Aldi Wine Club 19th Panel round-up

I last wrote about the Aldi Wine Club (AWC) back in May, not because I was part of their latest panel, but more to address the fact that it had been a good 6 months since the previous panel had taken place.

Since that time the regular panels have returned, and I welcomed sight of the 18th iteration. The disappearance had all the hallmarks of the now-defunct Tesco Wine Club, and the natural need for supermarkets to keep tight purse strings on all non-essential spend. In a clear nod to this austerity, the number of AWC bottles to be received each month has been reduced from 2 to 1.

All fair enough I guess but, since the Aldi range has changed significantly over this period, I readily signed up to be a part of the 19th showing, which contained 3 previously untried wines all at superb price-points.

19th aldi 1

This Italian Sangiovese Loves…., Sangiovese (100%), Sicily, Italy, 12.5%, £4.99

First off of the blocks was the curiously and purposely titled ‘This Sangiovese Loves….’

Italian wine is well known to match Italian food, so the food mix (also extending to other Italian stalwarts such as pasta, meatballs and sausage) is no great surprise. I regularly heap praise on Aldi wine labelling – I think they’re clever, interesting and, above all, show attention to detail, but in this case, things seem to dumb down just a touch.

The grape ‘Sangiovese’ might put a potential purchaser off, as might the fact that they shouldn’t drink the wine tonight if they’re not tucking in to an Italian dish (it will go well on its own or with others). Of course, many non-wine aficionados could use the label as an ‘expert’ guide through to tasting perfection, so it may well be six of one, half a dozen of the other.

The above said about the quite literal descriptive title, the bright orange capsule and neck brace offset the dark wine superbly and is a real shelf eye-catcher, and it’s nice to see a wine at the modest level of 12.5% alcohol.

A nose of silky vibrant red cherry, a touch of menthol, and dollops of vanilla created a full and lovely expression. The modest alcohol gave a palate that was lighter than expected for the colour, with fresh black cherry and liquorice. The mouth-wateringly high acid (characteristic Italian for a food match) was evident throughout.

With a light-tannin and tea infused finish, the fruits dipped away to a disappointing end, I’d disagree with the label that this was close to a full-bodied wine. It has certainly got well-defined and forward flavours but that isn’t quite the same thing. The wine in general is much more accessible.

19th aldi 2

Organic Prosecco, Treviso, Italy, 11.5%, £7.99

We’re back to the classic-looking Aldi range now and one fantastic looking squat bottle, extremely reminiscent of Ruinart Champagne. I’d pick it up on visual alone.

Highlighting the Organic heritage, the Aldi notes tell us that the grapes were sourced from the Corvezzo family’s 150-hectare estate, 30km north-east of Venice. Grown with no pesticides or herbicides used in the vineyard, the grapes are predominately handpicked and gently pressed to ensure only the highest quality of juice is used. The winery is committed to using renewable energy wherever possible. Already a great reason to pick up the bottle and to feel good when drinking it.

All applaudable, but did it translate to the palate? With a very fine bead, there was ripe green apple and pear, fleshy in the main but with detectable pips. Added to this was a light lemon mousse and a touch of honeycomb and cream creating a quaffable, frothy, weightless, but layered, depth. The crisp citric finish lasted longer than a minute, giving off a drying touch of white grapefruit. Although Extra Dry, there was a touch of sweetness coming from the lower than usual alcohol level.

19th aldi 3

Freeman’s Bay, Winemakers Reserve Pinot Gris 2018, Gisborne, New Zealand, 13%, £5.79

The third panel slot was originally slated to be this £6.99 Gavi di Gavi but, for whatever reason, this Pinot Gris was subbed in.

With a wonderfully fragrant nose, detectable from a few paces away, this was full and dense, conveying a veritable fruit salad of honeyed citrus, yellow tropical pineapple and melon, orange tinged satsuma, and fleshy green pear and grapefruit.

A rich and oily texture combined extremely ripe, pure fruits, almost to a concentrate level. A medium mouth-watering fresh acidity led through to a tangy satsuma and white pepper spice on the finish. In a word (or three) – lush and moreish, and a definite buy from me.

With thanks to Aldi for sending through the bottles used in this review.

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Georgia On My Mind

I’m always pleased when wine questions turn up in the pub quiz, a recent example being “Where can you find the worlds largest wine cellar?”.  Having visited the sprawling vast caverns of Champagne, where you sometimes need a motorised vehicle to get around, I offered it up as my answer.  I was wrong, its actually in Moldova.

Chalk Cellar

This reminded me that many people naturally think of France as the birthplace of wine when the truth is much more Eastern European.  In fact, it’s just across the Black Sea from Moldova, in Georgia. 

The oldest known evidence of wine-making there dates back 8,000 years, with scientists able to trace the organic compounds found in wine-making in various pottery shards.  This historical importance, along with over 500 unique indigenous grape varieties and unusual wine-making techniques, should make Georgian wines an easy sell.  How come then, most of us have never seen or tried them?

Traditionally focused on the domestic market and surrounding countries, the rug was firmly pulled from under Georgia’s feet when Russia imposed an import ban on their wines in 2006.  Low standards and a plodding reliability on the norm caused them to lose 90% of their exports overnight. 

Although lifted in 2013, the ban pushed them to improve quality and focus on further export opportunities, signing trade agreements with the EU and the quickly expanding Chinese wine market.  Russia once again accounts for 50% of exports but, in just 4 years, China has become their third largest market.

These sales are all good but, due to the local economies they are mostly low value, with rival brands competing on bottle prices in the £1-£1.50 bracket.  Serious future growth is dependent on higher value sales; hence them now looking to richer Western markets including both the UK and US.

Wine is not immune to the recent food trends for ‘natural’ ingredients and processes, and buzzwords including organic and biodynamic are never far from reach when talking about current production styles.

This ‘back-to-nature’ style perfectly suits Georgian wine as many producers still practice the traditional methods used for thousands of years.  Instead of fermenting/ageing wines in ultra-modern temperature cooled facilities, they bury them underground in large egg-like clay jars called ‘Qvevri’, where they utilise the naturally cool and consistent underground temperatures. 

Qvevri

Whilst this continued soaking of the grape juice on its skin is not so different to regular ‘over-ground’ red wine production around the world (the red colour comes from the grape skin, not the flesh), globally produced white wine sees little skin contact.  The Qvevri production sees them pick up a much darker hue, becoming ‘Gold’ or ‘Amber’ wines; a whole new spectrum of colour and taste.

These differences give unique selling points to Georgian wine and, with a little development to the quality classifications and labelling (both hindered by largely unpronounceable place names and grape varieties), they’ll be coming to a store near you very soon.

Two high-street staples have already taken the plunge and you can buy a Georgian white (aka gold) from M&S and a red from Waitrose.  Will you take the plunge too?

Cheers!

This article was originally published in the October 2018 edition of The Ocelot.  For more of my articles, please click here.

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Masterclass

Jolene Hunter, the South African born winemaker at renowned Alsace producer Domaine Zind-Humbrecht, was in town recently to present a selection of their wines in a terroir masterclass.

Zind Humbrecht

Although the individual families have been making wine since the 17th century, the modern day story really begins in 1959 when Léonard Humbrecht married Geneviève Zind.  Since this time the Domaine has grown to hold 40 hectares, including some of the very best parcels in Alsace’s top Grand Cru and Lieu Dit sites.

Now run by Léonard’s son Olivier (one of the rare number of winemakers who also holds the MW qualification), the Domaine is well known for its non-interventionist policies and have long practiced organic procedures.  The Domaine was certified fully biodynamic in 2002.

Rather than simply presenting us with a handful of the circa 30 wines in their portfolio, we were specifically comparing three grape varieties (Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewurtztraminer) across two different Alsatian terroirs.

Windsbuhl

Clos Windsbuhl

Clos Windsbuhl is the more northern of the two sites and situated in Hunawihr.  The vines are spread over 5.5 hectares and planted at 350 metres above sea level which, when paired with the moderating effects from the great swathes of forest to the west, keeps the vines nicely cooled throughout the warm growing season.

The soil here is known as muschelkalk which is an extremely old form of limestone, and the resultant wines are full of clean and pure fruit expressions with well-defined acidity.

Zind Humbrecht Riesling 2014, Clos Windsbuhl, Alsace, 12.5%

Medium straw yellow in colour and with a deep citrus nose.  Rich gloopy palate full of creamy lemon, honey and white pepper.  A very precise streak of acidity cuts through the weight keeping this well balanced.

Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris 2012, Clos Windsbuhl, Alsace ,13%

Strict sorting was required in the ripe vintage of 2012 and this ripeness was very evident on the nose.  With a similar youthful colouring to the Riesling, the nose here had touches of peach skin to the green notes of lime and apple.  The palate was slightly sweetened by the 36.5 grams of residual sugar and had a fleshy lemon curd quality.  Very clean and intense fruits played the lead here against a mellow acidity.

Zind Humbrecht Gewurtztraminer 2013, Clos Windsbuhl, Alsace ,13%

Golden in colour, the nose of this wine was full of sweet honey and lemon and extremely powerful.  A nice and firm weight in the mouth, the lemon citrus took the lead here backed up by green flesh on the end palate.  Like the Pinot Gris before it, a mellow acid took the rear and allowed the ripe fruit to sing on its own.  Very refreshing.

Thann

Rangen

We move south now to Rangen, and more specifically to the Clos Saint Urbain, which is the only site in the whole of Alsace that is fully classified as Grand Cru.  Sites are on very steep slopes here and are all fully worked by hand as mechanisation is impossible.

The soil is mainly composed of volcanic black rocks and fragments known as Grauwacke which brings out stronger, denser fruits and darker smoky notes.  The darker direction of the wine is also immediately visible in the more golden colouring.  The rocky fragments heat up quickly in the day warming the grapes and concentrating the sugars.  Once again the cooling effect of the high altitude, and the cool night temperatures allow sufficient acidity to remain.

Zind Humbrecht Riesling 2014, Rangen de Thann, Clos Saint Urbain, Alsace, 12.5%

2014 was a good vintage here and this resulting wine possesses a gold colour and lighter body.  The palate is lean, with a pin-point acidity matching up to the strong green lime and smoky notes.

Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris 2012, Rangen de Thann, Clos Saint Urbain, Alsace, 14.5%

Golden green in colour, the nose of this wine was full of creamy citrus lemon and lime.  On the palate this is joined by fleshy apple flesh, cream, white pepper spice, and hints of peach.  Rich and smooth with a mellow, but defined, acid.  Fleshy palate, rich and smooth.

Zind Humbrecht Gewurtztraminer 2013, Rangen de Thann, Clos Saint Urbain, Alsace, 13.5%

Deep golden yellow in colour, the nose was full of sweet honey and lime nose, and a blossom fragrance.  Made from 34 year old vines, and with 42 grams of residual sugar, this was intense and sweet but not at all cloying.  Lots of deep honey and textured lemon.

Selection Grains Nobles (SGN)

One final comparison came in the form of the sweeter SGN style.  Made from strictly selected berries that have been affected by noble rot, these partially raisined grapes lose their water content leaving the rich and concentrated sugars.  SGN is the highest rating of late harvest wine in Alsace.

Pinot Gris Clos Windsbuhl SGN 2008, 10.8%

2008 was a good year for producing SGN wine as the weather was wet in the summer and then dry before harvest allowing the rot to stop and the rasining to commence.

Bronze in colour with very pronounced toffee and sweet honey on the nose, the dense weight was at no point cloying, and the high acid well balanced the ripe fruits of lemon citrus and green apple.  More matured fruit notes from dried pineapple and lemon curd.  Very long finish.

Pinot Gris Rangen de Thann Clos Saint Urbain SGN 2009, 11.8%

This wine was more of a deep gold in colour (the effect of the volcanic soil).  On the nose there was toffee, bruised and brown apple and light florality.  The palate was just like drinking liquid toffee and extremely satisfying.  Creamy and sugary, the acid was more towards medium in this wine and the overall sensation was nicely rounded.  Very long finish and extremely pleasant wine to finish on.

With thanks to Gonzalez Byass for the tickets to their portfolio tasting and Domaine Zind Humbrecht masterclass.

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Le Petit Ballon – Clos de l’ours Rosé Tasting

I was recently introduced to Le Petit Ballon, a French wine subscription service who have amassed over 40,000 customers, making them the number one choice in the country. Since their 2011 launch, this success has seen them expanding in to both Belgium and the UK in 2015 and, in the current age of ‘time-poor’ consumers favouring convenience at every step, monthly subscription boxes are booming.

In the UK wine market things remain fairly uncrowded with perhaps half a dozen players vying for your custom, and so it is a ripe time to be offering a new option.

Le Petit Ballon

The no-commitment service operates at two different price-points to ensure that you stay in control of the types of wines that you’d like to try.  Each monthly package consists of two full (75cl) bottles of wine and a full colour magazine (‘The Gazette’) telling you all you need to know about the wines you will be tasting.  Membership also brings the added benefit of receiving at least 20% off the range of artisan wines offered in their online shop, and this ensures that should you find your dream wine on the scheme, you’ll be able to order further supplies no matter how rare the producer.

The first package on offer is ‘Grape Expectations’ which focuses on showcasing great value wines from artisan producers you won’t find on the high-street.  The second, higher tier is the ‘Age of Raisin’ package, focusing on more prestigious labels.

All of the wines featured in the service have been personally selected by Jean-Michel Deluc, a former Sommelier Chef at The Ritz and a man with many other culinary credits to his name, so is a palate you can trust.

For summer 2016 Le Petit Ballon have just launched a new cache of Rosé wines, and I leapt at the chance to give one a try from producer Clos de l’ours.  Ours translates as ‘bear’ which is a nod to the bear-like qualities of winemaker Michel (who would easily be able to give you a bear hug) and he is also referenced in the name of the blend ‘Grizzly’ (Michel has a big beard!).

Clos de l’ours was founded in 2012 (although the vineyards have been in operation much longer) and whilst they are still in the early years of business they have a clear philosophy of how they want to farm their land.  Respectful of the existing vines being farmed organically since 2000, they continue to use minimal intervention in the wine-making process to allow nature to take its own course.

Le Petit Ballon 2

Clos de l’ours Grizzly Organic Rosé (blend) 2015, Provence, France, 14%, £13.90 (£11.90 to subscribers)

The colour of this wine is a pale-ish pink, conjuring up for me the colour of farmed salmon with hints of onion skin. It looks clear, clean, fresh and inviting, and the slate-grey colour of the label immediately sets off the pale colour of the wine superbly.  The blend is a veritable compendium of the classic southern french red grapes of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvédre, Carignan and Cinsault, with the addition of the white grape Rolle to finish it off.

The nose was nicely forthcoming and full of various red fruits, but in the main strawberries and redcurrant.  In addition to this there was a discernible dash of lemon citrus and a whiff of smokiness at the tail end.

The first thing I notice on the palate is the wonderful depth that the wine exudes, which is an instant hit of pure fruit and a silky creamy weight.  Once again the red fruits are clean, nicely ripe and balanced with a medium fresh acid that is present, but happy to let the juicy fruits come to the fore.  Once again we are mixing strawberry and redcurrants, with background notes of raspberry and pomegranate.

The finish is long and carried by the creaminess and the smoky salty minerality you always find in a decent Provence Rosé.

Even though this wine is all about showcasing well delivered pure fruit, there’s an inbuilt complexity that makes this absolutely worth the price.  In my search for more words to describe its creamy rich body I kept returning to the glass time and time again and, although I failed to find the words, I was still amply rewarded with a well-realised wine.

I absolutely look forward to trying other wines in the range, and indeed, others offered by Le Petit Ballon.  You can find out more, as well as getting more info on their subscription options by visiting http://www.lepetitballon.com/uk/

With thanks to Clementine Communications and Le Petit Ballon for the bottle used in this tasting.

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