Aldi Wine Club 16th Tasting Panel – Note #4

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aldi Wairarapa Pinot 1

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

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

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

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

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

Aldi Wairarapa Pinot 2

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

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

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

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

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Aldi Wine Club 16th Tasting Panel – Note #3

AWC Logo

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

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

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

Aldi Chard 1

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

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

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

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

Aldi Chard 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That on its own is frankly remarkable.

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

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UK 2016 Vintage Report #7 – October

A final note now on the progress / harvest of my 2016 grapes.

The recent weather has turned fully autumnal and temperatures have plateaued at around 10°C each day (and obviously cooler overnight).  The rain, which had been sporadic since the start of October, has picked up and most mornings are now damp from overnight showers.

As I write, we are just in the midst of several showers and they are forecasted for the week ahead.

Tracking nicely ahead of my other varieties from the start of season, my Ortega was the first to be picked on the 9th of October.  Prior to picking I tested the sugar content of the grapes with my refractometer and they came out at 20-21° on the Brix scale (which measures the sugar content of the grapes).  This converts as a potential alcohol content of 11.5% and is absolutely spot on for a white grape in the south of the UK.

Apart from some mite damage during the season my only lament is that the overall crop was significantly down on expectations (this was a feature for all of my varieties this year, and that of the wider UK as I’ve seen).

chard-sept-16

I’ve unfortunately given up on my Chardonnay crop.  I was rather holding out as this is a late ripening variety but, even with the recent rains, the grapes have not swelled and have remained small and hard in nature.  The leaves have turned in colour, much the same as my cropped Ortega, and this means that the saps are descending and there is no future growth to see.

For purely academic reasons I also tested the Brix ° on these grapes which came out as a lowly 9, or a potential alcohol of 4.7%.  Perfect only for the health conscious amongst us!

mvn3-oct16

My MVN3 began changing colour towards the end of last month and have now reached the point where all berries have universally transformed (it’s a real shame I still don’t know exactly what variety this is!).

The current Brix ° as I write is 13, or 7% potential alcohol.  I’ll be leaving these grapes a further week or two to realise their potential alcohol, prior to picking them.

Yields for the MVN3 have proved to be best overall (but this is likely due to the different cane training I used on the vines last winter).  I will be training all varieties the same from this point on and looking forward to the 2017 vendange.

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UK 2016 Vintage Report #3 – June

A quick check back on my vines now and, as is traditional for the British summertime, the month of June has seen a fair bit of rain with many heavy showers (one particular sudden one whilst I was BBQ-ing) and some isolated hail storms.  Having said that, I can count myself lucky that we haven’t been affected here in Newbury by the severe flooding seen by many parts of the south of the country which caused many areas to come to a complete standstill.

At the same time as the vines were being well watered, temperatures have remained at circa 18-20° and so it has been warm enough throughout.  The side effect of the heat alongside the constant damp has meant is has felt humid for much of the time.

Variety 3 June16

This free availability of water has had the effect of making my vines shoot up (pun intended!), and a quick look back at last month’s report makes them look like mere twigs.  My mystery variety number three (MVN3) has been shooting up all over the place (see picture above), along various walls and in to my neighbour’s garden.

Chard June16

Whilst I’ve been trimming to control the vigour on those vines, my Chardonnay (above) has been able to catch up with the others in terms of spread and leaf canopy, although it has yet to start flowering, which both my Ortega (below) and MVN3 have.

Ortega Buds June16.JPG

Hopefully July will bring more sun, less rain, and healthy clusters.

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UK 2016 Vintage Report #2 – May

Spring has well and truly sprung here in the UK, and the month of May has seen its fair share of good weather with most days seeing mid-teen temperatures.  In addition there has also been a handful of days where the weather has tripped in to the early twenties too, which has meant that my vines are all developing nicely and have come on well since the first flowers began to appear in April.

2016 UK vines M2

In addition to the warm weather mentioned above, there has still been a few cold spells and intermittent rain, as well as one patch of frost at the start of the month which has hit the later flowering Chardonnay vines badly.  The Chardonnay is now way behind the Ortega and my ‘mystery’ 3rd variety and so has a lot of catching up to do.

Struggling Chard 1

Struggling Chard 2

As is tradition for a UK Bank Holiday weekend there is rain forecast, but this should be needed by the vines as they continue to gather the resources to start flowering in the coming weeks.

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UK 2016 Vintage Report #1 – April

A short blog now just to kick-off a diary of my vines in the run up to the 2016 harvest.  Like last year, whilst this content may only be of limited interest to readers around the globe, it will enable me to look back in the future and compare progress year on year.  In the spirit of this limited accessibility, I will keep the notes accordingly brief.

TwitPic 2016 Harvest KO

It was a month ago today that I noted and photographed my Chardonnay vines awakening from their winter slumber and so, as the longer days set in and Spring begins to truly take hold, I thought it would be a suitable first checkpoint to note the progress.  The weather remains fairly cool with temperatures in the 10-16° range, some days of heavy rain, sporadic sun, and no frosts.

2016 UK vines M1

Both the Chardonnay and Ortega seem to be at the same stage with the topper most leaves beginning to appear, and buds forming all the way down the canes.

2016 UK vines M1 v2

My third variety is a little further behind and this could be because it is not from the Denbies winery nursery like the others are, but it could also be for another reason!  I purchased the rootstock believing it to be Catarratto but last year, as you can see from the picture below, it bore red grapes (and suffered with serious millerandage), which means it clearly isn’t the variety I expected it to be.

2016 UK vines M1 v3

I now have no idea what variety it is, and hope that, as it has been planted for three years now, I can make some wine with it this year and see what characteristics it gives off.

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Laithwaites Vintage Festival 2016

It was a typically drizzly April day as we gathered outside Old Billingsgate Market in London for the Laithwaites/Sunday Times Wine Club 2016 Vintage Festival.  The damp weather was, however, tempered with impressive views across the River Thames, the venue being directly across from The Shard and in clear view of London Bridge.

Founder Tony Laithwaite braved the elements to greet us all as we waited patiently for the session start time to arrive and, as if sensing the eagerness of the crowds, a stream of servers began to descend offering small samples of either red, white or rosé wine.  This was a nice touch and clearly warmed myself and those around me and kicked off conversation between strangers.  In a further stark contrast to my recent wine event queuing experience in New York, whether it was down to the rain, all exhibitors being ready or Tony getting impatient for the event to start, he announced that we could all go in 15 minutes early.  This may not be much extra time as the crow flies, but again, it was certainly appreciated.

LaithFest1

Once inside the venue we were immediately faced with Champagne house Laurent Perrier and a cluster of English Sparkling wines including Ridgeview. For me, sparkling is the best way to get the event going but, having been a fan and customer of Laithwaites wines for many years my strategy for this tasting was threefold:

  • Try wines from countries that do not appear in my usual cellar

I still really fail to find and try red wines of a decent quality level from the USA, and ditto German wines.  Then there are countries such as Moldova and Romania where any invitation to taste is a must.  Finally there is the humble white wine which, as primarily a red wine drinker, I tend to skip unnecessarily.

  • Trying the next level up wines from favourite or respected producers I am familiar with

Everyone has their favourite wines, but trying the Reservas, Gran Reservas, Limited Editions and Select Parcels is a good way to work out whether to ‘stick’ or trade up.  Looking back at the evening I didn’t actually manage to succeed too well in this category, such was the overall quality and volume of wine and producers that I had no prior exposure to.

  • Cherry picking the extremely pricey wines on show that I probably wouldn’t be able to try outside of an event like this

OK, so perhaps a bit shallow to do things merely on price, but it allowed me to check out the odd Coté Rotie (£31) and Pauillac (£40) that I would otherwise miss.

Talking of expensive bottles, I was lucky that my entrance to this event included the ‘Fine Wine’ upgrade – access to a whole host of top quality wines in a limited access VIP setting to ensure a relaxed tasting.  Entry was via a lift to a mezzanine level (slightly evocative of a Willy Wonka Glass Elevator type scenario) where you were greeted by a member of staff and handed a brand new catalogue of further wines to taste.  Without wishing to sound too nerdy, it was like unlocking a brand new level in your favourite computer game.

LaithFest2

As a lover of Champagne I was immediately in my element being served the Krug NV (£130), Dom Pérignon 2006 (£120) and the Cristal 2007 (£130), alongside the Roederer NV (£40) and vintage 2010 (£50).  Krug, even at NV level, is always a pleasure such is the quality, and I’m very familiar (as readers of my blog will know) with the DP 2006.  One of the highlights of the night though was tasting the 2006 Cristal.  Having had some earlier vintages (2000 and 2002) I had cultivated a view that this was always going to be a very sweet wine that my palate didn’t agree with.  The revelation was that the 2007 is actually a really refined and not overly sweet wine at all.  That alone made my night but it continued with, amongst others:

Drouhin: Famed Burgundian estate showcasing their Beaune 2009 (£45), Nuit-Saint-Georges 2010 (£40) and Clos de Vougeot 2011 (£115)

Trapiche: One of Argentina’s top wineries and of extremely small production, so trying wines like the tres14 (£35) is an absolute privilege.

Penfolds: No introduction is necessary for Penfolds and this was a chance to try the Bin 311 2014 (£25), Pinot Noir Bin 23 2009 (£27), the Barossa Bin 138 2013 (£25) and the RWT (Red Wine Trial) 2013 (£90).

To be honest, these notes could go on and on such was the sheer diversity and volume of the event, and I’ve only scratched the surface of what was on offer.  As you can probably tell though, this is a serious must-attend event and one I will add to my regular wine events calendar.  The ‘Fine Wine’ room (at just a £20 upgrade to the ticket price) is simply a revelation.

As I was leaving the venue I was pleased to see that, if the complimentary tasting glass that each attendee received was left at the venue, they were quickly tidied and divided up in to boxes of six allowing you to take home a full box.  An awesome reminder of a great night!

With thanks to Laithwaites for providing the tickets used for this tasting.

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