Monthly Archives: February 2014

#newwinethisweek week 8 – Pinotage, South Africa

Mike from www.pleasebringmemywine.com is certainly a risk taker… if last week’s Gewurztraminer wasn’t a controversial enough choice, then this week’s will be for sure… say hello to Pinotage from South Africa!

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Pinotage is often referred to as South Africa’s signature red variety, although these days you are more likely to find Bordeaux and Rhone varieties adorning the South African labels on the supermarket shelves. Pinotage was “bred” in 1925 as a cross between Pinot noir and Cinsaut, which known as Hermitage at the time in SA hence the name Pinot-tage.

Good examples of Pinotage are earthy and smoky with bramble fruit and often a hint of coffee. But it’s the bad stuff that causes the fuss… bananas and tropical fruit in your red wine anyone? Haters of the grape will also cite aromas of paint and rusty nails… but don’t be put off!!

I am a big fan of good Pinotage – it is interesting and different. Sometimes the nose of the wine can make you think twice about taking a sip but please stick with it; there is lots to enjoy about this esoteric grape variety 

But I have one caveat. Coffee Pinotage. You’ll see it on the label; “coffee”, “espresso”… the only advice I will give you is to steer clear; if I want something that tastes like coffee and coffee alone I will have a mug of bloody coffee! Thank you; rant over.

 

So if I haven’t put you off, here are some recommendations for this week.

 

Tesco Finest Pinotage 2012, South Africa (Tesco £7.49)

M&S Houdamond Pinotage 2011, Stellenbosch, SA (M&S £9.49)

Southern Right Pinotage 2011, Hermanus, SA (Waitrose £13.49)

Kanonkop Kadette Pinotage 2012, Stellenbosch, SA (The Wine Society £10.49)

Lam Pinotage 2011, Swartland, SA (Roberson £13.95)

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I’m looking forward to this one

So get yourself a bottle and don’t forget to give it a score and tell us what you think – this week’s vote will take place on Mike’s blog, where you will also find his recommendations from Sainsbury’s, Morrison’s and Majestic:

http://pleasebringmemywine.com/2014/02/24/nwtw-week-8-pinotage-from-south-africa/

 

Cheers & enjoy!

 

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Authentic Austria

Apart from how wonderful it can taste, the great pull of wine appreciation is there is always something new to learn; there are so many grapes to discover and so many countries and regions to explore. What I love most is attending an event where I discover a new region and some new varieties… and come away with a huge smile on my face, wanting to investigate further.

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Before this tasting, my knowledge of Austrian wine started and ended with Grüner Veltliner (pronounced VeltLEEner, not VELTliner). I like Grüner a lot; I love its layers of fruit, minerality and spice. It turns out there is a lot more to discover and a lot more to love…

Thank you Austria.

It so happens that Evald, a student at the West London Wine School, is a fountain of Austrian wine knowledge. He also has a very fine cellar containing many fantastic Austrian wines… he was also kind enough to open his cellar to the West London Wine School and talk us through the wines and the regions at this most wonderful tasting event. The wines we tasted were interesting, different and delicious, and Evald was a most wonderful host; thank you so much for opening up the vinous delights that Austria have to offer.

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Wise words from Evald

Austrian wine is a real Phoenix from the ashes story, after the wine scandal of 1985 where a small number of wineries illegally added diethylene glycol (an ingredient used in anti-freeze) to improve the sweetness and body of some late harvest wines… this was only discovered when one of thesed greedy winemakers tried to claim tax relief against the purchase! Although it took the Austrian wine industry 15 years to recover from this, what it did do was to introduce much stricter wine laws, which have led to a very high quality output for us to enjoy today.

Yields are extremely low in Austria; the land under vine is half that of Germany yet the production is less than 25% in volume. The wine laws themselves resemble those of Germany; with PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) wines allowed to be produced using 35 permitted grape varieties (these wines all have the Austrian flag on the top of the cap). There is just over 45,000ha of total land under vine with 65% of output white and 35% red, although there has been a 10% shift towards red wines over the last decade. Grüner Veltliner accounts for 29% of all grapes grown followed by red Zweigelt at 14%, then a whole host of indigenous grapes such as Welschriesling and Weissburgunder (white), and Blaufraenkisch and St Laurent (red).

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Beautiful Wachau, overlooking the Danube

Our tasting began in the beautiful region of Wachau, an area of steep slopes, dry stonewall terraces and unique fauna and flora. The region produces the highest rated white wines in Austria and I was astonished to discover that less than 3% of Austrian wine production comes from the area, as most of the wine we see on the supermarket shelves in the UK has “Domaine Wachau” on the label. Wachau also has it’s own registered stylistic categories that only apply to dry white wines of the region, beginning with Steinfender for the lightest and freshest style, then Federspiel and finally, the full-bodied “Smaragd”.

 

Knoll Gelber Muskateller “Federspiel” 2012, Wachau (N/A UK, @£13 in Austria)

Muskateller is a member of the Muscat family producing highly fragrant and aromatic white wine. This has a very exotic and floral nose, quite reminiscent of Gewurztraminer; lychees and pineapple then a waft of red apple and a sprtiz of sweet spice. A very dry attack with lots of apple, especially the skin; a very fresh wine with lots of acidity. The palate is very different to the nose, perhaps not quite delivering quite on the promise but a very pretty wine that would make an excellent aperitif. 90 points

 

Knoll Grüner Veltliner “Ried Loibenberg” Smaragd 2010, Wachau  (N/A UK, @£30 in Austria)

Rich and aromatic nose with apples, pears, a touch of fresh citrus and a delightful edge of exotic, warming spice.  On the palate the wine is super-juicy upfront with apples and limes before the minerality kicks in and cleans the palate to allow the warm white pepper spice to come through on the long and delicious finish. A super complex and fresh wine with three stages, fruit, mineral and spice, which all come together in beautiful balance at the end. Lovely wine. 93 points

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Hirtzberger Riesling “Singerriedel” Smaragd 2011, Wachau (Fine & Rare £62)

A good amount of citrus and peach fruit on the nose, along with unexpected perfume of white flowers – very unexpected from a Riesling. On the palate the fruit flavours are peach, tangerine and a touch of tropical pineapple. There’s a decent level of acid but what is most noticeable is the clean minerality and warm but gentle spice, very pure and very clean.  Would’ve guessed Grüner rather than Riesling if it had been served blind but very good all the same. 92 points

 

There are a growing number of international varieties being planted in Austria; the next wine was an example of a Chardonnay from Vienna…

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Wieninger Chardonnay Grand Select 2009, Vienna (N/A UK, @£30 in Austria)

Tropical fruit with pineapple and mango, plenty of stony notes, with a touch of nut and some heather honey – quite New World actually. On the palate there is lots of peachy fruit and the texture is big and creamy with buttery, nutty flavours coming through to add levels of complexity. This is a very good wine with lots of texture and complexity…. But the 14.5% alcohol really sticks out leaving a hot, boozy finish. Such a shame as there is so much to like. 91 points

 

Now it was time to explore the red wines of Burgenland with examples of St Laurent and Blaufraenkisch:

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Umathum St Laurent “Frauenkirchner” 2007, Neusiedlersee (N/A UK, @£40 in Austria)

The wine needs a bit of coaxing in the glass to get to the nose of sour cherry, with just a hint of kirsch and dried herbs. The palate is fairly muted but there is a big whack of acidity. Unfortunately the texture is vey lean and when the fruit eventually manifests itself it is blackcurrant and hedgerows than show themselves somewhat briefly. Doesn’t quite deliver this one. 86 points

 

Umathum Blaufraenkisch “Joiser Kirschgarten” 2008, Neusiedlersee (N/A UK, @£45 in Austria)

Now this is much more like it! The aromas are feral and savoury with black cherry fruit, smoke and coffee… a bit like Cherry Coke! The palate is big and powerful but still ever so young. There’s black cherries and red currants, the body is medium+ and there are lots of savoury, meaty notes working together beautifully. It’s big, it’s brash and its fantastic – a great big feral (a bit dirty!) wine – like good, ballsy Gevrey. 93 points

 

Pittnauer ‘Alte Reben’ St. Laurent 2009, Burgenland (Clark Foyster Wines £35)

This was served blind and I thought it was Blaufraenkisch after the tasting the previous 2… turned out to be a far better expression of St Laurent. Bright red cherries with a hint of roasted meat on the nose. Fresh fruit on the palate with cherries and red currants and just a nice hint of smoke and smooth tannins.  90 points

 

And then came the encore… the magnificent sweet wines… just look at those colours!

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Feiler-Artinger Chardonnay “Ruster Ausbruch Essenz” TBA 2006, Nuesiedlersee (N/A UK, @£40 in Austria 375ml)

The nose is all sweet tropical fruit – mango, pineapple, passion fruit… very reminiscent of pineapple cubes and very enticing. The wine simply fills and coats your mouth – it’s as close as you’ll ever get to drinking marmalade. The sweet fruit, the high levels of residual sugar and the super-fine levels of acid all come together in a glorious mouthful and mouthfeel – it is fabulous and makes you close your eyes and smile. Even better with a piece of stilton. Fantastic and will only get better. 94+ points

 

Kracher Chardonnay TBA Nr. 9 “Nouvelle Vague” 1998, Nuesiedlersee (Seckford Wines £50 375ml)

And this is why it’s worth waiting for sweet Austria Chardonnay! Still lots of fresh apricot and mango but now it’s joined by some almost savoury dried prunes. The attack is tropical fruit and marmalade then, having covered your mouth, it melts and the dried fruit comes to the fore leaving you with a long, long finis of burnt orange. This wine almost ages in your mouth, from fresh to dried and back again… It is absolutely fabulous. 96 points

 

Willi Opitz “Opitz One” Schilfwein 2008, Neusiedlersee (Hedonism £38 375ml)

Willi Opitz was awarded “Winemaker of the year” at the International Wine Challenge in 1996 and 1997 and invented “Schilfwein”, which is made from grapes dried on reed-beds, similar to the ripasso technique in Venetto. Opitz One is made using the red Zweigelt grape. There is blackberry fruit but also some white stone fruit, burnt sugar and a delicious hint of nuttiness. The palate has the blackberries and cherries but the hints of tropical fruit are still there as the wine gathers pace and momentum as it coats your entire mouth with it chocolaty texture. Every sip brings different combinations of these flavours, which makes it so exciting and so delicious. 95 points

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The full evening lineup

 

Abergavenny – a Welsh food & wine adventure

I am a very proud (and loud!) Welshman when it comes to most things, but mostly when it comes to rugby and food. I very rarely mention rugby in this blog (who would given our recent inept showings in the 6 nations?) but on more than one occasion I have written about welsh food, or more accurately, welsh restaurants. I was amazed at the value wine list at Ye Olde bull’s head in Beaumaris – I went back over the Christmas period any enjoyed another fabulous meal as well as a fantastic bottle of Domaine Prudhom St Aubin 2005 and a 2009 Au Bon Climat Pinot that cost me a couple of quid more than they would at retail. It is also impossible not to be impressed by anything undertaken by the softly spoken and modest superstar that is Shaun Hill; I was, and still am, so pleased that he took ownership of The Walnut Tree, near Abergavenny, back in 2006. I have eaten there a couple of times already and know for certain I will return.

A little break in February has become an important oasis at the beginning of another hectic year. We’ve enjoyed long weekends in Florence, Paris, Beaune and last year a magical few days in Cornwall. So it seems appropriate that this year the destination was Wales. I am a true Gog (what the South welsh call us northerners) but I’m not too proud to head South, so for Abergavenny we headed. As well as Shaun Hill, Abergavenny is famous for its annual food festival (which takes place in September) and its gastro-temples. Two of these establishments are owned and run by familiar faces from the TV; Steven Terry at the Hardwick and Matt Tebbutt at The Foxhunter.

So we booked ourselves into the Hardwick for 2 nights (check out the fabulous Sunday night promotion) and made reservations to eat at the Foxhunter on Saturday night (10 minutes in a taxi) and at our place of rest on the Sunday.

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Scandinavian-style accommodation at the Hardwick

Let’s start with where to stay. The rooms at the Hardwick are delightful and modern, with a slight Scandinavian vibe. The beds are comfortable, the bathroom is luxurious and the overall feel is decadent; I can’t recommend it enough. And let’s not forget about the breakfast… Anywhere that offers eggy bread with smoked streaky bacon and maple syrup is a winner in my book!

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I really should’ve taken a photo on arrival!

For dinner on Saturday night we got a taxi to the the Foxhunter (£15) and received a very friendly welcome from Anne Tebbutt; all the staff are superb and there was a real warmth to the place as we sat down in the bar area with the wine list and the menus. The wine list is extremely well chosen with an excellent variety of grapes and countries to select from. We plumped for a half bottle of Muscadet from the clever selection of halves as an aperitif, and the bit of age on the 2009 showed a hint of oxidisation that was extremely appealing and rounded out the tart green apple and salty, mineral notes of this vastly underrated wine.

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When we were taken to our table we were greeted with warm home made bread and sumptuously salted butter as we waited for our starters. I had a stupendous dish of game tagliatelle with Gorgonzola – a genius combo that I will use a great deal in the future – while the Fish went for a delicate and delightful plate of octopus carpaccio. There were only five main course options (three meat, two fish) but I could’ve happily chosen any of them. In the end I opted for the perfectly cooked duck breast (pink with crispy skin) served with Toulouse sausage and smoked bacon, the Fish opted for the lamb rump with broccoli and white bean mash. Everything looked amazing, was accurately cooked and the portions very generous. To drink we needed a wine with guts and the Gigondas 2010 was just the ticket with its blackberry fruit, dried herb and black pepper kick.

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All hedgerow berries and spice

Deserts were also well executed and we left the restaurant very happy diners. The food isn’t cheap but, coming from the world of London eating, it represents very good value for the combination of well-sourced local ingredients and highly skilful cooking. The wine list is very finely judged and with mark-ups around 100%, you can feel comfortable ordering what you want without fear of bankruptcy. It is certainly a restaurant to which I will gladly return and encourage friends to do the same.

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Our table at The Hardwick was booked for 7.30 on Sunday and after devouring the menu online we had already chosen our main course… the “taste of local beef” to share… But more about that later. The dining area is split into three rooms and is very spacious, with big tables and plenty of room between them. The staff are extremely knowledgeable and friendly, and the overall experience is most agreeable. We both decided we were going fishy with our starters so The Fish plumped for a glass of local sparkling wine and I went for a glass of Albarinho from the extensive by the glass selection. My Albarinho was spot on with a nice balance of citrus, peach and savouriness, while the Sparkling wine from Ancre Hill, made from 100% Seyval Blanc, was deliciously dry with flavours of pastry and very tart Granny Smith apples; very delightful and a producer I will be searching out for sure.

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I had a great view of the wine cellar from our table!

The starters themselves were fabulous. The Provençale fish soup was rich and deep and my linguine with Devon crab, chilli, radicchio, courgette and brown butter breadcrumbs was quite simply one of the best pasta dishes I have ever eaten; lots of ingredients (it also contained anchovies, shallots and parsley) but everything played it’s part… even the courgettes, of which I am no fan! There is a choice of ten starters and every single one of them sounded marvellous – what a great reason to return in itself!

Our beefy-rich main course demanded a monster of a wine and the Director’s Cut Shiraz sure fit the bill perfectly. A true blockbuster of a wine with lashings of blackberry, damson, smoke and sweet spice. Huge concentration and a massive, rich palate – almost ripasso in style – but beautifully balanced by tart-cranberry acidity. And boy did we need the acidity. The taste of local beef consisted of 72h Braised Short Rib, Ox Tail Pudding, Rib Burger on Creamed Mushrooms with Onion Rings, and Braised Shin. All of this came with a big bowl of seasonal veg and triple cut chips. Oh, and we also ordered the deep fried polenta chips with tomato sauce and Parmesan! Each of the elements on the beef plate was rib-stickingly delicious, but they were just too rich all served together. A nice piece of succulent steak would add so much more than another slow-cooked winter warmer. But that is being very picky. The wine and the tomato sauce from the polenta side dish helped to clear the palate between sticky mouthfuls.

To finish I went straight for the “Lemon Crunch” which was a glorious jar filled with lemon cream, digestive and nutty biscuits, all topped with Italian meringue… then it was bedtime!

Abergavenny is a must-visit destination for any food lover and once more, Wales proved to be the place to go for value wine lists. I feel so proud!

#newwinethisweek Week 7 – Gewürztraminer, Alsace

Its week 7 of #newwinethisweek and it looks like Mike from pleasebringmemywine.com has decided there hasn’t been enough controversy…. This week’s selection is sure to divide opinion… Gewürztraminer from Alsace.

Beautiful Alsace

Beautiful Alsace

I’m not saying that Gewürztraminer is a Marmite wine (many would!), simply because, well I “quite” like it. The biggest problem I have with Gewurz is the initial impression; exotic is the only word do describe the aromas… lychees, roses, ginger and Turkish delight are all common descriptors for this intriguing white wine (made from pink grapes). My honest thoughts are there is just a bit too much going on and it can smell a bit like a op drawer, if you know what I mean!!

Pink Gewürztraminer grapes

Pink Gewürztraminer grapes

I did have a bit of a eureka moment with Gewürz a few weeks ago when I attended an Alsace tasting – the grape’s home turf. The Grand Cru from Schlumberger may cost £27 from Fortnum & Mason but it’s the first time a Gewürz made me go wow. So this week I have got myself a pair of wines from Cave du Turckheim, one of the most respected co-operatives in the wine world, to look at the difference between their entry level wine (£10) and their Grand Cru offering (£18)

Cave de Turckheim

Cave de Turckheim

There are also plenty of recommendations under £10… only just!

Finest Gewürztraminer 2008, Alsace, France (Tesco £7.99 

Cave de Turckheim Gewürztraminer 2011, Alsace, France (Waitrose £9.99)

M&S Vin D’Alsace Gewürztraminer 2012, Alsace, France (M&S £9.99 – also produced by Cave de Turckheim)

Cave de Turckheim Gewürztraminer Brand Grand Cru 2010, Alsace, France (Wine & The Vine £17.55)

The common thought is that Gewürztraminer is one of the best wine pairings for spicy curries and Chinese food – I’m gong to give it a go with chicken fajitas! So get yourself a bottle and don’t forget to give it a score and tell us what you think –this week’s vote will take place on Mike’s blog, where you will slso find his recommendations from Sainsbury’s, Morrison’s and Majestic:

http://pleasebringmemywine.com/2014/02/17/nwtw-week-7-gewurztraminer-from-alsace/

Cheers and enjoy!

#newwinethisweek week 6 – Touriga Nacional, Portugal

Portugal

There is so much more to Portugal than the wonderful beaches and seafood of the Algarve, and one of the standout features is the wine. Portugal is one of the oldest wine producing nations and although the country is rightly world famous for it’s fortified gem Port, there has been a revolution over the past couple of decades in the production of “table” wines (well I don’t know what else to call them!).

Portuguese winemaking is a wonderful fusion of traditional techniques and modern technology, but the real trump cards are the plethora of indigenous and interesting grape varieties grown in the stunning vineyards throughout the country. One of these grapes is Touriga Nacional. Touriga Nacional is considered to be the most desirable grape for Port production but it’s the red table wines that we are interested in this week. The grape produces rich, firm wines with flavours of blackberries and raspberries, but what really stands out are the herby and violet notes, which can make for wonderfully aromatic and complex wines.

Although Touriga Nacional is grown throughout the country, the two high quality regions to look out for are Douro in the northeast of the country (home of Port) and Dao, a little further south. The Tejo region, further southwest, is also gaining in reputation as a good value source. Although there are plenty of examples of single variety Touriga Nacional, more often that not it is the major grape in a blend. In the Douro it will be skilfully blended with Touriga Finca and Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), while in Dao you may well find it partnered with Alfroncheiro or Jaen. There is also an increasing amount of international varieties being planted in Portugal so don’t be surprised to see a proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon on Syrah in the blend.

So enough talking and onto this week’s recommendations Mike from www.pleasebringmemywine.com will follow up with some selections of his own in due course!):

Tesco Finest Touriga Nacional 2011, Tejo, Portugal (Tesco £7.99 – on offer at £5.99 until 24/02/14)

Waitrose Douro Valley Reserva 2010, Douro, Portugal  (Waitrose £11.49)

M&S Touriga Nacional 2009, Tejo, Portugal (M&S £7.99)

Adega de Pegoes Touriga Nacional 2011, Setubal, Portugal (Wine & The Vine £11.49)

Quinta da Falorca E-Falorca 2008, Dao, Portugal (Roberson £13.95)

Don’t forget to tell us what you think by giving Touriga Nacional a score out of 10 and leaving your tasting notes in the comments section. Where will Touriga Nacional end up on the #newwinethisweek leaderboard?

Devotion to icon wine in the 1980’s

As I was on the train to work earlier this week I got the inspiration for my Monthly Wine Writing Challenge article. The theme, chosen by last months winner SAHMmelier, is Devotion (see the article and the rules of #MWWC7 here). The theme is inspired by the 80’s… as is my article!

One of the books I go back to time and time again on my journey to and from work is the excellent “1,001 wines you should try before you die”. The book is published by Cassell Illustrated and written by a team of wine connoisseurs, with Hugh Johnson providing the preface. Included in the pages are wines of legend such as DRC, Gaja and Vega Sicilia as well as plenty of New World classics, including Screaming Eagle and Penfold’s Grange.  But what really brought a smile to my face was the inclusion of Blue Nun… No, that wasn’t a typo!

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This got me thinking about wines of yesteryear, wines I remember in the house when I was growing up. So many of these wines have such a bad reputation these days but the UK was devoted to them in the 80’s. The fact they are still available on the supermarket shelves suggests they enjoy a (possibly cult) following; they don’t cost a lot and, in a few cases, are highly recognisable. So I thought I’d take a closer look at a few of these 80’s icons and see whether there is any chance that we could, or should, become devoted to them once again.

Please step forward Blue Nun, Mateus Rose and La Piat D’Or:

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1. Blue Nun

Blue Nun is a German wine brand launched all the way back in 1923 and between the 1950s and 1980s was one of the largest international wine brands in the world. But imagine the response you would get if you brought a bottle along to a fancy dinner party these days! The brand has actually gone through a number of changes over the past 20 years, starting when German family firm Langguth purchased it in 1996.

The first thing the company did was to reclassify the wine as a Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete (QbA). Before that it was classified as a lowly Liebraumich, which is a generic name for wines produced from a multitude of different grapes from here, there and almost anywhere. The QbA designation requires that the wine must come from a designated region (Rheinhessen for Blue Nun) and must also contain at least 70% Riesling, Silvaner or Müller-Thurgau, and it must have 18-40g/litre residual sugar. Blue Nun now contains a minimum of 30% Riesling in the blend, the rest being Muller-Thurgau (Rivaner) and the wine is made in a noticeably drier style, with residual sugar reduced from 42 g/l to 28 g/l.

So obviously Blue Nun has a perception problem… but does it deserve it?

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Blue Nun Rivaner Riesling 2012, Rheinhessen, Germany

Pale straw in colour – it’s not blue! The nose is very grapey, with a bit of tangerine and something a bit medicinal – a bit reminiscent of nail polish. The plate is quite confected, almost like candied tangerine, and there’s also the flavour of bruised apples. With a bitterness and astringency on the thankfully short finish, Blue Nun has very few redeeming features. I really wanted to like this too!

2. Mateus Rose

Mateus is another brand that has been around for decades, first launched all the way back in 1942. The Portuguese wine was a staple at dinner parties in the 1970’s and is so recognisable in its broad, bulbous bottle, which was inspired by the flasks used by soldiers during World War 1. The style of wine is medium-sweet frizzante rosé, the sweetness being reduced in the early 2000’s.

I have had a number of enjoyable holidays to the Algarve in Portugal and must admit to being rather a fan of Mateus – it is a very easy drinking style of wine which is perfect for long summer afternoons sitting by the pool. Mateus Rose wine is made from a variety of red Portuguese grapes, including Baga, Rufete, Tinta Barroca and Touriga Franca sourced primarily from Portugal’s premium Douro and Bairrada DOC regions. These days has an Alcohol level of 11% and residual sugarat 15g/l – probably nowhere as sweet as you were expecting.

One of my favourite myths about the brand is that the owner of the 18th century baroque country mansion on the label was offered a percentage of the sale from every bottle as payment but chose a one-off payment instead… Oh the power of hindsight! So let’s have a sip and see why millions of bottles have been, and continue to be, sold around the world:

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Mateus The Original Rose NV, Portugal

Quite a deep pink salmon colour and aromas of unripe strawberries and white grapes with just a hint of rose petal. Slight spritz on the palate and enough strawberry and raspberry flavour to make it interesting – there is a touch of sweetness upfront to give it the taste of a boiled fruit sweet. The finish is actually pretty dry and quite floral – actually a very pretty wine but really needs some sunshine!

3. La Piat D’Or

And what better red to focus on the oh so sophisticated La Piat D’Or (also available in white and rose!). My parents weren’t big wine fans when I was growing up (they’re getting better these days!) but I do remember a bottle of Piat D’Or making an appearance on a special occasion. In my first year at university, one of the guys on my wing would also break out a bottle from time to time… I though he was being extremely flash!

A youngster compared to Blue Nun and Mateues, La Piat D’Or was only launched in 1978… hell, it’s a few years younger than me! But what it does have is heritage; if you call heritage a memorable advertising campaign! Whoever can forget the famous line “La Francais adore la Piat D’Or”? click to see the ad! It turns out the French didn’t even know what La Piat D’Or even was… It was all exported to the UK and USA! And although the label declares “produit de France”, but if you look closely you will find that it is actually bottled in Italy!! And what’s happened to the slightly tubby bottle of the 80’s and 90’s? Now all we get is a standard Bordeaux bottle with a very cheap and cheerful label.

However hard I try I cannot find an detail of what grapes go into the wine… let’s see if a taste gives us any clues…

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Piat d’Or Soft & Smooth Red NV, France

The armoas need plenty of coaxing out, but after good old swish there’s a decent nose of black cherry and blackberry with a dash of black spice – I was expecting it be very stewed and jammy but nothing of the sort. On the palate it’s black cherry and a hint of menthol – a bit like drinking a glass of boiled down Tunes! There’s nothing special going on but there’s also nothing to dislike – if you got this in a jug in a bistro with no idea what it was, you wouldn’t tell anyone about it but you probably wouldn’t send it back.

Time has moved on and these wines are never going to receive the same level of devotion that they enjoyed a couple of decades ago but they’re probably not as bad as your perception would have you believe. I was disappointed by Blue Nun, Mateus met my expectations and Piat d’Or didn’t offend – I was sure it would! Of the three, I may well enjoy a bottle of Mateus on a sunny day in Portugal, but realistically there are so many better wines out there, and so little time to keep looking back… Right where’s that bottle of Volnay… my real devotion!!

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#newwinethisweek week 5 – Torrontés, Argentina

It’s week 5 of #newwinethisweek and we’re going for something a little bit different this week. I’m sure you’re all fans of Malbec (even if I’m not!) but there is a grape native to Argentina of which I am very fond… Introducing the wonderful Torrontés.

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Torrontés is a white grape variety that produces aromatic and fresh wines with wonderful fruity flavours of peach and apricot. It often has a soft floral note, which has caused many commentators to compare Torrontés to Viognier, current darling of the wine press. Torrontés is a grape with bags of personality and has the potential to be your new favourite white wine!

If you can, look for wines from Cafayate, in the foothill of the Andes; this is considered to be the best location for growing Torrontés, where the cool nights allow the grapes to retain their acidity and bright flavours.

Torrontés is a very easy-going wine, making it extremely flexible when it comes to pairing with food. It’s not a wine of great texture so go for light chicken or fish dishes, but it also pairs pretty well with spicy food – give it a try with a Friday night curry… I might!

I’m also please to say that Torrontés is widely available in UK supermarkets and wine merchants alike, so here are a few suggestions from me:

Dominio del Plata Torrontés 2012, Salta, Argentina (M&S £8.99)

 

Tesco Finest Torrontés 2011, Cafayete, Argentina (Tesco £8.99)

 

Michel Torino Coleccion Torrontes 2012, Cafayete, Argentina (Wine & the Vine £8.45)

 

Tilimuqui Single Vineyard Fair Trade Torrontés 2012, Famatina Valley, Argentina (Waitrose £7.99)

 

Faldos Nevados Torrontés 2013, Cafayate/Altamira, Argentina (The Wine Society £7.50)

 

Don’t forget to tell us what you think… Can Torrontés knock Albariño off the top of the #newwinethisweek leaderboard?

Alsace 2 – Value vs Innovation

After the first leg of the Alsace tasting double-header, the second session had a very hard act to follow. Jimmy, the top-guy at The West London Wine School, promised us a very different tasting, and boy did he deliver! It was always going to be a tough follow-up session after the magnificent wines from Josmeyer and Schlumberger, but what we did end up getting was essentially two tastings in one; the value of Cave de Turckheim and the “innovation” of Marcel Deiss.

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But before we get to those two very different flights, the tasting kicked off with an aperitif made from the Sylvaner grape. Originally from Austria (although there are now only 36 hectares under vine) and known as Gruner Silvaner, it is a grape with a less than shining reputation; best known as a component of Liebfraumilch, the wine that was much abused and maligned in the 80’s and 90’s. Alsatian versions are primarily considered to be simple wines, the grape often described as having a very neutral flavour.

Bruno Sorg Vieilles Vignes Sylvaner 2012 (Hedley Wright £11.99)

Very pale and watery appearance with aromas of red apple, pear and just a touch of white blossom. Decent acidity with notes of citrus and pear, but what I’m left with is more pith than fruit with astringent finish. The wine does open up a little more with a bit of time in the glass but I’m left underwhelmed – a well made wine but just a bit bland. 85 points

So now we come to the first of the main flights of the evening, with four wines from the Cave de Turckheim. First established in 1955, the Cave de Turckheim is one of the most respected co-operatives in the wine world. They consistently deliver excellent single variety wines from grapes grown by 216 growers, and offers some of the best value for money anywhere in the wine world. Cave de Turckheim produces many of the supermarket own label Alsace offerings, including Tesco’s Finest and Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference ranges.

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Cave de Turckheim Marnes & Calcaires Pinot Blanc 2010 (Direct from Cave €6.60)

A bit of tropical nectarine and mango upfront with just a hint of exotic spice. On the palate there’s a huge burst of citrus with a dose good of juicy nectarine. There is nice acidity with a good dose of minerality and a slightly chalky finish. Delivers a heck of a punch for the price, very agreeable indeed and a real shame it’s not available in the UK! 89 points

Cave de Turckheim Granite Pinot Blanc 2010 (Direct from Cave €6.45)

Much more reserved nose than the Calcaires, with apple and a touch of citrus, but you have to give it a mighty sniff to get there! The texture is a touch richer and there is much more of the wet-stone minerality, almost redolent of Chablis, and good apple and citrus fruit. 87 points

Cave de Turckheim Pinot Gris Reserve 2012 (Amps Fine Wines £10.99)

Very rich aromas of peaches, white flowers and even a touch of earthy truffle. Quite sweet on entry with citrus, peach and good levels of acid. But the citrus is very industrial, almost like you would get from a detergent, and the finish is spoiled by heavy-handed and unbalanced alcohol. 84 points

Cave de Turckheim Riesling Brand Grand Cru 2008 (The Wine Society £14.50)

Heaps and heaps of citrus aromas with juicy limes and green mango to the fore. Along with the fruit is plenty of slate minerality and just a touch of petrol starting to evolve. On the palate is bags of citrus, beginning with lemosns, then a swathe of lime, all wrapped in a beautiful cloak of acid – very pure and very precise. A delightful balance of fruit and acid at spectacular value for top notch Grand Cru wine. 92 points

And then we come to the controversial (or innovative?) Marcel Deiss. The estate is run by Jean-Michel Deiss, the grandson of the founder (founded in 1944), and his wife Clarisse. It is their 100% belief in terroir-based wines that has caused quite a stir in Alsace; rather than the traditional Alsace way of bottling by variety, Deiss believes the vineyard to be more important than the grapes and prefers to produce field-blends and bottle them under the name of the vineyard. I found the wines to be very well made but perhaps lacking the precision of the top-end wines from the likes of Josmeyer and Schlumberger.

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Marcel Deiss “Engelgarten” Cru d”Alsace 2010 (Lea & Sandeman £27.50)

50% Riesling, 24% Pinot Gris, 24% Pinot Blanc, 2% Muscat

Exotic, floral and perfumed with a bit of a tropical edge – I can’t believe there’s no Gewürztraminer in the blend! Lots of acid on the entry with green apples and limes giving a bright buzz on the palate. A very nice wine with good balance and lots going on… But there is so much better wine available for almost £30. 90 points

Marcel Deiss “Rotenberg” Cru d’Alsace 2007 (Waitrose £29.99)

50% Riesling, 24% Pinot Gris, 24% Pinot Blanc, 2% Muscat

The same blend as the “Engelgarten” but with 3 more years in the bottle… Rich aromas of baked apples and honey with a hint of oxidisation. On the palate it’s nutty, with sweet honey but doesn’t have the acid to balance and bring the whole thing together. Not for me this one. 86 points

Marcel Deiss “Langenberg” Cru d’Alsace 2010 (Millesima £30.40)

50% Riesling, 24% Pinot Gris, 24% Pinot Blanc, 2% Muscat

Aromas of lemons, limes, pink grapefruit and lots of wet stone minerality. Very pure and precise on the palate, bursting with green apples and limes. This is the most Riesling-like of all the wines, more traditional and all the better for it… In my view! 92 points

Marcel Deiss “Schoffweg” Cru d’Alsace 2009 (Roberson £33.95)

50% Riesling, 25% Pinot Blanc, 25% Pinot Gris

A slightly different blend but that’s not the talking point here… It’s the use of expensive new oak… In Alsace! The nose is oaky and nutty with notes of butterscotch and plenty of peachy and citrus – it reminded me of a well made New World Chardonnay! The palate is also huge with baked peaches, citrus and plenty of leesyness and polished, expensive oak. Lovely balance of fruit, oak and acidity; I really like this wine but would never in a million years pick it as an Old World Riesling… and I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing! Confused.com! 92 points

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