Donald Trump UK State Visit (June 19)

Whether you’re a fan or not, the recent state visit from US president Donald Trump was a talking point for many reasons, not least the hospitality he enjoyed throughout his stay.  Chief of these was the state banquet thrown in his honour by the Queen. 

Being 6 months in preparation it took palace staff 4 days just to lay the table!  By the end of the night over 1,020 glasses of wine had been served to 170 VIP’s (a thirst-slaking 6 glasses per guest on average).  Joining Donald and his wife Melania were the Queen, 15 other members of the royal family, Theresa May and numerous others with cultural, diplomatic or economic ties to the US.

The wine list for events such as this need to be fully considered lest they make a political faux pas by snubbing the efforts of the visiting nation.  Safe in the knowledge that Trump wouldn’t be partaking of any vinous delights (he’s famously teetotal) they were able to quite rightly focus on the talents of our own homegrown producers alongside some classic French examples. 

Proceedings began with a speech by the Queen using the 2014 vintage of her own sparkling wine Windsor Great Park to toast the President and “the continued friendship between our two nations” as well as “the health, prosperity and happiness of the people of the United States”.

A starter of steamed halibut with watercress mousse and asparagus spears in a chervil sauce kicked off the 3-course menu.  Just like the meticulous planning of the event all courses were served with military precision over exactly 1 hour and 15 minutes.

A notoriously brisk eater, guests are also forbidden to continue eating after the Queen has finished, so in no time at all it was straight on to the main; saddle of new season Windsor lamb with herb stuffing, spring vegetables and a Port sauce.  Both courses were paired with either a white wine from Burgundy (Loius Jadot’s Domaine Duc de Magenta 1er Cru Morgeot Chassagne-Montrachet 2014) or a red from Bordeaux (Château Lafite Rothschild 1990).

Out of interest, if you fancy recreating the menu at home the Burgundy will set you back about £75 a bottle.  The Bordeaux on the other hand will cost you about £1,400 – somewhere equivalent to the average UK monthly wage.  I think I’ll stick to the red thanks, waiter!

For dessert, a strawberry sable with lemon verbena cream was served up alongside another English sparkler, Hambledon Classic Cuvée Rosé.  It was then on to the Churchill’s 1985 Vintage Port to round off the night.

As the guests left, presumably lightly giddy from the circumstance, the food and more likely the 6 glasses of wine, spare a thought for the servers.  Even now they’re probably still hand-cleaning the more than 8,000 pieces of cutlery and crockery used on the night, before they safely tuck them away one-by-one until the next time.

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Wine Down The Sink (Hole)

It’s always a sad day when you have to tip some wine down the sink.  Whether it’s because the wine has become tainted, isn’t to your taste, or has been left open for too long, you inevitably arrive at the same on-the-spot decision: “Could I feasibly use this in some sort of cooking”.  Pouring wine away feels such a waste.

One can only imagine then how famed Champagne producer Pol Roger felt back in February 1900.  The bumper harvest of 1899, the first of decent size and quality in over 5 years, was safe in their underground cellars.  A new century was dawning, and hope was high despite the prolonged period of heavy winter rains. 

But as the soils became more and more waterlogged, two cellar floors (and several adjoining buildings) collapsed into each other burying an estimated 500 casks and 1.5million bottles.  That’s a lot of wine down the drain.

 A rescue operation was prepared but, when poor weather continued and a neighbouring cellar also caved in, plans were abandoned as being too risky.  Having to make the best of the losses and soldier on Pol Roger built new and improved cellars, going from strength to strength across the century and are still remembered as being the go-to Champagne of ex-British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

The landslide could have become a mere footnote of Pol Roger’s history; indeed, much darker times were ahead with the destruction and looting stemming from two world wars but, like in the movies, some things don’t like to stay buried forever.

In 2018, the Pol Roger family were looking to build a new packing facility on the ground above the old cellars.  Construction began, moving away layers of earth with the sort of heavy machinery that is standard practice today, but unthinkable in 1900.

The diggers came across a small cavity beneath the surface which was then widened to allow access.  As well as much broken glass they were astonished to find a still intact bottle, then 6 more, and then a further 19 bottles. 

Incredibly the corks were still in place and the amount of wine in each of the 26 bottles was as packaged.  This meant that the liquid hadn’t been evaporating and the bottles remained airtight.  There was every chance that they were still drinkable!

The family were now very excited to push on, but in a cruel mirroring of the original rescue plan, two months of heavy rain once again saturated the soils and made further rescue attempts impossible.

Not being defeated though, Pol Roger have now announced that they will be continuing the rescue operation with a remotely controlled robot guided through small discovery tunnels to see what’s left to discover.  A far cry from the shovels originally used to try and dig the wine out.

How incredible would it be for them to raise a commercially viable number of bottles so that everyone could taste a 120-year-old Champagne?

Climate Change – A Silver Lining?

Climate change is a subject that’s been high on the public agenda over the last few months, especially if you’ve been trying to navigate around London during the protests.

According to NASA we’ve seen 17 of the warmest 18 years on record since 2001.  Following the unseasonably warm weather in April and May I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t happy at the prospect of a long hot summer, but in all seriousness, things are really heating up.

Alongside industries such as energy, fishing and even skiing, the production of agricultural crops, including the grapes destined to be turned in to wine, is poised to change dramatically, potentially to the point where we need to re-write the book.

Vines thrive the world-over where the climate meets their individual varietal characteristics.  A good example of the scale of change can be found in the revered French wine region of Burgundy. 

At a northerly latitude once deemed to be at the top end for successful grape production, the cool inland climate allows the thin-skinned Pinot Noir grape to perfectly ripen throughout the long warm summers without being scorched.  Even though the French don’t tend to varietally label their wines, it’s well known that the Pinot Noir grape is the heart and soul of the world-famous Burgundy.

What though if the climate gets too hot for this delicate grape?  Suddenly the entire profile of the wine would change as the vines were pulled up.  Hardier grapes from the warmer south of France would potentially need to be moved northwards as the temperature rises.  Could we be seeing Burgundy made from the spicier Grenache or Syrah varieties in the future?  It seems unbelievable, but that’s what some experts have said may happen in as little as 20 years time.

Alongside the warmer temperatures we are also seeing more and more evidence of volatile weather conditions hitting the vineyards.  The US has suffered devastating wildfires, sudden hailstorms have decimated the years-worth of work in minutes across France, Germany and Italy, whilst South Africa and Australia have suffered from severe droughts.

As something of a silver lining to the doom and gloom, we’re now seeing new wine regions appear in the land where it was once too cold to successfully produce well-ripened grapes.  The most obvious of these is our own home-grown wine industry which, thanks to rising temperatures, has turned from little more than a hobbyist activity to a serious world contender in roughly 25 years.

English wines have been served to royalty and heads of state, have taken off in the US, and go from strength to strength in wine competitions year after year.  If our world leaders continue to stall on addressing and tackling the seriousness of climate change, given that we now successfully compete with the quality of the Champagne region some 250 miles south of London, how long will it be before the south of England becomes the new Burgundy?

This article was originally published in the June 2019 edition of The Ocelot. For more of my articles, please click here.

The UK’s smallest commercial vineyard?

English sparkling wine is on the up – there’s no doubt about that. It’s been served at many prestigious events, ranging from the Oscars to the marriage of Kate and Wills.

Laying claim as one of the smallest vineyards in the UK, certainly one of the smallest commercial vineyards, was that of Laithwaites; the UK mail order wine empire founded by Tony Laithwaite. This year the company celebrates 50 years of bringing quality wines to you, direct from the cellar door.

Being a Windsor native Tony was keen to keep his local roots, but when the business had outgrown their humble railway arch premises, he was looking for suitable land to grow the business.

In a south facing site located just off the M4 in the Berkshire town of Theale, he found enough space for the office and, in the barren land in the back where the builders were storing their machinery and redundant materials, the space to plant a vineyard.

Tony in the Vines

In 1998, under the supervision of Champagne doyen Thierry Lesne, 704 Chardonnay vines were planted over a mere 0.14 of a hectare. In addition to being a commercial venture and marketing tool for customers, the vines doubled as both a staff labour of love (each vine was tagged with one of their names) and for training exercises. The first vintage was the 2002.

Trains Opposite

Situated directly across from road from Theale train station, the shelter and heat of the surrounding estate buildings were enablers to coaxing out the full maturity of the grapes. Even with the most meticulous of hand harvesting, grape picking took just a couple of hours.

With no vinification facilities on site Tony consulted his address book, roping in the late Mike Roberts of English Sparkling legends Ridgeview to produce the final cuvée. With the 2003 giving 756 bottles, the bumper crop of 2004 giving 1,274 and the much smaller 2011 giving 600 bottles, the average yearly yield for the site was around just 750 bottles per year.

When Laithwaites decided to relocate their HQ a few years later the landlord requested that the vineyard be removed at the same time, and 2015 saw the last grape harvest from the Theale site.

It was impossible though to consider that the vines should simply be ripped up. Uprooting any well-established plant is usually folly, but doing it 704 times would be unthinkable. Wouldn’t it?

Using industrial machinery, the removal of the vines commenced in March 2016 and, against the odds, they were successfully transported over 100 miles away to Devon where they now thrive once again.

Safe in Devon

Sadly, and such is the nature of progress, the Theale vineyard land is now the flat, grey and uninspiring dispatch area for online giant Amazon.

Now v2

The recently released, but increasingly rare 2012 is now available. The next couple of years will see the arrival of the ‘13, ’14 and ‘15. The last vintages from a vineyard that no longer exists. Rare wine indeed.

2012 Vintage

Tony Laithwaite’s book ‘Direct’, detailing the history behind the rise of his current empire, is now available via various book retailers including Amazon.

 

 

Will Orange Wine ever hit the mainstream?

Orange may be the new black in the criminal fraternity, but in the wine world, orange is the new red, white or rosé.

Orange Wine

Although based on an ancient style of wine-making, orange wine (also known as amber wine) is a style that has re-emerged over the last few years and, although still something of a rarity, the trend continues to bubble just below the surface waiting to hit the mainstream.  Despite renowned wine authority Hugh Johnson once describing it as “a sideshow, a waste of time”, such is the building of the movement, the latter part of 2018 saw the publication of a book (‘Amber Revolution’ by Simon J. Woolf) completely devoted to the style.

Unlike red and white wine, where neither are actually coloured red or white, orange wine is specifically named because of its colouring.  It doesn’t, as some may fear, actually taste of oranges.  The making of orange wine is something of a hybrid, taking the red wine process of allowing the pressed grape juice to spend time with the dark grape skins absorbing the colour, and applying that to the white wine grapes, which would usually be separated in order that the juice remains clear.

The resulting wine retains the florality and freshness of a white wine, but with the body, structure and style of a red.  The skin contact, which can last for a few days all the way up to over a year, allows the resulting wine to develop further, picking up tannins along the way.  The longer the wine stays in touch with the grape skins, the more complex and intense it becomes.

The merging of the red and white production methods also brings together aspects of each wine in to the taste, resulting in a versatile style that straddles both.  As such, white wine fans who like a nuttier and honeyed style will enjoy it, and red wine fans who enjoy the lighter more floral style will also be rewarded.

Orange wines are also good news for those that like to match their food to their wines.  Wine expert Amelia Singer (The Wine Show) praises the versatility and suggests pairing them with dishes from India, Morocco, Ethiopia and Persia.  The acidity and nuttiness are also good matches to a well-stocked cheese board, as well as the light tannins lending themselves to charcuterie plates.

Orange Wine 2

Although Marks & Spencer have long been advocates and include an orange wine within their range, getting your hands on a bottle is still a little tricky outside of specific wine merchants.  The fact that they pair well with diverse foods is potentially a bonus as it may lead to more restaurants adding them to their lists. 

As more and more people seek them out and the passion continues to grow, this is when the supermarkets will want to get involved.  So keep an eye out, especially as summer draws in and people go searching for a medium-style alternative to rosé.

This article was originally published in the April 2019 edition of The Ocelot. For more of my articles, please click here.

Holy Smoke – Cannabis Wine is Coming!

Two words: Cannabis Wine.  It might sound like something invented by Willa Wonka, and yet, it is a real thing.  It’s coming.

Cannabis Leaf

In fact it’s been around for several years but, due to the differing possession laws from country to country, it’s been very hard and very costly to get your hands on a bottle.  The tail end of last year saw Canada follow the likes of Spain, Uruguay and various US States by legalizing the recreational use of Cannabis and, with another large world market opening up, the potential for infused drinks has moved a sizeable step forward. 

With many other countries allowing Cannabis possession for personal use, experts believe that it’s only a matter of time before more and more change their stance and get onboard with full legalisation.

Whilst Cannabis wine isn’t likely to replace the aesthetic pleasure of reaching, for example, for a Chilean Cabernet, low/no alcohol alternatives are very much in fashion, and there is already evidence that the latest generation of drinkers are shunning alcohol, such is the rising concern about what we put in to our bodies. 

Many wine drinkers would surely love to be able to get the same relaxed pleasure of taking a glass without the risk of a hangover, at a fraction of the calories and without ingesting alcohol.  And Cannabis users would surely love not to be risking their lungs each time they smoke it?

Cannabis Wine

So how does it work?  Avoiding any serious mind-altering implications, only the non-psychoactive stress-busting compounds of the Cannabis plant, such as CBD, are used.  The natural flavour profile of the leaf plays a dominant part to the taste and each producer will work to tease out the intricacies, in much the way standard wine is blended.

Whilst alcohol is a proven antiseptic and disinfectant, it has no health benefit to the body, but Cannabis has a long-proven track record of doing good, providing chronic pain relief, relieving stress disorders and treating epilepsy.  Being able to freely access a safe dosage, in a legal way, would be a benefit to users both existing and new.

That’s certainly what top drinks manufacturers are pinning their hopes on, and companies such as Diageo, AB InBev and Constellation (who collectively own top brands including Guinness, Johnnie Walker, Gordon’s, Bud and Stella) are already upping their investments in Cannabis growing companies.  One is actually selling off some of its established brand portfolio to fund the move.  With other possibilities on the table, such as infused sparkling water, even Coca-Cola are reported to be in talks.

Whilst our current legislation remains as-is, it may still be some time before we see bottles of Cannabis wine adorning the shelves of UK supermarkets, but the UK cannot afford to ignore the growing trend, especially one led by the Americas. 

If the predicted revenues touted by the Canadian government are anything to go by, in a post-Brexit world, we may actually not be able to afford to miss it.

This article was originally published in the March 2019 edition of The Ocelot. For more of my articles, please click here.

Drinking To The Limit

So that was January, a month of mixed feelings for wine lovers. Do you carry on as normal, observe ‘dry January’ to put right any festive indulgences, or maybe even just use it as a yearly detox?

Official Doctor evidence is still wonderfully confusing, with conflicting studies offering either extreme views or fence-sitting conclusions. Will sudden abstinence do more long-term damage than the short-term benefits? It seems, no one knows.

‘Dry’ campaigners will argue that if you need to take a monthly break from alcohol you’re probably drinking too much anyway. Sobering stuff! Whether you chose to ignore it or observe it, I hope you made it through OK.

Speed Limit

Most calendar months now have appropriations such as ‘Stoptober’ or ‘Movember’. There’s even ‘Veganuary’! February doesn’t seem to pair with any such affiliations: you’re simply back to getting on with your life. It’s perhaps a nice time then to reflect on an alternative viewpoint to the annual October to January ‘should-we-shouldn’t-we’.

My driving instructor once told me that road signs displayed the speed limits, not the targets. Recent research suggests that, when it comes to drinking, people not only need to observe the healthy drinking targets, they also need to exceed them! All for the sake of the Government and the good of the country.

To be clear, I’m not in any way suggesting that anyone should drink to excess, but there is a clear confliction of interests. The Chief Medical Officer (representing the Government) might suggest one upper limit intake figure will keep us healthy and living to a ripe old age, but the Government at large are particularly reliant on keeping the taxes pouring in.

Pennies

The study showed that if drinkers stuck to the current weekly alcohol consumption guidelines (14 units for both men and women), overall alcohol sales would fall by £13 billion per year, a revenue decline of 38%*. That’s a massive shortfall in the expected tax generation and their wider overall financial calculations. To clarify, the Government balance sheet currently factors in people vastly surpassing their own suggested health guidelines.

Furthermore, the late 2018 October budget saw duty frozen for beers and spirits, but not for wine, which saw a 7p per bottle increase (9p for sparkling). This signals that, whilst appeasing the concerns of beer enthusiasts who make up the core drinkers of our sadly diminishing pubs (go CAMRA!), it isn’t a tax holiday on general alcohol drinking, it’s a tax grab on the increasing number of home/wine-drinking austerity minded folk.

Figures for the financial year 13/14 (the latest available) show that 81%* of off-trade revenue (i.e. sales outside of pubs/clubs/restaurants) can be attributed to people drinking outside of the recommended limits. Can we expect producers and suppliers to swallow the additional tax hikes? Unlikely. We’ll simply end up paying more per bottle.

Do the Government actually want us to cut down our consumption levels to improve our health, or continue drinking to generate the taxes? It’s a ponderous question.

* Blenheimcdp

This article was originally published in the February 2019 edition of The Ocelot. For more of my articles, please click here.

Château Cardinal-Villemaurine vertical 1966-1975

Great bottles of wine seem to find their way out on to the market over the festive season, but this year I have been truly spoilt for choice.  UK wine merchant Laithwaites has offered up not just one, but three, magical vintages from the 20th Century.

The modern-era of winemaking is well written as starting with the 1982 vintage.  Prior to that the last three truly great years had been the 1975, 1970 and the 1966.  Imagine my surprise when all three of these Bordeaux vintages became available, and at very respectable prices too.

villemaurine logo

The well positioned sloping limestone vineyards of St. Emilion Grand Cru estate Château Cardinal-Villemaurine were, until recently, owned by the Carrille family.  The familiar story of complex French inheritance laws finally necessitated a sale.

Needless to say, buyers were extremely forthcoming, and the land was eventually sold to top drawer Premier Grand Cru Classé house Château Angélus, who clearly saw the quality.  The actual buildings and stock, however, stayed with the Carille family.  Jean-Marc Sauboua, a Bordeaux native and winemaker/buyer for Laithwaites was first on the scene, and given the keys to their vaults, tasting wines back to the sterling 1947 vintage.

Picking out the most-lauded pre-1982 vintages, from a time when vineyards were tilled via horse drawn ploughs, and grapes were fully hand harvested, this is an extremely rare trilogy of Bordeaux wines to come to market.

Gravity fed cellars avoided the stress of pumping over and, post two years on oak, the maturing bottles were kept at a constant cool temperature.

villemaurine 1966

villemaurine stains

From the above images we can see that the bottles have certainly been re-labelled, but existing dirt on the bottles, which carries on under the new labels, show that the physical bottles are original.  The corks are fully branded but it is unclear as to whether they have been re-corked prior to re-release.

villemaurine corks

Each of the following three wines are Merlot based blends which, if following the pattern of the vineyard plantings, would be potentially 75% Merlot, 25% Cabernet France and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon.  The average age of their vines was 30 years old, spread over 12 hectares.

Château Cardinal-Villemaurine 1966, Merlot Blend, St Emilion, France, 12.5%, £50

Garnet in colour, with a thick sediment on decant, the nose was pungent and vegetal with stewed prune and figs.  Dark cherry and berry fruits fleshed over time in the decanter, but the overall sensation was rustic.

On the palate was faded black cherry, raisin, bitter chocolate and a touch of liquorice. Pepper spice, spent wood and a tea-like brew (following time in decanter) met with the still fresh acidity which kept everything lively and accessible.

The mid-palate carried well through to the acid and spicy and savoury characters, and the finish was respectable, carried by the acid and the dying embers of the black fruits.

Clearly a touch past its best, the sheer academic quality of drinking a good condition 1966 Bordeaux meant this was utterly worth the bottle price, and a good reminder of what mellow, but rich, wine tastes like at a modest 12.5% alcohol.

The tasting guide says drink to the end of 2022, but this feels like one to drink-up fairly soonish to me.

villemaurine 70 label

Château Cardinal-Villemaurine 1970, Merlot Blend, St Emilion, France, 12.5%, £40

Raspberry red in colour with garnet tints, this gave a finer sediment than the 1966.  Buyer Jean-marc was quoted as saying “I had to buy you this 1970. Delicate maturity”.

The nose was prominent, incredibly clear and well defined, even after 48 years.  With silky tones of mature (dried) red and black cherry, rich tinned raspberry, a perfumed floral vanilla nose and hints of raisin, this felt incredibly layered and complex.

The palate had a good medium weight with a touch of stew-like quality, but extremely well rounded from the off without the need for time in the decanter.  Black cherry, redcurrant and cake spice dominate and, despite its age, the fruit felt very much alive as well as mature.

Backed up with a still-lively mouth-watering acidity, the finish was in the realms of 2 minutes long and full of the depth of the palate.  Simply divine.

Laithwaites currently have magnums available for this vintage.  I would say that this is a must purchase.  The tasting guide says to drink to the end of 2022 but this one feels like it could go a little further, such was the was the immediacy, the freshness and the vibrancy.

villemaurine 75 label

Château Cardinal-Villemaurine 1975, Merlot Blend, St Emilion, France, 12.5%, £35

After a succession of dull vintages, 1975 was welcomed with open arms.  Medium ruby in colour with garnet tints, the sediment was once again fairly fine.

The nose was very clear and pronounced like the 1970, but in this case the character was overly herbaceous as opposed to fresh, with figs and prunes and a prominent mushroom tone.

The palate held a good weight, and a fresh high acid balanced against the faded blackcurrant, redcurrant and cherry.  The overall composition, whilst pleasant, seemed to drop off in the mid-palate.

The fairly short finish was saved somewhat by the acidity, but the overall savoury and herbaceous character of the wine wasn’t something that excited my palate, alive though it may be.

The notes say to drink to the end of 2025 and, for this one, it would be interesting to see which way it goes – it could do either.

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Aldi Wine Club 19th Panel round-up

I last wrote about the Aldi Wine Club (AWC) back in May, not because I was part of their latest panel, but more to address the fact that it had been a good 6 months since the previous panel had taken place.

Since that time the regular panels have returned, and I welcomed sight of the 18th iteration. The disappearance had all the hallmarks of the now-defunct Tesco Wine Club, and the natural need for supermarkets to keep tight purse strings on all non-essential spend. In a clear nod to this austerity, the number of AWC bottles to be received each month has been reduced from 2 to 1.

All fair enough I guess but, since the Aldi range has changed significantly over this period, I readily signed up to be a part of the 19th showing, which contained 3 previously untried wines all at superb price-points.

19th aldi 1

This Italian Sangiovese Loves…., Sangiovese (100%), Sicily, Italy, 12.5%, £4.99

First off of the blocks was the curiously and purposely titled ‘This Sangiovese Loves….’

Italian wine is well known to match Italian food, so the food mix (also extending to other Italian stalwarts such as pasta, meatballs and sausage) is no great surprise. I regularly heap praise on Aldi wine labelling – I think they’re clever, interesting and, above all, show attention to detail, but in this case, things seem to dumb down just a touch.

The grape ‘Sangiovese’ might put a potential purchaser off, as might the fact that they shouldn’t drink the wine tonight if they’re not tucking in to an Italian dish (it will go well on its own or with others). Of course, many non-wine aficionados could use the label as an ‘expert’ guide through to tasting perfection, so it may well be six of one, half a dozen of the other.

The above said about the quite literal descriptive title, the bright orange capsule and neck brace offset the dark wine superbly and is a real shelf eye-catcher, and it’s nice to see a wine at the modest level of 12.5% alcohol.

A nose of silky vibrant red cherry, a touch of menthol, and dollops of vanilla created a full and lovely expression. The modest alcohol gave a palate that was lighter than expected for the colour, with fresh black cherry and liquorice. The mouth-wateringly high acid (characteristic Italian for a food match) was evident throughout.

With a light-tannin and tea infused finish, the fruits dipped away to a disappointing end, I’d disagree with the label that this was close to a full-bodied wine. It has certainly got well-defined and forward flavours but that isn’t quite the same thing. The wine in general is much more accessible.

19th aldi 2

Organic Prosecco, Treviso, Italy, 11.5%, £7.99

We’re back to the classic-looking Aldi range now and one fantastic looking squat bottle, extremely reminiscent of Ruinart Champagne. I’d pick it up on visual alone.

Highlighting the Organic heritage, the Aldi notes tell us that the grapes were sourced from the Corvezzo family’s 150-hectare estate, 30km north-east of Venice. Grown with no pesticides or herbicides used in the vineyard, the grapes are predominately handpicked and gently pressed to ensure only the highest quality of juice is used. The winery is committed to using renewable energy wherever possible. Already a great reason to pick up the bottle and to feel good when drinking it.

All applaudable, but did it translate to the palate? With a very fine bead, there was ripe green apple and pear, fleshy in the main but with detectable pips. Added to this was a light lemon mousse and a touch of honeycomb and cream creating a quaffable, frothy, weightless, but layered, depth. The crisp citric finish lasted longer than a minute, giving off a drying touch of white grapefruit. Although Extra Dry, there was a touch of sweetness coming from the lower than usual alcohol level.

19th aldi 3

Freeman’s Bay, Winemakers Reserve Pinot Gris 2018, Gisborne, New Zealand, 13%, £5.79

The third panel slot was originally slated to be this £6.99 Gavi di Gavi but, for whatever reason, this Pinot Gris was subbed in.

With a wonderfully fragrant nose, detectable from a few paces away, this was full and dense, conveying a veritable fruit salad of honeyed citrus, yellow tropical pineapple and melon, orange tinged satsuma, and fleshy green pear and grapefruit.

A rich and oily texture combined extremely ripe, pure fruits, almost to a concentrate level. A medium mouth-watering fresh acidity led through to a tangy satsuma and white pepper spice on the finish. In a word (or three) – lush and moreish, and a definite buy from me.

With thanks to Aldi for sending through the bottles used in this review.

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Kelman Wines @ Friarwood

Many times I’ve lamented that my current tastings calendar doesn’t really fully explore the wines of either Portugal or Germany. So when my friends at London fine wine merchant Friarwood partnered up with Portuguese artisan winery Kelman, I jumped at the chance to give their wines a try.

DSC_0498 (2)

Hailing from the Dão in the northern part of the country, and one of the oldest demarcated wine-regions in the world, the year 2000 saw Kelman planting 6 hectares of traditional Portuguese grape varieties to fully explore the country’s winemaking roots. They produced their first wines in 2013.

Surrounded by mountains, their vineyards benefit from diurnal temperature fluctuations, key for producing elegant wines with long ageing potential. Fruit is manually hand-harvested and entirely foot-trodden in traditional granite lagares dating back to 1741. In the winery they practice non-interventionalist winemaking methods.

Commenting on the partnership, Auriane d’Aramon, head wine buyer for Friarwood said: “We were looking for a small independent Portuguese winery, producing classic yet unique, quality wines. We were absolutely thrilled when we discovered Kelman producing some carefully crafted, limited small batch wines from Dão. Made with unique grape varietals that are classic to the region, their entire range is very consistent and elegant”.

When the wines arrived I was immediately taken with them. There’s a handful of things on a bottle that say ‘buy me and try me’, and the Kelman range ticks several boxes.

1. A well-designed label – the front label is actually split in to 3 sections which, when aligned next to the back label, form the scripted K of Kelman. It’s not printed, it’s the glass showing through the labels. Very clever.

2. Indigenous grape varieties – I’m always keen to try something new and interesting, in this case, the Alfrocheiro grape.

3. Numbered bottles – All wine is of course, limited edition, but there’s something special about knowing you are trying X% or bottle number X of the overall production volume.

Everything’s looking good – on to the tasting.

Kelman Encruzado

Kelman Family Vineyard, Encruzado (100%), Dáo DOC, Portugal, 2017, 13.5%, £17

This was presented in a Burgundy shaped bottle; number 2,490 of the 3,750 produced.

Lemon gold in colour, this wine needed a little coaxing on the nose to get the best out of it. The tasting note (which I read after conducting the tasting) said chill well, but I actually got more out of both the nose and palate when it had warmed through a little. I was then able to get the light tropics of pineapple and yellow melon, along with a dash of lime and a touch of honey. An underlying richness was peppered with warm cakey spices.

The medium bodied palate was both vibrant and inviting; soft, yet strong, with an oily and rich textured creaminess from 5 months batonnage. Peach and satsuma and a hint of grapefruit added to the citrus and melon, the low acidity gave way to a clear saline after-taste, which carried for several minutes and defined the palate.

This saltiness, whilst not to my palate preference for on-its-own drinking, suggested a food match, and it paired wonderfully with some Gorgonzola, with really brought out the depth and well-crafted layers.

Kelman Tinto Reserva

Kelman Family Vineyard, Tinto Reserva (blend), Dáo DOC, Portugal, 2016, 14%, £19.90

Presented in a broader, heavier Burgundian style bottle, this was numbered 331 out of the 4,230 bottles produced, and comprised a blend of 60% Touriga Nacional, 25% Tinta Roriz, and 15% Alfrocheiro. The Touriga Nacional was aged 12 months in new French oak.

A vibrant deep ruby in colour, this had an immediately accessible floral rich nose of vanilla, violets and silk. The fruit was equally intense, full of black cherry and touches of prune, a touch of milk chocolate, and winter cake spices. For a wine that is only 2 years old, this was full of complex character yet managed to retain a feeling of light effortlessness.

The palate gave up a broth-like, stew-intense complexity; incredibly rich and body warming. I noted figs and cinnamon, bitter chocolate, coffee beans, light plum and redcurrant to finish. Medium weight but fully packed, this carried a light grainy tannin, a nice fresh medium acidity and held a long finish characterised by the coffee/tertiary notes.

To me it had all the class of an aged Claret but with the body and building power of a new-world young-gun. Simply superb and well worth seeking out.

You can buy the Kelman range exclusively through the Friarwood website.

With thanks to Friarwood for supplying the bottles used in this tasting.

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