UK 2016 Vintage Report #5 – August

A quick catch up now on how my vines are doing in the summer month of August.

There has been continued good weather throughout the month with just enough rain here and there to keep the vines watered.  The temperatures have peaked on a handful of days at 26-28 degrees Celsius (usually during the week when I have to be at work!), but are maintaining a good run in the early twenties.

UK Ortega Aug16

There are two main points of interest since the last update.  The first relates to the vigour of the vines which have basically (and would have done if they could’ve) gone through the roof.  Due to a recent leg injury I wasn’t able to tend them as closely as I should have for several weeks and so it has been increasingly obvious.

When I was able to get back out I needed to seriously prune something like 50% off of the height, and I have even done one further pruning session since then to keep them tidy.  All varieties are seeing this growth, even my Ortega, which last year was noticeably less vigorous than the Chardonnay and the MVN3.

This growth (especially when I was unable to tend them) has had one bad consequence.  When twinned with the high winds that we have seen on several days, my trellising has become loosened and has pulled my vines forward by 2-3 inches. At only 3 years in the ground they are still fairly fragile and, fearing they could snap at the bases, I quickly corrected this.

When winter comes I shall have to look in to installing a new trellising system, more robust than before, that can take the weight of the vigour I am now used to seeing.

UK MVN3 Aug16

The second point of interest is the grape growth, which is coming along nicely, albeit still showing elements of uneven bunch growth (millerandage) on my MVN3.  This is odd as this variety was planted a full year before the Chardonnay and Ortega vines and I would therefore have thought would be more established.

uk-chard-aug16

The Ortega and Chardonnay are coming along nicely with the later maturing Chardonnay progressing just behind the Ortega, but both have good volumes of healthy bunches.  In terms of disease, the mites still seem to be attacking the extremities of the Ortega, but this was cleaned off during pruning so shouldn’t be a problem.

As August comes to an end we approach the final bank holiday weekend of the year.  Traditionally these are wet and miserable affairs in the UK, but the forecasts currently show decent weather akin to that which we have seen recently.  This is hopefully a good sign that we will have a settled and warm September, maturing the grapes in their final 8 weeks on the vine.

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Benjamin Bridge 2008 Brut Tasting – A Canadian Sparkler!

Ben Bridge 2

Readers of my blog pages will be well aware that I love my sparkling wines and so, perhaps as karma for being laid up with an injured knee over my birthday weekend, I was delighted to take delivery of a rather special bottle.

When Christmas approaches (and probably year-round too, but perhaps less publicised) there seems to be a good availability of Canadian Ice wine to purchase.  What seems to be less available (but just as relevant over the festive season) is Canadian sparkling wine.  If the word on the street is anything to go by, this is a shame as they are really rather good.

Thanks to a new collaboration between producer Benjamin Bridge and London based wholesaler and retailer Friarwood, this scarce availability could all be about to change with their range about to hit the UK market.

Ben Bridge 1

The Benjamin Bridge story started in 1999 when 60 acres of land were purchased in the Gaspereau Valley in Nova Scotia.  Linking in with a former Piper Heidsieck chef de cave, vines were planted and experimental cuvées made.  In little over a decade, and following numerous plaudits from the world’s leading Champagne authorities, they have grown to be one of Canada’s foremost sparkling producers.

The grapes grow in vineyards moderated by the nearby Bay of Fundy.  This cooled environment, similar in climate to that of Champagne, allows the fruit to have a long ‘hang-time’ on the vine, enabling natural acidities and flavour profiles to develop additional complexities.

Ben Bridge 3

Benjamin Bridge Méthode Classique Brut 2008 Nova Scotia, Canada, 11.5%, £30.00

Hailing from the standout vintage of 2008, the grapes were hand harvested in the October, and bottled in June 2009.  This cuvée is comprised of 42% L’Acadia (a local hybrid grape variety), 40% Seyval, 10% Pinot Noir and 8% Chardonnay.

Visually the wine is gold in colour with touches of amber shining through.  Even with 8 years of age under its belt it exudes a clear youthful frothiness on the pour and vibrant pinprick bubbles throughout, highlighting the traditional method secondary fermentation in bottle.

On the nose there’s the immediate evidence of maturity (it spends 4-5 years maturing on the lees) with the fruits all showing signs of development.  As such the citrus has moved on to lemon curd and the tropical elements are towards dried pineapple.  There’s also some honey, peach and biscuit/brioche detectable.  The lightness of touch married with the developed fruit characters is a wonderful juxtaposition.

The palate is rich and rounded with a weighty, elegant and creamy mouthfeel.  Firstly I get the fresh characters of green apple flesh, apple pips, honey and butter, as well as a touch of woodiness and a light tannin.  This is followed up with the citrus and breadiness, and almost a hint of raspberry/cranberry showing through from the Pinot Noir (even though it is only 10% of the blend).

There’s a medium acidity layered throughout that is well balanced with the fruit and keeps everything fresh.  The subtle mousse evaporates in the mouth and the overall feeling is of a zippy, fresh, elegant and developed sparkling.

There’s a good length carried by the lemon curd flavour, which also adds a touch of root ginger on the end palate.

I tried this sparkling on the same day as I had a glass or two of a top quality NV Champagne (well, it was my birthday!).  Even if it is a little unfair to judge NV against vintage, the Benjamin Bridge was the clear winner and at £30 is an absolute steal in value, even before comparing it to the market prices of vintage Champagne.

This probably leads me to my only negative of the experience (and it is nit-picking) in that, in the quest to be every bit as good as Champagne, this has become exactly like Champagne.  Like Cava and Prosecco have shown, it is possible to be a leading light in the sparkling world whilst retaining some sort of typicity.  I was struggling to pin-point it here, unless it was simply just the sheer commitment to quality which clearly puts it on a level pegging with Vintage Champagne.

Still, that’s not a bad problem to have, is it?

With thanks to Clementine Communications, Friarwood and Benjamin Bridge for the bottle used in this tasting.

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Paparuda Tasting – A fine pair of Pinot’s

Like many wine enthusiasts I’m always looking forward to a bottle that will knock my socks off and have me raving about it to anyone that will listen.  Thanks to my Twitter timeline I can calculate that one such example happened to me two years ago last month; an epiphany that lay dormant in my taste memory, only to be re-awoken by a recent bottle tasting.

As someone who likes to taste widely, when Romanian wines were really starting to hit the market some years ago I gravitated to the indigenous grapes of Feteasca Regala and Feteasca Neagra.  My interest peaked when I tried the Paris Street Pinot Noir 2012 (via Laithwaites), and I subsequently got chatting to their wine buyer about it, such was my enthusiasm for this Romanian interpretation of an international variety.

When the opportunity arose recently to try a couple of Pinots (Noir and Grigio) from Romania, I naturally jumped at the chance.

Paparuda1

Just east of Timisoara in western Romania, the Cramele Recas winery has been producing wine continuously since the 15th century, but it’s in the years since 2010 that the modern story begins.  Completely uprooting and replanting all of the existing vines, further investment has come through the installation of a state of the art winery to really bring things up to date.

The brand name Paparuda comes from a Romanian rain ritual performed by a dancing girl wearing a grass skirt of knitted vines.  In the springtime, or in times of drought, she will be accompanied through the town by the locals, singing and shouting their intent of securing fertility for the season ahead.  Interesting stuff, even if it does sound like something from The Wicker Man!

With one eye on this tradition and heritage, the wine-making team from Australia and Spain have come together with the intention of creating modern, fruit-driven wines.

Paparuda2

Paparuda Pinot Noir Estate Selection 2015, Romania, 12.5%, ~£6.00

In the glass this is a vibrant youthful purple in colour.  The nose is full of violet fragrance which marries in to the core fruit elements of rich and ripe red berry and cherry.  There’s also a rustic earthy wildness about this nose which pulls the darker notes of black/blue fruit (plum) and the tertiary characters of tobacco and just a whiff of smoke/diesel.  No doubt this is due to a portion of the Pinot grapes undergoing carbonic maceration to keep things fruity, with the rest of the grapes getting exposure to oak.

The body of this wine is light to medium as you would expect from a Pinot Noir, and there is just a touch of detectable grippy, grainy tannin in the mix. The red fruit berry compote palate is fresh and inviting, as is the acidity which runs throughout, pulling together the fruitiness and the pepper spices in to a juicy whole.

For me, the herbaceous smoky tones of this wine meant that the mid-palate was just a touch drying, but it was this sense memory that had me recalling the Pinot I had tried years before.  Digging out my original tasting note I had noted that I hadn’t tried it with food and that it was a style deserving of a match.  As such, I tried the wine with some ribs in a BBQ sauce which did the trick just nicely, adding a touch of weight to the mouthfeel, accentuating the ripe fresh fruits and giving the acidity something to work against.

Incredibly well made for the price, this is a Pinot Noir that has all of the lightness of body and flavour profile that you would expect of the grape, with enough distinction to give it a sense of origin.

Paparuda3

Paparuda Estate Selection Pinot Grigio, Romania, 12%, ~£6.00

To ensure freshness, grapes are harvested early in the morning at cooler temperatures and are then fermented in stainless steel tanks away from any wood or barrel taint.

In colour this is a medium yellow with golden tints.  The nose is intense and delicious with literally tons going on.  Amongst the things I can detect are lime, green apple flesh and cream, grapefruit, honey and the tropical fruits of pineapple and peach.

The palate is nicely rich and weighty with a mouth-filling gloopy quality.  Packed full of fresh juicy fruit which balances well with the medium acidity, there is both lemon and lime citrus and the green fruits of apple flesh and pear.  On the end palate you also gain the lighter fragrant flavours of peach and grapefruit, and these stay with you a good while after putting your glass down.

This is a really good example of a generous fruit driven, well composed and refreshing wine that is both great for the price, and also good for the reputation of what is achievable in Romania, a country which many wine lovers have yet to discover.

Exceptionally easy to drink on its own, it will also compliment a number of lighter food dishes and is ripe for (what’s left of) the summer.

With thanks to Clementine Communications and Cramele Recas for the bottles used in this tasting.

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