Aldi Wine Club 16th Tasting Panel – Note #4

I must admit that, when I first got a view of the 2nd wave of wines selected for the 16th  panel of the Aldi Wine Club, I did think there was a chance that things could hit a mid-panel lull.  My initial belief that I had tasted both of the wines already was, as per my last post, initially wrong and, as it turned out, 100% wrong.

With this Pinot Noir we’re once again tasting from the Aldi flagship Exquisite Collection and just like the Chardonnay, the screw cap, neck brace and label all have clear signs of being well thought through, even down to the sloping cut at the top of the front label which is a really stylish and subtle touch.

The only minus points go once again for the obligatory signature from winemaker Jon McNab giving his bottle/blend approval.  Why wouldn’t he approve it?

The last time I tasted (what I believed to be) this Pinot Noir was as part of the 13th panel back in April 2017, in a cheese and wine pairing.  As it transpired, the original Pinot was from the Sauvignon Blanc stronghold of Marlborough which, although at a very similar latitude, is from the northern part of New Zealand’s south island as opposed to the southern part of the north island, which is where this wine hails from.

Both locations are far enough away from the equator to have the cool climate and temperatures needed to ripen the thin-skinned and fussy Pinot Noir variety, and a quick look at the Aldi website shows that the Marlborough based wine is no longer available.  Perhaps this Wairarapa version is a new substitution for the range?  I did pitch the question to Aldi but, as yet, haven’t received an answer.

As per website reviews, other Aldi customers have also been confused as to the origin of their wine, and it doesn’t help that both wines are packaged virtually identically.

Aldi Wairarapa Pinot 1

Exquisite Collection Pinot Noir 2016, Wairarapa, New Zealand, 13%, £6.99

In colour this was a plummy cherry purple with a lighter red rim hinting at the youthful and thin skinned fruit.

The nose was very expressive and full of herbaceous woody notes with just a sprinkling of floral vanilla and a whiff of smoke.  Also detectable was a touch of diesel, and very precise red cherry fruits, dense, dark and ripe.

On the palate there was the lightest of grainy tannin a well as the sweet ripened fruit of both black and red cherry, cranberry, and plum.  The overall sensation was of a complex berried compote and, to me, a really wonderful and interesting blend.

The acidity, refreshing but not mouth-watering, helped to round out the palate and take the edge off the fruit as opposed to being a dominant character.  The overall palate was direct and forceful, but balanced in a way that one element didn’t interfere with another.

Aldi Wairarapa Pinot 2

The bottle label is absolutely spot on when it talks of an ‘enduring finish’ which is in the multiple minutes.  For me the end palate evolved over time and kept gradually winding through different layers, as opposed to many wines which offer up a direct hit of fruit and then dissipate fairly quickly.

The on-going smoky dusky dark fruit absolutely nailed it and, when given the chance, developed further in to notes that touched upon bitter chocolate and mocha, almost made to be paired with food.  I had this wine with sticky honey BBQ ribs where the darker aspects paired with the meat and the fruitier aspects gelled with the sweeter sauce.

Still only £6.99, which is the same price as the Marlborough Pinot tasted 6 months ago, this is a firm favourite with Aldi customers, currently scoring 4 out of 5 stars on the Aldi Website.

My thanks go to AldiUK for supplying the bottle used in this tasting.

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Aldi Wine Club 16th Tasting Panel – Note #3

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Having proudly been part of several of Aldi’s previous tasting panels it was inevitable that at some point I would come across a wine previously tasted.  The last tasting note was prepared a full year and a half ago in April 2016 and so we’re a couple of vintages further forward and any assessment is far from a regurgitation of my earlier thoughts.

The Limestone Coast in the south eastern part of South Australia is clearly named after its Limestone base, which is exactly the right ground on which to grow Chardonnay.  The free draining soil allows the vines easy access to water whilst not allowing them to become water-logged or damp, therefore keeping a low PH level and a fresh vibrant acidity.  It is the same combination that gives us both the world famous wines of Burgundy and Champagne.

The magic is clearly working here too as both Decanter and the IWSC have bestowed awards upon the wine’s 2014 vintage.  With the ‘Exquisite Collection’ a flagship in the Aldi wine range, the bottle comes smartly presented with a royal blue neck brace and screw cap, nicely off-setting the green glass colouring.

Aldi Chard 1

The label is printed on nicely textured paper and is clear and well-presented, although it does contain my pet-peeve; the signature ‘approval’ from ‘someone somewhere’, in this case chief winemaker Adam Eggins.

The wine was bottled in South Australia by well-respected family run winery Taylors, and imported in to the UK by a subsidiary of Burgundian wine royalty, Louis Latour.

Exquisite Collection Chardonnay 2016, Limestone Coast, South Australia, 13.5%, £5.79

The backlash days of ABC (anything but Chardonnay!) are long gone but, as if still weary of the burden, the first word that the back label summary says is ‘unoaked’ and it did get me wondering if makers of Aussie Chardonnay still feel the need to distance their product from the cheaper, mass-produced offerings of the past.

Aldi Chard 2

In colour this is a pleasing medium yellow with golden tints, but the real fun starts with the nose which is rich and full with an almost gloopy quality.  Led by the clean, well ripened tropical pineapple, there’s a whiff of stony apricot to back it up.

As suggested by the nose, the palate is rich and full with an oily texture, well balanced by an upfront mouth-watering acidity.  The fresh fruit seesaws between the yellow notes of tropical pineapple and honeysuckle, over to pippy green apple and freshly squeezed lime.

In terms of weight the palate has a nice creamy, buttery, peppery spiciness and I can imagine it being a wonderful match for a similarly weighted dish such as pasta carbonara.  The pepper gives way to some white grapefruit on the end palate which adds a drying, bitter tone which frankly, overstays its welcome.

Not recalling any bitterness in the 2014 vintage I decided to check my notes and, sure enough, the end palate was fruit driven and long-lived, and was something I raved about in terms of quality.

A quick check on the vintage reports for both 2014 and 2016 for the region show that 2014 was the better of the two years with good sunshine fully ripening the fruit.  2016 would therefore naturally have fruit that wasn’t as bright as before and would contain trace elements of unripe characters such as apple pips and bitter grapefruit.  I also noted with interest that a fellow customer review on the Aldi website called it out for being drier and not as ‘outstanding’ as the previous vintage.

Followers of biodynamics believe that certain days are better than others for tasting a wine, and I did ponder whether the time of year may have something to do with the overall success of the tasting.  Tasting the 2014 on a bright and sunny day in early springtime yielded a wine that I fancifully described as reminiscent of ‘blue skies’ and yet this tasting left an impression as brooding as the dusky autumnal evening I conducted it on.

In summary, whilst not as immediately satisfying as the 2014, this is still a rich, ripe wine that will pay dividends when matching up to food.  Another thing definitely worth a highlight is that, in the time between the two tastings the UK has seen an increased level of wine duty as well as pricing fluctuations from the uncertainty of Brexit, yet there has been no price change for this wine.

That on its own is frankly remarkable.

A customer favourite scoring 4.6 out of 5 on the Aldi website, my thanks go to AldiUK for supplying the bottle used in this tasting.

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On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – Grape picking at the Queen’s private Vineyard

DSC_0007 (1)An autumn day blessed by gorgeous summer sun

Having children and living not too far from Windsor, a trip through Windsor Great Park on the way to Legoland is almost a certainty.

Early one Saturday in late September I was able to make an unusual turning off of my usual route and, by putting a special vineyard pass on to my car dashboard, pass through a set of unassuming white gates that, on any normal day, you could easily miss.

In rock-star terms what was actually happening was an ‘Access All Areas’ moment and the neon-jacketed walkie-talkie wielding guard waved me through to a private area within the parkland owned by the Queen, and on the periphery of her Windsor Castle residence.

DSC_0024 (1)Vines gently sloping down towards the water

Outside of Royal staff, access to the private area is very much by invitation only and, as a guest of Laithwaites, I was about to visit their hidden-away vineyard and pick the grapes of the 2017 harvest.

DSC_0012 (1)Helpful hints as to what grapes to pick and which to discard

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Leased from the Queen, Tony Laithwaite is now the man trusted to oversee the production of the Royal Sparkling wine and, with Tony being a Windsor native, it seems only right that he should do so.  The vineyard has been in existence since the 12th century, planted for Henry II during his marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine, but with the location so remote it was no surprise to hear that during recent times the production of wine had stalled.

In 2011 the Crown Estate and Royal Farms allowed Tony to re-plant the vineyard to revive an almost 1,000 year old tradition.

DSC_0019 (1)Vineyard roses, used as an early warning sign for disease

My day was spent working with their Chardonnay vines (they also produce the classic Champagne varieties of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier), picking the clean bunches and manually removing the compromised berries from bunches where rot or mildew had set in, so that only the best fruit remained.

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These were then collected up ready to be transported off to leading UK producer Ridgeview for processing as there are no on-site production facilities in Windsor.

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The first harvest of Great Windsor Park was the 2013, with the 4 hectare south facing plot yielding grapes to make just 3,000 bottles.  Released in 2016 with a good deal of hype surrounding both the resurgence of the vineyard as well as the Royal connection, all of the available bottles were snapped up straight away.

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The second vintage of the wine, the much anticipated 2014, is about to be released and on a break from the picking I was lucky enough to give it a try alongside Tony Laithwaite himself.  If the first release was characterised by crisp apple, peach stone fruit and a more delicate style, this second release has more body, weight and richer fruit tones, and feels like a real step forward.

DSC_0029Master of Wine and BBC’s Saturday Kitchen wine expert Peter Richards lends a hand

The grapes of the 2017 harvest will now undergo 3 years of ageing and finally hit the shelves (if the bottles don’t sell out straight away) in 2020.  I look forward to picking a bottle up as a fitting way to remember a great day.

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