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Friday, 31 March 2017

The Judean People's Hills

Judean Hills tasting

- Are you the Judean People's Front?
Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979)
Watch the clip here

Ever had an Israeli wine?

These wines from the Judean Hills are superb - deft, harmonious, complex wines with a European style and, even, aging potential.

The rocky Judean Hills - up to 1,000m altitude and around 50 miles inland from the Mediterranean sea - have the soil type, altitude and climate to make great wines. What they don't have is any brand awareness - of Israeli wines, of the Judean Hills area or of the four wineries that make up the Judean Hills quartet.

These are not volume producers, but small-scale, quality-led wineries. In that respect their challenge us similar to what Austria faced in the 90s - at best nil brand recognition, with low volumes and high quality.

The best advice I can give them would be to have a long chat with Willi Klinger, Head of the AWMB that has done so much to raise the profile and value of Austrian wines globally.

The quality of the wines is not in doubt - the challenge is more in raising awareness of why spending £30+ on a wine you have never heard of and that looks more like a mid-teens wine would be money well spent.

The four wineries are:

Detailed tasting notes to follow.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Olivier Dauga's Bordeaux and Ukraine Tasting

A tasting of Olivier Dauga's wines from Bordeaux and Ukaine

What do Ukraine and Bordeaux have in common?

Quite a bit, actually, when you have former rugby player Olivier Dauga as consultant winemaker.
Over a dinner at Parabola in The Design Museum, Olivier presented a vertical tasting of wines from Rolland de By alongside wines from Kolonist with owners Ivan and Alla Plachkov.
At the pre-dinner tasting I was far more interested in the Ukrainian wines - and not just because I have a long history with the country. In my limited experience, Ukrainian table wines are fairly forgettable, so what would these have to make them worthy of interest?

With a fizz, reds and whites there is a range of wines and all are light, elegant and well-made. And after tasting Olivier's Bordeaux wines, the family resemblance was quite apparent.
Originally a plant manager in something typically Soviet and industrial, Ivan decided not to become an oligarch or buy a football club, but instead to make wine in Krynychne near the Romanian border.

On an exploratory trip to Bordeaux, he met Olivier and the rest is history.
Rollan de By is an excellent modern Bordeaux estate based in the Medoc - their wines were no less interesting - and, indeed, technically superior - but they told a rather more conventional tale; give me a list of recent Bordeaux vintages and I could put them in order of quality. On a good day, I might not even need to refer to the internet to do it.

And these wines precisely reflected their vintages - quelle surprise! - the 2010 showed best, followed by '14 and the '12; the '99 was fully mature with the fruit starting to dry out and nowhere further to go.

For the purist-traditionalist, the Rolland de By wines represent faultless Bordeaux - well-made, even in a weaker year, they are exactly what a Bordeaux should be, and demonstrate why vintage is such an important factor in this part of the world.

The Kolonist wines are not as strong technically, but provide a fascinating off-piste detour for the curious.
Detailed tasting notes to follow.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Loeb 2015 Rhône Primeurs

Loeb's 2015 Rhône Primeur tasting

The overall impression of the 2015 vintage in the Rhône based on this tasting is that this is a good year: the whites are fresh and elegant; the reds concentrated yet equally fresh and poised.

Top white - South

Domaine la Monardiere Vacqueyras Blanc la Galejade 2015 waxy and full, floral and fresh, substantial. Good.

Top white - North

Domaine Stephane Ogier Condrieu la Combe de Malleval 2015 leesy, oaky and substantial with fresh, adept fruit. Very Good.

Top Reds - South
Domaine du Pesquier Gigondas 2015 spicy, fresh with dark fruit, plump and supple texture and fine, firm tannins. Very Good.

Domaine Bosquet des Papes Chateauneuf du Pape Chante de Merle VV 2015 fresh, plump and harmonious; spicy and complex. Very Good.

Domaine de Marcoux Chateauneuf du Pape Rouge 2015 cherry-fruited and spicy, poised, fresh harmonious and complex with fine, muscular tannins. Very Good.

Top Red - North
Domaine Jean-Michel Stephan Cote Rotie Coteaux de Bassenon 2015 plump, supple and mineral with dark fruit. Very Good
Recommendations from Jancis Robinson who also attended:

Dom Nicolas Boiron 2015 Côtes du Rhône
16.5 points
Pale garnet. Warm, approachable nose with some dried herbs on the end. Good freshness and very appetising. Long. GV
Drink 2017-2019
£65 per case of 12 ib OW Loeb

Dom du Pesquier 2015 Vacqueyras
16.5 points
Mid crimson with a pale rim. Delightfully sweet, ripe nose. Very heady and exciting with good energy. I've had Châteauneufs that were not nearly as pleasurable as this. Hint of menthol adds to the fresh impression. GV
 Drink 2017-2022
£105 per case of 12 ib OW Loeb

Dom de Fontbonau 2015 Côtes du Rhône
16 points
Mid crimson. Quite a gamey nose. Then very rich and spicy on the palate. Just a bit too much for me. But would be very rewarding for those who seek concentration and ripeness. Quite a statement!
Drink 2019-2023
£95 per case of 6 ib OW Loeb

Dom du Murinais, Caprice de Valentin 2015 Crozes-Hermitage
17 points
Blackish glossy crimson. Really rather sumptuous though its oaky petticoat is showing a little at the moment. Very round and ripe and gorgeous. I defy anyone not to be seduced by this, even though it is about three times riper than a typical Crozes. GV
Drink 2019-2024
£85 per case of 6 ib OW Loeb

Stéphane Ogier, La Rosine Syrah 2015 IGP Collines Rhodaniennes
17 points
Good, healthy, direct northern Rhône Syrah on the nose with quite a bit of polish but honesty too. Appetising and long. GV
Drink 2018-2023
£150 per case of 12 ib OW Loeb

Jean Lionnet, Terre Brûlée 2015 Cornas
Blackish crimson. Salty/treacly nose with masses of fruit. Is this really Cornas?! Masses of pleasure. Most impressive! And not a silly price.
Drink 2018-2025
£225 per case of 12 ib OW Loeb

Stéphane Ogier, Réserve 2015 Côte Rôtie
17 points
Healthy deep crimson. A hint of oak on the nose here. Then rich and refined with more concentration than some. Masses of energy. Coiled-spring sensation. Splits the difference between classicism and modernism.
Drink 2020-2032
£245 per case of 6 ib OW Loeb

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Two Spring Aromatics

Two aromatic wines for spring - Robert Oatley and Jean-Luc Colombo

The days are getting longer, perhaps even a little warmer.

These two classy whites are textured enough for early spring and aromatic enough for lighter dishes.

Both are waxy and full with a nod to Italy - Fiano is originally from southern Italy, whilst the Vermentino (known as Rolle across the border in France) is also Italian in origin.

Both would make good picnic wines if the weather permits; otherwise match with garlic-and-herb roast pork, chicken or monkfish.

Robert Oatley Hancock & Hancock Fiano 2016 (£14.55, Luvians Bottleshop, Ann et Vin, Eynsham Cellars, Warren Wines, Amp Fine Wines) ripe, fresh  melon and pineapple fruit with a creamy nuttiness. Full and substantial.


Jean-Luc Colombo Collines de Laure Blanc 2015 (£13.85 Harrods, Campbell Moore, Evington’s, Islington Wine, Planet of the Grapes) waxy and floral with fennel aromas and fresh ripe melon and stone fruit. Full and substantial with a southern warmth.


Thursday, 16 March 2017

Grand Cercle Primeurs 2017

The Grand Cercle Primeurs 2017 tasting of wines from 2016

If you want a bottle of wine to taste nice and be reliable, then the vagaries of Bordeaux vintages is not for you.

On one level, the idea that some years are better than others is an affront to common sense - why would you wish for weaker years just so that better years can be rarer?

Why have less of a good thing?

But we do not live in a monological world in which all Bordeaux vintages are uniformly adequate - and no more.

And that's the fascination - every year is different and some are better than others.

If that sort of logic does not appeal, then look away now.
2016 was referred to by the owners of a classed growth as better than 2010 - for vintage-watchers, that's quite a claim. Especially on the back of a strong 2015.

The Bordelais have established an unenviable reputation for declaring every year the vintage of the century.

But, make no mistake, 2016 is a very good year.

The wines at this tasting were all ripe, full and substantial - there is no lack of quality base material here. The only question is the quality of the winemaking.

Here are the wines that I most enjoyed - all 2016 vintage.

Ch Mazeyres ripe, plump, perfumed, fresh and substantial. Very Good Indeed.

Lalande de Pomerol
Ch Siaurac fresh, focused, precise, substantial and harmonious. Very Good.

Saint Emilion GC
Ch Montlabert plump, supple and full; pure and focused with food underpinnings. Very Good.

Ch Malescasse ripe, plump, supple; harmonious with some grip and fine tannins. Very Good.

Ch Haut-Breton Larigaudiere plump and lifted with ripe fruits; fresh with a muscular core. Very Good.

Ch La Tour de Bessan inky pencil shavings, fresh with fine-yet-firm tannins. Very Good.

Ch de Cerons inky pencil shavings, substantial and harmonious with fine tannins. Very Good.

Ch Roquetaillade La Grange plump, supple, substantial and harmonious with fine tannins. Very Good.

Ch Haut Bacalan fresh, inky pencil shavings; substantial, ripe, harmonious and supple. Very Good.

Ch Haut Lagrange fresh , pure, plump, substantial and harmonious. Very Good.


Chateau Saint-Robert "Cyber Poncet-Deville" fresh, substantial and structured Sauvignon-based dry white. Very Good.

Ch de Myrat complex, honeyed-beeswaxy, fresh, floral and substantial. Very Good Indeed.

Monday, 13 March 2017

Ballerina - Chateau Brown Rosé

An elegant pink from Chateau Brown

Fly it, sigh it, try it ...
Step right up, and step right up
And step right up
Just like a ballerina
Stepping lightly

- Ballerina, Van Morrison (Astral Weeks, 1968)

Chateau Brown is based in the Pessac-Léognan appellation of Bordeaux and, despite a history dating back around a thousand years, is only a decade-or-so old under its present ownership.

This pink is ballerina-esque, delicate yet athletic.

Château Brown Rosé 2016 ripe, soft red-berry fruit; fresh and mineral wit toasty leesiness. Elegant, long and precise.

Very Good.

Drink as an aperitif or with prawn starters.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Wild Fruits, Wild Flowers - Abbotts & Delaunay

Two wines from Languedoc-based Abbotts & Delaunay available at Majestic

Languedoc-based Abbotts & Delaunay was created in 1995 by Catherine & Laurent Delaunay, two young Burgundian winemakers trained in the New World.

Accordingly, their wines are elegant and food-friendly with a ripeness and purity plus a touch of southern warmth.

Abbotts & Delaunay Viognier 2015 (£9.99) peachy-apricotty fruit, fresh, floral and ripe, slightly poached with some spicy late harvest richness and leesy Brazil nut depth. Elegant and pure.


Match with roast pork or chicken.

Abbotts & Delaunay Merlot 2015 (£9.99) cherries, coffee grounds and spice with a Burgundian delicacy and freshness. Supple, muscular core.


An easy sipper, match with sausages, salamis or arrabiata.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Chateau Lascombes Tasting - New and Old

A tasting of Bordeaux second growth, Chateau Lascombes at Les 110 de Taillevent

Chateau Lascombes is a second-growth Bordeaux based in Margaux - in simple terms, this means it is very good indeed, one of the best, and that the wines have a certain fleshiness to them.

In pricing terms, this makes Lascombes expensive-but-not-ridiculous. In a good year, you might buy the second wine for a fraction of the price and have a wine that will last and age to complex maturity.
Our tasting started with the 2016 - the first ever showing of this wine, it had ben brought over the day before in suitaceses.

This was followed by older vintages for a sense of perspective.
Blended by Michel Rolland, the 2016 is considered to be from a better year than 2010. Drinking nicely now, Serena Sutcliffe MW pronounced it rich and easy to drink.

Lascombes 2016 ripe bramble fruit, plump and fleshy, supple and harmonious with soft, rounded tannins; long with a firm, athletic core. Very Good.

With starter
Chevalier de Lascombes 2010 vibrant and fresh second wine from a good year; still youthful and primary. Rounded and harmonious. Very Good.

Lascombes 2011 classic mature Bordeaux; lighter, more evolved and less substantial than the 2010. Good.

With main
Lascombes 2009 from a warm year; big with alcohol and grip. Still quite primary with good freshness and firm tannins. Good.

Lascombes 2005 lovely mature Medoc, classic and typical with no rough edges or flaws. Very Good Indeed.

With dessert
Lascombes 2001 from an overlooked vintage, fully mature Medoc with freshness, precision, vibrant acidity and a muscular core, even if the fruit is becoming a little dried and herbaceous. Very Good.

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Two Family-Owned Wines

A CVNE Rioja and a Western Australian Cab from Robert Oatley

Opening these two big red wines, the Cab showed better straight out of the bottle - by the end of the meal, an hour or so later, the Rioja had opened up.

Mrs CWB characterised these wines as snog vs marry - the Oatley impresses straight away and is perfect for an unexpected date (!); the Rioja can wait and is still there getting better when you come back to it.

Interesting analogy, I thought.

So we toasted our date with the Oatley and I steered the conversation onto other topics.

Rioja is a classic wine, defined by its oaking and production method - a legacy of the Phylloxera crisis sending the Bordelais south across the Pyrenees.

Ripe, oaky and fresh, what's not to like?

CVNE Reserva 2012 (£15.40, Majestic, Waitrose, Wine Rack, independents) bramble, cherry and raspberry fruit with complex oaky, peppery vanilla spice and caramel-butterscotch; fresh, supple and long with fine tannins. Good.

Match with plain roast red meat, especially darker game.

I often struggle with New World Cab - blackcurranty and mono-dimensional, they are too often overly simplistic for me; however, I have never struggled with Western Australia's elegant and Old World-style wines.

Robert Oatley Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 (£13.60, Co-op, CWM, independents) ripe blackcurranty and dark berry fruit, herbs and spice with freshness and savoury underpinnings; supple, with fine tannins, long and persistent. Good.

 Match with venison steak or arrabiata.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Vinita UK Launch

The UK launch of Vinita, a network of five wineries from all over Italy

One of the things I have learnt from working in advertising is to keep things as simple as possible.

The Italians? Well, let's say that simplicity not always high on their list of priorities. Complication is a way of life - it has its own logic and gives you something to talk about, to discuss argue and agree over.
The social rituals of discussing, comparing and considering provide us with a shared experience that binds us together.
A purist oenophile would say it's all about the quality of the wine - a marketer would say the exact opposite. And both would be right in their own way.

My confirmation email for this tasting had no details (y'know, like the date or location) whatsoever. The PR agency did email me the night before - but it went into my junk.

But like the best parties, it all came right in the end.

There were few if any wines here that would cause me to grumble if placed on a dinner table in front of me with a plate of salami, olives and cheese.

There were some I would go out of my way to try again.

Tasting swiftly through several dozen wines in my lunchtime I felt, as I often do at Italian tastings, utterly out of place - my focus and sense of purpose jarred against the dolce vita atmosphere of the Latin crowd.
The wines here were mostly from northern Italy, mostly traditional appellations. Impressions are by winery except where particular wines stood out.

Cantina Bassoli, Emilia Romagna fresh, pure, precise elegant sparklers; very food-friendly, most Good, all very enjoyable.
Villa Caplet, Valpolicella fresh, precise, textured whites; elegantly fruited reds of increasing concentration up to Recioto level
La Campagnina, Tuscany textbook Chiantis, differentiated only by a description of the label (in Italian). I can't really remember the difference between the Ovale Bianca (white label) and the Piazza Firenze (picture of Florence).

Federico II feral aromas, cherry fruit and spice. Long, fresh and supple.
Imperatore spicy and cherry-fruited, elegant and mineral; long, fresh and supple.
La Peschiera, Tuscany fresh elegant whites and reds. Noteworthy Chianti.
Chianti Riserva plump, complex and supple; cherry fruited with spice. Very Good.

Demaria Bartolomeo, Piemonte lovely, expressive whites; adept, supple reds with trademark fine-yet-firm tannins.

Il Falco pure and focused with spice, cherry fruit; supple and plump. Very Good. Barolo aromatic and floral with cherry fruit and spice, fine tannins. Very Good.
Fossato, wines from various classic regions good, well-made, textbook crowd-pleasers