pears as trains vs tennis courts.
The mystery of the 90s wines aside, what was clear from this vertical tasting is that the development curve of these wines has a very long tail indeed; the differences between the 2011 and the 2000 were much more pronounced than those between the 1955 and the 1944.
The ports are available in glass, bottle and flights from The Sign of The Don.

Other related articles
Sandeman - website, twitter
The Sign of the Don - website

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Tour de Belfort 2012

A tasting of Tour de Belfort's latest vintage with winemaker and winery owner Eugene Lismonde at the IPA
I first tried Eugene Lismonde's Tour de Belfort wines a few years ago when I met with daughter Muriel at her home in Cheshire.
As unofficial "Wine Director" at work, I invited Eugene into our offices for an informal tasting of his current vintages.
On this occasion, I was particularly struck by a number of things:
Purity; Eugene has, in his own words, a Dutch obsession with cleanliness, both in the vineyard and the winery; his vineyard is organic and he learnt his winemaking skills from a Swiss consultant.
As a result, the wines have a purity, vibrancy and cleanliness that I have all too rarely encountered.
Deftness; the wines are made with a light touch; gentle pressing under nitrogen for whites and rosés, gentle fine lees stirring, just six months in new oak for the Grands Vins.
The 2012 wines feel really well-balanced and are drinking nicely now; they will surely develop with age, but do not require age to become palatable.
Concentration; although his vines are young (Eugene planted the vineyard from scratch just ten years ago) yields are kept very (uncommercially?) low through strict pruning with only three or four bunches per vine instead of the more usual six to eight.
The 2012 reds are almost opaque in colour - and a youthfully bright purple - and feel densely concentrated.
My detailed tasting notes are below, but what struck me most about all Eugene's wines is that they are wines to drink and enjoy, not points-chasing critic-slayers.
Whilst they have a warm, southern personality with plenty of fruit expression, they are also elegant and understated with relatively low levels of alcohol and in many ways remind me of Swiss wines at their best.
Their very uniqueness is perhaps their biggest challenge; with a mixture of grapes from Burgundy, Bordeaux and the Rhône, plus a white, a rosé and a fizz that are not traditionally produced in the region and a Malbec that is much softer than the traditional black wine of Cahors, it is not easy to pigeon-hole these wines, to liken them to particular traditional styles.
If that makes them more challenging to sell, it also makes them an even better bargain for the consumer, as ultimately, the proof is in the tasting.
Methode Traditionelle Brut light, fresh, easy-drinking fizz. More of a Prosecco alternative than Champagne-alike, and priced accordingly.
Cuvée Classique Blanc 2012 a blend of Sauvignon and Chardonnay with extra body from lees-stirring. Fresh, aromatic and weighty with some gentle persistence on the finish. Good.
Rosé 2013 very pale salmon pink, ripe red fruits, gently rounded palate, well-balanced, really lovely. Good.
Cuvée Classique Rouge 2012 (unoaked CF/Malbec blend) vibrant purple, ripe bramble fruits, freshness, soft, perfectly ripe tannins, long palate and persistence. Good.

Grand Vin Rouge 2012 (6m in new French oak, 100% Malbec) complex spicy nose with dark fruits and liquorice; lovely harmonious palate with added weightiness and complexity from deft oaking. Very Good.

Other related articles
Tour de Belfort - website, twitter

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Chateau Laroque 2008, Saint-Emilion - Waitrose

A classy, right-bank Bordeaux from Waitrose

On Bordeaux's right bank, the Merlot dominates; the top appellations here include Saint-Emilion and Pomerol.

This Saint-Emilion Grand Cru Classe from Waitrose, recommended by Anne Jones, is a classy wine - albeit priced accordingly.

A deep crimson with no signs of aging yet, there are aromas of red fruits, coffee grounds, leather, tobacco and spice.

Fresh acidity, bramble fruit and dried green herbs, savouriness and fine, well-integrated tannins. Good length with a touch of minerality and some firmness on the finish.

Well-structured, dense and concentrated - and still youthful; it has years ahead of it.

Very Good.

Match with red meat, such as steak or venison.

£26.99 from Waitrose - provided for review.

Other related articles
La Grand Barrail Lamarzelle, St Emilion Grand Cru, 2006 - Sainsbury's
Blanc et Rouge Dinner at The Corinthia Hotel, London

Waitrose wine - website, twitter

Monday, 21 April 2014

Fleurie 2013 - Marks & Spencer

A juicy, floral Beaujolais Cru from Marks & Spencer

Fleurie is one of the ten Beaujolais cru villages whose wines epitomize what Beaujolais is all about; silky, fruity and, yes, rather floral wines.

Vibrant black cherry, mulberry and raspberry fruit, with perfumey violets and a hint of gingery spice.

Fresh, lively and supple palate with lots of juicy fruits. Full of lively, youthful exuberance, a light and easy drinker.

Match with duck or picnic food; also, sip slightly chilled on a summer's day.

Other related articles
Marks & Spencer - Beaujolais nouveau re-booted‏
40 Years of Wine at Marks & Spencer
Beaujolais and Beyond

Marks & Spencer - website, twitter

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Two Red Burgundies from Private Cellar

A review of two red Burgundies from Private Cellar

I have historically struggled with Pinot Noir in general and red Burgundy in particular, for many years never quite seeing the point.

These two wines from Private Cellar, like divas in a flouncy strop, initially underwhelmed and refused to perform before finally, at the very last minute, stepping out to put on a proper show.

Private Cellar's wines are selected by MW Nicola Arcedeckne-Butler and both wines were instantly, recognisably classy, elegant and well-made - they just rather lacked something interesting and compelling which only emerged with time and aeration.

We first tried them straight from the bottle - older, more delicate wines do not generally benefit from extensive aeration - but in both cases here, however, they distinctly improved on the second day, even on the third.

Like flouncy divas the world over, they clearly just needed to be treated right to coax out a great performance.

Beaune 1er Cru Les Sceaux, Domaine Anne-Sophie Debavelaere 2009 (£21.96)

Pale red with aromas of soft ripe red fruits; elegant, pretty enough and delicate but somehow unconvincing straight from the bottle. It ticks all the boxes for fruit, balance and freshness - as well as for elegant sophistication - but seems to lack interest on the palate.

We decant it and find it improves, so decide to hold back to see whether it improves with time. The following day there is more going on, more of a compelling savouriness amongst the delicate soft fruit and gentle texture.

It seems to reach a peak and really make sense just as we are eking the last drops out on day three; it retains its earlier slight elegance, but now feels fuller and more savoury, more compelling.

Good to Very Good (by day 3).

Bourgogne Rouge Pressonnier, Domaine Joseph Roty 2008 (£16.00)

Darker in the glass, this has much more personality straight out of the bottle - farmyardy Burgundian nose and more assertive palate, with fresh, vibrant, ripe black cherry fruit and savoury underpinnings.

But, despite its age, it is still not yet fully knitted together; it feels youthful, excitable and unsettled, but at least I have more of a sense of where it's going, so once again we hold back.

The following day, it feels properly harmonious and integrated; the acidity has mellowed and blended in with the fruit and savouriness.

Good to Very Good (on day 2).

Match both wines with gamey foods - duck, game terrine, wild salmon. The Beaune is light enough to serve slightly chilled as a garden sipper on a hot summer's day.

Other related articles
Private Cellar Annual Tasting
Laboure-Roi Cote de Beaune-Villages, 2012 - Waitrose
Loeb Burgundy En Primeur 2011‏
Restaurant L'Alembic: Nuits St Georges

Private Cellar - website, twitter

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Henri Clerc Chassagne-Montrachet Vieilles Vignes 2009 - The Co-op

A complex, assured top-notch chardie from The Co-operative

South of Beaune on the Cote de Beaune, Chassagne-Montrachet is most famous for its ripe, succulent, dry-yet-golden wines.

At five years old, this Henri Clerc is only just reaching maturity - it feels harmonious and well-knitted, but has not yet taken on any aged characteristics.

Mid-straw yellow with ripe tropical citrus, musky melonskin and sweet spice.

Sweet citrus fruit, ripe honeydew melon with fresh linear acidity, sweet, toasty spice. Substantial with a nutty,  oatmealy creaminess, full and long. Vibrant, precise and assured; adept and impressive yet hedonistic and very delicious.

Very Good - will improve further with age.

Match with roast fowl, meaty white fish or creamy pasta with mushrooms.

£24 from The Co-op; provided for review.

Other related articles
Pascal Bouchard Chablis Grand Cru 2010 - Waitrose
Pouilly-Fuissé "Quintessence" 2011, Domaine Sangouard-Guyot
Loeb Burgundy En Primeur 2011‏

The Co-op - twitter, website

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Mateus Expressions 2013

A review of the new Mateus Expressions range from Portugal

Why do you have to go and make things so complicated?
- Avril Lavigne, Complicated

Many years ago, my 19 year-old self wanted to impress a girl at my northern university, so I cooked her a meal and bought a bottle of wine.

It was a Mateus in that nicely shaped bottle, as I figured that after we'd drunk the wine, it would look good with a candle in it and some wax dripped down the side - a schtick beloved of Italian restaurants of the time and a look I wanted to copy.

I don't think I've ever had a bottle of Mateus in the two-and-a-half decades since and in some ways I'm slightly disappointed that the new Mateus Expressions range comes in high-shouldered Bordeaux bottles with a contemporary sort of label.

The wines themselves - three rosés and a white - are equally modern and pleasing, each a blend of native and international grapes.

Fresh, clean and fruit-forward, there's nothing to be afraid of here - these are light, modern, uncomplicated easy-drinkers.

The range is priced at £7.99 and the descriptions - dry, delicate, fresh, fruity - are a reliable guide to the style.

Overall, a lot less complicated than my teenage relationships; the girl and I went out for a few weeks at the end of which the relationship did not so much implode as spontaneously combust. These have a more pleasant, less dramatic finish.

With their screw-cap tops and easy style, they are ideal summer sippers or picnic wines.

Widely available and priced at £7.99; provided for review.

Other related articles
Six Rosés For Summer‏
Spanish Rosé from Gonzalez Byass‏

Mateus - website

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Vega Sicilia Dinner with Cambridge University Wine Society

Cambridge University Wine Society's annual dinner this year was a celebration of the 150th Anniversary of Vega Sicilia with owner Pablo Alvarez and winemaker Xavier Ausás.

Vega Sicilia is located in Spain's Ribera del Duero; growing mainly Tempranillo, its wines are consistently rated as not only the best in Spain, but indeed among the very best in the world - as well as among the most difficult to acquire. Production of the flagship wine, Unico, is fewer than 7,000 cases per year.

The dinner was also attended by Serena Sutcliffe MW and was organised by the Society's President, David Beall.

We started in the Back Paddock of St John's College with a Pol Roger blanc de blancs 2002 - fresh, poised and elegant.
The college dates to 1511; founded by the last will and testament of lady Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII, the dining hall features a C16th hammerbeam roof and linen-fold panelling.
We started with a dry furmint from Vega Sicilia's Oremus estate in Hungary.

I have been a fan of Hungarian wines for many years, but it came as a revelation to many there - perhaps accustomed to more-traditional college-wine fare from better-known and more obvious classic regions.

In any case, it matched perfectly with the starter of salmon fillet, jamon iberico and charred courgette.
A flight of the second-tier Alion wines was impressive:
But the star of the night was a vertical of Unico - the flagship wine of Spain's flagship winery; the 1994 was mature and complex, reminiscent of an aged Médoc.

However, the 2004 was quite different - a incredible blast of pure, intense, concentrated, freshly-squeezed black cherry and sour cherry that belied its decade of age.

Winery owner Pablo Alvarez addresses the group:
We finish with an Oremus Tokaji 5 puttonyos:
It matches well with dessert:
Finally, CUWS President David Beall wraps up, thanks the speakers and sings - whilst wearing his military uniform (form an orderly queue ladies.)

An incredible evening, I attended as a guest of CUWS.

Other related articles
A Most Particular Taste: Haut-Brion 350 Years Celebration Dinner (CUWS 2013 annual dinner)

CUWS - website
Vega Sicilia - website

Monday, 7 April 2014

2009 Château Laville Sauternes - WineTrust100

A dessert wine from WineTrust100

Bordeaux's reputation rests mainly on its red wines - but it produces some stunning dessert wines that impress more for their finesse and elegance than by sheer full-on sweetness and intensity.

The best Sauternes have a lithe deftness that few other dessert wines can match.

Deep golden with blossom, musky baked peaches in butter and sweet marzipan.

Rich, waxy and concentrated with tropical, heather-honey sweetness, cut through with citrussy freshness; long and savoury, bitter-almond underpinnings. Almost limoncello-like.


Match with lemon tart, crème brûlée or mature Cheddar.

Technical details
85% Semillon, 12% Sauvignon Blanc, 3% Muscadelle.

Chateau Laville has 14 hectares of vineyard in Sauternes, in the commune of Preignac, on gravel soils underpinned with limestone. The best plots are used to make the Grand Vin of Laville. The vines are approximately 35 years old.

£17 (half-bottle) from WineTrust100; provided for review.

Other related articles
Taste The Difference Sauternes, 2005 - Sainsbury's

WineTrust100 - website

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Pascal Bouchard Chablis Grand Cru 2010 - Waitrose

Recommended to me by Waitrose's Anne Jones, this Pascal Bouchard Chablis Grand Cru is made from a parcel of mature Grand Cru vines from Pascal Bouchard’s own domaine. One of only seven Grand Cru sites in Chablis, Vaudésir produces wines of great finesse and complexity.

Golden in the glass, zesty citrus and oaky spice; complex, savoury baked apples, creamy toasted Brazil nuts and honeyed richness with sweet spice - fresh, precise, harmonious, really lovely.

Very Good Indeed - and will only improve with age; drinking it now is almost oenological infanticide. Decant before drinking or, to see it at its best, buy a case now, put it away for five years and then drink one bottle a year.

£29.99 from Waitrose; provided for review.

Other related articles
Truly Irresistable Chablis Premier Cru 2011 - The Co-Operative
Food Matching With Chablis at Inder's Kitchen‏
M&S Chablis

Waitrose - website
Anne Jones - twitter

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Champagne Taittinger - World Cup Edition

A review of Taittinger Brut Réserve NV

In my mind, Champagne is more associated with Formula 1 podium celebrations than football; however, as Taittinger is the official Champagne of the 2014 World Cup, it is entirely appropriate that the company should release a limited edition souvenir bottle of their Brut Réserve NV with a Gift Box.

Pale sandy yellow in the glass, there are aromas of orchard fruits and melonskin; the palate is delicate, fresh and creamy with fine, pale gold bubbles, linear acidity and some leesiness.

Subtle, light and elegant, it has all the composure of minor royalty, making a statement through refinement, not ostentation.

Unlike most footballers.


Available from late spring priced around £38.99 from Waitrose, Morrisons and independents; provided for review.

Other related articles
Substance and style - Champagne
Bollinger from The Co-op‏
Les Pionniers Champagne NV - The Co-op‏

Taittinger - website

Image credit: http://www.thedrinksbusiness.com/2014/02/taittinger-gets-new-look-for-world-cup/