Monthly Archives: December 2013

Clos(e) encounters of the Vougeot kind (#MWWC6)

This month’s wine writing challenge, Mystery, was set by The Drunken Cyclist after his post won the November edition of the challenge (see his Feast post here).

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When I think about mystery and fine wine, there is one area that immediately springs to mind. Like so many other wine nuts, to me the Cote d’Or in Burgundy is the summit of red wine production. The area possesses a mystique, majesty and magic that exist nowhere else in the wine world; the patchwork layout of the magnificent vineyards is unlike anywhere else, with it’s tiny appellations which are co-owned and co-worked by a multitude of talented (and sometimes not so talented) individuals.

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The pinnacles of this great region are the Grands Cru vineyards; around 500 hectares of planted land, contributing only 1.2% of the region’s total output. For centuries these vineyards have been deemed to be the best land for cultivating the vine and command astronomical prices. Unlike the glamorous addresses and chateaux of Bordeaux, most of these vineyards are split into tiny parcels farmed by lots of vintners, most of whom possess many tiny holdings spread throughout the famous, and not so famous, vineyards of Burgundy.

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The largest of the Grands Cru in the Cotes de Nuits is Clos de Vougeot, at around 50ha (Corton and Corton-Charlemagne in the Cote de Beaune are the only larger Grands Cru vineyards in Burgundy). More than any other vineyard in the region, the Clos highlights the complexity of the Burgundian landscape. The vineyard is divided into 100 separate parcels and farmed by some 80 different proprietors, producing an equal number of different wines. Chateau Latour, one of the great First Growths of Pauillac, on the other hand, has 78ha of land, with one winemaker producing 2 wines.

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The Clos de Vougeot

How can wine made from vines less than ten metres apart taste so different? My favourite examples of this fantastical mystery are the differences between Volnay and Pommard, and Chambolle and Morey. I’ve written before about the masculine wines of Pommard versus the femininity of Volnay; it’s an overdone metaphor but it really is true – how can wines from one end of a field possess so much power and stuffing, whereas the wine produces from grapes over the fence are so gentile and elegant? The same can be said of the wines of Chambolle Musigny and Morey Saint Denis in the Cote de Nuits; It’s not until you visit the region that you can truly appreciate the proximity of these vinyeards, how one becomes the other in the space of 20 steps.

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The mystery of Burgundy is like a puzzle with hundreds of different pieces. Some of the pieces of the puzzle include how the vines are trained and treated, how many bunches per vine and when the grapes are picked, the temperature of the fermentation, to use stems or not, and how much new oak is used; how the pieces are put together creates very different wines. The real solution to the mystery of Burgundy is, more often than not, the name of the winemaker on the label. Who grew and produced the wine is often far more important than the name of the vineyard… but get the combination right and you are in for one hell of a treat.

Burgundy is a mystery without an ending… and that is why it is so special.

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The wonderful Hospice de Beaune

2014 – Grape Expectations

Christmas is over and has been great… So great I fact I had to use the panoramic function in my phone to take a photo of all the superb bottles we enjoyed over the festive period! But it’s now time to look forward and have a think about my wine resolutions for 2014.

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I thought I’d start by looking back at what I wrote this time last year. In 2013 I said Italy and USA would be my focus countries, whilst my focus grapes would be Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. Its fair to say I’ve done better with the varieties – I went out of my way to buy and try Cab Savs and Chards from everywhere I could; because of this I have rediscovered my love of Coonawarra Cabs, started a new love affair with Kiwi Chards and have a newfound respect for South African and California versions of both. On countries, my grade for Italian is around a C; my basic knowledge of grapes and regions is decent but my knowledge of producers is negligible. As for USA, well everything I’ve drunk I’ve loved… But there’s not a whole lot available in the uk market in my defence.

So Italian wine makes the list again for 2014. I want to have the same understanding of Tuscany, Piedmont and Veneto as I have for Burgundy, Bordeaux and the Rhone. I will download a book for my Kindle to read on the way to and from work – I’m on the train for an hour a day and find it so much easier to read on the train than flicking though a book at home these days. I will also stop going straight to the Burgundy section when ordering via The Wine Society!

The USA, specifically California, also stays on the list… A two-week trip in the summer is currently in the planning stage and there is nothing like visiting a region first hand to get to grips with it. I will be asking for lots of recommendations over the coming months!

Germany & Austria will also be a focus. I love Riesling and Gruner but its time to go deeper… And Spatburgunder will be a definite target. 

In 2013 I attended around 20 tasting events… There will be even more in 2014. I’ve already got a couple of Alsace events and a Priorat tasting in the diary, along with a few more awaiting confirmation. 2013 brought my first taste of DRC, Mouton, and Cheval Blanc… I wonder what this year will bring?

2014 will also see the start of a wine club at work – I managed to get twelve of the gang interested in a wine-themed secret Santa so I’m going to run a few tasting events, probably starting with an introduction to French wine before February is over.

And finally… I’m going to drink cheaper wine in the week… I can’t afford to pop premier Cru burgundy on a Wednesday night! I’m going to search for the best bargains in the uk under £10 to save my pocket and to give the best possible recommendations in the weekly newsletter.

Here’s wishing you all a fabulous New Year, and please let me know what are your wine resolutions for 2014 in the comments box. Cheers!

 

 

Top of the Wine Pops 2013

2013 has been a cracking year – I have tasted so many great wines, attended some amazing events, visited some fabulous bars and eaten some incredible food. The time has come for me to pick my favourites…

My sister-in-law laughs at me for the rules that I create for myself – one of them being every time I go out for dinner, my fellow diners and I are made (by me) to put our courses in order of preference… I have become rather obsessive about this. I love this time of year, as it’s full of top 100’s, top 50’s and top 10’s. It’s a time of year where I like to compare my notes with others and to cross-reference experiences. When I was a teenager it was the top 100 singles and albums in the NME, these days it’s wine, restaurants and more wine.

So here are my wine and gastro highlights from 2013:

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A few of my favs from the past year

Best wines

Let’s start with some fizz. I’m more of a glass of fizz then onto the whites and red kind of guy, but this year there I have been lucky enough to taste some magnificent sparklers. Two of them I first tasted when I visited Camel Valley back in February, the third is possibly my bargain of 2013:

Camel Valley Chardonnay Brut 2009, Cornwall, UK (£24.95)

100% Chardonnay. Vanilla and floral nose. Rich and creamy palate with a peachy fruitiness and a pleasant biscuit-lick on the finish. Gentle and elegant, like a kiss. So good but so modest. This is an ethereal wine that gets better with every sip. A tasting glass simply isn’t enough. 94 points

Camel Valley White Pinot Noir 2010, Cornwall, UK (£29.95)

100% Pinot Noir. This smells like it should be pink – so much so I had to re-check the colour! Wild strawberries just jump right out of the glass. It’s like a fine strawberry tart with a buttery pastry casing and a touch of vanilla lifting it further. Pure class. 93 points

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The tasting room at Camel Valley

Chateau du Petit Thouars Cremant de Loire Blanc NV, Loire, France (€8.00 from chateau, @£15 retail)

A Blanc de Noirs made from 100% Cabernet Franc and without a doubt the best value wine of my whole trip through Bordeaux and the Loire this summer… if not the best value wine of all time! There’s soft red fruit but a refreshing bite of Granny Smith apple. A delightful fizz if tiny bubbles and a honeyed, slightly toasty finish. If you’re planning a party then order a dozen, and another dozen for yourself! 92 points (Note: I opened a bottle as soon as I got home to check it was really that good… It was!)

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Michel Pinard – winemaker extraordinaire at Chateau du Petit Thouars

Onto the whites… this year I am really please with list as my top 5 wines are made from 5 different grapes and come from 4 different countries…. I’m a truly global Wine Geek!

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 it is 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 hold of them for very long! 95 points

Felton Road Chardonnay Block 2010, Central Otago, NZ (Roberson £49.95)

Everyone bangs on about the Sauvignon Blanc coming out of New Zealand but for me, Chardonnay is where it’s at. The aromas and flavours of warm toasty oak and leesy-ness hits you straight between the eyes before the waves the waves of sublime tropical fruit come at you; pineapple, honeydew melon and peach are all in evidence. It’s soft and warm and has such a wonderful balance of fruit, acid and oak, with impressive weight and texture. Fabulous. 95 points

Henri Bourgeois Cuvée D’Antan Sancerre, Loire, France 2007

Absolutely glorious balance of subtle citrus, mango and passion fruit, whispering acidity and slatey mineral. It’s delicate, charming and oh so complex. This is the kind of wine that puts Sauvignon Blanc in the same league as the best white Burgundies. 94 points

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Monte Dammes vineyard in Chavignol, Sancerre

Domaine Vincent Careme Le Peu Morier Demi-Sec Vouvray, Loire, France (The Wine Society £18.00)

So much fruity character on the nose – mango, orange, almost marmalade. Beautiful balance of sweetness and acidity – it reminds me of a tin of pineapple chunks. I love this style of wine and I especially love the balance and complexity of this one. Pure summer in a glass. 93 points

Sera da Estrela Albarino 2011, Rias Baixas, Spain (Wine & 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 the mouth too and its quite full bodied; 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

The red wines are also an eclectic mix of varieties and locations… There is just so much great stuff available these days!

Comte Armand 1er Cru Clos des Epeneaux Pommard 2001, Burgundy (The Wine Society £48.00)

Sometimes you open a wine with such anticipation and are very disappointed. Sometimes it exceeds your expectation… This is incredible. The aromas of wild strawberries, raspberries, leather and truffle are truly intoxicating. And then the taste. Those wild strawberries, some black cherry, a lovely brooding intensity and an amazing damp forest and mushroom complexity. But it doesn’t stop there because there is spice. Five spice; a touch of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg and some others I can’t quite fathom. All wrapped up in beautiful silky tannins. I’m in heaven. 96 points

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The vineyards of Pommard, Cote de Beaune

Michele Chiarlo Barolo Tortoniano 2006, Piedmont, Italy (Wine & The Vine £36.75)

Barolo can be so very disappointing unless you spend a bit of money and is often sold far too young… But this was great. Aromas of sweet cherries with a hint of red fruit, maybe a whiff of raspberry, but it the leathery, spicy and slight barnyard smells that really give this the edge. On the palate the red fruits are to the fore and the tannins provide huge structure, which dissolve beautifully into spice and earth. Like a premier Cru Burgundy on steroids. 94 points

Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel 2004, Paso Robles, California (2006 available at Fine & Rare £26.40)

The nose is mainly red fruits with just a hint of blackcurrant along with the autumnal hedgerow herbs I expect from the southern Rhone and some wonderfully developed smoke. The texture is rich, velvety and smooth. On the palate the fruit is darker with a hint of juicy red currants. The dried herbs and gentle black pepper combine beautifully with fresh acidity and very soft tannins. I would be convinced this came from the Rhone and not California if had been served blind. Excellent drop. 94 points

Faustino I Gran Reserva 2001, Rioja, Spain (Sainsbury’s £17.99)

Strawberries, ripe red cherries, a hint of tea, worn leather and just a touch of vanilla. 12 years on from harvest this Gran Riserva is as fresh and bright as a button. Light bodied but plenty of super-fine tannin and a delicate and delightful finish. Very classy. 93 points

Perez Cruz Carmenere Limited Edition 2009, Maipo, Chile (Wine & the Vine £14.95)

This is really classy stuff – Carmenere is a Chile’s secret weapon. 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 and very decent value. 93 points

Best website

I spend loads of time reading wine blogs and trawling the ‘net, thirsty for information and inspiration. There are so many talented communicators out there at the moment but there is one site that makes me smile, keeps me entertained, and talks about wine in a totally approachable manner – take a look – wine should be fun and Wine Folly certainly delivers!

http://winefolly.com

Best wine bar

Without doubt the easiest category of 2013… I thank the wine gods for the full time arrival of Sager & Wilde. 25 splendid wines by the glass, served by engaging, knowledgeable and happy staff… I just wish I lived closer!

https://confessionsofawinegeek.com/2013/09/01/sager-wilde-a-view-from-the-bar/

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Sager & Wilde – the detonation for serious wine lovers in London

Best wine shop

Wine & the Vine in Radlett was my choice last year and it remains my go-to place on a monthly or weekly basis – great banter and excellent range of wines. However, for the sheer experience and opulence, my wine shop of the year goes to Hedonism in Mayfair… So good I’ve written about it twice!

https://confessionsofawinegeek.com/2013/06/17/hedonism-wines-an-art-gallery-for-wine-geeks/

https://confessionsofawinegeek.com/2013/10/05/return-to-hedonism-design-your-own-tasting/

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Hedonism – Disneyland for Wine Geeks!

Best tasting

I have been to a number of fantastic tasting events this year and also visited some wonderful producers in Bordeaux and the Loire. There are four (I had to add in JJ Prum!) that really stood out:

Last week I wrote about a tasting of 11 vintages of CUNE Vina Real, covering 6 decades at the West London Wine School – what a way to round off my tasting schedule in 2013:

https://confessionsofawinegeek.com/2013/12/14/remarkable-rioja-6-decades-of-cune-vina-real/

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11 vintages of CUNE Vina Real covering 6 decades

Also at the West London Wine School was a tasting that changed me forever as a wine drinker… A tasting of JJ Prum’s spectacular tastings (and thanks Jimmy for reminding me!):

 https://confessionsofawinegeek.com/2013/05/12/jj-prum-riesling-royalty/

Earlier in the year I attended a tasting of wines from the amazing village of Vosne Romanee in Burgundy at Roberson’s wonderful wine shop in Kensington… and got my first taste of Domaine Romanee Conti:

https://confessionsofawinegeek.com/2013/06/02/tasting-of-vosne-romanee-and-my-first-taste-of-drc/

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It was all about the one on the end really!

I never expected a tasting of (mainly) Sauvignon Blanc to be so enjoyable, but a visit to Henri Bourgeois in Chavignol proved to be terrific!

https://confessionsofawinegeek.com/2013/08/18/sancerre-restoring-my-faith-in-sauvignon-blanc-henri-bourgeois-tasting/

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The cellars at Henri Bourgeois, Sancerre

Best restaurant

I was going to write that my favourite meals out this year have not been in fancy Michelin starred establishments… then I remembered the meal we had at Restaurant Nathan Outlaw back in February!

https://confessionsofawinegeek.com/2013/02/21/cornwall-5-st-enodocnathan-outlaw-where-magic-happens/

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A gorgeous February morning at the St Enodoc hotel in Rock, Cornwall

But other than that wonderful experience, this year has been all about the burger. The burger revolution has hit London right between the eyes and I love it – these are my favourite burger joints.

#1 Five Guys Leicester Square – the most obviously fast food joint but the burgers are absolutely incredible… 2 wonderfully cooked patties and you select what else you want on it. Make sure you play with the Coke vending machine too… you’ll see what I mean when you go!

#2 Honest Burger Soho – go to the restaurant, they book you in on iPad and call you when your table us ready. Burgers are sublime – cooked to perfection, great buns and chips. Beetroot coleslaw also superb

#3 Patty & Bun – be prepared to queue for 30 mins but you won’t be disappointed. As well as fine burgers, the confit chicken wings are awesome.

#4 Meat Liquor – be prepared to queue again. Burgers very good but the star of the show are the deep fried onion rings and deep fried pickles. This place is very dark and just a bit too cool for school!

So that’s 2013 almost done and dusted; Christmas and New Year to go… I wonder what 2014 will have in store?

Wishing you all a brilliant Christmas and a happy new year!

Remarkable Rioja – 6 decades of CUNE Viña Real

Did you notice that Rioja kinda went out of fashion for a while? I didn’t realise it at the time, but things have been quiet on the front of the most famous Spanish region for a few years now. I used to get lots of bottles of Rioja for Christmas – it’s a wine that lots of people recognise and I suppose the gold cage makes it look gift-worthy. Over the past few Christmases/birthdays etc. I’ve received many a bottle of wine… but none of them have been from Rioja. Did we fall out of love for a while? Did we get side-tracked with massive Napa Cabernet, carried away with Argentinian Malbec and Carmenere from Chile? In reality there is just so much good wine to enjoy these days; our repertoires are getting bigger while the number of bottles we consume remains the same.

If we did forget about Rioja then 2013 has certainly put an end to the slump. Wine from Rioja was placed at the top The Wine Spectator’s list of the best wines of the year (CUNE Imperial Gran Reserva 2004) and also topped the charts with Decanter (Faustino I Gran Reserva 2001). And if that didn’t give me a kick up the backside to remind me of the joys of Rioja then this week’s stupendous tasting certainly did…

11 vintages of CUNE Viña Real, spanning 6 decades!

The Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España (CVNE) was founded in 1879 by the Real de Asua family and is regarded as one of Spain’s best and most consistent wine producers. The wines were supposed to have been branded CVNE, but an early misspelling decided this wine’s name would be CUNE forever more! The company is known for its Viña Real and Imperial brands – our tasting focussed on Viña Real, whose first wine was launched back in 1920.

The tasting took place at the West London Wine School and was led by Quentin, who has spent lots of time in Spain and has what appears to be an encyclopaedic knowledge of the country (take a look at his fabulous blog here). Jimmy, who usually runs the fine wine tastings took his place at the back of the room, got drunk and heckled all the way though. OK, so I may be exaggerating a bit… but he certainly enjoyed his night off! Joking, aside this truly was one of the highest quality and most interesting tasting events I have had the privilege to attend.

Here are my notes on a truly remarkable tasting…

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CUNE Viña Real Gran Reserva 2005 (Majestic £21.49)

Quentin wanted to start with a more recent vintage to demonstrate where Viña Real is right now to help tell the story. The 2005 has a nose of red cherries, strawberries and vanilla – it’s very polished and very modern. There is plenty of structure but the tannins are nicely nestling in the background, certainly not overpowering, even in the wine’s relative youth. The texture is silky smooth and there’s a lot of dark fruit but with the delightful acidity of fresh strawberries. This wine has a great, silky balance and is drinking beautifully already… but there are plenty of years ahead of it. 93 points

CUNE Viña Real Especial 1959 (The Wine Society £35.00 350ml – n/a)

The oldest wine I’ve drunk to date and unfortunately, just over the hill. There’s a slightly mouldy tinge on the nose but then some sweet, dried fruit squeezes through; I smell caramel, dried mushroom and just a touch of dried orange peel. On the palate the wine is raisiny but still has a degree freshness running through it – notes of orange and caramel… and then it’s gone. As I said, past it’s best, but still a pleasure to drink. 90 points

CUNE Viña Real Especial 1964 (The Wine Society £39.00 350ml – n/a)

What a wine! There is a hint of orange to the colour but you would never guess it was almost 50 years old! The nose is smoky and meaty but oh so inviting, still with some delicate dried red fruit providing refreshing lift.  The balance of texture and acidity is remarkable – there is so much vibrancy, still a hint of red fruit along with dried cranberry and the spice of a Middle Eastern kitchen. The texture is elegant, silky and the balance is extraordinary. A marvel of wine that still has a few years ahead of it. Remarkable. 95 points

CUNE Viña Real Especial 1966 (The Wine Society £65.00 – n/a)

1966 was rated a mediocre vintage and this was the only mediocre wine of the evening. The appearance was more Pedro Ximinez than Rioja and the aromas weren’t far off either. Liquorice, coffee, meaty (Bovril?) and a bit of figgy fruit. Some oxidized notes on the palate and a flavour more akin to tawny port – if fact, a piece of mature cheddar certainly helped it along nicely! Well past it’s best but very interesting to try an aged wine from a poor vintage. 86 points

1964, 1966 and 2002 - amazing colours!

1964, 1966 and 2002 – amazing colours!

CUNE Viña Real Gran Reserva 1970 (The Wine Society £79.00 – n/a)

1970 was a good vintage and this is a very charming wine. The initial nose is fungus and truffle, followed by dried cranberry and just a touch of red, sour cherry. On the palate there is sprightly acidity, strawberries and dried red fruit, with a very earthy, truffle-like finish. A great attack, a delightful finish but something missing in the middle… So close! 91 points

CUNE Viña Real Gran Reserva 1976 (The Wine Society £79.00)

From nearly to precisely! 1976 was a great vintage in Rioja and this is a truly great wine. The aromas of the Middle-eastern spice cupboard, red currants, cranberries, expensive worn leather and savoury, slightly roasted meat… mesmerising. The texture is silky-smooth and the acidity is precise and fresh. The red berry fruit is bright and youthful, with a touch of aged, dried berries adding complexity. On top of the fruit we find earthy leather and the savoury edge of dried mushroom –pure class that goes on and on. The tannins are silky but still offer a wonderful grip and texture – this wine is all about balance, supreme structure and sublime elegance. An absolutely brilliant wine and my wine of the night (also got the majority of votes from the group). 96 points

CUNE Viña Real Reserva 1981 (The Wine Society £45.00 – n/a)

There’s a hit of farmyard-brett on the nose initially but then you get the dark berry fruit and smoky meatiness. On the palate there is some nice concentrated blackberry fruit upfront along with some more bright acidity, a touch of animal and forest floor and just a hint of coffee – very powerful compared to the older vintages. Great weight and structure – a pretty full-on wine but just falls off a bit quickly at the end. 92 points

CUNE Viña Real Reserva 1982 (The Wine Society £45.00 – n/a)

Even more power and concentration than the ’81… but this one has staying power. Dark cherry and chocolate on the nose, with a smoky, roasted coffee note adding depth and complexity. On the palate there is some real grip – it feels so young! The acid balances beautifully with the tannin and there is big concentrated black fruit, almost cassis-like. This is the first wine we’ve had with real stuffing but it is delightfully balanced and still very, very elegant. So good. 94 points

CUNE Viña Real Gran Reserva 1991 (The Wine Society £40.00 – n/a)

We’re getting a bit modern here with concentrated and powerful dark fruit on the nose, supported by smoke and violets. On the palate there’s plenty of dark fruit but just a hint of strawberry showing through, along with a touch of sweet spice and some smoke. This is a lively wine that’s nudging the “big” bracket but still with a wonderful elegance – just slightly missing in the middle. 91 points

CUNE Viña Real Gran Reserva 1995 (The Wine Society £35.00 – n/a)

If the ’91 was concentrated, the ’95 is massive! Super concentrated blackberry and also a hint of the orange I was finding in the older vintages. The other clear aroma here is the expensive new oak – not obtrusive, but very evident. Compared to what’s gone before this is a modern fruit-bomb. Lashings of concentrated black fruit but there is a delightful finesse and it is truly sumptuous. I don’t want to like it because it’s almost over-made… but it is a fantastic wine that explodes on the palate, has outstanding balance and just keeps on going. Bloody hell! 94 points (and best value wine of the flight)

CUNE Pagos de Real 2002 (Coe Vintners £40.22)

The first vintage of this “icon” wine (horrible phrase!!) was produced in 2001, when work began on Viña Real’s new winery. Hand-picked Tempranillo from Viña Real’s oldest vineyards with further selection at the vineyard blah, blah, blah. But do you know what? It is spectacular! Very tight and un-giving on the nose initially… I’m afraid of sniffing it up my nostrils at one stage! But the super-concentrated cassis-fruit finally arrives and the oak is mellow and sweet in support. On the palate the black fruit is huge – the texture is rich, velvety and sumptuous, the tannin is beautifully integrated and provides the structure that keeps the flavour going for a very long time. The acidity is marvellous and the oak is super-mellow, with gentle smoke and delicious vanilla notes holding the whole thing together in beautiful harmony. It may not scream Rioja (in fact it only hints at it), but it certainly screams class. A fabulous wine for the lover of modern super-concentrated wines… and even those like me who yearn for elegance! 94 points

Secret Santa… The Wine Version

I wish I could lay claim to this idea but it’s the brainchild of the current Monthly Wine Writing Champion, The Drunken Cyclist. In a recent post (click to read) he suggested a wine-related version of Secret Santa, with bottles being sent this way and that across the USA. At first I just sulked as I couldn’t be part of it but then I thought, hell, why not bring it to the UK? Some of my work colleagues are big wine fans and read the blog (not sure if the two are connected!) so I suggested the idea of a work wine-related Secret Santa, and lo and behold, there are now twelve of us taking part!

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The rules:

  • Those taking part had to highlight anything they didn’t want to receive (only 2 have said they only want red wine – don’t worry; I won’t name and shame… yet!)
  • The budget for each bottle is caped at £15
  • I will be drawing the names tomorrow so everyone has the weekend to make their purchase
  • We will reconvene next Wednesday and see who’s got what

The one catch is that I’ve asked all of the guys to write about the wine they receive so I can publish a post without doing any work! I want to know if it’s something they’ve tried before, their first impression, and their verdict. Finally, I want to know if they feel they benefited from the swap and whether it has expanded their repertoire.

So there we go… It’s the wine version of Secret Santa… Why not give it a go yourself?

I’ve chosen my Christmas wines… I can’t wait

Do you love Christmas? I love Christmas. I mean really love it. I start counting down on the 26th June; it’s from this day on that my mind wanders to what wines shall we have on the big day this year, and each wine I taste becomes a contender.

Choosing Christmas wines is a big deal. Each year we alternate between my folks and the in-laws, ensuring we see both sets over the festive period. Its now become tradition for us to take a selection of wines for the big feast so there’s plenty of (self applied) pressure to get things right.

And there are rules. Self imposed again; nevertheless, they are still rules:

  • A six-bottle case comprising 2 white, 2 red, 1 fizz and 1 sticky
  • No repeating any wines from previous years

Last year’s selection:

Nyetimber Classic Cuvee 2008, West Sussex, UK

Domaine Ferrand Pouilly Fuisse Prestige 2008, Macon, Burgundy

DeMorgenzon DeMorgenzon Chenin Blanc Reserve 2010, Stellenbosch, SA

Joseph Drouhin Chorey-le-Beaune 2010, Burgundy, France

Elboador +7 2007, Priorat, Spain

Castelnau du Sudiraut 2007, Sauternes, Bordeaux

The supermarkets have played a huge role in this year’s selections – it seems they have chosen wine as the battlefield for this year’s Christmas price war; as consumers and wine lovers, we are getting a very good deal. November has been littered with 25% off the whole range promotions and I for one, have not been afraid of getting stuck in.

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The Fizz

I had a few options in mind here but when Tesco decided to reduce their Moet & Chandon Vintage Champagne from the spectacular 2004 vintage from £42.99 to £35… then offered a further 25% off to £26.25, there was no decision left to make! I love the elegant, lively and biscuity edge of Moet – their vintage offerings are super-charged versions of the NV and I can’t wait to get stuck into these beauties over the Seasonal period.

The Whites

My discovery of 2013 has been German Riesling. I’ve been extolling the virtues of Alsatian, Australian and New Zealand Rieslings for a few years now but a tasting of what JJ Prum have to offer has turned me into a true believer. I considered a JJP Kabinett but came across another big name at a not so big price in Sainsbury’s. Not only a quality name, this Kabinett is from the Graacher Himmelreich vineyard; birthplace of my favourite wine at the Prum tasting. At only 8% ABV and with ripe fruit and balanced acidity, what a wonderful partner to any Xmas starter.

I can’t do Xmas without Chardonnay. I think it is the perfect partner for turkey. Over the past few years we’ve had Meursault, Chablis, Pouilly-Fuisse, but this year I’m shopping in the New World. For a grape that has been so dreadfully abused over the past 10 years, the revival is almost complete. This year I have tasted stunning Chards from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, California and Argentina – wines that have made me happy, made me smile. The Margaret River region of Western Australia is home to some fantastic Pinots and some delightful Rieslings… and its also home to some magnificent Chardonnays; one of those is Larry Cherubino’s Hen & Chicken, buttery rich, bursting with flavours of peach, lemon, gentle spice, and has a super fresh and long finish (£15.75 from Wine & the Vine). Job boxed!

The Reds

I was going to steer clear of France this year – until I remembered the bottles that have been waiting for this precise moment. When we tasted our way around the Rhone last summer, at Delas we found a fantastic wine that screamed out Christmas. The guy in the tasting room agreed but made us promise not to drink it with our 2012 dinner, but to save it for 2013. That wine is Delas Chante Perdrix 2007 from the Northern Rhone.

Cornas has to be made from 100% Syrah (most other Northern Rhone appellations are made like this is although they are permitted up to 15% of white grapes to lighten the wine). For many years Cornas was the poor relation of the area, although quality has soared over the past decade and I’m looking forward to a powerful and spicy number with super ripe tannins.

And how about a Rioja for Christmas? Gran Reserva wines are exceptionally complex and full of dried fruit and spice; these flavours can stand up to all the flavours of a Christmas dinner, but are still mellow enough not to overpower the (rather boring) bird. I have gone for the Faustino I Grand Reserva 2001 – recently named as Decanter’s 2013 wine of the year! Bright as a button and super concentrated, yet light bodied but plenty of tannin and delicate. Very classy… Especially at £10.49 from Sainsbury’s (usually £17.99, reduced to £13.99 and a further 25% reduction!)

The Sticky

I may not be going for my first choice…  but am by no means unhappy with my selection. Peller Estates was one of the standout producers at the recent Decanter Fine Wine Encounter and I really fell for their Vidal Icewine. The problem is I can only find the wine online and the 12-bottle minimum order put me off. So I decided to go traditional. And what is more traditional than a good bottle of Port?

I first tasted the Quinta do Crastro LBV 2008 at a wonderful Roberson tasting of Portuguese wines, hosted by the marvellous Charles Metcalfe. Made from 100% Touriga Nacional, the wine is full of sweet dried cranberry, a touch of fig and is oh so smooth and oh so fresh; and Roberson is a 5 minute walk from work… Fantastic!

So they are my Christmas selections for 2013. I hope you choose as well, and if you’re still struggling with your choices, I hope I’ve provided a touch of Christmas inspiration. Drink well and cheers to you all!

Grands Cru on a Monday night (Cote de Nuits tasting)

In my wine world, Burgundy Grand Cru is the cream of the crop, the barometer by which all else is measured. The Cote d’Or is a remarkably small sliver of magical land – it’s under 30 miles long and less than 3 miles at it’s widest points.

It’s been a while since I wrote about Burgundy so please forgive my incessant gushing – but it’s not until you’ve visited the region that you can truly understand the amazing patchwork of vineyards, fragmented ownership and just sheer beauty of the place.

So I can imagine quite a few worse tasks on a Monday night than tasting some of the finest red wines the region has to offer; I postponed washing my hair until Tuesday this week!

This tasting, held at the ever-superb West London Wine School, focussed on the red wines of the Cote de Nuits. The “Golden Slope” is split into two sub-regions; the southern section of the Cote de Beaune is home to the majestic Chadonnays of Meursault, Chassagne- and Puligny-Motrachet, as well as some of my favourite Pinot expressions from the Premier Cru vineyards of Volnay and Pommard. The northern section, the Cote de Nuits, is the spiritual home of Pinot Noir and a drive up or down the N125 will take you under 20 minutes… If you were mad enough not to stop in Nuit St George, Vosne Romanee, Vougeot, Chambolle Musigny Morey St Denis and Gevrey Chambertin. These are the birthplaces of some of the finest liquid known to mankind.

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Over the course of the evening we tasted one Village wine, 4 Premier Crus (1er Cru only represents 10% of Burgundy’s output) and 5, yes 5, Grand Crus. Now Grand Cru accounts for only 1.5% of the total Burgundy production, so when I say crème de la crème, boy do I mean it…

Jimmy, our host, kicked the proceedings off with a £15 bottle of Pernard-Vergelesses Blanc – I didn’t take down the details but it was full-bodied and plumptious, creamy with plenty of peachy fruit – not red and not from the Cote de Nuits, but a great start!

Now onto the main event:

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Albert Bichot Nuits St Georges 1er Cru Les Crots 2008 (Humble Grape £40)

Elegant red cherries and red currants on the nose with a gentle hint of minerality – quite delightful. The palate is light in body and bright with acidity. This wine is all about the fruit and the sour cherries and wild strawberry juice is extremely drinkable. This is about as delicate as the Cote de Nuits gets but perhaps just missing the degree of structure and balance you expect from a 1er Cru. Very decent 91 points

Jean Grivot Nuits St Georges 1er Cru Aux Boudots 2008 (Fine & Rare £70)

Slightly over-extracted nose of park plums and a hint of dried fruit – seems to be a lot of development here as well as plenty of spicy oak. Ooh but the palate works; good acidity and medium body, with big but nicely integrated tannins. The fruit is bright raspberry with a lovely touch of smoke from the nicely judged oak. Much better on the palate and a very good wine indeed. 92 points

Gros Frere et Soeur Vosne Romanee 1er Cru 2006 (N/A UK £75)

Not from a single vineyard but certainly no less enjoyable because of it. Delightful sweet red fruit on the nose with plenty of clean minerality and just a whisper of leather. It’s nicely concentrated, yet very elegant – delightful. Bright acidity is balanced by a delicate tannic structure; the texture is wonderful and hosts the moody red fruit and delightful sweet spice beautifully. Plenty of years left for this gorgeous wine – I love the balance of elegance and power and the finish sure sticks around for a while. Lovely. 94 points

Domaine de la Vougeraie Gevrey Chambertin Les Evocelles 2001 (N/A UK £45)

It may not have the 1er Cru stamp but what a wine! I love the 2001 vintage right now (I even wrote a post about it earlier this year) and this is another fine example of how well the vintage is drinking right now. Great concentration of dark cherry with a touch of roasted meat, spice and earth – the wonderful aroma of aged Burgundy. So soft and easy of the palate, still showing lovely bright acidity, raspberry and cherries and some dried porcini, sorry cepe, earthiness. Another belter from 2001. 93 points (Best value wine of the night)

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Lucien Le Moine Chambolle Musigny 1er Cru Les Charmes 2001 (Fine & Rare £75)

Smokey plums and elegant hints of violet, smoke and mushroom– there’s lots going on here; in a nutshell it smells of Autumn. Fresh attack with lots of body and texture, smoky and oaky, but without hiding the bright raspberry fruit. Quite robust for Chambolle but very enjoyable. 2001 strikes again! 92 points

Great stuff so far… and now the Grand Crus; the Big Daddies!

Francois Lamarche Eschezeaux Grand Cru 2002 (Fine & Rare £120)

Great concentration of sweet red fruit – so clean, so mineral – the nose is all about the purity of the fruit. On the palate it’s clean and fresh; the raspberries, red currents and sour cherries jump onto and dance on your tongue and there is a lingering earthiness and minerality backing it up beautifully. Delicate, elegant, pure and damn delightful. 95 points (wine of the night)

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Domaine de Vougeraie Bonnes Mares Grand Cru 2003 (Berry Bros £160)

The severe heat of the 2003 has been well documented and the delicate Pinot Noir suffered more than most.. The nose is massive; dark, roasted fruit and smoky oak and there’s also some truffle and earth hidden in there too. The palate is ever so sweet and the body is big, but there isn’t the requisite acid to support and the alcohol bludgeons through. Even this fine winemaker and wonderful vineyard couldn’t handle the heat of 2003. 89 points

Jean Grivot Clos de Vougeot Grand Cru 2002 (Berry Bros £160)

Concentrated by also nicely elegant with plenty of breezy red cherries and red currants on the nose. On the palate there’s big body and fresh acidity with ripe red fruit, but the whole thing is just doesn’t come together as one. Not Grand Cu level, but isn’t it often the case with Clos de Vougeot? 87 points

Bouchard Pere et Fils Chapelle ChambertinGrand Cru 2005 (Fine & Rare £97)

Back on it! Still so young and takes an age to open up on the nose. There is some big, ripe blackberry and cherry hiding in there, along with some smoky oak and the merest hint of roasted meat and truffle. Wonderful body and delicious acidity just coats the mouth with the dark cherry fruit. So much to come from this wine and I have no doubt that it would be wine of the night in most company in 5 to 10 years time. One to hold on to; great stuff. 95+ points

Faively Charmes Chambertin Grand Cru 1995 (Handford Fine Wine £130)

It’s with a tear in my eye I have to tell you that we weren’t able to enjoy this 18 year old beauty as the bottle was faulty; oh how wine can be a cruel master!

For details of upcoming tasting at West London Wine Schools, click this link.

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