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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Zind-Humbrecht – Herrenweg de Turckheim & Hengst Tasting

Earlier in the year I attended a glorious tasting of wines from top Alsatian producer Domaine Zind-Humbrecht, comparing their Clos Windsbuhl and Rangen sites.  I was doubly chuffed to recently receive a further invite, this time focused on their Herrenweg de Turckheim and Hengst sites.

A further bonus was that the tasting would be conducted by none other than winemaker Olivier Humbrecht MW. Olivier is one of just a handful of winemakers with the MW qualification and, as expected, his 90-minute lecture was an absolute joy.

Humbrecht MW

Humbrecht practise non-interventionalist winemaking and are incredibly passionate about making pure wines that speak for themselves.  Certified bio-dynamic some 13 years, Olivier stated that he believed that the winery was a “place that you can damage a wine, not make it better”.

As a listed ‘Domaine’ they are only allowed to use grapes produced in their own vineyards, which span some 100 acres and make approximately 200k bottles.  Their yields are much lower than permitted and perhaps some 2-3 times less than fellow producers.

The tasting today concentrated on 3 different grape varieties from different vintages: the drier style of Riesling, the sweeter Gewürztraminer and the mixed bag that is Pinot Gris.  Olivier rolled out the very interesting statistic that Alsace has as much geologically diverse soil as the entire land between Chablis and Chateauneuf.

To save any duplication in the tasting notes below, or perhaps to act as a summary, all the wines tasted were incredibly pure of flavour, rich in texture, incredibly mouth-filling and satisfying.  Truly exceptional quality.

Humbrecht Lineup

Riesling 2015 Herrenweg de Turckheim, 12.5%

Bottled as recently as February 2017, Herrenweg is situated on the gravelly valley floor, just outside of the village of Múnster.  Being the product of a single vineyard the wines have more character and increased fruit concentration.  The 2015 vintage was very hot, with June/July temperatures regularly hitting 30-40° C, giving stress to the vines as well as the vignerons.  There was, however, just enough rain to ensure a good acid/alcohol balance.

Light yellow in colour with golden highlights, the nose is both intense, concentrated, almost golden, yellow fruit.  A touch of apple and a streak of minerality carry through to the palate which is characterised by a fresh acid.  Everything is smooth and precise, with the juicy bruised Golden Delicious apple joined by gloopy lemon curd.  Very long finish.

Pinot Gris 2010 Herrenweg de Turckheim, 14.5%

Temperatures on the 19th Dec 2009 dipped as low as -19° C giving the coldest winter for a very long time and a subsequent small crop.  Further frost damage saw many buds lost and rain persisted during flowering.  This is the 3rd smallest vintage since 1989 and would have been the 2nd smallest had 2017 not had more problems.

The golden colour of the wine comes from the ripeness of the grapes and the botrytis as opposed to the 7 years of age it has at this time.  After the first wine tasted there was noticeable extra sugar on the nose as well as rich butter, bees wax and honey.

The palate showcased very pure golden yellow tropical fruit, thick rich lemon curd and honey. A very present acidity was well balanced.  Superb, with not a bit of the palate wasted.

Gewürztraminer 2013, Hengst Grand Cru, 13.5%

A top growth south facing sloped vineyard on a red limestone base, Hengst is the German word for ‘Stallion’.  2013 was another small crop vintage but, as the vines are an impressive 62 years old, overproduction is not an option.  With older vines it’s less about the volume of grapes, but more about the flavour concentration.

Olivier pointed out that Gewürztraminer is an aromatic grape which makes an aromatic wine but, just as with perfume, can be overpowering if you don’t get the balance right.

A medium yellow with green gold tints, the nose was full of orange peel and lychee.  The palate was softly sweet but densely packed with golden tropical fruit, tangy peach and satsuma.  A light spice paired with a good level of acidity kept this going in the mouth for ages.

Humbrecht Closeup

Gewürztraminer 2010, Herrenweg de Turckheim Vieilles Vignes, 13%

A rarer late harvest wine from the tiny 2010 crop makes this a wine that almost shouldn’t exist.

Golden yellow in colour with intense melon-dominant juicy yellow fruits, there’s also hints of orange peel and lemon curd.  The palate was sugar sweet, honeyed, with rich butter, bees wax and mandarin.  The acidity was high but well balanced.

Pinot Gris 2007, Herrenweg de Turckheim Vendange Tardive, 15%

A good but complicated year was how Olivier described the 2007 harvest.  A rainy start gave way to hot and dry conditions allowing good ripeness but a lot of botrytis.

A lovely aged medium amber in colour, the nose was both pronounced yet slightly restrained and full of deep dark honey, sticky toffee and caramel.  The palate oozed with a gloopy oily sweetness full of sweet lemon citrus, mature honey, and lifted by touches of mandarin and peach.

This filled all of my mouth with its silky charm.  Substantial length – well in to multiple minutes – which carried on long after the end of this superb tasting.

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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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UK vineyard tasting notes – Camel Valley and Knightor (Part 2)

The following tasting notes originate from my recent UK vineyard visits, the full details of which can be viewed here (Camel Valley) and here (Knightor).  This is the second of my two tasting notes, the first of which can be found here.

Knightor Brut NV, Cornwall, UK – 12.5%

This sparkling, one of only 7,500 bottles, is a veritable compendium of grape varieties – Seyval Blanc, Reichensteiner, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir.  The exact blend changes from season to season, and so isn’t listed specifically in this non-vintage wine.  The grapes were hand harvested and whole bunch pressed, with the best free run juices being fermented in small separate batches.  Following blending and the second fermentation in bottle the wine was disgorged up to 24 months later for optimum lees ageing, balance and freshness.

Upon pouring, the wine is fine and effervescent with pin prick bubbles emerging.  The nose, as well as having the tell-tale green fruit signs of English sparkling, combines light lemon citrus with both honey and cream.  The palate leans heavily on both lemon and lime, and a fairly high acid cuts across the fleshy green fruits of apples, pips and pears.  The medium body and light butteriness move toward a respectable but average finish.  In summary, this is a zippy, fresh, quaffable wine, but it currently lacks the further depth needed to compete as anything other than a palate cleanser of straight-forward aperitif.  To Knightor’s credit they do say that they are saving the best grapes for their (forthcoming) vintage offering, and so this is fully intended to be entry level.  On the minus side though, with its closest comparison being perhaps that of Prosecco, at the current £27 Champagne level price-point, my view is that this isn’t perhaps representing good value for money.

Knightor Brut Rosé NV, Cornwall, UK – 12%

A blend of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier with some Dornfelder thrown in for good measure, the grapes were hand-picked and went through a very gentle whole bunch pressing.  They were then fermented in stainless steel in separate batches to preserve their individual characteristics and underwent 9 months lees ageing prior to being disgorged.  A quite tiny number of 2,063 bottles were produced.

The colour is a mix of onion skin and farmed salmon, and the nose gives off clear red fruits, erring towards raspberry more than strawberry.  A light note of cranberry joins the mix, as does whiffs of smoke and vanilla, and I can also detect hints of the creamy texture to come.

The palate is fresh and confectionate, with the red fruit of cherry giving way to clear rhubarb and custard.  Alongside this is a touch of sweet spice (vanilla), and a medium acid and lime hit searing through the centre palate.  The medium weight carries the rhubarb through the long finish.  Delicious, and a good full flavour profile.

Knightor Lineup

Knightor Pinot Gris (100%) 2011, Cornwall, UK – 12%

Grapes were picked on the 11th October 2011 and were whole bunch pressed, with 50% of the juice going in to second fill French oak barriques.  The remainder of the juice went in to stainless steel and, after malolactic fermentation, the wine spent one year maturing on its lees.  Only 1,700 bottles were produced.

Soft pale lemon in colour, the nose is extremely expressive with both aromas and textures coming through.  You can detect the butter and, in particular, the oiliness of the wine, as well as pear drops, apple flesh, lemon and other yellow fruits, such as banana, melon and dried pineapple.  Stone fruits are also in attendance with hints of nectarine bristling alongside light vanilla spice.  All in all this is an extremely full and pleasing nasal experience.

The abundance of flavour is carried on to the palate carving a dense, almost chewy weight.  The full acidity and flesh of apples now becomes apparent, with the fresh acids being kept in check by the oily texture of the wine.  Pear drops and lime, and a luscious creaminess fill out the end palate, alongside a smokiness that is perhaps akin to the fluffy skin of peaches.  This wine has a good long satisfying full finish.  I don’t usually drink varietal Pinot Gris, but this is a wonderful example that makes me want to try another very soon to enable me to understand more about its potential.  The overall experience was made all the better by the fact that I managed to get this bottle for £10 (RRP £17), and so I assume it is one of the last few remaining bottles.

Knightor Single Vineyard Roseland Pinot Noir Precoce 2014 Rosé, Cornwall, UK – 10.67%

One of only 2,000 bottles produced, the Pinot Noir grapes for this wine all came from a single vineyard located on the Roseland peninsula, near to Portscatho.  Fruit was harvested in late September, hand-picked, whole bunch pressed, and fermented in stainless steel.

The colour is a vibrant wild salmon pink, with the nose full of dark brooding red fruits with tinges of brightness (perhaps of cranberry) appearing within the smoke and creamy notes.

On the palate, it’s fairly sweet, with tinned strawberries and cream being the primary characters.  Touches of cranberry and a little light cherry meet with a medium acidity which allows the darker notes of the fruit to come to the fore and lead the good length finish.  The wine manages to balance well the lightness of youth and a light touch in the winery, with good deep fruit characters.  Pleasing on its own, this wine would also go very well with food (as the finish is a touch sweet for me).

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Bitesize: Alsace

Bitesize is an occasional series providing regional over-views, learning aids, and key statistics in under 1000 words

Alsace

Tucked away on the eastern border of France sits the wine region of Alsace. Quite distinct from other French wine regions, it’s recognisable for its use of certain grapes not found elsewhere in France, Germanic flute style bottles, and wines labelled by grape variety as opposed to the regional French style (Bordeaux, Burgundy etc.). Alsace owes this cross-pollination of French-German culture down to its position, resting as it does between the natural boundary of the Vosges mountain range, and the political boundary of the River Rhine. Aside from times of occupation, Alsace has always been a part of France, and the residents proudly consider themselves French, but from the names of their towns (e.g. Riquewihr), top producers (e.g. Zind-Humbrecht, Hugel, Trimbach) and timber framed structures of their housing, there is a resolutely Germanic feel to the place.

Whilst the Vosges Mountains may act as a barrier between Alsace and the rest of France, this range is key to its success, acting as a barrier and trapping approaching rain clouds. Outside of Perpignan in the south of France, this makes it the driest area in the country, guaranteeing long warm growing seasons and well ripened grapes. Alsace sits at the northern limit of grape production (the Champagne region only marginally trumps it to being the most northerly of French vineyards), and when you add that cool climatic influence to the rain-free sunshine enjoyed by the area you have a unique micro climate. Whilst the heat in Perpignan traditionally produces robust reds and rustic whites, Alsace can deliver medium bodied, clean fruit-forward white wines with refreshing acidity. Malolactic is avoided by keeping wines cool and sulphured and, although matured in barrel, no oak influence is imparted as the barrels are decades old. Wines are bottled within a year of harvest to maximise the freshness.

Alsace has a few thousand individual/family growers owning small inherited parcels of land, but over 90% of the wines produced come from just 220 companies. The vineyards of Alsace are at 200-400 metres above sea level, and run in a 100 kilometre north-south strip, split in to two regions – Bas Rhin (Lower Rhine) and Haut Rhin (Upper Rhine). Confusingly, as you look at a map, the Bas (Lower) Rhin is in the north of the country and the Haut (Upper) Rhin is in the south. Whilst great wines can be made in the Bas-Rhin, it is the Haut-Rhin that produces the finest wines as this is where the Vosges Mountains come in to their central and highest point. The vineyards nestle up in to the foothills receiving the best protection from the elements, getting good drainage, and excellent eastern exposure to the rising sun.

The soils in Alsace are something of a mosaic (the by-product of geological fault lines below the region), underpinned by the granitic base of the Vosges, and more akin to the nearby German region of Baden, than any French region. Regional body CIVA (Le Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins d’Alsace) lists 13 different soils, including schist, Sandstone, Limestone, Marl, Clay, Loess and Loam to name a few. Each of these soil types will pair better with a particular grape variety and producers continue to investigate the combinations to unlock the full potential of the region. 90% of the production here is for white wines (the remainder being red wine from Pinot Noir) and, in essence, two levels of grapes exist:

Noble Varieties: Riesling, Gewurtztraminer, Pinot Gris, Muscat

Other Varieties: Chasselas, Sylvaner, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay

Only the noble varieties are able to produce Grand Cru wines, whilst the other supporting varieties will be used in Gentil (50% of the blend will be Noble varieties) or Edelzwicker (Noble mixture). In reality, noble grapes can be used in Edelzwicker, but in practice this is very rare. It’s interesting to note that Riesling and Gewurtztraminer are not grown elsewhere in France and owe more to the German/Austrian influence, although the style of wine remains French (being fat and plump as opposed to the lean German style).

The classification structure is also of interest, especially for a French region, as these are often rigorously delineated. The whole of Alsace is covered by a regional AC (Appellation Controlée) and this accounts for 75% of production, but there is no level in-between that and Grand Cru wine (a single vineyard, single vintage from one noble grape variety) which accounts for 4% of production. It simply cuts from either being a top wine, to a standard wine. Wine laws for Alsace were put together fairly recently with the regional AC in place from 1962, Grand Cru added in 1975, and Cremant d’Alsace (21% of production) added in 1976. With the region producing wine for as long as any area in France, the late creation of the wine laws may have actually been down to the region itself. The grapes produced in the super sunny conditions were routinely transported to other French regions to round out blends where grapes had failed to ripen.

Thanks to the guaranteed lengthy growing season there are also two types of late harvest wines produced – Vendange Tardive and the even rarer Sélection de Grains Nobles. These wines are produced from extra ripened grapes that are picked something like 3 weeks after standard grapes, giving a noticeably sweeter wine.

Whilst some were initially put off of Alsatian wines due to the legal requirement that they are bottled in flute bottles (which for some linked the wines to the unpopular sweet wines of Germany), times have changed and the wines of Alsace are now fully appreciated as unique and expressive varietal wines. 75% of production slakes the domestic French thirst, whilst the remaining 25% is exported, the main markets being Europe (Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark) and the USA/Canada.

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