Moser XV Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – Chinese Wine v.2

With the news back in January that Sainsbury’s were stocking two Chinese wines it’s not entirely surprising to find that Tesco have now followed suit.  It’s also no surprise to find out that China’s premiere winery Changyu are involved once again; this time alongside Austrian stalwart Lenz Moser.

Whilst both names might be unfamiliar to the UK market, Changyu have been producing wines for over 120 years and the Moser family have 15 generations of experience so both are old hands.  What was a surprise, perhaps even a shame, was that (just like the Sainsbury’s Chinese range) I found this wine tucked away on the bottom shelf in the furthest corner and you would really have to be looking for it to find it.

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Moser XV Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Ningxia, China, 14%, £8.50

The 2015 vintage was widely hailed as a good one for China, and the vines used to produce this Cabernet Sauvignon range between a very respectable 12-18 years of age.

Ningxia is in the northern-central part of China, and this wine is produced in the ‘up-and-coming’ Helen Mountain region.  At 1,100 metres above sea level, the grapes are able to fuse the cooler high altitude temperatures with the arid soils and long sunlight hours (a third longer than Bordeaux) seen during the growing season. The warmth allows the grapes and their flavours to ripen fully whilst the cooler temperatures allow the berries to keep their freshness.

The bottle itself was very attractively packaged and similar in style to a classic Bordeaux.  Finished with a red foil cap and branded cork, the white label displayed classic chateau imagery and scripted text (some of which was still in Chinese). The front and back labels also both proudly stated that the wine was chateau bottled, just like their Bordeaux counterparts.

On to the tasting and this was a medium youthful purple in colour, although slightly muted in tone and not shining bright like many young wines.

The nose came in several layers, beginning with ripe redcurrant fruit, before being joined by the pronounced floral perfumes of both vanilla and violet.  This fragrance continued with a second wave of light red fruit, very reminiscent of strawberries and cream.

The palate contained darker fruit and was more black cherry in nature, and there was a very distinctive light and drying tannin, almost tea-like in quality.  For a nation as tea-loving as the Chinese that seems fair enough!

Knowing that this wine was unoaked, overall it had quite a woody herbaceous feel and lots of green herb notes and a touch of bell pepper.  Whilst this did add an almost sour element to the palate, the overriding sensation was of ripe fruit, a peppery smoothness and a spicy velvet quality.  The palate was fairly long, carried by fruit warmth and alcohol.

The label suggested a food match of either beef or lamb and I think it would be a good match to make, just to round out some of the herbaceous and sour tones buried in the layers.

The Moser XV is available now from Tesco priced at £8.50 and carries a recommended drinking window of now to 8 years of age.

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The Chinese Way – Changyu Noble Dragon

Trying the ever-expanding line-up of weird and wonderful wines available has never been easier, and these days even the budget supermarkets have gotten in on the act with their ‘Discovery’ series (Aldi) and ‘Wine Atlas’ range (Asda).

I was surprised and very interested though to hear that Sainsbury’s had added a Chinese red wine to their range last month, which was then followed shortly after by a white wine from the same producer.  Initially something of a tie-in to Chinese New Year, they were available for a short period by a tempting introductory price which has now reverted back to a standard RRP.  For the time being then it seems that they will form part of their core range.

China can sometimes hit the wine headlines for the wrong reasons (not least the bottle forgery and rife counterfeiting that appears to go on), but very rarely get mentioned for the wines that they actually produce.  Always on the lookout for unique opportunities I decided to give them both a try.

Founded in 1892, Changyu is the oldest and largest winery in China, located in Yantai, a coastal region in the Shandong Province on the eastern side of the country.  The Noble Dragon brand was created in 1931 and so, even though these wines may be relatively new here in the UK (BBR stock a small range), there is still well over 80 years of winemaking experience being brought to the table.

Both of the bottles are smartly presented with sandy labels approximating the look of old parchment paper and the use of a traditional-looking scripted font.  The line drawing of their estate is akin to many an old-fashioned bottle label and perhaps hints at their love of all things Bordeaux.

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Changyu ‘Noble Dragon’ Red Blend 2013, Yantai, China, 12%, £10

This red blend is mainly comprised of Cabernet Gernischt (aka Carménére) and complemented with both Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.  Cabernet Gernischt is something of a regional speciality and the sprawling 1400 hectares used by Changyu equates to 70% of the plantings in the whole of China.

On the nose there is pure, ripe juicy dark fruit of blackberry and redcurrant, followed up with a touch of smoke and the florals of both wood and vanilla (the wine is aged for 6 months in small oak barrels).

The palate, whilst full of all the dark fruit suspects you would expect from a triple-Cabernet blend (blackcurrant, black cherry, plums) was just a touch drying to my palate.

The fruit is well ripened and forms the backbone of what this wine is all about in the mouth, but the class and depth comes from the wood ageing and the Cabernet Franc which adds further perfume.

The acidity is prominent, just on the edge of too much, and the net result is that it feels a touch too thin.  This probably isn’t also helped by the modest alcohol level of 12%.

The end palate adds touches of bitter chocolate and coffee, but the fruit drifts and the overall length is quite short.  Whilst this is well made and representative of a soft fruit lighter bodied blend, I did find myself missing the crunchy fruits from a good Cabernet.

I’m very glad to have explored it at the introductory price of £8 which is about the right price to me for the style and character.  At the full price of £10 there would be other bottles ahead of it in the queue, so I’d be interested to see how well this sells to the general wine-buying public at that price-point.

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Changyu ‘Noble Dragon’ Riesling, Yantai, China, 12%, £9

Riesling is another grape that thrives in Yantai and, when looking at the deep golden yellow colour of the wine, its surprising to discover there is no wood ageing involved.  There was also a slight spritz in the glass perhaps suggesting it was bottled fairly quickly after ferment.

The nose had a good tropical tone with dried pineapple, lemon citrus, and a touch of green apple flesh evident.  This wine is once again all about the ripe clean fruits, but is raised by a twist of blossom florality giving it some depth and interest.

The palate veered towards a sweeter Riesling style, and the low alcohol level probably helped to give it an off-dry feel.  A medium weight and almost golden gloopy texture brought forward the fruit from the nose and added in honeysuckle, yellow melon, and a little peach.  The fresh acid cut through, balancing the fruit and drew you towards a hint of bitterness (and perhaps slightly under ripe fruit) on end palate.

The wine had a good length with a slightly tangy nature, is priced well at £9, and pipped the red to be the best out of the two bottles.  Worth looking out for!

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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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Chilean Cabernet 2015 vs. Chilean Cabernet 2015

I very nearly did it.

I very nearly day-dreamed my way through a wine purchase at a supermarket by simply half-looking at the label and assuming that I knew what I was picking up.

Nestled right next door to the Chilean stalwart Casillero del Diablo was Camino del Angel, a new offering from Sainsbury’s whose label bears more than a little passing resemblance to the former.

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Filtering out the generics of a plain white label with a black band below and a circular motif, the main font for the brand name is blatantly emulated and the sub-conscious mind sees the capitalised C and lower case d.

Of course it’s not the first time that a particular wine from a particular country has slipped in to a ‘house’ style across brands and retailers.  A clear example is the number of line drawings of mountain ranges that can be found on Argentinian Malbec.

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Both Camino and Casillero are from the Central Valley in Chile, both are from the Cabernet Sauvignon grape and the 2015 harvest.  Both are 13.5% in alcohol and both are similarly labelled so, will they be similar in taste?

I awoke from my daydream, knowingly purchased them both, and decided to put them through the taste test.

Camino del Angel Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 , Valle Central, Chile, 13.5%, £7

The nose of this wine was clean and full of ripe fruits.  I could detect intense blackcurrants, plums and damson blue fruit, mixed in with a whiff of cake and pepper spice and touches of vanilla florality.  The overall impression of this wine, even before tasting it, was rich with the tertiary characters of both liquorice and meat.

On the palate the overall sensation continued with a somewhat beefy rich texture.  Even though there was a fairly high acid to match this out, the combination of the stewed dark fruit and almost chewy grainy tannins meant this was a tough taste.  Alongside the sour fruit, touches of ash and bitterness added further to this austerity, and the stalky raw finish is what you have left in your mouth on the end palate.

On day 1 I didn’t get the feeling of a particular blend or style and it did feel mass produced.  In the spirit of fairness, on day 2, the blend did feel a little more structured, but nonetheless fairly forgettable.

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Casillero del Diabo Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 , Valle Central, Chile, 13.5%, £6.50 (on offer, usually £7.50)

On the nose this wine was no less full of activity and flavour, but this time was of a silky/velvet quality.  We still have the blackcurrant fruit, but this time we also see the addition of some red cherry.  This slightly deeper complexity is matched by a subtle vanilla florality, and the whole is both bright and uplifting.

On the palate there is a good medium mouth weight, light grippy tannins with a medium matching acidity.  Black cherry is the predominant fruit alongside blackcurrant and pepper spices.  Overall the mouth sensation is dark and brooding, more given over to bitter chocolate and mocha.

These tertiary characters are testament to the blending, with the damson and blue fruits taking a backseat in this wine.  There’s still a touch of raw quality (green and stalky characters), but the overall sensation feels more complete.

Summary: One interesting aside from the tasting was looking at the bottles once they were empty.  As you can see from the picture below the Camino bottle is significantly lighter in colour.

empty-chile-bottles

Whilst there are environmental benefits from this (with a weight of 421 grams as opposed to 520 for the Casillero) including travel expenses and glass wastage, it is well known that the darker the glass, the less light penetration there is.  With light being one of the enemies of wine storage, this ability to repel will contribute to a wines ageing potential.

In summary, consumers should keep their eyes open and be aware of what they purchase.  Whilst the labels on these bottles may be similar, it is interesting to debate whether the extra 50p for the Casillero has gone on the increased cost of the glass used.

If it has, would you happily trade up on taste at a small cost per bottle to the environment?

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Laithwaites Premiere Tasting – October 2016

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A Laithwaites Premiere tasting now and the two choices for October 2016, both of which are completely new to me.

Journey’s End Pathfinder 2014, Stellenbosch, South Africa, 13.5%, £12.99

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This is apparently a ‘top tip’ from Laithwaites, handcrafted and offering a Bordeaux blend with a New World ripeness.  It’s a blend of 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Franc.  Founded in 1995 by an Englishman, his ethos is all about creating an amazing wine from a small scale quantity.

I like the label of this wine as it evokes the simple detail displayed by the classics, and with Stellenbosch being the absolute epicentre for fine wine making in South Africa, the £12.99 price-point (which is slightly above average for the Premiere scheme) created high expectations.  The wine is sealed under screwcap.

In colour this is a dark (but not opaque) youthful purple with a nice clear water white rim.  The nose is full of clean and pure fruit but again speaks of its relative youth (although we are talking 2+ years at this point).  There’s a clear hit of blackberry and crunchy cherry (from the Cabernet), cake and spice (from the Merlot) and light vanilla florals (from the Cabernet Franc), and so this is a wine that absolutely shows its constituent parts.

When I first had a taste shortly after opening the bottle there was a distinct spritz on the palate, again highlighting the vibrancy and youth of the wine.  After a while this disappeared, but it is still an important indicator of where this wine is on a trajectory of its ageing cycle.

The palate continues the dark cherry notes and blackcurrant, as well as showing touches of both dark chocolate and coffee, but we’re still very much in pure fruit territory.  There’s a light chalky tannin as well as a vibrant acidity that works through the palate, but the overall tone is one of youth.

If I’m honest the wine feels pretty one-dimensional and I could maybe, if I tried really hard, imagine other core fruits such as damson in the mix.  It’s certainly a powerful palate giving the best of what it has got, but the price-point and the youth it shows work at odds for me.

The end palate, long as it is, shows some smoke, but was still a bit too ‘tomato’ tangy for my liking.  It would be tempting to say ‘try with food’ as that is sometimes a way to mask an imbalance within a wine, but my over-riding thought here is that this needs more time. Whilst there’s a certain silk to the palate there is still a rustic nature.

The provided tasting notes state that this wine is best consumed by 2021 which isn’t that far away really.  This leaves me a bit confused as to how far this one can go, and I’m not sure that £12.99 is a fair price for something that needs a bit of love and warmth to make it come alive.

Pico Attila Chardonnay/Ribolla Gialla 2015, Venezie, Italy, 13%, £8.99

Next up is the white wine offering, and what a very good looking bottle this is.

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The simple, factual front label makes it almost look like the faceless bottle you can sometimes find as the house wine in restaurant, but don’t be deceived.  There are plus points, from the fact that the wine is sealed under cork, but even to the fact that they’ve gone for a slightly arched bottle shape giving a subtle notion of premium.

The wine hails from the mountainous northeast of Italy and, coming from the strategic frontier of the Roman Empire, is named after the hill that (as legend states) Attila the Hun’s soldiers built out of their helmets in AD 452.  It comprises the native grape variety Ribolla Gialla alongside Chardonnay, 20% of which was aged in oak.

In colour, even for a wine as young as 2015 there is a nice deep lemon yellow colour with gold hints. The nose is clean and full of fresh lemon and lime, a touch of dried pineapple, pear drops and a hint of honeysuckle and golden syrup.

The palate is full of bruised green apple, pear drops, honey, and there’s also the cream and butter from a good Chardonnay.  Medium and gloopy in weight, there’s an almost bronze quality to the palate adding a stability and a depth to the core fruit.  Whilst the last wine showed its youth, this wine hides it, despite it being the younger of the two bottles.

Layers of flavour envelop each other and I continually jostle between the core fruit and the deeper flavour profiles.  This is great on its own, and would be even better with food.

A clear winner this month, and it is the cheaper of the two bottles, I recommend the Pico Attila Chardonnay/Ribolla Gialla 2015.

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Wines of Greece (and my 200th variety tasted!)

Whilst on a recent trip to the Greek island of Zakynthos I made sure to stay in touch with the local wines which, after olive oil, is one of their major agricultural endeavours.

Although the shelves still have plenty of room given over to sweeter wines, the dry wines they produce are now a far cry from the oft-maligned ones that Greece was once famous for.

Winemaking in Zakynthos is focused on the central part of the island sweeping north to south through the fertile central plains.  There are five major wineries on the island, with Solomos and Callinico being the two most featured in Kalamiaki where I was staying.

Red grapes fare better in the soils and warm/hot climate here and so production is focused on red wines (or strong rosé wines).  Even though it isn’t viewed as the faux pas it once was, it did feel odd drinking red with the fresh local fish dishes in my quest to drink local too.

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Tsantali ‘Metóxi’ Limnio/Cabernet Sauvignon blend 2011, Mount Athos, Greece, 13%, ~£10

The Tsantali family have been producing wine since 1890, and this blend spends 8 months in large French oak barrels prior to seeing further ageing in bottle.

A nice deep dark ruby in colour, this wine had a full nose of cherry and herbaceous spice.  The palate comprised black berried fruit with much of the crunch of a typical Cabernet Sauvignon and toasty roasty woodiness.  In addition there were further spicy notes, a medium acidity and a smooth lengthy finish.

I’m not sure what the blending percentages are, but even though Limnio is listed first it’s either stylistically very similar to Cabernet or it forms the lesser part of the blend.  Regardless, Limnio is one to add to my list of new grape varieties tried (my 199th one to be precise) and Oz Clarke described it as “one of Greece’s most important red vines” so it’s a good one to tick off.

Augustos Avgoustiatis, Zakynthos, Greece, 12.5%. ~£4.00

This wine is made from the local Zakynthian Avgoustiatis grape variety which is so-named as it ripens early and is usually picked at the end of August.  This is another variety which I had never tried before and marks my 200th so I will be sending off the next ‘Wine Century’ form very shortly!

A vibrant youthful purple in colour, the dense nose was led by black cherry and also offered some confectionate sweetness.

The palate was a veritable compendium of sensations and I noted down coffee, chocolate, meat, blood, smoke and wood, all finished off with a lighter touch of vanilla!  It’s fair to say that this was a rustic earthy wine that was more about the tertiary darker characters than it was the vibrant fruit suggested by its appearance.  What fruits did appear were reminiscent of plums and damsons.

Also of note was a medium gripping tannin against a good fresh acid which probably made the whole blend come together, working well against the dark notes of the wine.

Googling this grape variety now shows that the resultant wines should be about clean fruit and of high quality, so I’d wager the cheap price tag on this one has fairly influenced this particular bottling and it wasn’t a typical example.  I didn’t even note down a specific vintage year which could also be indicative that one wasn’t offered up by the label.

Note: I did also try this variety again in a Solomos ‘Amoudi’ 2013 (blend with Mavrodaphne) wine so, although I didn’t write a tasting note for that wine, I’m still comfortable to tick it off the list.

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Estate Papaioannou Agiorgitiko 2006, Nemea, Greece, 13%, ~£12.00

I’ll also briefly mention this wine which, coming from the Agiorgitiko grape, I was convinced would take me to 201 varieties tried.  Alas, upon checking my notes I already seem to have tried it.

I’ll still give it a brief mention though as it was lovely and reminiscent of a good Pinot Noir balancing a lightness of touch with a good depth.  It even managed to win a Gold medal at the Thessaloniki International Wine Challenge back in 2009.

Hailing from Nemea VQPRD AOC and coming from a 40 hectare plot of vines, the wine was a light red in colour and full of redcurrants and cherry on the palate.  Clear wood, light vanilla, pepper spice and a hint of chocolate blended with a fresh acid rounding out a well realised wine.

Even though I couldn’t add this grape variety to my list, the quality of this bottle will remind me for some time to come that I’ve definitely tasted it.  Lovely stuff.

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What’s in a name?

The name of a grape variety will undoubtedly tell you something about what you’re drinking.  In its simplest form this could be as straight-forward as “I like Chardonnay, I’ve had Chardonnay before”, or it could be as intuitive as a name like Feteasca Neagra, which may highlight that it’s likely to be from an Eastern European country.

The names of many common varieties actually contain hidden clues as to their history or as to how they are grown and, whilst it is highly likely that it won’t affect the pleasure of drinking the wine, if you’re interested in deepening your wine knowledge these simple hints can help you to understand the wine a little more.  It can even give you hints about other facets of the wine (for example, whether a grape is thick or thin skinned).

Here’s my top 5.

Spain – Tempranillo – Spain’s premier red grape has a few synonyms, but is commonly referred to as Tempranillo.  The first part of the name (Temp) derives from the Spanish word for ‘early’ (Temprano), therefore highlighting that it is an early ripening variety.  The French word Temps means ‘time’ which is also a signpost that time is a critical factor when growing this variety.  What this means in terms of the final wine is one that is lower in alcohol due to less grape (ergo sugar) ripening time, and higher in acidity (when balanced against the unconverted sugars).

Italy – Primitivo – Like Tempranillo, this variety has other synonyms (Originally known as Tribidrag in Croatia, and well known as Zinfandel in the US), but the Italian grape name refers to Primo, which means ‘First’ in that language.  This again refers to the fact that this variety is one of the first to ripen, and will develop characteristics based on sun exposure.  More technically the Latin word primativus means ‘first to ripen’ and so Primitivo is almost a direct translation.

South America – Tannat – Well at home in the south of France, and now ‘the’ grape in Uruguay, it is thought that the name of this grape comes from the word tanat, a local French dialect meaning ‘coloured like tan’.  It is therefore quite coincidental that the berry is known to produce austere wines deeply coloured and, similar to its name, very high in tannins.  This one fact allows you to draw several further conclusions about the grape, including that it is a thick skinned variety that gives a lot of its character to the finished product.  This in turn tells you that it is better suited to a warmer climate in order to allow the grapes to ripen fully, and that it makes a better blending partner rather than being served up as a single variety wine.

France – Cabernet Sauvignon – OK, so it doesn’t really tell you much about the finished product, but with this variety name-checking other grapes varieties, it does indeed hint to it’s history and parentage.  Cabernet Sauvignon is the offspring of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc, although these lighter characteristics will not tend to show themselves in the final wine.

South Africa – Pinotage – A bit more oblique than the fairly obvious parentage mentioned above, but South African grape Pinotage is a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut (which was then known in the country as Hermitage).  The warmer SA climate needs to be taken in to account, giving a wine that is fresh as well as fragrant, and Pinotage seems to have inherited the fussy growing issues of Pinot Noir, ensuring that it is a troublesome variety to grow.

There’s obviously plenty more references out there if you look – from anything ending ‘Noir’ telling you that it is a red grape (never take anything for granted!!), to Gewurztraminer speaking of its north Italian origins.

Have fun looking!

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Yalumba ‘Butcher, Baker & Winemaker’ dinner

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Australian wine producer Yalumba were in London this week for their ‘Butcher, Baker and Winemaker’ dinner, and I was one of those lucky enough to have tickets. Bringing a touch of Barossa magic (and sunshine, as it happens) to Maida Vale gastropub The Truscott Arms, was Yalumba winemaker Louisa Rose, who has worked for the company for 22 years and has been chief winemaker since 2006.

The evening was scheduled to begin with canapés in the private garden terrace but, due to the waiters focusing on serving the Yalumba Y Series 2014 Riesling (no problems for me here!) and the growing number of people arriving (there were circa 40 in total) the goats cheese nibbles had only just arrived by the time we were all to be seated in their first floor private dining area.

Following greetings from Andrew Fishwick (owner of the Truscott Arms), Head Chef Aidan McGee (who regaled us with a strangely bizarre lecture on creating authentic bread), Louisa welcomed us to the evening, gave us an overview of Yalumba, and also provided an on-going rundown of the wines that were being poured for us. As an aside, I’ve written about Yalumba wines recently following a tasting panel, which you can find here.

The dinner itself consisted of 4 courses and 6 further wines to try. First up was a charcuterie plate (image, below left) consisting of pressed pork, potted duck, smoked pork, cured beef, celeriac, gherkins, capers and crispy sourdough. With this we were served a white wine and a red wine – respectively Eden Valley Viognier 2013 and Old Bush Vine Grenache 2013. Due to the sheer amount of different foods to be matched either with the white or the red wine, and trying to remain in the conversation with other guests, I must admit my tasting notes rather escaped me at this early point. Louisa was also still giving us an on-going dialogue, but what I do recall is her commenting on how Viognier is a great food wine, and that there isn’t really a bad pairing for it. Judging by the myriad of food that was quickly cleared from my plate, I’d have to agree.

Yalumba Dinner 2

It was then quickly on to the fish course (image above right, sorry – I started before I remembered to take a photo), and we were served Halibut in a Yalumba Roussanne reduction, with grapes, spinach and salsify. Naturally the wine served here was the Eden Valley Roussanne 2013. Like the Riesling and Viognier before it, the colour of the Roussanne was a vibrant green and yellow, almost luminous. The palate here was creamy fleshy green fruit, with a spice that really perked up the fish, and a great length. It’s lucky that I enjoyed the pairing, as my +1 sprang on me that they didn’t eat fish and so I ended up with two portions.

Yalumba Dinner 3

Next up was the main course (image, above left) of Beef cheek, carrots, spring greens and smoked mash. Paired with this we had two red wines; the Patchwork Barossa Shiraz 2013 and the Signature Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz 2010. There were two standout food and wine pairings in the evening for me, and the Beef cheek, smoked mash and Cabernet Sauvignon was the first of these. The cheek was cooked to perfection and the creamy mash melded with both to create a rich and textured whole. On its own, this was the best wine of the evening (and probably not coincidentally, the most expensive at £30 a bottle)

The final course of the evening (image, above right) was English strawberries, lemon verbena curd, strawberry jam and ice cream. Paired with this we had the FSW8b Botrytis Viognier 2014 (FSW stands for Fine Sweet Wine). This was the second excellent food-wine match of the night for me, and the strawberries worked amazingly well with the luscious tropical sweetness. I was slightly miffed to see that our table mat (if you like) was a fill-in-form to be able to order any of the wines featured in the evening, which for me commercialises what is meant to be a social gathering, but it was extremely hard not to fill it in and buy some of this luscious sticky.

Although there were too many people in attendance to make this an intimate affair, the sheer unknown of your dinner companions was actually a great element, and I spent the evening happily chatting away with two chaps who worked behind the scenes at Majestic wine, learning a few things, and passing other knowledge back. Louisa did ask the gathered crowd on several occasions if they had any questions, but as is typical, very few put themselves out there to ask anything in front of that many people, and I did come away missing the one-on-one winemaker aspect that I felt this dinner had promised. That said, once dinner was over our hosts invited everyone downstairs to the main bar area to continue the drinking, but alas, my carriage awaited and I had to leave.

All in all a memorable night with great food, great wine and great company.

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