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Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Hatch Mansfield Portfolio Tasting

A portfolio tasting of Hatch Mansfield wines

Portfolio tasting. Limited time. I headed over to the helpfully arranged medal winners table.

The whites were all clearly texturally superior and improved with price bracket.

Interesting wines here were (in ascending price order):

Vina Real Barrel Fermented Blanco 2014 fresh, good fruit, harmonious and versatile

Kleine Zalze Vineyard Selection Chenin Blanc 2014 fresh and crisp with herby cress

Joseph Mellot Pouilly-Fume Le Chant des Vignes 2014 fresh, aromatic and substantial

Domaine Ferret Pouilly Fuisse 2013 rich, ripe, oatmealy and flawless - will be good to come back to it in 5-10 years

Vidal Legacy Chardonnay 2012 a full-on expressive intense Chardie with pungent smokey toastiness and ripe fruit

I was somewhat less convinced by the reds - too many seemed to have grippy rather than ripe tannins, even those with almost a decade's age.

Those that showed the most supple tannins were (again, in ascending price order):

Kleine Zalze Cleefs Reserve Shiraz / Mourvedre / Viognier 2013 ripe, supple and floral

Jean-Luc Colombo Terres Brulees dark fruit, cool mint, inky pencil shaving

Grant Burge Balthasar Shiraz 2012 ripe intense blackcurrant and mint

After the tasting, we were invited to try a few glasses of Taittinger's 2008 Brut Champagne.
My rule-of-thumb is to give vintage fizz a decade before opening; served from slower-aging magnums and slightly overchilled, this was fresh and elegant but still very tightly wound.

I couldn't help feeling I was participating in mass oenological infanticide.

Other related articles
Chenin Blanc Style Council with Kleine Zalze
#SauvBlancDay - Joseph Mellot Menetou-Salon Les Thureaux 2013
Jean-Luc Colombo Crozes Hermitage Les Gravieres 2010
Grant Burge Summers Chardonnay 2011‏, Australia

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Lunch With Chris Blandy

Lunch with Chris Blandy of The Blandy Group at Dos Combatentes, Funchal

Blond, tanned and handsome with a born-in-duty-free air, thirty-something Chris Blandy is CEO of the hotel, shipping and wine divisions of the Blandy family empire.

We meet for a catch-up over a lunch (which he kindly pays for) at Dos Combatentes, an authentic and unpretentious restaurant next door to the Blandy's Wine Lodge in central Funchal.

Chris orders seared squid, his usual here so I follow suit, and a bottle of Monte Da Peceguina, a crisp, modern easy-drinker from Portugal that goes perfectly with the seafood.
After graduation from a UK university, Chris worked in hospitality outside the family business for several years - a pre-requisite to any senior position in the Blandy Group in order to bring in some independence of thought.

He has gradually taken on more responsibilities within the company and tells me that the wine side of the business is the smallest financially but where his emotional interest lies.

Madeira - once the wine of kings and conquest, victories and celebrations - is now little more than a footnote in the public consciousness of fortified wine. Blandy's is the largest producer of Madeira and Chris does not see the wine as ever regaining its former position; there is not the volume of vineyards and getting there would be too expensive, so he focuses instead on developing Madeira as a niche, hand-sold product, on pricing rather than volume.

This makes sense not just from a financial perspective but also because the canteiro process means that Madeira is indestructible and will last forever, so it is relatively easy to sit on stocks going up in value without the pressure to sell before they are past their peak.

Chris is the seventh-generation CEO of a family company that goes back 200 years; his father now runs a separate holiday rental company after developing the Palheiro Estate and his uncle is in overall charge.

The Blandy's were originally English, but Chris' ancestry now includes the US and South Africa and he is the first of the family to marry a local. He has a global outlook, citing such tourism megatrends as safety and the effect of the Arab spring on Madeira as a safe-haven destination.

His second megatrend is the demand for authenticity, a complete local experience of food, drink and culture; while this provides a synergy between the hotels and wine businesses, it is something of a challenge (or opportunity, depending on how you view it) for the island of Madeira which imports the vast majority of all its food.

If the food and drink on Madeira is surprisingly inexpensive, this is because it is subsidised heavily by Portugal and the EU. This also explains the lack of fresh milk on the island; it is all UHT shipped from Portugal. Even the sand on one of Madeira's few sandy beaches had to be shipped in by boat.

At Chris's recommendation, we later go to a restaurant on the far side of the island which is reviving local traditions - at Quinta Do Furao we sample the Madeiran menu (including limpets, a first for me) with a local table wine, Terras do Avo.

My experience of various parts of the Blandy's empire reveals that they have an attention to detail and a long-termism: the Palheiro Estate where we are staying has American levels of customer service, neat cleanliness and friendliness; the Blandy's Wine Lodge Tour is thorough and well-rehearsed, but has a humanity that never becomes too corporate or slick.
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Monday, 21 September 2015

Codorníu Cuvée Barcelona Brut

An elegant, traditional-method cava from Codorniu

This Cuvée Barcelona Brut from Codorniu is classy and elegant - and looks good too, with its Gaudi-influenced Art Nouveau design.

Green apple, white pear and citrus fruits with a fine mousse - elegant and fresh.

It works well both as an aperitif or with seafood starters.

£12.99 from Sainsbury's and Waitrose.

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Limited Edition Codorníu Brut NV

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Villa Maria - 2015 Sauvignons

Villa Maria lunch with winemaker Nick Picone

Villa Maria make some of the most reliably enjoyable wines you can find - they occupy a sweet spot; distinctive, affordable and approachable, there's nothing about Villa Maria for the general imbiber not to like.

I tried the new 2015 Sauvignon Blanc releases plus a few others with winemaker Nick Picone who had flown over to the UK for a whistle-stop tour.

Over lunch, as well as talking about the wines, Nick explained that Sauvignon makes up 75% of Villa Maria's plantings - which is fine right now while Sauvignon remains the UK's top white wine of choice, but could leave the company over-exposed to swift changes in fashion.

To counter this, Villa Maria also harvest a further 25 varieties, mostly commercially, but some just for fun. Nick's personal non-Sauvignon favourite is Chardonnay, but he feels there is already plenty of it elsewhere so it is unlikely to take off in a big way.

In the medium term, he sees great potential for New Zealand Pinot Noir and thinks Albarino has the right mix of distinctiveness and awareness to be a longer-term development for Sauvignon drinkers.

He does not rate Gruener's prospects, despite some very successful examples from Yealands, seeing it as too close to Sauvignon.

Whites, 2015

Private Bin SB 2015 (£11.25) a blend of grapes from 80 sites in two valleys; textbook expressive Marlborough Sauvignon with good concentration and an easy-drinking fleshy softness.

Reserve Wairau Valley SB 2015 (£15.35) from a single valley, there is passion fruit, mint and pungency; more textured, leesy and complex, with a muscular core.


Reds, 2013

An extraordinary vintage, in Nick's words - with a long-but-cool drought around harvest and long hang times as a result.

Private Bin Merlot / Cab (£13.30) juicy and fresh with trademark cherries and coffee grounds. No rough edges at all, but feels a little overpriced.

Reserve Merlot (£22.60) red and black plum fruit, fresh and concentrated with a supple texture. Very deft, very long, but again the price feels a little toppy.

Very Good.

Lighter Pinot Grigio 2014 - a good, enjoyable lighter wine for sipping in the garden or lunchtime drinking. Has the hallmark Villa Maria quality feel and is not compromised by its lower alcohol status. I can't help feeling this would be better positioned as an "occasion" wine rather than as a somehow lesser version of the range.

Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot 2013 similar in quality to the Reserve Merlot but with rather more oomph, I rather preferred this for its greater assertiveness.

Other related articles
Villa Maria 50 Years Tasting

Thursday, 17 September 2015

On Italy, Wine, PR and Branding

Linda Foltran, of Italian agency Gheusis, came over to London this week for a series of wine events.

I was not able to attend any of them, so we arranged to meet up for a chat at what proved to be an apposite venue; as the embodiment of a Spanish bodega in King's Cross, Bar Pepito has led the charge of a revived sherry culture in London.

Linda started by asking me what sort of profile Italian wine has in the UK; Prosecco and Pinot Grigio have great recognition, of course. But Italian wine is, like Italian driving, strange, chaotic and bound by its own, impenetrable rules. It is also generally not that well-known over here.

By contrast, as importers of a large part of our food culture, we have adopted Italy's gastronomic and coffee traditions en masse.

The weakness (low awareness and understanding) of Italian wine in this country contains within it an opportunity for raising awareness, a blank canvas for messaging.

From a branding perspective, meaningful differentiation is not the solution to this challenge; rather, it is meaningless distinctiveness.

Keep the messaging very simple; don't try to raise interest in the complexity of Italian wines or educate about every detail. Rather pick a small number of key ideas to focus on and make it compelling, a few very strong reasons to try a particular wine or region.

France, in contrast to Italy, categorises fantastically; I can rattle off the major wine regions and I know what to expect of an Alsace, a Bordeaux, a Burgundy and so on.

The re-emergence of sherry over the last five or so years has been a textbook example in how not only to generate renewed interest in a terribly unfashionable wine, but also how to keep moving forward subsequently, bringing innovation, fashion and trend-setting to a hitherto staid product.

This has been part of a multi-year plan, starting with basic awareness and taking the audience on a journey of discovery over a decade or more by influencing the most influential influencers initially; sommeliers, lifestyle writers, MWs and high-end, small-scale retailers like Harrods or Fortnum's.

High-end wines with low awareness are best introduced via hand-selling in restaurants; the UK tradition of marking up wine by around 200% means that quite upmarket places will need an entry-level wine to sell at mid-£20s.

Wine-writers come in three main types: critics, like Parker; educators, like Jancis; entertainers, like Oz.

The role of the critic is explained by Behavioural Economics; wine appreciation as a form of competitive status one-upmanship "I see your 90-pointer and I'll raise you a 95-pointer".

The entertainer builds an emotional bond with a wine that does the job of long-term brand building.

The educator provides a rational message that is akin to short-term sales activation.

Hanging out with the influencers is relatively straightforward; sociable by nature, most wine writers are active on Twitter and Facebook.

There is a distinct gap between wine writers' interests and what the data tells us about wine consumption in general; writers are interested in the new and the different, whereas most wine is sold for not much more than a fiver and is Sauvignon Blanc.

Further reading:
The Long And Short of It
Behavioural Economics in Action

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On Wine, Branding And Behavioural Economics

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

The Great Sherry Tasting 2015

Five years in, the Great Sherry Tasting shows the renewed energy and dynamism there is around sherry; with master classes, en rama releases, niche bottlings and garargiste producers, sherry is a fashionista's daydream.

Ehrmann's, Historic Vintage Collection 2001 Oloroso there are just 28 casks of this vintage, static-aged / non-solera sherry. Blended on bottling it is not yet released in the UK, but available shortly with a guide price of around £60 for a 75cl bottle. Complex, mellow, fragrant and very long. Very Good Indeed.
Fells, Manzanilla Solear En Rama (£12 half) a pasada, it has around 9 year's aging; pungent and aromatic on the nose, the palate is light and delicate. Good.
Mentzendorff, Hidalgo Manzanilla Pasada Pastrana (£15 half) a favourite of winemaker and owner Javier Hidalgo, it has a wonderful old-school, mellow, substantial complexity. Very Good.
Sherry Boutique Cruz Vieja Fino En Rama (£20 half) from the smallest bodega in Jerez, this is a single-vineyard sherry. Intense yet delicate and elegant. Good.

Sherry Boutique Cruz Vieja Amontillado En Rama (£40 75cl) only 1,000 bottles of this wine are made; great deftness, elegance and complexity. Very Good.
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Monday, 14 September 2015

Caliterra and Rodrigo Zamorano

Lunch with winemaker Rodrigo Zamorano of Caliterra

Caliterra is on a journey that stands as something of a microcosm for all of Chile.

Historically a partnership between Chile's Errazuriz and California'a Mondavi, Caliterra's wines have in the past often proved, like so many of Chile's, to be rather over-extracted, clumsily inelegant and generally disappointing.

Freed from the Mondavi influence and with a new winemaker since 2012, they are starting to produce some more interesting wines with a European sensibility.

Not everything is great - either at Caliterra or in Chile generally - but the best wines are starting to become quite interesting.

If there was a theme to this tasting, it was that Syrah does well - my two top wines both included Syrah in the blend.

Also of note was a Sauvignon Blanc fermented in stainless steel with some lees aging.
Top wines 

Caliterra Tributo Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (£12) crisp, precise, aromatic gooseberries and lemongrass with some leesy richness. Good. 

DSTNTO 2015 (£12) cardonic maceration gives a Beaujolais-esque juicy vibrancy. A better year than 2014, the alcohol is lower and, with the addition of some Syrah, the texture more supple. Good. 

Caliterra Edicion Limitada "M" 2012 (£16) the M here stands for the Mediterranean Syrah and Carignan in the blend; there is also a small amount of Pinot Gris. Rich, ripe and full with dark fruit, spice and liquorice; supple adept and assured. Very Good.

The Bordeaux blend and varietal Malbec and Carmenere were all a touch grippy, drying and alcoholic - as if simultaneously trying too hard and not quite hard enough.

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Sunday, 13 September 2015

The Co-op's September Offers

Two Co-op wines on special offer from 2 September until 22 September inclusive (2015)

To start: fizz

Codorniu Gran Cremant Vintage Brut Cava 2013 (reduced to £6.99 from £9.99) pale straw yellow with white pear and citrus fruit; elegant and fresh.

Serve as an aperitif, with canapes or light starters

With mains

Château Tiregand, Clos Montalbanie 2010 (reduced to £6.99 from £7.99) from Pecharmant, geographically and stylistically between Bordeaux and Languedoc, this has ripe, dark bramble fruit with some aged mellowness. Well-balanced, if a little lacking in underpinnings, it is well-priced for the quality.

Match with autumnal roast red meat and root veg.

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Award-winning Wines From The Co-op

Friday, 11 September 2015

D'Oliveiras - The Interview

An interview with Luis D'Oliveiras of Pereira D'Oliveira (Vinhos) in Funchal, Madeira

I meet Luis D'Oliveiras in a sultry, listless warehouse in central Funchal that serves as a mixture of offices, tasting hall and functioning Madeira house.

The seating area at the front, a mix of bustle and torpor, has the feel of a southern European railway station.

The contrast with Blandy's round the corner could not be starker - there are no corporate logos or staff uniforms here, no displays of winemaking paraphernalia or memorabilia; this is Old School and the focus is on the wonderful liquid in the glass.

Where Blandy's have branched out into shipping, banking and tourism, D'Oliveiras remains focused on Madeira wine itself; not exclusively the making of it, but also the acquisition of stocks.

Luis D'Oliveiras is a deal-maker in a family tradition; the company is a combination of six firms, two of which were the original family businesses merged through a dynastic alliance and four of which were acquired.

In 2003 he and his brothers acquired Adegas do Ferreao (founded in 1949) and his most recent acquisition is Artur Barros e Souse from 1921.

Part wine-maker, part property magnate, part corporate raider, he looks for businesses with good stocks of Madeira and good warehousing (ideally with the multi-level flooring for better aging of the wine) that have been poorly-managed and can be picked up cheaply.

He then sells limited amounts of the stock to meet cash flow needs, waiting for the rest to go up in value.

I find it odd that the main warehouse is located on prime real estate in central Funchal, but Luis explains that he needs to be there for the tourists who come in every day on cruise ships.

And business is good - interest has been increasing every year since 2010, with 70% of his sales via export and 30% local (including Portugal and the Azores).

He runs the company with a staff of 22 and no directors there are just three shareholders, one of whom is a sleeping partner.

He is also not interested in volatile growth; more important is long-term sustainability and retaining control.

For this reason, the company owns all its warehouses and pays no rent. 

Other related articles
On Meeting Peter Yealands

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Rugby and Polo: Bordeaux vs Argentina

A classic Dourthe Bordeaux vs a plump, spicy Clos de los Siete from Argentina

If you want to find out the difference between the Old World and the New, you could do a lot worse than compare these two wines; both are oaked reds of about the same age costing around the same low-to-mid-teens money.

The Dourthe is classic Bordeaux; dark plum fruit and good structure with some aged complexity - an athletic-yet-deft rugby player of a wine.

The Clos de los Siete, made with input from consultant Michel Rolland, is riper and plumper with sweet black fruits and a supple texture; a classy easy-drinker, it is a flamboyant polo horseman.

The Argentine wine is technically the slightly better of the two but the Bordeaux has more elegance and subtlety - an honourable draw.

Château Pey la Tour Réserve 2011, Bordeaux Supérieur £11.50 Wine Society (Merlot-dominated red blend)

Clos de los Siete 2012, Vista Flores £15 Waitrose, Sainsbury (57% Malbec, 18% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Syrah, 2% Petit Verdot)

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Dourthe N° 1 Rouge 2011 - The Wine Society
Angelica Zapata Alta Cabernet Franc Mendoza - 2010

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Catena Zapata D.V. Catena Grapa

An elegant, Italian-style spirit from Catena

A distilled grape spirit, Grappa is essentially a way of using up surplus grape pulp; colourless and un-aged, it often tastes like underwhelming leftovers.

This grapa from Argentina's Catena is quite different, a class act.

Strong, pure and fresh it is relatively neutral with aromas of anise, fennel seed and pastry shop.

A very elegant digestivo; can be enjoyed at any temperature, but slightly chilled is best. Good.

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Catena Zapata; Angelica Zapata Alta Cabernet Franc Mendoza - 2010

Friday, 4 September 2015

Isla Negra Merlot, 2014 - Chile

A Chilean Merlot from Viña Cono Sur

Jack: If they want to drink Merlot, we're drinking Merlot.
Miles Raymond: No, if anyone orders Merlot, I'm leaving. I am NOT drinking any [... ] Merlot!

Sideways (2004)

My first encounters with Merlot were as a component of Bordeaux wines, so I never quite got that line in the film, taking it merely to be an idiosyncratic opinion rather than a value judgement.

With wider experience, I have learned that Merlot is the pop of red wine to Cabernet's rock and Pinot's orchestral.

Basic New World Merlot is the Boy Band of wine grapes - inoffensive and often rather unsophisticated, it has wide rather than deep appeal and divides opinion as widely as everyone from One Direction to The Bay City Rollers.

If occasional examples have the charisma of Robbie Williams or Marc Bolan it is only on the Right Bank of the Gironde that it develops into something closer to The Beatles.

Underwhelming rather than disappointing, this has pleasant-enough fruit, oak and acidity. But it is one-dimensional - a catchy-ish chorus and boy-meets-girl narrative - but otherwise forgettable.

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Thursday, 3 September 2015

Blason de Bourgogne Montagny La Reserve - 2011

A white Burgundy from co-op Blason de Bourgogne

The correlation between wine price and quality only works in one direction - the cheaper the wine is, the less likely it is to show much complexity.

And, as many studies have gleefully pointed out, the link between complexity and consumer enjoyment is even weaker, sometimes even inverse.

This wine is a case in point - an unsophisticated but well-executed white Burgundy, it is a superior version of a basic, entry-level wine. As if to prove the fact, it has an IWC "commended", the equivalent of a plastic medal for taking part in the school egg-and-spoon race.

And yet it proved popular with a general audience looking for a new easy-drinking white as an alternative to Pinot Grigio.

With pleasant Chardonnay orchard fruit, a bit of minerality and balanced freshness, what's there is fair enough - there just isn't much else going on in the way of texture, complexity or persistence.

Nice-but-dim, it is well-mannered wallpaper.

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Waitrose White Burgundy 2011
Louis Jadot Bourgogne Chardonnay, 2009

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Odessa Brut White Sparkling Wine - Ukraine

A Global Sprits Ukrainian fizz from Odesa

On Ukraine's south coast, Odesa (Оде́са) is a vibrant bustling Black Sea port - Ukraine's Marseilles or Liverpool, the port dates back to the late 1700s and has mixed Tartar, Lithuanian, Ottoman and Soviet influences.

There is scant information on the back label of the bottle, except to say that the winery was founded by a Frenchman in the C19th and that this example was bottled 2010.

A deep straw yellow, it shows the beginnings of some aged character alongside the orchard fruit, delicate white flowers and fresh acidity.

For those interested, Odesa is the Ukrainian spelling of the city name; Odessa is the Russian spelling.

An elegant, pleasing, refreshing aperitif.

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