Author Archives: Confessions of a Wine Geek
I know I said my last post would be “the last post” on confessions but if truth be told I’m missing the blog and you guys! It’s been a heck of a few months; opening The Grape Escape in Cheltenham has been the most exciting thing that has ever happened to me.
Being your own boss (well, The Fish is the real boss!) is great in so many ways – if something isn’t working you can do something about it instantly; none of this going to your boss who then goes to their boss – every penny counts so just make a decision. On the flipside of that coin there is no one else to blame for stuff that goes wrong… and plenty has and will go wrong as we learn something new every single day.
I thought I would get loads of time to read new wine articles and keep the knowledge on an upward trajectory but even when there aren’t any customers its all paperwork (yep, bills mainly!), getting orders ready and cleaning the loos! But do you know what? It’s the best decision we’ve ever made and we love it. The weirdest thing of all is getting home at 1 in the morning and having your first glass of the day! Sometimes I just hope that no one orders that last glass of Wind Gap Syrah or Pichot Vouvray just so I can take it home with me and savour that first sip.
Every week we change the ‘by the glass’ list – 15 new wines for Cheltenham (and us!) to try. This is taking some management but I think we’re getting pretty good at getting the stock levels just about right now. Our suppliers have been absolutely fantastic – a huge thanks to Chritopher Piper Wines, Hallgarten Druit, Roberson and PleaseBringMeMyWine (yes, Mike is the guy responsible for our Piedmont selection!) for all of the help and support they continue to give us.
So there we are, an update on the new Wine Geek life – if you are in the area please do drop by to say hello and sample a glass or ten! Also, if you’re at all interested, why not sign up for our newsletter – there is a form on The Grape Escape website.
Cheers and all the best!
It has been too many months since I last submitted an entry for the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge, however when last month’s winner, Jim of jvbuncorked, chose “Finish” as this month’s theme there was no hesitation. I’m not usually one for the dramatic but this month’s topic was the perfect opportunity for me to write my last post on confessionsofawinegeek.com. This also makes me feel like a fraud; although this post will mark the finish of this blog, which I have loved writing for the past two and a half years, more importantly it marks the start of a new venture as myself and The Fish get closer to opening The Grape Escape Wine Bar & Merchant in Cheltenham. What it has prompted is the opportunity to pause and look back at how we got to this place, a journey that started a long time ago… I have been interested in wine since I was about 20, very nearly half of my life (it will be half of my life come September!) From my university days that included negotiating a by the case deal for my then favourite Cotes du Rhône (£3 a bottle!) to my first taste of DRC (Echezeaux 2000 @ £800 a bottle!) and Cheval Blanc (1995 @ £400 a bottle!), it has been a heck of an adventure that has never stopped giving. About ten years ago we went for a city break to Paris; we bought a book titled ‘Paris by Bistro’ and worked our way around six magnificent eating establishments in three days. I can remember every plate of food I had that holiday, but the only wine I can remember is the Gewurztraminer that was served from a flask in a fabulous little place opposite the Gare du Nord. I’m sure there was some Chablis and Sancerre in the mix during those wonderful days but it was the food that was more important to me at the time. It was shortly after that holiday that I stumbled upon an independent wine shop that would change my life for the better and meant I would remember every wine I tasted from that day on.
I was on a mission to find some sausages to enter for the inaugural Bangers & Smashed competition (you can read about that here and here). One of the butchers I came across during my search was located at Battlers Green Farm, a few miles from home, but it wasn’t the butchers that left the biggest lasting impression, that was Wine and the Vine, the wine shop next door but one. I went in looking for a bottle of Riesling and a bottle of Pinotage I seem to remember; I came out with a dozen bottles including a Verdejo, Torrontes, Primitivo and Carmenere, grapes I had never heard of from places I’d never considered. More importantly I had found a wine mentor in the shop owner, Jez Grice (see My Wine Hero), and I was hooked. After a couple more years of exploration and discovery it was time to move further down the list; at the time spending £15 for a bottle of wine was a big deal. For my birthday I selected a bottle of Henri Bourgeois Sancerre Jadis 2007, which was a revelation with fish and chips, and a bottle that meant I would never have any money to spend on anything else but wine ever again. That bottle was from Burgundy, a Nicolas Rossignol Volnay 1er Cru Chevret 2006. When I took that first sip there was no turning back. The aromas, the flavours, the excitement was overwhelming; the finish was so long I sometimes think I can still taste it today.
A few days later we had booked our first trip to Beaune… and our first visit to a winemaker. I emailed Nicolas Rossignol and arranged to meet him at his new winery; we turned up the day after he had finished bottling the 2010 vintage and I still have a few bottles left of the magnificent Aloxe-Corton from that same year. I fell in love with Burgundy and it whet my appetite to keep learning and keep discovering. I enrolled onto some WSET courses, took my exams, passed my exams. But it wasn’t enough for me; it was too structured, too regimented. Instead I spent my money buying wine and attending tastings wherever I could find them. Horizontals and verticals, events focusing on a single country, region or variety, I just couldn’t get enough. But attending wasn’t enough – I wanted to be part of a community and share these experiences. I also wanted to test my knowledge so I started writing confessionsofawinegeek.
Summers were spent visiting the wine regions and vineyards of France, meeting winemakers, finding hotels as close to the vines as possible, tasting and drinking new and exciting wines from winemakers old and new. There was no way we could stay in our current jobs forever when there was this magical world we could be a part of. We discussed giving everything up and opening a wine shop; with the opening of so many brilliant bars in London the dream turned into a wine bar. Three weeks in California last summer brought the date forward; we were mesmerised by the passion of the people and the quality of the tasting rooms in Napa and Sonoma; it helped us define what our place would look like. We resigned the week we went back to work and finished our jobs at Christmas. 2015 would be a new beginning, the start of a new adventure, the start of a new life.
This week we signed a lease on premises in the beautiful Cotswold town of Cheltenham. We have pulled together a list of over 200 wines, featuring almost 100 grape varieties, from 18 different countries – bringing the ethos of #newwinethisweek to the high street! We want to share some of what we have learnt in the real world, we want to be those passionate people who inspire people to learn more about wine and taste new and exciting varieties from all over the world, just like others have done to us. It may be time to finish confessionsofawinegeek, however the spirit and adventure will continue at The Grape Escape in Cheltenham. I hope so much that you can visit us and share the experience with is…. Cheers and remember, life is too short to drink cheap wine! The Grape Escape will open its doors on Saturday 23rd May 2015 at 10 Bath Road, Cheltenham GL53 7HA. www.thecheltenhamgrape.com
OK, so it’s been a bit slow on here over the past few weeks; sorry about that. The plans for the wine bar launch are coming along, although I can’t believe how long it has taken to get the lease sorted (current status: all agreed but still not signed). Just so you know that some stuff has been happening, here is the first public view of The Grape Escape logo:
Mark at Cheltenham Graphic Design has done a great job and we absolutely love our new identity. We are currently working with the brilliant team at MRV Interiors, based locally in Evesham, to develop the interior and the work we have seen to do has got us very excited indeed. Once the lease has been signed I will let you know the location and if everything goes according to plan we hope to open on Saturday 25th April.
As well as the design work we have almost completed the menus – a core list of about 120 bottles under £50 and a ‘reserve’ list that reads like I’ve gone straight to wine heaven. We are talking to lots of local businesses about sourcing cheese, charcuterie and cakes (yes cakes!) as well as nice posh toiletries for the nice posh loos!
Finally, we have been working with the fabulous LJ at Ivy PR to get news of the wine bar out there and I have been writing articles for some local newspapers and magazines, the first of which has been published today on Cotswold Style’s website.
This Sunday is time to spoil your Mum and I’ve made some recommendations that will hopefully provide you with some inspiration no matter what you’re choosing to cook for Mum on Sunday:
I will keep you posted with updates, until the next one have a wonderful #WineWednesday!
As well as the wonderful whites I have enjoyed at the beginning of 2015, there have been a number of stupendous red wines that have dazzled my senses over the past few weeks. There is nowhere better to begin this roundup that with the greatest red grape of them all…
Nicolas Rossignol Aloxe Corton 2011, Côte de Beaune, Burgundy (Wineman £29.94)
This is the smell and taste of the Cote de Beaune for me; aromas of raspberries, wild strawberries, damp earth and autumn mushrooms. The palate is super fresh and fruity with slightly rustic but delightful tannins. There is an earthiness in beautiful balance with the fruit; I don’t know what else you can expect from a Burgundy Villages wine. I actually thought it was a Volnay. 93 point
Mount Difficulty Estate Pinot Noir 2010, Central Otago, NZ (The Wine Libraray £29.00 – 2012 vintage)
Black cherries, touch of wild strawberry and oaky notes of cedar and vanilla. Concentrated sour black cherries and a bit of blackberry, good structure and cedar, oaky touches but with black spice and a bright acidity. Wonderful wine. 93 points
The next three wines are from classic regions that are just about in perfect drinking condition right now.
Brio de Cantenac 2009, Margaux, Bordeaux (Fine & Rare £19.20)
I visited the chateau a couple of years back and think this second wine is one of the best value buys in the whole of Bordeaux. Aromas of blackcurrant and black plums – this smells expensive! Plenty of new oak has been lavished upon this wine and there is lots of cedar and vanilla on the nose. On the palate, crushed black fruits and a dash of black spice and plenty of elegance. Very pretty wine indeed. 92 points
Carpineto ‘Sant Enrico’ Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2004, Tuscany (Wine Direct £24.00)
Black cherries, blackberries, smoke, dusty herbs and bitter chocolate. Bright and acidic on the palate; sour cherries, a touch smoky, with earthy notes and just a hint of balsamic. Medium bodied with big grippy tannins which dissolve into a delicious balance with the super acidity. Needs some meat to complete the story. 92 points
Clos St Andre Chateauneuf Du Pape 2003, Rhone, France (Costco £21.59)
Soft red fruit compote with a dash of wild hedgerows and just a touch of balsamic and worn leather on the nose. Super smooth tannin, delicate and balanced acidity with flavours of strawberries, balsamic and red pepper. Very elegant, drinking beautifully. 93 points
I always the love the opportunity to drink anything from Ridge, this 2010 is a monster right now!
Ridge Lytton Springs 2010, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma (Thedrinkshop.com £27.69)
Massive nose of damson and blackberry; super concentrated with some slightly raisined fruit in there too, along with notes of smoky meat and mocha. The attack is like a spicy mixed black fruit cordial; the texture is creamy with smooth and silky tannins, leading the way for the meaty and smoky notes (just shouting out for barbeques steak!), but the wine remains about the purity of the sun-drenched fruit all the way through. This is a huge wine by Lytton Springs standards, I wonder if it will clam down with time? 93+ points
I also love finding a bargain… this one comes from Portugal:
Cooperativa de Pegões Touriga Nacional 2011, Peninsula de Setubal, Portugal (Wine & the Vine £12.25)
Blackcurrant and blackberries, eucalyptus dark chocolate and green herbs. Big fruit, with big creamy texture; vanilla, eucalyptus and hard green herbs. This is a wine who’s flavour to price ratio is off the scale! 91 points
And finally how about some big-uns from South America… including a Malbec I really loved… Yes, really!
Errazuriz Don Maximiano ‘Founders Reserve’ 2008, Aconcagua Valley, Chile (Costco £29.99)
Pure blackcurrant with an underlying woody, herby note and a dash of eucalyptus. The texture is rich and majestic with concentrated black fruit and bi tannins – this is still a youngster but already has a long fruity, liquorice and hard green herb finish. Mmmmm. 93 points
Perez Cruz Carmenere Limited Edition 2012, Maipo Valley, Chile (Wine & the Vine £15.65)
Blackcurrants and plums with a delightful green herbaceous note; hard green herbs and just a touch of mint. Deliciously fresh on the attack with some black fruit and jammy red fruit and a wonderful creamy texture. Long finish with lots of fruity concentration but with enough acidity to carry it through.; the herby, minty notes stay there too! 92 points
Don David Tannat 2012, Cafayete, Argentina (Wine & the Vine £11.25)
Blackcurrant and blackberries, spicy autumnal hedgerow and a slightly medicinal, rosehip tinge on the nose. Concentrated black fruit on the palate, with grainy, slightly rustic tannins; I love the rough edges and the liquorice and eucalyptus finish. 90 points
Matias Riccitelli ‘Republic’ Malbec 2012, Mendoza (Exel Wines £28.66)
Black cherries and plums with just a hint of something red. Delicate smoky spice, liked coriander or something eastern, or even Christmas-like. Smoky plums, very spicy, almost like a spicy plum crumble. Very refined and very well mannered, this is a Malbec I’d be happy to meet up with again. The tannins are fine but present and the finish is very persistent and very spicy. Lovely wine. 92 points
PS. I won’t be drinking any French wine this weekend as Wales take on les Bleus in the 6 Nations!
Aside from the odd #newwinethisweek post I’ve been a bit lackadaisical when its come to writing posts so far in 2015. Sorry about that; its not that I don’t love you all anymore, its simply that the changes in my circumstances haven’t led to too many interesting topics arising! I don’t want to bore you all with the ins and outs of dealing with landlords and solicitors (still waiting for the second draft of the lease!), but I have been doing a lot of tasting to pull together what I hope is an exciting and interesting wine list and here are my notes of some of the white wines (reds to come in a few days) that have got my pulse racing over the past week or so…
When I started pulling the list together there was one thing I was certain about; Domaine Pinson Frères Chablis HAD to be on the list. We visited the domain in the summer of 2013 and fell in love with the family and their superb wines. After a bit of online searching I found out that Christopher Piper Wines, based in Ottery St Mary in Devon, bring these wines into the UK, as well as plenty more fantastic looking numbers. But let’s start with Pinson…
Domaine Pinson Frères Chablis 2013, Burgundy (Christopher Piper Wine £16.99)
Apples lemons and the waft of seaside rockpools. The acidity is electrifying; I bet this is what sucking lemons in the sea must taste like. Classic Chablis; purity of fruit and wonderful minerality; textbook Chablis – I love it. 91 points
Domaine Pinson Frères Chablis 1er Cru Mont de Milleu 2012, Burgundy (Christopher Piper Wine £22.42)
Delightful mix of fresh and bruised apples, a real earthy note and just a hint of toasted nut; smells like an autumn day after it’s rained. Gentle and well-mannered acidity guides first the apples then the lemons across the palate to a cool and classy mineral finish. Top quality Chablis from a top quality producer. 93 points
Now let’s head a little further south and check out a wonderful village Burgundy from Jean-Marc Morey…
Domaine Jean-Marc Morey Chassagne-Montrachet 2010, Burgundy (Christopher Piper Wine £26.94)
Proper grown up Burgundy. Oak and lees make way for apples, peaches and just a touch of fennel on the nose. This is a wine of texture with a delightful fat body. Buttery and toasty before the acid clears the path for apples, peaches, even a hint of lemon on the finish. The finish is nutty, toasty and long. Got better and better the longer in the glass – suggest decanting. 93 points
Now its’ time to head west to the Loire Valley and check out a couple of wines made by the same winemaker, with the same grape variety, in the same vintage… this is why I love wine so much!
Domaine Christope Pichot Vouvray Sec ‘Côteau de la Biche’ 2011 (Christopher Piper Wine £13.48)
Sweet apples, juicy oranges, wet cut grass and wild honey on the nose. Silky, crystalline texture with flavours of apple juice and honey, the lazer-guided acidity making it ever so refreshing. Really classy. 91 points
Domaine Christope Pichot Vouvray Demi-Sec ‘Le Peu de la Moriette’ 2011 (Christopher Piper Wine £13.48)
Baked apples and savoury nut, like an apple tarte-tatin with that delicious self-saucing caramel. The texture is like a melted glacier; so clean and pure. The flavours are apples and lime juice with a sweetness that gently creeps up on you due to the fantastic balance of acid and sugar. Thrilling. 93 points
Time to head even further west and a little south to Galicia in Spain. I love a bit Albariño but for the last 12 months I have been going on and on about Godello, which I think just offers that little bit more…
Crego e Monaguillo Godello 2013 (Highbury Vintners £11.50)
Juicy peachy and orchard fruit and a hint of citrus that creeps up on you. The apple comes to the fore on the palate then I’m left with a bright and tangy acidic streak and still the saline freshness I associate with Albariño… Albariño plus?? 90 points
Bodegas Avancia Godello 2012 (Bordeaux Index £18.00)
The first hit I get is a lees-y quality then ripe apples and peaches but there is also a cool minerality; reminds me of a good quality 1er Cru Chablis! The fruit is deliciously ripe and decadent, with peaches, apples, even a hit of tangerine; there is a beautifully integrated salty tang that seems to go on and on. You can taste a gentle oak influence here, someone who understand how much and how long to use it. Drink with percebes… if you know what they are or if you can find them! 92 points
And what good is a list of great white wines without Riesling?? Let’s start with an old favourite from Western Australia before heading for some real class in Germany.
Ad Hoc Wallflower Riesling 2012, Western Australia (Wine & the Vine £15.25)
Limes, slate, touch of citrus, a hint of something tropical and slightly floral, and just the onset of plastic/petrol– but ever such a pure nose. Pure lime juice and fantastic acidity on the attack, followed by the warmth of something rich and tropical. The texture is glacial and the clean slate shines through, along with some citrus pith. 92 points
Weingut Reichsgraf Von Kesselstatt Riesling Kabinett ‘Scharzhofberger’ 2009, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer (Christopher Piper Wine £19.04)
Ripe golden delicious apples and bags of citrus on the nose, with a clean mineral streak of crushed slate; the sort of wine you could sniff for hours. A touch of sweetness on entry; sweet apples, a hint of passion fruit, plenty of cool minerality and fabulous acidity. 92 points
Schloss Johannisberg Silberlack Riesling 2013 (Exel Wine £45.00)
Apples, citrus and honey give a very mellow and regal nose. Beautiful texture like melted ice, high pitched apple fruit, a hint of honey and subtle, classy yet persistent acidity with a delicious flinty finish carrying the citrus for what seems like minutes. It actually is minutes! I can’t believe how short this review is for such a long and wonderful wine… read it twice!! 94 points
And let’s finish with some Sauvignon Blanc. What was the Ant? Dis yiu really say Sauvignon Blanc?? You bet I did… this one knocked my socks off!
Alphonse Mellot Sancerre ‘La Moussiére’ 2013 (Fine & Rare £34.40)
Is this really a Sancerre? The nose is so muted at first that I have to check there is any wine in the glass! Then comes the citrus burst of lemons and an amazing and very precise minerality; it smells far more like Chablis than Sancerre! The palate is so gentle and pure with plenty of lemons and just a hint of passion fruit. But the real standout here is the taut and precise acidity, the texture is so finessed I’m struggling to describe it. This is one of those times when the famous name on the bottle more than lives up to the price tag. 93 points
See? Look how hard I’ve been working! I’ll be back with some fantastic reds in a few days.
It’s D-day in the #newwinethisweek alphabet… OK, that maybe a little over-dramatic; it must be the whole Eastenders thing getting to me even though I didn’t watch a single second of it! What I mean is it’s time to choose the grape or region that will represent the letter D in the 2015 instalment of #newwinethisweek. As usual, here is my quick guide to the runners and riders:
This is a pretty big category to cover in a single week but is also a category that is much misunderstood and underappreciated. I finally “got” dessert wines about 7 years ago; we were dining at the fabulous Atul Kuchar’s Benares in London, where a wonderful young sommelier guided us through our wines by the glass to match each course. The sweet Chenin Blanc with the Rose and Raspberry Bhapa Doi (a kind of cheesecake) will stay with me forever. If you choose the sweet option then we will discover some Chenins, Tokajis, Rieslings and all sorts of other sticky things together.
“The little sweet one” is another underappreciated grape outside of its home region of Piedmont in northwest Italy. We all head straight towards the great Nebbiolos of Barolo and Barbaresco, maybe even stopping in Alba for some deliciously juicy Barbera from time to time. Dolcetto is also grown in Alba, as well as the Asti region, where the wines are fruity and sometimes very tannic and a perfect match for a pizza Margherita or tomato-based pasta dishes.
This red grape of German descent may not be the easiest to find but it does produce some delicious wines… some of which are grown in England. The grapes produce deep coloured, rich wines as a rule, but the best I have come across is the refreshing ‘Whole Berry’ Rosé from the wonderful Sharpham Estate in Devon.
The final 2 options are both from Portugal, who are producing some very exciting dry red wines these days as well as the world famous fortified Port wine.
The most famous of all the Portuguese wine areas, so renowned for it’s output of rich and fruity Port wine, also produces some stunning red table wines. A vote for Douro means an investigation of some of the best named grape varieties in the whole wine world; Bastardo, Mourisco Tinto, Tinta Amarela, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Cao, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Francesa and, the jewel in Portugal’s crown, Touriga Nacional,
The Dão region has been producing quality red wine for over a century, focusing on indigenous grape varieties such as Touriga Nacional (red wines must contain a minimum of 20%), Tinta Roriz, Jaen, Alfrocheiro Preto and Encruzado. Having spent a bit of time in Portugal I can assure you that these wines are well worth a vote, as they demand closer inspection.
So there you go; five interesting options and no favouritism from me for a change! Head over to Pleasebringmemywine.com to cast you vote:
It is one of the world’s great football regions, one of the world’s greatest food regions, but how often do we hear about the fantastic quality of Catalonian wine? Thanks to your great taste and voting prowess dear readers, the next two weeks will provide us with an opportunity to put Catalonian wine in the same exalted category as it’s food and it’s ball skills. We will explore one of the most exciting wine regions in the world, learning about red, white, rosé and fizz alike; if you have been on the January wagon, you couldn’t pick a better time to fall off!
There are a total of 11 DOs and one DOQ in Catalonia, which sounds great, but what does that really mean? Denominación de Origen (DO) is the Spanish classification system for quality wine regions, similar to AOC in France (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée). What the DO does is to guarantee that the wine comes from where it says on the label, is made from the grapes allowed in that region, and is made within the (often ridiculously high) yield limits. Spain is a high quality producing country, but nearly 2/3 of the vineyards are now within the DO boundaries, which suggests that maybe the DO isn’t the greatest barometer of quality (just look at some of the rubbish coming from Rioja these days).
DOCa (Denominación de Origen Calificada) is the highest classification in Spain and Priorat, in Catalonia, is one of only two, the other being Rioja (see comment above!). But because this is Catalonia, even that isn’t so simple as the Spanish DOCa becomes the Catalonian DOQ (Denominació d’Origen Qualificada)… but they are the same thing. I will come back to Priorat later on.
First, lets take a look at the 11 DOs, starting with Cava.
These things are never easy are they! Although Cava is a recognised DO, the allowable ‘region’ is actually of collection of wine regions. 95% of the production comes from Penedes in Catalonia, with the remainder coming from Aragon, the Basque Country, Castilla-y-León, Extremadura, Navarra, Rioja and Valencia. The quality of Cava just gets better and better (as we learned in #newwinethisweek Week 25 last year), the combination of Xarel-lo, Macabeu and Parellada grapes (along with a few others) making some very fine fizz that is being acknowledged all across the wine drinking world.
I’ll go through the rest of the DO’s with the aid of this map, which I found courtesy of www.wineandthevinesearch.com, starting in the southwest:
1.Terra Alta DO – Terra Alta, means ‘high land’ in Catalan and the vineyards are located in the foothills and valley floors of these mountains, who’s peaks reach heights of 3000ft (950m). The region is best known for producing white wines made with Garnacha Blanco and reds made with Garnacha, Cariñena, Syrah and Ull de Llebre (the regional synonym for Tempranillo)
2. Tarragona DO – Tarragona forms and unusual ‘U’ shape on the map after the Montsant DO was created from the original Montsant region in 2001. Tarragona enjoys an interesting and noble history the region that produced much of the altar wine used for Christian sacraments and ceremonies; to this day the region continues to export church wines. The region is perhaps best regarded for it’s Cava and Rosado (made from Garnacha) these days.
3. Montsant DO – the vineyards of Montsant are steep and terraced, making for backbreaking work. The region has a quality reputation for producing red blends featuring Garnacha and Cariñena from very old vines. There are an increasing amount of international varieties finding their way into these wines, as seems to be case the world over these days.
4. Penedes DO – the biggest individual region in terms of vineyard area and volume output, Penedes produces fizz, red and white wines. As mentioned earlier, 95% of Cava comes from this region, but ignore the still wines at your peril. When we were on holiday in Barcelona we drank a number of fantastic wines featuring local grape varieties (Garnacha, Cariñena) but also some brilliant Chardonnays and Rieslings.
5. Conca de Barbera DO – a new one for me this, the Conca de Barbera DO was created in 1985. The region is mostly known for producing grapes for Cava production but has a growing reputation for red wines features the usual Catalonian suspects Garnacha and Cariñena.
6. Costers del Segre DO – another new one for me, the Costers del Segre DO was created in 1986. Like Conca de Barbera, the region was mostly known for growing grapes for Cava production but made a name for itself by becoming the first DO in Catalonia to authorise the use of international varieties. These world superstars are blended with local Ull de Llebre (Tempranillo), Garnacha, Monatrell, Trepat and Cariñena (known as Samso in Costers) to produce quaffable, early-drinking red wines as well as wines that will age for years.
7. Plà de Bages DO – this small region acquired its DO status as recently as 1995 after some hard graft by a few top quality bodegas. The region crafts red wines from the usual Catalonian line-up but is getting reputation for it’s white wines, which often feature the local Picapoll grape (better known to us as Picpoul from the Languedoc) along with Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
8. Alella DO – Alella is a “blink and you’ll miss it” kinda DO with a reputation for producing crisp white wines made from Xarel-lo (known in this particular DO as Pansa Blanca), Garnacha Blanca and Viura. The DO was created as far back as 1956.
9. Empordà DO – the region was awarded DO status in 1972 as Empordà Costa Brava and become simply Empordà in 2006 (I can’t find the reason why it changed). The key grapes in the region are Garnacha and Cariñena, which these days grow alongside Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah to produce tinto and rossado wines. The Garnacha is also used to make a very decent and sticky dessert wine.
10. Catalunya DO – this was the first regional demarcation in Spanish wine and covers the rest of the vineyards in Catolania outside these DOs, making very decent wines that can be found on any wine list in Barcelona!
I have left the best until last. Priorat DOQ, one of only two Denominació d’Origen Qualificadas in Spain, is one of my very favourite wine regions not only in Catalonia or Spain, but anywhere in the world.
My love affair started in autumn 2012 when 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 French sommelier not recommending French wine FFS!). 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 as we watches the evening unfold; I paid around €40 for a bottle of Somni 2009 and have never looked back.
The region has a great story to tell. Although there is evidence of viticulture in the region from the 12th century, 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 600ha 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. 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 and the consistency is extremely high across the board. I am a Garnacha man first, Cariñena second and I love the balance of power and finesse the region has to offer. It’s going to be a good week.
So there you go, everything you need to know (well some of it anyway) about Catalonian wine. Now go and grab yourself a couple of bottles and tell us what you think over on Mike’s website:
What’s your favourite wine pairing? Is it a côte de boeuf with aged claret, maybe a dozen oysters with a crisp Chablis? How about crottin de Chavignol with a glass of pure Sancerre? For me there is one accompaniment that is guaranteed to make any wine taste better; it isn’t meat, fish or even a fine cheese; quite simply it’s good friends.
We spent a weekend in London celebrating the marriage of my ex-work colleague Hanski and her new husband George (she wasn’t replacing one!). They put on a fine affair, starting with beers and rugby in a bustling London boozer on the Friday night (don’t ask about the score). The wedding took place at a West London church that I had visited once before, not for a wedding but for something far more religious, a biodynamic wine tasting with wine producer Emmanuelle Cazes! From there we headed on a brace of Routemasters to the wonderful Bush Hall music ballroom for speeches, dinner, dancing and wine.
I loved Hanski & George’s selection of Picpoul de Pinet as the white wine and grudgingly acknowledge the Argentinian Malbec wasn’t too bad either (many of you will know about my feelings towards Malbec by now). What a fun wine selection, almost as much fun as the mulled cider served in teacups on arrival! The celebrations went on into the early hours but the festivities didn’t end there as H&G had arranged a recovery lunch at George’s club, The Lansdowne, on Sunday afternoon. Fish pie, apple crumble and a few glasses of zesty New Hall English Bacchus and Berry Bros’ modestly titled ‘Good Ordinary Claret’ was a perfect end to a fantastic weekend… or so we thought.
What I have failed to mention yet was the presence of a couple you may have read about previously on these pages (The day Ave & Al tried to kill us, The Haggis Challenge). Ave and Al moved to France just before Christmas and this was the first chance we had to catch up with them for quite some time. When the famous words “shall we find somewhere for another glass” were uttered, I feared the worst; these words do not form a question, they are a call to arms, and the beginning of a guaranteed hangover.
I was amazed how all of the best wine haunts appeared to be closed on a Sunday in London but we were just around the corner from Barclay Square and A&A had yet set foot in Hedonism (Art Gallery for Wine Geeks, Return to Hedonism). We spent an hour or so walking around the most fabulous wine shop in the world; trying a few samples from the enomatic machines before agreeing to head to the Caxton Bar at St Ermin’s hotel for a bottle and a proper catch-up.
The Caxton wine list is very well put together, with a fine selection of varieties and plenty of countries included (mark-ups are on the heavy side but that’s what you get when you head for a hotel bar). Al selected a bottle of Huguenot Marsannay 2010, a great choice. The wine was concentrated yet delicate with that wild, almost feral, note you get from wines from the northern section of the Côte de Nuits. Marsannay is a vastly underrated commune, so often forgotten in the shadow of it’s famous neighbour, Gevrey Chambertin. Finding a bottle like this with a bit of age on a hotel bar wine list is always a delight. However the discovery of the night still lay ahead…
By the time the last drop of Pinot was consumed we were really only half way through catching up properly. Luckily for us, both Al and I had spotted the same bottle on the menu and there was no way we weren’t going to give this one a go. We both love Sangiovese. We both love Californian wine. But in the same bottle? Are you mad? We obviously are because we had no hesitation is ordering a bottle, the interest and intrigue was far too much for either of us to handle. And what a selection it turned out to be.
Bacio Divino Wine Cellars is a small family-owned winery based in Calistoga, Napa Valley. The eponymous ‘Bacio Divino’ is a Cabernet Sauvignon blend with small amounts of Sangiovese and Petit Syrah, whereas ‘Pazzo’ is primarily Sangiovese with smaller amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Merlot, and Viognier. The estate also produces Syrah cuvees under the ‘Vagabond’ title, Cabernet Sauvignons (including a To Kalon single vineyard bottling) with the ‘Janzen’ moniker and, most recently, Pinot Noirs bottled with the ‘Lucie’ designation.
Our bottle was the Pazzo ‘Call me Crazy’ 2008 and it was absolutely fantastic, my favourite wine of 2015 to date. Let’s start with the brilliantly hypnotic spiral-design label; it is truly mesmeric and we just hoped the liquid inside the bottle would have the same effect. The first sniff offered aromas of cherries, blackberries, black currant, meat, smoke, brambles and a delicious earthiness, then there was a hit of fresh raspberry. The texture is rich and silky-smooth; this isn’t a wine for the feint-hearted (14.6%) but still has a level of finesse that leaves you wondering, “how did they do that?” If you had served this to me blind I would never have gone for Sangiovese, although it does bear a resemblance to a young Brunello, albeit with fine integrated tannins at 6 years old. The best comparison I can make is to a Ridge Lytton Springs of a similar age; if I were a wine then I would take that as a huge compliment! What this wine really needs is a great big bowl of wild boar ragu, some thick-cut parpardelle and a roaring fireplace. 93 points
You may think that two bottles of wine between four was pretty easy going given the company, but what I haven’t told is while Al, The Fish and I were salivating over the grape juice, Ave was working her way through the colourful and very alcoholic cocktail list (sorry George, there was no Bucky-fizz to be found anywhere!)
The venue may change, the wines may change, I’m so glad the friends stay the same.
Hope you’ve had a good couple of weeks? Sorry there was no newsletter last week – a bit busy and all that trying to get things moving with the wine bar. That’s the problem with solicitors you see; they work on a very different time structure to the rest of us… I can’t think why! Anyway, to keep you all up to date we are expecting the first draft of the lease by the end of the week and hope to have it signed next week sometime; I can’t wait because then I can give you all the location details… but until then, it’s back onto Solicitor-Time.
Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.
To keep you going’ here’s your weekly dose of wine information, nonsense and some really poor jokes. Have a great weekend!
The #newwinethisweek alphabet is getting into full flow right now; A and B are done it’s time to choose what will represent C:
Blanc de Blancs was a worthy representative for B in the alphabet:
It went down very well in The Shire:
It’s February winos! Whether you were one of the dry January brigade or not, why not head down to Waitrose to discover a few new drops for 2015?
Casa Carmela Monastrell 2013, Yecla, Spain (Waitrose £5.32 was £7.99)
Monastrell is what the Spanish call Mouvedre and this one comes from the little known Yecla DO, which is adjacent to the slightly more well know Jumilla DO in Southeast Spain. A smooth red with intense and jammy red fruit.
Louis Jadot Macon Village Chapelle aux Loups 2013, Burgundy (Waitrose £8.99 was £11.99)
I love white Burgundy but it doesn’t come cheap… well not very often. Louis Jadot is one of the largest negiotiants in Burgundy but they also have a great track record for quality and value. The Chardonnay grapes for this wine all come from the village of Chapelle aux Loups and you can expect a classy buttery white Burgundy with those Macon hints of tropical fruit.
Cardeto Orvieto 2013, Umbria, Italy (Waitrose £5.99 was £8.99)
Forget everything you think you know about Orvieto; that pap you get in a box for a tenner is not what this wine is all about. Orvieto is a village in the Umbria region of Italy and the wines are usually a blend of indigenous Grechetto and Trebbiano. Ripe and refreshing with subtle acidity and great with roast chicken or grilled fish.
Charte d’Assemblage 2013, Côtes de Gascogne, France (Waitrose £6.36 was £8.49)
You don’t find many wines from Gascony on the supermarket shelves, which is a shame as this one’s a cracker. Made with Colombard and Ugni Blanc the fruit just explodes across the palate and will have you wondering why its taken you so long to discover this little beauty. Perfect for a Sunday afternoon as you’re getting distressed about going back to work the next day and only 11.5% alcohol too.
The Hedonist Shiraz 2013, McLaren Vale, Australia (Waitrose £10.99 was £13.99)
If you think 11.5% is a bit wimpy then why not get a rare rib of beef on the table and crack open this 14% Shiraz. I haven’t tasted the 2013 but if the previous vintages are anything to go by you can expect an inky black wine with aromas of chocolate, black pepper and smoke; the flavours are blackberries, black cherry and damsons. Concentrated and intense with nicely integrated oak.
Wine in the news
The top 10 wine makers in Oz – so glad to see Larry Cherubino in that list (there will be plenty on the menu at The Grape Escape!):
What is the most important question to ask a winemaker?
An evening of Riesling, courtesy of Jamie Goode:
Early bud break in California means more work in the vineyard
Check out this great review of Jinjuu by the fabulous Sybaricious:
Well they just had to be about solicitors this week didn’t they??
A man walks into the village post office one day to see a local man, middle-aged and balding standing at the counter methodically placing “Love-heart” stamps on bright pink envelopes with hearts and kisses all over them. He then takes out a perfume bottle and starts spraying scent all over them.
His curiosity getting the better of him, he goes up to the balding man and asks him what he is doing. The man says, “I’m sending out one thousand Valentine cards signed, ‘Guess who?'”
“But why?” asks the man.
“I’m the local divorce solicitor,” the man replies.
A solicitor died and arrived at the pearly gates. To his dismay, there were thousands of people ahead of him in line to see St. Peter. To his surprise, St. Peter left his desk at the gate and came down the long line to where the solicitor was, and greeted him warmly. Then St. Peter and one of his assistants took the solicitor by the hands and guided him up to the front of the line, and into a comfortable chair by his desk. The solicitor said, “I don’t mind all this attention, but what makes me so special?” St. Peter replied, “Well, I’ve added up all the hours for which you billed your clients, and by my calculation you must be about 193 years old!”
An independent woman started her own business. She was shrewd and diligent, so business kept coming in. Pretty soon she realised that she needed to employ a full-time solicitor and so she began interviewing young solicitors.
“As I’m sure you can understand,” she started off with one of the first applicants, “in a business like this, our personal integrity must be beyond question.” She leaned forward. “Mr. Peterson, are you an ‘honest’ solicitor?”
“Honest?” replied the job prospect. “Let me tell you something about honest. Why, I’m so honest that my dad lent me £15,000 for my education and I paid back every penny the minute I tried my very first case.”
“Impressive. And what sort of case was that?”
“My dad sued me for the money.”
The boring stuff
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Cheers and have a great weekend!
It’s on to the letter ‘C’ in the #newwinethisweek alphabet and it’s your turn to vote for which of the contenders you would most like to learn about and, more importantly, consume over the next week or so.
As usual the vote for which grape or region will take place over on pleasbringmemywine.com but here are a few pointers from me. This week I have listed them in my favoured order of preference!
This was the selection I put forward for ‘C’; Catalonia offers something for everyone and is one of the most exciting wine producing regions in the wine world right now. There are 11 individual DOs (Denominación de Origen) in Cataolonia and the Catalynia DO was Spain’s first regional demarcation, making a total of 12 DOs in all to choose from. There are the powerful reds of Priorat (one of only two DOQs – the other being Rioja) and Monsant, the array of white grapes found in Penedes, or of course, the sparkles on Cava
“I don’t like Malbec”. You may have read these words on these pages in the past; this isn’t strictly true. I find the “black” wines of Cahors truly mesmeric… and they are made with… you guessed it, Malbec. The grape is more commonly referred to as Cot in this appellation about 70 miles north of Tolouse in Southwest France. You may have to work a little harder to find a bottle but it will certainly be worth it… provided it is at least (and I mean at least!) 5 years old.
I would love to suggest everyone votes for Chasselas… but I’m not sure where you’re going to find it if truth be told. Even many of the funky independent wine merchants will give you a funny look when you ask about this little Swiss number. The grape actually produces a delicious full, dry and fruity white wine that is the perfect match for fondue… so next time you’re off skiing you know what to ask for. I also read with some interest that Michel Chapoutier has stated that he is looking for a vineyard in England, which would be planted with Chasselas, as he believes the English climate and terroir are perfect for this little-know white grape… watch this space…
I love this stuff; some of the most exciting wines coming from Chile are made using this rich and fragrant red grape. The problem is, we did cover it last year in Week 2 of #newwinethisweek, and isn’t #newwinethisweek also about learning about new wines and regions?
Another one from last year! Remember Week 25? But don’t worry if this is your thing… just vote for Catalonia and you’ll get to drink it again anyway!
Whatever you decide to go for, it will certainly be another fun and interesting week on #newwinethisweek.