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.

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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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Manzanos 1961

Vinous dreams come in all shapes and sizes, whether it’s trying a revered vintage, getting a fantastic bottle at a bargain price, or perhaps even simply getting a night on your own without the kids to enjoy the bottle in question.

Thanks to the UK’s leading online wine merchant Laithwaites you can now sort two out of three dreams straight away, just leaving you to just find the babysitter.

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1961 was (and is) a well lauded vintage in France – Could this Rioja keep up the pace?  JFK had just become the US President, the space-race was in its infancy and the Beatles were still trying to decide on a band name.  We’re talking seriously old-school.

Commercially viable volumes of very old bottlings such as this are increasingly unheard of, and it is only thanks to the extremely close relationship between Laithwaites head buyer Beth Willard and winemaker Victor Manzanos, that such a rare gem has made it to the UK market.

Building a strong relationship both professional and personal, Beth was on hand to support Victor through the tough times following the sudden death of his father.  Maintaining almost daily contact as the London based Victor returned to Spain to take over the family business at just 19 years old, Beth was top of the list when Victor unearthed a fantastically old cache of bottles.

Beth takes up the story: “Until around 10 years ago Manzanos were a medium sized producer focused on the area around Azagra and Calahorra in Rioja Oriental (formerly Rioja Baja). They are now one of the biggest producers of wine in Rioja and Navarra, owning several bodegas and lots of vineyards throughout the whole region.”

“Their extended family has been a big holder of vineyards dating back to the late 1800’s and (because of the large expansion) only now has Victor had a chance to dig around to see what they actually hold. In Azagra, close to where the principle bodega is located, some of his relatives’ own tunnels are full of old bottles of wine.”

The great news for wine lovers is that these older wines are now being assessed with a view to offering further archive releases in the future.

Following the discovery, the hand-harvested 1961 (mechanical picking was still in its infancy then) was rebottled, recorked and relabelled as the original packaging wasn’t up to today’s commercial standards.  The wine, however, was perfect, spending 3 years in French oak and then having laid perfectly untouched since being bottled in the mid-1960’s.  I jumped at the chance to give it a try.

1961 Bottle

Manzanos 1961, Rioja, Spain, Tempranillo based blend, 12.5%, £30

Some older wines can disintegrate a bit when left to decant for several hours but I decanted, and wasn’t disappointed.  The wine evolved significantly over several hours.

Still retaining a glossy ruby colour, there were hints of garnet colouring to the core, and a light water-white rim.

Shortly after opening, the nose began with a Burgundian barnyard tone, but this developed to include figs, mushroom, roasted nuts and sweet tobacco.  Further developed fruit came in the form of herbaceous wild black cherry, a touch of red cherry, and a whole load of green bell pepper.

Pronounced in character with a real sense of density from the off, the wonderfully fragrant nose only got better as time went on, adding liquorice, bitter black chocolate and treacle/caramel.

The palate, as expected, was extremely evolved with the tertiary notes of roasted black coffee.  Chewy, dense, with an almost oily thick texture it was still rich and broth-like, but retained a refreshing zing of acidity to balance it out and keep it fresh.

Further black cherry fruit came to the fore over time, along with pepper spice, liquorice and a light vanilla relief.  Light chalky tannins were still evident.

The finish is in the 1-minute range, carried by the acidity, black cherry and caramel.  If I was being super-critical, it’s a shame that the finish didn’t last longer, but it was still more-ish enough to have me reaching for the next glass.

Quite austere on its own (but still medium plus in weight, so not heavy in any way) this would stand up very well to most well roasted meats.  Sadly I tried it on its own and can only imagine how it would have drunk alongside a beef joint.

Knowing that there will only be so many bottles available for a relatively short time, and at a very agreeable price, I have several more cellaring, so I’ll hopefully be able to find out in time.  I fully recommend that you grab yourself a bottle (you can purchase it here) whilst you still can to give it a try for yourself.

Drink to 2025.

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The Other Side Of The Tasting Table

November sees Laithwaites bring its flagship LIVE event to Manchester as part of a national tour, with 2018 events scheduled for both Cardiff and Glasgow.  Unable to attend their recent autumn showcase due to diary clashes, when the LIVE show pulled in to London recently I took the plunge and signed up to help out at the event to understand how the complete experience operates.

Front of Stand

Happy to take on any role, whether moving boxes behind the scenes to helping customers with buying queries, I secretly hoped to get a role on a producer’s stand.  Not only would this give me direct customer contact, it would also allow me to focus on specific wines and sell their virtues and history in a personal 1-2-1 way.

Several days prior to the event my joining instructions arrived and, with some trepidation, I opened the envelope to see the role I had been allocated.  Success – I would indeed be running my own stand, but for niche wines that I, and likely many of Laithwaites’ customers, would be unfamiliar with.

Due to a very healthy domestic market, Austrian wine is fairly unknown in the UK as relatively few bottles make their way over, certainly not in the numbers compared to stalwart countries such as France, Italy, Spain etc.

That the Laithwaites Austrian wine selection was tacked on to a stand alongside German wine was already quite telling, and I gradually realised the scale of my task.  Not only was I now the sole public face for an absent winemaker’s hard work, my role was also to draw in and enlighten customers to wine from a country they may not ordinarily consider, made from grape varieties they may not even be able to pronounce, let alone know or trust.

Game on.

Able to try the wines on the day ahead of the session, my natural curiousity ensured that I picked up a bottle of each ahead of time to evaluate it properly at home.  From producer Winzer Krems, the wines are labelled as Danaris, derived from the ancient name for the Danube River which flows through the region.

Wine-making in Austria is focused on the eastern side of the country, and Kremstal (where these wines hail from) is one of the top production areas.

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Danaris Blauer Zweigelt 2015, Kremstal, Austria, 13%, £9.99

Although Blauer Zweigelt may not be near the top of a list of grapes to try, this Austrian speciality (a crossing of two different varieties, created in 1922 by a Dr Zweigelt) is considered a premium variety.  In short, it’s the right grape grown in the right place.

Attention to detail comes in the form of hand-harvested grapes, and both of these wines benefit from the clay and limestone based soils.  The clay retains moisture and swells the fruit flavours, working in conjunction with the less dense, free-flowing limestone which adds acidity and freshness.

The nose and palate provided sour red cherry, stewed prune and sweet blackcurrant, backed up with light vanilla, violets and black pepper spice.  The medium body had an active but mellow acidity, twinned with a good weight that washes easily across the palate.

The light upfront cherry with later touches of spice was reminiscent to me of Pinot Noir paired with the best back-palate of Merlot, or perhaps a lighter Shiraz.

Something my home tasting noted, but which wouldn’t necessarily have been apparent at the LIVE event, was the difference that a bit of aeration had on the wine, really bringing out a liquorice character.

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Danaris Grüner Veltliner 2016, Austria, 12% £10.99

Thanks perhaps to a hip sommelier movement, Grüner Veltliner, although still niche, is the more popular of the two varieties, potentially down to the tendency for it to be abbreviated to GrüVe (“groovy”).  Once again this is a signature Austrian grape variety.

With a golden colouring in the glass, this had zesty lime, pear and crunchy green apple on the nose, with a lingering white pepper finish. The palate added refreshing well-ripened tropical pineapple, a touch of cream, lemon citrus, light peach and a touch of vanilla florality.

The oily, gloopy rich medium weight in the mouth blended well with the refreshing acidity, providing different fruit layers, both sweet and sour.  Overall this is a very composed, complex wine with an almost aged quality that really fills the senses.

First CustomersThe Doors open!

Once the event doors were opened everyone naturally headed for the Champagne and Sparkling wines (which are always positioned as the first stands to greet you) or to their favourite producers, and it was a good 25 minutes before the first curious drinker arrived.  I needn’t have worried though as, shortly after this, a trickle of interested faces began to turn in to a steady stream.

By the end of the night I had poured wine for people trying Austrian wine for the first time, experienced Austrian oenophiles looking for bottles similar to those they’d enjoyed whilst on holiday there, generally curious wine lovers, as well as slightly tipsy people looking for anything at all.

Whether they were simply interested in trying the wines and having their own quiet contemplation, or looking to me for more detailed information to help them with the why they were tasting what they were tasting, I enjoyed every second of the evening and cannot wait to volunteer for the next local event.

My Side Of Things v2

If any other wine lovers out there are thinking of dipping their toe in the water with volunteering, I would wholeheartedly recommend it!

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The Vineyard at Stockcross – ‘Judgement of Paris’ Tasting Menu

Sir Peter Michael, owner of 5 star vinous hotel experience The Vineyard, was directly inspired by the 1976 Judgement of Paris; the famous play-off between the traditional wines of France and the upcoming wines of California.

It’s therefore fitting that they offer a tasting menu which pays tribute to the original event, accompanied only by French and Californian wines.

Comprised of 7 courses, each dish allows you to decide which wine works best with the food, and if you prefer the French or US offering.  Opting for the full sensory experience I decided to taste my wines blind, replicating the conditions of the original event.

(Note: The individual dishes change seasonally as do the perfectly paired wines.  What follows are my thoughts based on those served on the day).

Course 1 – Beef sirloin tartar, sorrel sorbet, raisins and bone marrow crumb matched with:

  • Peter Micheal Winery (PMW) L’Aprés Midi (Sauvignon/Semillon) 2015, –
  • CaliforniaCháteau Tour des Gendres (Sauvignon/Semillon) 2015, Bergerac Sec, France

The US wine managed to trick me as it was in the lighter style.  The Bergerac boasted a silky texture with melon and tropical yellow fruit, and seemed almost too intense for their climate.  The PMW had a lighter colour and, alongside rich buttery oak, was characterised by a light airy character and peach and tangerine rind.

1/0 to the USA

Course 2 Lobster Raviolo

Course 2 – Lobster ravioli, citrus bisque, grapefruit, pickled ginger, basil matched with:

  • Donelan ‘Nancie’, Chardonnay 2012, Sonoma, California
  • Sophie Cinier (Chardonnay) 2014, Pouilly-Fuissé, France

The intense lime, mineral nose and refreshing acidity made the Poilly-Fuissé easy to pick out against the rich lemon curd style of the Donelan, but it was this weight that made it blend all the better with the Lobster and the Cajun style sauce.

2/0 to the USA

  • Course 3 – Foie gras ganache, pistachios, cherry and brioche ice cream matched with:

Domaine Loew, Les Cormiers Pinot Gris 2014, Alsace, France

Just one wine was to be matched with this course but, served in an opaque black glass we had no identifier as to whether it was white or red, let alone French or American.

The intensity and sweetness of the lemon matched up to the cherry very well, almost to the point of revelation.  A touch of cakey/bready spice in the wine very reminiscent of shortbread, cleansed the palate after the rich foie gras.

By default France wins, but its 2/1 to the USA

Course 4 – Roasted cod, cauliflower, curry and coconut matched with:

  • Peter Michael Winery Le Moulin Rouge (Pinot Noir) 2008, California
  • Domaine Audoin, Cuvée Marie Ragonneau (Pinot Noir) 2010, Marsannay, France

The PMW felt a little artificial, with the acid a touch too high and a mid-palate that didn’t have enough to excite.  It was straightforward compared to the Audoin that delivered a floral vanilla nose and redcurrant fruit.  Soft and delicate it blended well with the curry and the coconut.

France wins, making it all square at 2/2

Course 5 Loin of Lamb

Course 5 – Loin of lamb, turnips, baby gem, girolles and lamb jus matched with:

  • L’Aventure, Cóte á Cóte (Rhone blend) 2007, Paso Robles, California
  • Fortia 2012, Cháteauneuf du Pape, Rhone, France

Both made using the signature Rhone varieties of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvédre, the French offering was lighter in colour and more floral than its counterpart, offering up ripe black cherry fruit.  A mouth-watering acid worked very well with the lamb jus.

The L’Aventure, inky and youthful purple in colour despite its age, was dense, rich, spicy and alcoholic, and a seriously robust wine.  Mistaking this power for the classic hallmarks of Cháteauneuf and the fact that the depth of colour confused me, I guessed this one wrong.

Regardless of the confusion, the Cháteauneuf worked best.

France take the lead 3/2

Course 6 Peach Melba

Course 6 – “Peach Melba”, raspberry sorbet, almonds matched with:

  • Elysium Black Muscat 2014, Andrew Quady, California

Another single wine served in black opaque glassware to further intrigue and confuse, and this one completely outwitted me.

Thick and gloopy in consistency, this was syrupy and full of rich tropical melon and pineapple.  With a lip-smacking acidity it went wonderfully with the raspberry and the overall acidity of the dish, BUT it transpired that this was a sweet red wine!

Once armed with this information I found tinned raspberry and plum, but this was a good example of tasting with your eyes vs. tasting with your mouth

The US win by default.  All square at 3/3

Course 7 Chocolate Caramel Tonka Bean

Course 7 – Chocolate, caramel, hazelnut and tonka bean matched with:

  • Justin Vineyards, Obtuse (Cabernet Sauvignon) 2012, Paso Robles, California
  • Cháteau Coutet (Semillon) 1998, Barsac, France

The Cháteau Coutet was made in an oxidative style, amber in colour, and offering bruised brown soggy apples, thick honey, and summer cider.  Having said that, the slushy quality went very well with the peanut butter food and caramel notes of the food.

The Obtuse, whilst having an over-the-top (in my opinion) sweetness did actually pair well with the numerous sweeter aspects of this dessert (especially the chocolate), but was quite singular in tone.

A tough call at the final hurdle but:  France wins 4/3

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