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On Top Down Under

I’ve written a lot about French wines in the first 3 months of the blog and also had a go at trying to decode Italian wine lists (Navigating Italy). In my looking forward to 2013 post I talked about discovering more about the delights of Australian wine so here is an overview of some of the key Aussie wine regions and the grape varieties to look out for, along with some recommendations. I’ve tried to concentrate on wines that are easily available to everyone.

The great thing about Australian wine is the simple labeling. 99% of the time the label will tell you the name of the producer, the region it is from, and the grape varieties used to make the wine. This is one of the key reasons for the success of Aussie wines, but so too is the quality at the mid to high end of the market. Also, some of the names of the wines are superb!
Aussie wine

South East Australia – a note of caution

The regional identifier of South East Australia (or SE Australia) is a catch-all which covers most of the major wine producing states (except Western Aus). Quite often the grapes used to produce these wines have been deemed not good enough to go into the regionally labeled wines. They will have been bought by a high volume wine maker to produce cheap and cheerful wines, so could be a blend of grapes from 3 or 4 different states. It’s not to say these are poor wines, it’s just they won’t have the complexity or sense of place (terroir) that you will find from location-specific wines. These are the wines you find in the cheap supermarket promotions.

Western Australia

Although WA accounts for a small proportion of Aussie wine (under 5%), the quality is excellent. The vast majority of wines from the region are in the premium category. The Margaret River region is the most famous in the area. The key grapes grown in the area are Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Chardonnay. My pick of the producers is Leeuwin Estate, who’s “Art Series” Chardonnay is regarded as one of the best white wines in the country. Other regions to look out for are Great Southern and Swan Valley.

Ring Bolt Cabernet Sauvignon 2097, Margaret River (Tesco £10.99)
Plantagenet The Lioness Pinot Noir, Great Southern (Tesco £12.99)
Vasse Felix Chardonnay 2010, Margaret River (Majestic £13.99)


South Australia

Could be called the wine state of Australia. When we come to looking at the names of the sub-regions I’m sure you will recognise many of the famous names from bottles you have drunk. When you see the names Barossa Valley or McLaren Vale, the grape that immediately screams out at you is Shiraz. Look out for Barossa wines from Peter Lehmann, king of the valley. These areas have very hot and dry summers and produce blockbuster red wines, which are rich, chocolaty and spicy. Yum! For Cabarnet Sauvignon, look no further than Coonawarra. The wines have lovely blackcurrant and eucalyptus characteristics and are a brilliant accompaniment to rare red meat.

And don’t forget the white wines. Some of my favourites come from the Clare and Eden Valleys, especially the precise citrus-led bone-dry Rieslings, which can be stunning.

D’Arenberg One Hundred for Four Shiraz, McLaren Vale (The Wine Society £7.50)
Jacobs’s Creek Reserve Pinot Noir 2011, Adelaide Hills (Sainsburys £9.99)
Tim Adams Riesling 2006, Clare Valley (Tesco £10.49)
Peter Lehmann BVS Shiraz 2010, Barossa Valley (Majestic £12.49)
Walter Clappis The Hedonist Shiraz 2010, McLaren Vale (Waitrose £12.99)

Victoria

The coolest of the mainland states in Australia, so the emphasis is more on cooler climate grapes such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The Yarra Valley region is a great place to start for both of these grape varieties. For wine connoisseurs head for the Mornington Peninsular, where winemakers are starting to make quite a noise with their high quality output. Giles, an ex-colleague of mine who spent some time in the area, has pointed me in the direction of “Main Ridge Half Acre” – Giles, I’ve found a source and got some on order! www.houseoftownend.com

And for something completely different, head towards Rutherglen and their luscious dessert wines made using Muscat – a very wine that works as well with fruit-based desserts as it does with chocolate.

Brown Brothers Late Harvest Muscat 2010, Rutherglen (Majestic £8.49)
Billi Billi Shiraz 2008, Grampians (The Wine Society £8.50)
De Bortoli DB Reserve Pinot Noir, Victoria (Majestic £9.99)
Willing Participant Chardonnay 2010, Yarra Valley (Waitrose £12.99)

New South Wales

Home of the Hunter Valley, the most northerly and tropical of Australia’s wine producing regions. The Shiraz is from the region is often described as softer and spicier than those from further south, and are generally thought to age very well. For white wine, the region is famous for Semillon, although many of the other regions are beginning to produce more and more of these grassy, citrusy wines. A region I keep reading about (well I definitely notice it!) is the superbly named Tumbarumba – I’m on the look out for some Chardonnay from he as the write-ups get better and better.

Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Semillon 2005, Hunter Valley (Tesco £9.29)
Taste the Difference Semillon 2010, Hunter Valley (Sainsburys £9.99)
Robert Oatley Finisterre Chardonnay 2011, Mudgee (The Wine Society £16.00)

Tasmania

The cool climate of Tasmania provides new opportunities for Aussie wines and the primary grape growing in the state is Pinot Noir. The island is producing nuanced and delicate wines from this notoriously difficult grape and I look forward to discovering more. White wine development is also very exciting, with precise and fruit driven Rieslings, as well as a growing reputation for Pinot Gris, in the style of the Mosel – very exciting.

For special occasions

The very best Australian wines are up there with the very best in the world. If you really want to push the boat out and try something really special, here’s a premium list to choose from.

Katnook Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Coonawarra (The Wine Society £18.00)
Kooyong Beurrot Pinot Gris 2010, Mornington Peninsular (The Wine Society £18.00)
Leeuwin Estate Prelude Chardonnay 2009, Margaret River (The Wine Society £23.00)
Ocean Eight Verve Chardonnay 2010, Mornington Peninsular (The Wine Society £23.00)
D’Arenberg Dead Arm Shiraz 2008, McLaren Vale (Majestic £27.00)
Sandalford Estate Cabenet Sauvignon 2007, Margaret River (The Wine Society £29.00)
Ten Minutes by Tractor Estate Pinot Noir 2010, Mornington Peninsular (Majestic £35.00)
Leeuwin Art Series Chardonnay 2008, Margaret River (Majestic £55.00)

Burgundy 2011 En Primeur… A taste of things to come

En primeur is the process which allows consumers to buy wines early while a vintage is still in a barrel. One of the benefits to us is the opportunity to purchase the wines at a discounted price, before thy are bottled (although this is by no means guaranteed). Another benefit of the process is to secure an allocation of a wine only available in small quantities – only a barrel or two of some top wines are produced in Burgundy owing to the massive fragmentation of some vineyards. The benefit to the producer is improved cash flow and an opportunity to market their wines and encourage new consumers to savour their vinous delights.

But there is a downside… Most of these wines will need another 5 years or more before they are ready to drink!

This week is the en primeur kick off for the 2011 vintage, so these wines have been developing since the grapes were picked in September 2011. Many of the wines will be bottled in February, however some of the very best Grand Crus may spend many more months in their oak barrels to develop even more complexity.

2011 appears to be a good, if not great year. Elegance seems to be the buzzword, with light and fruity wines. The view from the experts are that the wines will be great for early drinking so that’s good news in my book.

So off I went to the Lay & Wheeler Burgundy 2011 En Primeur tasting:

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– 33 wine makers
– 98 Wines (37 whites and 61 reds)
– 2 hours to do it!

I managed 21 whites and 25 reds… And I know this sounds ridiculous but it was really hard work! The reason it was such hard work was because I found it so difficult to judge these young wines, many of which won’t be at their best for another 10 years. To give scores to any of these wines would be impossible for me, and made me realise how much I have to learn. Also, 40-plus wines is a heck of a lot to get through and I did feel my palate getting tired! Some wine experts will do 3 of these tastings for 3 or 4 consecutive days, scoring each and every wine they taste – that to me is miraculous and I genuinely raise my glass (of water!) to them.

For me, the winner on the night was the Chardonnay. This is a very floral vintage but with lots of pure fruit aromas and flavours. I get the impression that the wines will be very approachable in their youth as there is plenty if crispness and decent acidity, although I would like just a touch more. The disappointment for me was Meursault, which just didn’t have the precision and purity of Chassagne Montrachet or Chablis. My pick would be Chassagne and I may put my name down for a couple of cases.

The redsI found really difficult to pinpoint. Being so young, the wines are still very tannic and you have to look beyond that to find the fruit – I suppose its a bit like buying a house and trying not to notice the floral yellow wallpaper! The Côte de Beaune reds I found a little uninspiring, lacking a bit in acidity and freshness. Having said that, my favourite red of the night was the De Montille Clos du Roi, from Corton (one of their Volnays was my wine of the year in 2012). The wines from the Côte de Nuits, however, seemed to have more depth and are built to last. The other thing that was also consistent was the quality progression from Village to Premier Cru to Grand Cru wines.

But the last word has to go to Chassagne… My choice of last wine on the night was the Domaine Fontaine-Gagnard Criots-Montrachet Grand Cru… I just wish I had a spare £540 for a case of 6!

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Shopping at Aldi… I like it

I’ve only been to Aldi on a couple of occasions and on both times it was to take photos of in store displays for work. My parents and in-laws are always extolling the virtues of the discount supermarket and Which voted Aldi the best supermarket in the UK for 2012. Mum served up an Aldi roast duck over Xmas which was absolutely delicious so The Fish and I decided it was time for a visit.

We picked up a duck and the much advertised 4-bird roast for the freezer as well as plenty of cleaning products and lots of other stuff we hadn’t realised we needed. Then at the end of the shop we came to the wine section. I have read good things about the Aldi wine range but never really considered buying as we never go there. So why not give it a go I thought. The most expensive bottle is £12.99 for Champagne, the most expensive still wine was £6.99. I selected 6 bottles, 3 white and 3 red for a grand total of £34.94… Less than I often pay for a bottle!

So far we have tasted 3 of the wines and I can assure you we will be going back. Obviously I bought the most expensive wine at £6.99, however I think it may be the best value red wine available in the UK. (I will update the tasting notes as more bottles are drunk)

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White wines

Henri De Lorgere Macon Villages 2011, Burgundy (Aldi £4.99)
Very pale straw colour, lots of citrus and nectarine, even some tropical fruit aromas. Big hit of acidity and lime; very fresh, very simple, very young. For the price this is great stuff and would happily have a bottle in the fridge just waiting to be drunk after a bad day at work. 87 points

The Exquisite Collection Touraine Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Loire (Aldi £4.99)
Had those very pungent Sauvignon aromas of freshly cut grass, gooseberry and also some asparagus. On the palate there is lots of crisp and dry acidity and the fruits is nicely restrained and very fresh. Also lots of flinty minerality. This is very nice and doesn’t have the astringency of lots of the New Zealand Sauvignons on the market. Touraine is only about 100km west of Sancerre and this wine is very much like a Petit Sancerre. 85 points

The Exquisite Collection Limestone Coast Chardonnay 2012, South Australia (£5.99)
Very tropical aromas of melon, mango and even passion fruit. Not what I was expecting at all. You may even think thus is a Sauvignon it’s that tropical on the palate too. Not much body but very refreshing. Thus would be an excellent BBQ wine with some chicken. 86 points

Red wines

The Exquisite Collection Clare Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, South Australia (£6.99)
Umm, I’m not sure where to go with this. It’s fantastic! Massively concentrated black currant and menthol on the nose and a huge whack of deep dark fruit, like cassis liqueur, eucalyptus and tobacco on the palate. Wow. Could this be the best value red wine anywhere? 91 points

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The Exquisite Selection Uco Valley Malbec 2011, Argentina (Aldi £5.99)
Really enjoyable aromas of black cherry, blueberries, violets and that expected rubber note, like a hit squash ball. Fruit carries onto the palate with a bit if spice and maybe a touch too much rubber, but excellent value nevertheless. 88 points

Baron Amarillo Rioja Reserva 2006, Spain (Aldi £5.99)
Bright ruby red in the glass and aromas of strawberries and red cherries and a hint of vanilla. Red fruit one palate and some eucalyptus – a bit Bordeaux maybe? Finish is a bit short and lacks depth and concentration. Can’t complain at this price though. 85 points

If that was on interest here’s a link to a more recent article, published in May 2014

A wino is born!

Now my Dad has never been a drinker. He likes the odd pint of lager but I don’t ever remember him drinking a whole glass of wine. A sip and a grimace definitely; a glass, absolutely not. This Xmas things have certainly taken a turn. Whether its for better or worse really depends on your perspective!

Dad has got interested in wine since I started writing the blog. This is great as I appreciate his support… But his interest is real! When we talk on the phone the first question he asks is about something he’s read in a post and he’s forever sending me photos of wines to ask if they’re any good. But he still doesn’t like the stuff. Or he didn’t… Until I took him a case at Xmas.

I took a few of my favourites from the past few months and he loved them. So much so that when the fifth bottle was finished (there were 4 of us and it was Xmas!) out came a bottle of Echo Falls Merlot from the cupboard. And his reaction? “I’m not drinking that sh*t; its thin and tastes of vinegar!” I am so proud of him!

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Here are the wines we drank – Dad asked not to be quoted so my reactions will have to do!

Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2008, West Sussex, UK (Waitrose £29.99, reduced to £23.99)
This was Dad’s favourite. Lovely aromas of peaches and apricots with a dry but very fruity palate. The fruity flavours are delivered in a stream of deliciously light bubbles, with a delicious yeasty and long finish. 88 points

DeMorgenzon Reserve Chenin Blanc 2010, Stellenbosch, South Africa (Wine & the Vine £16.95)
Really interesting nose of melon, peaches, nuts, maybe even marzipan. Lovely zing in the mouth, lots of ripe melon fruit and a wonderful nutty, long finish. 91 points

Domaine Ferrand Pouilly Fuisse Prestige 2008, Macon, Burgundy (Wine & the Vine £22.99)
Aromas and flavours of peaches and honeysuckle. Good weight in the mouth and well integrated oak, although no new oak has been used. Lots of acidity and a lovely clean finish. Quite a modern and delicious Pouilly Fuisse. 89 points

Elboador +7 2007, Priorat, Spain (Wine & the Vine £29.95)
Yes it’s this one again! I couldn’t give Dad a selection of good stuff without including this gem! Aromas of dark cherries and brambly blackberries and black currant. Loads of spicy Xmas goodness and pepper. Super concentrated fruit, upfront tannins providing amazing structure and huge length. 95 points

Joseph Drouhin, Chorey les Beaune 2010, Burgundy (Waitrose £15.99, reduced to £11.99)
Lots of raspberry and cherry fruit and a lovely fresh palate. Secondary aromas and flavours of leather and forest floor. Maybe a bit young but delightful and a great value introduction to red Burgundy. 87 points

We didn’t get to the bottle of Sauternes so I’ll get back to you on that one!

Best value wine list… No Bull

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Going back home to Anglesey for New Year, what I had really been looking forward to was a visit to The Loft restaurant at Ye Olde Bull’s Head in Beaumaris. I hadn’t been there for a few years as we never seem to be on Anglesey for long enough to squeeze it in. So on the first night on “The Rock” me, The Fish, Mum and Peter headed off to Beaumaris for a culinary feast. The food was superb and every bit as good as I remembered (sample menu here!) but what was of more interest to me was the wine list. Below is a sample from the offering:

Domaine Gérard Duplessis, Chablis 1er Cru “Vaillon” 2007 £27.00
Domaine Dujac, Morey Saint Denis, 2001 £52.00
Château Talbot, Grand Cru Classé, Saint Julien 2001 £49.50
Domaine de Vallouit, Hermitage 1999 £43.50
Sori Ginestra Conterno Fantino, Barolo, 2000 Piedmont £56.50
Henschke Julius Dry Riesling 2005, Eden Valley South Australia £24.50
Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Marlborough NZ £36.50

You can view the whole list here

A very nice list of wines but just look at the prices. This is not a retail price list, this is a restaurant price list! At first I thought they had printed their purchase prices! I was so astounded by this that I did a bit of investigating for these wines on winesearcher.com as well as looking for their price in some top London restaurants. I won’t name the restaurants but they all have at least one Michelin star.

The Chablis (tasting notes later) retail price is around £17 – I couldn’t find the same wine on another restaurant list but a £10 mark-up is definitely acceptable. Domaine Dujac has a fine reputation and rightly so; £52 for a decent vintage from Morey Saint Denis was enough to make me go for it. The cheapest I could find this bottle on sale to the public? £66.67. How do they do it?

How about Bordeaux? The 2001 Chateau Talbot, yours for £49.50 at The Bull or £43 from Fine & Rare. If you want to buy this wine in a London 2-star establishment then expect to pay a whopping £175! The only bottle with more than a 100% increase on the retail price was Cloudy Bay. £36.50 at The Bull or £18 online. I would expect this as Cloudy Bay is a recognised brand that will draw the crowds and 100% mark-up isn’t ridiculous. Expect to pay over £60 in London!

Needless to say, this is the most impressive and value for money price list I have have ever come across. And with 10 reds and 10 whites by the half bottle also at great prices, it is a must visit if you find yourself on Anglesey or anywhere near North Wales. Don’t forget the food is also top-notch!

But it makes me realise that I’m being taken for a ride in London. I know that wine is the tool for money making in the restaurant business, but please be reasonable or I’m just going to go for the house wine and save my money and buy four bottles of what I actually want online!

Domaine Gérard Duplessis, Chablis 1er Cru “Vaillon” 2007 (£27.00)
Lots of apple with a fresh citrus streak on the nose. The wine has good body, quite “fat” for Chablis but very good nevertheless. The appley fruit is very pronounced but so is the cool, dry limestone flavour, which is beautifully integrated with the fruit. Very decent, especially at this price. 88 points

Domaine Dujac, Morey Saint Denis, 2001 (£52.00)
I’ve had plenty of good bottles from the Burgundy 2001 vintage this year and this is no different. Lovely cherry and raspberry fruit aromas and flavours. In fact, for a wine of its age the fruit is very prominent. Hints of undergrowth and mushroom but pretty linear and very delicious. 90 points

Brown Brothers Orange Muscat & Flora Special Late Harvest 2010, Australia (£12.50)
A great all-rounder to go with our selection of desserts. Lovely orange blossom, tropical fruit and honey sweetness. Simple, fun and nothing here to dislike! 86 points

My 2012 “best-of”

When I was a teenager, this was my favourite time of the year. Not because of Xmas or the presents that might await, but because the annual review editions of NME and Melody Maker were released and I could see how many of their top 100 singles and albums I had managed to collect over the past 12 months. Anyway, the subject may have changed (I haven’t bought any “new” music since 2002!) but I still love “best of” lists. So here’s a few of my wine highlights of 2012.

Favourite reds

Domaine Hubert de Montille, Les Taillepieds 1er Cru, 2001, Volnay, Burgundy (The Wine Society £46.00)

Not noted for being a great vintage but this is very exciting! Very pale, almost rose look in the glass but the aromas are incredible. Strawberries, raspberries, sweet cherries, mushroom, truffle and undergrowth. Very sweet fruit on the palate with lively acidity and such freshness. Nicely integrated oak, and dashes of leather and sweet spice. Warm, long, concentrated and sumptuous. Tannins are prominent but silky. This is my kind of wine and wish I could afford to drink it every night! (I’ve got a 2004 from the tiny vintage to enjoy over Xmas) 96 points

Elboador +7 2007, Priorat, Spain (Wine & the Vine £29.95)

Wow. What aromas of dark brambly fruit. There are cherries and blackberries and even hints of black currant. Loads of spicy goodness including black pepper and Xmas spice. Super concentrated fruit, upfront tannins providing amazing structure and huge length. This is the real thing. Having this with the Xmas goose. 95 points

Walter Clappis The Hedonist Shiraz 2010, McLaren Vale, South Australia (Waitrose £12.99)

Inky black in the glass. Chocolate, black pepper and autumn hedgerow, blackberries and black cherry nose. Concentrated and intense, blackberries, black cherry, cocoa, spice from nicely integrated oak and a dash of liquorice at the end. Bold, powerful, delicious. Palate delivers what the nose promised. And long. De-bloody-licious! 92 points

Favourite whites

Maison de Tastelune Chassagne Montrachet 2008, Burgundy (M&S £30.00)

The Fish bought me the first bottle of this wine for my birthday – thank you Fish! Beautiful nose of white peaches, honeysuckle and a dart of vanilla oak. I really could smell this wine for hours! Clean and fresh with a little bit of weight, peachy and spicy and long. Lovely texture excellent weight. Love it. 92 points

DeMorgenzon Reserve Chenin Blanc 2010, Stellenbosch, South Africa (Wine & the Vine £16.95)

Really interesting nose of melon, peaches, nuts, maybe even marzipan. Lovely zing in the mouth, lots of ripe melon fruit and a wonderful nutty, long finish. 91 points

First Press Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley, USA (Waitrose £16.99)

Overripe, fruity sweet melon fruit. Supercharged fruit with a lovely brioche waft and some nuttiness. Not as wild on the palate but a lovely appley streak of acidity. Nutiness comes through after a while in the glass. Delicious. 90 points

Favourite fizz

Camel Valley Pinot Noir Brut 2008, Cornwall, UK (direct @ £30)

We drank this at the beginning of December with my brother in law and his other half, The L’s, Luke & Laura. Lovely red-fruity aromas and summery taste of strawberries and red currants. Very pleasant with a delightfully yeasty and biscuity finish. Thought it tasted like a Rose but wonderfully clear in the glass! 91 points

Favourite restaurant

We had some amazing meals on our French odyssey in the summer, especially the Crazy Carafe in Tournon, Cave du Madelaine in Beaune and Le Chambolle in Chambolle Musigny. However, I cannot go past The River Cafe in Hammersmith. I’ve been lucky enough to eat there twice this year and can’t wait to return in 2013. Wonderfully sourced, seasonal ingredients, cooked to perfection with minimal fuss. The food for people who like eating! Amazing all Italian wine list; hopefully the guide I wrote recently will help you make a great choice!

Favourite bar

In 2012 I discovered Gordon’s wine bar, near Embankment tube station. The place is mental busy and great fun. The wine list is pretty eclectic and you can get a bottle of Latour Corton Grand Cru 1998 for £45! Well it’s better than most village Burgundys you pay more than £50 for when drinking out of home! Also a great place to get smashed with Hanski and George! I haven’t been able to get to Sager & Wilde yet, but I’m guessing it will be near the top of my 2013 list.

Favourite shop

It will be no surprise to any of you that this goes to Wine & the Vine at Battlers Green, near Radlett. Jez is a constant source of inspiration and keeps me up to date with what’s new and interesting… And long may it continue. Special mention also to Waitrose, who’s selection just gets better and better… Especially at 25% off!

Favourite website

No competition this year. http://www.winetravelguides.com was an essential resource in putting together our 2 week fantasy through The Rhone, Burgundy and Champagne. If you are looking for advice on anything to do with wine on your holidays then make this website your first stop. Use this code for a 30% discount D2Blog12

So that’s it for 2012. I hope you all have a superb Xmas, and I look forward to sharing more wine words with you in 2013… CHEERS!

My wine hero

Before you read any further, there is something you need to know. Jez is my wine hero. Jez is also my pusher. He started me on the light stuff, got me hooked, and is now reaping the rewards. I don’t mean any if that of course, because Jez is what all of us wine lovers need. An independent wine merchant who cares. Someone who listens, who’s advice you cherish and appreciate.

I first walked into Wine and the Vine, situated in Battler’s Green, near Radlett, about 4 years ago. It’s a really inviting and friendly show room, although sometimes a bit cold… Temperature-wise! The first words after “hello” were “can I offer you a taste?” And that’s how it started, with a taster of the fantastic Don David Torrontes from Argentina. I walked out of Jez’s shop that day with a dozen wines, half of which I would never even have dreamt of lifting off a supermarket shelf. I also walked away without paying – at the time there was no credit card machine (there is now) – instead he gave me a piece of paper with his bank details printed on one side. I was hooked.

Tasting wine is brilliant. You try things you may not have ever considered, or ever heard of. Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday Jez offers 6 wines to anyone who comes into the shop. It’s an eclectic mix and I always end up taking home a couple of bottles which weren’t on my mental list. You can’t do this at the supermarket! Don’t get me wrong; they have their place, but they are soulless. Your independent guy has soul. Your independent guy has personality. Your independent guy is there for you.

I’ve had some of the best wines I’ve tried from Jez. Because he listens. He understands what I like and can make informed recommendations. Jez introduced me to Burgundy via a stupendous bottle of Nicolas Rossignol Volnay 1er Cru En Chevret 2006. Not only that, when I told him I was going to Beaune last February, he helped arrange a visit with Nicolas via one of his suppliers. This is why your independent wine guy is so important – you will learn so much and get so much in return.

Please use your local merchants. Talk to them, listen to them, and most importantly of all, cherish them. They are the heroes of our wine world.

Jez Grice
Wine & The Vine
Battlers Green Farm
Common Lane
Radlett
Hearts
WD7 8PH

www.wineandthevine.co.uk

I’ve only recently started keeping tasting notes, so here is a selection from some recent visits to Wine and the Vine. The selection suits all pockets and all styles. There are a couple of expensive bottles below but there is plenty of choice under £10! If you live nearby please pop in and say hello… And enjoy your tasting!

Some whites

Andeluna Torrontes 1300, 2011, Mendoza, Argentina (£10.75)

I tried this in a shop and it was beautifully aromatic – just goes to show how much bottle variation there can be. Grapefruit and a hint of citrus, some floral notes. Pithy grapefruit, lacking freshness. no length. Disappointing. 80 points

Dopff Au Moulin Gewertztraminer Reserve 2010 (£15.99)

I opened this straight after the Torrontes and wasn’t disappointed. Honey, nectarines and spice. Very aromatic. Spicy, full bodied, nectarines and eastern mystery. Lovely, with a hint of sweetness. 20 minutes later the Turkish delight tastes great! 89 points

Domaine Botti Saint Veran 2009 (£12.85)

St Veran is one of my go to communes for value white Burgundy and this wine is no exception. Honeydew melon and pink apples on nose and palate. A dash short on acidity but very tasty and lovely almond and cobnut finish. 88 points

Some reds

Pierre Naigion Hautes cotes des Nuits 2007 (£18.65)

We drunk this when we were doing our Burgundy vs. Oregon tasting (see post). Very good structure and flavour for the price. A hint of brick on the rim and a nose which offers sweet morello cherries and a whiff of smokeyness. Light bodied and the fruit from the nose is there in the mouth, along with that lovely damp forrest floor vibe. Not a wine of great length but certainly one of charm. 89 points

Andeluna Malbec 1300, 2011, Uco Valley, Argentina (£10.75)

Lovely example of Malbec – drink with or without food. Spicy, peppery and velvet smooth. Tannins are forefront but not obtrusive, good acidity and deep black concentrated fruit. Excellent. 90 points

Chateau Langoa Barton 1999, St Julien (£61.85)

My introduction to top quality Bordeaux. Black currant and cassis, I now understand pencil shavings. A bit of greenness, peppers and eucalyptus – lovely nose. Lovely freshness and cassis, with graphite and a slightly herby touch. Fresh, lively, lovely integrated tannins. Lacking a bit of concentration – not quite delivering on the promise but good length and delicious. 93 points

Nicolas Rossignol Aloxe Corton 2010 (£27.25)

We actually visited Nicolas the day after this wine had been bottled and he had already sold out so get your hands on a couple of these quickly! This is a beast! Deep and brooding, concentrated nose. Leather and damp leaves, almost pruney and olive-like; smells very evolved for 2010. In the mouth it’s almost northern Rhone in intensity. Plums, very dark fruit and massive concentration. Unexpected, big, big wine. This is going to be amazing in a couple of years. Was even better the following day (how did it last that long in our house??) 94 points

Barcelona. The good, the bad and the bubbly!

Now my knowledge of Spanish wine certainly isn’t great. I know my Rioja from my Ribera, understand the difference between a Crianza and a Gran Reserva, and love the refreshing whites from the the north of the country, particularly Verdejo and Abarinho. But what about Barcelona, and what about Penedes?

The white wines by the glass are simple affairs, reminiscent of the slightly round white wines from the Rhone; pleasant but lacking that streak of acidity to really give them a lift, especially when drunk with some of the marvellous seafood pinchos. What I was really surprised and delighted by are the number of varieties grown in the area, and the quality of the wines produced using the more commonly known grapes.

For lunch on our first day we sat down at a very good seafood tapas restaurant, Mariscco in Placa Reial. Looking through the wine list, what caught my eye was a Penedes DO Riesling (Torres Waltroud 2011) so I went with my instinct and what a good choice it turned out to be. At first taste I thought it may be a touch off-dry, but this was simply the juiciness of limes and pineapple chunks coming through. The finish was actually bone dry and rather reminiscent of a wine from the Clare Valley – a very modern and enjoyable wine (89 points). The seafood was outstanding. Percebes, langoustine, clams, cuttlefish, followed by some beautiful veal fillet.

Mariscco restaurant in Placa Reial

We also enjoyed some simple but refreshing Basque white wine in a couple of the great pinchos bars; nothing to write home about with too much conviction but perfect for this most superb method of informal dining.

The best seafood dish ever??

The second memorable white was the exceptional Jean Leon Chardonnay 2009. Only 12,000 bottles produced in the vintage and ours was bottle number 9,554. The wine had beautifully integrated oak, which surprised me when i found it had spent 9 months in new French oak. The nose was a pleasant apple and pear combo, with the fruit coming through in the taste, swathed in a rich vanilla cream. Once we took the wine out of the ice bucket we were able to enjoy it at its full and charming best (91 points). What I haven’t mentioned is Can Majo, the superb restaurant where we enjoyed this wine in Barcelonta, overlooking the sea. The Majo paella was maybe the best seafood dish I have ever eaten and I implore you to go if you ever find yourself in the vicinity.

So what about the reds? Well this is the only “bad” I can write about. And the main reason is the lack of local red available by the glass. Rioja – tick, Ribera – tick. But very little of the local stuff. The couple of places we did find with Penedes, or if we were very lucky, Priorat, on the list by the glass were fantastic! The Garnacha is spicy, yet silky, concentrated and inky. It was just such a shame that there was so little around!

La Vinya del Senyor – a great wine bar in Placa Santa Maria

On our last evening we went to the superb wine bar in Placa Santa Maria, called La Vinya del Senyor. OK, we went the day before and enjoyed a lovely glass of Cava and Ribera, but the list was excellent so we decided to head back for a bottle of Priorat. And boy was it worth it. We asked the waiter for some inspiration and he pointed us in the direction of the Somni 2009. Wow! Spicy, smokey, brambly, black currant and blackberry nose. Lovely cassis flavour, reminiscent of a great black currant sorbet. Warm, concentrated, complex and long, like a black fruit duvet! This was perfect for a chilly evening in Barca (by their standards), and one I will be tracking down for Xmas (94 points).

The star of the show – Somni 2009, Priorat DOCQ

So that just leaves the bubbles. To be quite frank, I’ve never met a Cava I’ve really got along with… Until this weekend. I’ve always found Cava lacking the acidic backbone I so enjoy in champagne and English fizz. But this weekend I found the Cava zing and it was certainly worth waiting for. We enjoyed a lovely Titianna Brut Nutural (extra dry) at the aforementioned La Vinya del Senyor, but the real magic came when we visited Freixenet, one of the biggest Cava producers in Catalunya. I’m going to write a separate piece about the tour and tasting at Freixenet as it is definitely something I would recommend to anyone visiting the Barcelona area, and anyone who feels they don’t quite “get” Cava.

A taste of things to come

Overall, Barcelona is a wonderful city and brilliant place for a city break. The food is simply outstanding, the culture is magnificent and the people are welcoming. As a matter of fact, I can’t wait I go back!

The good.

I have fallen in love with pinchos – the most social way of eating I have ever come across. As for the wine, well the brooding, fruity reds of Priorat certainly get the gold medal but the whites made from the more internationally recognised grapes are also excellent and I look forward to finding some for my collection.

The bad.

There isn’t any really. The biggest bugbear was the lack of local wine by the glass and the omnipresence of Rioja and Ribero. In fairness that really isn’t too much of a chore but I think the locals should be proud of their wine and encourage more of us tourists to give it a go.

The bubbly.

Well I’m a Cava convert. The cheap stuff we buy in supermarket in the UK really doesn’t do this drink any justice. There is so much choice and there are some really complex wines out there – you just have to search them out and have a bit of patience. I will write up my notes from the Freixenet tasting in the next day or so to try and give a bit more depth to the subject.

Gracias!

USA vs. France… Again?

OK, it may not be original but a recent visit to Gidleigh Park was the inspiration behind this latest France vs. USA tasting. We were very fortunate to have been invited to the wedding of our good friends back in September (thanks Richard & Max!); a lovely service in Worcester, followed by a weekend at the outrageously wonderful Gidleigh Park hotel. We enjoyed Michael Caines’ stunning signature menu on the Friday evening, along with a very well judged accompanying wine flight. The standout dish and wine combo was the Cornish duckling with cabbage, smoked bacon, roast garlic and a spiced jus, paired with a 2009 Bergström Cumberland Reserve Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley in Oregon. Now I am a Burgundy man through and through… But this wine really tickled my fancy, so much so that I asked the sommelier who their supplier was. It turned out to be from Roberson on High Street Kensington, recent winners of the 2012 Decanter London Wine Merchant of the Year award. So online i went and found the listing and realised that I work 5 minutes away from the London outlet and never realised it! What an excuse for a lunchtime visit.

The truly magical Gidleigh Park

Roberson is a great shop and I know I will spending much more time at their premises over the next few months, but Bergstrom I was after and Bergstrom I did find. Unfortunately they didn’t have the Cumberland Reserve in stock, however the did have the Shea Vineyard 2010. The Cumberland Reserve is a wine made from a combination of grapes from 3 different vineyards, Shea being one of them (Bergstrom and Lancelotti are the other two). Being a single vineyard wine, the Shea was a tad more expensive but what the hell I thought! It was then pointed out to me that they also stocked a Bergstrom Chardonnay that came highly recommend. Well what else could I do? “Add it to the bill, please”, and away I walked.

This weekend we had a family get together at the in-laws in Worcester, with my parents and sister joining us from Anglesey. A perfect opportunity to try the wines out and maybe test their suitability for this years Xmas wine list. But why not make it a bit more interesting and pit the newly purchased Bergstroms against some decent tipples from Burgundy? So I picked out a couple of bottles from the rack and away we went. The tasting proved to be very interesting and great fun. Burgundy came out on top 2-0, although as you will read from the notes below, the Bergstroms could definitely do with at least another year in bottle. Also it wasn’t 100% cut and dried, with the Chardonnay battle causing the biggest debate…

Bergstrom Old Stones Chardonnay 2010

Lovely deep, inviting gold colour, nose of white flowers, with a good citrus blast and a hint the tropics (lychee maybe?). The wine has good body but the fruit is still hiding, trying to get out. The principle take away is minerally, wet stones with a hint of apple skin on the mid palette. This will only get better and may well make the list for Xmas 2013. 16.5/20, 88pts, £25.95 www.robersonwine.com

Domaine Patrick Javillier Bourgogne Blanc, Cuvée des Forgets 2010

We visited the domaine in the heart of Meursault back in July this year and enjoyed a wonderful tasting in the very cool and vey small cellar. This was the first wine we tried and although only a Bourgogne Blanc it was as good, if not better, than many of the Cote De Beaune village wines I’ve tasted recently. The wine is deep gold with a very clean nose of white peach and a hint of cobnuts. The flavour follows on from the nose as well as delivering a lovely hit of minerality and just a hint of buttered toast. Bourgogne Blanc on the label but this is another one that will keep getting better and at this price why not keep a case in the cellar? 17/20, 90pts, £18.95 www.corneyandbarrow.com (I bought mine direct after the tasting at Javillier but will be on the phone to C&B very soon!)

Final Chardonnay score 3-3… With my vote counting double (!!), a close contest just going the way of Burgundy.

Bergstrom Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010

Lovely crimson colour and very fruit forward nose. Cherries and red currants with a blast of musty leather. These Oregon Pinots really do offer secondary and tertiary smells very early in their lives. The palette is still very closed with only a hint of the fruit and some violets coming through, not quite in harmony… Yet! This will be fantastic given a couple more years in bottle – think I’ll have a look for some 2008/9. 16.5/20, 88pts, £37.95 www.robersonwine.com

Domaine Pierre Naigeon Haute Cotes de Nuits 2007

This is a bit of a go to wine with very good structure and flavour for the price. A hint of brick on the rim and a nose which offers sweet morello cherries and a whiff of smokeyness. Light bodied and the fruit from the nose is there in the mouth, along with that lovely damp forrest floor vibe. Not a wine of length but certainly one of charm. 16.5+/20, 89pts, £18.65 www.wineandthevine.co.uk

Final Pinot Noir score 5-1 to Burgundy (sorry Peter!). 2010 vs 2007 was what tipped the balance.

The verdict

A very enjoyable tasting session and some very good wines. If you’re looking for good Pinot and Chardonnay from outside of Burgundy I would certainly set my sights on Bergstrom and I will be on the look out for some 2008 and 2009s. The wine that sparked the tasting was the 2009 Cumberland Pinot Noir so winesearcher.com here I come!

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