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Monday, 28 March 2016

Americas Tasting

Another blind tasting with friends for MW study purposes

The MW study course had recently taken a friend to California, so a theme of "The Americas" was agreed for this blind tasting, hosted by Gareth John of First Intuition.

There are around eight countries and almost 50 states that make wine in the Americas, so plenty of options apart from main-player California.

We started with a couple of fizzes - including an outlier from Italy.

M&S Prosecco elegant and fresh, everything you want in a Prosecco

Treveri Sparkling Syrah Brut (Washington state) a light, fresh, cherry-fruited, traditional-method red fizz from the Pacific North West with some yeasty, autolytic character; a very pleasant sipper, whilst watching the sun go down over the Cam.

Williamsburg Viognier 2014 (Virginia) the MW-student considered Viognier, but opted for Torrontes, citing lack of Viognier palate weight. Floral, peachy and elegant.

2010 Petit Verdot Paul Shaffer 4th Edition (Virginia) Fellow bordelais grapes Cab and Carmenere were suggested; aged aromas and mellowness really starting to show now - ripe dark fruit and spice; plump and soft.

Cafaro Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007 (Napa) big, ripe, alcoholic oaky red, with aged character and plenty of substance. Red fruits and low tannins meant I got nowhere near thinking of a Cabernet.

Enamore 2013 (Mendoza) instantly-recognisable as an amarone, but nothing further; the production method dominates here. Turns out to be a blend of old-vine Malbec, Cab, Bonarda and Cab Franc from Lujan de Cujo in Argentina.

Brazin Old Vine Zinfandel, 2014 (Lodi, California) big and ripe with supple tannins and good freshness, I have no clue about this and am unsurprised to learn it is a grape and region I know almost nothing about. It stands up well to a spicy pork and chorizo stew.

Hacienda San Martin Reserve Red (Medoza) another big, ripe-and-spicy red, but again it does not feel overblown. I hazard a guess at Malbec on account of the dark fruit, spice and the fact that we have not yet had one so far. 

Ridge Lytton Springs 2013 Dry Creek Valley (California) another Californian Zin; ripe prune and raisin fruit, supple texture.

Spiriterra Scuppernong 2012 (California) a distinctly quirky dessert wine to try as a curiosity; hybrid grape with typical "foxy" aromas along with alpine strawberries and wheat beer. A much more conventional palate with sweet-but-fresh tropical fruits, honey and beeswax.

Some excellent big reds here, but after all that alcohol, oak and fruit from the country that gave us Big Macs and maple syrup on everything (if something is good, then more of it must be better, right?), I was left thinking that cool-climate reds should be our next theme.

Come on in, Loire, Burgundy and Germany.

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Sunday, 27 March 2016

Mas de Tannes, Jean-Claude Mas

Two hefty-yet-deft organic wines from Jean-Claude Mas

The packaging of these organic wines from Languedoc speaks of an ambitious, modern wine - the heavy bottle, cursive script and clean presentation.

Both wines feel big-yet-fresh, with a clean, organic purity. Both also benefit from aeration, being significantly more opened up and expressive on the second day - and I suspect would have better again on a third, had they had the chance.

Available from indpendents priced around £12.

Reserve Blanc 2014 waxy pear and melon fruit with ground almond, white flowers, a shake of white pepper and white-tea tannins. Concentrated, fresh and supple.


Reserve Rouge 2014 sweet, ripe dark fruit, leathery liquorice and sweet, oaky vanilla spice; fresh and stainless-steel vibrant; inky, supple and concentrated. Very clean, very pure. Needs aeration and will benefit from aging.


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Paul Mas Languedoc Fizz

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Shabo "Shabskiy" 4

A cognac from Ukraine's Shabo

Ukraine's best oenological products are generally its brandies; this Shabo "Shabskiy" cognac has something of an unfortunate Boaty McBoatface ring to its name.

Konyak "Shabskiy" 4 cooked mixed fruit, sweet spices, freshness and a warming substance, albeit with a touch of nail polish.

Like much from Eastern Europe, it is somehow more immediate and vibrant than what we have become used to in middle-class northern Europe - and, not having lost its rough edges, is all the better for it.

A characterful and assertive brandy that makes its presence felt; thoroughly enjoyable.

To test a personal, theory, I tried it with some Green and Black's and found it a refreshing palate cleanser that matched well with the chocolate.

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Shabo VSOP

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Zind-Humbrecht 2014 Release Tasting

A tasting of 2014 release wines from Zind-Humbrecht with UK distributor, Gonzalez-Byass.

Not fully France, yet not completely Teutonic, Alsace is a colourful Franco-Germanic borderland that seems to take the best of both cultures and make the whole greater than the sum of the parts.

Alsace wines are labelled varietally, like German wines, but with no indication of sweetness levels and, for the better wines, do give some more-detailed indication of geographic provenance.

Olivier Humbrecht characterises 2014 as a year of superb acidity, good physiological ripeness giving wines of great precision and structure.

Richard Bampfield MW put it another way - these wines don't show the sort of typicity that would lead you to put them in front of MW students, but they reflect their origins very well.

Like mature Bordeaux or Jura, I don't often get a chance to taste a full range from Alsace, so this event was a rare treat.

The Rieslings were especially fresh and drinkable, the Pinots Gris bigger and fuller while the Gewurztraminers, if technically correct and impressive, tended towards a monolithic fullness that did not always make the heart beat faster.
The star of the event was an under-the-table Clos St Urbain Grand Cru Pinot Gris 2001 that has hints of aged character and is showing beautifully now, scoring a Very Good Indeed along with a 2008 SGN Pinot Gris from Clos Windsbuhl.
There was barely a wine here that did not get at least a Good and many of the more ambitious wines scored a Very Good.

The most interestingly atypical wine was the Riesling Roche Volcanique 2014 which for me had a Wachau-esque minerality and tense precision and which Richard Bampfield likened to a Condrieu.

Everything from Clos Windsbuhl scored at least Very Good; the Rangen de Thann wines were the most impressive technically if also the most expensive.

Prices ranged from mid-teens to around £65

The wines
Pinot Blanc 2014
Muscat Goldert Grand Cru 2014
‘Zind’ Chardonnay Auxerrois 2014

Riesling Table
Riesling Calcaire 2014
Riesling Roche Volcanique 2014
Riesling Clos Windsbuhl 2014
Riesling Rangen de Thann Clos Saint Urbain Grand Cru 2014

Pinot Gris Table
Pinot Gris Turckheim 2014
Pinot Gris Rotenberg 2014
Pinot Gris Clos Windsbuhl 2014
Pinot Gris Heimbourg 2014

Gewurz Table

Gewurztraminer Turckheim 2014
Gewurztraminer Calcaire 2014
Gewurztraminer Clos Windsbuhl 2013
Gewurztraminer Rangen de Thann Clos Saint Urbain Grand Cru 2013

Gewurztraminer Herrenweg de Turckheim Vielles Vignes Vendange Tardive 2011
Pinot Gris Clos Jebsal Vendange Tardive 2010
Pinot Gris Clos Windsbuhl Selections de Grains Nobles 2008

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Wine-buying in France: Alsace

Monday, 21 March 2016

Taylor’s 2010 Late Bottled Vintage with Green & Black’s 70% Dark Organic Chocolate

Taylor’s 2010 Late Bottled Vintage with Green & Black’s 70% Dark Organic Chocolate

I generally find the  best matches for chocolate are whiskey and an espresso; if table wines struggle to match chocolate's bitter-sweetness, fortified wines hold the best chance of standing up.

Chocolate-based deserts are usually a good match for port, but does chocolate itself work?

There was only one way to find out.

Taylor’s Late Bottled Vintage (£15 Asda, The Co-Op, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Waitrose) black cherries, eucalyptus and spice, followed by a blast of pure blackcurrant  with mouthwatering sweet-sharpness - cool mint and a peppery spice. Complex, supple and expressive.

Very Good.

Green & Black’s 70% Dark balanced, aromatic and smooth, with some dried red-fruit and a supple waxy texture.

Somewhat unexpectedly, the wine actually overpowers the chocolate - the fruit and menthol flavours of this youthful port are just too strong in this case.

But don't let that stop you from enjoying either of these separately - or from trying them together to make your mind up for yourself.

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Taylor's LBV Port 2007

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Oldenberg Chenin Blanc 2014

A barrel-fermented Chenin from South Africa's Oldenberg

Oldenberg Vineyards is a labour of love by South African investment banker Adrian Vanderspuy - his stated aim is simply to make the best wine he can in what he considers to be a rather special part of South Africa.

I first tasted this Chenin last year as part of a gallery viewing prior to a dinner with Adrian's wines. On reacquaintance, two things are immediately apparent - the incredible high-quality of the fruit and the aging potential of this wine.

This is an very harmonious, very elegant and deft wine - and it will only improve with further aging.

Oldenburg Chenin Blanc 2014 ripe orchard fruit, conference pear and white peach with some sweet spice, minerality and assertive savoury-leesy oak. Very elegant and pure.

Very Good.

Match with roast fowl, such as free-range chicken or guinea fowl.

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Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Two Everyday Easter Wines from The Co-op

Two good-value everyday wines from The Co-op

These two wines are on special offer from The Co-op from 16 March to 5 April 2016 inclusive - they are good wines for the money at full price and even better value on discount.

Torres Vina Sol 2014, Spain (reduced to £4.99 from £6.99) fresh floral aromas with ripe citrus fruit and a saline-minerality; a well-made and enjoyable light, versatile quaffer.

Drink as an aperitif or with lighter foods.

Chateau Vieux Manoir 2014, Bordeaux (reduced to £6.49 from £7.49) one does not normally think of buying wines from the Co-op to lay down - especially those under a tenner; waiting until the weekend is about as long as it gets.

Straight from the bottle (and even with an hour or so in the decanter) this Bordeaux feels a little thin. But a day or three later, it has all settled down into something really harmonious and enjoyable; bramble fruit, cool mint and pencil shavings freshness and a supple texture.

Match with roast red meats and be sure to open well ahead of time if you don't feel like giving this at least a few months' cellaring in a cool, dark place.

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Saturday, 12 March 2016

Italia Regina: Food From Emilia-Romagna

Food from Emilia-Romagna via Italia Regina

Italy's Emilia-Romagna is home to tortellini, Grana Padano, prosciutto and and balsamico di Modena; I recreated the gastronomic experience at home in Cambridge with some local food, provided by Italia Regina.

- Strolghino di Culatello; dense pork salami, best served thinly sliced with bread and oil for dipping

- Delverde Penne Zita Rigate with Barilla Ragu alla Bolognese; classic penne, served al dente with bolognese sauce

- Parmigiano Reggiano; strong, salty aged cheese, best grated over a bowl of pasta

For a quick midweek supper, or a weekend lunch, serve the salami as a starter and the pasta and sauce, with grated Parmigiano as a main.

To make it into more of an occasion, match with some local wines:

Poderi dal Nespoli - Laithwaites
Pagadebit (£9.99) Expressive nose of melon and citrus peel, ripe lemony tropical fruits, sweet spice and grapefruit with minerality. Clean, pure and adept.

Il Nespoli (£14.99) Fresh ripe dark fruit with sweet oaky vanilla spice and leathery truffleyness; supple, firm texture.

Lambrusco - Marks & Spencer

Lambrusco Secco Reggiano NV (£9.00) sappy and vibrant with black cherry and blueberry fruit; fresh, dry finish. A fruited palate-cleanser.

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Friday, 11 March 2016

Birthday Drinks at Thirsty Cambridge

(Not my) birthday drinks at Thirsty Cambridge

I don't do north of the river in Cambridge, especially after dark - the delineations of my world are a curve of the Cam intersected by the railway line.

But a friend's birthday get-together at recently-opened Thirsty Cambridge took me across a literal as well as metaphorical border to Mitcham's Corner.

North-of-the-river Cambridge is a bit like East London - urban, edgy and gentrifying.

As its only wine bar, Thirsty has something of a captive audience. The set-up is simple - long benches, low mark-ups, a range of mostly classic Old World wines and a different mobile street-food van parked outside every night. Plus craft beers on tap.
It all feels rather studenty-shabby, which is presumably why it appealed to a bunch of dressed-down 50-somethings who have aged three decades without quite fully acknowledging it.

In our makeshift 6th form common room, the talk was of second marriages and third careers, of funerals and grandchildren rather than the iconoclasm of radical politics and the world set to rights.
As to the wines, there was an elegant English fizz from Hereford, a bold, spicy red from Vacqueyras and a Langhe Nebbiolo that was a touch cloudy.

A return visit is but a matter of time.

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Sunday, 6 March 2016

Two Spring Wines from The Co-op

Two celebratory spring wines from The Co-op

The days are getting longer, lighter and milder. With Mothers Day and Easter on the horizon, we think of lighter, more celebratory wines.

A fizz and a pink from the Co-op are just what's needed for reliable, good-value drinking.

The Co-operative Prosecco NV (£9.35, reduced to £6.99 from Feb 24 to March 15, 2016) fresh, citrussy and pear-fruited. Clean, pure and elegant.

La Vieille Ferme Rosé 2015 (£6.99, reduced to £5.99 from Feb 24 to March 15, 2016) very pale pink, redcurrants, strawberries and white peach with good saline-mineral underpinnings.

Serve both wines as an aperitif, with vegetable starters or light seafood dishes.

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Saturday, 5 March 2016

Two wines from Finca Constancia

Two Big Spanish Reds from Finca Constancia

That Spain is warm can be filed under no sh*t Sherlock. This means big wines with lots of personality. The revelation is that these Fina Constancia wines also have deftness, freshness and sophistication.

A bit like an American Footballer, they are big, but nimble with it.

Finca Constancia Selección 2012 - 35% Syrah, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Cabernet Franc, 10% Tempranillo, 2% Graciano, 2% Petit Verdot (£10.50, Ocado)  a blend of Rhône, Bordelais and local varieties; fresh, supple dark-fruited and oaky-spicy

Finca Constancia Altos de la Finca 2011 - 60% Petit Verdot, 40% Syrah (£16.99, Ocado) this wine proudly displays its 92 Parker Points. And it is Parker-esque - a Big-but-Sophisticated Red. Ripe elderberry, bramble and black cherry fruit, liquorice and sweet, oaky vanilla spice; deftly harmonious with fine, supple tannins. A very accomplished Big Red.

Very Good.

Match with darker game such as duck ot venison.

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