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Wednesday, 27 May 2020

The CWB Pinot-Off: Burgundy vs California

Two Pinots: Burgundy vs California

Domaine Ragot, "Teppe des Cheneves" Rouge, Givry
Talbot Kali Hart Pinot Noir, Monterey

I've said it before, I'm a bit "meh" about Pinot; I like it well enough, but I never quite see what the fuss is about. Low tannins, medium-high acidity and high-to-stratospheric prices don't do it for me, it seems.

Wine enthusiasts often talk about getting "bitten by the Pinot bug", so with Cambridge Wine Merchants selling off various mature Burgundies at below-market prices, I decided to have another go at trying to acquire an expensive habit.

Givry is a village in the Côte Chalonnaise; reliable and affordable, it makes good-value wines that tend to be lighter and ready to drink at a younger age; the peak is between 5 and 12 years from vintage.

Kali Hart is a blend (across two different vineyards) from the Santa Lucia Highlands, one of California's cooler regions.

Both wines are equally well-made and cost about the same; the New Worlder is bigger and more fruited, an easier drinker and perhaps a better introduction to Pinot for anyone who is used to younger, riper, more fruit-forward wines.

The Burgundy is more savoury and, given its age, more complex; less immediately obvious, it is a more cerebral proposition.

Domaine Ragot, "Teppe des Cheneves" Rouge, Givry, 2013 (£17.99, Cambridge Wine Merchants) cherry, redcurrant and raspberry fruit with some evolved complexity; delicate, gentle and very well-made.

Improves with some aeration.


Talbot Kali Hart Pinot Noir, Monterey, 2017 (£23 - £25, Majestic) red fruits, boysenberry and spice; warming with ripe fruits and balanced freshness. Gentle extraction and very deft.


Saturday, 23 May 2020

Domaine Haut Gléon, Vallée Du Paradis

A taut, linear, structured Languedoc rosé from Fonacalieu

I asked #1 child for her opinion of the bottle: she liked its non-conformist "stocky, masculine profile" but disdained the "overly feminine frosting", which she associated with stilletoes and garish insta-face make-up.

Applying myself to the contents, I found I appreciated the focused, linear acidity and the texture. This is a structured rosé for those who like sherry, Gruener and Assyrtiko.

Domaine Haut Gléon, Vallée Du Paradis, 2019 aromas of lime, honeysuckle, mint and rubbed sage with citrussy, grapefruit freshness; taut, linear acidity with redcurrant fruit and saline minerality; very focused, textured and precise.


Match with Mediterranean starters: bread with olive oil. anchovies and tapenade.

Monday, 18 May 2020

Zoom Party Two

Two more wines for a zoom lockdown tasting - Cambridge Wine Merchants and Hourlier Wines

Another week, another zoom wine tasting with friends and neighbours. We followed the same formula as previously, crisp white and big red.

Colombard is a Gascon grape from south west France; historically made into Armagnac, it has very high acidity and here is blended with 25% Sauvignon.

Cambridge Wine Merchants' "vin rouge" is a southern Rhône made by Roger Sabon, based in Chateauneuf du Pape. At 15%, it's something of a Beast, but not jammy and there is plenty of understated grip. Tasted straight from the bottle, it is does not yet feel harmonious; it improves with air, however, and only after almost a week does it start to show its best.

Horgelus Colombard-Sauvignon, Cotes de Gascongne (£7.50, Hourlier) herbaceous, pungent and aromatic with lemongrass and white pepper; lychee, melon and limey grapefruit; mineral with piercing, linear acidity. Crisp, well-made and flawless.

Thoroughly enjoyable.

Dink as an aperitif or match with starters such as soused mackerel.

Cambridge Wine Merchants "vin rouge", 2019 (£10, CWM) undisclosed southern Rhône blend with 15% alcohol; floral with juicy dark-berry and black-cherry fruits and spice; warming and alcoholic but with enough freshness to keep it in check, supple with very fine tannins. Excellent winemaking from very ripe fruit.

Will repay cellaring; benefits from extensive aeration or failing that, a light chilling.

Thoroughly enjoyable on opening to Good with aeration.

Match with autumnal stews or barbecue foods.

Saturday, 16 May 2020

Gallo Fine Wine Virtual Tasting with Edouard Baijot

A tasting of Gallo's premium wines from California with Edouard Baijot

- I like them big, I like them plumpy (Plumpy)
Moto Moto, Madagascar: Escape to Africa (2008)

There's no getting away from it, California is a warm place, so the wines are inevitably bigger than classic European styles.

Warm-climate conditions give more fruit, substance and plumpness, so there's plenty to like as long the wines are also harmonious and balanced.

These Gallo Fine Wines wines are, rather like a former Governor of California, big, classy and crowd-pleasing.
The Talbott range was founded in 1972 by the owners of a fashion label who had spent time in France for work and fallen in love with Burgundy.

They now grow Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the Santa Lucia Highlands, one of California's cooler regions, producing Kali Hart (a blend) and the single-vineyard Sleepy Hollow. We finished with a distinctively packaged Zinfandel which at 15% is considered light by Cali standards.

Talbott Kali Hart Chardonnay, Monterey, 2015 (£23 - £25) tropical fruit, ripe apple and butterscotch tarte tatin flavours; rounded and spicy with a little judicious new oak. Concentrated and intense; textbook New World chardie from a good year.


For me, this wine is just ready for drinking now and will improve with further aging; Edouard noted, however, that traditional American palates prefer more primary fruit and less secondary savouriness, so would consider this already past its best.

Talbott Sleepy Hollow Chardonnay, Santa Lucia Highlands, 2016 (£36) more intensity and higher acidity than the Kali Hart; floral and vibrant, complex and structured with a mineral-saline finish.

Very Good, will age for 10 years+ from vintage.

Edouard described this as a Côte de Beaune-style Chardonnay with European austerity and elegance.

Talbot Kali Hart Pinot Noir, Monterey, 2017 (£23 - £25) red fruits, boysenberry and spice; warming with ripe fruits and balanced freshness. Gentle extraction and very deft.


Talbott Sleepy Hollow Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands, 2017 (£36) cherry and plum fruit, with some toasty oak, sweet spices and florality; structured and concentrated. At 14%, it feels big, warming and fruit-forward but not in a clumsy way.

Very Good.

Bear Flag Zinfandel 2017 (£25) mostly Zin with a dash of Petite Sirah with fruit from Dry Creek Valley and Sonoma Valley; ripe, jammy fruits with smoky-spicy toastiness and the impression of sweetness; juicy and fruit-forward with old vine concentration. A cowboy that wipes its feet before asking "Excuse me, ma'am, did I leave my boots under your bed?"


All the wines will be available in Wine Rack and / or Majestic from June 2020.

Edouard Baijot MW on redefining E&J Gallo’s super premium range: http://www.the-buyer.net/people/edouard-baijot-mw-on-how-ej-gallo-has-redefined-its-super-premium-wine-range/

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

Dereszla Tokaji Dry from Lidl

An elegant dry Tokaji selected by Richard Bampfield for Lidl's Wine Tour

Historically, all Tokaji was sweet dessert wine. It is only in this century that winemakers have started making dry Tokaji.

At a tasting of mainly dry Tokaji for #FurmintFebruary, I concluded that Furmint is Hungary's answer to Chardonnay (Chardonnay is one of its parents) and Tokaji its Burgundy; the wines are structured yet elegant and nuanced.

This Lidl Tokaji is from Dereszla, a winery founded in 1999 by a French family, and selected by a Master of Wine.

Dereszla Tokaji Dry by Lidl, 2018 (£7.99) acacia blossom, honeysuckle, yellow stone fruits; fresh, and poised with saline minerality; the elegance of a Burgundy at a fraction of the price.

Drinks beautifully straight out of the bottle, opens up with aeration and will improve with age.

Good and good value.

Richard scores this 89, the same as the Saint Emilion and one less than the Riesling-Scheurebe; clearly there's not much in it technically but this is my favourite of the three.

Sunday, 10 May 2020

The CWB MW Rosé-off

Comparing and contrasting French and Spanish rosés: Foncalieu Paradis Secret vs M&S Raso de la Cruz

Another Thursday under lockdown, another MW support session.

With the mercury rising, we tasted two rosés; France vs Spain.

It seems odd to define a wine by its colour, yet rosé is "rosé". It is not "Bordeaux" or "Syrah", even if it comes from Bordeaux or is made from Syrah.

Rosé is on a roll, increasing sales every year and often commanding a price premium. Pale pink is the most popular style and it is has created something of a boom-loop; higher sales at decent margins provide cashflow and allow for packaging innovations which make the category more vibrant and popular - especially for the Instagram generation who need a constant supply of attractive pictures to post.

With the acidity of a white wine and some of the tannins of a red, it is a versatile style that works well with a range of foods.

What's not to like?

Paradis Secret, Languedoc Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah; very pale and elegant with white stone fruits, citrus and some red-berry fruit; white pepper, florality, zippy lime and grapefruit.

Precise and linear with saline minerality.

Thoroughly enjoyable.

Raso de la Cruz, Spain (£7, M&S) darker and fuller with more red-berry fruit, less aromatic, elegant and harmonious.

Thoroughly enjoyable.

Drink either of these as garden sippers, picnic wines or with mixed starters.

Tuesday, 5 May 2020

Expert Club Saumur, Intermarché

A Loire red from Intermarché

My rule of thumb on family driving holidays in France is:

- drink local
- go for medal-winners
- spend around €5 - €7 on wines to drink now / in the next 12 months

Driving through the Loire en route back from the south, we stocked up on some local wines from Intermarché; it's a great way to get a general feel for a region without the need to invest too much time or money visiting individual chateaux or producers.

That sort of deep-dive can come later. When teenage children aren't around, for example.

Expert Club Saumur, 2018, (€5, Intermarché) herbaceous raspberry leaf, green pepper, pencil shavings and spice; red and black cherry fruit and soft red berries; mineral and precise; supple, fresh, and elegant.


Match with roast lamb, beef stew or salami.

Zoom Wine Tasting

A Zoom tasting with two wines from Cambridge Wine Merchants

There are a couple of ways to do virtual wine tasting: a) same grapes but different wines, or b) all the same wines.

Format a) works well for those who want to study grape variety characteristics for blind tasting; format b) works better where people want to compare and contrast the exact same wines.

For this Format b) tasting, I chose a Languedoc Picpoul and a Puglian Primitivo, both from Cambridge Wine Merchants.

First, a couple of wine facts:

- Picpoul is the grape, Pinet is the place (France normally does not include grape names in appellations); it comes in blanc, noir and gris versions and is little found outside Languedoc.

- Primitivo is the same grape as California's Zinfandel and originated in Croatia as Crljenak Kaštelanski / Tribidrag; it is thin-skinned, likes the heat and produces high-alcohol wines.

RC Picpoul de Pinet, 2018 (£10) produced by Sainte Croix, it is fresh and saline with orchard fruits, honeydew melon, white flowers and sweet spices.

Opens up with a bit of aeration.

Thoroughly pleasant.

Drink as an aperitif or match with seafood starters.

Vigneti del Salento, I Muri Primitivo, 2018 (£12) expressive ripe, dark fruits, concentrated if slightly jammy but finishes fresh with well-integrated, ripe tannins.

Thoroughly pleasant.

Match with roast beef or lamb.

Sunday, 3 May 2020

Sangiovese vs Corvina

More MW study assistance with two Italian varieties from Cambridge Wine Merchants

Another week, another MW study support session for a friend.

I've never quite gotten into Italy; I've had plenty of wines that I've enjoyed, but don't really feel that I understand the country properly.

From this blind-tasting study session, I learn that Chianti is Italy's largest sub-region by wine volume and that Valpolicella is next - both wines are high in acidity, so need to be matched with food. Both grapes require specific growing conditions so are little seen outside Italy.

Sangiovese, a Tuscan grape with lots of synonyms, is highly prone to mutation, up there with Pinot Noir for genetic variation.

Valpolicella, from Veneto in the north east, comes as:

- classico  (juicy, fresh)
amarone (concentrated - some of the grapes are air-dried for ripe intensity)
ripasso (re-uses the skins from amarone to give something in-between)

My Sangiovese is not a Chianti; it's a declassified Brunello di Montalcino labelled simply vino rosso. All the grapes could technically be labelled DOCG Brunello di Montalcino but not quite making the grade for the first wine, are blended across years (hence the NV). The off-cuts, if you will; this is a baby Brunello at a fraction of the price.

Sopra Sasso Valpolicella Ripasso 2015, Italy (£15) juicy, soft red-berry and red plum fruit with some ripasso richness, spice and a touch of old leather; fresh, linear acidity, supple texture with very fine, well-integrated tannins; long, concentrated and flawless.


Match with meaty pasta dishes or duck.

Rosso del Palazzone, vino rosso, NV, Italy (£15) red fruits, sour cherry, liquorice, spice and woodsy leatheriness; very fresh with firm but very fine tannins. Good structure, needs food.


Match with darker game.

Saturday, 2 May 2020

In Praise of Wine Scores and Wine Education: The CWB Lidl-Off

Two Lidl wines selected by MW Richard Bampfield

Being an analytical sort of person, I rather like wine scores; done properly, they provide a transparent currency for quality. A 91-pointer is better than an 89-er? File under No shit, Sherlock.

Of course, the reality is not quite as simple as that. As W. Edwards Deming observed, “without data you’re just another person with an opinion”. Since wine scoring has no objective, universally-agreed, independently-verifiable test for quality, wine scorers are inevitably trading in no more than (informed) personal opinions based around a normative standard.

Nic Rezzouk of Manchester's Reserve Wines makes the observation of scoring, "agreement is generally broad and uneven. Even with the pros."

So, there are scores and there are scores.

In an imperfect world, then, the most reliable approach is someone with a demonstrably flawless palate and a consistency of scorer (i.e. the same person scoring). In the case of Lidl's Wine Tour range, you get both; all the wines in the range are rated by a single person and that person is Master of Wine, Richard Bampfield.

Taken in isolation, scores (like any data) are meaningless - what does it mean for a wine to score, say, 88 points? It is only when looking at trends or making comparisons (with other wines or with other data points), that scores become meaningful.

There are at least three immediate uses for a reliable, consistent set of wine scores:

Transparent Quality Index

A wine with higher score is better than a wine with a lower score; if this sounds obvious, remember that most wines do not carry a score. Then, have a think about how you decide what to buy when faced with a "wall of wine" at a supermarket.

If only there were some way of easily comparing the quality of the bottle contents, eh?

Value For Money ratio

In an ideal world, the more you pay for something, the better it would be. The real world does not work like this, of course, and you can find a £5.99 90-pointer next to a £10.99 89-er.

A better wine that is cheaper than a less-good wine; how does that work?

This is where softer factors like personal preference and fashion come into play: the 90-point wine turns out to be a tricky-selling off-dry German Riesling blend, while the more-expensive-but-less-good £10.99 wine is a popular, premium-region Bordeaux.

Palate education

If you want to learn what factors make a wine good, taste high-scorers and compare against lower-scoring wines to identify quality differences.

Having tried both the Bordeaux (2016 and 2017 vintages) and the Riesling (2018), I expected the Bordeaux to be the better-rated wine, whereas Richard gives it one mark less. I felt it had good fruit, good underpinnings and was well-structured. By contrast, I found the Riesling technically very well-made, harmonious and balanced but perhaps a little unassuming.

I dropped a note to Richard asking him how he had arrived at his conclusions and what I was missing.

He replied that he had marked the St Emilion down a little for being a bit chunky, not the classiest oak integration and lacking finesse - plenty of flavour, some structure but not the finest.

By contrast, he had marked the Riesling-Scheurebe up for its purity of aroma, subtle reflections of both grapes, excellent acid/fruit balance and pure drinkability.

Educating Rita

This is not the first time I have found myself underappreciating the delicate finesse of a white and being unduly forgiving of chunky tannins. I love inexpensive, characterful regional French reds, but have rarely got excited about more delicate wines such  as Condrieu or red Burgundy.

This realisation gives me pause for thought.

One of the key themes of the Willy Russell play Educating Rita is the tension between education and authenticity; does education make you a better person, or just more of a conformist with a set of identikit notions?

To put it in wine appreciation terms, the more you educate your palate, the more wines you don't like.

As an instinctive non-conformist, I have eschewed formal wine education, avoided the classics (mostly) and sought out left-field wines from Austria, Hungary and Romania, as well as a few more unusual countries.

To what extent do I want to make an effort to be less impressed with something I thought was good whilst getting more excited about something I thought was OK but nothing special?

I still haven't decided.

Education is a little like the evolution of a wine with age; certain things are gained, and others are lost. So we need to weigh up for ourselves whether what is to be gained will be greater than what is lost before embarking on the journey.

I think the answer to the conundrum of why would you go out of your way to enjoy fewer wines is that wine enjoyment is not linear or fixed; the ability to enjoy a smaller number wines need not be worse than having no limits on your enjoyment.

Enjoyment is not a zero-sum game; a greater enjoyment of a smaller number of more expensive wines (the inevitable end result of wine education, I find) can be a more rewarding experience.