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Sunday, 26 February 2017

Nemiroff Honey Pepper Vodka

A flavoured vodka from Ukrainian producer Nemiroff

I drank a lot of vodka when I lived in Russia and Ukraine - so much so that I rather went off it, but it does match well with peasanty Slavic foods like zakuski of gherkins, preserved peppers, salamis, cutlets and pickled fish.

This honey pepper vodka with herbs is more complex than the sort of bitter, alcoholic vodka that needs to be washed down with strong foods, rather than complementing elegant dishes.

Aromas of herbs and beeswax, intense more than fiery with some nail polish; herbal and complex, with a glycerol texture and a developing honey-sweetness mixed with a warmth that is part-chilli, part-alcohol.

It is not especially a spirit to linger over and works best with food - including dark, bitter chocolate.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Annual Austrian Tasting 2017

Annual Austrian Tasting 2017

When a tasting starts with a country's greatest producer, the remainder risks being disappointing.

I've missed this tasting for a few years, but a return visit reminded me of why I fell in love with Austrian wines.

Like unexpectedly bumping into your childhood sweetheart, there was that pit-of-the-stomach thrill, a heady giddiness and a familiar recollection that yes, you are just as wonderful as I remember.

Top Producer - Knoll
Based at the warmer, eastern end of the Wachau, the elusive and eponymous Knoll is Austria'a greatest producer.

Smaragd Ried Schuett 2012 Riesling full and mineral with some beeswax. Elegant, pure and precise. Very Good Indeed.

2013 slightly less full-on, but also Very Good Indeed.

Smaragd Ried Kreutles GV 2015 stone fruit, pure and precise - ripe, rich and full. Very Good Indeed.

Top Co-op - Domaene Wachau
Duernstein-based co-op Domaene Wachau produces both blends and single-vineyard wines.

Smaragd Ried Achtleiten GV 2015 mineral with white stone fruit; long and precise, still closed up. Very Good.

Beerenauslese "Terrassen" 2015 complex beeswax, sweet spices and ripe peaches. Full, long and substantial. Very Good.

Other Wachau

One of the Big-Four Wachau producers, Hirtzberger's vineyards are exposed to cooling northerly air.

Smaragd Ried Axpoint GV 2015 complex white pepper, ripe stone fruit and minerality; concentrated, pure and precise. Very Good.

Smaragd Ried Hochrain Riesling 2015 ripe pineapple, citrus and minerality; long and deft. Very Good.

Top Styrian - Polz

Polz's entry-level wines are crystalline and precise; the top wines add a complex weighty, Burgundian texture.

Ried Grassnitzberg Chardonnay 2014 creamy, mineral, precise and fresh; substantial and Burgundian. Very Good.

Ried Hochgrassnitzberg "GSTK" SB smoky, flinty with ripe fruits and a rich creamy-leesy texture. Fresh, elegant and complex. Very Good.

Best Winemaker - Huber

Based in Traisental, outside the Wachau, Markus Huber was Austria's Winemaker of the Year in 2015.

Klassik Ried Obere Steigen GV 2015 fresh, mineral, pure and precise. Good.

Top Burgenland Dry Whites - Ernst Triebaumer
Warmer Burgenland is best known as home to Austria's reds and stickies.

Ernst Triebaumer Klassik GV 2015 spicy, peppery, racy, mineral and adept. Good.

Ernst Triebaumer Reserve Ried Pandkraeftn Ch 2013 sweet spices, oatmealy-nutty, elegant and mineral. Good.

Best Kamptal - Angerer

Excellent reds and whites from differing terroirs just outside the Wachau - available from Noel Young Wines.

Klassik Ried Kiesling "Kies" GV 2016 fresh, zippy, substantial and mineral; pure and precise. Very Good.

Granit Zweigelt 2012 supple with dark fruit and firm, assertive tannins. Very Good.

Best Quevri - Ott

Ott makes a range of very impressive conventional wines, but his quevri-fermented Gruener is the highlight.

Qvevri GV 2013 peppery, textured and substantial - fascinating and other-worldly. Good.

Best unavailable wine

Styria's Tement is a longtime favourite of mine - sadly, the wines are not currently available in the UK.

Ried Zieregg "GSTK" SB 2011 complex, suphurous nose, substantial, long and deft with an oatmealy-leesy texture. Very Good Indeed.

The 2014 is rather lighter and fresher, but still very complex and long.

Ried Grassnitzberg "1STK" SB 2015 substantial, creamy, full, mineral and complex. Very Good.

Tasting followed by Austrian buffet - including cakes.

Friday, 10 February 2017

Wines of Tejo, Portugal

Tejo wines with Sarah Abbott at 67 Pall Mall

When it comes to Portugal, I tend to think what I always thunk - I'm not really sure what to make of the country.

Sure it makes nice wines; there is plenty of interesting stuff to find. But what is the essence of Portugal - what is its intrinsic, essential identity?

I have no idea.

Portugal has over 600 native varieties and whilst I could name a handful, I can't necessarily characterise them or tell you which regions and which grapes go together. There is no Portuguese equivalent of Loire Sauvignon, Argentinean Malbec or Barossa Shiraz.

Rather like South Africa, Portugal's diversity is, in the first instance, a barrier to easy understanding rather than a virtue.
Also like South Africa, Portugal has a long and complex social history that is perhaps the better jumping-off point for an understanding of the country - rather than the minutiae of grapes, terroirs and techniques.

Until the early-C20th, it was a rural, aristocratic nation with grand farmhouses, horses and falconry. Like Britain, it also had a sea empire.

Then cames the dictatorship and the days of cheap, rustic supermarket plonk - Mateus rosé anyone?

Finally, Portugal emerges, blinking into the sunlight of democracy and a new wave of winemakers starts focusing on quality.

Portugal, like Britain, lies isolated on the Atlantic fringe of the European continent - the barren waste lands of Spain being as much of a barrier as the English Channel.

Its down-at-heel, faded aristocracy is somehow familiar and reassuring to the British with whom the country, uniquely, shares a time zone.
At this Tejo tasting, I tried elegant fizz, aromatic and oaky whites, rosés, juicy and substantial reds and a couple of dessert wines.

There were varietal wines and blends; indigenous grapes alongside Chardonnay and Syrah. Some wines were Rhone-esque, some Bordelais.

Tasting 30 or so wines, I came away with no better, more-nuanced understanding of Portugal's oenology than when I started.

Yes, the wines are good, well-made and interesting.

Yes, you should try them.

But I can't especially tell you where to start or which international style they are most like.
For that you need either to go to Portugal itself and get a first-hand understanding of the area. Or failing that, find a friendly wine merchant with a good Portuguese range who will help you navigate your way.

Nick Oakley of Oakley Wines specialises in the wines of Portugal and Northwest Spain and says:

I recommend Quinta do Casal Branco wines - Terra de Lobos is entry level and in screwcap. They also make a finer wine called Falcoaria in red and white. Very poised.

I would also recommend the wines of Lagoalva, available through Lance Foyster. Tejo has the benefit of high production levels, sound quality and affordability. It's the engine room of Portuguese agriculture, and wine is no exception.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

KrimSekt Brut 2009 - Ukraine

A traditional-method Ukrainian fizz from Artwinery

Based in Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, Artwinery was founded in 1950 and produced its first wines in 1954.

Despite the name, this is not a sekt from Crimea (Krim); it is made, unusally for this part of the world, by secondary fermentation from Chardonnay, Riesling and Aligote with at least three years' aging in tunnels over 70 metres deep.

KrimSekt Brut 2009 Citrus and sherbert, slightly aromatic and floral with a saline-minerality and creamy oatmeal; adept, faultless and very pleasant.

Serve as an aperitif or with seafood starters.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Koshu of Japan - and other varieties

A tasting of Koshu of Japan

It is rare to encounter a completely new and unknown wine country - the specific nuances of some less familiar sub-region keen to make a name for itself become the most novel experiences after a while. That and the anticipation of the new vintage from a classic region.

But tasting Koshu of Japan was suddenly like being a novice all over again - no context, no backstory, no reference point. Nothing other than one's palate as a guide - it all felt very strange and foreign.

The whites were exclusively the Koshu variety, but from a range of areas with varying treatments, soil types and elevations - it seems Japan does both technique and terroir.

In simple term Koshu is a lightish, elegant and versatile white with citrussy fruit and a slightly herby, floral character. It is pure and precise, often like a classic Loire Chenin, Chablis or a Burgundy.

Grown at altitude and / or on slatey, granite soils, it gains a Riesling-esque minerality; it responds well to oak and also produces an excellent fizz.

It is the sort of wine that makes you think of Sushi, lemongrass and Japanese noodles.

 Being both well-made and Japanese, it is not in the supermarket price bracket; mid-teens to mid-twenties is the general range for still whites.
Should you spend the equivalent of three bottles of supermarket kiwi Savignon on a Koshu?

If kiwi Sauvignon is your reference point, then probably not. If you are prepared to try it in lieu of a Grand Cru Chablis or white Burgundy, then you will find the experience rewarding and enlightening.

There were also a couple of reds made from Bordeaux blends - the standout was a 2009 Rubaiyat with supple texture and fine, harmonious tannins.