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Sunday, 20 December 2015

Cognac Tavria, Jatone VS (Жатон)

A Ukrainian brandy from Tavria

Tavria is a Ukrainian cognac producer based in Novaya Kakhovka in the Kherson region near Crimea; it sits on the same 46th parallel as the city of Cognac (France) and is one of Ukraine's largest spirits producers with a history going back to tsarist times.

The name of this three year-old brandy (Жатон in Ukrainian) is a reference to Jan Jatone, one of the original Swiss settlers and founders of the company in the late 19th century.

Cooked mixed fruit, sweet roasted spices and a touch of nail polish. Warming and alcoholic yet fresh.

Match with treacle tart or drink as a digestif.

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Cognac Bolgrad

  • Brand: Jatone (Жатон)

  • Stren
  • More: http://winestyleonline.com

  • Brand: Jatone (Жатон)

  • Stren
  • More: http://winestyleonline.com

  • Brand: Jatone (Жатон)

  • Stren
  • More: http://winestyleonline.com

    Saturday, 19 December 2015

    #ChristmasJumperDay tasting - Big Reds

    A blind tasting of (mostly) big reds with friends on #christmasjumperday

    After the previous high-acidity fizz tasting, we decided on Big Reds as the theme to our last get-together of the year.

    With a trainee MW in our ranks, our wines donned their Christmas jumpers and we guessed at origins, ages and grapes.

    The wines were provided by G, J and CWB
    D'Arcy Bredfield 2010 (G) scant information on the front label. And no back label at all. Correctly identified by trainee MW as "Champagne-alike, but cooler, possibly England". Elegant English fizz with fine mousse, yeastiness and redcurrant fruit.

    RE Chardonnoir 2013 (J) orange coloured; fresh, elegant and substantial. We were utterly confused by this one. It turned out to be a Chilean blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the Casablanca Valley. A lovely, intriguing wine - with quite the most pompous back label.

    Henschke Mount Edelstone Keyneton Shiraz 1991 (G) porty-eucalyptussy, big red. This had me immediately thinking of Australia. Overly alcoholic for my palate.

    Another stream of thinking had it down as a Barolo - big, tannic, red with aromas of cherries, tar and roses.

    Viña Real Gran Reserva 2009 (CWB) the age of this Rioja was correctly guessed as "around 5 years". Fresh, adept and and complex, this was very well liked.

    S.C. Pannell Tempranillo / Touriga 2013 (J) truffley aromas, black-cherry fruit and fresh acidity but purple in the glass, this was like Pinot Noir's darker brother. Totally confusing.

    Latching on to whatever details I could, I made a stab at it being New World (very clean, technically very well-made), so New Zealand (pure fruit and fresh acidity). It turned out to be a blend from McLaren Vale and Barossa.

    Plasius Plavac Mali 2008 (G) with rosehip fruit, this was past its peak, but the underpinnings were still sound. We concluded that it was not a mainstream wine and so could be from pretty much anywhere.

    It turned out to be a Plavac Mali (meaning "small blue", a reference to the grapes) from Croatia's Konavosko Vinogorje - roughly, Konovo Wine Hills - with a Decanter Commended.

    Chateau d'Yquem Lur Saluces 1990 (G) with fresh acidity and botrytis, this was confidently placed in Sauternes. However, the fruit was oxidised and it was nowhere near as impressive as it should have been.

    Taylor's First Estate Reserve Port (CWB) I had not bothered to conceal this half-bottle of fresh, fruited ruby port, so we sipped it with warm mince pies and brandy butter to finish off.

    I liked the English fizz and the Tempranillo a lot, but my wine of the night was the complex, fresh, aged Rioja.

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    Tuesday, 15 December 2015

    Circle of Wine Writers At Australia House

    The Circle of Wine Writers' annual Christmas event - this year with Wine Australia

    If any one thing can characterize 2015 for me, it is that I decided finally to understand Australian wine - and fell in love with its cool-climate Burgundian varietals.

    A day spent at the ADT event in January had me tasting elegant Pinots, complex Chardies and cool-climate Tasman wines; I followed this up with tastings from Western Australia, Mornington Peninsula and high-altitude Orange.
    Fittingly, then, my final tasting of the year was the CWW event with Wine Australia at Australia House.

    A relatively short evening, it could not compete with the breadth or the depth of earlier events. But it did reiterate and round off a year of discovering Australia - so, no surprises here, just a recitation of key themes.
    - there are plenty of well-made Aussie wines; the best have a European sensibility, a restraint and elegance

    - many, however, are distinctly New World in style; ripe and fruit-forward

    - and more-expensive examples can be little more than beefed-up versions of basic styles; brawny muscle cars rather than athletic-yet-graceful ballerinas

    - in the absence of many Victorian or Tasman wines, Western Australia stood out here as a consistent source of the most complex and elegant wines; stand forward Voyager Estate and Vasse Felix.
    My top wines were:

    Pewsey Vale Eden Valley Riesling 2014, Eden Valley, SA (£14.99, Oddbins) dieselly-flinty, ripe lime marmalade and minerality

    Brokenwood Hunter Valley Semillon 2014, Hunter Valley, NSW (£19, Noel Young) supple and harmonious

    Vasse Felix Filius Chardonnay 2014, Margaret River, WA (£16.99, Majestic) fresh, elegant and adept

    Hardy's Eileen Hardy Chardonnay 2013, South Australia (Waitrose, Liberty, Majestic, Amazon) sweet, ripe tropical fruit with toasty aromas. Fresh, pure and elegant.

    Pierro Puerto Chardonnay 2013, WA (£39.95, Jereboams) elegant and complex

    Voyager Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2009, Margaret River, WA (£30, Justerini & Brooks) adept, plump and supple with an old world texture

    Katnook Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Coonawarra, SA (£22.99, Ocado) complex, assured and adept in a Bordelais style. Catnip for Bordeaux-lovers.

    Larry Cherubino Cherubino Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 Margaret River, WA (£35, Fillings, Inverarity Morton) plump, ripe dark fruit; inky, supple and fresh

    Foster e Rocco Sangiovese 2012, Heathcoate, VIC (£16.80, seeking distribution) truffles and cherries, supple

    Pikes Wines Pikes Premio Sangiovese 2012, Clare Valley & Polish Hill River, SA (£21, seeking distribution) supple and concentrated, cherry-fruited and peppery; fresh, elegant, grippy
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    Monday, 14 December 2015

    Slovenia's Puklavec and Friends, Waitrose

    Two white wines from Slovenia's Puklavec and Friends from Waitrose

    Just across the border from Austria and with an - admittedly rather short - Adriatic coastline, Slovenia is less Balkan and more Mediterranean / central European than other former Yugoslav countries.

    These two wines from Puklavec and Friends are clean, precise and well-made - the aromatic Sauvignon/Pinot Gris blend is the more familiar in style, while the Furmint has more textural interest.

    Both are available at Waitrose.

    Sauvignon Blanc & Pinot Grigio 2015 (£8.96) crisp, fresh and expressively aromatic with a smokiness that hints at greatness. Pure, limpid and precise. 

    Furmint 2013 (£9.99) characteristically almondly and substantial with fresh, juicy pear fruit. Pure and adept.

    Dinner-party fact: Furmint is the Hungarian name for this grape - its Slovenian name is Šipon; it has many more synonyms (a disproportionate number, in fact, given its relative unfamiliarity).

    For me, while both wines are throughly enjoyable, the Furmint is the more interesting, perhaps by virtue of being a little less obvious and expressive.

    However, Richard Saxton apparently prefers the SB/PG; this is a bit like a flashy, cheapskate provincial lawyer preferring the Bull Ring shopping centre to King's College Chapel.

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    Sunday, 13 December 2015

    Three Christmas Wines

    Three wines for Christmas; from Dourthe, Taylors and Croft

    You need a mix of wines at Christmas - some serious, some sweet and some easy-drinking. Here are three to cover most situations.

    With a family Christmas Dinner

    Pey La Tour Bordeaux Superieur 2009 (in magnum £24.99, Oddbins, Waitrose) from a good year (which Bordeaux has not had for a while), this still feels very youthful. Cassis and ripe bramble fruit with liquorice, pencil shavings and a touch of undergrowth. Fresh, complex and supple. Very harmonious and drinking really nicely now.

    Magnums are the perfect size for ageing wine -  and are so much more indulgent and generous than standard bottles.

    With Christmas Treats

    Taylor's First Estate Reserve Port (£12, 75cl, widely available) ripe dark berry fruits, cassis, eucalyptus, cooked mixed fruit and warming spice; the youthful fruited exuberance contrasts with something more complex - leather and cigarbox, savouriness and mellowness.

    Match with dark chocolate and cherry torte, or sip in front of an old black-and-white film.

    For Easy Sipping

    Croft Pink Port (£14.99, 75cl, Cambridge Wine Merchants, Selfridges) soft, ripe red fruits, some porty-eucalyptus and sweet-strength. Ideal for when you want something straightforward and uncomplicated - or for use in cocktails.

    Drink as a Christmas Day aperitif, a Boxing Day pick-me-up, or keep chilled in the fridge to open when friends come round.

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    Friday, 11 December 2015

    EACASS Tasting At Cambridge Wine Merchants

    A wine tasting at Cambridge Wine Merchants Bridge St for EACASS, sponsored by Pure

    Another year, another tasting for a group of student Chartered Accountants at Cambridge Wine Merchants.

    With a budget for around 10 wines, I decided to show a mixture of mainstream styles with a few less obvious grape varieties and countries.

    We started with a fizz on arrival, the elegant Ayala Brut NV.
    The first still white was First Drop Fun in the Sun - its quirky cartoon-strip label prompted a discussion about the behavioural economics of choosing wine (you pick a label that supports your unspoken self perceptions - classic, modern, ornate, jokey etc). A fresh, light, summery picnic-type wine, it was not especially popular; comments suggested it had high acidity which I interpreted as being more about a lack of ripe fruit.

    Certainly the acidity on the next wine, a New Zealand Albarinho, was much higher but this proved very popular, perhaps because its fresh, pungent aromatics were a familiar style.

    We then moved on to a less expressive but rich and food-friendly Italian white; lemony and leesy it would be a perfect match to a bowl of creamy pasta or chicken.

    The final dry white was a Languedoc Roussane - by nature fat and waxy in its native Rhone, this was served a little overchilled and so came across as simple and fresh.

    Fresh and elegant with redcurrant fruit and good underpinnings, the Tavel was a sophisticated rose but did not register particularly well with the audience.

    They were, however, much keener on a Western Australian Pinot Noir from Robert Oatley - if that was an elegant yet lithe ballerina, the Big Spanish Red was an in-yer-face flirty Nigella.

    The red Rhone from Cairenne was a classier, more classical affair, with aged leather, elderberry fruit and peppery spice.

    The final red, a fresh, dark, plummy-eucalyptus Douro red, was essentially an unfortified port.

    Saving the best to last, my final wine of the night was a Loire sweetie - a Coteaux du Layon with flavours of beeswax, sweet spice, baked apples and old leather books, it was truly stunning.

    An informal poll revealed the most popular wines to be the most mainstream and familiar - the crisp aromatic NZ white and the Big Spanish Red.

    My personal favourites were:

    - Caesari
    - Oatley
    - Cairenne
    - Layon
    The wines in detail:

    Ayala ‘Majeur’ Brut NV Champagne
    First Drop 'Fun in the Sun' 2013 Australia
    Te Awa ‘Left Field’ Albarino 2015 New Zealand
    Cesari ‘Cento Filari’ Lugana 2014 Italy
    Dom. des Trinités ‘l'imaginaire’ Roussanne 2014 Languedoc
    Dom. de la Mordoree ‘La Dame Rousse’ Rosé 2014 Rhone
    Robert Oatley Signature Pinot Noir 2013 Australia
    Casal de Paula Tinto 2014 Spain
    Dom. Wilfried Cairanne 2013 Rhone
    Ramos Pinto ‘Duas Quintas’ 2013 Portugal
    Dom. du Landreau Coteaux du Layon Tri de Vendange 2011 Loire

    Monday, 7 December 2015

    Your Sommelier

    Two wines from Your Sommelier

    Your Sommelier is a new offering from two Frenchmen who became disillusioned by the quality of Wine available in the UK and decided to set up their own business.

    The first two wines I tried were both classically elegant and impressively adept - more so than their choice of moniker.

    Domaine Tour Saint-Michel Chateauneuf de Pape, 2013 (£23) fresh dark and red plum fruit, pepperiness and graphite with a supple, inky texture. Very adept and elegant.

    Very Good.

    Match with pepper steak or roast beef.

    Hubert Bochard Pouilly-Fume 2013 (£13) ripe white peach and apricot fruit with aromatic lemongrass and citrus peel and saline, pebbly mineralogy.

    Very adept, very elegant.


    Drink as an aperitif, match with light starters or mains such as monkfish in herb broth.

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    Sunday, 6 December 2015

    Bruno Paillard Blanc de Blancs 2004

    A vintage fizz from Bruno Paillard

    Champagne house Bruno Paillard was founded as recently as 1981 by the eponymous M. Paillard who still runs the company.

    This vintage Blanc de Blancs is made only from Chardonnay grapes from a single year.

    Bruno Paillard Blanc de Blancs 2004 Florality, orchard fruits, almonds and toasty leesiness with aged beeswax and dried apple; rich, creamy and fresh. Elegant and complex.

    Very Good.

    Match with shellfish or white fish.

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    Saturday, 5 December 2015

    Muga Rioja Tasting

    Different vintages of Bodegas Muga's range of wines

    Bodegas Muga was founded in 1932 in Rioja and is now run by 3rd generation descendants. The winery owns 250ha of land in the foothills of the Montes Obarenes in Rioja Alta and buys in grapes from a further 150ha.

    This open-pour tasting covered a number of ranges and vintages.

    Muga Reserva

    Muga's entry-level range, current vintages retail in the mid-teens.

    1970, 1976 tawny-port colour with old leather and rosehip fruit. Tannins fully resolved, acidity still fresh. In good shape for its age, but mainly a museum-piece curiosity.

    1999, 2005, 2010, 2011 more ripe, plump fruit, cool mint and still some grip. Stand-out wine was the 2011 for its vibrancy; £15.75 BBR and Majestic.

    Muga Reserva Seleccion Especial

    1996, 1998, 2005, 2009, 2010 vibrant, intense and concentrated wines with inky dark fruit and suppleness. Stand-out wine was the 2009, decanted from double magnum for its intensity and muscular core.

    Drinking nicely now, the 2010 is £20 from The Wine Society and Majestic.

    Prado Enea Gran Reserva
    Made from grapes grown at the highest altitudes, up to 600m - and only in the best years.

    1989, 1994, 2000, 2001, 2005, 2006 intensity, concentration and fine tannins; complex, lively and adept.

    All vintages here were equally impressive; the 2006 is available for around £30 from The Wine Society, Majestic and Waitrose.

    Torre Muga

    A family disagreement over future winemaking direction led to one of the sons creating Torre Muga, a more 'modern' style of wine.

    2003, 2009, 2010, 2011 pumped-up, heavily-extracted, over-oaked, overpriced and over here. I got bored of these by 2009 and couldn't face the more-recent vintages.

    If you must have something a bit flash and in-yer-face, you'll find it in BBR and Majestic for around £50.

    Made using old-vine grapes from the best sites, this is Muga's flagship wine - and priced accordingly.

    2005, 2009, 2010 fresh, pure, intense and blackcurranty with fine tannins and a tightly-wound core.

    2009 and 2010 are available at BBR something over £100.

    The non-reds

    Muga White Barrel Fermented 2014 aromatic, fresh and substantial; around £11 from BBR and Majestic

    Muga Rosado 2014 elegant redcurrant fruit, pure and substantial; around £11 from Waitrose and Majestic.

    The two Conde de Haro cavas (Brut 2012 and rose NV) were good enough, but essentially "wine with bubbles".
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    Friday, 4 December 2015

    Two Rhône Wines

    Two Rhône wines from Asda and M&S

    An enjoyable spicy entry-level red, plus an unusual oaked white.

    Plan de Dieu Côtes du Rhône Villages 2014 (ASDA, £6.00) dark fruit and warming oaky spice, juicy and food friendly. Thoroughly enjoyable entry-level Rhône. Good value.

    Match with roast red meat.

    Reserve du Boulas, Laudun, Côtes du Rhône Villages 2014 (Marks and Spencer, £9.00) unusual white Rhône;  ripe orchard fruits and sweet spice with some toasty oak with a warm-climate smile. Rounded, balanced and adept. Good.

    Match with meaty white fish, chicken, pork and pasta with cream and mushrooms.

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    Thursday, 3 December 2015

    Barbadillo PX NV

    A rich Pedro Ximénez from Barbadillo

    Known as PX, Pedro Ximénez is typically used in small doses to sweeten dark sherries by balancing out the roasted-nuts-and-spices bitterness that develop with age.

    In its purest form, PX is incredibly gloopy and sweet, so needs plenty of fresh acidity to retain balance. It works well with Christmassy treats, such as mince pies or Christmas pudding as there is little it won't stand up to.

    Barbadillo Pedro Xímenez PX as rich, dark and treacly as Christmas pudding; raisins and figs with a slug of fiery Christmas spirit.

    A bit rich on its own, so pour over vanilla ice-cream or match with the sweetest of Christmas food.

    Barbadillo Pedro Xímenez PX, £13.49 per 75cl bottle; available from independents, including Cambridge Wine Merchants.

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    Wednesday, 2 December 2015

    Four New Zealand Wines From Negociants

    A brace of wines each from New Zealand's Nautilus Estate and Two Paddocks

    Away from generic pungent Marlborough Sauvignon, here are some more-ambitious wines from New Zealand.

    Nautilus Estate Grüner Veltliner 2013 (£17.99) Nautilus' fourth GV vintage; the vines are starting to get some maturity, showing wonderful varietal character; pure, linear and concentrated - a textbook GV.

    Citrus peel, green herbs and lentil, white pepper spice and a pebbly minerality. Very elegant and precise.

    Very Good.

    Nautilus Estate Cuvée Marlborough NV (£21.99) one of NZ's leading sparkling wines; traditional method, aged on less for over 3 years, made from Pinot & Chardonnay; an IWC regional trophy winner this year)

    Expressive ripe orchard fruit, citrussy freshness, a fine mousse and a leesy-yeasty Champagne-esque autolytic brioche character.


    Two Paddocks Picnic Riesling 2014 £17-18 off-dry in style, Central Otago boutique winery owned by actor Sam Neill.

    Classic Riesling nose of kerosine and diesel; stone fruit and gingery spice with lime cordial, pineapple and a persistent minerality. Clean, pure and very adept.

    Very Good.

    Two Paddocks Picnic Pinot Noir 2013 £24 entry level range from Two Paddocks - blended from fruit sourced from Sam's vineyards in the three sub regions of Central Otago.

    Bright, red-berry fruit, a whiff of farmyard and some savoury oak. Fresh, elegant and supple.


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    Tuesday, 1 December 2015

    Kleine Zalze Sauvignon Blanc 2015

    A Sauvignon from South Africa's Kleine Zalze

    Sauvignon is officially the UK's favourite white grape - this 2015 saffer shows all the expressive aromatics that middle England has come to expect of the variety, but with a sophisticated edge.

    2015 Sauvignon Blanc Cellar Section (£9.90, independents) aromatic cut grass and nettles, a whiff of pungency and ripe, tropical fruit. So far, so textbook well-made New World Sauvignon. Additional interest is provided by the structural complexity, minerally underpinnings and sheer quality of the fruit.


    Match with roast pork, monkfish in herb broth or tuna carpaccio.

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    Friday, 27 November 2015

    Tour de Belfort - Annual Gonville Tasting

    The now-annual tasting of Tour de Belfort at Cambridge's Gonville Hotel

    A year ago, I wrote that I did not know whether the people behind Tour de Belfort's organic wines from South West France were fools or pioneers, they seemed so intent on making life difficult for themselves.

    A year on and not only are the wines better, but they seem to be working things out a bit more - the wonderful oaked Sauvignon Gris and Grand Vin Malbec are now both drinking nicely out of the bottle and no longer need a long spell in the decanter to open up and become harmonious.
    The entry-level wines are as well made and technically adept as ever - the Chardonnay Sauvignon has a gold from Paris, the fizzes of both colours are enjoyable traditional-method wines for Prosecco-ish money and the rosé is smart and sophisticated.

    And The Gonville continues to modernise and attract a younger crowd too.

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    Sunday, 22 November 2015

    Cognac "Bolgrad" 4 Stars

    A brandy from Ukraine

    Brought over from Ukraine by a friend, this is an entry-level but thoroughly-pleasant four year-old brandy.

    A dark walnut colour, warming, fiery and youthful with dried fruit and sweet vanilla with woody-oaky spices; a touch of nail polish.
    Drink as a digestif, with mature cheeses, fruit crumble or dark bitter chocolate.

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    Friday, 20 November 2015

    Grahams Late Bottled Vintage Port 2009 - The Co-op

    A Late Bottled Vintage Graham's port from the Co-op

    This LBV port from the Co-op is ripe, vibrant and complex; it has a classic port nose of ripe plum fruit, eucalyptus, liquorice and freshly-picked mint, leading to ripe sweetness, peppery tannins,  minerality and balanced acidity. Very adept. And good value.

    Very Good.

    The bold flavours match best with chocolate and cherry torte or brie with grapes; or drink as a dessert in its own right.

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    Wednesday, 18 November 2015

    And The Winner Is ...

    Announcing the winner of Wine Australia's Daniel Pontifex Scholarship

    A while ago, I put up a post about Wine Australia's Daniel Pontifex scholarship and thought little more about it other than to note that quite a few people had read it so some may be inspired to apply.

    It turns out that the winner is a friend and Cambridge local - albeit an interloper from the New World; Quinby Frey, Events and Tasting Manager at Cambridge Wine Merchants.

    Quin spent a week in South Australia and has now joined nine industry guests who are travelling with Wine Australia, culminating in Margaret River’s Gourmet Escape festival.

    The Daniel Pontifex Scholarship, run in conjunction with Wine Australia and The Daniel Pontifex Memorial Trust, supports up-and-coming hospitality professionals by providing them with an educative visit to Australia’s vineyards.

    As a long-term fan of Australian wine, Quinby says the wine and hospitality industry in the UK needs a greater appreciation of the varieties within Australia. ‘One message that I shall be keen to take back with me will be to encourage people to try some of the newer styles and varieties,’ she says.

    Judge Laura Jewell MW noted that of the record number of applicants, and a short-list of half a dozen, Quinby’s submission stood out. ‘Quinby impressed the judges with her enthusiasm and inspirational desire to share her knowledge of wine,’ she says. ‘In her education role with Cambridge Wine Merchants she will be able to use the experiences gained during her visit to the regions of Australia to great effect.’

    And for those that didn't make it this time, there is always next year.

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    Monday, 16 November 2015

    Domäne Wachau - The Tasting

    A tasting at Domäne Wachau with Kerstin Klamm

    A return visit to Vienna after more than a decade away reveals little change in the appearance of the city; it still feels like a village - albeit, an extremely grand one - with South Eastern Europe as its back yard.

    The cathedrals, palaces and coffee houses of the First District welcome the same melting pot of visitors speaking obscure languages - I make out Hungarian and Yugoslav peppered with a little Italian and the occasional American accent.

    Like so much in Vienna, however, the changes are below the surface and if the city still plies a lucrative trade in packaging and selling its imperial past to former vassals and new upstarts, the city's own residents demand something edgier and more progressive.

    Seeking respite from a surfeit of imperial heritage, we take a trip up the Wachau to Dürnstein where we meet Winemaker Heinz Frischengruber and Export Manager Kerstin Klamm of Domäne Wachau.

    We start with a tour of the vineyards where grapes are still on the vine, followed by the bottling line, Kellerschlossl and cellars.

    Up in the tasting room, between calls to a client in London about an impending restaurant opening night, Kerstin opens a range of bottles for us to try in pairs.

    Light wines

    Terrassen Steinfeder 2015 a blend of GV, M-T, FV the lightest of the Wachau styles; fresh, light, mineral, peppery and elegant

    Neuburger 2015 not without reason is the neutral Neuburger an obscure grape; this wine has been developed with the Sommeliers Association specifically for the Vienna restaurant scene. Fresh and citrussy with orchard fruits and some leesy richness, it has wood fermentation and maturation to help round out its innate blandness (aka "versatility").

    2014 GVs

    2014 was a cool year and the wines are correspondingly high in acidity, but also elegant.
    Achtleiten Smaragd light and pure but concentrated; mineral.

    Kellerberg Smaragd from the hill behind the Kellerschlossl, which we can see through the window of the tasting room, this is the warmer end of the Wachau. The wine is fruitier, riper and fuller.

    2014 Rieslings

    Austrian Riesling was my first love - it is like no other and is fundamentally different from Germany, Alsace or Clare Valley.

    Achtleiten Smaragd pure, fresh and concentrated with the gingery alpine herbs of local soft drink Almdudler.

    Loibenberg Smaragd from a warmer site with more peachy, apricotty fruit.

    Two unusual wines

    Roter Traminer 2014 Reserve Setzberg a local synonym for Gewurztraminer, this is fresh, elegant and mineral; a terroir-led wine showing more Wachau typicity than varietal character.

    Riesling Amphora 2013 de-stemmed grapes left for 6m in amphora, then pressed and vinified in stainless steel for 3-4 months before bottling. Slightly sulphurous nose, spicy-peppery and mineral with high acidity, white tannins and good structural underpinnings.

    Two reds

    I have always preferred Austria's whites to its reds which are mostly grown in the warmer part of the country near the Hungarian border, but I couldn't resist the chance to try these.

    Zweigelt 2013 dark fruit and grippy tannins, slightly stalky.

    Pinot Noir 2012 the first vintage since 2009; elegant with black cherry fruit and fine tannins.

    Two sweet wines

    GV Vin Doux Natural 2014 just three barrels of this experimental fortified GV exist. Harmoniously sweet, strong and fresh. Pure and elegant, a white-port-alike.

    BA Terrassen 2014 just 7% alcohol, rich intense and fresh with baked apple fruit and sweet spices. Fresher than Burgenland stickies, this rivals many a Sauternes.
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    Saturday, 14 November 2015

    A Fizz Tasting With Friends

    A tasting of various fizzes with friends from First Intuition, Cambridge Champagne Company and a trainee MW - including two wines from Italy's Cuvage

    Years ago, I felt I could take or leave Champagne - these days, I find entry level fizz remains no more than wine with bubbles, but good Champagnes (and, by extension, traditional method Champagne-alikes) have a complexity and sophistication that makes them world class.

    The aim of this tasting was to compare and contrast fizzes of different origins, grapes, climates and production methods.
    Quartet, Anderson Valley Brut, Roederer Estate (California, USA) - traditional method approach and grapes, but lacking in elegance. Not so much a muscle car as a clumsy and wonky Ford Edsel.

    Vilarnau Brut Nature Vintage (Cava, Spain) citrussy and fresh with cava's textbook "waxed jacket" finish

    Cuvage Rosé Brut NV Metodo Classico (Acqui Terme, Italy) not visibly a rosé, but actually a classic Champagne mushroom colour; ripe, rounded and very adept. Very Good.

    Cuvage Blanc de Blancs NV Metodo Classico (Acqui Terme, Italy) toasty-leesy with ripe orchard fruit, white flowers and some aged honey-nutty character. Very Good.

    Dominique Boulard Reserve NV (Champagne) - ripe orchard fruit and citrus; textbook NV Champagne. Good.

    Dominique Boulard rosé NV (Champagne) red berry fruit and linear acidity. A little closed up and not as complex as the NV

    Dominique Boulard Brut Grand Cru Mailly NV (Champagne) opulent and complex with toasty leesiness and ripe orchard fruits. Very Good.

    Volpi Moscato Frizzante NV (Piemonte, Italy) a reliable semi-sweet frizzante, with sherberty citrus, elderflower and gentle fizz. Context is all, however, and on this occasion it was utterly outclassed by its peers.

    After all those high-acidity wines, we finished off with ... another high-acidity wine, albeit rounded out with vast amounts of residual sweetness; a D'Oliveiras Madeira
    Bual 10 years dark brown with complex roasted nuts, raisins and figs and a refreshing acidity. Very balanced. Very Good.

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    Friday, 13 November 2015

    Jadot Burgundy 2014 En Primeur - and an Oregon PN

    A tasting of Jadot's 2014 En Primeur Burgundies - and an Oregon Pinot Noir

    I know Louis Jadot as a reliable producer of safe, sensible Burgundies; I was not aware of the extent to which they also produce some very high-end wines from the region.

    However, what really piqued my interest was the opportunity to try one of their Pinots from Oregon.

    Oregon is the US's Mornington Peninsula or Tasmania - a cool-climate region that is attracting a new wave of winemakers (mostly from down the coast in California) keen to explore its potential for more European-style wines.
    Resonance Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013 generous nose with lots of fruit and varietal aromas; ripe, plump fruit on the palate with good underpinnings, suppleness, freshness and persistence. Drinking nicely now, but the firm tannins mean it will age. Good.

    Darker and more fruit-forward, a purist may find it lacks the chiselled elusiveness of the Burgundies of what Jancis describes as an "expressive and transparent" vintage.

    Like many New World wines on the way up, it is perhaps better described as an elevated version of an entry-level wine, rather than a basic version of a top wine. I compared it against some similarly priced Burgundies.

    Givrey-Chambertin Petite Chapelle plenty of tannin, but pretty and well-structured

    Corton Pougets Grand Cru ripe red fruits with complex, persistent underpinnings

    Morey-Saint-Denis Clos Les Ormes red berries and spices, well-structured and drinking nicely now
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    Thursday, 12 November 2015

    On (Re-)Branding and Positioning

    A case study on the subject of re-branding and repositioning from the IPA - image from instachaaz

    Talking to George Sandeman about his aspirations for port as a more versatile drink than just something at Christmas in a gift box with cheese, I was reminded that there is no shortage of wines (often, but not exclusively old-school) trying to reposition themselves - for various reasons.

    Think of sherry, Madeira, Provence, Austria and, yes, port. And that's before you get on to craft beers and gin.

    And don't get me started on German Riesling.

    For classic wines, especially the food-friendly ones, the solution is pretty standard; improve quality (well done, sherry and Austria), get somms and the off-trade interested and then focus on improving pricing by hand-selling high-end examples to knowledgeable buyers by influencing the influencers.

    I mentioned this in passing to a colleague who works in communications for the advertising industry and she drew my attention to an IPA case study.

    It shows how a beverage (Ovaltine) moved from being second (of two) in its specific niche (the malted sleep aid market) to gain a slice of a much bigger category (the £1.65bn daytime hot drink market).

    Perhaps there's something in here for all those great-but-under-appreciated wines to learn.

    Faced with a category in steep decline, Ovaltine needed to recruit younger drinkers and enter a new market space.

    Using a six-month sponsorship of ITV3 daytime and various creative solutions, Ovaltine established itself in a different occasion and grew rapidly as a consequence.

    It has been estimated the campaign will generate up to £1.12m of additional gross profit in the long term, resulting in a ROMI of 5:1.

    Download the paper from the IPA here:


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    Wednesday, 11 November 2015

    Enter Sandeman - Marking Sandeman's 225 Years

    Marking Sandeman's 225th Anniversary with George Sandeman at The Sign of the Don

    This year marks the 225th anniversary of Sandeman. As part of the celebrations, I got to talk with George Sandeman at the launch event for a limited edition collection of his 2000 vintage port.

    It has been something of a year-long party, first with the release of the Cask 33 and then the Single Quinta 2013.

    This event, held at The Sign of the Don, is all about the release of a limited edition case of six bottles of the 2000-vintage port, each with a different label representing a key phase in the company's history.

    I suggest to George that you might buy one of the limited edition cases and drink a bottle each decade; he replies with a twinkle that once you got to the last bottle, you would wish you had bought two cases.

    Port is in an interesting place at the moment - there are high-end ports costing hundreds of pounds a bottle with white port and tonic, pink port and port cocktails at the lower end; all the supermarkets stock a port-and-cheese gift set at Christmas, but it doesn't have the broad profile of a regular drink.

    Unsurprisingly, George's aim is for port to be seen as a more versatile drink than just that Christmas wine with cheese; he feels that elements of the etiquette and ritual around port drinking can add to its enjoyment, as long as it does not tip over into elitism.

    He believes cocktails are the way forward for generating interest in port - and that this is merely the revival of a tradition of serving drinks like hot port (essentially, an instant mulled wine).

    But tonight is all about celebrating Sandeman's 225 years with the 2000 vintage port - and I am lucky enough to get to try some.
    Sandeman limited edition 2000 port vibrant, ripe plump fruit and complex spices underpinned by a firm, assertively muscular structure. Harmonious, balanced and drinking nicely even now, despite its relative youth. Very Good.

    There are only 225 full cases of the wines, but single bottles are also available, priced at £70.

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    Tuesday, 10 November 2015

    Oaked Sauvignon Tasting

    A tasting of oaked Sauvignons organised by Richard Bampfield MW, Jean-Christophe Mau and Chris Kissack at 67 Pall Mall

    Sauvignon Blanc is currently the UK's favourite white grape; zingy, crisp and aromatic, it is a characterful antidote to oaky 90s chardie - if a bit of a one-trick pony.

    So what happens when you give it a bit of deft oaking, lees-stirring and age?

    Master of Wine Richard Bampfield invited me to find out at 67 Pall Mall.


    Cailbourdin Pouilly-Fume Triptyque 2008 ripe, opulent and complex with orchard fruit. Good.
    Masson-Blondelet Pouilly-Fume Cullus 2002 some aged funk on the nose, but pure orchard fruits on the palate. Complex, mellow and adept. Good.

    Ch Brown 2009 pure, fresh, elegant and poised with a mellow harmoniousness. Good.
    Smith-Haut-Lafitte 2012 floral and aromatic; opulent, substantial and fullsome with a rich, leesy-creamy nuttiness.

    Chateau d'Yquem, Y d'Yquem

    - 2012 apricot and quince, supple elegant and very long; incredibly harmonious and balanced; adept and assured. Very Good Indeed.

    - 2006 even richer, fuller and more complex than the '12; dried apricot, peach and tropical fruit, incredible persistence. Very Good Indeed - and then some.
    As you might expect with an MW in charge of selection, these were all excellent wines - with an old-school elegant, adept complexity.

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    Monday, 9 November 2015

    Reys Cambridge

    A late lunch at Reys

    Reys is Cambridge's newest eaterie; I couldn't make their opening night event so they invited me to bring the family along for a weekend late lunch.

    Housed in a former pub-cum-pizzeria, the makeover that has resulted in Reys completes the transformation of Bene't St from back-end of nowhere to a dining destination in its own right; here you will now find a Jamie's, Cau, Pint Shop, Fitzbillies and Caffe Sicilia.
    As befits its neighbourhood, Reys has the distinctiveness of an independent with the reliability of a small chain (the website states that although there is only the one restaurant for now, you never know).

    Its signature dish is rotisserie chicken with bbq sauces and with a sensible price-quality-quantity ratio there's nothing here not to like.
    A short but well thought-out food and drinks menu make choosing easy; friendly service and talking-point design make it a an enjoyable place to hang out with family or friends.

    A welcome addition, then.

    We ate:

    - avocado on toast with chilli and coriander (*2)
    - pulled chicken brioche bun with Asian slaw
    - half flame rotisserie chicken with Reys bbq sauce

    For the children:

    - half a quarterly chicken with bbq sauce
    - side of fries
    - ice-cream
    We drank:

    - Coke
    - Limonata, Aranciata
    - Cider

    The bill came to just shy of £60 and we found we didn't need to eat for the rest of the day.

    We ate as guests of Reys.

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