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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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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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.

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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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