Monthly Archives: March 2014

#newwinethisweek Week 13 – Falanghina, Campania

Italy flag

I have developed a real soft spot for Italian whites; they seem to have gone slightly out of fashion but I get quite excited when I see a list that includes the likes of Gavi, Verdicchio, Soave, Orvieto and Fiano. Another white Italian grape that has started grabbing my attention recently is Falanghina. The grape variety is grown close to the coast in Campania, on the volcanic soils of Vesuvius, north of Naples; and this is my choice for week 13 of #newwinethisweek.

Campania Map

You can certainly expect a fresh citrus tang from Falanghina and there are notes of apple, pear and a bit of herb and spice in the better examples. In fact, Falanghina is a great all-rounder that certainly won’t break the bank. I read with interest that one of the famous food matches for Falanghina in Italy is Pizza con pera, noci e rucola (pizza with pear, walnuts and rocket), however it goes very well with most pizza, any selection of seafood, and light pasta dishes; or just pop open a bottle in the afternoon and sip it while reading a book (or checking Twitter) in the garden!

 

You certainly won’t struggle to find a bottle on the supermarket shelves and there are plenty of recommendations under a tenner this week…

Winemakers’ Selection Falanghina del Beneventano 2012, Campania, Italy (Sainsbury’s £6.99)

Tesco Finest* Falanghina 2012, Puglia, Italy (Tesco £6.99)

Triade Fiano/Falanghina/Greco 2012, Campania, Italy (Waitrose £8.99)

Rocca Vecchia Falanghina 2012, Campania, Italy (Co-op £6.49)

Falanghina Beneventano IGT 2012, Campania, Italy (M&S £6.49)

Feudi de San Gregorio Falanghina Albente 2012, Campania, Italy (Wine & The Vine £9.50)

Janare Falanghina del Sannio 2013, Campania, Italy (The Wine Society £6.95)

 

Now all you have to do is buy a bottle and tell us what you think! All we ask is that you come back here during the week, give your Falanghina experience a score out of 10 and leave a tasting note in the comments section.

 

Where will Flanaghina end up on the #newwinethisweek leaderboard?

 

Spring into The Loire

Last week saw the first day of Spring and this weekend the clocks go forward…I hate losing an hour at the weekend, especially the day after a wedding! But Spring is finally here and it’s got me thinking about what wines I should be drinking at this time of rejuvenation, renewal and regrowth… 

There is one region that covers every base for Spring; that region is The Loire Valley.

Having spent an evening in Tours, a few days in Chinon and another few in Sancerre last Summer, it did occur to me that you could live a very satisfied wine life drinking only wines from this picturesque region; there really is something for every occasion. The Loire is rightly famous for its white wines but there are also plenty of delicious reds and rosés to choose from.

The Loire Valley’s wine map can be broken down into 4 sub-regions, and each is highly regarded for making wines using different grapes:

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Pays Nantais

Muscadet may be one of the most underrated and misunderstood white wines anywhere in the wine world. For starters, most people think Muscadet is a grape or a place, when in actual fact it is neither! The name Muscadet apparently comes from a description of the wine; “vin qui a un goût musqu”–“wine with a musk-like taste”(it doesn’t!), it is produced in the areas surrounding Nantes and is made from the Melon de Borgogne grape variety.

It is no surprise that a wine made so close to the Atlantic Ocean has savoury, saline characteristics; this works wonderfully in these light, crisp and refreshing wines. For a touch more complexity look out for “sur lie”on the label; here the wine has been aged for a period time on its lees, affording yeasty aromas and flavours. And, last but not least, these wines are always great value.

 

Anjou-Saumur

Moving east we arrive in the exciting region of Anjou-Saumur. It is here that we start to find world-class whites made with Chenin Blanc, fragrant reds made with Cabernet Franc and off-dry rosés made with Grolleau.

The most famous Chenin appellation in the region is Savennieres, where yields are restricted to just 20 hectoliters per hectare to produce wines of enormous concentration and complexity; these wines will provide a huge amount of pleasure but come with a weighty price tag.

While I was in the area last summer I was simply blown away by the quality of the Chenin from Saumur –it was crisp, fresh with lots of fruit and a beautiful touch of honey –and it was so, so cheap…It’s just a shame the locals seems to keep it all for themselves! However, the red wines of Saumur are widely available and offer some of the best value drinking in France. While the wines from the very best producers can age for decades, the majority of the red output is light to medium bodied, with bright red fruit and just a touch of green herb character –very nice served chilled on a warm Spring afternoon.

And don’t forget about the rosés! Generally off-dry, these rosés are made predominantly from Grolleau with small percentages of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Gamay also allowed. Very easy drinking in style, perfect for the first BBQs of the season. I was also fortunate to try a red Grolleau on a recent visit to The Remedy wine bar just off Warren Street –a very individual wine that went perfectly with a plate of cured meats…In fact, that’s exactly how the wine tasted!

 

Touraine

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The Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc theme continues as we move in-land and we start to feel the presence of Sauvignon Blanc. I’ll probably get lynched for this but the wines of Chinon are very similar to those of Saumur; bright, crisp Chenins; light, fruity Cab Francs (again the best are made to last). This is another great region to go shopping for value and refreshment. And keep an eye out for the marvellous Cremant de Loire; I tasted some amazing sparklers made from both Chenin and Cab Franc –outstanding quality and spectacular value for money.

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Then we reach one of my very favourite appellations; Vouvray. Dry, off-dry, sweet (moelleux), sparkling…there is nothing this place cannot do with Chenin Blanc. The winemakers of the region just seem to find myriad ways to balance the naturally high acidity of the Chenin Blanc grape. Apples, honey, nuts; there really is nothing not to like and I can’t think of anything better to bring a smile to my face on a Sunday Spring afternoon than a glass (bottle) of Vouvray Demi-Sec. Maybe my biggest wine regret is not being able to go along to a wine evening recently where a bottle of Domaine Huet Le Haut Lieu 1947 was opened and unanimously described by those present as the best wine they have ever tasted. Sulk.

In Touraine we also start to see plantings of Sauvignon Blanc, producing crisp and fresh wines at a very reasonable price. If you are a fan of Sauvignon Blanc then the white wines of Touraine may offer some of the best value on the supermarket shelves. Also keep an eye out for the wines of Cheverney, where up to 30% Chardonnay is added to the Sauv Blanc to provide a bit more weight.

 

Central Vineyards

To many consumers this is the region that represents the Loire; the home of Sauvignon Blanc. The region centres around the world famous towns of Sancerre on the western side of the river and Pouilly sur Loire on the east. It is here we taste and smell the delightful combinations of citrus and gooseberry; and detect the limestone of Sancerre and silex (flint) of Pouilly. My visit to Sancere last year reignited my love for Sauvignon Blanc, having been put off by the recent tropical fruit and green pepper assault on my tastebuds.

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Not everything from Sancerre and Pouilly is fantastic –they have become brands in their own right and not everything that comes from the region is worthy of the name. So get to know a couple of producers you like and you’ll be very happy very often. Also look out for the lesser-known appellations of Menetou-Salon, Quincy and Reuill for some great value. Oh, and if like me you’re still craving a glass of Pinot Noir then they do that too…a couple of the Sancerre Rouges, made with Pinot Noir, I sampled in the Henri Bourgeois tasting room last year were very agreeable indeed.

 

So there we go; The Loire Valley –Spring in a bottle (or in many bottles anyway!)

 

Links to my Loire posts from Summer 2014:

https://confessionsofawinegeek.com/2013/07/29/tours-de-france-prologue/

https://confessionsofawinegeek.com/2013/08/07/unsung-jewels-of-the-loire-chinon-saumur/

https://confessionsofawinegeek.com/2013/08/11/chateau-du-petit-thouars-tradition-respect-passion/

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

 

#newwinethisweek Week 12 – Crémant, France

Mike from www.pleasebringmemywine.com has come up trumps this week as we get our first fizzy selection for #newwinethisweek… Cremant!

http://pleasebringmemywine.com/2014/03/24/nwtw-week-12-cremant-de-somewhere/

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Champagne is often regarded as the cream of the sparkling crop… but there are other regions in France making fizz in exactly the same way. This fizz is called Crémant and the winemaking technique is called the Methode Traditional. Crémant is one of France’s best-kept secrets… and it’s also perfect for celebrating Mothers’ Day!

Crémant is a great and, more often than not, cheaper option to Champagne. The sparklers are made all of France and are made from blend of the grapes you associate with the still wines of the area (and usually some Chardonnay). Keep an eye out for:

Crémant d’Alsace (Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Riesling)

Crémant de Bordeaux (Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Cabernet Franc,

Crémant de Bourgogne (Aligote, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc)

Crémant du Jura (Chardonnay)

Crémant de Limoux (Mauzac, Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay)

Crémant de Loire (Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc)

Although the Methode Traditional seems like magic, a very complicated process is used to make the wine:

  1. Firstly you have to grow and harvest the healthiest grapes possible (by hand please!)
  2. Once the grapes have been picked, they are fermented, for the first time, as any other wine to create a still base-wine
  3. The wines are then bottled into the bottle that you will eventually buy and yeast is added for a second fermentation – this is left in the bottle for a period of time to give the yeasty, biscuit, pastry notes we all love
  4. In order to get rid of the dead yeasts, the bottles are placed in a riddling table and undergo a process know as remouage so all of the yeast ends up in the neck of the bottle – this used to be done by a guy in the cellar who would turn every bottle a quarter turn every day for 40 days – its now done by machine
  5. The neck of the bottle is then flash frozen and the pressure in the bottle forces the frozen piece to shoot out of the bottle when the cap is removed – this is known as the disgorgement
  6. A final dosage is then added to achieve the right level of sweetness and finally the cork is inserted

 

So now you know what it is and how it’s made; here’s where you buy it!

Waitrose has really come up trumps on the supermarket front this week – nothing in Tesco but I have included a “Sparkling Burgundy” from M&S… it’s a Crémant in all but name!

Cuvée Royale Crémant de Limoux NV (Waitrose £7.99 was £10.99)

Blason de Bourgogne Rosé Brut Crémant de Bourgogne NV (Waitrose £13.99)

Cave de Lugny, Crémant de Bourgogne NV (Waitrose £13.99)

M&S Chardonnay Sparkling Burgundy NV (M&S £11.99)

 

The indies understand the quality and value of Crémant so take a look:

Moutard Crémant de Bourgogne NV (Wine & the Vine £15.75)

Dopff Au Moulin Cremant d’Alsace NV (Wine & the Vine £16.85)

J Laurens Crémant de Limoux ‘Les Graimenous’ 2011 (Roberson £14.95)

Domaine Berthet-Bondet Crémant du Jura 2012 (Roberson £17.95)

And as usual, The Wine Society has a whole host of wonderful options:

Crémant de Limoux, Cuvée St Laurent 2010 (The Wine Society £10.50)

The Society’s Celebration Crémant de Loire NV (The Wine Society £11.50)

Dopff au Moulin Crémant d’Alsace Cuvée Julien NV (The Wine Society £11.95)

Domaine de Montbourgeau Crémant du Jura Brut NV (The Wine Society £12.50)

 

Sp get yourself a bottle of your new favourite fizz and head over to Mike’s blog to tell us what you think and give it a score – you can keep track of the #newwinethisweek leaderboard here – #newwinethisweek leaderboard

The week’s poll:

http://pleasebringmemywine.com/2014/03/24/nwtw-week-12-cremant-de-somewhere/

 

Beyond Burgundy (New World Pinot Noir & Chardonnay)

The famous villages of Burgundy easily roll off the tongue; Puligny, Chassagne, Muersault, Corton and Chablis for Chardonnay, Gevrey, Morey St Denis, Chambolle, Vosne and Nuits for Pinot. These famous villages, so much smaller than you can even imagine, are the source of many of the best wines I have ever drunk.

In my humble opinion there is no greater wine region in the world than Burgundy; but then again, you must know that because I don’t stop banging on about the bloomin place! It’s a magical and mystical place, and it is the spiritual home of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

But over the past 12 months my eyes have been opened; I have spent much of my time investigating (I mean tasting) the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir the new world has to offer. I have been massively impressed. USA, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa are now producing top notch stuff that can happily sit on the same table as some of the best wines of Burgundy. Here are a few of the jewels I’ve uncovered in my recent investigations…

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A quick note here: these are all winemakers that I feel make quality Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The wines are available from good specialists in the UK and they won’t break the bank (well compared to Burgundy anyway!)

USA

The States is such an exciting place for these varieties right now and first of all I had to make a decision between California and Oregon. I have plumped for California simply because I have drunk more wines from the area and I continue to be blown away by the quality.

My selection is Au Bon Climat, which means “a well exposed vineyard”. Jim Clendenen founded the winery in 1982 and produces wonderful wines from grapes grown in California’s Santa Barbara County. Jim looks to Burgundy for inspiration and tries to replicate the restraint and elegance of the wines from that region. The winery continues to pick up awards and plaudits for its classical style of wines and have become firm favourites in my household.

Au Bon Climat Sanford & Benedict Pinot Noir 2009 (around £30)

Pure red cherry and red currant fruit on the nose but supported by layers of earth and spice. On the palate there are heaps of Raspberry freshness and acidity, with the depth of ripe cherry, spice and a touch if tattered leather. The texture is magical with gentle grip that dissolves into a smooth long and sensuous conclusion. A fabulous and elegant wine of real class. 94 points

Au Bon Climat Wild Boy Chardonnay 2011 (around £25)

I’ve looked at this wine a few times on the shelf and haven’t been able to pick it up due to the garishness of the label… But I’m glad I finally did! As the name suggests the nose is massive with a huge hit of butterscotch and oak. On the palate the first impression I get is of liquid Werthers Original – big, bold and beautiful. But I am really surprised by the acidity and the balance. Yes it’s toasty but there is plenty of peach and citrus fruit and the word I’m left with, that I never expected to be anywhere near this wine, is delicate. A very fine wine with lots of charm, weight, balance and length. 93 points

Australia

I had a similar dilemma choosing a single region in Oz too! Mornington Peninsula in Victoria produces some wonderfully elegant wines and I have had much pleasure from Tasmania now that the wines are becoming more widely available. But in the end I’ve gone to Western Australia for the amazing purity of the wines, and chose Larry Cherubino, not just for the quality, but also the tremendous value.

What I particularly love about Cherubino, who started his own winery in 2005, is the beautiful purity of his wines. Larry aims to reflect a true sense of place and crafts wines that express the fruit with the optimum precision and clarity. James Halliday, Australia’s most respected wine writer, is a huge fan; in the 2013 Australian Wine Companion, Larry Cherubino Wines became the highest-rating producer in a single year since Halliday first published the review in 1986.

My selections are from Larry’s “entry level” Ad-Hoc wines… I can’t wait to try “The Yard”, “Pedestal”, “Laissez Faire” and “Cherubino” offerings!

Cherubino Ad Hoc Cruel Mistress Pinot Noir 2012 (around £15)

Bright red fruit and cinder toffee with just a hint of spice on the nose. Super fresh acidity upfront, light bodied but lots of sour cherry, red currant and raspberry fruit. A touch of spicy oak and grippy but quality tannins and a long and fresh finish. 92 points

Cherubino Ad Hoc Hen & Chicken Chardonnay 2012 (around £15)

A delightfully rich lees-y nose with plenty of lemon freshness and a touch of white peach too – one of those extremely attractive noses that you can smell for a long, long time. The palate is bursting with flavours of peach, lemon, gentle vanilla spice, and has a super fresh and long finish. Delicious and fresh with just enough oaky interest. 93 points

New Zealand

As much as I enjoy Pinot Noir from Martinborough, the region producing both Pinots and Chards of super quality consistently for me is Otago, and the wines I just can’t help but go back to (even though they are on the pricy side) are those of Felton Road.

Felton Road’s winemaker Blair Walter’s previously worked in Oregon and Burgundy and produces wines of elegance, complexity and exceptional depth. All of the grapes are grown in their own ‘Elms Bannockburn Vineyard’, which has been farmed organically & biodynamically since 2000.

Felton Road Banockburn Chardonnay 2011 (around £30)

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

Felton Road Banockburn Pinot Noir 2012 (around £40)

Attractive fresh nose of violets and ripe red fruit, but it’s on the palate that the wine really comes to life. Crisp acid with lots of bright but concentrated red berry fruit with a violet undertow and a hint of earthiness. Young and crunchy with a good tannic bite – great with duck at the moment, maybe needs a year or 2two to be fully enjoyed on it’s own. 93+ points

South Africa

To be honest I haven’t tried that much Pinot and Chardonnay from South Africa. I’m a big fan of the traditional Springbok grapes of Pinotage and Chenin Blanc, as well as the current explosion of Rhone varieties… and then I came across the wines of Hamilton Russell from Hermanus and was left almost speechless.

Tim Hamilton Russell purchased the farm, one of the most southerly in South Africa, in 1975. The estate is located only 3 kilometres from the Atlantic Ocean and the cool breezes that come in from the sea make this the coolest region for wine production in South Africa. The wine are made with a majority of expensive new oak in a ‘Grand Cru’ style; although they are built to last they are also extremely attractive in their youth… which is great as I’m not sure how long I can keep the corks in place!

Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2012 (around £25)

A fabulous wine – would be very difficult to place this outside of Burgundy – has a real Charlemagne power to it. Huge rich and buttery nose with lashings of peach and a burst of citrus, all wrapped in a blanket of expensive and smoky oak. The palate is fat and buttery with lots of peach, tart apple and just a hint of pineapple, all cloaked in rich caramel, nuts and flaky, butter pastry. The acid is fine and dandy and the finish is long and intense. Lots of concentration and plenty of complexity. 94 points

Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2011 (around £25)

Nose filling aromas of rich and full of dark berry fruit with just a hint of roasted meat emerging. Plenty of fresh red fruit and fine acidic backbone on the attack – red cherries, red currants and the first tart raspberries of the season. There is good tannic structure and the smoky oak is in good balance with the fruit. Still young and perhaps has it’s best years ahead of it, but a muscular wine that wouldn’t be out of place alongside a 1er Cru Pommard. 93 points

#newwinethisweek Week 11 – Gamay, Beaujolais

Mike from www.pleasebringmemywine.com has chosen Gamay from Beaujoais as the wine choice for week 11 and I encourage you to read his intro here:

http://pleasebringmemywine.com/2014/03/17/nwtw-week-11-beaujolais-from-wellbeaujolais/

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Not so long ago I wrote an article about Beaujolais (it won the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge!) so rather than a re-hash, have a read by following this link:

https://confessionsofawinegeek.com/2013/10/13/desole-beaujolais-mwwc4/

 

For years I derided Beaujolais without really giving it a chance – I was guilty of being a wine snob. But that has changed and I know admit that Beaujolais deserves its place at the top table of French wine. To discover (or rediscover) it for yourself, here are a few recommendations to go with Mike’s selections:

 

Luis Jadot are a Burgundy negotiant with good quality across the range:

Louis Jadot Beaujolais Villages 2012 (Tesco £10.99 – if you get there by Tuesday you can get it for £7.99!)

 

The Fleurie Cru produces some of the more delicate wines in Beaujolais:

Louis Jadot Fleurie Poncereau 2009 (Tesco £14.99)

Bouchard Pere et Fils Fleurie 2010 (Waitrose £11.99)

 

For a bit more structure try Moulin au Vent:

M&S Moulin au Vent “Petit Chene” 2010 (M&S £12.99)

 

And if you really want to learn about Beaujolais then pay a visit to the marvellous website of Beaujolais & Beyond and order a mixed case (they also carry a magnificent selection of white Burgundy from Macon)

http://beaujolaisandbeyond.co.uk

 

So pick up a bottle and don’t forget to leave a comment and a score on Mike’s blog site.

 

Cheers and enjoy!

 

So much more to Priorat that power

The love affair started in autumn 2012. It was brought to my attention by a sommelier at Gidleigh Park; she was French and when I asked her what she was buying for herself she replied “Priorato”. A couple of months later I found myself in Barcelona for a long weekend and asked the guy behind the bar to recommend a bottle of red to savour and watch the evening unfold; I paid around €40 for a bottle of Somni 2009 and have never looked back.

Priorat is a district in Catalonia, North East Spain that is renowned for it’s powerful red wines. The wines are made from the old, low yielding vines of two kingpin varieties; Garnacha (38% plantings – Grenache in many other regions of the wine world) and Cariñena (25% plantings – Carignan to non-Spanish speakers), which are supplemented with international superstar grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah.

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The region has a great story to tell. Although there is evidence of viticulture in the region from the 12th century by the monks from the Carthusian Monastery of Scala Dei, the DO itself was only formally created in 1954. Pre-phylloxera there was around 5,000 hectares under vine in the region; the number had dwindled to under 600 in 1979. But all of this changed in the late 1980s when a group of five growers got together and shared a winery in Gratallops; they became known as the “5 Clos”: Clos Mogador, Clos Dofi (later renamed to Finca Dofi), Clos Erasmus, Clos Martinet and Clos de l’Obac.

This was the start of a golden age for Priorat that has kept on going and is thriving today. The planted area had expanded to 1,800ha in 2009 (still tiny compared to 123,000 in Rioja or even the 18,000 in Ribera del Duero), when the region became only the second DOC (the highest category in Spain) the other being Rioja.

Three things that grabbed me at a recent tasting of Priorat wines at The West London Wine School:

  1. The consistently high quality across the wines. Although the wines of Priorat come with a hefty-ish price tag, they are very reasonable if you’re comparing to the fancy appellations of France!
  2. I am a Garnacha man first, Cariñena second.
  3. There is so much more to these wines than power alone. Don’t get me wrong, if its grunt you’re looking for you won’t be disappointed, but there is finesses, elegance and supreme balance at work here.

These are wines of real distinction and should enjoy pride of place in any wine cellar… or rack… or shelf… just get some in!

On to the tasting:

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Mas d’en Gil “Coma Alta” (Blanca) 2009 (N/A UK £21.49)

70% Garnacha Blanca, 30% Viognier. White wine represents only 4% of Priorat production, from a total of 43 plots. This is an oxidised style of wine that hits you right between the eyes but there is a real richness behind it; bruised apples, a touch of apricot, a hint of nut and even a touch of wild honey. Very dry but with decent acidic backbone – much brighter than I expected on the palate with a real freshness, with flavours of citrus and orange peel. This isn’t my kind of wine but there is good balance at play here – a very well made wine that hides it’s 15% (!) alcohol well. 90 points

Mas d’en Gil “Coma Vella” 2007 (Waitrose £23.49)

35% Garnacha, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Cariñena, 10% Syrah. A very powerful blackberry and mineral nose, with layers of dark cherries, dried herbs and old worn leather. The palate is ripe with black cherries and kirsch and then the red fruit shines through. Perhaps a little hot at the beginning, the wine quickly comes around with a delightful balance of acidity and fine tannin. Very good wine with a good long finish – great it’s available in a UK supermarket too – wait until Waitrose run a 25% off deal and buy a couple. 92 points

Alvaro Palacios Camins del Priorat 2012 (The Wine Society £13.95)

50% Cariñena, 30% Grenache, 10% Syrah, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. Broody, deep and dark blackcurrant and blueberries – a little stewed and a little on the jammy side. There is a touch of red fruit lingering in the background as well as a hint of dark spice and violet – the Cariñena certainly seems to be shining through. Warm alcohol on the attack and a very grippy tannin structure but the fruit is fairly muted and the spice comes to the fore. Obviously still young but I feel it’s lacking balance and don’t think time will cure it. 87 points

Torres Salmos 2010 (Waitrose £18.49)

50% Cariñena, 30% Garnacha, 20% Syrah. Dark cherries and blackberries with a touch of sweetness – a bit kirsch-like – I like it. Very full bodied with lots of concentration; creamy blackberries, pepper and vanilla spice, with good tannic structure and a very long, slightly sweet finish. I like it a lot but it is made in a very modern, “big” global style – good wine, but doesn’t scream of its place. 92 points

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Scala Dei “Cartoixa” 2007 (The Wine Reserve £34.99)

60% Grenache, 25% Cariñena, 10% Syrah, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. Scala Dei means “stairway to heaven” and I’m certainly on my way! Black cherries, plums, rolling tobacco, dried herbs, especially fennel and plenty on black pepper on the very enticing nose. Very fresh attack with cranberry acidity and lashing of blackberry and blackcurrant fruit coming through in wave after wave of flavour. Very complete wine with lovely balance, power yet delightful elegance. 93 points

Scala Dei “Cartoixa” 2006 (Soho Wine Supply £35.00)

45% Garnacha, 20% Syrah, 20% Cab Sav, 15% Cariñena. Black cherry upfront then the bright red currants pop their heads up before the violets and leather kick-in – the nose is slightly muted but in a very quietly confident manner. Super concentrated with blackberry and blackcurrant fruit and delicious spikes of spice. This is a big, muscular wine and I love the rough edges – wine made for enjoyment not to get Parker points. This is a wine of character, rustic nature and real grunt… I love it! 94 points

Scala Dei “Cartoixa” 2005 (The Wine House £28.99)

45% Garnacha, 20% Syrah, 20% Cab Sav, 15% Cariñena. Very opulent aromas of blackberry and cherry fruit with lots of dried spice and violet – I know that velvet isn’t a smell, but that’s what it smells like to me! On the palate the tannins are extremely fine and there is a sharp (and welcome) acidic bite. The flavours are blackberry and black cherry with leather, roasted meat and smoky spice. Great balance, majestic texture and spicy finish that keep going. Very fine and characterful indeed. 94 points

Clos Mogador 2009 (The Wine Society £41.00)

44% Garnacha, 21% Cariñena, 18% Syrah, 19% Cab Sav, . The first aroma is blackberry, then the red fruit kicks in; cranberry and raspberry. Big and rich on the nose; very polished and modern with plenty of vanilla from the use of very expensive new oak (50% new). Huge concentration of dark fruit up-front and a massive tannic structure; rich, polished, expensive and oh so very modern. Very, very young, very, very rich and hugely powerful. Another excellent wine but it could come from anywhere – is Priorat losing it’s sense of place? I hope not. 93 points

Clos Mogador 1996 (Fine & Rare £78.00)

Garnacha, Syrah, Cab Sav, Cariñena, Pinot Noir (I can’t find the percentages). Plenty of development on the nose worn leather, smoked meat, dried shitake mushrooms. There are still hints of fruit, mainly dried and mostly red. There is still delightful tannin at play but still has the acidic backbone to compensate. The main fruit on the palate is red currant and dried cranberry along with a smoky, earthy finish. Maybe just past it’s best but a very interesting and enjoyable drop. 92 points

Clos Martinet 1996 (N/A UK)

45% Grenache, 20% Cab Sav, 20% Merlot, 10% Cariñena, 5% Syrah. Talk about keeping the best ‘till last! Very fresh, very elegant on the nose with charming red cherry fruit, mineral and vanilla merging delightfully. It still tastes so young; the tannin is delightful and elegant, there’s lots of bright red cherry fruit and lots of earthy mushroom and smoke and delicious minerality. The tasting  title was “Powerful Priorat” but the elegance of this fantastic wine certainly stole the show. 95 points

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OK, so Priorat isn’t a cheap option… but £10.99 for Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference won’t break the bank and won’t disappoint either!

Taste the Difference Priorat 2009, Priorat, Spain (Sainsbury’s currently £8.24 was £10.99)

It’s hard to find Priorat under a tenner… Never mind £8.24! But this is fab. Blackberries, black currants and a touch of damson jam, but there’s also a fabulous savoury edge and an earthy minerality.  Refreshing acidity, nicely judged oak and balanced powdery tannin. This is still a young wine and unfortunately none of it will see its prime; but so what, it tastes really good right now. 91 points

#newwinethisweek Week 10 – Tannat (SW France, Argentina & Uruguay)

I wanted to go for something a little bit different for my choice this week, and by that I mean something I know very little about. For week 10 of #newwinethisweek I have decided to go with a grape variety that has homes in both the old world and the new world; this week’s grape is Tannat.

Historically, Tannat is grown in Gascony, South West France and is the principle grape in the red wines of Madiran AOC. But more recently the grape has been collecting plaudits for the wines produced in South America, particularly in Argentina and Uruguay. Yes, Uruguay!

Week 10 

Madiran, SW France

Tannat is the main grape variety in Madiran, which must make up 40-60% of the vineyard, although some of the top wines from the region are made from 100% Tannat… and that’s OK too… Only in France! The wines of Madiran are highly extracted, highly concentrated and highly tannic – these wines need a good few years to come into their own. I also read that Madiran wines are also known as the most healthy of red wines due to the high levels of procyanidins, which are said to be good for reducing blood pressure, lowering cholesterol and encouraging healthy blood clotting!

Les Tuguets Madiran 2010 (Tesco £11.99 – currently Half Price £5.99; I have issues with ½ price wine deals but will try!)

Chateau Bouscasse 2008 (Wine & the Vine £15.45)

Ode D’Aydie 2010 (The Wine Society £9.95)

 

Argentina

Plantings of Tannat are growing in Argentina, after it found it’s way into the country over the border from Uruguay. Although it’s Malbec that gets all of the plaudits, I have read that the quality of the Tannat wines are going from strength to strength.

Michel Torino Estate El Esteco Tannat 2012, Calchaqui Valley (M&S £7.49)

Don David Reserve Tannat 2011, Cafayete (Wine & the Vine £10.95)

 

Uruguay

Tannat’s second home is Uruguay, where it is considered to be the national grape. The grape is also known as Harrigue in Uruguay after Pascal Harrigue, who first imported into the county back in 1870. Tannat produces softer, silkier wines than those of southern France; Uruguayan Tannat is produced for early drinking, unlike the vins du gard of Madiran.

Gran Bodegon 2009 (The Wine Society £21.00)

 

Mike will be along with some more recommendations at www.pleasebringmemywine.com very soon so keep a look out for those too!

Now all you have to do is pick up a bottle and tell us what you think by giving Tannat a score out of 10 and leaving your tasting notes in the comments section. Where will Tannat end up on the #newwinethisweek leaderboard?

The Grape Debate: Pinot Noir

Which is the best grape variety, what is the best wine region? These are the questions and conversations us wine geeks are always having; there are no right or wrong answers to either of these questions. Taste is a very personal thing; through our tastes we form our opinions and support our beliefs when someone else’s views differ from our own. This is the wonderful thing about wine. We all know this is true… but it doesn’t stop us vocalising, arguing, and scoring our favourite wines, grapes, vintages and regions.

This is why the Grape Debate is such a wonderful idea. In the first of a new series at West London Wine School earlier this week, the topic for the first debate was Pinot Noir. The debate was not about whether is it the best grape variety (it is, I don’t care what you think!) but about which country produces the best expression of the grape. Actually, scratch that, the debate was about which produces YOUR personal favourite expression!

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This debate could go on for for days, even weeks, so a few rules were required. Three of the wine school’s educators would put forward the case for their chosen Pinot Noir producing country; the three countries chosen were France, New Zealand and Germany. I know that USA, Australia and many other countries are producing fine examples these days, and this was referenced, but these were the countries our participants chose as their personal favourites.

There was a poll at the beginning to determine the audience’s pre-conceptions, followed by 3 rounds of drink and debate, and a final vote. The 3 rounds were arranged by price point; round one under £12, round two £12-£25, round three £25-£50. Three hours, nine wines… let the battle, I mean debate, begin!

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For the pre-vote, each member of the audience was asked to put the three nations in order; 1 point for first, 0 for second, -1 for third…

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France +19

New Zealand +3

Germany -22

We were expecting France to trounce this! Unsurprisingly there was little favour for Germany, but in reality how much German Pinot Noir have we drunk? I can count my German Pinot experiences on one hand. The opening scores also represented my own voting card.

The time has come to introduce you to the evening’s protagonists…. Including Matt (@FineWineStorage), manager of the Wine Cellars where all the action took place, who hosted the event seamlessly and looked ever so uncomfortable in the suit that I’m sure he only bought for a court appearance!

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The verdict Matt… Guilty!

France

Quentin Sadler (@quentinsadler) http://quentinsadler.wordpress.com unsurprisingly concentrated all of his efforts on Burgundy. His opening speech focused on how Burgundy is the ultimate expression of terroir and how the wine growers consider themselves to be farmers of the land, as opposed to wine makers. He described the wines of Burgundy as having a wonderful combination of austerity and flamboyance, stating how many of these wines are better when accompanied with food (an early excuse perhaps??). Burgundians are not making Pinot Noir, they are making red Burgundy, and it’s the differences between the plots only yards away from one another that makes Burgundy so special and scream about place, about terroir. It’s not me you have to convince Quentin!

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New Zealand

Cherrie Agnew (@chatsagnew) is a very proud New Zealander, as her emotional opening statement proved it unequivocally. Cherrie spoke about the sunshine of Marlborough, how this led to thicker skins for a full and silky style of wine, and how the dramatic changes in temperature at night preserved the acidity. For Otago she answered the criticism that the Pinots are all fruit and no finesse by pointing out that this is changing now the vines are getting older. We should also realise that NZ has been making Pinot for a while, wining a gold medal in the Wine Olympics as far back as 1881! Cherrie also promised to share her memories of home that would add to the enjoyment of each wine.

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Germany

Jimmy Smith is the main dude at the West London Wine School (@WestLondonWine) and loves the wines of Germany. It is unusual to find Pinot Noir on the label of a German wine, they call is Spätburgunder, which translates as “late Burgundian”. Although not much Spätburgunder finds its way onto our shores, Germany actually has the third highest area of Pinot Noir, sorry Spätburgunder, under vine. Jimmy focussed on the consistency of the German wines, whether from Rheinhessen, Pfalz or, best of all, Ahr. Jimmy was also very keen to point out that it was a German wine that claimed the top prize in the Pinot Noir category at this year’s Decanter World Wine Awards.

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So enough of the waffle and onto the tasting….

Round 1 – Under £12

Maison Roche de Bellene Bourgogne Cuvée Réserve 2011, Burgundy, France (The Wine Society £11.95)

Red cherry, red currant and a hint of cola on the nose, maybe a touch of leather if you give it enough time. On the palate the wine is very austere; it’s young and tannic without the balancing acidity. Some cherry and minerality but very little else. Linear style and a bit of a disappointment really. 87 points

Zimmermann-Graeff & Müller, Peter & Peter 2011, Pfalz, Germany (Tesco Wine Direct £9.99)

Deep but still bright fruit with plenty of ripe cherry, raspberry freshness and a nice touch of exotic, slightly smoky spice. Bright acid and raspberry fruit but then comes a wave of darker, riper cherries. The acidity is very refreshing and clean but the wine maybe lacks a little structure. Still, great for under £10. 89 points

Matua 2012, Marlborough, NZ (Majestic £12.49)

First things first, Cherrie says she usually buys this wine for £8.99 at her local wine shop… we let her off! Meaty and ripe cherry nose with a lovely minerality and smoky note. Lovely ripe fruit that just explodes onto the palate; cherries, raspberries and even a touch of blackberry, all supported by soft leather and smoke. Great intensity of fruit and a delightful texture; very good wine. 90 points

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Round 2 – £12 to £25

Oliver Zeter Reserve 2010, Pfalz, Germany (Vinoteca £22.96)

Really funky nose with ripe cherries and more than a hint of smoked, roasted meat, coffee and black spice. Ripe red fruit; cherries, raspberries and red currants. Earth and smoke, meaty and spicy, great grip but superbly balanced with fresh acidity. Richer and riper than what’s gone before; lovely balance, great complexity and good concentration. A bit of a wild one, but definitely a good one. 93 points

Jules Taylor 2012, Marlborough, NZ (Vagabond £19.99)

Ripe sweet fruit on the nose with pepper, clove and star anise. A massive attack of red fruit, like being hit between the eyes with a punnet of strawberries and cherries (hopefully with the stones taken out!). There’s black pepper spice, loads of acidity and a delightful smooth and silky texture. But almost as quickly as it hits you, it’s gone… oh please I want more of what you promised… ARGHH! 90 points

Camus-Bruchon Savigny-les-Beaune Premier Cru Gravains 2009, Burgundy, France (The Wine Society £24.00)

Ahhh… The smell of the Cote; wild strawberry, red currants, earth and notes of leather and sweet, spicy oak. Still young and firm with lots of tannic grip. But the acid is there, as is the bright red fruit. This has it’s best years ahead of it – it definitely needs food to show its best right now – but a highly enjoyable and traditional expression of the Cote de Beaune. 92 points

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Round 3 – £25 to £50

Two Paddocks First Paddock 2010, Central Otago, NZ (Noel Young Wines £49.00)

From the vineyard owned by Sam Neil, First Paddock is only made when the vintage is considered good enough. Deep, dark cherries and plums on the nose, with a wave of sweet strawberry and red liquorice. There are some floral notes as well as spice; clove and anise. The fruit on the attack is ripe cherries but with the freshness of raspberry; delightful acidity and fine, delicate tannins. Delightfully elegant and silky with good concentration… I just wish I got 2 bottles for this price! 92 points

Maume Gevrey-Chambertin Premier Cru Lavaux St Jacques 2006, Burgundy, France (The Wine Society £45.00)

Ever so sexy savoury nose with deep, ripe, black cherries and very exotic spice; Chinese 5-spice perhaps. The acidity is fresh; the fruit starts with dark cherries and then come the bright raspberries and red currants. Beautifully concentrated and a superb balance of fruit, spice and savoury notes – the smoky shitake mushroom flavours are to die for. This is the real thing; great balance, great complexity and wonderful complexity. AAAHHHHHH…. 94 points

Meyer-Nakel Dernauer Pfarrwingert Spätburgunder Grosses Gewachs 2007, Ahr, Germany (The Wine Reserve £49.79)

Funky and farmyardy on the nose – and a bit of smokey bonfire. There is also plenty of red fruit with strawberry and red cherry brightness. Massive concentration up-front with lots of red fruit and a bit of coffee and spice… then what? It just falls off far too quickly; there’s good acidity but without the tannic structure to give balance and length. I struggled with this one as it promised so much on the nose but didn’t deliver on the palate. A shame, especially at this price. 88 points

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Conclusion

What a great event and what a great tasting… it wasn’t until I tried to be scientific about my final verdict that I realised that I gave each country a first, second and third place! In some ways I suppose it’s the perfect outcome for Pinot Noir… even if it didn’t help answer the questions posed!

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But I had to make a decision and I stuck with my initial order of France, NZ and Germany. When the final votes were counted, although France still had the most votes, it was Germany that made the biggest move, gaining an incredible 24 points (there were only 36 tasters!):

France +5 (-14)

Germany +2 (+24)

New Zealand -7 (-10)

But the real winner on the night? PINOT NOIR!

The next Grape Debate will be Riesling and will take place on 26th June – click on the link to book your place:

http://www.westlondonwineschool.com/product_info.php?id=450

Call time on duty

I’m not a political kind of guy and I try and make the articles on the blog fun and light-hearted, but the amount of tax we pay on wine in the UK is so far removed from the rest of Europe that I want to tell you about a new campaign that all wine lovers should certainly consider supporting.

The budget is less than two weeks away and it spells danger for wine drinkers. That’s why anyone in the UK with an interest in wine, producers, distributors and retailers and consumers, need to speak directly to Gerorge Osborne and ask him to freeze the duty on wine and spirits… It’s time to CALL TIME ON DUTY!

Call time Logo

You can send your own message by clicking on the link below, and why not keep up with the campaign on Twitter by following @calltimeonduty.

http://calltimeonduty.co.uk

But why should you care? Well take a look at some of the facts and make up your own minds:

UK consumers currently pay more alcohol tax than consumers in Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Poland combined

Wine in France is taxed at 20% whereas in the UK 57% of an average priced bottle of wine is accounted for by tax 

The average drinker in England pays £198.33 in alcohol tax per year compared to only £43.17 in France – more than four times as much, despite drinking less.

The alcohol duty escalator has meant that since 2008, tax on wine has increased by 50% and on spirits by 44%

Not many people know that 79% of the cost of a bottle of spirits in tax and 57% of the price of a bottle of wine is tax

If the tax isn’t scrapped at this year’s budget (19th March 2014), tax on alcohol will increase by another 2% above inflation

The wine and spirit industry is worth £20 billion annually to the British economy and supports nearly 2 million jobs.  There are 448 commercial vineyards in the UK and 131 wineries producing over 3 million bottles of wine a year.

A study by Ernst and Young has found that scrapping the alcohol duty escalator would generate £230 million for the public finances, allow industry to contribute £1bn more to Economic Activity, and create 6,000 new jobs.

That was certainly all of the evidence I needed to pledge my support – click on the link if it deserves yours:

http://calltimeonduty.co.uk

Call Time on Duty E-Poster

#newwinethisweek week 9 – Grüner Veltliner, Austria

The recent Austrian tasting event I attended made this week’s white wine suggestions an easy one… say hello to your new best friend, Grüner Veltliner from Austria.

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Grüner Veltliner (pronounced VeltLEEner, not VELTliner) is a majestic wine with its layers of fruit, minerality and spice; there really is something for everyone here. Grüner is so versatile and is great as an aperitif, by itself on a Saturday afternoon or even better, when paired with food. This fragrant wine goes very well with mildly spiced food such as Thai or Vietnamese, and is also a great partner for lighter pork and chicken dishes. My other recent discovery was how well Grüner matched with Gorwydd Caerphilly; the cheese really brought out the citrus notes and the white pepper finish balanced beautifully with the Caerphilly’s acidic bite.

Grüner has a wonderful vein of acidity that just pops in your mouth with primary fruit flavours of lime, lemon, grapefruit and, as the wine ages, rich and elegant peaches. But there is also a green and herbaceous flavour that is often described as white pepper, or rocket leaves, that gives it a distinctive and delicious finish.

Around 30% of the Austrian vineyard is given over to Grüner, making it by far the most planted grape in the country (the red Zweigelt grape is the next most planted variety at14%). The three regions to look out for are Wachau with its steep slopes and dry wall terracing, Kremstal which is highly regarded for its deep loess soils, and Kamptal with its sunny, south-facing limestone vineyards.

The great news is there is lots of Grüner Veltliner available to UK consumers – and it is a very reliable grape variety – most of what I have tried has been of a very high quality standard.

 

Let’s start with 2 of my go-to wines from Waitrose:

Domäne Wachau Terraces Grüner Veltliner 2011, Wachau (Waitrose £9.99 – currently on offer at £7.99)

Felsner Grüner Moosburgerin 2012, Kremstal (Waitrose £11.99)

 

This is one of the very best The Wine Society’s stonking Exhibition range:

The Society’s Exhibition Grüner Veltliner 2012, Kamptal (The Wine Society £11.95)

 

And don’t forget about the independents – I think I’ll be checking out some high end Grüner this week!

Ebner Ebenauer Gruner Veltliner 2012, Weinviertel (Roberson £12.95)

Ebner Ebenauer ‘Bursting’ Gruner Veltliner 2012, Weinviertel (Roberson £19.95)

Rabl Grüner Veltliner Kaferberg 2010, Kamptal (Wine & The Vine £19.75)

 

So pick up a bottle and don’t forget to tell us what you think by giving Grüner Veltliner a score out of 10 and leaving your tasting notes in the comments section. Where will Grüner end up on the #newwinethisweek leaderboard?

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