Decanter & Majestic tasting guide – November 2015

The tasting circuit comes alive in November as producers vie for your festive custom.  Despite having tickets I was unable to attend the Tesco event, but did get along to the Decanter Fine Wine Encounter which is always a fabulous day out with over 120 producers showing 600 different wines.  As a regular visitor for a decade now it was nice to see a few new producers this year, and first amongst these was Champagne house Charles Heidsieck.  Browsing through the show catalogue I noticed they were showing their 1995 Blanc de Millénaires (RRP ~ £150).  This was a wine I simply had to try and I wasn’t disappointed with the creamy, toasty dried fruit signs of age merging with light vanilla spice and vibrant mousse to keep it perky.

Also attending were Amazon, promoting their new ‘Fine Wine’ platform which stocks top quality brands such as Ornellaia, Opus One and Trotanoy.  Sadly none of these were available to taste on the day, but they did show off some fine old Rioja Gran Reserva’s as well as some newer premium Australian and Italian wine.

UK vineyard Nyetimber usually attend to keep up the home side, but absent this year the mantle fell to Bride valley, which is the estate of Decanter consultant editor Steven Spurrier.  He and his wife Bella were on hand to pour and give us the background to their Dorset operation which boasts 25 acres of southeast facing slopes benefitting from having the chalky Kimmeridge soils.  Similar in terroir as northern France, they concentrate on the 3 Champagne varieties to produce a fine sparkling wine up there with the best that this country is offering.   I do hope that we see more UK producers being invited/accepting to take part as I’ve done a few vineyard visits this year and the quality is something to shout about.

Not shy in coming forward these last few years are the Prosecco producers who were out in force again, and I got chatting to the chaps from Carpené Malvoti who lay claim to being the first ever producer of Prosecco.  There’s been much talk in the UK of the rise in popularity of Prosecco and the subsequent shortage if demand keeps up to its current levels.  I was keen to understand whether this was truth or simply media hype to stimulate sales.  He assured me that, whilst true, it was currently only confined to the lower level (but still quality) DOC wines as opposed to the DOCG level.  It will be interesting to see if this demand creeps in to top level offerings or whether people are simply interested in Prosecco as a cheap fizz.

My standout wine of the show would have to go to Heitz Cellars Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2009.  Having tasted their range before I gravitated towards them and this wine was pure velvet and silk, the 6 years of age having softened any tannic qualities away.  The fruit was as intense as you would expect with super ripe black cherry, blue plum, light spices and a fresh acid meaning that this was an absolute pleasure to drink.

Next up was the ‘Majestic Wines Winter Showcase’.  The rain may have been drizzling as I arrived, but I was set at ease with a ‘welcome’ glass of Laurent-Perrier’s superb NV Rosé.  It’s far from being the most expensive bottle of Champagne that I buy, but this is a lovely palate-pleasing Champagne I truly save for special occasions.

Also showing that night was the 2014 Cótes du Rhóne from Majestic’s new own-brand label ‘Definition’, which aims to capture the quintessential qualities of the world’s best wines.  This CdR was a powerful 15% wine, full of black cherry, wood, spice and light tannin, not unlike a Chateauneuf.  Also pouring alongside various reds and whites was a Tuscan Pinot Grigio from Banfi, an Amarone Classico from Masi, one sweet wine, and the multi-award winning Manzanilla Sherry from La Gitana.  My highlight of the evening came from a Brunello di Montalcino, again from Banfi, which had all the characteristics I love about old Bordeaux.  Dried red cherry and raspberry mixed with old wood and cedar, coffee, lightly grained tannin and a warming 14% alcohol carrying it through to a satisfying long finish.

I was a little disappointed that the regular tasting table wasn’t open that night (allowing you to try another 10 or so wines).  Previous tasting evenings have allowed this but apparently the volume of people expected would wipe out their entire weekly allocation of tasting wines.  A shame, so I’ll have to pop back.

Majestic recently dropped their 6 bottle minimum purchase, but with single bottle prices being raised slightly to reflect this, the discounts still kick in when you buy 6 or more bottles.  In addition to the 10% discount being offered on the tasting night, a Champagne promotion was running offering 33% off – a stunning 43% discount.  Being rude not to, I picked up the Laurent-Perrier Rosé and some Bollinger Grand Année 2005 in festive preparation.  At £35 and £53 respectively, this was certainly something to celebrate!

Enjoyed this article?  Please take a moment to ‘Like’ and share using the buttons below. Keep looking around my site for more of the same.  Cheers!
Advertisements

Break the (w)in(e)ternet

Food lovers everywhere will have some knowledge of the ‘Delia effect’. This is the rushed purchasing of non-everyday ingredients that cookery legend Delia Smith has used in her recipes. Following the broadcast of her TV tutorials, literally thousands descend upon supermarkets and wipe out the entire stock of odd items such as pine nuts or glacé cherries.

Last month this phenomenon hit the UK wine world following the broadcast of popular cookery show Saturday Kitchen. As usual, a wine expert (more often than not either Peter Richards, Olly Smith, Tim Atkin, Susie Barrie or Suzy Atkins) is on hand to match a suitable bottle to the meals prepared, to which both host and guest display courteous compliments. The televised episode on the 4th July however, caused the Majestic website to crash, and led to their biggest ever online sales hour, taking 1000 orders for this particular wine. The sensational instant demand was akin to getting a top Parker recommendation mixed up with a Kim Kardashian ‘break the internet’ attempt. Three hours later, the entire Majestic stock of this wine was wiped out and they had taken back orders for a further 30,000 bottles.

So, what is this amazing wine?

   Porta 6 Bottle v2

At the beginning of 2015, Holly Ninnes (Majestic wine buyer for Portugal) added a new wine to their range – Porta 6. Hailing from the sunny hillside vineyards of Alenquer and Cadaval in Lisboa, north of Lisbon, the wine is a blend of 50% Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo), 40% Castelao and 10% Touriga Nacional. The 2012 spent 3 months in oak barrels and clocks in at 13.5% abv.

The wine was quickly picked out by Decanter magazine (Feb 2015) as a ‘Weekday Wine’ – an exciting and accessible wine at a decent price-point. This wine was then picked last month by wine expert Susie Barrie MW to go with the Saturday Kitchen dish of barbecued lamb, salsa verde, tomato salad, toasted couscous and fromage blanc (you can find the recipe here). Saturday Kitchen presenter and chef James Martin was clearly pleased, stating that it was one of the nicest wines he’d had in ten years of doing the programme, and had bought 3 cases of it for himself!

Majestic were then subsequently besieged with orders and ended up buying all remaining stock from the producer – some six times their original consignment. After being virtually out of stock since, the Majestic Twitter feeds have this week been chirping that it is now available again. I decided to pick up a case.

Porta 6 Vinho Regional, Lisboa 2012 Vinho Tinto, 13.5% abv

Before we get to the contents, first mention must go to the wonderful label – an original painting by eccentric German painter Hauke Vagt, giving a colourful depiction of a tram thundering around the corner of a tight rustic cobbled street. The bottle itself is fairly weighty – something which has both positive (prestige) and negative (additional cost and environmental footprint) connotations, depending on your viewpoint. When twinned with the great label, I’m erring on the side of prestige, as they seem to be mindful of a well presented package. The bottle would make a great gift – if the wine lives up to its’ reputation!

The appearance is a deep dark, inky purple. The nose is equally deep, with a big dollop of wood and vanilla combined with dark ripe red fruit, raspberries and cream. Alongside this you have a darker undertone of plum and pepper spices.

The initial palate is full of weight, with creamy fullness, vanilla and violets and followed by dark cherry and currants, spice and densely packed forest fruits. I want to highlight here the distinction of weight from power, as this wine is a lolloping, rich and creamy dream where everything flows gently in to one another, as opposed to being a hit of flavour and then dissipating.

Tannins are medium, slightly grippy, but nicely round out the mouthfeel and guide the length of the wine which is amply carried by clean ripe fruit, and built upon with touches of bitter chocolate. You also get a good reminder of the overall warmth of the palate, coming from both the alcohol content and the pleasing ripeness of the combined fruits. A refreshing acidity runs through this end palate which makes you yearn for the next taste, or mouthful of food.

Overall, this is a great wine and one that will definitely make it on to my shortlist of everyday recommendations. It helps that it is a style that I really enjoy and will be a sound alternative to my usual staples of Argentinian Malbec and aged Rioja’s. Well worth the price.

Porta 6 is available from Majestic, currently on offer for £7.49 when you buy two bottles (£9.99 for a single bottle).

Enjoyed this article?  Please take a moment to ‘Like’ and share using the buttons below. Keep looking around my site for more of the same.  Cheers!

Spring in to Summer!

3 labels

I popped along to my local Majestic last week for their ‘Jump into Summer’ tasting night where they’d selected 10 wines to show, running across Red, White, Rosé and Sparkling. Not surprisingly the majority were light and fruity Whites/Rosé’s which are great in the warmer weather, but I’m glad that they didn’t shy away from showing some Reds too – my BBQ is never far away in the summer months, and so these wines do still have their place when partnering with food. I participated in a wine poll recently which asked drinkers if they would be switching away from Red wine to lighter styles throughout the summer, and can say that the majority said that they wouldn’t change their habits, so I’m clearly not alone.

Obviously any standard tasting is catering for a generalised palate and with price point/current offers also a key factor, the tasting stayed firmly in the classics. This is fine for what it is, but does make me also yearn for more specialised tastings from these merchants as they can have plenty of gems hidden away. I would also argue that you need to be more guided towards those odd purchases, as opposed to merely steering people towards more Sauvignon Blanc (regular readers will know it isn’t my favourite grape) which they probably would have purchased anyway. I wonder if they believe that more obscure wine tastings would be somewhat less popular?

That said, it did give me a chance to try the St Clair Wairau Reserve Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand which was superb. It kicked off with a fantastically full nose and both that and the palate were full of everything that Sauvignon Blanc from NZ should deliver on; green fruits, tropical fruits, citrus, lovely acid and a full refreshing mouthfeel. Retail (pre any discounts) on this bottle is £25, so it isn’t only the palate that is rich, and I’ll have to make do with remembering the tasting.

They also showed a 2005 Bordeaux – Chateau Moulinet Lasserre from Pomerol. The 2005 vintage for Bordeaux needs little introduction, and this was everything you’d want; Tertiary characteristics leading the nose – old wood, cigars and faint dried fruit, and then the palate adds velvet and silk. A great long finish is built upon the 13.5% alcohol which has mellowed nicely over time. This bottle retails at £30 (no discounts apply) but I’d be happy to stump up for this one. Funny how the mind works isn’t it!? After all, a good wine is a good wine…….

Talking of good wine, the usual tasting table highlighting current staff picks and other offers was still open as usual, and so this gave you the chance to virtually double the number of wines tasted that evening. I was overjoyed to see that Chilean producer Mayu were represented in the form of their Pedro Ximenez, which is a newly stocked wine for Majestic. Mayu are still one of my go-to producers, and when Majestic stocked their Reserva Syrah it was never out of my trolley. I was genuinely distraught when they stopped selling it, but elated to find it in my local Sainsbury’s. At £10 it is great value but, being a supermarket with their regular ‘Buy 6 Save 25%’ offers, it can be had for £7.50 which is a steal for the quality.

The PX was lovely – loads of ripe green fruits, married with a creamy brooding body, and an excellent length. Price-wise it was down from £10.49 to £6.99, with a further 10% off as a featured wine – amazing value. It wasn’t long before I was raving about it to a poor unsuspecting couple, who gave it a try, and also loved it. About an hour later I was talking to another couple who told me that I must try the Mayu PX, and that it came recommended, pointing to the original couple I had spoken to. In addition to the case I bought, I noticed the other couples picking up several cases between them. My work here was done!

It does bring me back to my earlier point though – something like Pedro Ximenez might have been a hard sell on name alone (someone recently handed me back a glass of wine before tasting it on hearing that it was Romanian), but with a simple recommendation and a chance to try before you buy, it can have a really positive effect.

Enjoyed this article?  Please take a moment to ‘Like’ and share using the buttons below. Keep looking around my site for more of the same.  Cheers!

TUMLA and other abbreviations…..

A few years back I saw an invitation in my Majestic wine mailing for an evening learning about wine. At the time I was sitting my WSET Advanced certificate and so already had a bit of a head start but, eager to fill in any blanks, get a different perspective and never one to turn down a free tasting, I signed up.

It was an intimate affair – only 8 of us together for 90 minutes, which naturally enabled a little bonding and chatting with the other people on the course. What sticks in my mind was being able fill in a few blanks for one of the ladies there who was confused with her French white wines, particularly Chablis and Sancerre. To enable her to recall with ease the character of each wine I passed on something that I’d learned – The CH at the start of Chablis means it is the CHardonnay grape that you are drinking, The SA at the beginning of Sancerre meant it was SAuvignon Blanc.

At the entry level stages of wine appreciation you don’t need to necessarily know whether it’s a Burgundy or Loire you are drinking, and all that entails in terms of latitude, grower differentials and the rest. It is more about rationalising why you like what you like, and it does help those awkward social moments when you meet someone who says that they don’t drink Chardonnay, but will happily glug a Chablis. The lady at the tasting was genuinely amazed at that titbit of knowledge in an easy to remember way, and I have never forgotten the importance of using abbreviations when trying to recall detail.

This visual/mnemonic link has been well utilised when trying to learn languages and, as a student working to complete his WSET Diploma, this is an essential exercise. The sheer amount of countries, regions, grapes soil types, weather influences, vintner influences you have to recall and reason is truly mind boggling.

These abbreviations have been particularly useful to me when recalling the wine regions of both South Africa and Italy. For South Africa I always now think of music – not the vibrant local offerings, but of my CDs and the PRS (Performing Rights Society). Whenever I see a blank map of the south western tip of Africa, I can see CDs working their way up the western coast (Constantia, Durbanville, Swartland), and the PRS (Paarl, Robertson, Stellenbosch) in a little clockwise circle just to the east of PRS. For me, being interested in music, abbreviations like PRS are familiar but they could also work equally well for someone interested in, for example, the Physiotherapy Research Society.

Italy, with its 20 regions all producing wine of various levels and volume is another one I needed to recall. The country covers some 10 degrees of latitude and is split for the wine world in to the north, the central and the south regions. North for me is PLV LEFT, an easy way to recall Piedmont, Lombardy, Veneto in the centre, followed by Liguria, Emilia Romagna, Friuli, Trentino/Alto Adige forming an anti-clockwise semi-circle around them. Valle D’Aosta gets an honorary mention in the top North West (not a major region and not on syllabus I believe). For the central regions I recall TUMLA (Tuscany, Umbria, Marche, Lazio, Abruzzo), and the south is CCSSBP (or 2xC, 2xS, British Petroleum) for Campania, Calabria, Sicily, Sardinia, Basilicata and Puglia (again, Molise gets an honorary mention, but there’s not too much wine activity there).

Whilst you obviously still need to put in time learning the details for each one of these regions/countries to fulfil the recall, and these abbreviations certainly don’t cover all the important regions in many areas, using abbreviations is definitely a learning technique that I would recommend.  Tailoring them to something that means something to yourself personally is the key and will help you out of a potentially tight restaurant spot, or under exam conditions.  At the very least, it will also improve your geography.

Enjoyed this article?  Please take a moment to ‘Like’ and share using the buttons below. Keep looking around my site for more of the same.  Cheers!