Monthly Archives: April 2013

6 months and counting…

Wow… I can’t believe I’ve been writing the blog for 6 months now. This will be the 66th post in that time – I never thought I’d be able to manage that when I was writing my email postcards on our journey through the Rhone, Burgundy and champagne last summer.

In the tasting notes section there are now just shy of 200 wine reviews; a combination of wines bought from supermarkets, independents and online retailers, along with some amazing wines I’ve had the privilege to try at the numerous tasting events I’ve attended.

I love writing about wine and gladly you seem to enjoy reading about it too – today the number if views has ticked over the 5,000 mark so thank you all very much.

Here’s a few of my favourite wines and events so far:

Best reds:

Domaine Armand Rousseau, Ruchottes-Chambertin Grand Cru, 2000 (Jeraboams £195)
(Tasted at West London Wine School Burgundy tasting February 2013)
How many times can I say wow?? Wow! There is so much fruity aroma here, with red, even dried cherries and wild strawberries, backed up by a light, savoury meatiness, forest and truffle. There is so much red fruit on the palate, with sour cherry and wild strawberry at the fore, providing amazing acidic freshness, making your mouth water for a very long time. So much fruit, so bright and so, so elegant. More Chambolle than Gevrey but that just suits me fine… Incredible! 97 points

Chateau Cheval Blanc 1995, St Emilion (Roberson £380)
(Tasted at Roberson 1995 Bordeaux horizontal tasting, March 2013)
And I thought it couldn’t get better. Smells of sour cherries, raspberries, leather, sweet spice, pencil shaving and cedar. The aromas fill your nostrils with goodness. And the the palate… It’s lake waves of silky flavour on your receptors – fruit, spice, leather, sweetness, freshness…. And it just keeps coming and stays there for an awfully long time. It’s delicate yet concentrated, rustic yet integrated. This is absolute class. One of the best wines I have ever drunk and for me(and eight others!) the standout wine of the night. 97 points

Chateau Leoville Barton 1990, St Julien, Bordeaux (@£120)
(Tasted at West London Wine School Leoville Barton vertical tasting November 2012)
Looks very young and very dark with just a hint of age starting to show at the edge. Really deep and powerful nose. Intense aromas of black currants, plums, earthiness and minerality. I smelt this for some time! In the mouth it is so fresh and has lovely grippy tannins. The fruit comes first and then the menthol freshness of mint and then the smoky, cedar kicks in. This is harmonious and the balance of acidity and tannin is amazing, with a wonderful fresh and very long finish. Can I really pay £120? Maybe for one! 97 points

Best Whites:

Domaine Blain Gagnard Chassagne Montrachet 1er Cru Caillerets 1990 (Nickolls & Perks £120.00)
(From the “Respect your elders” post)
Golden, honeyed colour… I couldn’t wait to smell and taste it. The smell is the essence of hot buttered toast. It’s nutty, its brioche, its amazing. ‘Where’s the fruit?’ I hear you ask: well, the peach and even a bit of baked apple hits your palate. But it’s the honey, nuts and toast that takes your breath away. And it just goes on and on and on. It’s amazingly fresh and the acid backbone is beautifully balanced. This wines makes you close your eyes and say thank you. 95 points

Maison Nicolas Potel, Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru, 2005 (Exel Wines £60)
(Tasted at West London Wine School Burgundy tasting February 2013)
Oh my this smells amazing. Oakley, floral and delicate, with plenty of white peach and sweet vanilla. In the mouth there is a wonderful streak of acidity – really zesty green apples and wonderful ripe peaches. The oak is beautifully integrated and kisses your tongue, providing a lick of vanilla. This is elegance personified and amazing fruit, oak spice and toast that lingers and lingers and lingers… 94 points

Sandhi Wines Bentrock Chardonnay 2010 (Roberson £69.95)
(Tasted at Roberson Sandhi & Kutch tasting February 2013)
Wine of the night by some distance. Tropical aromas, especially mango along with a lovely touch of brioche. Quite a nervy palate of lemon and lemon balm, with a surprisingly grippy, almost tannic structure. Salty again but with a delicious tension between the salinity and the fruit. Delicious savoury and long finish. 94 points

Best bubbles:

Camel Valley Chardonnay Brut 2009, Cornwall, UK (£24.95)
100% Chardonnay (tasted at Camel Valley)
Vanilla and floral nose. Rich and creamy palate with a peachy fruitiness and a pleasant biscuit-lick at the finish. Gentle and elegant, like a kiss. So good but so modest. This is an ethereal wine that gets even better with every sip. A tasting glass simply isn’t enough. 94 points

Best tasting events:

Grand Crus of Burgundy, West London Wine School
I love Burgundy and this was the opportunity to taste the real cream of the crop.

1995 Bordeaux horizontal tasting, Roberson
My first taste of Bordeaux royalty, including the spectacular Cheval Blanc.

Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron vertical tasting, West London Wine School
An amazing tasting from a chateau that has gone though lots of changes over the past three decades.

My favourite posts:

My Wine Hero
A post about Jez from Wine & The Vine, and why you should get to know your local independent wine merchant.

Riesling from the ashes
Lots of reasons for us all to love the amazing Riesling grape.

A wino is born
How the blog turned my Dad to drink!

Thank you all again for your support and there’s plenty more to look forward to, including tastings of German Riesling and Aussie Shiraz.

Cheers & enjoy!

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Fun in the dark

Apologies for the long food intro… Just skip to the menu if you’re only here for the wine; I will get to the dark/blind tasting bit!

As is tradition on our trip to Devon, me and The Fish cook for the guests on one of the evenings. The guests consist of Den & Jan (the in-laws), and long term Devon devotees Richard & Sue; all of whom are fans of great food, and have enjoyed plenty of top nosh by the time our turn comes around.

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The plan was to go down to the tiny fish counter on Beer beach and choose what looked good and go from there. In my mind I’d planned scallops as the focus of the starter and maybe brill or sea bass for main course (I’d even picked some wild garlic earlier in the week to finish off a beurre blanc). Unfortunately the weather was against us and many of the fishermen hadn’t been able to go out in the windy conditions. Plan B consisted of a trip to Sidmouth to see what was to offer there.

The fishmongers in Sidmouth, behind the lifeboat station, were able to supply me with the scallops I was after but the rest of the fish was looking a bit tired and uninspiring. This meant a Plan C was needed! If any of you are fans of Rick Stein like me then you’ll remember the episode of Food Heroes where Matthew Fort’s brawn has gone mouldy and Rick ends up in a Sidmouth butcher to see how brawn is made… That’s where I ended up too. Devon produces some fantastic pork and I spotted the pork loin I wanted as soon as I entered the fabulous shop.

So the menu was ready:

Starter – scallops with black pudding, cockles and lemon dressing

Main – pork loin with roast potatoes, cabbage and apple & cider gravy

As I had planned to cook fish originally I already had a couple of fish-friendly whites to serve as a pair; a Picpoul de Pinet and an Albariño. The gang struggled with the minerality and light lack of fruit from the Picpoul without food but certainly enjoyed it far more with scallops. The Albariño was a winner with and without food with its thrilling fruit and seductive saltiness – outright winner of this pair (see the previous post for my new obsession with pairs of wines!)

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Domaine la Grangette L’enfant Terrible Picpoul de Pinet 2010, Languedoc (Wine and the Vine £10.75)
The absolute essence of crushed up oyster shells – very mineral and just a hint of lemon and lime on the nose. It’s very steely but the fruit does show up at the end, especially with food. If you like Muscadet you’ll love this. 87 points

Sera da Estrela Albariño 2011, Galicia, Spain (Wine and the Vine £14.25)
There really is nothing to dislike about this wine. Lots of fruity intensity on the nose with apple, peach and even a touch of the tropics. All of the fruit is there in your mouth too and its quite full bodied too; a lovely texture. The fruit stays with you for quite one time and the saltiness of quality Albariño is there at the end. Lovely stuff for any occasion. 92 points

As I hadn’t planned to cook meat for the main course it meant going wine shopping! We came across and well stocked and very friendly wine shop on Sidmouth High Street, called, quite simply, “The Wine Shop”. I was hoping to find a Riesling from the old and new world but wasn’t that taken by the choice so I decided to go a bit left field. I also decided not to take my own advice (see Easter feasting) and went for two classics, two crowd pleasers… Chianti and Rioja.

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Now, we’d been comparing pairs of wines all week and this was too good an opportunity to turn down. As well as seeing what everyone preferred I upped the ante and went for a blind challenge… Oh what fun they all thought! As I like to have a common theme to the pairs of wines, they were both from the 2006 vintage, and Reserva/Riserva, so each aged for around 3 years. I decanted the wines into jugs about 2 hours before dinner and asked each of the guests for their preferred wine if they had to choose. 3 went for Chianti (my choice) and 3 for Rioja. This is all going well!

We then got to the fun bit of identifying the wines. The discussion went on for a good 20 minutes before I asked everyone to make their guess, after tasting both wines. Again 3 were right and 3 off the mark. Amazingly it was the three men who got it right. But don’t worry, I’m not reading too much into that! Three of us chose our pre-taste favourite as our preferred choice of the 2 wines – one of them (no names!) chose the Chianti at the start and the end, but identified the wrong wine.

Anyway it was a fun way of drinking and discussing wine, and both bottles were very pleasant. I can’t wait until the next one!

Here’s what I thought of the wines:

Carpineto Chianti Classico Riserva 2008, Tuscany (The Wine Shop £12.99)
Lots of bright red fruit on the nose with some enticing leathery and slightly earthy notes. On the palate the bright sour cherry and raspberry hits you right between the eyes and us backed to by those earthy, leathery notes. The wine has lovely well structured tannins which are soft enough but suggest you could leave for another couple of years. Would be even better with a pizza! 91 points

Ondarre Rioja Reserva 2006, Rioja (The Wine Shop £9.99)
I thought this was obviously the Rioja with the strawberry, vanilla and slightly oaky nose – very pleasant. In the glass it was very dark but the palate was very bright with the red fruit fruit bursting through with a hint if dried herbs and sweet spice. For the price it’s really very good but maybe just lacking a bit if finesse and length. 88 points

If there are a few of you together for dinner then give it a go – it certainly puts the wine at the centre of the evening and makes you realise how much you do or don’t know!

Spring has sprung!

Finally it appears that Spring has sprung. The yellow sphere in the sky is back, the birds are singing sweet songs and the trees are getting dressed after their naked slumber. Two things this week have made me realise that its time to rethink the drink and get out the spring wine list. The first was a delightful bottle of Vouvray on a sunny Thursday evening, the second was a far grander affair…

For some weeks now a plan had been coming together to surprise Peter on his birthday. Mum had arranged to take him away for a weekend, unbeknownst to him his daughter was busy sorting out a surprise day on the water in Henley with all the kids (ha!) and their better halves. My job in all if this was simple… Choose some suitable vino!

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As it was a celebration, bubbles were a must so I chose the brilliant Camel Valley Chardonnay 2008 along with the safe bet of Lanson Black Label NV. The offering from Cornwall was an absolute delight and totally put the Champagne in the shade but both screamed spring time. For the whites I stuck with the UK theme and selected a bottle of Sharpham New release 2012 – a tin of fruit cocktail in a glass – you can even taste the single cherry! The next white choice couldn’t fail as I went with Chablis. Nothing flash, just a very precise village wine with great fruit/mineral balance from the 2011 vintage. So fresh, so spring. Peter is a big red fan so I took along a couple of Cabernets, one from Haut Medoc (Les Allees de Cantemerle 2006) and one from McLaren Vale (Wirra Wirra Dead Ringer 2009), hardly spring choices but they were certainly delicious!

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With this in mind, these are the areas I will be looking to this new season for my own drinking pleasure. Mainly whites with a selection of interesting reds thrown in to spice things up:

Loire Valley

Both the off-dry offerings of Vouvray and the underrated salinity of Muscadet will be taking up plenty of space in my fridge. I’ll be spending a week in the region during the summer and am getting very excited about it!

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Clos de Nouys Vouvray Demi Sec 2011, Loire, France (Waitrose £10.99)
Really rich flavours of ripe peaches, hint of apricot and lively acidity combine beautifully with the sweetness to provide a refreshing and balanced mouthful that makes the sun seem that little bit warmer. 90 points

UK

I am more and more impressed with the still whites the more I get the chance to drink them. The Madelaine Angevine grape can now stand shoulder to shoulder with many of its more famous European cousins.

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Sharpham Dart Valley Reserve 2010 (www.sharpham.co.uk £9.95)
Oodles of fresh fruit from nectarines, limes and grapefruit and is held together with a hint of oak from the ageing process and just a touch of residual sugar. Very elegant and one of the best English whites around. 91 points

Portugal

Get your hands on some Vinho Verde. From northern Portugal, super fresh and fruity wine with lots citrus and apple character. Maybe even a hint of spritz – go for it.

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Quinta de Azevedo Vinho Verde 2012, Portugal (Waitrose £7.49)
Currently £5.99 with 25% off. Lots of lemon, lime and apple skin fruit and massively refreshing. It’s not complex but its deliciously refreshing and a real fun wine with that hint of spritz. 89 points

New World Riesling

Surprise surprise! I just love this stuff, whether its Australia, New Zealand or South Africa… I’m looking for a bit of sweetness this Spring – that seems to be my theme!

Pegasus Bay Riesling 2009, Waipara, NZ (Roberson £17.95)
Ok so this isn’t cheap but its bloody brilliant! I first came across this wine at The Providores restaurant in Marylebone and now I can buy it at Roberson, just around the corner from work! Intense lime and pineapple freshness – like crushed pineapple chunks. Lovely off-dry finish and very, very long. One if my very favourites. 93 points

Italy

I’m really enjoying adventuring through the complexity of Italian wines at the moment but there are some wonderful wines just perfect for a sunny afternoon. Whether you look to Lugana in Veneto or head further south and search out Falanghina from Campania or Orvieto from Umbria, you will find plenty to brighten up your spring palate.

De Falco Beneventano Falanghina 2011, Campania, Italy (Wine & the Vine £10.55)
Lots of fruit, pears and grapefruit and a touch if white flowers. Lots more fruit on the palate, pears and grapefruit again but with a lovely acidic freshness. Very nice this. 89 points

Italy is also my Spring red recommendation. I’m looking at Piedmont, but not the superstars of Barolo and Barbaresco, but the value and early drinking wines from Alba and Asti. Both Barbera and Dolcetto are super grapes with loads of acidity and red fruit flavour – absolutely great chilled too.

Michele Chiarlo Dolcetto d’Asti 2010, Piedmont, Italy (Wine & the Vine £11.55)
Youthful aromas and palate of young red cherries and Victoria plums. Wonderful acidity and just enough tannin to provide a super balance. 90 points

Tasting in pairs

There’s no better reason for drinking lots of wine than a week away at the seaside. When there are six of you in self catering accommodation, with a few eager home/holiday cooks then it is obligatory to drink plenty of wine and it offers a great opportunity to try lots of new stuff.

I decided to take an eclectic mix of bottles with me this year and also had the idea of putting “pairs” of wine together. As there were 6 of us, a bottle only allows for a glass each, so you need at least 2 bottles to get through dinner anyway. I selected pairs of wines with something in common, that we could compare and contrast and decide which one each of us would prefer with that evening’s meal. It worked out great and everyone found it easier to talk about the wines when they had one thing to compare it with.

This is something I’m looking forward to doing more of in the future, but here’s an overview of the week long experiment!

On Easter Sunday we walked across the cliffs from Beer to Branscombe, enjoyed a couple of pints at The Mason’s Arms, before heading back to the cottage for a roast turkey dinner. In my recent post on matching food and wine I suggested either red or white Burgundy with chicken or turkey so I decided to pit Burgundy against New Zealand…

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Round 1 – Chardonnay

Pouilly Fuisse versus Marlborough. Two excellent wines I have enjoyed before, which I found very difficult to separate as there was plenty to appreciate in both bottles. In the end I just gave NZ the edge… But only just. Between the six of us it was 3-3.

Domaine Nadine Ferrand Pouilly Fuisse 2008, Burgundy, France (Wine and the Vine £22.99)
A delicate nose but very elegant and very sophisticated. Delicious mixture of stone fruits, hint of citrus and mild smokey oak. Medium weight on the palate but more than made up for in depth and richness. Peachy fruit, nutty with a balanced oaky finish. 91 points

Saint Clair Omaka Reserve Chardonnay 2011, Marlborough, New Zealand (Wine and the Vine £16.75)
Peach, apple and honey aromas with a lovely smokey/toasty notes – even a hint of bacon. Good body and weight with yeasty, bready and honey notes, and below a foundation of apple and peach. It tastes like a spicy, baked apple. Very much in the Meursault mould – if I’d served this first I would have gone for Burgundy. 92 points

Round 2 – Pinot Noir

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Another close call but the class of Drouhin just about won through. The amazing thing for me again with NZ Pinot is how evolved these young wines appear.

Domaine Joseph Drouhin Chorey-les-Beaune 2011, Burgundy (Waitrose £11.99, usually £15.99)
Raspberries and cherries, lots of young fruit and a lovely fresh palate. There is a whiff of leather and spice but mostly clean and fresh fruit. Delightful and a wonderful introduction to red Burgundy. 89 points

Te Tera Vineyards Pinot Noir 2011, Martinborough (The Wine Society £13.50)
Darker fruit than the Chorey with lots of black cherry and even a hint of damson. There is lots of savoury spice, definitely a touch of star anise, and a really quite developed meaty, feral note. It’s very good but lacking a bit of elegance. 88 points

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Next we had a battle of wonderful spicy Grenache/Garnacha. The food was the leftovers from the previous evening and lots of other bits and pieces – not an ideal match but the battle was immense! In the blue corner representing France, a blockbuster from Lirac; in the red corner representing Spain, a beauty from Priorat. Thus was one hell of a tussle that we all loved. Two wonderful wines and the winner by a split decision… Priorat!

Domaine des Cigalounes Lirac 2009, Southern Rhone (Wine and the Vine £11.25)
Black cherry and dark plums from the hedgerow with a beautiful waft of herbs de Provence on the nose. The spice and fennel comes first and is beautifully balanced with black cherries and really fine and silky tannins. This is elegant and delicious. 91 points

Badaceli Priorat 2006, Priorat (Wine and the Vine £12.85)
Now we are really talking! Brambles, spice and smoke. Lots of black currant and blackberry fruit, warm spices that really dance on the tongue and a lovely hint of bacon-like smoke. There is a good proportion of Cabernet here giving that blackcurrant and eucalyptus lift but what I love are the rustic, edgy tannins. So much charm and plenty of edge. I love it. 92 points

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Takeaway Tuesday! The majority went for a curry, with a couple heading to the chippy. But both options screamed white wine and for this round we went back to NZ (sorry I’m getting hooked) and pitted Sauvignon Blanc against Riesling. Many of you will know how much I love Southern Hemisphere Riesling and also how I’ve fallen out of love with Sauvignon Blanc. Until now. Both of these wines were fantastic, but the Dog Point Sauv Blanc was a real winner.

Greywacke Riesling 2011, Marlborough (The Wine Society £16.00)
From Kevin Judd, king of NZ Sauvignon Blanc – this has everything I love about NZ Riesling. Lots of bright citrus fruit but what hits you around the head is the crunchy and sweet tin of pineapple chunks jumping out of the glass. A very pleasant and very refreshing glass of wine and a great match for the spicy food. 90 points

Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Marlborough (The Wine Society £12.50)
I can’t believe I’m saying this but I think this was my favourite wine of the entire week. This is so subtle compared to so many other NZ Sauv Blancs. Lots of green pepper, balanced with grapefruit, lime and black currant. There is real tension here – thus a really electrifying wine with masses of acid but the balance is simply superb. Couple with that a length of flavour I have never before witnessed in Sauvignon; I really love it. And at £12.50 I think I’ll have a case please! 93 points

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After the takeaway it was time to sit in front of the telly and watch a film. We actually watched Bottle Shock, which I wrote about recently… And no, it wasn’t my choice, but I enjoyed it nevertheless. So here we enjoyed a couple of big Aussie reds. Cabarnet vs. Shiraz, Coonawarra vs. McLaren Vale. We loved the huge fruit flavours of both but the eucalyptus elegance on Coonawarra just tipped the balance.

Walter Clappis The Hedonist Shiraz 2011, McLaren Vale (Waitrose £9.74, usually £12.99)
Inky black with chocolate, black pepper and smoke. Blackberries, black cherry and damsons, concentrated and intense with nicely integrated oak. I like it but it doesn’t hit the highs of the 2010. 89 points

Berton Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Coonawarra (Wine and the Vine £11.55)
Loads of blackcurrant and cassis fruit aromas and lots of fresh eucalyptus and a hint of chocolate. On the palate there is plenty of grip, the black fruit is massive and there’s loads of minty freshness and beautiful mineraliness. The finish is very rich and very long. 91 points

Give it a go – its a great way if learning what you really like.

Learn as you taste

The subject of wine appreciation scares people when it shouldn’t at all. The great thing about wine tasting is there really isn’t a right or wrong answer, simply your own conclusion. There are only three things you need. Your eyes, your nose, and your tongue. Couple that with a half decent vocabulary and away you go!

Keeping notes of the wines you drink is a great way of learning what you do and don’t like. Your notes will help you when you’re choosing wine in the shop or in a restaurant as you will be able to tell your server your preferred grapes or styles.

Keep your notes simple! If a wine doesn’t smell or taste like sweaty saddles or you don’t even know what that means (who does??) then don’t use the phrase!

First things first… Don’t overfill your glass. You can always refill it! Leave plenty of room for the wine to breath and give it a good swill in the glass.

Sight

In simple terms, using your eyes can tell you how fresh the wine is. What colour is it? If its white wine is it pale and watery, or golden and shimmering? It should be clear and bright. If not you might want to open another bottle! If so then you’re probably ready to move to stage 2. With experience you can start to identify elements of age and even origin by sight alone.

Smell

Probably the most important part of tasting – scientifically speaking, most of what we think we’re tasting, we are actually smelling. Apparently!

Use words and comparisons you recognise. Here’s some useful start points: fruit, flowers, spices, oak, animal (really! Is it meaty? Syrah often smells like smoked bacon). If you think its spicy, can you be more specific? Is it pepper, clove or star anise? If its pepper is it black pepper or white?

Taste

Can you recognise the flavours you smelt? If you thought it smelt of citrus, does it taste of lime or lemon? Always try and narrow it down. Can you taste any sweetness or how about acidity? Acid makes your mouth water. Is it light or full bodied? And how long does the taste stay in your mouth – does it have good length?

And there you go – you’ve written your first tasting note. Not that difficult and you can now compare this note with other wines to work out what you do and don’t like.

Over the next few weeks I’ll give you some ideas that will help you explore different regions and grape varieties, learning as you taste.

Cheers!

What wine with KFC?

Here’s the deal. You’ve had a wonderful week in Devon, eating wonderful local produce partnered with plenty of excellent wine (I’ll be telling you all about it very soon!)… What do you do when you get home? In our house, after the unpacking, several loads of washing, sorting through the post/bills and reacquainting with the TV, it has to be the most guilty of guilty pleasures… KFC.

I consider myself a fan of top quality food but I just love the stuff… The Fish loves it even more, so even when I put on my disapproving face, I don’t stand a chance! But what do you drink with it? Spicy, greasy, flavoursome…

Chicken is generally a pretty easy match – its a fairly neutral flavour. But when its seasoned with a secret blend of spices (!!) and deep fried then things get a bit more complicated.

I decided there were 3 things I needed:

Acid – to cut through the grease
Fruit – I wanted plenty if vibrancy to allow me taste the wine with the chicken
Weight – some texture and richness to match the spicing

I immediately discounted red wine as I thought the spiciness would heighten any tannin. A Beaujolais could work (sorry, not a fan) or a young Barbera or Dolcetto but I think we’re better going with a white (rose maybe in the summer but lets not complicate things).

Acid is the most important thing so my mind went to Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. I also put out a call to Twitter (@winegeekconfess if you’re interested!) and there were many calls for Champagne or Cava. I can really see this working – its my favourite match for fish & chips – but I was in the mood for a still wine so lets go through the options.

Riesling – lots of fruit and lots of acid, maybe a bit too much that would overpower the chicken?

Chenin Blanc – my mind immediately went to the off-dry wines of Vouvray in the Loire Valley. Lots of fruit, razor sharp acidity and a bit of sweetness… A real contender.

Sauvignon Blanc – I would be more inclined to go to the Loire again for a Sancerre or a Pouilly Fume; or even out to Cheverny, which has about 20% Chardonnay fora bit more body.

Chardonnay – has to be unoaked or very young. There are some lovely Aussie and North American examples out there, but I was drawn to Macon in Burgundy. Lots of freshness, plenty of body and rapier like acidity. My winner!

This was a spur if the moment thing and I had to make a single choice – one day I’ll do this properly with a few mates and all of the options available to taste to make a 100% fair assessment!

Maison Louis Latour St Veran 2011 (Costco £8.99)
Bags of fruit with melon, peach and lemon on the nose with just a touch of toasty nuttiness. Lovely weight on the palate and searing acidity. It’s not a long finish but there just enough there to match the intensity of the spices. 89 points

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Sharpham – an English gem in Devon

If you’re a lover of English wine and/or cheese, Sharpham Estate should be on your to do list when you’re anywhere near Devon or Cornwall. Situated just outside the delightful town of Totnes, Sharpham is located in the stunning landscape of the Dart Valley.

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As a long time cheese lover I came across Sharpham cheese on my first visit to Devon ten years ago. My local deli sells both the plain and rustic (spiked with herbs) versions and either will improve any cheese course. A few years ago I decided to find out where this wonderful cheese was made to see if we could visit while we were relaxing on our annual pilgrimage to Beer. To my delight I found out that not only could you visit and look at where and how the cheese was produced, but they also made wine. And had a cafe. What’s not to like??

This Easter was our third visit and although the cafe won’t be open until the 1st May, it was still one of the highlights of the holiday. The wines are crisp and fresh and just so damn drinkable. I know that sounds a bit ridiculous but its true! The whites I have always found to be the perfect aperitif, the reds a great alternative to rustic Italians. Sharpham offer a number of different tour, the guided ones only available in park season. However the “Trek & Taste” tours are available all year round. You can opt for Gold, Silver or Bronze but for £8.95 why choose anything other than gold? For your cash you get a map with 3 different routes which allow you to plot your own way around the vineyard. Then, on returning to the delightful shop area, you get to taste 3 wines and 2 cheeses. Not a bad deal eh?

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As you’ll see from the photos, the sky was crystal clear when we went, although it was bloody freezing cold! We walked through the stunning vineyard, past the Madeleine Angevine, Phoenix, Dornfelder and Pinot Noir vines. Then down and along the Dart river, and back to the shop and the tasting. It really is a stunning place to wonder round; one day I’d like to buy and live in Sharpham House!

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My one disappointment this year was hearing that Steve, the winemaker from New Zealand had left for pastures new. I’d enjoyed some great conversations with him and loved his passion for the wines he made. Nevertheless, Karen was a fantastic host and presented us with not three, but four wines and our 2 fine cheeses. The cheeses were the Rustic and the Brie-style full cream beauty. Both delicious, and served alongside the Pinot. And the wines? Below is a review of the four we tried.

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Sharpham New Release 2012 (£9.95)
OK, so its not going to win lots of prizes for complexity but it really is a super fun wine that is perfect for any party or BBQ (if we get a chance this year!). The Early Release is produced in a Nuveau style to show off the quality if the upcoming vintage of Madeleine Angevine. The fact that the harvest was down 60% in 2012, I am so glad they still decided to bottle this wine. The fruit is pure and bright and screams if nectarine, melon and elderflower. Its a tin of fruit salad in a glass! There’s a slight spritz and some residual sugar giving a delightful off-dry finish. Great fun and just so delightfully fresh. 88 points

Sharpham Estate Reserve 2011(£11.95)
This is more serious than the Early Release, also made from 100% Madleine Angevine. I’ve been a fan if this wine in the past but the 2011 didn’t really do it for me. The overwhelming aroma and taste is of very powerful elderflower and unfortunately little else. There is good weight to the wine but its all just a bit blowsy for me. Sorry. 84 points

Sharpham Whole Berry Rose 2011 (£13.95)
I may have to reconsider my views on Rose. I got quite involved with the dry Rose style if the Southern Rhone last summer, but now I may have been convinced by this off-dry number. The wine us made by lightly pressing whole bunches of Dornfelder grapes and the outcome is particularly fine. Loads of strawberry fruit but it reminded me of a fine dessert containing rhubarb poached in a sugar syrup with some lightly poached meringues. It really is wonderful stuff, again perfect for a party, but maybe also as a match to a light strawberry or rhubarb based pud. Lovely. 89 points

Sharpham Pinot Noir & Precoce 2011 (£22.95)
I recently enjoyed a bottle from the 2009 vintage, which surprised and delighted in equal measures – as good as some village wines from the Côte de Beaune. This 2011 has lots if the same black cherry and damson fruit, underpinned with hints if worn leather and just a dash of roasted game. The tannins from 8 months in French oak are still pre meant but I’ve bough a couple to enjoy in a couple of years – I believe they will be worth the wait. 90+ points

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The real star if the show for me is the Dart Valley Reserve. Although there wasn’t a bottle open to taste I did buy a couple and tried one today… Just for you to read about of course!

Sharpham Dart Valley Reserve 2010 (£9.95)
A blend of Madeleine Angevine Bacchus and Phoenix (never come across it before!) which spends a short period of time ageing in oak barrels. The Dart has oodles of fresh fruit from nectarines, limes and grapefruit and is held together with a hint if oak from the ageing process and just a hint of residual sugar. This is a really elegant wine, a bit reminiscent of a top notch Vouvray from the Loire Valley. This is good enough for Gidleigh Park’s award winning wine list and its certainly good enough for a place in my fridge. One of the best English whites around. 91 points

If you’re in the area then get yourself over to Sharpham Estate. It’s a great way to spend a few holiday hours and you’ll come w away with a boot full of fine cheese and wine. A real English gem.

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www.sharpham.com

Chardonnay – it’s time to forgive & forget

I think its time to absolve Chardonnay of its crimes against wine. Over the past few months I have realised that my go to white is the often maligned, but often majestic Chardonnay. Firstly there are the great Chardonnays of Burgundy- steely, minerally Chablis, big and fat Meursault, elegant and flamboyant Chassagne, buttery Pouilly Fuisse. But the new world is also providing some great competition. No longer should we talk about the over-oaked, unbalanced wine of the past, but more about the freshness and purity of the fruit, and the sympathetic use of oak (barrels, not staves or chips!).

From the New World I have been particularly impressed by California and New Zealand – I will be searching out some Aussie Chardonnay very soon. These wines hold their own against many of their French counterparts and deserve our attention. The reason behind this post was an Easter meal where we pitted France against New Zealand in a Chardonnay and Pinot battle. The outcome was even for both varieties – we loved them all!

So whatever your preconceptions, give Chardonnay another go.

I was looking through my tasting notes and was quite surprised how much Chardonnay I have drunk over the past six months. Here’s a few of the notes, from aged Burgundy right through to entry level bargains (sorted from high to low score):

Domaine Blain Gagnard Chassagne Montrachet 1er Cru Caillerets 1990 (Nickolls & Perks £120.00)
Golden, honeyed colour… I couldn’t wait to smell and taste it. The smell is the essence of hot buttered toast. It’s nutty, its brioche, its amazing. ‘Where’s the fruit?’ I hear you ask: well, the peach and even a bit of baked apple hits your palate. But it’s the honey, nuts and toast that takes your breath away. And it just goes on and on and on. It’s amazingly fresh and the acid backbone is beautifully balanced. This wines makes you close your eyes and say thank you. 95 points

Maison Nicolas Potel, Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru, 2005 (Exel Wines £60)
(Tasted at West London Wine School Burgundy tasting February 2013)

Oh my this smells amazing. Oakley, floral and delicate, with plenty of white peach and sweet vanilla. In the mouth there is a wonderful streak of acidity – really zesty green apples and wonderful ripe peaches. The oak is beautifully integrated and kisses your tongue, providing a lick of vanilla. This is elegance personified and amazing fruit, oak spice and toast that lingers and lingers and lingers… 94 points

Morey-Blanc Meursault 2001 (£29.00 The Wine Society)
Nuts and peaches jump out of the glass and just a hint of smokey oak and butterscotch. This smells its age and smells expensive. The nuttiness is foremost at first taste and then peaches and grapefruit before a lingering finish of beautifully judged and balanced oak that just goes on and on. Its still so fresh. Magic. 93 points

Saint Clair Omaka Reserve Chardonnay 2011, Marlborough, New Zealand (Wine and the Vine £16.45)
Peach, apple and honey aromas with a lovely smokey/toasty notes – even a hint of bacon. Good body and weight with yeasty, bready and honey notes, and below a foundation of apple and peach. It tastes like a spicy, baked apple, covered in luscious double cream, topped with nuts! Very much in the Meursault mould – a big mouthfilling and delicious Chardonnay. 92 points

Domaine Larue Saint-Aubin 1er Cru Les Cortons 2008, Burgundy (Bin Two £24.00)

Apple and savoury buttered crumble with custard spiked with nutmeg and vanilla. Delicious aromas. Buttery, toasty savouriness combines with a beautiful acid steak of apples as well as some tropical fruits. The oak is beautifully judged and integrated through the finish, which is delightful and lingering. This is a massively underrated Burgundy appellation. 92 points

Chateau de Beauregard Grand Beauregard Pouilly Fuisse 2007, Burgundy, France (The Wine Society £36.00)
Huge aromas and smells rich and intense. Lovely mixture of stone fruits, hint of citrus and lots of smokey oak. Medium weight on the palate but more than made up for in depth and richness. Peachy fruit, nutty and smokey flavours with a beautifully oaky finish. Top notch. 92 points

Maison du Tastelune, Chassagne Montrachet 2008 (M&S £30.00/£22.50)
Beautiful nose of white peaches, honeysuckle and a dart of vanilla oak. I could smell this wine for hours! Clean and fresh with a little bit of weight, peachy, spicy and long. Very fresh with lovely acidity but still plenty of Chassagne weight. This comes with a heftyish price tag but will brighten up your Xmas. Love it. 92 points

Powers Chardonnay 2009, Washington State, USA (House of Townend £11.99)
Top class Chardonnay this with ripe, also most tropical fruits appearing from underneath a delicious preachiness. There is a delightful use of oak which is beautifully balanced with a fresh and zesty acidity. Delicious and cab stuff. 91 points

Sandhi Wines Santa Barbara Chardonnay 2011 (Roberson £26.95)
(Tasted at Roberson Sandhi & Kutch tasting February 2013)

Peachy, nutty and toasty with plenty of citrus fruit and a hint of grapefruit. This wine is surprisingly light bodied, as the nose suggested an all together bigger wine. The acid is fantastically refreshing and delivers loads of citrus fruit and buttered toast on the finish. This is a lively, energetic and a “happy” wine. I was just left thinking how much more Chablis or Macon I could get for my money. 91 points

Domaine Pascal Bouchard, Chablis Grand Cru Vaudesir, 2006 (Waitrose £29.99)

Lots of stones and mineral on the nose but also plenty of green apple fruit. There is also a delicious savoury element here, reminiscent of almonds, marzipan even. On the tongue its clean, fresh and wonderfully acidic. Tart green apples and lovely minerality. The finish is generous with a touch of bitter almond right at the end. Clean, elegant, fruity, mineral and savoury. Very good. 91 points

First Press Chardonnay, Napa Valley 2010. (Waitrose £16.99/£12.74)
Overripe melon in a lovely way. Supercharged fruit, lovely brioche waft and a note of nuttiness. Not as wild on the palate but a lovely appley streak of acidity. Nutiness comes through after a while in the glass. Delicious. 90 points

Domaine de Mac Mahon Auxey-Duresses 2004 (Cave D’Ange Gardien €18.50)
I picked this bottle up at a tasting at Le Cave D’Ange Gardien in Beaune last February (#1 thing to do on Tripadvisor) and had forgotten about it. It’s great. Oaky, smoky nose with a little bit of peach fruit. I expected it to be fuller but its fairly light bodied with lots of toasty, woody flavours, yet deliciously light and fresh. May have to look for some more from Auxey-Duresses. 89 points

Domaine Gérard Duplessis, Chablis 1er Cru “Vaillon” 2007 (The Bull Inn, Beaumaris £27.00)
(Drunk at Ye Olde Bull, Beaumaris)

Lots of apple with a fresh citrus streak on the nose. The wine has good body, quite “fat” for Chablis but very good nevertheless. The appley fruit is very pronounced but so is the cool, dry limestone flavour, which is beautifully integrated with the fruit. Very decent, especially at this price. 88 points

Domaine Botti Sant Veran 2008, Macon, Burgundy (Wine and the Vine £12.85)
Honeydew melon and pink apples on nose and palate. A dash short on acidity but very tasty and lovely almond or cobnut finish. Decent intro to white Burgundy. 88 points

Doña Paula Estate Chardonnay 2010, Mendoza, Argentina (Wine and the Vine £11.55)
Very nice peachy nose with hints of the tropics, maybe some crunchy pineapple. Backed up with a big if smoke, gentle oak. Tropical and mandarin on the palate, a big of unwelcome alcohol warmth, which is a shame because the finish is quite pleasant, if uninspiring. 87 points

The Society’s White Burgundy 2011, Macon (The Wine Society £7.50)
Fresh and round. Apples and peaches. Needs a bigger zing of acidity, but very pleasant. 87 points

Henri De Lorgere Macon Villages 2011 (Aldi £4.99)
Very pale straw colour, lots of citrus and nectarine, even some tropical fruit aromas. Big hit of acidity and lime; very fresh, very simple, very young. For the price this is great stuff and would happily have a bottle in the fridge just waiting to be drunk after a bad day at work. 87 points

The Exquisite Selection Limestone Coast Chardonnay 2012, South Australia (Aldi £5.99)
Very tropical aromas of melon, mango and even passion fruit. Not what I was expecting at all. You may even think this is a Sauvignon it’s that tropical on the palate too. Not much body but very refreshing. Thus would be an excellent BBQ wine with some chicken. 86 points

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