UK 2016 Vintage Report #3 – June

A quick check back on my vines now and, as is traditional for the British summertime, the month of June has seen a fair bit of rain with many heavy showers (one particular sudden one whilst I was BBQ-ing) and some isolated hail storms.  Having said that, I can count myself lucky that we haven’t been affected here in Newbury by the severe flooding seen by many parts of the south of the country which caused many areas to come to a complete standstill.

At the same time as the vines were being well watered, temperatures have remained at circa 18-20° and so it has been warm enough throughout.  The side effect of the heat alongside the constant damp has meant is has felt humid for much of the time.

Variety 3 June16

This free availability of water has had the effect of making my vines shoot up (pun intended!), and a quick look back at last month’s report makes them look like mere twigs.  My mystery variety number three (MVN3) has been shooting up all over the place (see picture above), along various walls and in to my neighbour’s garden.

Chard June16

Whilst I’ve been trimming to control the vigour on those vines, my Chardonnay (above) has been able to catch up with the others in terms of spread and leaf canopy, although it has yet to start flowering, which both my Ortega (below) and MVN3 have.

Ortega Buds June16.JPG

Hopefully July will bring more sun, less rain, and healthy clusters.

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Champagne in the 1880’s

In the third part of this historical series, we look back to the world of Champagne in the 1880’s.

Old Champs

The previous decade of the 1870’s had seen some fundamental changes to the landscape of Champagne production and consumption.  No longer were people craving a sweetened heavy drink mighty enough to withstand the production process, but were now demanding a style similar to that which we enjoy today: light and refreshing and capable of expressing the subtle differences of a particular year.

Demand had begun to rise and producers were therefore enthusiastic to keep up the pace.  The vintage of 1880 granted them the quality but, with only a small quantity being produced they were unable to capitalise on its success.  Further disaster lay before them with the vintages of 1881 and 1882 as both were deemed failures.

All hopes were resting on the vintage of 1883, and with initial weather reports being of a positive nature, the summer sunshine was warmly greeted.  It was, however, not enough to ripen the fruit to a point where it was considered to be of vintage quality.  Under severe pressure from the lack of recent success and lack of available product, both producers and merchants went in to panic mode and were quite happy to receive and push through the ‘sub’ vintage of 1883 in order to keep the market stimulated and well fed.

As a juxtaposition to this side-lining of quality, an interesting parallel was the introduction of vintage branded corks.  Even today this simple piece of the packaging jigsaw endorses a bottle of Champagne, acting as a guardian of quality and prevents any fraudulent activity in trying to pass off an inferior vintage as something more special.  Perrier Jouét were one of the first producers to recognise this as a symbol of quality, branding the corks of their 1870 vintage and giving their customers a clear sign of provenance.

Many other shippers soon followed suit, with Heidsieck Monopole finally jumping on board with their 1892 vintage released in 1889.  As a statistic worthy of the best pub quiz, the last shipper of them all to adorn their corks with the vintage year was Pommery who finally adopted the scheme with their 1892 vintage.

This shift to total product transparency cannot be understated.  Up to this point wine connoisseurs were used to judging a wine by its visual quality and, as such, an 1874 would exhibit a mahogany streak, or an 1889 would have a golden green sheen.  As production standardised and the quality between each vintage became less pronounced, many Champagnes looked increasingly the same from year to year.

After the run of poor harvests, the year of 1884 ended the bad spell and produced wines of the same excellent quality as 1880 but, in a welcome turn of events, in a much greater volume.  Indeed if 1880 had been seen as the benchmark of the decade, 1884 would soon usurp it and, unlike the ‘flat’ long term ageing of the ‘80’s, the ‘84’s would see the century out.

Sadly though, just as the quality had been revived, the weather played its cruel twist and the next three vintages were deemed unsatisfactory and irregular.  Although each of the vintages would have its own champion, the 1885 and 1886 both suffered from quantity and quality issues.  The 1887 saw a step up from both of the previous years but still failed to make the ‘vintage’ level and rounded out a miserable trio for producers.

The quality of the 1888 grapes were only deemed as moderate and the size of the vintage recorded as the smallest on record.  Producers had spent the best part of a decade weathering a particularly harsh storm and could probably well sympathise with Napoleon who was once quoted as saying “In victory, you deserve Champagne, in defeat, you need it”.

In the true tradition of the peaks and troughs of the Champagne story they went from disastrously bad to fortuitously good.  The vintage of 1889 with its distinct balance, colouring and ageing potential was deemed the best wine of the decade.  Even though small in quantity and coming as it did after several years of scarcity, this brought about a renewed vibrant market all of its own.

It wouldn’t be long before bottle prices would rise again.

I am indebted to the works of Mr. Andre Simon for inspiring the bringing of this historical information back to the public eye.

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Aldi Wine Club 8th Panel Tasting Note #3

Time now to review the final two wines from the 8th Aldi Wine Club panel.  First up is another wine from their Exquisite range.

Pinot Noir Rose

Exquisite Pinot Noir Rosé 2015, Marlborough, New Zealand, 13%, £6.49

With the rest of the 8th panel being comprised of white wines this Rosé from the Pinot Noir grape is about as close as I am going to come to a red.  Like the rest of the Exquisite range the dominant type labelling and Royal blue colour of the screw cap immediately makes the bottle look smart and sets off the colour of the wine.

Marlborough is of course best known for its signature grape of Sauvignon Blanc.  Based at the northern tip of the southern island at a fairly low latitude it is certainly cool enough to grow the very fussy Pinot Noir variety, whilst still remaining warm and sunny.  This cooler climate allows the grapes to have a long growing season and fully ripen without being scorched in the sun.  We can tell from the alcohol content of 13% that these grapes have probably seen a long hang-time allowing the sugars to build up nice and slowly.

In colour this is a nice deep darkish pink which I always liken to wild salmon, with just a tinge of onion skin.  In typical style for a youthful New World Rosé the nose is incredibly full and fruity and stuffed full of wild strawberry, raspberry, redcurrant and maybe a touch of cranberry.  In addition there is a touch of lemon citrus, and all the fruit smells deep, ripe and incredibly inviting.

The palate begins with lemon and lime citrus and then hits you with a zingy fresh acidity.  In addition to the list of red fruits that you could detect on the nose the palate also adds a nice creamy texture and weight but, if I had one criticism, this weight has a tendency to disappear in the mid-palate.  This isn’t too much of a worry though as the fresh acidity has enough strength to guide you through to a good length finish.  This wine delivers exactly what you would expect it to, which is a bright and breezy refreshing wine that is great on its own or will stand up to many foods including starters, or even on to lighter main courses.

At £6.49 this is one of the pricier bottles from Aldi, but is still very good value for something that would be perfectly palatable any weekday.

Cotes De Gascogne

Venturer Series Cótes De Gascogne IGP, Colombard /Gros Manseng blend 2015, £11.5%, £4.79

To finish the series off we have something a little unusual in that this wine isn’t sourced from the Exquisite range which has been the stalwart of the previous tastings.  It’s also comprised of two grape varieties that many casual wine consumers may not be aware of, and where a good review can work wonders to open them up to something which they may not initially gravitate towards.

The Cótes De Gascogne (literally translating as ‘the slopes of Gascony’) hails from south-western France.  The region is widely associated with smaller farmers who are part of larger co-operatives producing entry level wines known as ‘Vin de Pays’ (or ‘wine of the land’).  The Columbard grape began life as a French variety but, being the offspring of Chenin Blanc, has latterly found most of its fame in South African wines where both varieties thrive.  Gros Manseng is a native of southwest France and, due to its high yields, is particularly suited to creating large volumes of everyday entry-level wine.

Perhaps hinting at its lower than average alcohol level of 11.5%, the colour of this wine is a light and delicate lemon yellow with hints of green to the rim.  The nose is floral and light with lots of evident citrus and the fresh cut grass aromas usually associated with Sauvignon Blanc.

The palate is extremely zingy with a fresh acid commanding the light to medium body.  There’s a fresh hit of lime followed by both watermelon and grapefruit as well as perhaps just a touch of peach at the end.  The good length finish is drawn in with a nice creaminess (I’m borrowing from the label when I identify this as lemon curd) and overall this is easy to drink and completely refreshing.

At £4.79 it is priced absolutely for what it is, and it’s great that you can still buy these everyday quaffing wines and get change from a fiver.  Don’t let the odd grape varieties put you off!

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

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Laithwaites Premiere Tasting – June 2016

I’ve been sent a couple of youthful 2015’s from the Laithwaites Premiere scheme this month and both come in at the £8.99 price-point.

First up is a white from New South Wales in Australia, and more specifically the Riverina region which is in the south-central part of the state.  Being fairly inland and away from the cooling coastal breezes this is a warm climate for viticulture and so you should be expecting some well ripened grapes and clean pronounced fruit flavours.

White Duck

White Duck Chardonnay / Pinot Grigio 2015, New South Wales, Australia, 13%, £8.99

The golden yellow colour of the wine hints at the good rich ripe fruit and, when you draw your nose close to the glass, you get further clues to the weight and body.  It’s a fairly intense and detailed aroma full of green apples and pears to begin with and then followed up with the tropical yellow fruits of melon and pineapple.  There’s also a touch of florality and vanilla spice melded in there too, creating a rich whole.

On the palate the weight instantly hits you and there is a gloopy oily sensation that is jammed packed full of various fruits.  This begins with both lemon and lime citrus and is followed up with a big dollop of yellow melon and pineapple.  I can also detect the green flesh of pear, a touch of watermelon which gives a sense of the liquid evaporating in your mouth just leaving the full fruit on the palate for some time to come.

This is a fresh and zingy wine which is mouth-watering, but at the same time the acidity is fairly restrained, and this also adds power to the fruit characters.  The end palate is also where we see much of the oiliness (more margarine than butter) and is very much a character of a warm climate Chardonnay.  It’s great to see both grape varieties playing their part in this wine with the Chardonnay (83% of the blend) adding the weight and body and the Pinot Grigio (17%) adding the florality and lighter fruits.

This is a well-balanced and realised wine from experienced winemaker Sam Trimboli and with good complexity for the price.  Recommended.

Grand Gaillard

There’s definitely more to south-western France than just Bordeaux and next up we have a red wine hailing from nearby Bergerac.  This is one of a plethora of other wine producing areas crafting similar wines from the classic varieties but, standing in the wider Bordeaux shadow are perhaps not so well known to many wine consumers.  Will this one be able to stand up with the best of them?

Grand Gaillard Merlot 2015, Bergerac AOC, France, 13%, £8.99

In colour this is a nice vibrant youthful purple which highlights that this is a young wine.  On the nose there’s a good richness of black berries, figs and prunes, pepper spice and violets.

As smooth as the weight of the wine is, the palate is very earthy, rustic and fairly raw, with dry grippy grainy tannin.  The fruit is dark and dense and, for me, just a little bit too singular in tone.  It’s a big bomb of blackberry, spice and the characteristic fruit cake notes you get from Merlot, but all too quickly the flavour drops away leaving you with the tannin and the dry earthiness.  I think this wine is still too young and needs some more time to settle, or at the very least needs food to balance the fruit.  In my usual spirit of giving the wine every chance I tried this over several days but my conclusions all amounted to the same, and therefore I can’t recommend it at the £8.99 price tag.

This month’s winner: White Duck 2015 Chardonnay / Pinot Grigio blend

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Wines of Greece (and my 200th variety tasted!)

Whilst on a recent trip to the Greek island of Zakynthos I made sure to stay in touch with the local wines which, after olive oil, is one of their major agricultural endeavours.

Although the shelves still have plenty of room given over to sweeter wines, the dry wines they produce are now a far cry from the oft-maligned ones that Greece was once famous for.

Winemaking in Zakynthos is focused on the central part of the island sweeping north to south through the fertile central plains.  There are five major wineries on the island, with Solomos and Callinico being the two most featured in Kalamiaki where I was staying.

Red grapes fare better in the soils and warm/hot climate here and so production is focused on red wines (or strong rosé wines).  Even though it isn’t viewed as the faux pas it once was, it did feel odd drinking red with the fresh local fish dishes in my quest to drink local too.

Greek1

Tsantali ‘Metóxi’ Limnio/Cabernet Sauvignon blend 2011, Mount Athos, Greece, 13%, ~£10

The Tsantali family have been producing wine since 1890, and this blend spends 8 months in large French oak barrels prior to seeing further ageing in bottle.

A nice deep dark ruby in colour, this wine had a full nose of cherry and herbaceous spice.  The palate comprised black berried fruit with much of the crunch of a typical Cabernet Sauvignon and toasty roasty woodiness.  In addition there were further spicy notes, a medium acidity and a smooth lengthy finish.

I’m not sure what the blending percentages are, but even though Limnio is listed first it’s either stylistically very similar to Cabernet or it forms the lesser part of the blend.  Regardless, Limnio is one to add to my list of new grape varieties tried (my 199th one to be precise) and Oz Clarke described it as “one of Greece’s most important red vines” so it’s a good one to tick off.

Augustos Avgoustiatis, Zakynthos, Greece, 12.5%. ~£4.00

This wine is made from the local Zakynthian Avgoustiatis grape variety which is so-named as it ripens early and is usually picked at the end of August.  This is another variety which I had never tried before and marks my 200th so I will be sending off the next ‘Wine Century’ form very shortly!

A vibrant youthful purple in colour, the dense nose was led by black cherry and also offered some confectionate sweetness.

The palate was a veritable compendium of sensations and I noted down coffee, chocolate, meat, blood, smoke and wood, all finished off with a lighter touch of vanilla!  It’s fair to say that this was a rustic earthy wine that was more about the tertiary darker characters than it was the vibrant fruit suggested by its appearance.  What fruits did appear were reminiscent of plums and damsons.

Also of note was a medium gripping tannin against a good fresh acid which probably made the whole blend come together, working well against the dark notes of the wine.

Googling this grape variety now shows that the resultant wines should be about clean fruit and of high quality, so I’d wager the cheap price tag on this one has fairly influenced this particular bottling and it wasn’t a typical example.  I didn’t even note down a specific vintage year which could also be indicative that one wasn’t offered up by the label.

Note: I did also try this variety again in a Solomos ‘Amoudi’ 2013 (blend with Mavrodaphne) wine so, although I didn’t write a tasting note for that wine, I’m still comfortable to tick it off the list.

Greek2

Estate Papaioannou Agiorgitiko 2006, Nemea, Greece, 13%, ~£12.00

I’ll also briefly mention this wine which, coming from the Agiorgitiko grape, I was convinced would take me to 201 varieties tried.  Alas, upon checking my notes I already seem to have tried it.

I’ll still give it a brief mention though as it was lovely and reminiscent of a good Pinot Noir balancing a lightness of touch with a good depth.  It even managed to win a Gold medal at the Thessaloniki International Wine Challenge back in 2009.

Hailing from Nemea VQPRD AOC and coming from a 40 hectare plot of vines, the wine was a light red in colour and full of redcurrants and cherry on the palate.  Clear wood, light vanilla, pepper spice and a hint of chocolate blended with a fresh acid rounding out a well realised wine.

Even though I couldn’t add this grape variety to my list, the quality of this bottle will remind me for some time to come that I’ve definitely tasted it.  Lovely stuff.

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