The Wine Show Chelsea & Sparkling Masterclass

Building on the success of the inaugural event last year the Wine Show Chelsea returned to London last week and I decided to pop along to try it out for myself.

chelsea-logo

Held over three days in the historic Kings Road Chelsea Town Hall venue, the show was devised by wine trade publication The Drinks Business to bring together the best that London merchants have to offer.

Having been to many wine shows in the past I was initially a bit worried as there were only twenty exhibitors in place, but this doubt was unfounded and in the end, I only managed to visit eight of them such were the diverse offerings and knowledgeable experts on hand.

Firstly though a diversion, and I was signed up to a Sparkling wines masterclass pitting England against the rest of the world.  Hosted by not one, but two (!), Masters of Wine (MW’s) this was a rare insight in to the critical tasting approach at the top level of wine appreciation, as well as being a good refresher of the ‘why’ you are tasting what you are tasting.

Hosted by the editor-in-chief of The Drinks Business Patrick Schmitt MW, we were invited to blind taste and rate the 10 sparkling wines on offer, giving our own thoughts on grape variety, climate and key taste indicators.  Michelle Cherutti-Kowal MW then worked us through our reasoning; guiding, correcting and validating our theories as to the origins of what we were drinking.

The general winners on the day were the English wines which, hedging the bets somewhat, comprised 3 out of the 10 wines.  Also showing well was a Loire Valley Brut NV and the ‘curve-ball’ Canadian sparkling from Benjamin Bridge.  Having reviewed this wine only a few months ago, I was a bit annoyed that I didn’t recognise it (although that was the whole point of the curve-ball), but it did make my top 3 wines of the session along with the aforementioned Loire Brut and a Champagne de Castelnau NV Brut Reserve.

Masterclass completed it was then off to the exhibitors at large and I kicked things off with producer and re-seller Caves d’Esclans and their array of French rosé.  We were able to taste from both 75cl bottle and magnum to compare, and I concentrated on working my way up towards the Chateau d’Esclans Garrus 2014.

This small production wine has a retail price of circa £80 and is known by some as the ‘Dom Pérignon’ of the rosé world, which of course piqued my interest.  It was a lovely pale, creamy yet spicy drink, but I couldn’t say that it justified the high price tag.

Now that I had warmed my palate up I moved on to the Finest Fizz stand, and a clutch of £30+ Champagnes (including 2 from Hautvilliers, the birthplace of a certain Dom Pérignon – sorry, I’ll drop the links now!).

Highlights here included their ‘skinny’ rosé (£40) which has just 275 calories per bottle, equivalent to one large glass of an average red wine, and the Bernard Pertois Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru NV (£34) which was a creamy dream likened to Krug (and probably a hint as to why Krug are trying to get the winemaker to work on their team).

Next up were my friends from boutique merchant Friarwood who had a lively selection of reds and whites from across the globe.  The team were so full of stories, anecdotes and general wine knowledge that I probably did more talking than tasting at this stand, but I did manage to try a velvety organic Super-Tuscan from Conti di San Bonifacio (£18.50) and a delicious 2010 Chateau Fonplegade GCC from Saint Emilion (£47.50).

I then crossed over to iDealwine, an international wine auction site who had the wine that was probably the highlight of the show for me – a 1989 Chateau Suduiraut Sauternes (£64).  Tasting as fresh and inviting as the day it was made, this 27 year old sweet wine was a rich nutty, honey and caramelised taste of greatness. Delicious.

Wine importer Hard to Find Wines gave me my first taste of a wine from Luxembourg.  From the far right east coast of the country, the vineyards straddle the Moselle (as it is called here) and gave off a very similar experience to the Germanic wines from the Mosel.  Made from the Auxerrois grape, the wine was lean with a very direct acidity.

Also on show was a Malbec from Franschhoek in South Africa.  A grape more akin to other countries, Malbec is beginning to be planted in many other countries for the first time and it was interesting to try this blood-red variant full of bitter chocolate and mocha notes.

The above notes really only scratch the surface of my time at the show and I can easily say that it was phenomenally rewarding, giving me access to a really great masterclass, some stunning wines, and some truly great people.

With thanks to The Drinks Business and Unionpress for the ticket used for this tasting.

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Aldi Wine Club 8th Panel Tasting Note #2

The next two bottles from the latest Aldi Wine Club tasting panel arrived recently.  Both were sourced from their ‘Exquisite’ range and with no red this time, we have a white and a rosé to try.

Aldi Albarino

Exquisite Collection Albariño 2015, Rias Baixas, Spain, 12%, £5.99

Well-known within wine loving circles, the region of Rias Baixas and the Albariño grape variety might not be the most familiar of Spanish offerings to the general public, but the good news is that this is another case of the right grape growing in the right place.  Albariño (known as Alvarinho in Portugal) produces distinctive wines and works well in the Atlantic Ocean influenced wetter conditions of the north-western corner of Spain, just north of the Portuguese border.

Bottled under screw-cap, this wine is a nice clean lemon yellow in colour, with a fresh and inviting nose.  There’s a good sprinkling of zesty citrus with heaps of lemon backed up by lime, fresh grass and floral notes, clean green fruit of both apples and pears, and a slight toastiness which rounds out the good full, intense experience.

The palate is led by the fresh lemon citrus and followed by tropical yellow fruit of melon and pineapple along with peach skin and light floral touches.  Even though this wine is absolutely all about the fresh clean fruits (which it has in good measure and pairs well with the steely crisp high acid) I found it slightly lacking in the mid-palate.  This dipped the intensity leaving just the acid and also had a knock on effect to the length, which wasn’t overly long.

All in all, this is an easy enough wine to drink with or without food, but I will have to re-taste before I can recommend or fully evaluate it.  One last thing to add is that if I can’t make a full decision on a wine, I leave the rest of the bottle for a re-taste the next evening.  In this case, it was good enough to be gone in one evening, which does draw conclusions of its own.

Aldi Provence

Exquisite Collection Cótes de Provence Rosé NV, France, 13.5%, £5.99

This wine, like the Albariño above, was picked out by The Telegraph newspaper as a key wine for the summer of 2014, and right from pouring, I can see I’m going to like it.

In a subtle and canny way of keeping quality in line with price, this wine isn’t from any particular vintage, but is rather a blend of years (NV meaning ‘Non Vintage’).  In the classic Provence style it is comprised of four different grape varieties (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvédre and Cinsault) which is the regional speciality both in the southern Rhone and continuing in to the south-east of France.

My initial description of how the wine looked in the glass started with the word ‘luminous’ – it had a clear vibrancy (and I use this word often, so it surpassed even that!) with a colour that blended onion skin and wild salmon.  It was clear that this wine would have depth.

The nose was intense as expected, with fresh strawberries and cream leading the way, followed by the stone fruit of peach and nectarine.  There was a little extra sweetness to the nose that suggested all things confectionary, but it wasn’t overplayed.

On the palate the signature strawberries and cream continued, alongside peach, lemon and watermelon, all giving a good weighted mouthfeel.  The acid was placed lower in the mix and kept the palate refreshing whilst allowing ripe fruits to come to the fore.  The length was good and added smoke and further darker notes.

I’ve never been able to put my finger on the dark notes at the end of some rosé wines and often end up listing them as something like ‘a pleasant bitterness’.  Utilising the internet, apparently they are known as ‘salty minerality’ which comprises black skinned olives, brine, and even meat.  Once aware I could instantly pick out these characteristics.  Being fairly unusual characters in wine this was a good eye-opener for me.

The labelling for this bottle is in-keeping with the rest of the ‘Exquisite’ range (the use of the colour blue to offset the contents, clear good looking scripts and fonts, the winemakers signature etc.), but if I had one negative against this wine it would be the funny shaped bottle.  At best it looks like a novelty, but at worst appears simply as a wine ‘alternative’ or soft drink (Orangina springs to mind).

Overall this wine embodies what it is to be part of the Aldi Wine Club, in that it has allowed me to try a wine that I perhaps would not have picked off the shelf, it has enabled me to learn something new about the world of wine, and it again has me scratching my head as to how Aldi can bring in such quality at such market-friendly prices.

I’ll be picking up more of this when I pop in to get the replacement bottle of Albariño.

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

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Aldi (7th Panel) Wine Club Tasting #2 – Kooliburra Rosé (Blend)

In a follow up to my previous tasting note for the Aldi Wine Club, this next bottle takes us to the other side of the world, and the south of Australia.

Named after the Aboriginal word for small lizard, the Kooliburra Rosé appropriately has a depiction of one on the label and, not only does the red colour of the label offset the deep wild salmon colouring of the wine, it’s also nicely textured with a dimpled sandy sensation.

The wine is bottled under screw-cap and, in a similar fashion to the previous Aldi tasting, again shows a real respect for the design and labelling of the bottle.  At the same time, it is what the label doesn’t tell you that actually has just as much impact.  Again we have no year of vintage specified, and the wine is simply labelled as being from ‘South East Australia’ (which is a big place!).  Thirdly, there’s not even a grape variety specified, so from this we can surmise that the final product is a blend of grapes, different years of production, and grown over an extremely large production region.

Whilst this doesn’t allow the drinker to pull out any details of typicity or origin, it does allow for a standardised house-blend to be achieved year after year, and in the vast production levels that allow the extremely light price-point of £3.79 to be achieved.

The last Aldi wine I tried hit exactly the same checkpoints and, despite my initial concerns, proved to be a very respectable wine.  The gauntlet is well and truly laid-down – can they do it again?

Kooliburra

Kooliburra Rosé Reserve, South Eastern Australia, Blend, 11%, £3.79

As mentioned above, first off the colour of the wine is a vibrant deep pink, which for me is reminiscent of the colour of wild salmon.  On the nose you get the notes of lighter red fruits such as strawberries and cranberries, but they’ve managed to deliver these with a great intensity and depth.  This means that the whole sensation of the nose has a dark and brooding character, rather than just being simple fruit.  I can also detect a confectionate air, which made me think of cherry drops and, along with noting that the alcohol is well under average at 11%, can start to give hints as to how the palate will deliver.

Sure enough, it kicks off with the clean, fresh, well ripened fruit notes of strawberries and cherries.  Whilst the wine is clearly all about the primary fruit, what it also delivers is a well-rounded blend that is totally full of flavour, and easily fills your mouth with a weight that carries through to the end of the palate.  The lush medium acidity is well balanced, but if I had one criticism, it would be that this wine has a good touch of sweetness from the lower alcohol.

As a quick primer to explain what this means – as sugar converts to alcohol in the fermentation process, if you have less alcohol in the finished product, you retain the unconverted sugars which will result in a sweeter wine.  Less alcohol in a wine isn’t a bad thing – it has a lot to do with the climate where the grapes are grown, so whilst Germany is at a marginal northern climate that naturally results in many wines of a lower alcohol, the year-round sunshine of southern Australia wouldn’t suggest this, so the sweetness is a stylistic choice.

To balance this out (if you’re not a fan of a sweeter wine) there’s a couple of things that will pair very well, and that’s either a warm summers day where the simple refreshment will ensure you could easily finish the bottle, or pairing it with a food dish.  In simple rule of thumb, a sweet wine will match best with a dish of equal sweetness, such as a dessert.  When the matching sweetness combines it creates the perception of a drier mouthfeel in the wine, and the acidity is cleaner.  I had this Rosé with Strawberries and Ice Cream and it was perfect.

In summary, this is a straight-forward, but well-realised blend, and absolutely stonking value for the price.  Online reviews agree, and this is currently a 5-star wine on the Aldi website which, whilst the introductory store offers are still in place, can be ordered with ‘Free Delivery’ in the UK.

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

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Dom Pérignon 1990

Part 13 of my Dom Pérignon History Series

Fireworks sparkled over the Champs-Elysees on the 14th of July 1989 as France celebrated the bicentennial of the French Revolution.  At a glittering dinner under the illuminated Louvre Pyramid Dom Pérignon Oenothéque 1959 was uncorked for the first time, revealing a complex wine drawn exclusively from one of the finest vintages of the previous 50 years.  This ‘wine library’ concept wouldn’t be fully explored until the end of the new decade and so, for now, the public would be making do with the 1983 vintage, which was released at the start of 1990.

Before looking at the vintage conditions of the year, it is worth noting that 1990 was the first time that current Chef de Cave extraordinaire Richard Geoffroy joined the brand.  Starting with Domaine Chandon in Napa in the mid 1980’s, it wasn’t long before his potential was spotted and he began working with the pinnacle of the Moét portfolio.  In a transition that took a full six years to complete, he acted as deputy to the then Chef de Cave Dominique Foulon.  Beginning with production of the 1990, he spent his time learning, absorbing and understanding the technicalities and philosophy of producing Dom Pérignon.

RichardGPromoPicPicture Credit: Creating Dom Pérignon

Since taking over the reins Richard has become almost as much a symbol of Dom Pérignon as the bottle design and shield label, such is his commitment to extolling its wonder.  He travels continually for virtually half of each year conducting numerous tastings and launch events, and is incredibly approachable and knowledgeable.  On his artistic vision for the brand, he had this to say: “The unique personality of Dom Pérignon champagne is born of this creative commitment: the always unexpected, paradoxical tension between the distinctive qualities of a year and the timeless spirit of Dom Pérignon, the sensation that gives it its charisma; weightlessness with an airy richness and suppleness, from the first impression to the long-lasting finish.”

Moving on to the weather conditions of the year itself, a humid winter had seen the flowering of the vines beginning promptly, only to be hit by spring frosts in April.  The persistent cold weather and rain throughout May and June prompted uneven ripening and inhibited grape development.  These deficits were, however, offset by a good sized crop which would prove valuable should strict grape selection be required.  In the end, the vintage was saved by a persistent summer heatwave that saw little rain and lasted from July all the way through to September, and the overall crop for Champagne ended up being the 3rd largest on record.  Picking for the Chardonnay began on the 11th of September, with the Pinot Noir following shortly after on the 24th.  All of the harvest was completed in the continuing perfect weather conditions.  The well ripened grapes took on a mature flavour, and Chardonnay was blended in a higher proportion (58%) than usual (50/50) to add freshness to fruity Pinot Noir.

The official tasting guide describes the wine as having “an initial, almost floral impression (that) gives way to aromas of acacia honey, culminating in notes of dried fruit and brioche.  On the palate the wine is round and complete with a long refined and fresh finish – a feeling of simple perfection”.

Other tasting notes describe the palate as having almond and apricots amongst the dried fruit, and having a silky finish reminiscent of preserved citrus.  A Rosé wine was also produced, described as having copper and orange hints to its colour.  On the nose there were touches of gingerbread, cashew nuts, dried figs and candied orange peel, and these continued on to the palate culminating in a smooth and precise blend.  The 1990 Rosé was released in the year 2000.

The release of the Vintage 1990 in the September of 1996 (alongside the release of the 1986 Rosé) saw some amendments to the packaging of the brand.  Of course, the iconic bottle and shield label remained intact, but the capsule protecting the cork saw its first change since the 1966 vintage. Gone was the black and red colour scheme of old, and in came a subtle olive green background with the shield logo and black scripting.

1990 images

The presentation box remained the same on the outside, but internally the simple plush lining was replaced with a moulded plastic tray for the bottle to lay in.  The tasting guide also now featured a proper depiction of the shield logo, as per the label on the bottle, instead of the line drawings seen previously.

The 1990 Rosé release was now presented in a dark rose coloured box, although this new style had been introduced with the 1988 Rosé, which had been released in the period between the 1990 Vintage coming out and the release of the further matured 1990 Rosé.  This new coloured packaging ensured that it stood out on the shelf, added an extra level of prestige, and differentiated itself from the standard releases.  The capsule for the Rosé was equally updated to the new design, but in a rose coloured version.

Like 1990 before it, the harvest of 1991 also saw damaging frosts leading to late and uneven flowering, and a hot summer following on behind but, unlike 1990, it wouldn’t get a Vintage release. Late rains in mid-September delayed picking and swelled the grapes, resulting in juice with a low acidity, and therefore robbing the palate of one of the key aspects of a sparkling wine.  With a recession in full swing in many parts of the world, but hitting the UK (one of the leading countries for Champagne exports) very badly, sales were also slumping.  As a result of these numerous external factors the wines of 1991 went, in the main, to topping up reserve stocks for future non-vintage blends.

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Decanter & Majestic tasting guide – November 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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