McLaren Vale’s Great Grenache – Masterclass (Part 2)

In the follow up to my first article on the wines presented in the ’McLaren Vale’s Great Grenache’ masterclass, presented in tandem with the London Australia Day tasting event, below you will find my thoughts on the final 5 wines tasted.

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As a short reminder, the mission statement for the session was to highlight that “Grenache delivers what Pinot Noir promises” and, with the use of Burgundian techniques such as whole bunch pressing (and malolactic fermentation) to drive the softer fruits and the use of well-seasoned French oak, it is possible to craft well-structured/balanced wines as opposed to simply warm climate Grenache fruit-bombs.

Yangarra Estate ‘High Sands’ McLaren Vale Grenache 2013, 14.8% (£80)

One of the most northerly vineyards in McLaren Vale, this fine parcel of land is high altitude and low producing.  Being made from the prized older Grenache vines, the nose of the wine had an austere, almost fortified quality with perhaps a whiff of diesel.  The palate is equally rich, concentrated and spicy, with tight tannins and acidity.  Sarah pointed out how well structured the wine was instead of being a 15% fruit-bomb.

Nick Haselgrove Wines ‘The Old Faithful Northern Exposure’ McLaren Vale Grenache 2013, 14.5% (£30)

An award winning wine hailing from the north and situated at high altitude.  Coming from just 5 hectares (and not made every year) this is an extremely rare wine to come by (just 1,470 bottles) and therefore a pleasure to taste.  Aged in seasoned French oak for 40 months this was a voluptuous mix of red cherries and berries and all the spice and liquorice you would expect.

Caught Redhanded ‘Oscar Reserve’ McLaren Vale Grenache 2012, 15.2% (£?, not currently imported)

Although a typo in the show-guide had this listed as the 2016 its placement in the flight and the darkened colour of the wine gave it away as having a few years of age.  Destemmed berries are aged for 12 months in seasoned French and USA barriques, and a small amount of 2015 Sauvignon Blanc (3%) has been added to keep things vibrant.  The nose contained very fragrant cherry notes which carried on to the palate.  This wine has mellowed with time but still retains an inherent spicy note.

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Chapel Hill Winery ‘Bush Vine’ McLaren Vale Grenache 2010, 14.5% (£22.50)

Hailing from the 2010 vintage, which was the first year to see good rainfall after several years of drought, this wine exuded a wonderful rose perfume.  My notes listed this as a mellow wine in terms of both the settled tannins and the silky nature of the fruit.  Indeed it was so relaxed that at no point did you feel that you were tasting a wine packing nearly 15% alcohol.

As you would expect there were notable tertiary characteristics providing the intrigue of old vines.  This was probably the standout wine of the session for me.

d’Arenberg ‘The Beautiful View’ McLaren Vale Grenache 2010, 13.6% (£60)

I tasted a full flight of the d’Arenberg wines on their table in the main event but didn’t recall seeing this wine, which was part of their ‘Amazing sites’ programme.  I had a quick check in with Sarah after the masterclass and it transpired that this was a special pick and, for one reason or another, d’Arenberg had not released any vintage more recently than the 2011.

Located in the loamy clay soils in the north of McLaren Vale where the hills begin to ascend, the grapes for this wine (which are 1/3rd old bush vine) are trodden by foot part-way through the fermentation, which is completed in seasoned French oak.

Still retaining (an albeit slightly muted) perfume on the nose and clean blue plummy fruit there is clear development on the palate with leather and farmyard qualities discernible.  The tannins are still evident but finely grained and a vibrant acidity keeps this lively in the mouth whilst juxtaposing the complexity.

Overall the masterclass was a fantastic insight in to how Grenache performs in the complex geological make-up of McLaren Vale, and I got exactly what I needed from the wines on display.  You can read Sarah’s own write-up of the new breed of McLaren Vale Grenache’s and the driver for the masterclass here (complete with a small soundbite from yours truly!)

With thanks to Wine Australia for providing the ticket to this fascinating masterclass

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McLaren Vale’s Great Grenache – Masterclass (Part 1)

It’s always a great opportunity and pleasure to learn directly from the experts, getting their forensic insight as to the finer details of a wine.  As part of last weeks Australia Day tasting I attended the ‘McLaren Vale’s Great Grenache’ masterclass led by Australia and Portugal wine specialist Sarah Ahmed.

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Being more familiar with Grenache from a France/Spain perspective this was a good way for me to become more acquainted with it when produced in a warm climate (nearby Adelaide is the driest of Australia’s capital cities) and, knowing that Sarah would choose wines specifically to run the gamut of what McLaren Vale Grenache has to offer, I looked forward to being able to understand and appreciate how the various flavour components are driven specifically by terroir.

As something of a hangover from the old days of fortified wine, McLaren Vale has 1/3rd of Australia’s plantings of Grenache.  The geology of the region is incredibly diverse with something like 40 different soil/rock types but, in a nutshell, the sandier and lower lying south gives way to more complex and rockier soil in the north as the altitude ascends in to the inland mountain ranges.  It was likened to looking north as if “reaching for the spice rack”.

If there was any kind of mission statement for the session it was to highlight that “Grenache delivers what Pinot Noir promises” and, with the use of Burgundian techniques such as whole bunch pressing (and malolactic fermentation) to drive the softer fruits and the use of well-seasoned French oak, it is possible to craft well-structured/balanced wines as opposed to simply warm climate Grenache fruit-bombs.

The wines on show clearly proved that this was the case and there were some wonderfully fragrant, well-judged blends where you would be hard pressed to say that you were drinking 15% abv.  You can read much more about the scene setting and lead-up to the tasting here.

The flight of 8 wines ran from the most recent vintage backwards and presented many wines that were not available to try in the wider tasting event.  In this first part of two pieces on the masterclass I will go through my notes on the first 3 wines tasted, with the remaining 5 wines covered in the 2nd part.

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Wirra Wirra ‘The Absconder’ McLaren Vale Grenache 2015, 14.5% (£40)

From towards the southern central part of McLaren Vale with a blend of southern sand and the stone and schist soils of the north, this wine was also on show at the main event and I was keen to see if my notes differed when casting a more critical eye on it.  What came across more in the masterclass was the crunchiness of the fruit and the spice and leathery notes.  Sarah pointed out that the wine spends 9 months in seasoned oak and, perhaps being made aware of this, I became more attuned to those qualities.

Other than that I recorded a lightness of touch on the palate in terms of delicate aromatics and a fresh and fruity quality.  Cherry and plum fruits abound and a light grippy tannin is evident.

Serafino Wine ‘Serafino Reserve’ McLaren Vale Grenache 2014, 14.5% (£25, not currently imported)

Sarah described how the sandy soils really come through on to the wine in the shape of the sandpaper tannins, as well as the lighter soil type highlighting the lighter notes and aromatics.  Indeed this wine was full of fragrance and contained mouth-wateringly fresh cherry and kirsch flavour.

The juicy fruit was matched with a well-pitched acidity, with only the slightly raw tannins off balance.  Nevertheless this wine was the epitome of the reason that I placed myself in the masterclass, to see how the landscape makes it’s presence felt in the end product.

Bekkers Wine ‘Bekkars’ McLaren Vale Grenache 2014, 15% (£50)

Up to the north of McLaren Vale now where the soils comprise sand, ironstone, loam and clay, and another good example of how the darker denser make-up brings out the darker denser notes of the Grenache.

We had clearly hit a different level of richness and concentration with this wine, but again it was so well balanced against the medium acidity.  With hints of both black and red fruits, invigorated and lifted through 20% whole bunch pressing, the 18 months spent maturing in seasoned French oak drew out the spicier notes which rounded out the whole.

To keep reading about the next 5 wines in the flight and the conclusion of the masterclass, please click here.

With thanks to Wine Australia for providing the ticket to this fascinating masterclass

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Australia Day 2017 Wine Tasting London

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This week saw the best of the Australian wine scene hit London to celebrate Australia Day with a spectacular and expansive tasting event. In a new venue for the biggest show ever, many producers flew in exclusively to show off around 1100 wines from 230 wineries in what is the largest trade tasting of Australian wine outside of Australia.

As well as the winemaker talent, circulating the tasting tables were some of the most prominent figures from the world of wine including Steven Spurrier, Victoria Moore, Oz Clarke, Matthew Jukes, Olly Smith, Joe Fattorini, as well as a double-digit number of MW’s.  Their attendance further drew you to the conclusion that this was entirely the place to be on a cold Tuesday in January.

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With such quality on offer the show catalogue was as thick as a novel and I can honestly say that after several hours of tasting my arm ached from holding it.  With it clearly impossible to taste anywhere near all of the wines my strategy was to seek out my favourite producers and use the opportunity to taste higher up their ranges, or their exclusive bottles only available through specific merchants.  The event truly ran the gamut of what Australia has on offer, with the cheapest wine on show retailing for £3.50 and the most expensive for £200 (The ‘Vanya’ Cabernet Sauvignon from Cullen, which sadly I didn’t get around to trying).

What follows is a brief rundown of my top producers of the day in no particular order:

Peter Lehmann

The Chardonnay on offer here was a particular standout, and perhaps even the best in show for me.  The ‘Wildcard’ Riverland 2016 Chardonnay was so pure and expressive it was hard to believe it could deliver such quality at just £8.99 a bottle.  Soft and creamy as I like my Chardonnay, it just pipped the slightly more expensive (£14) ‘Hill & Valley’ Eden Valley Chardonnay 2016, which was almost equally as lusciously rounded and vibrant.

Wakefield

Majestic stock two bottles of the entry level range from Wakefield and they are constantly on my recommend list.  Tasting up, the single vineyard ‘St Andrews’ Clare Valley Chardonnay 2015 (£25) delivered intense blossomed fragrance and cream and white pepper spice.  Both the ‘Visionary’ Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 and the ‘Pioneer’ Clare Valley Shiraz 2012 were extremely limited bottlings (especially shipped for the event, we were trying the very low bottle numbers of 11 and 19).  My notes contain descriptors such as concentrated black fruit, damson, stewed fruit, smoke, confection and spice.

Jim Barry

Whilst not the most expensive wine of theirs on show (£143), I noted the 2016 Assyrtiko making its debut at the show.  This Greek variety, championed by Peter Barry since he first tasted the variety back in 2006, makes an appearance ten years later and marks a unique departure for the ‘Riesling heavy’ Clare Valley wine scene.  A good medium acid carries the lemon and fleshy green apple fruit through to a smooth and creamy finish.

Apparently Assyrtiko is a labour intensive grape to farm and will remain something of a Jim Barry curio as opposed to the next big thing in Clare Valley.  Only a limited number of cases of the 2016 are being released making this a real treat to try.

Tahbilk

The iconic Tahbilk winery boasts the largest plantings of Marsanne anywhere in the world and the two examples on display (£11-14) were finely fragranced and delivered an almost melt in the mouth quality.  The ESP Shiraz from Nagambie Lakes (£35) which I simply listed as ‘beautiful’ was crammed full of vanilla, black cherry, pepper spice and a medium grainy tannin.  Their flagship ‘1860 Vines’ Shiraz 2006 (£73, also Nagambie Lakes), whilst garnet in colour, was still fresh and vibrant with the fruit more towards prune and raisin and the tannins still grainy yet softened by time.

d’Arenberg

With the famous red stripe across their labelling, d’Arenberg are well known for their oddly named wines.  Their ‘The Coppermine Road’ McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, exuded beautiful fragrance and distinct liquorice tones, but was still very austere with very evident tannins and needs a while to mellow down.  ‘The Dead Arm’ Shiraz 2012 (£29.50) carried on in the same vein.

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With possibly the best wine label I have ever seen (and one of the most bizarre names) ‘The Athazagoraphobic Cat’ Sagrantino Cinsault 2011 (£65) was full of tertiary character and rich chocolate mocha flavours.  The name of the wine refers to a fear of being forgotten and, as such, when twisting the wine bottle, the cat appears to follow the pair of legs around.  Awesome and delicious.

Honourable mention should also go to:

Ten Minutes by Tractor Featured recently in ITV1’s The Wine Show, I tasted through a good selection of their Pinot Noir (£34-42), all showing a lighter character whilst keeping brambled redcurrant and cherry fruit to the fore.

Leeuwin Its always a pleasure to taste through the Leeuwin range, especially their Art Series wines.  The Margaret River 2012 Chardonnay had waxy citrus on the nose and rich, creamy smoky green apple flesh on the palate.  With the addition of pepper spice to the end palate, this was well blended and very good indeed.  The Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 (£47) and 2012 (£50) both contained grippy tannins, concentrated and crunchy fruit.  The definition of intensity whilst retaining elegant silky composure.

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Yalumba A seriously good display of over 20 wines from this well-known producer, I took time to re-acquaint myself with their excellent ‘The Signature’ Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz 2013 (£38), which is rich, spicy and meaty like a good broth, and their ‘The Octavius’ Barossa Shiraz 2009 (£68) which was still wonderfully youthful and fresh whilst retaining the power to stand up to a strong meaty meal.

Wirra Wirra I reviewed the entry level Scrubby Rise Chardonnay back in 2015 so was interested to taste upwards.  Things really started getting interesting at around the £40 mark, with their ‘Absconder’ 2014 Grenache delivering silky cherry fruit whilst remaining lighter in body at 14.5% alcohol, and the ‘RSW’ Shiraz 2013 giving a candied confectionate parma violet florality with the body that could stand up to serious food.

With thanks to Wine Australia for providing the ticket to this fascinating masterclass

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Laithwaites Autumn Press Tasting – Standout Whites and Reds

Further to a previous blog where I highlighted the best Sparkling wines on display at the recent Laithwaites Autumn press tasting, here’s my top highlights from the red and white wines on show.

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White Wines

Tiago Cabaco Encruzado 2014, Alentejo, Portugal, 13%, £12.99

I must have visibly lingered over this wine a little too long as the wine buyer came over to chat to me about it.  Winemaker Tiago is only in his mid-thirties, and this is his signature eponymous bottling which is limited to about 2000 bottles.

The blend is pretty unique and perhaps one that people will either like or hate, with traces of minerality alongside wood notes and a salty finish.  There’s a good warmth from the alcohol and a long length, and it has the right structure to pair well with food.

Savage White 2015, Western Cape, South Africa, 14%, £27.50

I adore nice touches to a wine’s presentation and the old-school wax seal on this bottle looks great, as does the minimalistic label.

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The new world sunshine gives you lots of well ripened tropical and gooseberry fruit here, and a lovely smoky finish sets it off perfectly.  This is another white that would be greater with food as it has tons of power to match up to the flavours, whilst not being over-powering to drink on its own.

Newton Johnson Southend Chardonnay, South Africa, 13%, £14.99

Hailing from a family run winery, this has a lovely spicy creamy nose and bags of creamy flavour on the palate.  The lemon citrus plays the central role but there are also traces of orange peel and white pepper spice.

Rounded off with a good long finish this is great at this price point, but sadly not available through Laithwaites.co.uk at this time.

Red Wines

Chateaux Sixtine 2014, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, France, 15%, £30

This Grenache based blend had a rich blackcurrant nose and was absolutely rammed full of spice, cassis, mocha and chocolate.  Warmth from the alcohol and a grippy tannin keep this wine happily lingering in the mouth for a long time.

Again this is another wine that is unavailable from Laithwaites at this time.

Chateau Belgrave 2000, Haut-Médoc, 5éme Cru Classé, France, 13%, £45

Inky dark in colour, this Cabernet based blend had an intense nose of bitter chocolate.  Alongside the blackcurrant and spice there remained a generous acid matching well with the grippy tannins.

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The finish was rounded and refined if not a little too short.  In fairness this is perhaps to be expected from a wine of this age, and it was tasted alongside a lot of youthful wines on the day.  Although great, this feels like a wine to drink sooner rather than later, so grab it while you can.

Gran Fontal Syrah 2008, Vino de la Tierra de Castilla, Spain, 15%, £28

Using grapes grown at an altitude of 830m this cheery wine packed a decent weight punch and balanced it’s powerful black cherry and spice with a vanilla note and a lovely fresh acid.  For a wine with 15% alcohol this kept it mouth filling and not overpowering.

Alongside the core fruit I could also detect traces of herbal tea and menthol so there’s a good degree of complexity to be found from the 8 years of age. Points are deducted for the heavy glass bottle but loads of bonus points are given back as this is currently down from £28 to £12.99 on Laithwaites.co.uk.

Vina Tondonia Reserva 2003, Rioja, Spain, 13%, £28

The colour of this 13 year old wine was moving towards garnet and the nose has picked up tertiary tea-like characters.  The acid is still fresh though and ensures that this is an easy drinking refreshing wine with mature character.  I doubt this will last much longer so it’s one to drink soon.

As you can see there were certainly some impressive wines on display although a few are frustratingly not currently available.  At an event level, what I did find incredibly interesting was the lack of the wines that Laithwaites frequently laud as their ‘Customer Favourites’ – the likes of Black Stump, Il Papavero, Calabria etc.

None of these wines made an appearance and I was unable to source any member of the team on my way out to find out exactly why.

The range on offer certainly made me re-evaluate my thoughts towards Laithwaites and, although I have widely blogged about my wine-plan wines and their Premiere range, this felt like a company that I had only barely scratched the surface of.

I’ll certainly be paying more attention in the future.

With thanks to MHP Communications and Laithwaites for inviting me to this event.

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Laithwaites Autumn Press Tasting – Standout Sparklers!

One of the suppliers I rely on for my wine consumption is Laithwaites.  Having been a customer of theirs for several years and liking to taste widely I was comfortable that I had tasted a good portion of their wines on offer.

I found out how wrong I was at their recent Autumn tasting, held at their flagship London store near to London Bridge.  My pre-tasting strategy was originally going to focus on tasting familiar wines in a critical environment and trying the wider ranges of my favourite producers but, as it transpired, I had only tasted a mere handful of the wines presented.

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Upon arrival I was warmly greeted by wine buyer Beth Willard who has been responsible for sourcing some of my previously blogged about favourites from Romania (Paris Street) and I spent the afternoon tasting alongside such luminaries as Justin Howard-Sneyd MW, Julia Harding MW and Victoria Moore (wine correspondent for the Telegraph).

With 155 wines on show I managed to taste just over half of them over the course of several hours.  I won’t go too far in to detailed tasting notes as these can be a chore to read if you’re not a Laithwaites customer and think you may never ever taste the wine, but I will pick out my highlights; wines that I felt privileged to taste or producers that I think you may consider to follow in the future.

In this first half of my report I will list my favourites amongst the Sparkling wines on offer.

Laithwaites Theale Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, Berkshire, England, 12%, £24.99

These vineyards and the Laithwaites head office are only a short drive away from where I live in Berkshire and so I will always be a big supporter.  The 2011 vintage in the UK was something of a roller-coaster with a great start followed by a lack-lustre summer followed by great harvesting conditions.

This pure Chardonnay had a lovely light and airy palate, a fresh and quaffable mousse and focussed on the citric forward lemon qualities.  With a touch of nice bitterness on the back palate to add some substance, this was at once immediate and yet structured enough to see some mid-range ageing.

Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve NV Champagne, France, 12%, £42

Charles Heidsieck continually win award after award and so I naturally gravitated towards this bottle.  A lovely gold colour in the glass and a rich bold lemon flavour on the nose, this blends complexity with a light quaffability that just evaporates in the mouth.

Given that 40% of this NV blend comes from reserve wines that can be over a decade old it’s easy to understand how they marry such depth with such immediacy.  Long-lasting finish.

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Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millénaires 1995, Champagne, France, 12%, £120

Moving up the quality ladder and on to their prestige offering I must admit that I didn’t spit this wine out as tasting etiquette would dictate, and I also went back for seconds!

There is the customary biscuit and bread notes of a lees aged Champagne on the nose. With 21 years under its belt this wine manages to retain an awesome freshness with a lush acid that makes the palate almost evaporate.  As well as the customary citrus notes there is a lovely moodiness that permeates throughout.  Delicious.

I’ll leave it there for the Sparkling on show (with a small apology that the above doesn’t even touch upon the myriad of different levels of Prosecco available), but a final honourable mention must go to the:

Lanson Noble Cuvée Brut 2000, Champagne, France, 12.5%, £90

I’d personally had two bottles of this previously and the first showed wonderfully, being both fresh for 16 years old, as well as deep with honeyed ageing characters.

The second bottle that I opened, which I did with friends on a special occasion, had an over-whelming blue cheese nose that carried on to the palate.  I hastily retired the bottle believing it to be something of a fault but, when trying the Vintage again at this tasting, the blue cheese note was once again evident.

I chatted this through with wine buyer Davy Zyw who could detect what I was referring to but felt it was a natural part of the overall evolution of the wine as opposed to a fault.  It was certainly interesting to compare them but I remain unconvinced that the cleaner wine was the odd one out.

Checking the official Lanson tasting notes it certainly makes no mention of it, and offers up traits of honey, pear and spices instead.  It therefore remains a mystery to me at this time as to which bottle wasn’t showing correctly.  Intriguing.

In my next piece based on the tasting I will go in to the best of the whites and reds that I tried and would recommend.

With thanks to MHP Communications and Laithwaites for inviting me to this event.

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The Wine Show Chelsea & Sparkling Masterclass

Building on the success of the inaugural event last year the Wine Show Chelsea returned to London last week and I decided to pop along to try it out for myself.

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Held over three days in the historic Kings Road Chelsea Town Hall venue, the show was devised by wine trade publication The Drinks Business to bring together the best that London merchants have to offer.

Having been to many wine shows in the past I was initially a bit worried as there were only twenty exhibitors in place, but this doubt was unfounded and in the end, I only managed to visit eight of them such were the diverse offerings and knowledgeable experts on hand.

Firstly though a diversion, and I was signed up to a Sparkling wines masterclass pitting England against the rest of the world.  Hosted by not one, but two (!), Masters of Wine (MW’s) this was a rare insight in to the critical tasting approach at the top level of wine appreciation, as well as being a good refresher of the ‘why’ you are tasting what you are tasting.

Hosted by the editor-in-chief of The Drinks Business Patrick Schmitt MW, we were invited to blind taste and rate the 10 sparkling wines on offer, giving our own thoughts on grape variety, climate and key taste indicators.  Michelle Cherutti-Kowal MW then worked us through our reasoning; guiding, correcting and validating our theories as to the origins of what we were drinking.

The general winners on the day were the English wines which, hedging the bets somewhat, comprised 3 out of the 10 wines.  Also showing well was a Loire Valley Brut NV and the ‘curve-ball’ Canadian sparkling from Benjamin Bridge.  Having reviewed this wine only a few months ago, I was a bit annoyed that I didn’t recognise it (although that was the whole point of the curve-ball), but it did make my top 3 wines of the session along with the aforementioned Loire Brut and a Champagne de Castelnau NV Brut Reserve.

Masterclass completed it was then off to the exhibitors at large and I kicked things off with producer and re-seller Caves d’Esclans and their array of French rosé.  We were able to taste from both 75cl bottle and magnum to compare, and I concentrated on working my way up towards the Chateau d’Esclans Garrus 2014.

This small production wine has a retail price of circa £80 and is known by some as the ‘Dom Pérignon’ of the rosé world, which of course piqued my interest.  It was a lovely pale, creamy yet spicy drink, but I couldn’t say that it justified the high price tag.

Now that I had warmed my palate up I moved on to the Finest Fizz stand, and a clutch of £30+ Champagnes (including 2 from Hautvilliers, the birthplace of a certain Dom Pérignon – sorry, I’ll drop the links now!).

Highlights here included their ‘skinny’ rosé (£40) which has just 275 calories per bottle, equivalent to one large glass of an average red wine, and the Bernard Pertois Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru NV (£34) which was a creamy dream likened to Krug (and probably a hint as to why Krug are trying to get the winemaker to work on their team).

Next up were my friends from boutique merchant Friarwood who had a lively selection of reds and whites from across the globe.  The team were so full of stories, anecdotes and general wine knowledge that I probably did more talking than tasting at this stand, but I did manage to try a velvety organic Super-Tuscan from Conti di San Bonifacio (£18.50) and a delicious 2010 Chateau Fonplegade GCC from Saint Emilion (£47.50).

I then crossed over to iDealwine, an international wine auction site who had the wine that was probably the highlight of the show for me – a 1989 Chateau Suduiraut Sauternes (£64).  Tasting as fresh and inviting as the day it was made, this 27 year old sweet wine was a rich nutty, honey and caramelised taste of greatness. Delicious.

Wine importer Hard to Find Wines gave me my first taste of a wine from Luxembourg.  From the far right east coast of the country, the vineyards straddle the Moselle (as it is called here) and gave off a very similar experience to the Germanic wines from the Mosel.  Made from the Auxerrois grape, the wine was lean with a very direct acidity.

Also on show was a Malbec from Franschhoek in South Africa.  A grape more akin to other countries, Malbec is beginning to be planted in many other countries for the first time and it was interesting to try this blood-red variant full of bitter chocolate and mocha notes.

The above notes really only scratch the surface of my time at the show and I can easily say that it was phenomenally rewarding, giving me access to a really great masterclass, some stunning wines, and some truly great people.

With thanks to The Drinks Business and Unionpress for the ticket used for this tasting.

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Cru Bourgeois Tasting – 2014 Official Selection

I recently had the pleasure of attending the trade tasting of the wines that make up the 2014 Official Selection of Cru Bourgeois de Médoc.  Set within the splendour of the British Academy in London, three rather large rooms were given over to showcasing some 183 different wines.

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The Cru Bourgeois quality system incorporates those wines from the Medoc peninsula that sit outside of the famous ‘1855’ classification.  To qualify as Cru Bourgeois a wine must be blind tested and approved by a panel of wine professionals two years after the harvest.

The 2014 selection features 278 Cháteaux producing 30 million bottles of wine.  That’s equivalent to 33% of the Medoc’s production.

With 68 wines on show from the Medoc and another 68 from the Haut-Medoc I was already sensing palate fatigue from going through these larger appellations, and so decided to focus my tasting on getting close to the smaller appellations.  These included Listrac-Médoc (7 wines on show), Moulis (12), Margaux (10), Pauillac (3) and Saint-Estéphe (15).

What follows is my thoughts on the style offered up by each appellation followed by my standout wine.

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Overall the wines from Listrac-Medoc would best be described as rustic and crunchy with good grippy tannins.  Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon were the dominant grape varieties here with small amounts of Petit Verdot peppered throughout.  Stylistically the wines had dark cherry overtones topped up with spice, wood and fruitcake.

Standout Wine: Cháteau Capdet.  70% Merlot/30% Cabernet Sauvignon.  A vibrant colour in the glass with a wonderful perfumed nose full of fruit and vanilla.  Red cherries led the way with a soft and gentle blend working well with the grippy tannins.  Good weight.  N/A UK

Moulis

Everything moved in to more subtle and silky territory as we moved just slightly south to Moulis.  There were good powerful wines that had been made with such a lightness of touch that pure clean fruit abounded and the length of each was long.  Many wines were incredibly perfumed and tannins were evident, but lighter in texture.

Standout Wine: Cháteau Lalaudey.  This was a tough one to call but this wine just pipped the others for me.  It was full of black cherry and even a touch of meat, but in amongst the darker notes I could find menthol and vanilla as well.  The palate was pure silk in a glass.  66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25.5(!)% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 3.5% Petit Verdot.  N/A UK

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Margaux

As we headed towards the banks of the Gironde the colour of the wines on show seemed to take on a darker, inky black colour.  The silky texture and vanilla fragrance which I adore was still evident and I made several references to both chocolate and confection throughout my notes.

Standout Wine: Cháteau la Fortune.  I used several punchy adjectives for this wine including rich, dense and chewy.  The principal fruit is of black cherry with savoury notes coming through.  Again, this was made with a lovely fragrant nose and a silky smooth palate.  Good fortune indeed!  74% Cabernet Sauvignon and 26% Merlot.  N/A UK

Pauillac

With only 3 wines on show from this appellation it was pretty hard to gauge the full parameters, especially as one wine did nothing for me whatsoever.  I did note that the alcohol levels were also going up as I moved onwards, and were sitting at 14% here as opposed to 13% in Margaux.

Standout Wine: Cháteau Plantey.  This Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon blend (55%/45%) combined the lightness of fragrance on the nose with a powerful and weighty body filled with ripe black cherry, confectionate notes and a good grippy tannin.  Very pleasing to taste whilst being brooding at the same time, I was left thinking that this would have been taken to an even higher level with the right food. N/A UK

Saint-Estéphe

As we move northwards up the banks of the Gironde, the rusticity seemed to creep back in to the wines of Saint-Estéphe.  There was lots of power and tannin on display, alongside spice and vanilla/wood fragrances.

Standout Wine: Cháteau Tour des Termes.  A Merlot heavy blend (60%) with Cabernets Sauvignon and Franc, and some Petit Verdot along for the ride too.  A lovely deep nose, crunchy black cherry, fruitcake and spice.  The blend has been extremely well executed to form a rich and weighty palate.  This one is actually available in the UK too – £25 from Nicolas.

Following a spot of lunch I did spend some time tasting through the various highlights of the Medoc and Haut-Medoc just to ensure I had covered them off.

In closing it was a real privilege to taste through the classification, especially nestled alongside some noted professional palates.  It’s a real shame that a good majority of the wines are not available in the UK, but conversely, that also made the tasting more unique.

With thanks to Jo at Belleville Marketing for the invite.

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Benjamin Bridge 2008 Brut Tasting – A Canadian Sparkler!

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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.

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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.

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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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Le Petit Ballon – Clos de l’ours Rosé Tasting

I was recently introduced to Le Petit Ballon, a French wine subscription service who have amassed over 40,000 customers, making them the number one choice in the country. Since their 2011 launch, this success has seen them expanding in to both Belgium and the UK in 2015 and, in the current age of ‘time-poor’ consumers favouring convenience at every step, monthly subscription boxes are booming.

In the UK wine market things remain fairly uncrowded with perhaps half a dozen players vying for your custom, and so it is a ripe time to be offering a new option.

Le Petit Ballon

The no-commitment service operates at two different price-points to ensure that you stay in control of the types of wines that you’d like to try.  Each monthly package consists of two full (75cl) bottles of wine and a full colour magazine (‘The Gazette’) telling you all you need to know about the wines you will be tasting.  Membership also brings the added benefit of receiving at least 20% off the range of artisan wines offered in their online shop, and this ensures that should you find your dream wine on the scheme, you’ll be able to order further supplies no matter how rare the producer.

The first package on offer is ‘Grape Expectations’ which focuses on showcasing great value wines from artisan producers you won’t find on the high-street.  The second, higher tier is the ‘Age of Raisin’ package, focusing on more prestigious labels.

All of the wines featured in the service have been personally selected by Jean-Michel Deluc, a former Sommelier Chef at The Ritz and a man with many other culinary credits to his name, so is a palate you can trust.

For summer 2016 Le Petit Ballon have just launched a new cache of Rosé wines, and I leapt at the chance to give one a try from producer Clos de l’ours.  Ours translates as ‘bear’ which is a nod to the bear-like qualities of winemaker Michel (who would easily be able to give you a bear hug) and he is also referenced in the name of the blend ‘Grizzly’ (Michel has a big beard!).

Clos de l’ours was founded in 2012 (although the vineyards have been in operation much longer) and whilst they are still in the early years of business they have a clear philosophy of how they want to farm their land.  Respectful of the existing vines being farmed organically since 2000, they continue to use minimal intervention in the wine-making process to allow nature to take its own course.

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Clos de l’ours Grizzly Organic Rosé (blend) 2015, Provence, France, 14%, £13.90 (£11.90 to subscribers)

The colour of this wine is a pale-ish pink, conjuring up for me the colour of farmed salmon with hints of onion skin. It looks clear, clean, fresh and inviting, and the slate-grey colour of the label immediately sets off the pale colour of the wine superbly.  The blend is a veritable compendium of the classic southern french red grapes of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvédre, Carignan and Cinsault, with the addition of the white grape Rolle to finish it off.

The nose was nicely forthcoming and full of various red fruits, but in the main strawberries and redcurrant.  In addition to this there was a discernible dash of lemon citrus and a whiff of smokiness at the tail end.

The first thing I notice on the palate is the wonderful depth that the wine exudes, which is an instant hit of pure fruit and a silky creamy weight.  Once again the red fruits are clean, nicely ripe and balanced with a medium fresh acid that is present, but happy to let the juicy fruits come to the fore.  Once again we are mixing strawberry and redcurrants, with background notes of raspberry and pomegranate.

The finish is long and carried by the creaminess and the smoky salty minerality you always find in a decent Provence Rosé.

Even though this wine is all about showcasing well delivered pure fruit, there’s an inbuilt complexity that makes this absolutely worth the price.  In my search for more words to describe its creamy rich body I kept returning to the glass time and time again and, although I failed to find the words, I was still amply rewarded with a well-realised wine.

I absolutely look forward to trying other wines in the range, and indeed, others offered by Le Petit Ballon.  You can find out more, as well as getting more info on their subscription options by visiting http://www.lepetitballon.com/uk/

With thanks to Clementine Communications and Le Petit Ballon for the bottle used in this tasting.

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