Zampa Syrah 2014 – A Taste of India

A friend of mine was over from India recently on a UK visit and happened to ask if there was anything that I’d like to be brought over.  Of course, the first and only thing I thought of was a bottle of wine and, sure enough, he kindly obliged.

What he presented me with was a bottle from Grover Zampa, India’s second most popular brand, just behind market leaders Sula Vineyards.  Producing around 100,000 cases of wine per year, the grapes used for this bottling come from their vineyard holdings in Maharashtra state which is in the centre of India on the western side.  This is a hot-bed of agricultural activity with two thirds of the population employed in farming roles.

More specifically this wine comes from the Nashik valley which is India’s largest grape growing area, just north of Mumbai and Pune (where my friend is from), and this bottle was chosen as an example of his local wine.

Nashik Valley is located at 20° latitude and well outside of the usual grape growing comfort zone of 50-30°, meaning winemaking is a definite challenge in the hot and humid conditions.  Aggressive pruning to avoid the monsoon season and plantings at high altitude to take advantage of the cooler night temperatures both help to carve out wines that can balance acidity levels with the ripened fruit flavours.

Wine making in India has seen a lot of investment in recent years and made good strides forward in terms of the quality (a Sauvignon Blanc from the aforementioned Sula Vineyards made headlines when it won a Decanter Silver Medal award in 2011).  Plantings are focused on the main international varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc, and back in 2011 this particular wine was one of the handful of Indian wines chosen to be stocked by supermarket Waitrose as part of their ‘World of Wine’ showcase.  As I write, the bottle no longer forms part of their range.

Zampa Syrah

Zampa ‘Hand Crafted’ Syrah, Nashik Valley, India, 2014, 14%, ~£7.00 (N/A UK)

In colour the wine is a dark purple, almost to the point of being opaque.  The colour of the main body has just started to lose the vibrant signs of youth but the rim manages to keep the light hues in sight with a touch of a ruby red visible.

The nose of the wine is incredibly rich, warm and spicy.  In addition to the dark blackberry, plummy stewed fruit, there are clear tertiary characteristics of both wood (this wine clearly states on the bottle that it is oak aged) and, more prominently, diesel.  Overall, the sensation is chunky and one of deep intensity and fills every last part of your nasal cavity.

The diesel/burnt notes continue on the palate and, in addition to the seriously woody notes (which are freshly creosoted panels as opposed to subtle toasting) this wine packs a huge punch before you can even taste any fruit characters.  To see if I could restrain this wayward character I decanted the rest of the wine for 6 hours but, alas, it was still the same.

The woodiness has an immediate drying effect on the palate but, even with a good medium acidity to drive it through, it overtakes any other characteristics and is way too heavy handed for my liking.  There’s a light fine grained tannin with some dark fruit milling about in the background, but overall this is a chewy wine that only hints at the ‘smooth, mellow’ delivery promised on the bottle and is dominated by the woody spices.

Obviously I have no provenance on the bottle (it could well have stood on a hot Indian supermarket shelf for some time), and could not find any recommended drinking window on the web, so I do wonder what a few years in bottle would do for this wine.

As it stands this wine felt too over-oaked and a little too raw with not enough of the grape characteristics coming through, so perhaps it isn’t indicative of the brand/range as a whole.  Aside of a few quick tastings at Vinopolis this comprises my first serious critical appraisement of an Indian wine and I hope it won’t be my last.

Many thanks to Amit for giving me the chance to try a bottle.

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UK 2016 Vintage Report #2 – May

Spring has well and truly sprung here in the UK, and the month of May has seen its fair share of good weather with most days seeing mid-teen temperatures.  In addition there has also been a handful of days where the weather has tripped in to the early twenties too, which has meant that my vines are all developing nicely and have come on well since the first flowers began to appear in April.

2016 UK vines M2

In addition to the warm weather mentioned above, there has still been a few cold spells and intermittent rain, as well as one patch of frost at the start of the month which has hit the later flowering Chardonnay vines badly.  The Chardonnay is now way behind the Ortega and my ‘mystery’ 3rd variety and so has a lot of catching up to do.

Struggling Chard 1

Struggling Chard 2

As is tradition for a UK Bank Holiday weekend there is rain forecast, but this should be needed by the vines as they continue to gather the resources to start flowering in the coming weeks.

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Laithwaites Premiere Tasting – May 2016

Maybe it’s because the sun has finally arrived here in the UK or maybe it is just good labelling, but both the wines supplied as part of the May offering from Laithwaites Premier looked absolutely inviting and ready to drink.  Added to which they are two wines that I’ve never heard of before, let alone tried, so it’s another great opportunity.

Belle Saison

La Belle Saison Sauvignon Blanc 2015, France, 11.5%, £8.99

Unusually for this scheme, this white wine is on the low alcohol side clocking in at just 11.5%, but the price-point is still where you’d expect for a good quality Sauvignon Blanc.  The question is: can it deliver on the palate?

French Sauvignon Blanc traditionally hails from the Loire, but this wine is labelled simply as a ‘Vin de France’ and so no identifiable geographic indication is clearly given.  In fact, this wine hails from various vineyards across the south-west of the country, allowing the winemakers to create a consistent blend.  To me, £8.99 seems a little on the high side for a wine that is sourced from such a wide arena, but at least we can applaud the efforts to craft a typical French Sauvignon Blanc.

From the hands of winemaker Hervé Sabardeil (who also makes Laithwaites favourite Chante-Clair), this wine is bottled under a nice green screw-cap which well accentuates the lemon yellow wine.  The label, as mentioned above, speaks clearly of a summery floral wine, which is exactly what you get.

In the glass, the pale lemon yellow is joined by green tints to the rim.  A good intense nose is filled with the light fresh green fruits of apple and pears along with a touch of honey and peach.  There are also the signature fragrant notes of cut grass to add to the fresh lemon.

The palate dances between yellow and green fruits, delivering the flesh of green apples and pears and then jumps towards tropical yellow melon.  The varied fruit salad notes continue with both traces of banana and dried pineapple discernible.  Overall this is a zesty, slightly tart, mouth-watering wine.  The medium weight is balanced well against the lip-smacking acids, with the fruits delivering a good long satisfying length.

Refreshing, utterly drinkable without food, and a good example of a cool climate Sauvignon Blanc.  What isn’t noticeable, but you can raise a glass to, is the lower alcohol level.  This allows you to feel just that bit better about the next glass, even if the bottle price won’t.

Mulberry Bush

The Mulberry Bush Shiraz Merlot 2015, Robertson, South Africa, 14%, £8.99

I seem to be trying more and more South African wines recently which is probably testament to how much more accessible they have become.  In addition, in my continual bid to stay away from the well beaten track and broaden my horizons, I find myself trying less and less Shiraz and Merlot and so this is something of a homecoming.

This bottle (55% Shiraz, 45% Merlot) comes from third generation winemaker Jacques Bruwer and, with famed wine writer Hugh Johnson extolling the virtues of the Cape for quality and value, we should be in for a treat.

We’re in the south-west of the south-western tip of South Africa here, nestled between the mountain ranges of Langeberg and Riversonderend in the Robertson region.  Long sunny days are tempered with the cool misty nights and coastal breezes rolling in from the Indian Ocean, which allows the grapes to have an elongated hang time throughout the season, and fully ripen to maturity.

In colour this is an inky-dark youthful purple in colour.  On the nose there are dark plummy notes alongside redcurrant, damson and raisin, and the tertiary characters of fruitcake and coffee.  Overall it’s a winter warming scent with sweet spices and varnished wood.

As you would expect from the Syrah and Merlot grapes, the palate of this wine is heavy on the fruitcake and spice characters, alongside further notes of wood and brambles.  There’s redcurrants, black cherry, plums, damson, figs, all providing a well weighted body.  I’d also say, given the name of the wine that there’s some mulberry in there too!

The fruit is full, ripe and crunchy in character, and a medium acid draws the cherry and warmth from the relatively high alcohol (14%) in to the end palate.  Overall this is a smooth and mellow wine, perfect with meats or stews, or even on its own, and it was nice to reacquaint myself with these grape varieties after what has probably been too long.

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Aldi Wine Club 8th Panel Tasting Note #2

The next two bottles from the latest Aldi Wine Club tasting panel arrived recently.  Both were sourced from their ‘Exquisite’ range and with no red this time, we have a white and a rosé to try.

Aldi Albarino

Exquisite Collection Albariño 2015, Rias Baixas, Spain, 12%, £5.99

Well-known within wine loving circles, the region of Rias Baixas and the Albariño grape variety might not be the most familiar of Spanish offerings to the general public, but the good news is that this is another case of the right grape growing in the right place.  Albariño (known as Alvarinho in Portugal) produces distinctive wines and works well in the Atlantic Ocean influenced wetter conditions of the north-western corner of Spain, just north of the Portuguese border.

Bottled under screw-cap, this wine is a nice clean lemon yellow in colour, with a fresh and inviting nose.  There’s a good sprinkling of zesty citrus with heaps of lemon backed up by lime, fresh grass and floral notes, clean green fruit of both apples and pears, and a slight toastiness which rounds out the good full, intense experience.

The palate is led by the fresh lemon citrus and followed by tropical yellow fruit of melon and pineapple along with peach skin and light floral touches.  Even though this wine is absolutely all about the fresh clean fruits (which it has in good measure and pairs well with the steely crisp high acid) I found it slightly lacking in the mid-palate.  This dipped the intensity leaving just the acid and also had a knock on effect to the length, which wasn’t overly long.

All in all, this is an easy enough wine to drink with or without food, but I will have to re-taste before I can recommend or fully evaluate it.  One last thing to add is that if I can’t make a full decision on a wine, I leave the rest of the bottle for a re-taste the next evening.  In this case, it was good enough to be gone in one evening, which does draw conclusions of its own.

Aldi Provence

Exquisite Collection Cótes de Provence Rosé NV, France, 13.5%, £5.99

This wine, like the Albariño above, was picked out by The Telegraph newspaper as a key wine for the summer of 2014, and right from pouring, I can see I’m going to like it.

In a subtle and canny way of keeping quality in line with price, this wine isn’t from any particular vintage, but is rather a blend of years (NV meaning ‘Non Vintage’).  In the classic Provence style it is comprised of four different grape varieties (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvédre and Cinsault) which is the regional speciality both in the southern Rhone and continuing in to the south-east of France.

My initial description of how the wine looked in the glass started with the word ‘luminous’ – it had a clear vibrancy (and I use this word often, so it surpassed even that!) with a colour that blended onion skin and wild salmon.  It was clear that this wine would have depth.

The nose was intense as expected, with fresh strawberries and cream leading the way, followed by the stone fruit of peach and nectarine.  There was a little extra sweetness to the nose that suggested all things confectionary, but it wasn’t overplayed.

On the palate the signature strawberries and cream continued, alongside peach, lemon and watermelon, all giving a good weighted mouthfeel.  The acid was placed lower in the mix and kept the palate refreshing whilst allowing ripe fruits to come to the fore.  The length was good and added smoke and further darker notes.

I’ve never been able to put my finger on the dark notes at the end of some rosé wines and often end up listing them as something like ‘a pleasant bitterness’.  Utilising the internet, apparently they are known as ‘salty minerality’ which comprises black skinned olives, brine, and even meat.  Once aware I could instantly pick out these characteristics.  Being fairly unusual characters in wine this was a good eye-opener for me.

The labelling for this bottle is in-keeping with the rest of the ‘Exquisite’ range (the use of the colour blue to offset the contents, clear good looking scripts and fonts, the winemakers signature etc.), but if I had one negative against this wine it would be the funny shaped bottle.  At best it looks like a novelty, but at worst appears simply as a wine ‘alternative’ or soft drink (Orangina springs to mind).

Overall this wine embodies what it is to be part of the Aldi Wine Club, in that it has allowed me to try a wine that I perhaps would not have picked off the shelf, it has enabled me to learn something new about the world of wine, and it again has me scratching my head as to how Aldi can bring in such quality at such market-friendly prices.

I’ll be picking up more of this when I pop in to get the replacement bottle of Albariño.

With thanks to Aldi UK for supplying the bottle used in this tasting.

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Aldi Wine Club 8th Panel Tasting Note #1

I’m delighted to be linking in with Aldi again for the 8th panel of their ‘Wine Club’.  This means I’ll be trying six more of their wines over the coming months and, if its anything like the last panel, it will be full of interesting wines.

I’ve recently received the first two bottles, so let’s kick things off.

Aldi Gaguedi

Gaguedi Sauvignon Blanc, Swartland, South Africa, 13.5%, £4.89

Winemaking in South Africa is focused on the south-western tip of the country, and this wine from Swartland is from the western side of the western tip.  Even though winemaking has been taking place in the Southern Cape region for hundreds of years, it has only fairly recently developed in Swartland and plantings are adaptable and dictated to trend as opposed to tradition.  This is why we find the Sauvignon Blanc grape here, as they play off the success seen by New Zealand.

In terms of climate, even with the cooling influences of the Atlantic Ocean rolling across the land, they see a Mediterranean level of warmth, and this distinguishes it from the cooler climate classic Sauvignons of New Zealand.

Visually the wine is a pale to mid lemon colour, with vibrant gold tints to the rim suggesting ripe and juicy fruit.  The nose comes across as a little subdued but, as this can sometimes be from over-chilling the wine, I left it out of the fridge for a bit and we were back in business.  My overall impression of the wine was that it was fairly brooding, with characters other than simple fresh fruit coming to the foreground.  I could detect an oiliness as well as florality and hits of honeysuckle, all of which isn’t your classic Sauvignon.

The unfaltering heat of the climate fully ripens the grapes and this manifests itself with a decent mid-weight body and, despite being zingy with a mouth-watering acidity, backs it up with butter slightly reminiscent of a Chardonnay.  There is a clear streak of freshly squeezed lime, just giving way to touches of green apple flesh, and then heading off towards yellow tropical fruit of melon and pineapple.  The overall sensation is fresh and inviting and lingers on the palate for a good while after.

If you’re a lover of the easy-going classic grassy style of NZ Sauvignon Blanc this wine may not hit the spot for you, but I would happily recommend this as a good solid weekday wine, and another that comes in at the great sub-£5 price-point.

Aldi Blanquette

Exquisite Collection Blanquette de Limoux 2014, Languedoc, France, 12%, £7.99

Next up is a sparkling from the Languedoc in southern France.  When a French sparkling wine is produced in the same way as Champagne but made outside of the Champagne region, it is generally known (since 1990) as a Crémant, but Blanquette (meaning ‘small white’ in the local dialect) is held as the world’s first sparkling wine (dating back to 1544!) and so the historic name was kept as its own distinct AOC. The resultant wines tend to be slightly less effervescent than Champagne, but the big point of difference is that it is made with the Mauzac grape variety.  Not used at all in Champagne, Mauzac must constitute at least 90% of the Blanquette blend and may be topped up with Chardonnay and/or Chenin Blanc.

In terms of the packaging of the bottle it does follow the Champagne style with the word ‘Brut’ written in gold on the neck foil, where the word ‘Champagne’ usually is.  A nice stylish label is completed with the signature of winemaker Jean-Claude Mas.

In colour the wine is a pale lemon yellow and is peppered throughout with fine tiny bubbles rushing to the surface.  There’s a good fresh nose of lemon citrus which is accompanied by bready brioche notes.

On the palate this is at once light and frothy and effortlessly quaffable. Alongside the expected lemon citrus there is a touch of honey, the biscuit brioche notes from the nose continue, and the palate is rounded with the green fruit tones of apples and pears.

A refreshing acidity keeps this lively on your palate all the way through to the finish and, apart from the hallmark lightness of style meaning a certain depth is missing, there is a potential that this could be mistaken for Champagne.  A snip for £7.99 and, if you’re looking for a cheap sparkling for your everyday needs, I personally would put this ahead of Prosecco.

With thanks to Aldi UK for supplying the bottle used in this tasting.

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Laithwaites Premiere Tasting -April 2016

April may well and truly be over, but I’ve still got the two Laithwaites Premiere bottles to review, so here goes.

Laith Prem April16

First up is the Campanula Pinot Grigio which is actually already something of a best-selling white from Laithwaites, so it is great that it forms part of the Premiere range as these schemes can so often be for pushing wines that aren’t selling well.  Whilst I’m familiar with their (now unavailable) Pinot Noir, I’ve never tried any of their white offerings, so this is a good opportunity.

Another point of interest here is the fact that this wine is from Hungary and not, as you may well initially expect, from the Pinot Grigio stronghold of northern Italy.  There’s a good historical reason for the grape making the journey to Hungary, dating back to when the King of Naples’ daughter married the Hungarian King and he became a great patron of her Italian roots, culture, arts and science.

Named after the bluebells that grew around the vineyards, this wine is produced by winemaker Gábor Laczkó in the northern central village of Etyek, some 50 kilometres from Budapest.  This Pinot Grigio was ‘commended’ at the International Wines & Spirits Challenge 2015.

Laith Campanula

Campanula Pinot Grigio 2014, Dunántúl, Hungary, 12%, £8.49

The wine is a light pale lemon yellow in colour with inviting golden hints to the rim.  The nose is pronounced, strong and intense, with clear green apple flesh, citrus, some cream and a whiff of spice.  The depth of the nose is suggestive of a nicely weighted palate, and this is indeed what you receive.

On the palate the fresh green flesh notes last throughout, and are added to with apple pips and pear.  There’s prominent lemon and lime and a mouth-watering acidity that means the overall sensation is fresh and more-ish.

The end palate is rounded out with a slight woodiness to match the ripe fruit, and the finish is all about the fresh apple and cream texture.

Overall this is a very nice white, and well crafted, but at £8.49 a bottle, it might just be a touch expensive.

Next up is a Spanish red blend from Extremadura, which is towards the south-west of the country, bordering Portugal.  The label tells us that the ‘Silver Route’, of which the wine takes its name, was the principal trade route used by the Roman Empire.  Cutting Spain north to south, the route allowed the Romans to move localised specialities such as wine and the famous iberico hams, to different parts of the country to trade for other materials.

The Extremadura region has deep red soils, and the Tempranillo (70%) and Syrah (30%) used for this bottling are from old vines based in Badajoz, just south of Merida.  From the combination of using the naturally spicy Syrah grape, a hot Spanish climate, and the intensity that comes from the concentrated lower yields of older vines, I’m expecting this to be a punchy wine.

Laith Silver Route

The Silver Route 2014 Tempranillo/Syrah Blend, Extremadura VdT, Spain, 14.5%, £8.99

The bottle looks great with the silver design setting off the dark colour of the wine superbly.  The kaleidoscope label is carried across to the top of the screw-cap which is a nice touch and shows a good bit of thought and care for the overall design.

In colour this a nice deep youthful purple colour, and the strong ripe fruity nose greets you well before your nose reaches the glass.  This is still a youthful intense, slightly confectionate black fruit-forward wine, with warmth and spice, and a definite nod towards currant fruit puddings.

For all that you detect on the nose, the palate is surprisingly not over-powering and has a medium weight, but it is crammed full of flavour.  Initially it is rich and spicy with dark fruit cake notes alongside bitter dark cocoa, and coffee.  You also get the hit of the ripe black fruits as well as a little light grainy (chalky) tannin.

A fresh medium acid keeps this gliding across the palate, but the overall sensation is quite moody and dark, with the fruit playing second fiddle to the more complex secondary notes such as the cake and cocoa.  This is the character of the wine, more than the complexity, but this is still an enjoyable easy drink.

The length is medium and really makes the most of the chocolate.  I like this one for the price and it gets an overall thumbs up.

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