Monthly Archives: July 2013

St Julien & Margaux – close to home?

After Pauillac, our tastings took us south to the appellations of Saint Julien and Margaux (unfortunately our visit to Cos d’Estornel in St Estephe was cancelled due to nomelectricitybaftervtgevbig tornado). Cabernet is still king here but there is less emphasis on power, more on finesse and elegance. The estates I chose were Langoa & Leoville Barton in Saint Julien and Cantenac Brown in Margaux. They are wines I have enjoyed immensely over the past year and, coincidently, both have their roots in Britain & Ireland

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Château Langoa-Barton was purchased by Irishman Hugh Barton in 1821 and has remained in the Barton family ever since. In 1826, the Barton family also bought a piece of the Leoville estate (split now between Barton, Las Cases and Poyferre). In the 1855 classification, Leoville was designated as a Deuxiemes Cru (second growth), along with the other Leoville estates; Langoa was classified as Troisiemes Cru (third growth). Anthony Barton took over ownership and administration of the estate in 1983 and runs it today, along with his daughter Lillian. What many people don’t realise is there is only one chateau for both properties and it belongs to Langoa… Even though an image of the chateau only appears on the label of Leoville (the Barton family crest adorns the label of Langoa). Both wines are vinified in the same cellar at Chateau Langoa Barton. Leoville a barton has 50 hectares under vine, with only 18 for Langoa.

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What I loved about the visit to the Barton estate(s) was the adherence to and respect for tradition. There is no stainless steel in the vat room; all wines are vinified in old oak vats. The visit to the barrel room is tinged with sadness; it was completed in 1990, the same year as Anthony’s son was killed in a car accident. The cellar has been dedicated to Thomas and there is a permanent plaque dedicated to him at the entrance. It is currently home to the maturing 2012 vintage but the new barrels for 2013 have already begun to arrive and have already been painted with wine to avoid any blemishes to the picture perfect setting.

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The tasting, which took place in the room that the Barton team decide on the final blend for each vintage, was of the wines from the 2011 vintage:

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Chateau Langoa Barton 2011, Saint Julien, Bordeaux
Cab Sav 63%, Merlot 34%, Cab Franc 3%
Lots of blackcurrant jam and mineral notes on the nose with just a slight hint of vanilla. Medium bodied, very fruity even now, with plenty of pure blackcurrant. Lots of young tannin but delightfully elegant. Not over complex but very charming. 92 points

Chateau Leoville Barton 2011, Saint Julien, Bordeaux
Cab Sav 80%, Merlot 15%, Cab Franc 5%
Huge concentration of blackcurrant and cassis, earthy minerality and just the faintest whiff of mint freshness. There are also some exotic spice notes of vanilla and musk. All in all very enticing aromas. Huge attack of concentrated blackcurrant and liqueur cassis but with a delightful freshness and harmonious, almost smooth tannin. This will be fab in 10 years time! 94 points

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Chateau Cantenac Brown is a Troisiemes Cru estate in the beautiful appellation of Margaux. The chateau itself is stunning, reminiscent of a very posh English boarding school (nothing like my scabby comprehensive in North Wales!). John Lewis Brown, a Frenchman with Scottish roots, bought the vineyard in 1806 and built the chateau in the Tudor style. There are many grand chateaux in Bordeaux but Cantenac Brown really does stand out. AXA bought the estate (along with a few others!) in the 1980’s and as well as improving the winemaking, spent a lot of money converting the estate into the perfect location for company seminars and entertaining. In 2006 the property was bought by Simon Halibi, who was ranked the 14th richest person in Britain in The Times’ 2007 rich list.

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The grapes are hand-picked and screened on the vibrating table before being put through the optic scanner for a final check – the team still have more confidence in manual sorting! Individual plots are vinified separately according to grape variety and vine age, which allow for great precision in selection when Cantenac Brown is finally blended. They also produce a second wine, BriO de Cantenac Brown, from specific plots.

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Cantenac Brown really is a delightful estate to visit, even if its one of the worst signposted chateau in the Medoc! The parkland behind the chateau are stunning and the folly is great fun – only the Brits understand the absurd concept! The wines we tasted were the first and second labels from the 2007 vintage:

BriO de Cantenac Brown 2004, Margaux, Bordeaux
Never had this second wine before but I will certainly be having it again! A real fruit bomb on the nose with a mixture of concentrated blackcurrant and and underlying hint of raspberry freshness. Very soft tannins and very elegant texture. Really good wine. 92 points

Chateau Cantenac Brown 2007, Margaux, Bordeaux
We seem to have tasted plenty of 2007s on this trip and they really are turning out to be rather delicious, fun wines. This has lashings of black fruit with plenty of oaky tannin. Still the tannins are overwhelming but there is plenty of freshness to suggest this has a good life ahead of it. 93+ points

Here’s a few snaps of some famous properties I captured as we drove up and down the D2… I was like a kid in a sweet shop!

Chateau Cos d’Estornel, St Estephe

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Chateau Latour, Pauillac

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Chateau Pichon-Longueville Comtesse Lalande, Pauillac (not as pretty as Pichon Baron!)

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Chateau Beychevelle, St Julien

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Chateau Branaire Ducru, St Julien

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Chateau Margaux, Margaux (we had to go through a couple of no entry signs for this one!)

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Chateau Palmer, Margaux

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Pauillac – the old and the new

In two chateau visits in Pauillac, the heart of Bordeaux, what was especially interesting (along with the marvellous wines of course) was the juxtaposition of old and new. At both Chateau Lynch Bages and Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron, I witnessed a celebration of the latest technological advances but with a respectful nod to tradition and the way things have been done for centuries.

20130730-235815.jpgStarting in the airy reception area at Lynch Bages with its minimalist furnishings and soft lighting, you immediately know that money has been spent to ensure you will be well looked after (for your €9 outlay!). Our wonderfully chic guide took us straight into the ultra modern vat room, with its state of the art press and gleaming stainless steel tanks, each built to the perfect size to receive the fruit from its specified plot. The estate is obviously very proud of its technology but its the old vat room that really inspired me. The smell of the old wooden vats was delightful and knowing they had been in situ for almost 100 years sent a tingle down my spine. The idea of fires and their embers being used to control the temperatures during fermentation is a lot to take in in this day and age.

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The next stop on the tour was even more impressive. The space above the old vat room has also been preserved as a homage to the past. The sorting tables, pulleys and iron tracks used to transport the grapes have all been meticulously preserved, along with the fabulous old screw-press – just think of the work that went into any of your seriously old bottles! We ten passed through the expensive smell of the barrel cellars, brand new bottling line and into the delightful tasting room.

20130731-000021.jpgThe two wines we got to taste were both from 2006, firstly Chateau Ormes de Pez (also owned by the Cazes family) followed by the Chateau Lynch Bages:

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Chateau Les Ormes de Pez Cru 2006, St Estephe, Bordeaux (Lea & Sandeman £22.50)
58% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc
I tried the 2001 towards the end if last year and was left frustrated by the lack of balance after a very promising attack – the 2006 is much more together. This wine is powerful and earthy, lots of concentrated cassis fruit but also just a hint of jammy raspberry. There is excellent structure and the tannins are still a bit firm but there is plenty of fruit and acidity to bring it all together over the next couple of years. 91+ points

Chateau Lynch Bages 2006, Pauillac, Bordeaux (Berry Bros £65.00)
79% Cab Sav, 10% Merlot, 10% Cab Franc, 1% Petit Verdot
Each time I try Lynch I always think it just smells expensive! On the nose there is lots of concentrated cassis fruit but then followed by smoke, cedar and spice. The wine is still very young and listed but there is real purity to the wine, with lots on blackcurrant and blackberry goodness. Real backbone with lots if young tannin but there’s plenty of freshness and some deliciously exotic spice in the background. Don’t think about touching for another 5 years. 94 points

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But at Lynch that us not the end… For the Cazes family have created their very own Bordeaux Disneyland, complete with Boulangerie, Epiciere, fashion store, wine shop and bistro! They are actually to be applauded for this as Pauillac itself isn’t the most picturesque place – its just a shame everything was running at a minimum level due to the tornado of two nights previous

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And onto Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron… I don’t mind telling you I was like a giddy toddler when the Cinderella towers came into view as we approached along the D2! This really is the most beautiful chateaux in the Medoc and it did take my breath away. This was one if the first appointments I booked when we decided to tour Bordeaux after I attended a magnificent vertical tasting back in March.

20130731-000407.jpgOur guide was wonderful… I just wish I could remember her name! On this tour it was just me and The Fish and we laughed all the way round. The chateau looks so traditional and elegant from the outside, but don’t be be deceived, for within, or even below, AXA’s investment appears to have been put towards building a spaceship! In Chateuneuf aliens may have been outlawed, in Pichon they may actually have landed! But it is very impressive – from the ultra-modern optic sorting machine, to the command centre that is the temperature control booth in the vat room, nothing here is left to chance. From there its on to one of the barrel cellars, which lies directly underneath the magnificent ornamental lake. When we were there they were moving some barrels in preparation for a classical music concert… How things have changed!

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Finally we entered the luxurious tasting room, with elegance to match the Chateau’s facade, and a tasting of 3 wines, all from the 2008 vintage:

Chateau Pibran Cru Bourgeois 2008, Pauillac, Birdeaux (N/A UK)
51% Cab Sav, 49% Merlot
Owned by the Cazes family but vinified at Pichon-Baron, this is a very fruity wine with good acidity and a lovely freshness. There’s some good tannic structure but its really quite simple with a short finish. Very un-Pauillac. Hmm… Maybe not so bad its not available in the UK! 86 points

Tourelles De Longueville 2008, Pauillac, Bordeaux 2008 (Farr Vintners £17.92)
65% Merlot, 20% Cab Sav, 15% Cab Franc
The second wine of Pichon Baron… But made to be itself, hence the high proportion of Merlot in the blend. It’s obviously not noticeably Pauillac but that’s not to say it doesn’t have its own charm. Brightly coloured and with concentrated, ripe red fruits. The wine is big in body and very fresh upfront and there are notes on mineral and some animal too. I actually quite like this – quite Pomerol in style actually. 91 points

Chateau Pichon Longueville-Baron 2008, Pauillac, Bordeaux (Fine & Rare £61.00)
71% Cab Sav, 29% Merlot
After enjoying the wines at the tasting earlier this year I was particularly looking forward to this one. Lots of big, bold blackcurrant with a whiff of cassis concentration, with delicious smokey cedar and lovely mineral notes. The texture of the 08 is like a cloak of velvet overnight your mouth, before the tannins kick in and close it up a little. The fruit is deep and concentrated, with a hint if minty freshness, balanced beautifully by a streak if lively acidity and supported with an earthy, mineral finish. Years to go until it reaches its peak but well worth the wait. 94 points

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Oh and here’s a photo of Chateau Latour, across the road from Pichon… They wouldn’t let me in!

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Tour(s) de France – Prologue

As happens in the great bike race, our holiday in France started with a taste of things to come in the city of Tours in The Loire Valley. Last year I drove straight down to the Southern Rhone in one go, then proceeded northwards for 2 weeks up through the northern Rhone, Burgundy and Champagne. This year’s trip is Bordeaux and The Loire but I didn’t fancy driving down in one go so we decided to stop off in Tours as it was about half way. And what a wonderful first evening it was…

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It also happened to be our 7th wedding anniversary so a good meal and a fine bottle of wine was (as usual!) top of the agenda. We wondered though the delightful streets of Tours and came across the magnificently named “Au Lapin Qui Fume”. It was perfect. €26 for three courses, 4 choices per course, and a very simple but enticing wine list. I went for Carpaccio, Bream (best ever!) and Chocolate Tart; The Fish went with Chèvre Chaud, the eponymous Lapin tagine, and roasted peach. It was top notch cooking with fantastic ingredients – the French are kings and queens of the set menu. Vouvray was the wine choice of the evening, starting with a couple of glasses of delicious sparkling nectar from Domaine Fourquat. Ripe apples and a tropical twist, with a delicious hint of sweetness, all brought together with tiny, perfectly formed bubbles. We then had a bottle of dry Vouvray, which was simple but went down a treat:

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Domaine Champalou Sec Vouvray 2011 (€16.00)
Lovely mixture of apple skin and citrus with the faintest hint of the tropics. Lovely acidity and a decent, if not over-generous finish. Ideal start to the holiday and perfect for 30 degree heat! 87 points

It’s funny, as the week before travelling to Tours I drank another bottle from Domaine Champalou – this one was off-dry and had layers of complexity:

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Domaine Champalou Cuvée des Fondraux Vouvray 2011 (Wine & The Vine £14.95)
Lovely honey, nuts and apples, then plenty if citrus zing as well a delicious note of very ripe melon. The acidity is searing and delicious, perfectly balanced with the residual sugar to give a truly refreshing edge. I would happily drink a bottle of this every night this summer and believe it counted as at least two of my five a day! 92 points

I really can’t wait to get back to The Loire… But unfortunately there’s a week in Bordeaux to do first!

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The best New World Riesling?

I don’t often write articles based on a single bottle but I just felt that I had to this evening. The Fish has been away all week and she requested steak on the BBQ on her return; so off I went to Athens Ginger Pig, off Marylebone High Street, to pick up the finest cote de boeuf.

The obvious choice to go with the beef was a red so I chose a red wine that would be delicious served chilled in this hot weather… And as we’re off to the Loire in a couple of weeks, a Saumur-Champigny was an ideal choice. But what to drink while we waited for the coals to ready themselves? I love Riesling and I especially love Clare Valley Riesling. The best I have tasted to date was the Grosset Polish Hill 2009… Until tonight… When I tried the 2012. Many would argue its too early to get the full benefit of this great wine… But I disagree!

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Grosset Polish Hill Riesling 2012, Clare Valley, South Australia (The Wine Society £25.00)
I think this could be the best new world Riesling available. It’s certainly the best I’ve tried. I was worried that it may be too early to drink but that was a load of tripe! There is so much fruit on the nose and palate its almost endless. So much lemon and lime and then comes the passion fruit and slight hint of mango. Add in the delightfully flint-like minerality, beautiful acidity and an almost endless finish and you’ve got the perfect New World Riesling (that will improve as those wonderful petrol flavours develop). Wow, just wow. I need a case to try a bottle every year… But I think I might struggle to keep the appointments! 95 points

And lets not forget about the delicious Loire red:

Clos des Cordeliers Saumur-Chamigny Prestige 2009, Loire (The Wine Society £14.95)
Very purple colour and an aroma reminiscent of a bowl if ripe cherries with maybe a hint of leather and liquorice. Served chilled it has a crunchy, fruity texture and the aromas come through in the flavour along with some precise raspberry; Like chomping through a bowl of sweet cherries with a few stray raspberries thrown in, a lovely grip on tannin and a herby thyme and bay finish. Great stuff – a super summer red. 91 points

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BBQ and 10 wines for the Summer

At last my friends, summer is here. Take a moment. Drink in the sunshine. The Ashes is in full tilt and England have just scraped a first test win. Schools are getting ready for their end of year shutdown – The Fish is very happy about this! Holidays are front of mind. We haven’t had a Spring to speak of; its as if it went from 10C to 28C in one foul swoop. But summer has arrived when many of us had given up all hope!

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I lit my first BBQ of the year on Saturday and enjoyed a wonderful NZ Riesling and a magnificent white Burgundy from the underrated appellation of Saint Aubin with my chicken and lamb tikka kebabs. Today the matches were out again and the dish of choice is paella with squid and chorizo. My thoughts went straight to Albariño or Verdejo to continue the Spanish theme, but a visit to Jez at Wine & the Vine changed my mind with a tasting of a delicious Vermentino from Australia (I wouldn’t have gone near it had the Aussies won the first test!) and… big pause…. A Pinot Grigio Rose! Those of you who read the blog regularly will know that I have little time for Pinot G and rarely write about rosé; but the summer has done funny things to me! It’s fantastic!

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So here’s my 10 wines to get stuck into this summer. 5 whites, 3 reds that drink beautifully when chilled, and 2 rosés:

Berton Vineyards Metal Label Vermentino 2012, SE Australia (Wine & the Vine £10.25)
This really is the taste and smell of summer. Like a bowl of citrus with some tropical cousins and a touch if apple peel. Lovely zing if acidity and just the lightest hint of sweetness. Was a perfect partner to the paella. 90 points

Clos de Nouys Vouvray Demi Sec 2011, Loire, France (Waitrose £10.99)
Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley. 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 point

Quinta de Azevedo Vinho Verde 2012, Portugal (Waitrose £7.49)
Currently £5.99 with 25% off. Portuguese wine used to be the sort of stuff you drank on holiday and would never consider drinking at home… How times have changed! 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

Pegasus Bay Riesling 2009, Waipara, NZ (Roberson £17.95)
Ok so this isn’t cheap and I’ve written about is before, but its bloody brilliant! Intense lime and pineapple freshness – like crushed pineapple chunks. With that bit if age theres also that wonderful whiff of petroleum that is so delicious in aged Riesling. Lovely off-dry finish in the style of a German Spatlese, and very, very long. One if my very favourites. 93 points

Sera da Estrela Albarino 2011, Rias Baixas, Spain (Wine & the Vine £14.25)
There really is nothing to dislike about this wine. From Galicia in North West Spain comes heaps 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

Michele Chiarlo Dolcetto d’Asti 2010, Piedmont, Italy (Wine & the Vine £11.55)
You don’t have to pay a fortune for a red wine from Piedmont! Youthful aromas and palate of young red cherries and Victoria plums. Wonderful acidity and just enough tannin to provide a super balance. 90 points

E Guigal Cotes du Rhone 2009, Southern Rhone, France (Majestic £11.99, £8.99 when you buy 2)
Black cherry and dark plums with a beautiful waft of herbs de Provence on the nose – quite a bit of anise. This follows though onto the palate, where the spice and fennel comes first, followed by very black cherries and really grippy tannins. This is robust and delicious. 89 points

Domaine de Noblaie Chinon 2011, Loire, France (The Wine Society £8.95
Chinon reds are 100% Cabernet Franc and are delicious chilled when young. Bright red currant and sweet cherry nose with a deliciously fragrant whiff of green, fresh herbs. Bright and crunchy red berries, good acidity and a delightfully tangy finish. Totally ace for the price! 89 points

Sharpham Whole Berry Rosé 2011 (www.sharpham.com £13.95)
I may have to reconsider my views on Rosé. UK fizz certainly has a great reputation these days but this is a belter too. The wine is 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, perfect for a party in the back garden. 89 points

Sacchetto Pinot Grigio Blush delle Venezie 2012, Veneto, Italy (Wine & the Vine £8.45)
It’s made from Pinot Grigio. It’s a Rosé. And I think its great! Imagine a basket if delicate summer fruits; strawberries, raspberries and sweet cherries. It’s all here with just enough acid and a lovely dry finish. Sunday on the patio sorted! 89 points

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This maybe isn’t a perfect summer wine but its absolutely fantastic and I enjoyed it with my BBQ chicken tikka on Saturday night!

Domaine Larue Saint-Aubin 1er Cru Les Cortons 2008 (Bin Two £24.00)
Apple and savoury buttered crumble with custard spiked with butterscotch 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

Steak & Wine in Cornwall – seemed like a good idea!

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I can assure you this sounded like a brilliant idea at the time. 6 guys going away to Cornwall for the weekend; a reward for the numerous spa weekends the wives seem to arrange!

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Many of the guys are wine lovers, are interested in learning more about wine and also love their food. So what better than the suggestion of a BBQ where we cooked up a number of different cuts of beef, and some wines to see what goes together the best? Whatever could go wrong?

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Arriving at 5.30 on Friday and deciding to do the steak & wine on Saturday
Lots of brilliant British beer on Friday followed by a trip to the onsite “Club”
Then playing cards until 4AM
Finding a pub to watch the Lions on Saturday morning
The Lions winning
Ending up with 13 bottles of wine
Not being afraid to drink them

Well apart from that nothing could go wrong!

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Despite all of the above we still approached our task systematically and with aplomb. The steaks were cooked up (half way through the wine!) and we scored each of the wines out of 10 to come up with a favourite. I scored the wines on the 100 point scale also so I could add them into the tasting notes. Below are all of the wines in the order they were tasted with a bit of analysis at the end.

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Chateau des Trois Tour 2010, Bordeaux (around £10)
I was very impressed with the red fruit concentration, big body and nice oak integration. A deliciously easy drinking wine that bats well above it’s price tag. 89 points (team score 8/10)

Chateau Segonzac Cru Bourgeois 2009, Bordeaux (Waitrose £9.99)
Lots of ripe red fruit from an opulent vintage but really that was about it. The oak is overdone and there isn’t much balance. May soften a touch in a year or two but I’m not prepared to find out! 85 points (6/10)

Chateau Le Baronnet 2010, Bordeaux (Al didn’t know where it came from!)
None of us were too bothered when Al didn’t know where it came from as it was stewed, jammy fruit with no hint of elegance. You can probably pick it up in a 3 for £10 deal. 79 points (4/10)

Errazuriz Merlot 2011, Chile (Majestic £9.99)
This wasn’t my cup of tea – it is big and bold but it’s overdone with sickly fruit and sickly oak. There is 15% Carmenere in the blend). A couple of the guys really liked it’s smooth texture and upfront fruit (but you know what they’d had to drink before!). 83 points (6/10)

Otra Vida Winemakers Selection Malbec 2012, Argentina (Asda £5.48)
I’m not a big Malbec fan and was pleasantly surprised by this wine. There’s some real texture and only a hint of the rubberiness I dislike so much. Lots of juicy dark fruit and good length too… Shame about the really cheap looking label! 87 points (7/10)

Perez Cruz Carmenere Limited Edition 2009, Maipo, Chile (Wine & the Vine £14.95)
This is a real jump in class to anything we’ve had yet – really classy stuff. Heaps of dark plumy fruit with hints of chocolate, liquorice and a slight herbaciousness. There are waves and waves of aromas and flavours and it seems to last forever. Really top notch stuff – best wine of the tasting. 93 points (9/10)

Linaje Garcia Joven 2010, Ribera del Duero, Spain (Wine & the Vine £11.25)
100% unoaked Tempranillo and very fresh. There lots of red fruit and just a touch of bramble – its a delicate and gently wine but has a very dry finish. This most certainly needed a forkful of steak. 87 points (7/10)

Castillo San Lorenzo Rioja 2007, Spain (Tesco £12.49)
Nice red fruit and warm spice on the nose. Deeper, riper fruit on the palate with subtle vanilla oak. A little drying on the finish and no great length but does have the Rioja strawberries and cream. Decent. 87 points (7/10)

St Hallett Waitrose Barossa Shiraz 2010, Barossa Valley, South Aus (Waitrose £10.99)
This is a very classy wine at a very decent price. Lots of blackcurrant fruit, lovely brambly edge and smooth smokey, chocolate finish. I’ve drunk plenty of more expensive Aussie Shiraz that doesn’t come close to this. I bought this when it was 25% at £8.24 – I’l buy a case at that price next time. 91 points (9/10)

Brancott Estate Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Hawke’s Bay, NZ (Tesco £6.99)
Back to a Bordeaux blend but just tastes a bit stewed and industrial to me. Brancott make some very god wines but unfortunately this isn’t one of them. Overripe red fruit but very smooth – not offensive; I’d just rather pay an extra £4 for the St Hallett! 85 points (6/10)

Puccini Chianti Riserva 2009, Tuscany, Italy (Costco £7.49)
Lovely cherry fruit and hint of earthy spice and leather. This is a deliciously smooth Chianti with real elegance. It’s getting late in the afternoon by now but I think this could be the bargain of the selection! 89 points (7/10)

Firemark Syrah/Malbec 2012, Argentina (Tesco £5.99)
Another very decent value wine. There’s lots of dark, black fruit with plenty of plums and black cherry, but it’s smooth and spicy too. Not bad for £6 and very good with what was left of the steak! 88 points (7/10)

Ravenswood Lodi Zinfandel 2009, Sonoma, California (Costco £8.49)
A good one to round things off. Bursting with concentrated sweet blueberries, plums and spic; it’s very bright and fruity with a soft and smooth texture. Nice acidity and smoky spices that linger. 90 points (9/10)

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I looked at the scores we all gave and realized I’m a right tight-arse when it comes to scoring wines! My average score was about 6 and the rest of the team were between 7 and 8. Having said that, we mostly agreed that the best wines on show were the Carmenera, Barosa Shiraz and the Lodi Zin. All great fun at the end of the day… Except it wasn’t the end and we had to go back to the club…. AAARRGGHHH!!!!!

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Fine wine and magnificent food at The Walnut Tree

Food and eating out is a great passion of mine but this is a blog about wine, and very rarely do I write restaurant reviews unless there is a very good reason. My experience this last weekend offered not one good reason, but two superb ones:

An exquisitely chosen and well priced wine list
The cooking of a real superstar chef

The Walnut Tree just outside Abergavenny is a culinary legend, which was run by Franco Taruschio for over 35 years, until he sold up in 2000. It became known as one of the best restaurants in Wales during that time and its wonderful to see it back where it belongs after some difficult times (anyone remember seeing it on the awful Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares in 2004??).

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The restaurant is now run by the brilliant Shaun Hill, who since taking over the reins in 2008 has won the restaurant a Michelin star and was awarded UK restaurant of the year in 2009. Shaun has worked in some fantastic kitchens but rose to fame at Gidleigh Park, where he even appeared in one of Keith Floyd’s brilliant TV programmes! However it was The Merchant House in Ludlow where he gained huge critical acclaim, cooking single handedly every night for 24 lucky diners… It’s my biggest culinary regret that I never got to eat there.

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But no point in regretting the past, at least we can all now enjoy Shaun’s cooking at the wonderful Walnut Tree. Recently Shaun appeared on Simon Hopkinson’ excellent cookery programme where his food was described as “simple”. His response was brilliant:

“It takes 6 chefs 10 to 12 hours a day to make it this simple.”

The biggest difficulty here is choosing what to have as everything on the menu sounds amazing. Luckily the four of us all went for different options – was dining with The Fish and the in-laws – the event was Den’s birthday. For starters we had Steak Tartare and chips, Quail with grapes, sweetbreads with sour kraut, and a salad of courgettes and sugar snap peas. It was all delicious and really got the tastebuds going.

Main courses included skate with pancetta and broad beans, suckling pork with morcilla and empanada, sea bass with mussels in a spicy broth, and skirt steak with Provençal tomato. Everything was cooked to perfection and the combination of ingredients and flavours were spectacular. I also have to give a special mention the dauphine potatoes that came with the beef – they were like potato doughnuts and possibly the best carbohydrate side dish of all time!

There wasn’t really room for dessert… But we didn’t let that stop us. Chocolate and raspberry torte, strawberry pavlova, gooseberry jelly crumble, and chocolate and pear tart. What’s not to like? Well nothing actually, it was all tip-top and we were just left smiling and shaking our heads at the skill of the kitchen. Everything was sublime. And the real beauty is there is no pretence whatsoever. The staff are delightfully friendly yet unobtrusive, there are no smears and foams on the plate; everything is just as it should be. Brilliant food in a wonderful environment.

Oh, and there was the wine too!

The last time I wrote about a restaurant wine list it was to praise the amazing value of the list Ye Olde Bull’s Head in Beaumaris… Well it seems that Wales is the place for excellent value wine as The Walnut Tree also boasts a wonderful selection at very agreeable prices. The list is also organised in an extremely logical format:

Essential wines – varietal wines that everyone will recognise
Core wines – exciting newer stuff and shining stars that are good value
Classic wines – plenty of famous wines at nit so famous prices

There’s a lovely piece on their website talking about how wine service in restaurants can be quite elaborate, but their approach is straightforward; offer you a taste to check the condition, pour a small glass for each diner and then leave it up to you. Wonderfully simple and exactly what most diners crave, I know I hate it when waiters are constantly topping up glasses.

I wanted a bottle of white and a bottle of red and I like to go for one from the old world and one from the new. I’m a bit more experimental with my white wines but its probably no surprise that I selected a Riesling from New Zealand and a red Burgundy. But i could’ve gone for any number of combinations as the selection is beautifully considered and put together. Mark-ups are around 100% up on retail prices which I consider to be very fair, especially when so many places in London are upwards of 300%.

Here’s what we enjoyed:

Spy Valley Riesling 2011, Marlborough, NZ (£34.00)
If I didn’t know I would’ve thought this wine came from Western Australia – it shares that wonderful pithy lime character which just gets the mouth watering. There’s just a hint of the tropics in the background and a bone dry, almost chalky finish. An excellent wine for the starter courses or maybe just as an aperitif. 92 points

Domaine Marechal Pommard 2009, Burgundy (£64.00)
Delightfully delicate and silky for a Pommard. Having said that there is plenty of leather and animal hiding beneath the delicious red currant and wild strawberry fruit. I love these Pinots from the Côte de Beaune and this is another cracker – I will certainly be on the lookout for more Marechal offerings. 93 points

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