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Wednesday, 26 April 2017

The Ned London - Pre-Launch Night

The pre-launch night at The Ned in London

Housed in the historic, vast and opulent Lutyens building opposite the bank of England, The Ned will open in spring 2017.

I was invited along to a pre-pre opening night.

The back story - recounted by my guide as we spent five minutes walking from the entrance on Princes Street to Millie's Restaurant via the cloakroom in a underground marble vault with a giant, walk-in safe that looks like something out of a Batman heist scene - is fascinating.
A former Midland Bank, then owned by HSBC, it is Grade 1 listed, but stood empty for 10 years - it is now eight restaurants, an 11-floor hotel and a spa complex. In Bank (as in, the district of London).

This last bit is the thing that does not make sense - a vast building, well-staffed in an expensive location where people do not traditionally do long lunches or see as a venue for the evening; perhaps owners Soho House have spotted a first-mover opportunity here that is not immediately apparent.
My verdict: Scores well for scale (11 floors, 8 restaurants), food and staff friendliness.

Scores less so for quality of the wines (after the blowsy Californian Pinot, I asked for a sherry; they said how about a blend of vermouths?).
If there's nothing wrong with the sprawling Ned (other than perhaps a passing resemblance to a shopping mall food court), it doesn't feel like there's too much right with it either

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Iberian Afternoon Tea

Iberian afternoon tea with friends - and tapas from Que Rico Tapas

Iberia may just be one of the most complex, vibrant and dynamic wine regions in the world - both countries on the Iberian peninsula have moved beyond their staple classics of port, sherry and Rioja and are busily, dizzily reinventing themselves in all directions.

The usual format: bring two wines to be served blind or disclosed, with some food.

Que Rico Tapas is run by Estefania Led Ramos who provides various catering options - we chose to collect some pre-cooked take away tapas to share:
- Spanish omelette
- Piquillo peppers
- Meatballs
- Croquetas
- Manchego cheese with figs and nuts
We started with a wine that was Iberian only in a politico-historic sense - Spain was once part of the Austrian empire, absorbing its ornate flamboyance and courtly rituals. From there it was much more conventional.
Domaines Kilger Blauer Wildbacher Brut 2015, Weststeiermark Austria (T, blind) an elegant and well-structured, fresh pink fizz; delicate red berry fruit with a mineral backbone. No autolytic character, likely tank fermented. Very popular aperitif.

Contino Rioja Blanco 2012 (J, disclosed) old school white (deep yellow) Rioja with lots of oak, ripe melon and pineapple fruits and substance. Good.

Ardiles, Priorat 2014 (J, disclosed) hefty 15%+ Grenache beast with ripe dark fruits kept in check by fresh acidity; Rhone clone. Good

Chryseia, Douro 2005 (G, blind) lots of everything, bramble fruits, sweet American oak and some age, with a fleshy, supple structure - I guessed a Rioja but the trainee MW spotted some porty character and said Portugal. From the Symington Family portfolio, it has their characteristic aristocratic elegance.


Pintia, Toro 2008 (G, blind) pure, fresh and intense; vibrant and youthful, despite its age with dark fruits and very fine tannins. Very impressive and reminiscent of Vega Sicilia; turned out to be one of their "lesser" wines. My wine of the night. Very Good.

Grahams Reserve Tawny NV (T, disclosed) classic and very typical blended tawny to finish. No surprises here, just a lovely tawny port.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Villa Maria Private Bin Lighter Sauvignon Blanc 2015

A lower-alcohol Sauvignon from Kiwi producer Villa Maria

Lower alcohol wines are a bit like de-caf; or, perhaps more accurately, filter rather than espresso.

Either way, for many wine enthusiasts concentration, substance and intensity are the sine qua non of great wine. Yet importers Hatch Mansfield report that they get more consumer inquiries for stockists of this wine than for almost anything else

So, if you must have a lower alcohol wine, then this Villa Maria Sauvignon is perfectly fine. Lighter in alcohol; full flavour? Yes, absolutely. For those that want that sort of thing.

Villa Maria Private Bin Lighter Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (£11.25, independents) aromatic Sauvignon with all the usual kiwi hallmarks - cut grass, lemongrass and nettles. Pure, refreshing and mineral with zippy lime, the lower alcohol makes this an easy quaffer, rather than anything more contemplative.

Sip in the garden on a warm day, or have a glass as an aperitif - it does not really stand up to food.

Stockists are:

- Vino Wines
- Fountainhall Wines
- Islington Wine
- Amazon
- The New Zealand House of Wine

Friday, 14 April 2017

Domaines Kilger

Two elegant Austrian wines from Styria's Domaines Kilger

Established in 2015 by Munich businessman Hans Kilger and veteran Styrian winemaker Christian Reiterer, Domaines Kilger produce three wines based on Sauvignon and Blauer Wildbacher.

For the uninitiated, Styria is a bucolic region of woods, grassy meadows and pastures with fruit and wine gardens in southern Austria; the vines grow on steep slopes and the climate is mildly influenced by the Mediterranean.

Styria has three distinct sub-regions:

- East Styria's volcanic soils give powerful and profound wines
- Southern Styrian gives fruitfulness
- Western Styria is characterized by spice and cool charm.

Styrian Sauvignon is familiar enough to anyone who knows this part of Austria; Blauer Wildbacher, however, is specific to the region.

These two wines are elegant and fresh, yet rounded and substantial.

Kranachberg Sauvignon Blanc 2015 Südsteiermark New World lemongrass aromatics with ripe tropical fruits with Old World substance, white pepper florality and leesy-mineral underpinnings; classy, elegant and substantial.

Very Good.

Rosé Reserve 2015 Weststeiermark elegant, substantial pink with alpine strawberries, redcurrants dried herbs and oatmealy-leesy minerality.


Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Languedoc's Domaine Gayda

Four ripe, adept wines from Languedoc's Domaine Gayda

Domaine Gayda is a Languedoc winery based in the foothills of the Pyrenees, producing several range of wines under different labels; I have tried a number over the years and always been impressed. 
Viognier 2016 zippy lime-marmalade, florality and white pepper; substantial with melon fruit, minerality and good underpinnings.


Figure Libre Freestyle Vin Blanc 2015 citrussy pineapple and melon frui with sweet spices; good underpinnings; waxy yet fresh, rich and warming.


Figure Libre Freestyle Vin Rouge 2015 Rhone-esque fresh, ripe dark fruits, pencil shavings, tobacco leaf and spice; supple, plump and mineral with good underpinnings.


Figure Libre Cabernet Franc 2015 lifted plum, black cherry and raspberry fruit, leathery-earthy mushrooms, tobacco leaf and spice; fresh and supple with an inky texture.

Very Good.

Stockists: Harper Wells, Oxford Wine, Cambridge Wine Merchants 

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Judean Hills Tasting

Notes from the Judean Hills Quartet tasting

Israeli wine has, at best, no perceptible brand awareness. And yet the quality of the wines from this quartet of producers all based in the Judean Hills just outside Jerusalem was very high indeed.

These are classic, European-style, food-friendly wines that deliver finesse more than power - sophisticated and complex, they have an international pedigree but a local accent.

The Judean Hills have everything you could want for winemaking - Mediterranean climate, shallow terra rossa over poor-quality limestone or dolomite soils and high altitude. The only challenge is excess sun exposure and heat which is managed through maintaining a leaf canopy.

This region also has vintage variation and in a good year like 2015 when everything comes together, the results are spectacular.

The quality is reflected in the prices; £30+ for most, and more for the "C" Blanc. Like other emerging areas, prices are high at the bottom due to small quantities but low at the top due to lack of brand awareness.
The Whites

Tzora Vineyards Shoresh Blanc 2015 (100% Sauvignon Blanc) aromatic and leesy, pure and elegant; Bordelais in style. Substantial with good underpinnings; long, deft, textured and linear. Very Good.

Sphera White Concepts - Riesling 2015 aromatic and floral with honeysuckle and beeswax; ripe fresh yellow stone fruit, candied pineapple pieces and lime zest. Mosel-esque but with more warmth. Long and substantial, pure and deft. Very Good.

Sphera White Signature 2015 (100% Chardonnay) fresh and elegant, delicately oaked with good underpinnings. Flinty and mineral; tight yet harmonious. Very Good.
"C" Blanc du Castel 2014 (100% Chardonnay) textured and substantial Burgundian Chardonnay; ripe melon and baked apple fruit with substantial, creamy-nutty-oatmealy underpinnings. Substantial and fresh. Very Good Indeed.
The Reds
Flam Classico 2014 (Bordeaux blend plus Syrah) lifted and floral with dried green herbs, sweet spices and fresh, juicy cherries and bramble fruit; long with fine tannins and a mineral backbone. Deft and elegant. Very Good.

Castel Grand Vin 2014 (Bordeaux blend) focused and intense nose, muscular and precise with spices, black-cherry and dark berry fruit; Pure, precise, linear and mineral with very fine tannins. Complex, muscular and athletic. Very Good Indeed.

Tzora Vineyards Misty Hills 2013 (CS, Syrah) lifted and aromatic with ripe dark fruits, cool mint, minerality and peppery spice; supple and full with an inky texture. Fresh, elegant and drinkable with a balanced harmoniousness.

Flam Superiore 2006 (Syrah, CS) complex mature Medoc-esque nose of bell pepper, rosehip, old leather and spice cupboard leading to raspberry and tobacco leaf with ripe dark berries, spice and liquorice. Supple, harmonious and fresh with good underpinnings.

Drinking very nicely now, this is just at its peak.

Castel Grand Vin 2008 (Bordeaux blend) ripe bramble fruit and spice; vibrant and youthful, it is just ready; harmonious and fresh with fine tannins and just a hint of bell pepper and rosehip aromas coming through. Very Good.

Monday, 3 April 2017

Italy's San Marzano - Puglia

Four wines from Italy's San Marzano, based in Puglia

Established in 1962 by 19 local winemakers, Cantine San Marzano is now a co-operative of over 1000 small growers specialising in the local Primitivo grape, but also producing whites.

Big, bold and expressive yet well-made and classy, these are easy-to-enjoy wines with a southern warmth.

Verdeca 2016 (100% Verdeca) tropical citrus and kiwi with sweet spices. Ripe and pleasing with a fresh salinity.

Salento Bianco Edda 2015 (80% Chardonnay, 15% Moscatello Selvatico, 5% Fiano) ripe yellow stone fruit and melon with aromatic beeswax, heady honeysuckle blossom and white pepper spice; full, waxy and substantial.


Primitivo Rosé Salento 2015 - Tramari ripe, soft red-berry fruit, creaminess and spices. Very-enjoyable food rosé.

Primitivo di Manduria Riserva 2013 Anniversario 62 Sun-baked, spicy southern Italian red with sweet, ripe stewed prune and juicy black cherry fruit with tobacco leaf, spice and fresh, mineral backbone. Supple and substantial yet elegant.


Sunday, 2 April 2017

An Evening With Barone Ricasoli

A tasting of Ricasoli wines with Barone Francesco Ricasoli

Meeting the Baron

An elegant and charismatic man who makes elegant and impressive wines, Baron Francesco Ricasoli talked over dinner about the challenges not just of vintage and climate, but also deer and wild boar in the vineyard as well as Italian bureaucracy.

Dismissive of the natural wine movement, he wants to make the best wines he can that will stand the test of time, not be the dog that barks at every passing car.

What most impressed me, however, was his sense of team work at the winery - more important than his own strong opinions, he encourages all of his team to think, learn and explore ideas and challenge existing norms.

For the Baron, the team's role is not simply to carry out their jobs but beyond that to learn from outside influences, challenge assumptions and come up with new ideas.
A bit of history
One of the most established producers from the Chianti region, the Ricasoli family has been associated with winemaking in the since 1141.

Italy’s oldest wine estate, and now the largest in Chianti, it was Francesco's ancestor Bettino Ricasoli who created the classic Chianti blend in the 1870s.
The wines 
To start
2015 Torricella Chardonnay fresh, elegant, deft and harmonious in a tight, pure unoaked style. Good.

Flight #1
A pair of super-Tuscans 

2013 Casalferro (Merlot) very fresh with varietal coffee grounds and cherries, spice and fine tannins. Merlot with a Tuscan accent. Very Good.

2006 Casalferro (Sangiovese, Merlot) fresh and youthful, still primary with plums, tobacco leather and liquorice; elegant, pure and harmonious. Very Good.

Flight #2
A trio of Chiantis from different vintages - all showed fresh, pure cherry fruit with  fine tannins and leatheriness. Here the 2008 stood out as the best. 

2013 Castello Di Brolio Chianti Classico Gran Selezione fuller, plumper, more youthful. Very Good.
2008 Castello Di Brolio Chianti Classico fresh and primary, very adept and balanced. Very Good Indeed.
2003 Castello Di Brolio Chianti Classico the beginnings of some rosehip and aged character. Very Good.

Flight #3

A duo this time; both were plump and supple, fresh and elegant with cherry, plum and rapsberry fruit.

2013 Colledila Gran Selezione lovely fruit, fine tannins and great length. Very Good.
2010 Colledila full and plump. Very Good Indeed.

Flight #4
2007 Castello Di Brolio Vin Santo fresh and floral with beeswaxy honeysuckle; toffee, butterscotch and dried apricots, sweet spices, leather and freshness. Very delicious. Very Good.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Olivier Dauga's Ukraine and Bordeaux Tasting

Notes from Olivier Dauga's Kolonist and Rollan de By tasting

The Ukrainian wines at this tasting were the more interesting but less technically adept; the Bordeaux wines showed flawless typicity and precisely reflected the conditions of their vintage.

Kolinist was founded around 15 years ago and is located on the Romanian border; Rollan de By is a modern Médoc estate that has expanded since 1989 to 70 hectares.
Bisser Sparkling NV (100% Chardonnay) significant bottle variation, but the better of the two showed fresh elegance with yeasty brioche

Sukholymanske white 2015 (100% Sukholymanske) fresh and light with green apple and a Jura-esque florality-nuttiness

Cabernet Merlot 2011 ripe and supple with dried green herbs, bramble and cherries; light and fresh

Cabernet Merlot 2012 soft, supple and elegant with good bramble fruit and dried herbs

Cabernet Merlot 2015 in magnum and from a better year, this has a little more oomph

Odesa Black 2015 (Cab, Alicante Bouschet) ripe bramble and berry fruits, dried herbs; fresh supple and spicy - big and full but balanced
Riesling 2015 full and fresh with ripe yellow stone fruit, spiciness and minerality; slightly off-dry

Domaines Rollan de By
Ch Haut Condissas 1999 dried fruits, dried bell peppers and rosehips with a muscular mineral core; long, substantial and supple but tiring. Drink up now. Good.

Ch Haut Condissas 2010 expressive, vibrant and fresh with bramble fruit, dried green herbs and mintiness. Wonderful wine from a wonderful vintage. Very Good.

Ch Haut Condissas 2014 sits somewhere between the light 2012 and the substance of the 2010; Good.

Ch Greysac 2012 light, fine and elegant with bramble fruit and mint; can't hide the inherent weakness of its vintage