I wanted to go for something a little bit different for my choice this week, and by that I mean something I know very little about. For week 10 of #newwinethisweek I have decided to go with a grape variety that has homes in both the old world and the new world; this week’s grape is Tannat.
Historically, Tannat is grown in Gascony, South West France and is the principle grape in the red wines of Madiran AOC. But more recently the grape has been collecting plaudits for the wines produced in South America, particularly in Argentina and Uruguay. Yes, Uruguay!
Madiran, SW France
Tannat is the main grape variety in Madiran, which must make up 40-60% of the vineyard, although some of the top wines from the region are made from 100% Tannat… and that’s OK too… Only in France! The wines of Madiran are highly extracted, highly concentrated and highly tannic – these wines need a good few years to come into their own. I also read that Madiran wines are also known as the most healthy of red wines due to the high levels of procyanidins, which are said to be good for reducing blood pressure, lowering cholesterol and encouraging healthy blood clotting!
Les Tuguets Madiran 2010 (Tesco £11.99 – currently Half Price £5.99; I have issues with ½ price wine deals but will try!)
Chateau Bouscasse 2008 (Wine & the Vine £15.45)
Ode D’Aydie 2010 (The Wine Society £9.95)
Plantings of Tannat are growing in Argentina, after it found it’s way into the country over the border from Uruguay. Although it’s Malbec that gets all of the plaudits, I have read that the quality of the Tannat wines are going from strength to strength.
Michel Torino Estate El Esteco Tannat 2012, Calchaqui Valley (M&S £7.49)
Don David Reserve Tannat 2011, Cafayete (Wine & the Vine £10.95)
Tannat’s second home is Uruguay, where it is considered to be the national grape. The grape is also known as Harrigue in Uruguay after Pascal Harrigue, who first imported into the county back in 1870. Tannat produces softer, silkier wines than those of southern France; Uruguayan Tannat is produced for early drinking, unlike the vins du gard of Madiran.
Gran Bodegon 2009 (The Wine Society £21.00)
Mike will be along with some more recommendations at www.pleasebringmemywine.com very soon so keep a look out for those too!
Now all you have to do is pick up a bottle and tell us what you think by giving Tannat a score out of 10 and leaving your tasting notes in the comments section. Where will Tannat end up on the #newwinethisweek leaderboard?
Which is the best grape variety, what is the best wine region? These are the questions and conversations us wine geeks are always having; there are no right or wrong answers to either of these questions. Taste is a very personal thing; through our tastes we form our opinions and support our beliefs when someone else’s views differ from our own. This is the wonderful thing about wine. We all know this is true… but it doesn’t stop us vocalising, arguing, and scoring our favourite wines, grapes, vintages and regions.
This is why the Grape Debate is such a wonderful idea. In the first of a new series at West London Wine School earlier this week, the topic for the first debate was Pinot Noir. The debate was not about whether is it the best grape variety (it is, I don’t care what you think!) but about which country produces the best expression of the grape. Actually, scratch that, the debate was about which produces YOUR personal favourite expression!
This debate could go on for for days, even weeks, so a few rules were required. Three of the wine school’s educators would put forward the case for their chosen Pinot Noir producing country; the three countries chosen were France, New Zealand and Germany. I know that USA, Australia and many other countries are producing fine examples these days, and this was referenced, but these were the countries our participants chose as their personal favourites.
There was a poll at the beginning to determine the audience’s pre-conceptions, followed by 3 rounds of drink and debate, and a final vote. The 3 rounds were arranged by price point; round one under £12, round two £12-£25, round three £25-£50. Three hours, nine wines… let the battle, I mean debate, begin!
For the pre-vote, each member of the audience was asked to put the three nations in order; 1 point for first, 0 for second, -1 for third…
New Zealand +3
We were expecting France to trounce this! Unsurprisingly there was little favour for Germany, but in reality how much German Pinot Noir have we drunk? I can count my German Pinot experiences on one hand. The opening scores also represented my own voting card.
The time has come to introduce you to the evening’s protagonists…. Including Matt (@FineWineStorage), manager of the Wine Cellars where all the action took place, who hosted the event seamlessly and looked ever so uncomfortable in the suit that I’m sure he only bought for a court appearance!
Quentin Sadler (@quentinsadler) http://quentinsadler.wordpress.com unsurprisingly concentrated all of his efforts on Burgundy. His opening speech focused on how Burgundy is the ultimate expression of terroir and how the wine growers consider themselves to be farmers of the land, as opposed to wine makers. He described the wines of Burgundy as having a wonderful combination of austerity and flamboyance, stating how many of these wines are better when accompanied with food (an early excuse perhaps??). Burgundians are not making Pinot Noir, they are making red Burgundy, and it’s the differences between the plots only yards away from one another that makes Burgundy so special and scream about place, about terroir. It’s not me you have to convince Quentin!
Cherrie Agnew (@chatsagnew) is a very proud New Zealander, as her emotional opening statement proved it unequivocally. Cherrie spoke about the sunshine of Marlborough, how this led to thicker skins for a full and silky style of wine, and how the dramatic changes in temperature at night preserved the acidity. For Otago she answered the criticism that the Pinots are all fruit and no finesse by pointing out that this is changing now the vines are getting older. We should also realise that NZ has been making Pinot for a while, wining a gold medal in the Wine Olympics as far back as 1881! Cherrie also promised to share her memories of home that would add to the enjoyment of each wine.
Jimmy Smith is the main dude at the West London Wine School (@WestLondonWine) and loves the wines of Germany. It is unusual to find Pinot Noir on the label of a German wine, they call is Spätburgunder, which translates as “late Burgundian”. Although not much Spätburgunder finds its way onto our shores, Germany actually has the third highest area of Pinot Noir, sorry Spätburgunder, under vine. Jimmy focussed on the consistency of the German wines, whether from Rheinhessen, Pfalz or, best of all, Ahr. Jimmy was also very keen to point out that it was a German wine that claimed the top prize in the Pinot Noir category at this year’s Decanter World Wine Awards.
So enough of the waffle and onto the tasting….
Round 1 – Under £12
Maison Roche de Bellene Bourgogne Cuvée Réserve 2011, Burgundy, France (The Wine Society £11.95)
Red cherry, red currant and a hint of cola on the nose, maybe a touch of leather if you give it enough time. On the palate the wine is very austere; it’s young and tannic without the balancing acidity. Some cherry and minerality but very little else. Linear style and a bit of a disappointment really. 87 points
Zimmermann-Graeff & Müller, Peter & Peter 2011, Pfalz, Germany (Tesco Wine Direct £9.99)
Deep but still bright fruit with plenty of ripe cherry, raspberry freshness and a nice touch of exotic, slightly smoky spice. Bright acid and raspberry fruit but then comes a wave of darker, riper cherries. The acidity is very refreshing and clean but the wine maybe lacks a little structure. Still, great for under £10. 89 points
Matua 2012, Marlborough, NZ (Majestic £12.49)
First things first, Cherrie says she usually buys this wine for £8.99 at her local wine shop… we let her off! Meaty and ripe cherry nose with a lovely minerality and smoky note. Lovely ripe fruit that just explodes onto the palate; cherries, raspberries and even a touch of blackberry, all supported by soft leather and smoke. Great intensity of fruit and a delightful texture; very good wine. 90 points
Round 2 – £12 to £25
Oliver Zeter Reserve 2010, Pfalz, Germany (Vinoteca £22.96)
Really funky nose with ripe cherries and more than a hint of smoked, roasted meat, coffee and black spice. Ripe red fruit; cherries, raspberries and red currants. Earth and smoke, meaty and spicy, great grip but superbly balanced with fresh acidity. Richer and riper than what’s gone before; lovely balance, great complexity and good concentration. A bit of a wild one, but definitely a good one. 93 points
Jules Taylor 2012, Marlborough, NZ (Vagabond £19.99)
Ripe sweet fruit on the nose with pepper, clove and star anise. A massive attack of red fruit, like being hit between the eyes with a punnet of strawberries and cherries (hopefully with the stones taken out!). There’s black pepper spice, loads of acidity and a delightful smooth and silky texture. But almost as quickly as it hits you, it’s gone… oh please I want more of what you promised… ARGHH! 90 points
Camus-Bruchon Savigny-les-Beaune Premier Cru Gravains 2009, Burgundy, France (The Wine Society £24.00)
Ahhh… The smell of the Cote; wild strawberry, red currants, earth and notes of leather and sweet, spicy oak. Still young and firm with lots of tannic grip. But the acid is there, as is the bright red fruit. This has it’s best years ahead of it – it definitely needs food to show its best right now – but a highly enjoyable and traditional expression of the Cote de Beaune. 92 points
Round 3 – £25 to £50
Two Paddocks First Paddock 2010, Central Otago, NZ (Noel Young Wines £49.00)
From the vineyard owned by Sam Neil, First Paddock is only made when the vintage is considered good enough. Deep, dark cherries and plums on the nose, with a wave of sweet strawberry and red liquorice. There are some floral notes as well as spice; clove and anise. The fruit on the attack is ripe cherries but with the freshness of raspberry; delightful acidity and fine, delicate tannins. Delightfully elegant and silky with good concentration… I just wish I got 2 bottles for this price! 92 points
Maume Gevrey-Chambertin Premier Cru Lavaux St Jacques 2006, Burgundy, France (The Wine Society £45.00)
Ever so sexy savoury nose with deep, ripe, black cherries and very exotic spice; Chinese 5-spice perhaps. The acidity is fresh; the fruit starts with dark cherries and then come the bright raspberries and red currants. Beautifully concentrated and a superb balance of fruit, spice and savoury notes – the smoky shitake mushroom flavours are to die for. This is the real thing; great balance, great complexity and wonderful complexity. AAAHHHHHH…. 94 points
Meyer-Nakel Dernauer Pfarrwingert Spätburgunder Grosses Gewachs 2007, Ahr, Germany (The Wine Reserve £49.79)
Funky and farmyardy on the nose – and a bit of smokey bonfire. There is also plenty of red fruit with strawberry and red cherry brightness. Massive concentration up-front with lots of red fruit and a bit of coffee and spice… then what? It just falls off far too quickly; there’s good acidity but without the tannic structure to give balance and length. I struggled with this one as it promised so much on the nose but didn’t deliver on the palate. A shame, especially at this price. 88 points
What a great event and what a great tasting… it wasn’t until I tried to be scientific about my final verdict that I realised that I gave each country a first, second and third place! In some ways I suppose it’s the perfect outcome for Pinot Noir… even if it didn’t help answer the questions posed!
But I had to make a decision and I stuck with my initial order of France, NZ and Germany. When the final votes were counted, although France still had the most votes, it was Germany that made the biggest move, gaining an incredible 24 points (there were only 36 tasters!):
France +5 (-14)
Germany +2 (+24)
New Zealand -7 (-10)
But the real winner on the night? PINOT NOIR!
The next Grape Debate will be Riesling and will take place on 26th June – click on the link to book your place:
I’m not a political kind of guy and I try and make the articles on the blog fun and light-hearted, but the amount of tax we pay on wine in the UK is so far removed from the rest of Europe that I want to tell you about a new campaign that all wine lovers should certainly consider supporting.
The budget is less than two weeks away and it spells danger for wine drinkers. That’s why anyone in the UK with an interest in wine, producers, distributors and retailers and consumers, need to speak directly to Gerorge Osborne and ask him to freeze the duty on wine and spirits… It’s time to CALL TIME ON DUTY!
You can send your own message by clicking on the link below, and why not keep up with the campaign on Twitter by following @calltimeonduty.
But why should you care? Well take a look at some of the facts and make up your own minds:
UK consumers currently pay more alcohol tax than consumers in Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Poland combined
Wine in France is taxed at 20% whereas in the UK 57% of an average priced bottle of wine is accounted for by tax
The average drinker in England pays £198.33 in alcohol tax per year compared to only £43.17 in France – more than four times as much, despite drinking less.
The alcohol duty escalator has meant that since 2008, tax on wine has increased by 50% and on spirits by 44%
Not many people know that 79% of the cost of a bottle of spirits in tax and 57% of the price of a bottle of wine is tax
If the tax isn’t scrapped at this year’s budget (19th March 2014), tax on alcohol will increase by another 2% above inflation
The wine and spirit industry is worth £20 billion annually to the British economy and supports nearly 2 million jobs. There are 448 commercial vineyards in the UK and 131 wineries producing over 3 million bottles of wine a year.
A study by Ernst and Young has found that scrapping the alcohol duty escalator would generate £230 million for the public finances, allow industry to contribute £1bn more to Economic Activity, and create 6,000 new jobs.
That was certainly all of the evidence I needed to pledge my support – click on the link if it deserves yours:
The recent Austrian tasting event I attended made this week’s white wine suggestions an easy one… say hello to your new best friend, Grüner Veltliner from Austria.
Grüner Veltliner (pronounced VeltLEEner, not VELTliner) is a majestic wine with its layers of fruit, minerality and spice; there really is something for everyone here. Grüner is so versatile and is great as an aperitif, by itself on a Saturday afternoon or even better, when paired with food. This fragrant wine goes very well with mildly spiced food such as Thai or Vietnamese, and is also a great partner for lighter pork and chicken dishes. My other recent discovery was how well Grüner matched with Gorwydd Caerphilly; the cheese really brought out the citrus notes and the white pepper finish balanced beautifully with the Caerphilly’s acidic bite.
Grüner has a wonderful vein of acidity that just pops in your mouth with primary fruit flavours of lime, lemon, grapefruit and, as the wine ages, rich and elegant peaches. But there is also a green and herbaceous flavour that is often described as white pepper, or rocket leaves, that gives it a distinctive and delicious finish.
Around 30% of the Austrian vineyard is given over to Grüner, making it by far the most planted grape in the country (the red Zweigelt grape is the next most planted variety at14%). The three regions to look out for are Wachau with its steep slopes and dry wall terracing, Kremstal which is highly regarded for its deep loess soils, and Kamptal with its sunny, south-facing limestone vineyards.
The great news is there is lots of Grüner Veltliner available to UK consumers – and it is a very reliable grape variety – most of what I have tried has been of a very high quality standard.
Let’s start with 2 of my go-to wines from Waitrose:
Domäne Wachau Terraces Grüner Veltliner 2011, Wachau (Waitrose £9.99 – currently on offer at £7.99)
Felsner Grüner Moosburgerin 2012, Kremstal (Waitrose £11.99)
This is one of the very best The Wine Society’s stonking Exhibition range:
The Society’s Exhibition Grüner Veltliner 2012, Kamptal (The Wine Society £11.95)
And don’t forget about the independents – I think I’ll be checking out some high end Grüner this week!
Ebner Ebenauer Gruner Veltliner 2012, Weinviertel (Roberson £12.95)
Ebner Ebenauer ‘Bursting’ Gruner Veltliner 2012, Weinviertel (Roberson £19.95)
Rabl Grüner Veltliner Kaferberg 2010, Kamptal (Wine & The Vine £19.75)
So pick up a bottle and don’t forget to tell us what you think by giving Grüner Veltliner a score out of 10 and leaving your tasting notes in the comments section. Where will Grüner end up on the #newwinethisweek leaderboard?
A few months ago I wrote an article about what to match with KFC. I’ve been meaning to continue the theme for a while now and when James and Matt asked me to write a piece about an unusual food and wine match for their excellent blog, #WineSwap, I knew exactly what the next subject should be… Doner kebabs!
This article appeared on their blog a while back – and please take a look because the #WineSwap quest is something you should try and get involved with… I became in link in their chain last year!
For many, the doner is only associated with forgotten memories after 10 pints on a Saturday night but I kid you not, I bloody love them. Sober! If you break a doner kebab down there are a few main ingredients to focus on in order to come up with a successful wine match…
Firstly, what is the mystery meat? Well, it’s not the offcuts and bits that no one really wants to think about, like most people assume. Good doner kebabs are (generally) made from slices of lamb leg and shoulder, which is seasoned with various spices (cumin, coriander, turmeric etc.) before being ground then compressed together with lamb fat to keep the whole thing moist. Yum!
Then there’s the salad and the accompaniments, namely the hot chilli and creamy garlic sauces. Some useful guidelines for food and wine pairing are to match the flavour intensity of the food and the flavour intensity of the wine, and to pair fatty foods with high acid wines. So for our kebab companion we’re looking for big flavours and high acid.
Straight away I’m drawn to The Rhone – the high acid Syrah of the North and the bold spiciness of Grenache of the South. But don’t just limit yourself to the Rhone; consider the fab Shiraz of Australia and the wonderful Garnacha -based wines of Priorat in Spain (same grape, different name). But what about the sauces? I’m not so worried about the garlic but if spicy chilli sauce is your thing then remember to avoid high tannin wines; if you’re a heat hound maybe Syrah isn’t the choice for you but Genache still fits the bill nicely.
There is another option. A bit controversial maybe, but what about considering a white wine? With lamb, I hear you ask? Well, if you think about the fattiness and the heat, your dirty dinner could be screaming out for the razor sharp acidity of a Riesling or a Chenin Blanc. So there we are, four wines I think will work really well with your doner kebab – drunk or sober! Or you could just stick to 10 pints of lager!
M&S Hunter Valley Shiraz 2011, NSW, Australia (M&S £9.99)
Huge ripe fruit, a hint of smoke and a touch of bacon fat. A big wine with good acidity and juicy ripe black, almost blue fruits and a delicious smoky flavour. (91 points)
E Guigal Cotes du Rhone 2010, Southern Rhone (Majestic & Waitrose £10.99 but look out for promotions)
Black cherry and dark plums with a beautiful waft of herbs de Provence on the nose – quite a bit of anise. This follows through onto the palate, where the spice and fennel come first, followed by very black cherries and very fine tannins. This is robust and delicious. (90 points)
Plantagenet Riesling 2011, Mount Barker, Wastern Australia (Whole Foods £14.99)
The label says lemon but this is pure lime juice. It’s so fresh and zesty, almost glacial in texture and bone dry, mouth puckeringly so! But then the acidity kicks in and the flavour goes on and on and on. I could drink this with a straw. Quite magnificent and great value for a wine of this quality. (92 points)
Domaine Vincent Careme Spring Sec, Vouvray 2010 (The Wine Society £9.95)
Honeyed nose with baked, even dried fruit. Some fig, spice and just a hint of oxidisation. Stewed apples on the palate, almost savoury note which reminds me a bit if scrumpy cider with a sprightly acidity. For under £10 the complexity is quite amazing. (90 points)
And now for something a little bit different…
A few weeks ago I got an email from a beer fan in New York asking if he could write an article about beer and food pairing for the blog; I had no hesitation in saying yes. i rarely write about beer but I’m a big real ale fan (I’ve even got the beard!) so over to Blake and some very interesting and unusual combinations…
My wife refers to me as a beer snob but I prefer the term enthusiast. I love everything about beer and the culture associated with it. Over the past few years craft beer has been exploding all over the United States and I could not be happier. More people than ever are interested in trying new beer and I love being able to give them recommendations. Lately I have been very interested in pairing beer with food. Finding the right dish to complement a certain style of beer can be tricky. However when you discover the perfect pairing and all of the flavors marry well with each other, it makes for a truly memorable meal. Here are a couple of interesting pairings I have been playing with lately:
Peanut butter & Porter
I am a huge fan of dark beers, like stouts and porters. I love their chocolate and coffee-like aroma and full bodied mouthfeel. A porter that I cannot get enough of lately is Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald, especially this time of year. It’s a robust beer and is perfect for sipping while starting out the window on a snowy winter day. I actually stumbled onto my favorite porter pairing of the moment thanks to my kids. They left a package of peanut butter crackers in the kitchen one day and I happened to be drinking an Edmund Fitzgerald. While it may seem a bit unconventional, there’s just something about the combination of toasty crackers, rich peanut butter and roasty porter that works. Use it to break the ice at your next party, you’ll be sure to surprise your guests and introduce them to what could be their new favorite flavor combination.
Spicy Chicken Curry and IPA
It would probably shock most of my beer drinking friends to know this, but IPAs weren’t my first love when I started getting serious about beer. The hoppy bitterness they showcase was just too much for me early on, but now I’m a fully converted hop-head. I continue to be amazed by the seemingly endless variety of hop flavors and aromas out there. When it comes to the food side of things, something I love about IPAs is the fact that they pair well with hot and spicy dishes. Luckily my wife has a taste for spicy foods as well, and a go-to favorite in our house is Spicy Chicken Curry. Most IPAs have plenty of bitterness and enough alcohol to stand up to the heat that chili peppers bring to the curry. To me, there is nothing better than chasing down a spoonful of curry with a floral, citrusy India Pale Ale.
Chocolate Strawberry Cake and Imperial Stout
As I said before, I’m a fan of dark beers and it does not get any darker than Imperial Stout. This style of beer takes roasted, chocolate and coffee malt flavors and cranks them up to 11. These beers are big, boozy and can finish dry with notes of baker’s chocolate or sweet with hints of toffee. When I’m pairing this style with a dessert, I tend to go for those that finish dry so that I’m not overwhelmed by sweetness. The inspiration for this particular pairing was a bit unconventional, but I’m a big fan. My wife mentioned that someone she works with got a package of Shari’s Berries for Valentine’s Day, which got me thinking about the combination of chocolate and berries. I found an easy recipe for a Chocolate Strawberry Cake and once it was done, I poured myself a glass of what my wife calls “motor oil”. The chocolate in the stout amplifies the cake and before it becomes too much, the strawberries cut through all of those rich flavors for a great change of pace for your palate.
When it comes to pairing beer and food the options are truly endless. Allow your creativity to shine through and remember that no pairing is too strange. If you think it could work give it a shot and you may be pleasantly surprised. I can’t even count how many of my friends have turned into craft beer enthusiasts over the last two years. So go to your nearest beer store, pick out a few brews that you have never tried before and start experimenting!
Blake Daniels is a stay at home dad living with his wife and two sons in upstate New York. Blake is an amateur brewer and craft beer enthusiast. When Blake isn’t blogging or brewing you can find him taking care of his lawn, spending time with his sons, or working on various projects around the house. If anyone has any questions for Blake feel free to email him at email@example.com
Mike from www.pleasebringmemywine.com is certainly a risk taker… if last week’s Gewurztraminer wasn’t a controversial enough choice, then this week’s will be for sure… say hello to Pinotage from South Africa!
Pinotage is often referred to as South Africa’s signature red variety, although these days you are more likely to find Bordeaux and Rhone varieties adorning the South African labels on the supermarket shelves. Pinotage was “bred” in 1925 as a cross between Pinot noir and Cinsaut, which known as Hermitage at the time in SA hence the name Pinot-tage.
Good examples of Pinotage are earthy and smoky with bramble fruit and often a hint of coffee. But it’s the bad stuff that causes the fuss… bananas and tropical fruit in your red wine anyone? Haters of the grape will also cite aromas of paint and rusty nails… but don’t be put off!!
I am a big fan of good Pinotage – it is interesting and different. Sometimes the nose of the wine can make you think twice about taking a sip but please stick with it; there is lots to enjoy about this esoteric grape variety
But I have one caveat. Coffee Pinotage. You’ll see it on the label; “coffee”, “espresso”… the only advice I will give you is to steer clear; if I want something that tastes like coffee and coffee alone I will have a mug of bloody coffee! Thank you; rant over.
So if I haven’t put you off, here are some recommendations for this week.
Tesco Finest Pinotage 2012, South Africa (Tesco £7.49)
M&S Houdamond Pinotage 2011, Stellenbosch, SA (M&S £9.49)
Southern Right Pinotage 2011, Hermanus, SA (Waitrose £13.49)
Kanonkop Kadette Pinotage 2012, Stellenbosch, SA (The Wine Society £10.49)
Lam Pinotage 2011, Swartland, SA (Roberson £13.95)
So get yourself a bottle and don’t forget to give it a score and tell us what you think – this week’s vote will take place on Mike’s blog, where you will also find his recommendations from Sainsbury’s, Morrison’s and Majestic:
Cheers & enjoy!
Apart from how wonderful it can taste, the great pull of wine appreciation is there is always something new to learn; there are so many grapes to discover and so many countries and regions to explore. What I love most is attending an event where I discover a new region and some new varieties… and come away with a huge smile on my face, wanting to investigate further.
Before this tasting, my knowledge of Austrian wine started and ended with Grüner Veltliner (pronounced VeltLEEner, not VELTliner). I like Grüner a lot; I love its layers of fruit, minerality and spice. It turns out there is a lot more to discover and a lot more to love…
Thank you Austria.
It so happens that Evald, a student at the West London Wine School, is a fountain of Austrian wine knowledge. He also has a very fine cellar containing many fantastic Austrian wines… he was also kind enough to open his cellar to the West London Wine School and talk us through the wines and the regions at this most wonderful tasting event. The wines we tasted were interesting, different and delicious, and Evald was a most wonderful host; thank you so much for opening up the vinous delights that Austria have to offer.
Austrian wine is a real Phoenix from the ashes story, after the wine scandal of 1985 where a small number of wineries illegally added diethylene glycol (an ingredient used in anti-freeze) to improve the sweetness and body of some late harvest wines… this was only discovered when one of thesed greedy winemakers tried to claim tax relief against the purchase! Although it took the Austrian wine industry 15 years to recover from this, what it did do was to introduce much stricter wine laws, which have led to a very high quality output for us to enjoy today.
Yields are extremely low in Austria; the land under vine is half that of Germany yet the production is less than 25% in volume. The wine laws themselves resemble those of Germany; with PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) wines allowed to be produced using 35 permitted grape varieties (these wines all have the Austrian flag on the top of the cap). There is just over 45,000ha of total land under vine with 65% of output white and 35% red, although there has been a 10% shift towards red wines over the last decade. Grüner Veltliner accounts for 29% of all grapes grown followed by red Zweigelt at 14%, then a whole host of indigenous grapes such as Welschriesling and Weissburgunder (white), and Blaufraenkisch and St Laurent (red).
Our tasting began in the beautiful region of Wachau, an area of steep slopes, dry stonewall terraces and unique fauna and flora. The region produces the highest rated white wines in Austria and I was astonished to discover that less than 3% of Austrian wine production comes from the area, as most of the wine we see on the supermarket shelves in the UK has “Domaine Wachau” on the label. Wachau also has it’s own registered stylistic categories that only apply to dry white wines of the region, beginning with Steinfender for the lightest and freshest style, then Federspiel and finally, the full-bodied “Smaragd”.
Knoll Gelber Muskateller “Federspiel” 2012, Wachau (N/A UK, @£13 in Austria)
Muskateller is a member of the Muscat family producing highly fragrant and aromatic white wine. This has a very exotic and floral nose, quite reminiscent of Gewurztraminer; lychees and pineapple then a waft of red apple and a sprtiz of sweet spice. A very dry attack with lots of apple, especially the skin; a very fresh wine with lots of acidity. The palate is very different to the nose, perhaps not quite delivering quite on the promise but a very pretty wine that would make an excellent aperitif. 90 points
Knoll Grüner Veltliner “Ried Loibenberg” Smaragd 2010, Wachau (N/A UK, @£30 in Austria)
Rich and aromatic nose with apples, pears, a touch of fresh citrus and a delightful edge of exotic, warming spice. On the palate the wine is super-juicy upfront with apples and limes before the minerality kicks in and cleans the palate to allow the warm white pepper spice to come through on the long and delicious finish. A super complex and fresh wine with three stages, fruit, mineral and spice, which all come together in beautiful balance at the end. Lovely wine. 93 points
Hirtzberger Riesling “Singerriedel” Smaragd 2011, Wachau (Fine & Rare £62)
A good amount of citrus and peach fruit on the nose, along with unexpected perfume of white flowers – very unexpected from a Riesling. On the palate the fruit flavours are peach, tangerine and a touch of tropical pineapple. There’s a decent level of acid but what is most noticeable is the clean minerality and warm but gentle spice, very pure and very clean. Would’ve guessed Grüner rather than Riesling if it had been served blind but very good all the same. 92 points
There are a growing number of international varieties being planted in Austria; the next wine was an example of a Chardonnay from Vienna…
Wieninger Chardonnay Grand Select 2009, Vienna (N/A UK, @£30 in Austria)
Tropical fruit with pineapple and mango, plenty of stony notes, with a touch of nut and some heather honey – quite New World actually. On the palate there is lots of peachy fruit and the texture is big and creamy with buttery, nutty flavours coming through to add levels of complexity. This is a very good wine with lots of texture and complexity…. But the 14.5% alcohol really sticks out leaving a hot, boozy finish. Such a shame as there is so much to like. 91 points
Now it was time to explore the red wines of Burgenland with examples of St Laurent and Blaufraenkisch:
Umathum St Laurent “Frauenkirchner” 2007, Neusiedlersee (N/A UK, @£40 in Austria)
The wine needs a bit of coaxing in the glass to get to the nose of sour cherry, with just a hint of kirsch and dried herbs. The palate is fairly muted but there is a big whack of acidity. Unfortunately the texture is vey lean and when the fruit eventually manifests itself it is blackcurrant and hedgerows than show themselves somewhat briefly. Doesn’t quite deliver this one. 86 points
Umathum Blaufraenkisch “Joiser Kirschgarten” 2008, Neusiedlersee (N/A UK, @£45 in Austria)
Now this is much more like it! The aromas are feral and savoury with black cherry fruit, smoke and coffee… a bit like Cherry Coke! The palate is big and powerful but still ever so young. There’s black cherries and red currants, the body is medium+ and there are lots of savoury, meaty notes working together beautifully. It’s big, it’s brash and its fantastic – a great big feral (a bit dirty!) wine – like good, ballsy Gevrey. 93 points
Pittnauer ‘Alte Reben’ St. Laurent 2009, Burgenland (Clark Foyster Wines £35)
This was served blind and I thought it was Blaufraenkisch after the tasting the previous 2… turned out to be a far better expression of St Laurent. Bright red cherries with a hint of roasted meat on the nose. Fresh fruit on the palate with cherries and red currants and just a nice hint of smoke and smooth tannins. 90 points
And then came the encore… the magnificent sweet wines… just look at those colours!
Feiler-Artinger Chardonnay “Ruster Ausbruch Essenz” TBA 2006, Nuesiedlersee (N/A UK, @£40 in Austria 375ml)
The nose is all sweet tropical fruit – mango, pineapple, passion fruit… very reminiscent of pineapple cubes and very enticing. The wine simply fills and coats your mouth – it’s as close as you’ll ever get to drinking marmalade. The sweet fruit, the high levels of residual sugar and the super-fine levels of acid all come together in a glorious mouthful and mouthfeel – it is fabulous and makes you close your eyes and smile. Even better with a piece of stilton. Fantastic and will only get better. 94+ points
Kracher Chardonnay TBA Nr. 9 “Nouvelle Vague” 1998, Nuesiedlersee (Seckford Wines £50 375ml)
And this is why it’s worth waiting for sweet Austria Chardonnay! Still lots of fresh apricot and mango but now it’s joined by some almost savoury dried prunes. The attack is tropical fruit and marmalade then, having covered your mouth, it melts and the dried fruit comes to the fore leaving you with a long, long finis of burnt orange. This wine almost ages in your mouth, from fresh to dried and back again… It is absolutely fabulous. 96 points
Willi Opitz “Opitz One” Schilfwein 2008, Neusiedlersee (Hedonism £38 375ml)
Willi Opitz was awarded “Winemaker of the year” at the International Wine Challenge in 1996 and 1997 and invented “Schilfwein”, which is made from grapes dried on reed-beds, similar to the ripasso technique in Venetto. Opitz One is made using the red Zweigelt grape. There is blackberry fruit but also some white stone fruit, burnt sugar and a delicious hint of nuttiness. The palate has the blackberries and cherries but the hints of tropical fruit are still there as the wine gathers pace and momentum as it coats your entire mouth with it chocolaty texture. Every sip brings different combinations of these flavours, which makes it so exciting and so delicious. 95 points
I am a very proud (and loud!) Welshman when it comes to most things, but mostly when it comes to rugby and food. I very rarely mention rugby in this blog (who would given our recent inept showings in the 6 nations?) but on more than one occasion I have written about welsh food, or more accurately, welsh restaurants. I was amazed at the value wine list at Ye Olde bull’s head in Beaumaris – I went back over the Christmas period any enjoyed another fabulous meal as well as a fantastic bottle of Domaine Prudhom St Aubin 2005 and a 2009 Au Bon Climat Pinot that cost me a couple of quid more than they would at retail. It is also impossible not to be impressed by anything undertaken by the softly spoken and modest superstar that is Shaun Hill; I was, and still am, so pleased that he took ownership of The Walnut Tree, near Abergavenny, back in 2006. I have eaten there a couple of times already and know for certain I will return.
A little break in February has become an important oasis at the beginning of another hectic year. We’ve enjoyed long weekends in Florence, Paris, Beaune and last year a magical few days in Cornwall. So it seems appropriate that this year the destination was Wales. I am a true Gog (what the South welsh call us northerners) but I’m not too proud to head South, so for Abergavenny we headed. As well as Shaun Hill, Abergavenny is famous for its annual food festival (which takes place in September) and its gastro-temples. Two of these establishments are owned and run by familiar faces from the TV; Steven Terry at the Hardwick and Matt Tebbutt at The Foxhunter.
So we booked ourselves into the Hardwick for 2 nights (check out the fabulous Sunday night promotion) and made reservations to eat at the Foxhunter on Saturday night (10 minutes in a taxi) and at our place of rest on the Sunday.
Let’s start with where to stay. The rooms at the Hardwick are delightful and modern, with a slight Scandinavian vibe. The beds are comfortable, the bathroom is luxurious and the overall feel is decadent; I can’t recommend it enough. And let’s not forget about the breakfast… Anywhere that offers eggy bread with smoked streaky bacon and maple syrup is a winner in my book!
For dinner on Saturday night we got a taxi to the the Foxhunter (£15) and received a very friendly welcome from Anne Tebbutt; all the staff are superb and there was a real warmth to the place as we sat down in the bar area with the wine list and the menus. The wine list is extremely well chosen with an excellent variety of grapes and countries to select from. We plumped for a half bottle of Muscadet from the clever selection of halves as an aperitif, and the bit of age on the 2009 showed a hint of oxidisation that was extremely appealing and rounded out the tart green apple and salty, mineral notes of this vastly underrated wine.
When we were taken to our table we were greeted with warm home made bread and sumptuously salted butter as we waited for our starters. I had a stupendous dish of game tagliatelle with Gorgonzola – a genius combo that I will use a great deal in the future – while the Fish went for a delicate and delightful plate of octopus carpaccio. There were only five main course options (three meat, two fish) but I could’ve happily chosen any of them. In the end I opted for the perfectly cooked duck breast (pink with crispy skin) served with Toulouse sausage and smoked bacon, the Fish opted for the lamb rump with broccoli and white bean mash. Everything looked amazing, was accurately cooked and the portions very generous. To drink we needed a wine with guts and the Gigondas 2010 was just the ticket with its blackberry fruit, dried herb and black pepper kick.
Deserts were also well executed and we left the restaurant very happy diners. The food isn’t cheap but, coming from the world of London eating, it represents very good value for the combination of well-sourced local ingredients and highly skilful cooking. The wine list is very finely judged and with mark-ups around 100%, you can feel comfortable ordering what you want without fear of bankruptcy. It is certainly a restaurant to which I will gladly return and encourage friends to do the same.
Our table at The Hardwick was booked for 7.30 on Sunday and after devouring the menu online we had already chosen our main course… the “taste of local beef” to share… But more about that later. The dining area is split into three rooms and is very spacious, with big tables and plenty of room between them. The staff are extremely knowledgeable and friendly, and the overall experience is most agreeable. We both decided we were going fishy with our starters so The Fish plumped for a glass of local sparkling wine and I went for a glass of Albarinho from the extensive by the glass selection. My Albarinho was spot on with a nice balance of citrus, peach and savouriness, while the Sparkling wine from Ancre Hill, made from 100% Seyval Blanc, was deliciously dry with flavours of pastry and very tart Granny Smith apples; very delightful and a producer I will be searching out for sure.
The starters themselves were fabulous. The Provençale fish soup was rich and deep and my linguine with Devon crab, chilli, radicchio, courgette and brown butter breadcrumbs was quite simply one of the best pasta dishes I have ever eaten; lots of ingredients (it also contained anchovies, shallots and parsley) but everything played it’s part… even the courgettes, of which I am no fan! There is a choice of ten starters and every single one of them sounded marvellous – what a great reason to return in itself!
Our beefy-rich main course demanded a monster of a wine and the Director’s Cut Shiraz sure fit the bill perfectly. A true blockbuster of a wine with lashings of blackberry, damson, smoke and sweet spice. Huge concentration and a massive, rich palate – almost ripasso in style – but beautifully balanced by tart-cranberry acidity. And boy did we need the acidity. The taste of local beef consisted of 72h Braised Short Rib, Ox Tail Pudding, Rib Burger on Creamed Mushrooms with Onion Rings, and Braised Shin. All of this came with a big bowl of seasonal veg and triple cut chips. Oh, and we also ordered the deep fried polenta chips with tomato sauce and Parmesan! Each of the elements on the beef plate was rib-stickingly delicious, but they were just too rich all served together. A nice piece of succulent steak would add so much more than another slow-cooked winter warmer. But that is being very picky. The wine and the tomato sauce from the polenta side dish helped to clear the palate between sticky mouthfuls.
To finish I went straight for the “Lemon Crunch” which was a glorious jar filled with lemon cream, digestive and nutty biscuits, all topped with Italian meringue… then it was bedtime!
Abergavenny is a must-visit destination for any food lover and once more, Wales proved to be the place to go for value wine lists. I feel so proud!
Its week 7 of #newwinethisweek and it looks like Mike from pleasebringmemywine.com has decided there hasn’t been enough controversy…. This week’s selection is sure to divide opinion… Gewürztraminer from Alsace.
I’m not saying that Gewürztraminer is a Marmite wine (many would!), simply because, well I “quite” like it. The biggest problem I have with Gewurz is the initial impression; exotic is the only word do describe the aromas… lychees, roses, ginger and Turkish delight are all common descriptors for this intriguing white wine (made from pink grapes). My honest thoughts are there is just a bit too much going on and it can smell a bit like a op drawer, if you know what I mean!!
I did have a bit of a eureka moment with Gewürz a few weeks ago when I attended an Alsace tasting – the grape’s home turf. The Grand Cru from Schlumberger may cost £27 from Fortnum & Mason but it’s the first time a Gewürz made me go wow. So this week I have got myself a pair of wines from Cave du Turckheim, one of the most respected co-operatives in the wine world, to look at the difference between their entry level wine (£10) and their Grand Cru offering (£18)
There are also plenty of recommendations under £10… only just!
Finest Gewürztraminer 2008, Alsace, France (Tesco £7.99
Cave de Turckheim Gewürztraminer 2011, Alsace, France (Waitrose £9.99)
M&S Vin D’Alsace Gewürztraminer 2012, Alsace, France (M&S £9.99 – also produced by Cave de Turckheim)
Cave de Turckheim Gewürztraminer Brand Grand Cru 2010, Alsace, France (Wine & The Vine £17.55)
The common thought is that Gewürztraminer is one of the best wine pairings for spicy curries and Chinese food – I’m gong to give it a go with chicken fajitas! So get yourself a bottle and don’t forget to give it a score and tell us what you think –this week’s vote will take place on Mike’s blog, where you will slso find his recommendations from Sainsbury’s, Morrison’s and Majestic:
Cheers and enjoy!