Sunday, 29 November 2020
Tuesday, 24 November 2020
Just occasionally, the opposite proves true and you find a wine that is technically well-made, without rough edges and not too much of anything.
Unfortunately, what gets lost with the bathwater of over-extraction here is the baby of personality. What's there with this wine is pleasant enough, it's just it is lacking in fruit expression and - ironically, any noticeable amarone character (the richness that comes from using partially dried grapes in the fermentation).
Interestingly, there is quite a bit of behavioural nudging going on with the packaging - the bottle is heavy, the label sophisticated and there's that paper DOCG tag which coneys an artisan feel.
Picking up the bottle and pouring it in the glass unthinkingly, I found myself (with hindsight) primed to expect something superior; when the first couple of sips were underwhelming, I instinctively wondered if I was missing something and thought "I need to pay a bit more attention to this, there must be more to it".
In practice I wasn't missing anything. There was nothing more to it and it is just another mediocre wine.
La Tirela Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2014 (Laithwaites) dark fruited with cherries and plums; harmonious, supple and moderately substantial with little if any amarone character.
Rosé has been increasing in popularity for a long time now and it's not difficult to see why; it combines the freshness of a white with a bit of red-wine texture, giving it the flexibility to be an aperitif or versatile food wine.
In stylistic terms, rosé can be seen as kiwi Sauvignon's more-attractive sibling; prettier in pink, it often has Sauvignon's aromatic zip with a bit of skin-contact tannic buzz.
A good rosé will combine substance and style, being both instagrammable and enjoyable to consume. These two meet the brief perfectly and will work well with a range of autumnal and even wintry foods - think prawn risotto, smoked salmon with scrambled eggs for Christmas breakfast, or Boxing Day cold cuts.
Sunday, 22 November 2020
Yalumba Organic Sauvignon Blanc, 2019 (The Co-op, £10) organically grown grapes from the Carypidis Family vineyard located in Virginia, on the outskirts of Adelaide.
Tuesday, 17 November 2020
Friday, 13 November 2020
Covering the northern half of the central Spanish plain known as the ‘meseta’, Castilla y León is among the most diverse wine regions of the country, encompassing 9 DOs, the most famous of which are red-wine areas - Ribera del Duero and Toro.
Thursday, 12 November 2020
Rioja's character comes largely from aging in oak, a technique learned by the Spanish from the winemakers of Bordeaux in the nineteenth century. It is traditionally aged in new American oak, which gives it a pronounced flavour of sweet vanilla (as compared to other oaks, such as French or Slavonian).
Monday, 9 November 2020
A virtual visit to Prosecco country in North East Italy
I've long held that wine really only makes sense in context. In Europe, at least, wines are more than merely a beverage; they are part of a centuries-old cultural heritage that includes geography and geology, of course, but also climate, agriculture, gastronomy, geopolitics and national - or regional - character.
To understand Prosecco, then, we need to take a deeper dive into the region and focus on the less-homogenous areas that provide all the nuance and subtle differences.
Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG
First of all, the what? where? and when?
Conegliano and Valdobbiadene are two towns in Prosecco country, located between Venice on the Adriatic and the Dolomites.
Conegliano is the cultural capital and was awarded UNESCO status in 2019; Valdobbiadene is the production centre.
Winemaking here dates back to Roman times, but for our purposes, it starts in 1876 with the founding of Italy’s first School of Viticulture and Oenology.
The area is hilly, green and varied with winemaking on a small scale; average holdings are just 2.5 hectares of mostly Glera vines. Other permitted varieties can make up to 15% of a blend and include Verdiso (an ancient variety providing acidity and longevity) as well as Chardonnay, Pinot gris and Pinot blanc.
Conegliano Valdobbiadene sits at the top of the quality pyramid for Prosecco; it achieved DOC status in 1969 and was elevated to DOCG in 2009 and is itself further sub-divided into Cartizze and 43 rive.
Three factors distinguish the area of Conegliano Valdobbiadene:
- the territory; the high-altitude "hogback" hills of the region make for nuanced differences between plots
- its history of making sparkling wines
- the human factor and Italian methods of viticulture and viniculture
The production method of Prosecco retains freshness and preserves the varietal characteristics of the grapes, resulting in a floral and fruited wine.
Fermentation usually takes around 30 days (with 60 - 90 days' lees aging) using the Martinotti method of in-tank fermentation brought to this region from north west Italy where it was used to make Moscato d'Asti.
Where in-bottle fermentation gives more structure and complexity, tank fermentation retains primary aromas, freshness and grape characteristics.
The hills of Conegliano Valdobbiadene lie in distinctive East-West hogback rows between the sea and the alpine foothills; they are steep and south-facing at an altitude of between 50m and 500m with vines retained for as long as possible before replacement - at least 20 years and sometimes up to 50 or 70.
All these factors lead to better grapes - the high rainfall and good drainage suit Glera, the southern aspect provides exposure to the sun and breezes provide dryness and prevent pests. Steep slopes mean hand-harvesting and, with so much greenness, cows provide much of the organic fertilisation.
The landscape here is made up of a patchwork in a highly fragmented and interconnected configuration characterized by numerous small vineyard plots, interspersed with wooded areas and unproductive elements, making up an effective ecological network.
Geology: soil types, Cartizze and the Rive
There are five different soil types in Conegliano Valdobbiadene:
- morenic in the east, giving roundness and persistence with more ripe fruits and spices
- feletti to the south, an ancient clay that gives ripe fruits and richness
- conglomerate, making up 60% - 70% of the hills giving fruity florality, intensity and citrus
- glacial, originally from the Dolomites, giving elegance and florality
- marly soils around Valdobbiadene; clay soils with no stones that retain moisture with steep slopes for drainage giving soft, delicate wines with fruity, floral and balsamic aromas
Of all areas, the tiny "Golden Pentagon" of Cartizze is the most famous and prestigious; it produces low volumes from old vines with high quality. A narrower temperature range over the growing season makes for more even ripening with highly aromatic wines of ripe pear, stone fruit and florality.
A new designation are the 43 "rive" (ree-vay). If Cartizze is the Grand Cru at the very apex, then the rive are the next-level Cru vineyards; the oldest areas with the highest quality, low production and historic traditions.
The UNESCO protection of the area recognised three factors:
- morphology; the East-West orientation of the hogback hills with southern slopes exposed to the sun for viticulture and the north-facing slopes given over to woodland
- ciglioni; these are terraces held up not by stone walls but grassy soils
- patchworks; small vineyard vineyard plots are intertwined with woodlands and meadows to create a varied and harmonious local eco-environment
Wine is fundamentally a mere sub-set of local gastronomy; to understand the wine, you need to start with the gastronomy. To understand the gastronomy, you need to understand the agriculture and local character.
A region of ancient woods and green valleys with mediaeval castles and fortresses, Conegliano Valdobbiadene has a tradition of fresh, simple foods with zero-miles markets and cichetti, simple mouthfuls of food to be consumed with the local wine in the same way as tapas or pintxos.
There is no olive oil production here and the climate is too damp for air-drying ham, so lardo (pork fat) is used for cooking and slices of garlic preserve the local salamis.
Rivers flowing down from the mountains provide trout and eels, with (unsalted) sun-dried cod landed on the coast near Venice; the hills provide game such as venison, duck and goose as well as mushrooms.
Vegetables are aromatic - chicory, endive asparagus and radicchio di Treviso - herbs are used widely and polenta or potatoes are the staple as well as rice for risotto.
The styles of Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG are based on levels of residual sugar, i.e. sweetness. Traditional styles are:
- Dry, which can have a distinctly sweet 32g/l residual sugar
- Extra Dry, the most popular style which still goes up to a sweetish 17 g/l
- Brut, for between 6 g/l and 12g/l
Two more recently introduced styles are:
- Extra Brut for properly dry wines of between 0g/l and 6g/l; these require full ripeness of fruit to remain balanced and when done well are more contemporary and refreshingly food friendly.
- Sui Lieviti, a méthode ancestrale technique where the wine is left to continue fermenting in bottle, resulting in a fully dry style with plenty of lees flavour - and also a sediment.
Sunday, 8 November 2020
Five Bordeaux wines for Christmas
Saturday, 7 November 2020
The casual sherry enthusiast will know that the key constituents of sherry are:
- the Palomino grape
- Andalusia's chalky-spongy Albariza soil, and
- flor, a local fungus which feeds on the base wine, drying it out and leaving a distinctive tang.
Add to this the solera method of blending wines both to refresh the flor and achieve consistency, plus the distinction between biological and oxidative aging and you have pretty much all the basics covered.
For more on this, read about The Great Sherry Tasting.
Tim Holt of Barbadillo covered all these topics whilst also giving a deeper dive into his company's terroir, production methods and what distinguishes them from other producers.
Barbadillo are a 7th-generation family company and the world’s leading Manzanilla producer with 500ha of vineyard in Jerez Superior, and 15 Bodegas across Sanlucar de Barrameda collectively containing 30,000 sherry butts.
The company is based around San Lucar, where the Guadalquivir river meets the Atlantic Ocean; its vineyards are located inland where the climate is drier and there are fewer vineyard pests, meaning higher quality fruit.
Another difference is the production method of the base wine: the grapes are pressed whole-bunch with stems included to allow free-run juice to be collected and to oxygenate the must. It is centrifuged for clarity prior to fermentation at a lower temperature with cultivated local yeasts and no added sulphur.
All of this results in a superior base wine with an alcohol level of between 11% and 13%; but this is only the start of the process of creating a Manzanilla.
As Tim explained, flor is very delicate and needs just the right conditions to thrive; specifically cool, damp, fresh air. The flor grows thickest in one particular bodega located at the bend of the Guadalquivir, where the river is narrowest and the breezes blow cool, damp air into windows cut into the side of the bodega facing the sea.
The company has 16 bodegas and each sherry butt is moved to a specific bodega at different points during its aging process.
The design of the bodega is equally important to the development of the flor with a high roof and the barrels stored only three-high as further up the air becomes too warm and dry (pro-tip: finos can be stacked up to five-high as they have less flor influence)
Thursday, 5 November 2020
Two wines from California's Bonterra - via Waitrose
Bonterra is a quintessential Californian winery - think squeaky-clean, organic varietal wines from international grapes with plenty of Californian sunshine.
These two bottles are from Mendocino County in the north of the state; it is large, diverse region and a leading area for organic winemaking where the main grapes are Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.
California's key stylistic "tell" is typically ripeness and alcohol; the wines just can't help being bigger, often oakier and certainly more fruit-forward than Bordeaux and Burgundy.
But there is an increasing trend in California to dial down the heft, finding cooler sites and making wines with the freshness to match Bresse chicken, say, rather than burger and fries; European structure with New World fruit.
The Chardonnay is fermented in a mixture of old oak for complexity, stainless steel for freshness and 15% new oak for subtle toasty spiciness.
The Cabernet Sauvignon includes Petite Sirah, Merlot and Syrah in the blend and is fermented in stainless steel (to preserve the fruit), with 12 months' aging in oak for complexity (and 40% new oak for spiciness).
Of these two wines, I rather prefer the white, for a number of reasons: oaky Chardonnay is somewhat out of fashion these days and I like it; it's expressive and engaging, almost in the manner of a kiwi Sauvignon with its ripe tropical fruits, substance and structure.
However, if the Chardonnay can't help announcing its presence, the Cabernet seems to be trying a bit too hard to disappear, or at least avoid upsetting the other guests - it's big but well-groomed and plays everything very safe with lots of pleasing fruit, hiding its more assertive side.
Bonterra Estate Collection Chardonnay, Mendocino, 2019 (£15, Waitrose) floral, toasty nose leading to ripe lemon curd, topical citrus, baked apple, ripe pears and creamy-oatmealy, buttery, spicy oak; complex, fresh and linear, long and well-structured.
Still young and sealed under screwcap, improves with aeration and will repay some cellaring.
Match with white meats or mushrooms with cream and pasta.
Bonterra Estate Collection Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendocino, 2018 (£15, Waitrose) baked red and black fruits, coffee grounds, oaky spice, some leather and tobacco with gentle, well-integrated tannins. Dense and concentrated with a warming finish; could be fresher.
Match with slow-cooked beef casserole - or burgers.
Sunday, 1 November 2020
Burgundian Pinots Noirs
Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the great Burgundian grapes; but while Chardonnay has gone around the world to runaway success in most wine-producing countries, Pinot's rise has been slower.
Unlike Chardonnay, Pinot is a difficult grape to grow, prone to mutation and thrives only in relatively cool conditions; it needs latitude, altitude, maritime coolness - or all three.
Burgundian Pinot is rarely an inexpensive wine; it tends to be somewhere between pricey and hair-raising - and it isn't even always that great. If you like Pinot but don't want to spend a fortune, or just want to see what the fuss is all about, more-affordable and more-reliable versions are starting to appear in other parts of the world.
While Burgundian-style Pinots often command Burgundian prices, countries like Chile prove that reliable, affordable Pinot is possible.
The second Pinot here is French, but not a Burgundy. Rather it is from Provence, an area much more associated with rosé. The Valmoissine Estate vineyards are made up of 120 hectares spread over four communes at an altitude of 500m giving a longer, more Burgundian growing season with warm sunny days during the summer months but cooler temperatures at night.
Cono Sur Bicicleta Pinot Noir, Chile (£8, The Co-op) Burgundian nose of red fruits and farmyard; overripe, slightly cooked soft red fruits, spice and some dark green herbs. Well-made and easy-drinking with a silky texture.
Thoroughly pleasant. Good Value.
It has a Decanter silver medal.
Match with autumnal Burgundian foods, such as truffles, mushrooms, duck in blackberry sauce. Later in the year, think of Christmas ham or turkey, grilled red meats such as lamb or a fish alternative of salmon.
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