Aldi Wine Club 13th Tasting Panel – Notes #5 and #6

Well, here we are already on to the final two wines of the 13th Aldi Wine Club panel, and once again it has been a great opportunity to try some wines not on my ordinary supermarket list.

As per the first two bottles received there was a last minute swap out by Aldi and, due to the nicer weather we’ve been seeing here in the UK recently, instead of the planned Chateau Peyredoulle Bordeaux I received:

Aldi Prosecco v3

Aldi Prosecco Superiore NV, Valdobbiadene DOCG, Italy, 11%, £7.99

Prosecco is a tried and trusted crowd-pleaser when the weather is warmer, such is the light fresh and fruity nature of the style, and I’ve no doubt that this particular example will be a favourite for many.

A lovely vibrant medium yellow in colour, the nose was full of clean apple and citrus notes.

The palate was immediately light and quaffable with the soft bubble explosion literally melting in your mouth.  A well balanced and refreshing acid streaked down either side of my tongue giving a good spritz whilst allowing the fruit to stay in the centre of your palate.

Juxtaposing this lightness was the fruit character that the bottle described as autumnal, and they weren’t wrong.  Rather than the crunchy green ‘Granny Smith’ apple you usually find in these lighter styles, there was a definite broody yellow apple tone reminiscent of ‘Golden Delicious’.  Notably darker in character than ‘Granny Smith’, we had soft and sweet yellow flesh, both creamy and slightly bruised, with almost a touch of clove and cinnamon.

A touch of lemon citrus lifted the syrupy apple end palate which, at times, became almost cider-like.  The shift between light and dark certainly made this an interesting wine to try, and the sweet apple kept the finish going in the mouth for some time.

Aldi Andara Merlot v2

Andara Merlot 2015, Chile, 13%, £3.99

This particular Merlot was due in the first batch of wines a couple of months back but, in a similar way to the Prosecco above, was shifted out and joins us here in the final two.  Merlot is, of course, one of the French varieties that has made its home in Chile and thrives in popularity.

A medium youthful purple in colour with visible alcohol ‘tears’ in the glass, the nose was particularly full and interesting, with perceptible layers and density.  Included were liquorice notes, black pepper, dark black berry and cherry, and wood with a whiff of vanilla.  The overall sensation was slightly herbaceous with a cakey-bready thick complexion.

On the palate there were jammy blackberry fruits and a fairly high acidity, matched up against smoky dusky blue-skinned plummy fruit.  There were also secondary tones of bitter dark chocolate and a touch of mint on the aftertaste.  Whilst this should represent a veritable compote of flavour, all in all the palate felt a bit disparate with a raw unfinished quality, and not entirely well blended together.

Such was the imbalance of this wine, unusually for an Aldi Wine Club submission, I was able to discern the price prior to looking for it.  At £3.99, whilst there is a good argument that such imperfection should perhaps be expected, I would counter-argue that wines such as Toro Loco show that quality at this level is actively attainable.

With thanks to Aldi UK for 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.

chelsea-logo

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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Aldi (7th Panel) Wine Club Tasting #1 – Vignobles Roussellet Malbec

I must admit that I have not been a regular Aldi customer. When it comes to the so-called ‘budget’ chain, it’s easy to believe that my avoidance was perhaps out of regular shopping habits or the ‘snob’ factor, but in truth it was merely down to the simple fact that we didn’t actually get an Aldi here in Newbury until the mid-part of 2014.

Once they arrived I did go out of my way to go there and pick up several bottles of the superb Toro Loco red which was going through a high profile TV and press campaign.  Cut it which way you want though – I am very late to the Aldi revolution, which has been making massive inroads in the UK, delivering wine at both quality and price.

ALDI Wine Club Logo

In January this year Aldi launched their online wine shop and, in something of a tandem (it had actually been going a good year already) I became aware of their Wine Club.  For me, this is a no brainer idea in the wake of the closure of the Tesco Wine Community (TWC) last August (see my blog here), which was unique in the market for Supermarket wine endorsement and for whipping up consumer excitement and advocacy.

Entrance to the club is free, but limited, as you have to be hand-picked for each opening (every 3 months), and in return you are expected to be happy to talk regularly on social media about the wines that Aldi have on offer.  One plus point that the Aldi wine club has over the TWC is that they recommend honesty, and have come up with a way to achieve it.  It’s not that Tesco didn’t explicitly want honesty, but with Aldi you are signed-up for a 3-month window of reviewing and you can actually feel free to express your honest opinion, as opposed to (perhaps) faintly praising a particular wine in order to secure further bottles.

If you are happy to go along with the above terms and are lucky enough to be picked, you get a 3 month pass to a number of wines that Aldi want to highlight and you can rate accordingly.  Its then over to you to write a mini 140 character review on Twitter (which ensures you publicise a concise tasting note) and further highlight your reviews via your own blog space.

Luckily enough this suits me all over, and I’ve hopped on the bus for the 7th tasting panel.  In addition to my numerous tweets on the wines (https://twitter.com/Vinesight), presented here is the full tasting note from the first wine supplied.

Aldi Malbec

Vignobles Roussellet Malbec, France, 12.5%, £4.39

When charged with placing a 140 character tweet on a wine, it is tougher than you think to get across everything you want to say.  Alongside the characters swallowed by the picture, the hashtags and the company shout-out, you are left with little over 100 characters.  A mere sentence.

My review stated simply that the wine had a “Good weight. Rich, Intense. Spice to match meatballs. Vanilla & floral. Long cherry length”.  Whilst this is all true and paints the overall picture, it doesn’t tell the whole story, and certainly doesn’t encapsulate everything I like to focus on when reviewing a wine.

If we start at the start, the first thing to notice is that this wine is sealed with a screw-cap, something which isn’t necessarily the case with the majority of French wine.  This isn’t a dig at the bottle, but more a statement on the French who, as the bastion of the old wine world, keep traditional values at the heart of their production.  The inclusion of a screw-cap therefore indicates that this wine is something of misnomer for a typical French bottle, and a hint that a cost-saving has been made.

Digging just a touch further in to the label you also notice further omissions such as the year of production, or even a specific area of France from which the wine originates (it simply states ‘France’).  According to the documentation the wine also includes an element of the Shiraz grape but, as it represents less than 15% of the blend, this also goes un-written and may bother someone trying to construct a full and accountable tasting note.

On the flip side, there has clearly been some thought that has gone in to presenting the wine with a well laid out and designed label.  This alone would be enough to make me pick it up off the shelf, but presents me with a quandary.  We’re hitting a well under-average price-point, with nods to youthful thinking (screw cap), mass production through wide-area blending (or, at the very least, lacking typicity), but we have care going in to presentation.  I’m certainly no wine snob, but I can’t remember the last time I bought a bottle for as little as £4.39, certainly not with an expectation to taste.  What a good opportunity!

On to the wine itself and the colour is a dense ruby youthful purple with a nice fine watery white rim.  The nose is equally dense and forthcoming with sweet ripe black fruits of cherry and plum.  There’s also hints of pepper there, but you can tell that this wine is all about the upfront fruit and you expect a packed palate.

In the mouth you immediately feel the good weight of the wine which is nicely medium bodied.  The fruit is clean and clear and very ripe, sometimes heading towards confectionate (perhaps reminiscent of Parma violets with the evident florality).  You also start to get a feel for the secondary characteristics of a light vanilla, black pepper spice, rich cake-like sultana and raisins, as well as light tannin and lip smacking (fairly high) acid.  The wine keeps the mid-palate filled well with the black cherry fruit intensity, and there’s a nice continuing warmth from the 12.5% alcohol.

I paired this wine with meatballs in a rich chilli sauce and it had both the ripe rich fruit to match the dry darker tones of the beef, as well as the weight and spice to match the weight and spice of the chilli sauce.

This wine has been widely praised by numerous influential and skilled palates (both Tim Atkin and Olly Smith, for example) and it is easy to see why.  Overall, this is an extremely good wine and, when you consider the price-point, almost unbelievable that they can bring it in.  A definite recommend.

With thanks to Aldi UK for supplying the bottle used in this tasting.

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Laithwaites Premiere March 2016

Another Laithwaites Premiere tasting now, taking a look at the bottles they select each month, in a bid to get the regular wine purchaser out of their comfort zone and trying something new.  As usual there’s one bottle of white and one bottle of red, falling anywhere in the £7.99 to £12 price bracket.

LaithMar16

Da Silva Amoras 2014, Lisboa VR, Portugal, 12.5%, £7.99

Laithwaites became ‘Portuguese Wine Importer of the year’ in 2010, so it’s no surprise that they’re promoting unique wines from that part of the world.  At £7.99 it’s certainly not one of the most expensive offerings from the scheme, so a ‘try-before-you-buy’ tasting is good news.

The first thing that’s great about this wine is that it is from the ‘Santos Lima’ family estate, owned by the da Silva family for several generations, which ensures a serious attention to detail.  Secondly, they have access to the long sunny Portuguese days and perfect growing conditions that comprise “slopes, soil and breezy conditions close to the Atlantic”.

On a third note, this wine was also a treat for me as it comprises a blend of four very different and unusual grape varieties – Fernao Pires (30%), Arinto (30%), Vital (30%) and Moscatel (10%), two of which I’d never tried before.

Each of the grapes plays a clear part in to the final palate, with the Fernao Pires providing the weight and spice, the Arinto giving the crisp citrics, and the Vital and Moscatel providing the grapey characters.

In colour the wine is an almost luminous golden yellow, both clean and bright and evocative of its youth.  What the nose has in the depth of flavour, it seems to unfortunately lack in its intensity. All the scents are there, but the wine is quite closed and I felt that you really needed to search to find them.  Usually this ‘closed’ nature could be down to over chilling the wine, but this wasn’t a factor in this case.

This is a mid-weight wine, creamy with a low-key but present acidity, making it both crisp and refreshing.  The citrus comes primarily from lemon and to a lesser extent lime, but both apples and grapes are the heavy hitters.  Whilst the green notes are offset by the yellow fruits, the palate is quite dark, almost sour.  When you consider that the ‘grapey’ aspect should only come from 40% of the blend, this is quite interesting.

Whilst showing a bit of a tangy after-taste, it has a good long length which manages to retain the musky fruit.  When looking at the online comments for this wine it appears that it is a bit of fence-sitter, with as many liking this as disliking the final product, but I enjoyed it and would potentially purchase in future.

Inca Tree Malbec 2015, Mendoza, Argentina, 13.5%, £10.49

With this wine sitting in the top part of the price category I was initially hopeful (most recent Premiere examples have peaked at the £9.99 bracket).  As many will know, Malbec is the French originated, but Argentine adopted grape variety, so a wine of this variety in this country (and at this price) should be top notch.

The bottle is well presented, with the image of the Jaguar (almost evoking that of the Ram on the 2000 Mouton) on the label to pay tribute to local folklore, where the animal is sacred and elusive.

In the glass this is a nice deep youthful purple, and the nose hits you even before you get to the glass which is always a good sign of complexity.  The first impressions of the nose are of sweet red cherry, plums and damsons.

Whilst the body was medium, the high acid actually kept the overall sensation fairly light. On the first day I tried this wine the fruit disappeared pretty quickly on the mid-palate, leaving only a spiciness rather than the fruit.  In lieu of a satisfactory tasting I decided to give this wine another go on a second date and it was well worth it.  Keeping the wine the extra day allowed the mid-palate to fill out with plummy fruits, and this melded well with the aforementioned spice and warmth.

So, decanting is definitely recommended for this wine but, even when doing that, I’m not sure I would put in the +£10 bracket.  There was a distinct complexity missing for me that would elevate it to anything above the £8 level and I was perhaps doing more than I should have, trying to coax something out of it.  It’s clearly a wine that is all about primary fruit and upfront exposure and, based on this tasting, is not something I would buy again.

So the Premiere story this month seems to be the cheaper white wine turned out to show better than the more expensive red.  Interesting stuff.

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Trivento winemaker’s dinner

Trivento Dinner Banner

This week I had the pleasure of attending an intimate dinner with German di Cesare, chief winemaker for Trivento, the UK’s best-selling Malbec and one of Argentina’s leading wineries. Based in the foothills of the Andes at extremely high altitudes, Trivento takes its’ name from three winds (Polar, Zonda and Sudesta) that cool the climate and make Mendoza such a distinctive winegrowing region.

German (or Geri as he is known to his friends) joined the company in 2002 and has held several positions ranging from barrel room manager to varietal winemaker, prior to his promotion in 2008 to create their high-end wines. With a chance to chew the fat (literally) with the man in charge, expectations were high!

The setting for the meal was Argentinian restaurant Casa Malevo in London, with my stroll from Marble Arch to Connaught Square taking the bizarre twist of being under heavily armed police. Alas, this wasn’t for my protection, but that of ex-British Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose house is only a few doors away from the restaurant. From the street, with its’ cosy alfresco tables and green awning, you could tell that this would be an intimate affair, but once inside we were led downstairs to a private dining room only just large enough to contain the 13 attendees around a large central table.

We were warmly greeted by Geri and representatives from Trivento, importers Concha Y Toro, and Tesco who were hosting the night. With our coats barely on to a hanger, we were straight in to a glass (or three) of their Reserve Chardonnay – A fresh citric number, that added yellow melon and tropical notes to its aroma. On the palate, clean fruit, joined by refreshing acidity and a buttery texture due to its time in French oak. It was no surprise when Geri later revealed that it was Trivento policy to make wines of outstanding clarity – to really feel the fruit with every mouthful.

As liberally as the wine, questions flowed to the Trivento team:

  • What sort of rivalry exists with winemakers across the Andes in Chile? (a friendly one, they are in regular contact about many winemaking issues)
  • What’s the view on having so little vintage variation with their wines? (It’s important that customers know what to expect and consistency is an important factor)
  • With Malbec doing so well, what’s next? (Trivento farm approximately 12 grape varieties, with Sauvignon Blanc 2012 about to hit the market, as well as a Syrah, and Cabernet Franc and Mourvédre the next in line)

A menu of 3 courses was served throughout the evening and, whilst there were several options to choose from, I made the following choices based on the gradual step up in the quality and body of the Malbec that would accompany each course.

To start I had grilled chorizo on toast, onions and Malbec braised Ox cheeks, paired with the Reserve Malbec. The Ox cheeks were cooked to perfection and simply melted in the mouth, and the chorizo added some spice to the meat combination. The Malbec was the perfect partner, blending with the fine tannin to allow darker fruit to come to the fore. As a point of interest, like the entry-level Reserve Chardonnay, the Reserve Malbec is actually bottled in the UK.

For the main course I had the classic combination of Sirloin Steak paired with the lauded Golden Reserve Malbec 2012 – made at altitudes of 950m in the oldest Argentinian wine appellation Luján de Cuyo from 60-80 year old vines that grow on the alluvial soils of the riverbanks. The long cool growing season and concentration of low yielding old vines gives a wine that clocks in 14.5% abv, and shows a vibrant dark purple in colour. Malbec and steak is a winning combination and these two blended beautifully, with the powerful nose of black and blue fruit being of concentration, not aggression. Incidentally, the wine is called ‘Golden’ to evoke treasure, which this wine definitely is. Treasure and a pleasure!

To finish I had the cheese selection with quince and raisin toast, paired with their top level Eolo Malbec, which is produced on an extremely limited run of just 500 bottles (600 cases). With a price tag of £50 per bottle (if you can find it) it was a great privilege to be able to try a few glasses of this rare wine. The nose was divine with roasted tertiary characters, and the velvet silk, vanilla, and dense rich concentrated black fruit carrying on to the palate. The tannins were gentle and integrated, and when paired with the variety of cheeses, melted away. The length of the wine still persisted as people started to make their excuses, and head for home.

All in all a wonderful night in great company, with generous tastings of fine Argentinian wine, alongside fine Argentinian food. Unforgettable.

Many Thanks go to Trivento & Concha Y Toro for hosting the evening, and to Tesco for providing the opportunity.

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Your place or mine?

Be it a short burst of promotion, or a fun excuse to open the next bottle of wine, many grape varieties have a day of celebration devoted over to them each year. You can celebrate Chardonnay day on the 23rd May, Merlot day on the 7th November or, in case you were not aware, today is Malbec day! Time to pop to the shops for some Argentinian Malbec!

Argentina is Malbec’s adopted home, where the consistently long warm days allow the grapes to ripen more evenly than it’s frosty French origin, and whilst French plantings of the grape are decreasing, Argentine plantings are on the increase. The reason it does so well away from its homeland is that the Malbec grapes are susceptible to frost, and in France’s cold marginal climate, that is an ever present threat. Whilst it is still grown in parts of south-west France, it’s primarily found in their Bordeaux-style blends as opposed to varietal wines. Malbec is a grape that produces a tannic wine, and these bitter notes can come to the fore when the grapes are not fully ripened, thus it makes sense to blend it with other grapes that can perform well in these climatic conditions. This ensures that all flavours are rounded out in to a smooth and drinkable wine.

Argentina is of course much warmer than France, and higher altitude plantings (where it gets up to 1 ºC cooler for every 100 metres you ascend) can deliver grapes that see cool conditions, but with the added advantage of warm consistent sunshine throughout the growing season. In a nice bit of serendipity, the fuller flavour of Malbec happily pairs well with steak, which is an Argentine food staple. It therefore doesn’t take much of a leap of imagination to decide that tonight’s dinner for me will be steak paired with an Argentinian Malbec. Job done.

Or is it? Am I simply taking the lazy option? The day is organised by Wines of Argentina, and placed on the anniversary of the day when the first Malbec plantings were recognised in Mendoza, but the day is all about the grape, and not the location. It’s not Argentinian Malbec day, after all.

When planning any celebration it’s natural to want the best experience, which in this case could well be Argentinian Malbec and steak, but in planning for success, do you also plan to fail? By safeguarding our choices do we also miss out on what can make an event unique? Surely there can be as much fun in playing away from type, as there can be in getting it spot on? And you don’t even need to worry if things don’t go to plan, as there’s only another 365 days to go until the next opportunity!

With these thoughts in mind I might just do things a little different today, and pop my Argentinian Malbec back in the rack, and nip out for some French Malbec instead.

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