Aldi Wine Club 16th Tasting Panel – Note #4

I must admit that, when I first got a view of the 2nd wave of wines selected for the 16th  panel of the Aldi Wine Club, I did think there was a chance that things could hit a mid-panel lull.  My initial belief that I had tasted both of the wines already was, as per my last post, initially wrong and, as it turned out, 100% wrong.

With this Pinot Noir we’re once again tasting from the Aldi flagship Exquisite Collection and just like the Chardonnay, the screw cap, neck brace and label all have clear signs of being well thought through, even down to the sloping cut at the top of the front label which is a really stylish and subtle touch.

The only minus points go once again for the obligatory signature from winemaker Jon McNab giving his bottle/blend approval.  Why wouldn’t he approve it?

The last time I tasted (what I believed to be) this Pinot Noir was as part of the 13th panel back in April 2017, in a cheese and wine pairing.  As it transpired, the original Pinot was from the Sauvignon Blanc stronghold of Marlborough which, although at a very similar latitude, is from the northern part of New Zealand’s south island as opposed to the southern part of the north island, which is where this wine hails from.

Both locations are far enough away from the equator to have the cool climate and temperatures needed to ripen the thin-skinned and fussy Pinot Noir variety, and a quick look at the Aldi website shows that the Marlborough based wine is no longer available.  Perhaps this Wairarapa version is a new substitution for the range?  I did pitch the question to Aldi but, as yet, haven’t received an answer.

As per website reviews, other Aldi customers have also been confused as to the origin of their wine, and it doesn’t help that both wines are packaged virtually identically.

Aldi Wairarapa Pinot 1

Exquisite Collection Pinot Noir 2016, Wairarapa, New Zealand, 13%, £6.99

In colour this was a plummy cherry purple with a lighter red rim hinting at the youthful and thin skinned fruit.

The nose was very expressive and full of herbaceous woody notes with just a sprinkling of floral vanilla and a whiff of smoke.  Also detectable was a touch of diesel, and very precise red cherry fruits, dense, dark and ripe.

On the palate there was the lightest of grainy tannin a well as the sweet ripened fruit of both black and red cherry, cranberry, and plum.  The overall sensation was of a complex berried compote and, to me, a really wonderful and interesting blend.

The acidity, refreshing but not mouth-watering, helped to round out the palate and take the edge off the fruit as opposed to being a dominant character.  The overall palate was direct and forceful, but balanced in a way that one element didn’t interfere with another.

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The bottle label is absolutely spot on when it talks of an ‘enduring finish’ which is in the multiple minutes.  For me the end palate evolved over time and kept gradually winding through different layers, as opposed to many wines which offer up a direct hit of fruit and then dissipate fairly quickly.

The on-going smoky dusky dark fruit absolutely nailed it and, when given the chance, developed further in to notes that touched upon bitter chocolate and mocha, almost made to be paired with food.  I had this wine with sticky honey BBQ ribs where the darker aspects paired with the meat and the fruitier aspects gelled with the sweeter sauce.

Still only £6.99, which is the same price as the Marlborough Pinot tasted 6 months ago, this is a firm favourite with Aldi customers, currently scoring 4 out of 5 stars on the Aldi Website.

My thanks go to AldiUK for supplying the bottle used in this tasting.

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Vineyards of Hampshire 5th Wine Festival & Cottonworth Vineyard Tour

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The 5th annual ‘Vineyards of Hampshire’ wine festival was held recently and, welcoming the opportunity to try a whole host of local wines not too far from my doorstep, I popped along.

‘Vineyards of Hampshire’ is an umbrella name for 8 producers:   Danebury, Exton Park, Cottonworth, Hambledon, Hattingley Valley, Jenkyn Place, Meonhill and Raimes.  With each site taking it in turn to play host, the festivities this time were held at the Decanter and IWSC award-winning Cottonworth Vineyard, located in the heart of the Test Valley.

The wineries, alongside a line-up of local food producers, were set up in a marquee surrounded by the delightful installation of a vine maze.  Especially planted at the site as a focal point for events, the circular maze has some light-hearted obstacles to keep you searching for the exit, or perhaps to keep you trapped within with a glass of something nice.

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I wasn’t able to spend too long investigating though as, true to form, the late July weather was marked with grey clouds and some very heavy downpours.  This forced pretty much all of the attendees in to the central marquee causing much difficulty when trying to spend some quality time with each producer.  The deep queues also made further sense when I heard our host saying that attendance this year was something like 50% increased on last year.

Breaking free of the festival crowd I took a tour of the site with owner Hugh Liddell, who came across not just as knowledgeable, but also incredibly passionate about the vines and land itself.

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Having started out in the vineyards of Burgundy, his own personal winemaking philosophy is based around an intense relationship with the land.  Multiple times in conversation he was keen to point out how he aimed to harness and celebrate the chalky aspects of his south facing slopes.

A humorous moment came as he described the effect of the free-draining chalk soil on the vine roots, leaving them ‘stressed’ and searching for nutrients.  He mused that, like the best artists and poets, this stress brought about the best results.  Later on at the festival we were able to taste his Classic Cuvée and Rosé and both were notable for their pale colouring and soft and uplifting qualities on the palate.

With a terroir reminiscent of the Cóte des Blancs, Cottonworth are naturally growing the 3 classic Champagne varieties of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier along with a tiny amount of Pinot Précoce.  Since the first plantings went in to the ground just over a decade ago they have been carving out their own corner of the growing UK sparkling wine market.

Forming part of the larger family farm, the grazing land once used for cows has been transformed plot by plot.  Covering some 30 acres, Hugh has specifically chosen individual sites where he believes the grapes will grow to the best of their ability.

We discussed the recent frosts that hit the UK (as well as many of the grape growing parts of northern Europe) and Cottonworth was badly affected, losing between 50-70% of their crop dependent on the plot.  Whilst they don’t currently produce a Vintage wine, 2017 will see them dipping in to their wine reserves to maintain a decent level of bottles available to market.

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The badly hit 2017 harvest wasn’t Hugh’s first brush with frost and the crippling crop losses that can occur.  He explained that the family had sold off some of their land to well-known UK producer Nyetimber allowing him to buy two vineyards in Beaune, France, taking him back to his winemaking beginnings.

The first year they suffered 90% crop losses due to frost and, adamant that the same thing wouldn’t happen again, worked in collaboration with other local vintners to burn wet bales of hay to form a protective layer of smoke above the vines.  Hugh recalled how the widespread smoke made it almost impossible to breathe in the vineyards, but the vines remained safe!

The conversation then moved on to pruning which, as a grower of vines myself, I found extremely interesting.  Hearing his views on how best to trim, canopy manage and prepare the vines for the following year will definitely affect how I look after mine.

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Following the tour it was then back to the festival to try some more wine, and thankfully the sun had appeared meaning that there was a bit more space to manoeuvre around the stands.  All in all, this was a very interesting and informative event, and I look forward to returning in 2018 to see who the next host will be.

Technical Info

Cottonworth Classic Cuvée NV – 45% Chardonnay / 46% Pinot Noir / 9% Pinot Meunier, Alc 12.5%, Dosage – 6g/l, RRP £28

Cottonworth Sparkling Rosé – 43% Pinot Meunier / 32% Pinot Noir / 18% Chardonnay / 7% Pinot Précoce, Alc 12%, Dosage 9g/l, RRP £30

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Wyfold Vineyard Visit – June 2017

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I recently had the pleasure of doing a little working stint at Oxfordshire based Wyfold Vineyard, helping to re-trellis just a few of their 9000 vines as they look towards their summer growth spurt.

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Not open to the public, and well hidden-away down some very tiny country lanes, the two hectare Wyfold site is part of the empire of Barbara and Tony Laithwaite, the couple behind leading mail order wine merchant Laithwaites.

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Planted in the early part of the century on stone and gravel soils at an altitude of 100 metres, the cool climate site is home to just the classic Champagne grape varieties (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier).

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Used to create an exceptional multi-award winning sparkling wine since 2009, the range has now expanded to add a sparkling Rosé from the 2014 vintage for the first time.

Son Henry Laithwaite now runs the show on a daily basis alongside his business partner Ben Postlethwaite and all were present on the day to guide us through our tasks which, on the page, didn’t sound too taxing.

Merely being required to adjust several different trellis wire heights to direct the vines skyward, the generous springtime summer sun heat was both a blessing and a curse.

Like most vineyard work in the UK, payment came at the end in the form of a wonderful home-cooked meal supported by copious amounts of wine.

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In addition there was the provision of musical entertainment in the form of ukulele based band Pure Fluke as well as the genial conversation of vineyard friends both old and new.

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To top it all off we were basking in the late eveing sun in the lovely surrounds of a vineyard, and any heat fatigue and other aches and pains instantly disappeared.  All in all this was an insightful and rare visit to a vineyard not readily accessible, and another chance to directly help towards the success of English wine.

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With thanks to Laithwaites for arranging this vineyard visit.

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Aldi Wine Club 13th Tasting Panel – Notes #3 and #4

Time for my second set of notes on the 13th Aldi Wine Club panel now, and we have a white and a red to review, both from Marlborough on the south island of New Zealand.

Aldi launched their artisan cheese range in the latter half of last year, and one interesting addition to this month’s tasting is that Aldi have supplied a specially paired cheese from the range for each of the wines.  This isn’t the first time that Aldi have done a cheese and wine match as part of the club, and in the run up to Christmas 2016 the 10th tasting panel matched a Brie with truffle against their Exquisite range Pinot Noir.

Having gathered really good feedback from the previous panel reviews, and now in the run up to Easter, Aldi have once again decided to go for a cheese and wine matching, and I’m very happy to be giving them both a try.

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Aldi Exquisite Collection Private Bin 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand, 13.5%, £7.49

The bottle proudly displays its award winning merits by having an IWSC Gold medal sticker on the label.  A quick look online tells me it has also picked up a Decanter Silver medal too.

In colour this is a medium lemon yellow wine with golden tints to the rim.  The nose is amazingly strong and expressive, with well ripened green kiwi, tropical dried pineapple, yellow melon and a lovely honeyed syrup lemon, lime and passion fruit blend.  In short, it smelt fantastic.

On the palate there were lovely juicy and mouth-watering tropical fruits, a squeeze of lime juice and a fairly high acidity.  The ripened fruits have a good weight and silky feel about them, are well rounded, and finish off with a nectarine tang.

If I was to have one criticism it was that the fruits, as quickly as they surged at you, then dropped back in the mid-palate and left you completely in the end palate, giving a short finish led by the bracing acidity.  After the sensational nose of the wine I was perhaps a touch disappointed.

Food match: Aldi Buffallo Mozzarella with Beef Tomato, Basil Leaves and a dash of Balsamic Vinegar

Perhaps already sensing the need to brush off some of the high acid and prolong the fruits, the fatty and creamy nature of the mozzarella did just the trick.  Acting as a counterpoint to the wine it pulled together the palate completely, giving a lovely textured base to the tropical syrup fruit and absorbing some of the high acid which allowed the fruit to really come to the fore.  Very satisfying.

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Aldi Exquisite Collection 2014 Pinot Noir, Marlborough, New Zealand, 13.5%, £6.99

In the glass this was a delicate medium-light cherry red colour, which basically was able to convey the whole style of the wine in purely visual terms alone.  On the nose there was a good hit of the well ripened fresh red cherries followed by just a whiff of plummy smokiness.

The palate was once again led by the red cherry, backed up with light hints of cranberry and raspberry, and weight from damson and plum fruit.  The medium bodied palate was kept light and fresh from the pure fruit flavours and the acidity, whilst very present and fairly high, was much more reigned in from the previous bottle.  This time the fruit carried on for a good long length.

Food Match: Aldi Brie de Meaux with wholemeal biscuits

The sticky and richly flavoured cheese once again managed to dovetail in nicely with the wine, and the mild mushroom character of the Brie drew out the darker fruits and herbaceous characters of the Pinot grape.

The key match here for me was the heavier weight and sticky quality of the Brie pairing very well with the lighter aspects of the body of the wine, and once again the thick creamy nature of the cheese soaked up and prolonged the ripe fruit flavours of the wine.

The acid was once again tamed but, as it felt fairly well balanced without food, just served to make the final palate more rounded and quaffable.

Once again this was an excellent match that I recommend and will look to try again in future, but if I had to pick a winner from the two, it would be the Sauvignon Blanc and Buffalo Mozzarella pairing.  Instead of just complementing the wine, as was the case with the Pinot Noir, the Buffalo Mozzarella actually took the Sauvignon Blanc to the next level and was very tasty indeed.

With thanks to Aldi UK for the wine and cheese used in this tasting.

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Australia Day 2017 Wine Tasting London

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This week saw the best of the Australian wine scene hit London to celebrate Australia Day with a spectacular and expansive tasting event. In a new venue for the biggest show ever, many producers flew in exclusively to show off around 1100 wines from 230 wineries in what is the largest trade tasting of Australian wine outside of Australia.

As well as the winemaker talent, circulating the tasting tables were some of the most prominent figures from the world of wine including Steven Spurrier, Victoria Moore, Oz Clarke, Matthew Jukes, Olly Smith, Joe Fattorini, as well as a double-digit number of MW’s.  Their attendance further drew you to the conclusion that this was entirely the place to be on a cold Tuesday in January.

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With such quality on offer the show catalogue was as thick as a novel and I can honestly say that after several hours of tasting my arm ached from holding it.  With it clearly impossible to taste anywhere near all of the wines my strategy was to seek out my favourite producers and use the opportunity to taste higher up their ranges, or their exclusive bottles only available through specific merchants.  The event truly ran the gamut of what Australia has on offer, with the cheapest wine on show retailing for £3.50 and the most expensive for £200 (The ‘Vanya’ Cabernet Sauvignon from Cullen, which sadly I didn’t get around to trying).

What follows is a brief rundown of my top producers of the day in no particular order:

Peter Lehmann

The Chardonnay on offer here was a particular standout, and perhaps even the best in show for me.  The ‘Wildcard’ Riverland 2016 Chardonnay was so pure and expressive it was hard to believe it could deliver such quality at just £8.99 a bottle.  Soft and creamy as I like my Chardonnay, it just pipped the slightly more expensive (£14) ‘Hill & Valley’ Eden Valley Chardonnay 2016, which was almost equally as lusciously rounded and vibrant.

Wakefield

Majestic stock two bottles of the entry level range from Wakefield and they are constantly on my recommend list.  Tasting up, the single vineyard ‘St Andrews’ Clare Valley Chardonnay 2015 (£25) delivered intense blossomed fragrance and cream and white pepper spice.  Both the ‘Visionary’ Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 and the ‘Pioneer’ Clare Valley Shiraz 2012 were extremely limited bottlings (especially shipped for the event, we were trying the very low bottle numbers of 11 and 19).  My notes contain descriptors such as concentrated black fruit, damson, stewed fruit, smoke, confection and spice.

Jim Barry

Whilst not the most expensive wine of theirs on show (£143), I noted the 2016 Assyrtiko making its debut at the show.  This Greek variety, championed by Peter Barry since he first tasted the variety back in 2006, makes an appearance ten years later and marks a unique departure for the ‘Riesling heavy’ Clare Valley wine scene.  A good medium acid carries the lemon and fleshy green apple fruit through to a smooth and creamy finish.

Apparently Assyrtiko is a labour intensive grape to farm and will remain something of a Jim Barry curio as opposed to the next big thing in Clare Valley.  Only a limited number of cases of the 2016 are being released making this a real treat to try.

Tahbilk

The iconic Tahbilk winery boasts the largest plantings of Marsanne anywhere in the world and the two examples on display (£11-14) were finely fragranced and delivered an almost melt in the mouth quality.  The ESP Shiraz from Nagambie Lakes (£35) which I simply listed as ‘beautiful’ was crammed full of vanilla, black cherry, pepper spice and a medium grainy tannin.  Their flagship ‘1860 Vines’ Shiraz 2006 (£73, also Nagambie Lakes), whilst garnet in colour, was still fresh and vibrant with the fruit more towards prune and raisin and the tannins still grainy yet softened by time.

d’Arenberg

With the famous red stripe across their labelling, d’Arenberg are well known for their oddly named wines.  Their ‘The Coppermine Road’ McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, exuded beautiful fragrance and distinct liquorice tones, but was still very austere with very evident tannins and needs a while to mellow down.  ‘The Dead Arm’ Shiraz 2012 (£29.50) carried on in the same vein.

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With possibly the best wine label I have ever seen (and one of the most bizarre names) ‘The Athazagoraphobic Cat’ Sagrantino Cinsault 2011 (£65) was full of tertiary character and rich chocolate mocha flavours.  The name of the wine refers to a fear of being forgotten and, as such, when twisting the wine bottle, the cat appears to follow the pair of legs around.  Awesome and delicious.

Honourable mention should also go to:

Ten Minutes by Tractor Featured recently in ITV1’s The Wine Show, I tasted through a good selection of their Pinot Noir (£34-42), all showing a lighter character whilst keeping brambled redcurrant and cherry fruit to the fore.

Leeuwin Its always a pleasure to taste through the Leeuwin range, especially their Art Series wines.  The Margaret River 2012 Chardonnay had waxy citrus on the nose and rich, creamy smoky green apple flesh on the palate.  With the addition of pepper spice to the end palate, this was well blended and very good indeed.  The Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 (£47) and 2012 (£50) both contained grippy tannins, concentrated and crunchy fruit.  The definition of intensity whilst retaining elegant silky composure.

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Yalumba A seriously good display of over 20 wines from this well-known producer, I took time to re-acquaint myself with their excellent ‘The Signature’ Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz 2013 (£38), which is rich, spicy and meaty like a good broth, and their ‘The Octavius’ Barossa Shiraz 2009 (£68) which was still wonderfully youthful and fresh whilst retaining the power to stand up to a strong meaty meal.

Wirra Wirra I reviewed the entry level Scrubby Rise Chardonnay back in 2015 so was interested to taste upwards.  Things really started getting interesting at around the £40 mark, with their ‘Absconder’ 2014 Grenache delivering silky cherry fruit whilst remaining lighter in body at 14.5% alcohol, and the ‘RSW’ Shiraz 2013 giving a candied confectionate parma violet florality with the body that could stand up to serious food.

With thanks to Wine Australia for providing the ticket to this fascinating masterclass

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Laithwaites Autumn Press Tasting – Standout Sparklers!

One of the suppliers I rely on for my wine consumption is Laithwaites.  Having been a customer of theirs for several years and liking to taste widely I was comfortable that I had tasted a good portion of their wines on offer.

I found out how wrong I was at their recent Autumn tasting, held at their flagship London store near to London Bridge.  My pre-tasting strategy was originally going to focus on tasting familiar wines in a critical environment and trying the wider ranges of my favourite producers but, as it transpired, I had only tasted a mere handful of the wines presented.

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Upon arrival I was warmly greeted by wine buyer Beth Willard who has been responsible for sourcing some of my previously blogged about favourites from Romania (Paris Street) and I spent the afternoon tasting alongside such luminaries as Justin Howard-Sneyd MW, Julia Harding MW and Victoria Moore (wine correspondent for the Telegraph).

With 155 wines on show I managed to taste just over half of them over the course of several hours.  I won’t go too far in to detailed tasting notes as these can be a chore to read if you’re not a Laithwaites customer and think you may never ever taste the wine, but I will pick out my highlights; wines that I felt privileged to taste or producers that I think you may consider to follow in the future.

In this first half of my report I will list my favourites amongst the Sparkling wines on offer.

Laithwaites Theale Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, Berkshire, England, 12%, £24.99

These vineyards and the Laithwaites head office are only a short drive away from where I live in Berkshire and so I will always be a big supporter.  The 2011 vintage in the UK was something of a roller-coaster with a great start followed by a lack-lustre summer followed by great harvesting conditions.

This pure Chardonnay had a lovely light and airy palate, a fresh and quaffable mousse and focussed on the citric forward lemon qualities.  With a touch of nice bitterness on the back palate to add some substance, this was at once immediate and yet structured enough to see some mid-range ageing.

Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve NV Champagne, France, 12%, £42

Charles Heidsieck continually win award after award and so I naturally gravitated towards this bottle.  A lovely gold colour in the glass and a rich bold lemon flavour on the nose, this blends complexity with a light quaffability that just evaporates in the mouth.

Given that 40% of this NV blend comes from reserve wines that can be over a decade old it’s easy to understand how they marry such depth with such immediacy.  Long-lasting finish.

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Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millénaires 1995, Champagne, France, 12%, £120

Moving up the quality ladder and on to their prestige offering I must admit that I didn’t spit this wine out as tasting etiquette would dictate, and I also went back for seconds!

There is the customary biscuit and bread notes of a lees aged Champagne on the nose. With 21 years under its belt this wine manages to retain an awesome freshness with a lush acid that makes the palate almost evaporate.  As well as the customary citrus notes there is a lovely moodiness that permeates throughout.  Delicious.

I’ll leave it there for the Sparkling on show (with a small apology that the above doesn’t even touch upon the myriad of different levels of Prosecco available), but a final honourable mention must go to the:

Lanson Noble Cuvée Brut 2000, Champagne, France, 12.5%, £90

I’d personally had two bottles of this previously and the first showed wonderfully, being both fresh for 16 years old, as well as deep with honeyed ageing characters.

The second bottle that I opened, which I did with friends on a special occasion, had an over-whelming blue cheese nose that carried on to the palate.  I hastily retired the bottle believing it to be something of a fault but, when trying the Vintage again at this tasting, the blue cheese note was once again evident.

I chatted this through with wine buyer Davy Zyw who could detect what I was referring to but felt it was a natural part of the overall evolution of the wine as opposed to a fault.  It was certainly interesting to compare them but I remain unconvinced that the cleaner wine was the odd one out.

Checking the official Lanson tasting notes it certainly makes no mention of it, and offers up traits of honey, pear and spices instead.  It therefore remains a mystery to me at this time as to which bottle wasn’t showing correctly.  Intriguing.

In my next piece based on the tasting I will go in to the best of the whites and reds that I tried and would recommend.

With thanks to MHP Communications and Laithwaites for inviting me to this event.

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Dom Pérignon Vintage 2005

The release of the 2005 vintage was announced in the May of 2015.  With a good decade of ageing already under its belt the declaration was a standout for a number of reasons.

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The yields gathered from the harvest were markedly down on the usual volumes seen for a Dom Pérignon release.  With only 50% of the average sized haul making the grade this was the smallest recorded vintage since 1971.  Such was the scarcity of the bottles, the 2005 was the ‘current’ vintage for a mere 6 months, being replaced by the 2006 in October.  In November the Dom Pérignon website had sold out at source and were no longer offering the 75cl bottles for sale (magnums were still available).

If the small overall volume released was a hint that the weather conditions in 2005 had been challenging, another indication came from the blend which was usually split 50/50 between Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

In the case of the 2005, Chardonnay would account for a record 63% of the blend.  With the exception of the 1970 vintage that’s the highest proportion of Chardonnay ever used for a Dom Pérignon.

The release also marked the 4th consecutive vintage of Dom Pérignon in a row – the first time ever in the brand’s history that this had occurred, and a phenomenon that would be extended to an unprecedented 5 releases with the upcoming 2006 vintage.  It was also one of the handful of years where the vintages released did not mirror those of the overall Champagne house Moét & Chandon, who moved straight from the 2004 to the 2006.

Critics were now starting to ask the question as to whether a Dom Pérignon vintage still equated to a rare cuvée released in only exceptional years.  Throughout its history, a particular decade would see perhaps only 3 to 4 declarations, but in recent times there had been 7 vintages declared out of the last 8 years (since 1998 only the 2001 vintage hadn’t made the grade).

Explaining his motives for persevering to produce a vintage, especially in years that offered up such difficult climatic circumstances, Chef de Cave Richard Geoffroy explained “I come from a medicine background so there’s a sense of bringing things to life. I don’t think regular releases devalues the concept – luxury can’t be artificial.  Some houses limit themselves to three vintages a decade but that makes no sense to me, plus they might pick the wrong three. It’s just not practical”.

The weather conditions had been warm throughout the spring and summer, with both heat and drought being on the minds of the winemakers.  Such was the intensity of the sun that, at times, the year was described as the hottest in a decade and compared to the famous drought of 1976 (the soil humidity levels in 2005 were even lower than that landmark year).

Conversely, the little rain seen throughout the year had been building with equal intensity and September was cool and wet with the early part of the month seeing torrential downpours.  These damp conditions blighted the grapes just when they were getting ready to be picked and rot/botrytis began to set in, particularly affecting the Pinot Noir grapes (hence their lower inclusion in the blend).

A short break in the weather allowed harvest to begin on September 14th for the Chardonnay and the 17th for the Pinot Noir.  As the rains returned to the vineyards it was only through drastic grape selection that a wine of vintage standard could be achieved.  Richard Geoffroy would describe the 2005 vintage as having “exceptional quality” and being an “iron fist in a velvet glove”

The official tasting note tells us that the nose offers up “intense fruit, more black than red, which then melts into silvery minerality.  Notes of praline and coriander compliment the whole”.  The palate has “a strong character and a powerful presence” with an almost physical aspect.  “It is structured, focused, firm and dense.  Its intriguingly spicy, flowery finish remains present in each sip”.

Stepping away from the highly stylised official note, respected Champagne palate Tom Stevenson described it as being “toasty and chocolaty” with “coffee-infused red and black fruit”.  My own tasting note also picked up on the toasty and darker characteristics, adding a green-skinned fleshiness to the nose and a streak of lemon to the forefront of the palate.

With Pinot Noir responsible for much of the body and backbone of a Champagne it has been suggested that the reduced amount of the variety in the 2005 blend will prevent it having the weight and structure to age as long as other Dom Pérignon releases.  Time will tell, but with only limited volumes available in the first place, it will probably be harder to get hold of as time goes by.

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Upon release the bottles were housed in the standard black presentation casing containing the bi-lingual information guide, and topped with the same dark green capsule as the 2004.

Whilst a small number of magnums of the 2005 were released, due to the limited nature of the vintage no special editions or flute packs were issued.  Despite the low availability of Pinot Noir grapes, a Rosé edition was released in June 2017, but it is yet to be seen if the overall grape availability will allow for a Vintage or Rosé P2 variant.

DP Rose 2005

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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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Paparuda Tasting – A fine pair of Pinot’s

Like many wine enthusiasts I’m always looking forward to a bottle that will knock my socks off and have me raving about it to anyone that will listen.  Thanks to my Twitter timeline I can calculate that one such example happened to me two years ago last month; an epiphany that lay dormant in my taste memory, only to be re-awoken by a recent bottle tasting.

As someone who likes to taste widely, when Romanian wines were really starting to hit the market some years ago I gravitated to the indigenous grapes of Feteasca Regala and Feteasca Neagra.  My interest peaked when I tried the Paris Street Pinot Noir 2012 (via Laithwaites), and I subsequently got chatting to their wine buyer about it, such was my enthusiasm for this Romanian interpretation of an international variety.

When the opportunity arose recently to try a couple of Pinots (Noir and Grigio) from Romania, I naturally jumped at the chance.

Paparuda1

Just east of Timisoara in western Romania, the Cramele Recas winery has been producing wine continuously since the 15th century, but it’s in the years since 2010 that the modern story begins.  Completely uprooting and replanting all of the existing vines, further investment has come through the installation of a state of the art winery to really bring things up to date.

The brand name Paparuda comes from a Romanian rain ritual performed by a dancing girl wearing a grass skirt of knitted vines.  In the springtime, or in times of drought, she will be accompanied through the town by the locals, singing and shouting their intent of securing fertility for the season ahead.  Interesting stuff, even if it does sound like something from The Wicker Man!

With one eye on this tradition and heritage, the wine-making team from Australia and Spain have come together with the intention of creating modern, fruit-driven wines.

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Paparuda Pinot Noir Estate Selection 2015, Romania, 12.5%, ~£6.00

In the glass this is a vibrant youthful purple in colour.  The nose is full of violet fragrance which marries in to the core fruit elements of rich and ripe red berry and cherry.  There’s also a rustic earthy wildness about this nose which pulls the darker notes of black/blue fruit (plum) and the tertiary characters of tobacco and just a whiff of smoke/diesel.  No doubt this is due to a portion of the Pinot grapes undergoing carbonic maceration to keep things fruity, with the rest of the grapes getting exposure to oak.

The body of this wine is light to medium as you would expect from a Pinot Noir, and there is just a touch of detectable grippy, grainy tannin in the mix. The red fruit berry compote palate is fresh and inviting, as is the acidity which runs throughout, pulling together the fruitiness and the pepper spices in to a juicy whole.

For me, the herbaceous smoky tones of this wine meant that the mid-palate was just a touch drying, but it was this sense memory that had me recalling the Pinot I had tried years before.  Digging out my original tasting note I had noted that I hadn’t tried it with food and that it was a style deserving of a match.  As such, I tried the wine with some ribs in a BBQ sauce which did the trick just nicely, adding a touch of weight to the mouthfeel, accentuating the ripe fresh fruits and giving the acidity something to work against.

Incredibly well made for the price, this is a Pinot Noir that has all of the lightness of body and flavour profile that you would expect of the grape, with enough distinction to give it a sense of origin.

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Paparuda Estate Selection Pinot Grigio, Romania, 12%, ~£6.00

To ensure freshness, grapes are harvested early in the morning at cooler temperatures and are then fermented in stainless steel tanks away from any wood or barrel taint.

In colour this is a medium yellow with golden tints.  The nose is intense and delicious with literally tons going on.  Amongst the things I can detect are lime, green apple flesh and cream, grapefruit, honey and the tropical fruits of pineapple and peach.

The palate is nicely rich and weighty with a mouth-filling gloopy quality.  Packed full of fresh juicy fruit which balances well with the medium acidity, there is both lemon and lime citrus and the green fruits of apple flesh and pear.  On the end palate you also gain the lighter fragrant flavours of peach and grapefruit, and these stay with you a good while after putting your glass down.

This is a really good example of a generous fruit driven, well composed and refreshing wine that is both great for the price, and also good for the reputation of what is achievable in Romania, a country which many wine lovers have yet to discover.

Exceptionally easy to drink on its own, it will also compliment a number of lighter food dishes and is ripe for (what’s left of) the summer.

With thanks to Clementine Communications and Cramele Recas for the bottles used in this tasting.

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Aldi Wine Club 8th Panel Tasting Note #3

Time now to review the final two wines from the 8th Aldi Wine Club panel.  First up is another wine from their Exquisite range.

Pinot Noir Rose

Exquisite Pinot Noir Rosé 2015, Marlborough, New Zealand, 13%, £6.49

With the rest of the 8th panel being comprised of white wines this Rosé from the Pinot Noir grape is about as close as I am going to come to a red.  Like the rest of the Exquisite range the dominant type labelling and Royal blue colour of the screw cap immediately makes the bottle look smart and sets off the colour of the wine.

Marlborough is of course best known for its signature grape of Sauvignon Blanc.  Based at the northern tip of the southern island at a fairly low latitude it is certainly cool enough to grow the very fussy Pinot Noir variety, whilst still remaining warm and sunny.  This cooler climate allows the grapes to have a long growing season and fully ripen without being scorched in the sun.  We can tell from the alcohol content of 13% that these grapes have probably seen a long hang-time allowing the sugars to build up nice and slowly.

In colour this is a nice deep darkish pink which I always liken to wild salmon, with just a tinge of onion skin.  In typical style for a youthful New World Rosé the nose is incredibly full and fruity and stuffed full of wild strawberry, raspberry, redcurrant and maybe a touch of cranberry.  In addition there is a touch of lemon citrus, and all the fruit smells deep, ripe and incredibly inviting.

The palate begins with lemon and lime citrus and then hits you with a zingy fresh acidity.  In addition to the list of red fruits that you could detect on the nose the palate also adds a nice creamy texture and weight but, if I had one criticism, this weight has a tendency to disappear in the mid-palate.  This isn’t too much of a worry though as the fresh acidity has enough strength to guide you through to a good length finish.  This wine delivers exactly what you would expect it to, which is a bright and breezy refreshing wine that is great on its own or will stand up to many foods including starters, or even on to lighter main courses.

At £6.49 this is one of the pricier bottles from Aldi, but is still very good value for something that would be perfectly palatable any weekday.

Cotes De Gascogne

Venturer Series Cótes De Gascogne IGP, Colombard /Gros Manseng blend 2015, £11.5%, £4.79

To finish the series off we have something a little unusual in that this wine isn’t sourced from the Exquisite range which has been the stalwart of the previous tastings.  It’s also comprised of two grape varieties that many casual wine consumers may not be aware of, and where a good review can work wonders to open them up to something which they may not initially gravitate towards.

The Cótes De Gascogne (literally translating as ‘the slopes of Gascony’) hails from south-western France.  The region is widely associated with smaller farmers who are part of larger co-operatives producing entry level wines known as ‘Vin de Pays’ (or ‘wine of the land’).  The Columbard grape began life as a French variety but, being the offspring of Chenin Blanc, has latterly found most of its fame in South African wines where both varieties thrive.  Gros Manseng is a native of southwest France and, due to its high yields, is particularly suited to creating large volumes of everyday entry-level wine.

Perhaps hinting at its lower than average alcohol level of 11.5%, the colour of this wine is a light and delicate lemon yellow with hints of green to the rim.  The nose is floral and light with lots of evident citrus and the fresh cut grass aromas usually associated with Sauvignon Blanc.

The palate is extremely zingy with a fresh acid commanding the light to medium body.  There’s a fresh hit of lime followed by both watermelon and grapefruit as well as perhaps just a touch of peach at the end.  The good length finish is drawn in with a nice creaminess (I’m borrowing from the label when I identify this as lemon curd) and overall this is easy to drink and completely refreshing.

At £4.79 it is priced absolutely for what it is, and it’s great that you can still buy these everyday quaffing wines and get change from a fiver.  Don’t let the odd grape varieties put you off!

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

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