Monthly Archives: May 2014
A new trend has hit the London wine scene; I believe it’s the same in New York. Whenever I arrive at one of the hip and funky wine bars such as Sager & Wilde or The Remedy, I look at the list of wines by the glass and lick my lips at the thought of drinking these great bottles and great vintages from Burgundy, Bordeaux, Rioja and Tuscany. But there is a new set of wines featuring on these lists, made with unfamiliar grapes, from a tiny area in eastern France. Ladies and gentlemen, Jura has hit the big time.
No one has done more to raise the profile of these interesting and fabulous wines than Wink Lorch. Wink splits her time between London and her home in the French Alps and has worked in the wine trade since 1979; these days she writes and educates about wine. I first came across Wink when I signed up to Wine Travel Guides (the best £29 I ever spent!) and used her guides to plot my way around the Rhone, Burgundy and Champagne one year, Bordeaux and The Loire the next.
With no book printed in English about the Jura region, Wink decided to do something about it and 18 months ago put out a call to arms and set up a Kickstarter project to self-publish a volume on the subject. The wine world got behind Wink (I’m very proud to say I contributed) and the 352 page tome was published earlier this year to great acclaim. For the past couple of months Wink has been promoting her book and the wines of the region through a series of tasting events and I was lucky enough to get a place at one of these events last week.
I have to say a massive thanks to David Carter and the Charlemagne Wine Club who squeezed me in at the last minute and were ever so welcoming on the night. I will certainly return for future events and you can see what’s coming up by signing up to the club’s mailing list here. I also have an apology to make… The tasting consisted of 9 wines from Jura… but I had to leave after 6 to get my last train home! Luckily for me Wink and David insisted I tried the final 3 wines before leaving so I did get to taste and make a few notes on my way home.
There are five grapes grown in Jura; the red wines are made from Pinot Noir, Trousseau and Ploussard; the whites from Chardonnay and Savagnin. As well growing distinctive grapes, they seem to do everything differently in the region, which means after the fizz come the reds, then the whites. Such an interesting tasting, so beautifully presented, I’ll be adding a few to my own collection for sure:
Domaine de Montbourgeau Crémant du Jura Brut (The Wine Society £12.50)
100% Chardonnay. This is regular and enjoyable wine in our house – this bottle wasn’t the best condition I’ve had, a touch of oxidation perhaps, but still showed just enough of what I love about it. Toasty and yeasty on the nose, like unbaked cookie dough, with hints of apple and grapefruit. The palate is super-dry but with plenty of fruit and acidity; apple, greengage, even a touch of ripe peach. The yeasty notes come through on the good length finish – a fizz that is so much more exciting and interesting than most NV Champagne and at less than half the price. 90 points
Domaine Hughes-Béguet Ploussard 2009, Arbois-Pupillin (The Wine Society £11.95)
Is this really a red wine? It looks more like watered down Vimto! I do love the funky nose of Ploussard; a wonderful combination of the reddest cherries, crushed raspberries, damp earth and something a bit feral. On the palate the wine is light and bright as a button; soft ripe cherries and apple skin combine with raspberry freshness and acidity for a delightful balance. This is a fun, juicy and attractive wine… great fun. 88 points
Marie et Denis Chevassu Pinot Noir 2012, Cote du Jura (N/A UK)
Beautifully bright in the glass with lots of red currant and raspberry character and a hint of lightly smoked meat. Very light body with bright acidity – like a raspberry coulis. There are some gentle tannins providing a tight structure and a lovely mineral touch that brings another level of complexity. Deliciously summery fruit with plenty of interest from the minerality and a touch of exotic spice. Better than most regional Burgundy available at this price. 89 points
Domaine Daniel Dugois Trousseau Grevillière 2011, Arbois (Les Caves de Pyrene £14.89)
Many of the Jura aficionados will tell you that the white wines are the real jewels of Jura, but for me, Trousseau is the most interesting of all the grape varieties the area has to offer. The nose offers a cornucopia of red fruit; so fresh and just throwing itself out of the glass! There is also the funky note of the forest and smoky meat… very attractive and oh so interesting. On the palate the acidity whacks you between the eyes and there is a russet-like texture that is very appealing. Considering the light colour, the red fruit is highly concentrated and supported with smoky, sweet spice. A big step up in class with real complexity and concentration; still very young but already so expressive. 92++ points
Domaine Berthet-Bondet Naturé 2013, Côtes du Jura (N/A UK)
100% Savagnin (Naturé is another name for Savagnin)
I struggled to get a great deal on the nose here; there is a toasty note for sure and some lemon, maybe even a touch of lemon balm. The texture is delightfully glacial with lemon, lime and grapefruit fruit showing through… it’s a real grower this one. It’s a linear wine but its extremely focused and tense’ the finish is very dry but very long. I need a bottle I think to really get under it’s skin! 89 points
Domaine de la Renardière Les Vianderies Chardonnay 2011, Arbois-Pupillin (The Wine Society £14.95)
A familiar nose! The nose is extremely mineral with a tough of yeast and lots of precise apple fruit. At first my mind went straight to Chablis but it is very reminiscent of the new wave of Chardonnays coming out of California. The palate is apple with a twist of citrus and just the merest hint of roasted peach and some lees-y notes. Very tense and very chalky – classy and a perfect match for shellfish I am sure. 91 points
As mentioned above, I didn’t spend enough time with the final three wines due to my dash for the last train. I wish I could’ve given them more attention, as they are wines I don’t fully understand. The first two were made in a very oxidised in style… something I genuinely don’t understand and therefore can’t appreciate. I will return to these wines in the near future, making sure I taste them with someone who does appreciate their stylistic qualities:
Domaine Berthet-Bondet Tradition 2009, Côtes du Jura (N/A UK)
70% Chardonnay, 30% Savagnin
Domaine Montbourgeau L’Etoile Savagnin 2009, L’Etoile (The Wine Society £16.25)
The final wine was a very unusual style of wine that Jura is already famous for, Vin Jaune. Vin Jaune is made from late harvest Savagnin grapes. The grapes are fermented slowly and then kept in small old oak casks, which are never topped up, so an air gap appears above the wine as it evaporates. A film of yeast grows over the wine, called the voile (veil), which allows the wine to be exposed to small levels of oxygen. The wines have to age for a significant amount of time and cannot be bottled until six years and three months after the harvest. After this time the wine is bottled in squat 620ml bottles known as “clavelins” and can keep for decades.
Domaine de la Pinte Vin Jaune 2006, Arbois (Slurp £41.63)
This was my very first taste of the style and wow did it make me think all the way home! It has oxidised notes but what I was left with was an amazing combination of lime-leaf and curry. It played on my palate most of the way home and I am so pleased I have a bottle of Daniel Dugois’ 2005 sitting on the shelf just waiting to be explored.
So there you have it. A fantastic and informative tasting for a group of wines that deserve everyone’s attention, not just the London and New York funky bunch!
We didn’t need an excuse to go for English fizz but we thought it was appropriate to wait for English Wine Week to unveil our second fizz on #newwinethisweek. English Sparkling Wine has gone from strength to strength over the past decade but the reality is that England has a long and rich history of bubbly production. It is claimed that Christopher Merrett, a 17th century cider maker from Gloucester, first devised the fermentation method which gives champagne its sparkle as well as inventing the hefty bottles that are needed to prevent the highly pressurised liquid from exploding… Whether its true or not, it certainly leads to plenty of debate in the wine world!
At the beginning of 2010, English Sparkling Wine was again the talk of the wine community when Nyetimber‘s Classic Cuvée 2003 from Sussex, was named best bubbly on the planet, beating off competition from the greatest Champagne houses at the World Sparkling Wine Championships in Verona. And the awards have kept on coming, with wines from Camel Valley, Gurbourne, Chapel Down and many other producers claiming major prizes at the most prestigious wine competitions.
So what makes England such a great place for producing sparkling wine? To begin with, the vineyards of Kent and West Sussex are less than 100 miles north of Champagne and share the same chalky soils as the famous French fields. Climate change has also been beneficial to England, particularly the southern counties, allowing for a longer ripening season and better quality fruit. The soil, the climate, increased experience and the adoption of the very latest technologies have all come together in wonderful unison to produce some of the very best Sparkling Wine available anywhere in the world.
The grapes used for English Sparkling Wines are predominately the famous varieties grown in Champagne: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and, less so, Pinot Meunier. The other variety making a name for itself is the early ripening Seyval Blanc which produces wines with a delightful combination of citrus and minerality.
Luckily for us, it also appears the UK supermarkets are realising there is plenty of demand for English wine so there are options available to us all on our weekly shop:
But if you want to choose from the best range on English Sparkling wines then get yourself down to The Wine Pantry at Borough Market, where you can pick up my favourite bottle of English fizz:
So celebrate English Wine Week in style and tell us how you rate English Sparkling Wine… it’s going to be a great week!
Can I make a suggestion to any of you in the London vicinity? Keep next May free. The whole of May, just in case there is another JJ Prüm tasting event at the West London Wine School, as there has been for the past 2 years. It is becoming the most anticipated tasting event in my wine calendar and without doubt offers the best value for money with eight top quality wines to taste at £45 a pop (link to last year’s event).
JJ Prüm you see is a flag-bearer for all that is good about German Riesling. From an estate of only 22 hectares where only Riesling is grown, the estate has been at the top of it’s game since the Weingut’s inception in 1911. Where other German estates have moved to making dryer styles of wine to suit international tastes, JJ Prüm have stuck to making “fruity” wines, they have stuck to the model that has been in place since Johann Josef’s son Sebastian started making wines in 1920.
When Sebastian passed away in 1969, his son Dr Manfred Prüm took over the estate and since 2003 his daughter Dr Katharina Prüm has been overseeing this wonderful operation. The 22ha are split across the Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Graacher Himmelreich, Bernkasteler Lay, Bernkasteler Badstube and Zeltinger Sonnenuhr vineyards; the most famous of these sites are Wehlener Sonnenuhr (vineyard of the sundials) and Graacher Himmelreich (vineyard of the kingdom of heaven), which are planted with ungrafted Riesling vines and produce some of the most complex and enjoyable wines available on the market today. Yields are highly (self) restricted and harvesting is late with an average production between 10,000 and 13,000 cases of wine; but no matter what the quantity, you can rely on the quality.
The original programme was for 8 wines but as one of the bottles suffered from cork-taint, Jimmy opened up an extra bottle from Graacher Himmelreich which just added to the evening’s enjoyment, which you can always rely on at a West London Wine School tasting event:
JJ Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett Riesling 2011 (£20 Hedonism)
Delicious aromas of red apple, peach and citrus with a touch of minerality and the merest hint of petrol; very pretty and very enticing. The fruit on the palate is really crunchy with apple, pineapple chunks and piercing lime acidity. This is beautifully balanced by the delicately rich texture and off-dry finish. This is a real favourite of mine that never lets you down; great balance and bursting with ripe and expressive fruit. I’m not sure there is a better white wine on the market for £20. 93 points
JJ Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spätlese Riesling 2008 (£26 Fine & Rare)
Hugely concentrated lime aromas – smells like a pre-dessert sorbet – and some tropical fruits just starting to show themselves in the background. On the palate the texture is clean and glacial with bags of juicy peach and just a hint of mango and pineapple. The acidity is wonderful, leaving you with such a clean sorbet-like finish. So clean, so juicy, so fruity… almost reminds me of a grown-up lemonade Sparkle ice-lolly… dangerously drinkable. 94 points
JJ Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese Riesling 2007 (£30 Fine & Rare)
Bursting with the smell of sweet apples, all backed with a pure minerality like wet slate and a spicy, smoky note. The attack is so concentrated – like 20 freshly presses apples in a single glass; the palate is rich and the layers of muted but elegant tropical fruit just creep up on you. This Auslese is luxurious and long, as ever the balance is pitch perfect, it’s quite grown up, it’s quite wonderful. 94 points
JJ Prüm Graacher Himmelreich Auslese Riesling 2005 (£32 Fine & Rare)
What a vibrant and complex nose; apple, peach, nectarine and passion fruit, with hints of sweet honey and a fresh slate note to boot… so sexy! The fruit on the palate is sweet, vibrant and ever so sexy (sorry, but it is!) – it’s like an entire fruitbowl has been squeezed into the glass. Elegant and glacial with perfectly pitched acidity that is so bright it dazzles; I love this wine. 95 points
JJ Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese Riesling 2005 (£52 Fine & Rare)
Much more mineral on the nose than the Graacher and the fruit is muted, still classy and very apply; this is a nose that speaks of the vineyard. Rich and sweet on the palate but again, muted compared to the Graacher from the same vintage. The apple and subtle tropical fruit, especially mango, is very clean and very graceful and the acidity is very lively and keeps coming, giving the wine an amazing length. This wine has a long life ahead of it – if you’ve got a few bottles from this fabulous vintage, don’t be in any rush to pop those corks. 94+ points
JJ Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese Riesling 2003 (£42 Fine & Rare)
Very earthy and mineral compared to what has gone before; there is some peach and apple fruit but it is very tough getting much out of the glass – it’s very closed right now. Like the nose, the palate is very calm with nothing jumping onto the tongue; the fruit is there but it’s fast asleep right now and I’m not convinced it has the elegance or grace of 2005, 2007, or 2008. This is still a very well made wine but it just gets lost in this high-end company. 90 points
JJ Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese Riesling 2001 (£70 Cadman Fine Wine)
Enchanting mix of fruit and earth on the nose with apples, tropical fruit, a wisp of smoke, something spicy and very enticing and the clean and mineral aromas of old slate; this is also the first time I’ve got the notes of marmalade-like botrytis. The juicy fruit sits right at the centre of the tongue; peach and nectarine with a wave of super-ripe mango. The acidity is like the Death Star’s laser beam it’s so bright and it cuts right through the sweetness, giving it such a balanced finish. The texture is rich without being cloying, the fruit is juicy and many, the balance and elegance is sheer class… where’s the chequebook? 96 points
JJ Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese Goldkapsel Riesling 2009 (£57 The Wine Society)
Goldkapsel usually refer to small amounts of wine the winemaker deems to be of an even higher quality and is usually made in very small quantities; this was my first experience and I certainly hope it won’t be the last! Ripe peach and mango fills the nostrils, before the apples and limes takeover and then that musky-sweetness of botrytis, all intermingled with wonderful wet slate. On the palate it’s concentrated like a marmalade or peach conserve, but not cloying in any way. The richness is super-charged; it’s like everything has been turned up to eleven! This really is a super charged Wehlener Sonnenuhr and I’m sure it will outlast my days… but do you know what, If I had a case I’d open another couple of bottles this year… just in case! 97+ points
As I wrote earlier, one of the bottles for the tasting was’t right (lucjkliy it was one of the 2003’s!) so Jimmy opened a bottle Graacher Himmelreich Spätlese 2009. At the beginning of the evening we had been discussing how young JJ Prüm wines can have a big whiff of sulfer when they are first opened; this has nothing to do with the amount of sulphur as JJ Prüm use a lot less than most in the Mosel, but a character from the natural yeasts in the vineyard. The sulphur note blows away after about 15 minutes so be sure to open those young bottles half an hour before your guests arrive!
JJ Prüm Graacher Himmelreich Spätlese Riesling 2009 (£25 Fine & Rare)
The nose starts out all mineral and earth but then it blows away and the bright and cheery sweet fruit I expect from Graacher come to the fore; zippy citrus, nectarine and pineapple… Yum. The palate is young and a little closed but there is plenty of bright tropical fruit and zingy acidity to keep the interest. It needs a few more years to reach it’s peak, but I’m not sure it will be as high as some of the wonderful nectar we’ve consumed this evening. 92+ points
I hadn’t been feeling particularly well all week leading up to this tasting but the thought of the best kind of medicine from the Mosel kept me going and do you know what? It certainly put a big smile on my face and made me feel 100% better… hopefully I’ll see a few of you in May 2015?
Last week was all about Furmint, where we focussed on the dry style, as opposed to the sweet nectar for which it is world-famous… so it kinda makes sense that Mike has decided that this week we will focus on sweet wines, or more precisely, sweet wines made using the very natural technique of Noble Rot:
There’s no nice way to put this, but Noble Rot happens when the fungus known as Botrytis Cinerea infects ripe grapes. As well as longer hanging time on the vine, for Noble Rot to happen, moist conditions are required for Botrytis to set in, followed by a period of dry weather. During this time the grapes become dry and raisined, as the Noble Rot removes water from the grapes, intensifying the sugars and the acids. At this time the vintner prays for good weather as too much rain can bring on the nasty “grey rot” that can destroy the grapes.
The most famous botritysised wines come from Tokaji in Hungary, Sauternes in France and the fabulous late-harvested Beerenauslese (“selected harvest of berries”) or Trockenbeerenauslese (“dried berries selection”) Rieslings of Germany and Austria. The most famous of all comes from Chateau d’Yquem in Bordeaux, where the grapes are so concentrated it is sometimes claimed that each vine only produces enough juice for a single bottle, each bunch enough for a single glass!
Wines affected by Noble Rot have high levels of sweetness and acidity, the best achieving an incredible balance of the two. Some flavours associated with botrytis include honey, ginger and beeswax… personally I find a hit of marmalade that would get Paddington Bear excited is a sure sign!
I am very exciting about the week as I love sweet wines, especially those made in this way. So here are a few suggestions to get stuck into – these wines are never cheap as so much work goes into making them; also the majority come in half bottles (375ml) but remember, a little goes a long way…
The vote will take place on Mike’s blog this week so pick up a bottle and get slurping!
It’s only taken 18 months (!!) to complete the “bring a course” circuit, but finally the circle is complete. The rules are simple; the host cooks the main course and selects an accompanying wine; the starter, dessert and complimentary beverages are prepared and sourced by the guests. The first two rounds were a great success, featuring some fabulous food and some excellent wine sections; here are the links to the write-ups:
Beautiful Cheltenham was the location for the latest round, following trips to Cambridge and Watford on our UK tour. As the host, Joel was in charge of the main course, Dave was on starter duties and yours truly took his turn at the pud. Eurovision was the soundtrack to the evening… let the gluttony commence!
To get things started we opened a bottle very interesting pink fizz and of one of my very favourite wines, a Grüner Veltliner from Kamptal, and neither disappointed:
Whole Foods Rosato NV, Veneto, Italy (Whole Foods £6.99)
This super-fun wine comes with a crown-cap closure, which doesn’t signal a great wine, but boy does it deliver a bucket-full of aromas and flavours! There’s yeasty brioche, creamy red fruit and vanilla cream… it reminded me of the super-mousse of my childhood, or Campino sweets. A very gentle fizz and a very agreeable aperitif… and outstanding value for money. 88 points
Rabl Kaferberg Grüner Veltliner 2012, Kamptal, Austria (Wine and the Vine £19.95)
Delightful nose of citrus, peach and grapefruit with plenty of clean slate-like minerality. The texture is rich and voluptuous with very pure lemon and peach fruit. The attack and finish is bone dry with cool minerality and a gorgeous, warm and spicy white pepper finish. 93 points
Dave really cares about food and takes these things very seriously (he also has very bad taste in beer but you’ll have to read about Bangers & Smashed to go into the detail!). Three days of preparation went into his ham-hock terrine for the evening’s kick-off… so imagine his distress when he dropped the bloomin’ thing on his kitchen floor the evening before! A lesser man may have quit, but not Dave. He went shopping at Whole Foods and pulled together a magnificent Caprese salad and a delightful plate of Morcilla sausage topped with red pepper and toasted breadcrumbs… Mmmmm!
The wines Dave brought along were selected to accompany the terrine, but Vermentino and Viognier are a great match for many starters:
Berton Vineyards Metal Label Vermentino 2012, Eden Valley, Australia (J Wadsworth Wine £8.99)
Aromas of tropical fruits, lime and a gentle floral touch jump from the glass and follow through to the palate. The acidity is fresh and crisp, the texture has a touch of richness but this is a can of fruit salad in a glass – a great summer wine and would make a fabulous aperitif. 89 points
Finca La Linda Viognier 2013, Maipo, Argentina (J Wadsworth Wine £9.97)
Peach, apricot, floral (it says orchid on the label and it’s bang on!) and a real almond nuttiness. Oily texture but the alcohol is quite overwhelming. Once it clears away there is ripe peach and apricot with a twist of citrus and the nuttiness we found on the nose. There’s lots there but the alcohol is just taking over – the pieces of the jigsaw don’t quite fit. 85 points
Joel has been looking forward to this ever since he visited Meat Liquor on my recommendation. He fell so head over heels in love with their “Dead Hippie” burger that he scoured the web for a recipe and treated us to a brilliant rendition of this modern classic. The meat was sourced from the very fine JR Pilkington of Bishop’s Cleeve and, after much discussion, a blend of 80% flank/20% chuck was agreed upon. And he managed to serve up some of the very best onion rings I have ever had the privilege to devour!
The accompanying wine was a juicy young Chianti and we also opened up a bottle of Chateau Musar to play along with that week’s #newwinethisweek:
Chianti Classico Riserva Castello della Paneretta 2011, Tuscany, Italy (M&S £13.99)
The reviews we’d read for this one suggested a full-on, chocolaty monster… so I was very happy to find ripe red cherries and a touch of raspberry freshness on the nose! It’s all creamy fruit and so drinkable in it’s youth for it. A touch of smoke adds a hint of complexity but a very linear wine and very good for it. 87 points
Chateau Musar 2007, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon (Waitrose £21.99)
The nose was spicy and concentrated – blackberry, a hint of red currant and very spicy with hints of pepper and garam massala. On the palate the wine was spicy and fruity with good acidity and firm tannin – still young. I kept some wine in a glass and kept going back to it… and it kept getting better and more elegant as it opened up. I’d like to try the 07 again in 5 years time. 92 points
I knew that Joel was planning to recreate the Dead Hippie so I wanted to create a dessert of disgusting magnitude to match the burger filth… so what better than a peanut butter and chocolate cheesecake? I’ve never made a baked cheesecake before (the Fish and Mad Louise are both experts) so it was rather reckless of me a) not to practice and b) to make most of the recipe up after giving up on converting the measures from cups to metrics! I was so worried but even I couldn’t go wrong with cheesecake + Chocolate + peanut butter!
The big question for me was what wine to pair with this monstrosity. I saved a bottle of late harvest Sancerre from our visit to Bougeois last summer especially for the occasion, but I needed something sweeter, stickier and nuttier to match up to the calorific colossus… I needed Pedro Ximénez!
Harveys Pedro Ximénez VORS
VORS stands for “Very Old Rare Sherries” and this sticky sherry delivers in spades. The nose is fig, caramel and toffee with a slightly liquorice undertone. The palate is lusciously thick and rich and sweet with concentrated flavour of raisins, liquorice, black treacle and toasted nuts. The flavours last for an extraordinary length and the wine is so, so smooth. I love this stuff. 93 points
By the time we got to the sweet Sauvignon I was done taking notes, so this is what I wrote when I tasted it at Henri Bourgeois in the summer!
Vendange De La St-Luc 2007
100% Sauvignin Blanc, grown on Kemmeridgen clay solid and picked several weeks after the main harvest to concentrate the grapes and produce this delicious sweet wine. The wine demonstrates the diversity of the Sauvignon Blanc grape and is absolutely delicious. It’s certainly not over sweet and its oh so fresh with a wonderful spine of acid. Golden in colour and highly concentrated tropical fruits – enjoy as an aperitif, serve with foie gras or match with a fruity dessert. Mmmm! 93 points
We all loved the “Bring a course” series and we’re working out the next event already; give it a go… its great fun and we’ve all learnt a hell of a lot at the same time.
We had some fun last week exploring the red wines of Lebanon and this week Mike has followed it up with another esoteric selection… dry Furmint:
I bet most of you have tried Furmint without even realising it; Furmint is the principle grape in the fabulous, teeth-rottingly sweet dessert wines from Tokaji in Hungary. But Furmint, like Riesling and Chenin Blanc, can be produced in a multitude of styles from bone dry to the sweet dessert wines that have been a staple on every self-respecting wine list since, well forever!
Furmint contains high levels of acidity which balances beautifully with the sweetness of botrytisised grapes, allowing the best wines to age for decades, even centuries. However we aren’t talking about the stickies this week, we are exploring the world of dry Furmint. Actually the world of Furmint is basically Hungary and Slovenia, with tiny amounts to be found in Austria and South Africa.
Dry styles of Furmint are becoming more popular and (slightly!) more widely available. Words often used to describe the wines are rich and smoky, along with flavours and aromas of peach, lime, pears and oranges, sometimes with a finish of nut and spice. I also read it is a great match for Roquefort and pear salad… Salad????
I can’t ever remember having one myself so I’ll be heading down to the shops for sure this week… but you may have to look somewhere other than the supermarket shelves!
So buy yourself a bottle and tell us what you think – the vote is on Mike’s blog this week:
I suppose it’s fair to say that I’m bit of a traditionalist when it comes to grape varieties and regionality. Recently I’ve got a little bit bored of the “international style” of “international varieties’ that are rearing their heads at so many wine tastings these days. The biggest culprit for me is Cabernet Sauvignon; I have tasted so many fantastically made, super-extracted, super-concentrated, super-oaked wines… but they could come from anywhere. These wines are coming from Bordeaux, from Rioja, from Ribero, from California, South Africa; they are brilliant wines… but they don’t scream about place.
It is for this reason that I am late to the Super Tuscan party. I haven’t been avoiding the wines, I just haven’t made a big effort to seek them out. But when a tasting came up on my doorstep at Roberson, I decided it was time to dive in at the deep end; the tasting was a vertical of the critically acclaimed and super-expensive Ornellaia.
Before we get into the wines, here’s a quick history lesson. Until the 1970’s, Tuscany was (rightly) only famous for the Sangiovese-based wines of Chianti, Brunello, and Montepulciano, which vied with Nebbiolo of Piedmont for the mantle of the greatest red wines of Italy. But all was not well in the region. In 1971 the Antinori family, whose Tignanello estate was one of the jewels of the Chianti DOC, produced a wine that included Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend and was aged in small French barriques. The scandal was audible all over the wine world and Antinori withdrew from the Chianti DOC, deciding to sell their wine under the lowly “Vino di Tavola” classification.
Further west on the Tuscan coast in Bolgheri, Nicolo Incisa della Rocchetta, a cousin of Antinori was also experimenting with international varieties at Tenuta San Guido. The first release of Sassicaia was the 1968 vintage (released in 1971) but it wasn’t until the 1985 vintage was awarded 100 points by Robert Parker, the wine world started to really take notice of the Super Tuscan revolution.
In 1981 Lodovico Antinori (yes the same family!) bough 41 hectares of land adjacent to Tenuta San Guido, and Tenuta dell’Ornellaia was born, releasing it’s first vintage in 1985. For such a young estate it sure has endured a turbulent inauguration. Robert Mondavi took control of the estate in 2002 and formed a partnership with the Frescobaldis (a famous wine family in Tuscany), who assumed full ownership in 2004 when Mondavi was bought by Contellation Brands. Since 1991, the one constant has been the involvement of Michel Rolland as consultant winemaker.
Today the estate consists of 99 hectares, growing a wide variety of grapes including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier. Interestingly no Sangiovese is grown at Ornellaia but a quantity is purchased from a neighbouring vineyard after each harvest; the soils at the estate are clay/gavel and clay/limestone, Sangiovese thrives on land with a far higher limestone content.
The estate now produces 6 different wines and we had the opportunity to taste them all:
Poggio Alla Gazze 2011 (@£40)
A blend of 93% Sauvignon Blanc, 7% Viognier, the wine is fermented and matured a third each in stainless steel, new oak and old oak.
The only white wine produced at the estate did absolutely nothing for me! The nose was slightly oxidised (the way it’s made apparently) and the nuttiness masked the citrus fruit that was hiding in there somewhere. There was a decent touch of acidity but to my taste this wine was all about heavy-handed winemaking and spoke nothing of the grape varieties. When Mondavi got involved he stopped production of this wine; it’s a shame someone had a different view! 84 points
Le Volte 2011 (@£20)
50% Merlot, 30% Sangiovese, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon
Very earthy nose with plenty of black cherry and a spicy, smoky character – the Sangiovese is certainly detectable. Good concentration and acidity on the attack with blackberry and dark cherries, supported with pepper, smoky spice notes and a rustic tannic structure. The first 90% is delightful but there is a very hot alcoholic hit at the end. 88 points
Variazioni in Rosso 2010 (@£40)
70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 6% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc
Made from declassified lots from the Ornellaia vineyard – I don’t know why they bother! The aromas are actually very enticing with bright blackcurrant fruit and a whole host of exotic spices and cedar. On the palate however, all I can tell you is alcohol and wood – it really was like licking a chopping board with spilled grappa. Sorry! 78 points
La Serre Nuove 2010 (@£45)
45% Merlot, 41% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Petit Verdot, 5% Cabernet Franc
The second wine of the estate and a real jump up in class and style. Red berry fruit is beautifully entwined with a blackcurrant backbone and supported by gentle notes of vanilla and other exotic sweet spices. The wine is soft and silky at first then there is a good bite of tannin. The acidity is bright and the fruit is a delightful concentrated blend of red- and black- currants. There is spice, smoke and mineral; a wine with a good few years ahead of it. 92 points
With the support act over it was now onto a 5-vintage vertical of Ornellaia. While the guys were setting up they noticed that one of the bottles of 1997 was faulty so the taster was a little less than the others. Without a direct replacement, the Roberson team decided to pour a Sassicaia 2004 instead so we could compare the two wines from the same vintage – great thinking!
Ornellaia 2009 (@£160)
52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Franc, 5% Petit Verdot
So concentrated and opulent on the nose! Lashings of blackcurrant and blackberry fruit with a gentle but very classy smoky, oaky undercurrent. The attack is so powerful – a full-on avalanche of blackcurrant and searing (wonderful!) acidity. The tannins are ripe and young as you would expect, but the minreality, smoke and sweet spice is all there. The texture is silky and the finish is chocolaty. This is a fabulous wine but a few years off showing its’ very best. 94+ points
Ornellaia 2004 (@£200)
60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot
Wow! The nose is pure Cabernet Sauvignon; pure Ribena with a wonderful smack of mint/eucalyptus – it really reminded me of a top-notch Coonawarra! But there is a savoury leather edge giving some clue to it’s 10 years also. The palate is ripe and lush with sweet concentrated fruit; blackcurrants and damsons dominate with leathery, slightly smoky notes and a cool but gentle menthol hit at the end. The balance is astounding and the length is amazing. A truly brilliant wine. 97 points
Sassicaia 2004 (@£160)
85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc
Is this really from the same vintage?? The woody and earthy nose suggests at least 5 years on the Ornallaia but don’t let that put you off. There is still plenty of sweet blackcurrant and blackberry fruit, starting to become a touch raisined but sitting very nicely with the savoury leather and notes of slightly roasted meat. The texture is superbly elegant, without the power of the Ornallaia but with plenty of style and grace. The fruit is muted but the acidity is still bright and in great harmony with the now gentle but luxurious tannins. Another great wine but how can the 2 wines come from adjacent vineyards in the same vintage?? I love wine! 95 points
Ornellaia 1997 (@£215)
65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc
Nice concentration of blackcurrant and black cherry on the nose, supported with lots of earthy and tobacco notes, a good dose of gravelly minerality and pencil shavings. Lots of acidity and energy on the palate with bright fruit and lots of complexity with savoury notes of leather, herbs, smoky spice and graphite. This is an astonishingly elegant Ornallaia – it’s lost all of it’s “muscle” and is all the better for that, really showing the sensual side of the estate. Wonderful. 95 points
Ornellaia 1996 (@£150)
75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc
I seemed to be the only one in the room standing up for this one – I thought it was fabulous! If I had tasted this and 97 blind I would be convinced this was the younger sibling, as there is so much energy and life on the nose and palate. There is a wonderful amount of lively red fruit at play here, combining wonderfully with the concentrated blackcurrant. The secondary flavours are savoury; mushroom and leather, combined with smoky, roasted spice. Another fantastic wine. 95 points
Ornellaia 1990 (@£215)
82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc
Lots of evolution on the nose here with dried, raisined fruit and lots of savoury complexity. Earth and leather combine elegantly and there is a note of graphite and hint of sweet spice too. On the palate the wine is very dry with dusty tannins. Most of the primary fruit has disappeared and we’re into dried fruit, mushroom and leather territory. A very graceful wine but I would be drinking up now; I think it’s on the way out. 92 points
The final wine of the night was from the 7 hectare Masseto vineyard, which is 100% planted with Merlot; Tuscany’s answer to Petrus?
Masseto 1998 (@£650)
100% new oak? You bet! Amazingly concentrated aromas of red and black fruit, supported with violets and super expensive vanilla; this is a Ferrari wine and boy does it know it! The palate is too much everything! Extracted, concentrated, textured and super rich. It’s a brilliant wine and is nowhere near its peak. Ripe fruit, liquorice, smoke, sweet spice, cedar – utterly beguiling. The texture coats your entire mouth and is silky smooth, the tannins are ripe and grippy and will last for decades. It is brilliant, but it’s not my kind of wine… It’s basically got too much of everything. It’s caked in make-up and really could come from any cellar with enough time and money… 95+ points
I posed a question in the title about how great this Tuscan really is; for those of you who measure Cabernet blends by Bordeaux classifications, I would put Ornellaia up with the super-seconds but perhaps without the staying power. They are fabulous wines with a delightful blend of elegance and power and if I had the cash I would love to add a few to my cellar. As for Masseto, only those with £600+ to spend on a bottle of wine can answer whether it’s worth the money – if I had £600 to spend on wines from the estate I would get far more enjoyment from three bottles of Ornellaia itself. These are wines that live up to the hype.
Wine from the Lebanon I hear you cry. Are you crazy? It’s honestly not as mad as it first sounds, in fact Lebanon is one of the oldest wine producing countries on the entire planet. The grapes grown are also very familiar, blends made from Rhone varieties such as Grenache, Carignan and Cinsaut, along with a good smattering of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
There is approximately 2,000ha of area under vine with the majority of it being in the Bekaa Valley. In years gone by the only winery that anyone would be able to name would be the ubiquitous Chateau Musar, but these days more and more wines from the region are finding their ways onto the lists of wine merchants and even onto the supermarket shelves of the UK.
Chateau Musar however does have real cult status in the UK. Gaston Hochar set up the winery following a visit to Bordeaux back in 1930 and Gaston’s son Serge became the winemaker in 1959, after heading back to Bordeaux to study at the University of Oenology. The chateau first came to prominence in the UK in 1979 when Michael Broadbent tasted the 1967 vintage at the Bristol Wine Fair and pronounced to be “the discovery of the fair”.
I’m also hoping that Lebanese wine will be one of the discoveries of #newwinethisweek!
You know the drill by now; get yourself a bottle, tell us what you think and give Lebanese red a score out of 10. I’m really looking forward to this one as my experience amounts to the sum total of two bottles… I am going to give Musar a try for the first time.
Lebanese wine isn’t the easiest to find on the supermarket shelves but here are a few places to start your hunt:
Sounds a bit strange doesn’t it? Beer is actually a beautiful picturesque fishing village on the south Devon Coast. A group of us go for a week every Easter; three pubs, a couple of restaurants, great chippy (they even sell gravy!), a fantastic deli… what more do you need? I thought Beer had it all; now I know it does. Unbeknownst to us, a wine bar recently opened on the high street! Where there used to be clothes shop for the “larger” man, now resides a modern and stylish wine & coffee bar, Osbourne’s.
As well as plenty of visits to these fine establishments, there are lots of producers and shops to explore the great local ingredients to pull a meal together. And good food deserves good wine so I use this to my advantage by engaging my (very willing and eager) guinea pigs in some essential wine experiments…
Experiment #1 – Fizz
It has become a tradition that we head off to Steamers, the delightful local bistro, for dinner on the evening of arrival. The food is fantastic and the wine list is small but perfectly formed. The food this year included mackerel with almonds & lemon; prawn, crab & melon; duck & berry sauce (with chips); and locally reared rib eye with chips & béarnaise. The wine of choice was an aromatic and fruity Verdejo from Ruedo, and a bright and quaffable Bardolino from Veneto.
But the fun starts before the meal, when we crack open a few bottles of fizz. This year I wanted to pit the lesser-known Cremant against the might of Champagne. If you’ve been following #newwinethisweek you’ll know what a big Cremant fan I am… and once more it came up trumps:
Domaine Langlois-Chateau Cremant de Loire NV (Majestic £14.99)
60% Chenin Blanc, 20% Chardonnay, 20% Cabernet Franc, spends 24 months on lees. This really is a sparkling version of a delightful Loire Chenin; honey, appley freshness and pastry complexity; nice and dry but with a hint of honey right at the end. Lovely light stream of bubbles and super-duper value (I bought it for less than €10 at the domaine!) 90 points
Domaine de Montbourgeau Crémant du Jura Brut NV (The Wine Society £12.50)
I think I may have found my new house sparkler! Made from 100% Chardonnay this is absolutely brilliant stuff. As well as rich peaches there is a delightful twist of citrus and a deep and delicious biscuit finish. £12.50 is a daft price for such a fantastic wine – forget your NV Champers – order a case of this stuff. 92 points
Mumm Cordon Rouge NV Champagne (widely available @ £33)
45% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Meunier. Mumm CR delivers everything you want for a NV Champagne; it is fresh with a nice citrus hit and something a little more unusual, maybe apricot? There is good complexity with some very nice brioche notes and a dry, lingering finish. But I can get almost 3 bottles of the Cremant du Jura for this price! 89 points
Experiment #2 – Saint Emilion
Sunday night is roast night; and we bullied Den this year NOT to cook a bloody turkey or capon… we got our wish and we enjoyed the most sublime and succulent slow-roast leg of lamb; result! To celebrate I decided a mini-vertical from Chateau Fonplegade in St Emilion was in order. We visited Fonplegade last summer and were so impressed that we signed up to their wine club and have been enjoying quarterly deliveries ever since. We put the 2007, 2008 and 2011 through their paces:
Chateau Fonplegade St Emilion Grand Cru Classé 2007 (Fine & Rare £28.80)
Deep rich nose of crushed black fruit with hints of chocolate and even a dash of liquorice – sumptuous aromas and extremely inviting. The palate is rich and luscious with all of the aromatic fruit and the chocolate texture coming together… just a shame it falls off so quickly. Promises so much, delivers upfront but leaves a big hole in the middle. I’m not sure time is going to do anything here so drink up; a decent drop but a tad frustrating. 88 points
Chateau Fonplegade St Emilion Grand Cru Classé 2008 (Fine & Rare £37.20)
This is a big, bold ands powerful beast. The deep black fruit has a touch of cassis liqueur but invites you in – heady, intoxicating and impressive. The palate really follows through on this – very rich and luscious – alcohol is 15% but not hot! There is plenty of vanilla from expensive new oak but it’s not masking the fruit. It’s modern and very drinkable – give it a few more years to enjoy at its peak. 91 points
Chateau Fonplegade St Emilion Grand Cru Classé 2011 (£24.30)
Young and sultry – it’s like a teenager that hasn’t wanted for anything in its life. You can smell and taste the expense, the best oak, meticulous sorting and very competent winemaking. The tannins are big but there is plenty of acidity to hold it all together for many a year – the fruit is lurking and `I think this is going to be a very good wine indeed. 92+ points
Experiment #3 – Spanish night
Richard and Sue decided we should have a tapas night; and who were we to argue. I can’t believe I didn’t take a photo of the best frittata I have ever eaten, the oh-so garlicky bread, the anchovies, the cured meats and the Manchego – how will anyone believe I’ve eaten it without a photo??
I did take a photo of the wines, which were a fine accompaniment and went down very well with the gang:
La Gitana Manzanilla (Waitrose £10.00)
I’m not the biggest sherry fan in the world but I am trying! What got me about this was it’s real grapeyness – that along with the oxidisation and hints of yeast and almond certainly helped my progression… though one glass was plenty!
Valdesil Godello 2012, Galicia (Waitrose £15.99)
There are some wonderful fresh Spanish whites on the market these days and Godello could be the next big thing. The Valdesil is fresh and breezy with lemon and melon aromas and flavour, all with the added complexity of white flowers, a precise minerality and zingy acidity. A super summer wine. 91 points
Torres Ibéricos Rioja Crianza 2011 (Waitrose £9.99)
The first wine from Torres’ new project in Rioja has produced very palatable results. There is plenty of strawberry fruit, a dusting of vanilla and refreshing acidity. A lovely smooth texure and extremelt quaffable – good Rioja for under £10. 88 points
Ermita de San Lorenzo Campo de Borja Gran Reserva 2004 (Laithwaites £8.99)
It certainly has a label that suggests Rioja but this comes from the super-value DOC of Campo de Borja and is made from 60% Garnacha and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon. The fruit is dark and smoky and the texture is rich and luxuriant – very decent and reminiscent of a decent Priorat. 87 points
Badaceli Priorat 2006 (Wine and the Vine £13.25)
Now we are really talking! Brambles, spice and smoke. Lots of black currant and blackberry fruit, warm spices that really dance on the tongue and a lovely hint of bacon-like smoke. There is a good proportion of Cabernet here giving that blackcurrant and eucalyptus lift but what I love are the rustic, edgy tannins. So much charm and plenty of edge. I love it. 92 points
Experiment #4 – Riesling baby!
It was my turn to do the cooking so I went for a crowd favourite, pulled pork sandwiches! I bought a magnificent shoulder of local pork from the brilliant Haymans butcher in Sidmouth, coated it with paprika, cumin, oregano, salt and pepper, covered it with foil and left it at 120C for 6 hours. It was accompanied with homemade BBQ sauce (tomatoes, shallots, honey, cider vinegar, paprika, cumin, oregano), slaw (cabbage, carrots, granny smith apple, lemon, olive oil – none of that mayo muck!) and some frozen French fries.
The sandwiches rocked… but not as much as the Riesling!
Leitz Kabinett Riesling (Waitrose £14.49)
A lovely citrus punch of flavour, with big searing, precise acidity providing magnificent balance to the off-dry sweetness. Very fresh and ever so drinkable; a great match to cut through the fatty pork buns. 90 points
Tim Adams Clare Valley Riesling 2011 (Tesco £10.79)
Dry as bone with pure lime fruit and freshness, lots of slate-like minerality and just a hint of petrol. The Fish put it perfectly when she said, “it’s like licking a piece of slate that’s just been used to cut a lime” – got it in one! 90 points
Schlumberger Riesling Saering Grand Cru 2011 (The Wine Society £16.50)
This Riesling simply oozes class in every drop. Rich and juicy, starting off with bright citrus then developing more tropical notes of guava, passion fruit and pineapple chunks. There are delightful hints of honeysuckle providing even m more depth and there is a beautiful long and wonderfully honeyed finish. Brilliant. 94 points
Experiment #5 – Pinot Noir… again!
The source of the best Pinot Noir has been a recurring theme on confessionsofawinegeek.com recently; first we had the brilliant “Grape Debate” event at West London Wine School, closely followed by a look at what the New World has to offer in Beyond Burgundy. By this time my brother-in-law and ginger-in-law had joined our number and they were more than happy to see what France, Australia and New Zealand had to offer:
Domaine Drouhin Chorey le Beaune 2011 (Waitrose £15.99)
Plenty of fresh young raspberries and cherries. The palate is very fresh and there is enough tannin to give the wine a good, solid structure and make this wine a very simple and pleasing intro level Burgundy – not quite as good as the 2009 and 2010. 88 points
Cherubino Cruel Mistress Pinot Noir 2013 (Wine and the Vine £15.25)
I may have only reviewed the 2012 recently in the Beyond Burgundy article but this was a crowd please again in Beer. The 2013 is even brighter and fresher than it’s predecessor and is such a wonderful wine it it’s youth. There’s loads of crushed red fruit, a touch of smoke and delicious menthol hit when it starts to open up. I can think of a better Pinot for the price on the market from any country. 92 points
Greywacke Marlborough Pinot Noir 2011 (The Wine Society £28.00)
So almost twice the price of the other two… is it twice as good? The simple answer is not at the moment! There is layer upon layer of smell and flavour with raspberry, red currant and cranberry fruit, smoky spice, clean minerality and pure and precise acidity. The tannins are very much to the fore right now but I would love to try this is a couple of year’s time – even after a couple of hours it had developed and started to knit together. Kevin Judd may have built his reputation on the back of Sauvignon Blanc but his Pinots are every bit as good, if not better (and the Ginger-in-law certainly agreed!) 93+ points
May the experiments continue!