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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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.

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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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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.

Ben Bridge 1

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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Aldi Wine Club 8th Panel Tasting Note #1

I’m delighted to be linking in with Aldi again for the 8th panel of their ‘Wine Club’.  This means I’ll be trying six more of their wines over the coming months and, if its anything like the last panel, it will be full of interesting wines.

I’ve recently received the first two bottles, so let’s kick things off.

Aldi Gaguedi

Gaguedi Sauvignon Blanc, Swartland, South Africa, 13.5%, £4.89

Winemaking in South Africa is focused on the south-western tip of the country, and this wine from Swartland is from the western side of the western tip.  Even though winemaking has been taking place in the Southern Cape region for hundreds of years, it has only fairly recently developed in Swartland and plantings are adaptable and dictated to trend as opposed to tradition.  This is why we find the Sauvignon Blanc grape here, as they play off the success seen by New Zealand.

In terms of climate, even with the cooling influences of the Atlantic Ocean rolling across the land, they see a Mediterranean level of warmth, and this distinguishes it from the cooler climate classic Sauvignons of New Zealand.

Visually the wine is a pale to mid lemon colour, with vibrant gold tints to the rim suggesting ripe and juicy fruit.  The nose comes across as a little subdued but, as this can sometimes be from over-chilling the wine, I left it out of the fridge for a bit and we were back in business.  My overall impression of the wine was that it was fairly brooding, with characters other than simple fresh fruit coming to the foreground.  I could detect an oiliness as well as florality and hits of honeysuckle, all of which isn’t your classic Sauvignon.

The unfaltering heat of the climate fully ripens the grapes and this manifests itself with a decent mid-weight body and, despite being zingy with a mouth-watering acidity, backs it up with butter slightly reminiscent of a Chardonnay.  There is a clear streak of freshly squeezed lime, just giving way to touches of green apple flesh, and then heading off towards yellow tropical fruit of melon and pineapple.  The overall sensation is fresh and inviting and lingers on the palate for a good while after.

If you’re a lover of the easy-going classic grassy style of NZ Sauvignon Blanc this wine may not hit the spot for you, but I would happily recommend this as a good solid weekday wine, and another that comes in at the great sub-£5 price-point.

Aldi Blanquette

Exquisite Collection Blanquette de Limoux 2014, Languedoc, France, 12%, £7.99

Next up is a sparkling from the Languedoc in southern France.  When a French sparkling wine is produced in the same way as Champagne but made outside of the Champagne region, it is generally known (since 1990) as a Crémant, but Blanquette (meaning ‘small white’ in the local dialect) is held as the world’s first sparkling wine (dating back to 1544!) and so the historic name was kept as its own distinct AOC. The resultant wines tend to be slightly less effervescent than Champagne, but the big point of difference is that it is made with the Mauzac grape variety.  Not used at all in Champagne, Mauzac must constitute at least 90% of the Blanquette blend and may be topped up with Chardonnay and/or Chenin Blanc.

In terms of the packaging of the bottle it does follow the Champagne style with the word ‘Brut’ written in gold on the neck foil, where the word ‘Champagne’ usually is.  A nice stylish label is completed with the signature of winemaker Jean-Claude Mas.

In colour the wine is a pale lemon yellow and is peppered throughout with fine tiny bubbles rushing to the surface.  There’s a good fresh nose of lemon citrus which is accompanied by bready brioche notes.

On the palate this is at once light and frothy and effortlessly quaffable. Alongside the expected lemon citrus there is a touch of honey, the biscuit brioche notes from the nose continue, and the palate is rounded with the green fruit tones of apples and pears.

A refreshing acidity keeps this lively on your palate all the way through to the finish and, apart from the hallmark lightness of style meaning a certain depth is missing, there is a potential that this could be mistaken for Champagne.  A snip for £7.99 and, if you’re looking for a cheap sparkling for your everyday needs, I personally would put this ahead of Prosecco.

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

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Cuvée Reserve Wine Tasting Weekend 2016

Last weekend saw the approximate one year anniversary of me discovering and joining the Tesco Wine Community which, despite being a one-of-a-kind promotional tool for Tesco, sadly closed last August.  That, however, didn’t stop a core number of us staying in contact and organising a weekend away to do what we do best – talking about and trying new wine.  For me it was a wonderful and fitting way to celebrate the anniversary, by meeting in person some of the people I’d been chatting to online for some time.

Many attendees had met each other at previous Tesco winemaker events, but a rented house in Stratford-Upon-Avon last weekend marked the first time that a concerted effort had been made to bring together a wider group of us from all over the south of England.  Added to this, each attendee was bringing wines that they rated highly and wanted to present in the best possible light, so it was set to include a stellar list of top quality examples.

CR Wend Table

What follows isn’t an account about what transpired, or even a looooooong list of tasting notes – in order to preserve the relaxed atmosphere none of us were taking them.  I will however, as the one who took lots of photos of the bottles as they came and went, try to draw together a list of the 30 wines that were tasted as part of the weekend (including a few not available in the UK and shipped across from Germany).

I appreciate that a simple list of wines may make curious reading for some, but for 10 people in particular, it will remain a document of a wonderful weekend with great wine, great food and above all, great company.

And so, in no particular order:

Sparkling wine

We covered a good number of the sparkling bases here, with an example from each of the major categories:

  • Cono Sur sparkling Pinot Noir Rosé, Bio Bio Valley, Chile, 12%
  • I Duecento Prosecco Brut NV, Veneto, Italy, 11.5%
  • Freixenet Extra Vintage 2013 Brut Cava, Spain, 11.5%
  • Louis Delaunay Brut NV Champagne, France, 12.5%

White wine

Our white wine selection comprised:

  • Denis Dubourdieu 2010 Clos Floridene, Grand Vin De Graves (blend of 50% Sauvignon Blanc, 47% Semillon, 3% Muscadelle), France, 13%. A nice chance to try a rare white example of Graves
  • Symbiose La Grande Olivette, Cuvee Florence, Piquepoul, Sauvignon Blanc blend, Cótes de Thau 2014, France, 12%. Piquepoul is something of a recent trend in the UK, so this was an interesting one to try
  • Karl Pfaffmann 2013 Weissburgunder, Trocken, Walsheim, Pfalz, Germany, 12.5%. The first of three wines sourced exclusively from Germany and rarely seen in the U.K.
  • Karl Pfaffmann 2014 Riesling, Trocken, Walsheim, Pfalz, Germany, 12.5%
  • Randersackerer Ewig Leben 2013er, Albalonga Auslese, Franken, Germany, 11%
  • Luis Felipe Edwards Gran Reserva 2015 Chardonnay, Casablanca Valley, Chile, 14%
  • Alvi’s Drift 2015 Chenin Blanc, Worcester, South Africa, 13.5%
  • Calvet Reserve 2013 Pinot Blanc, Alsace, France, 12.5%
  • The Cup and Rings 2013 Godello Sobre Lias, Monterrai, Spain, 13%
  • Ara Single Vineyard 2014 Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand, 12.5%

CR Wend German

Red wine

All the wines supplied were kept undisclosed to the other attendees prior to the day, and so it is interesting to notice the heavy red bias towards Spain.  Our full selection comprised:

  • Arjona (unoaked) 2014 Rioja (100% Tempranillo), Spain, 13.5%
  • Club Des Sommeliers, Morgon (100% Gamay) 2014 Beaujolais, France, 12.5%
  • J Opi 2014 Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina, 13.5%. This wine was decanted to bring out the rich flavour
  • Marques de Riscal Finca Torrea 2007 (Tempranillo), Rioja, Spain, 14%
  • Cháteau Hervé Laroque 2007 (Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon), Fronsac, France, 13%
  • La Cantera Reserva 2007 (Tempranillo based blend), Carinena, Spain, 13%, (from magnum)
  • Ermita de San Lorenzo 2008 Garnacha based blend, Rioja, Spain, 14%. Another one for the decanter
  • Mayu Syrah Reserva 2011, Elqui Valley, Chile, 14.5%. This wine was again decanted to allow the rich flavours to mellow
  • Piccini Memoro 2010 (Aglianico, Cabernet Sauvignon, Nero D’avola, Sangiovese blend), Regional blend across Tuscany, Basilicata, Veneto and Sicily, Italy, 14%. Decanted, but perhaps needed more time to open fully.
  • Cháteau Valfontaine 2012 (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon) Bordeaux, France, 12%
  • Stobi 2011 Petit Verdot Barrique, Tikves, Macedonia, 14%.  A rare opportunity to try this wine.
  • Campo Viejo Gran Reserva 2007 (Tempranillo), Rioja, Spain, 13.5%
  • Les Vaucorneilles Cuvee Nathan 2005, Touraine, Loire Valley, France, 13.5% (Blend of Gamay, Cabernet and Cot)
  • Vox Populi 2012 Bobal, Utiel-Requena, Spain, 14%
  • Laurent Miquel L’Artisan 2014 (Syrah, Grenache), Faugeres, France, 13.5%

CR Wend Lineup

Thanks to Clare for organising what proved to be a successful event, and one that is already mooted to be taking place again next year.  Cheers!

CR Wend Table 2

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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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Camel Valley Vineyard Visit

Camel Corks

After winding my way down many a tight country lane, I finally saw the signs to say that I had arrived at Camel Valley Vineyard.  Ex-RAF pilot Bob Lindo and his wife Annie purchased the site in the early 1980’s and, by doing a vintage in Germany and reading everything he could about viticulture and vinification, set up from scratch what is now one of the top English vineyards in operation.  At 7 hectares (24,000 vines) it is also the largest in Cornwall and is sited near to Bodmin, nestled in the undulations of the River Camel.

The first 8,000 vines were planted in 1989 and it wasn’t long before the awards started flowing.  In 2007, Bob and Annie’s son Sam ignored the calling of a high flying career in the city and joined the team as winemaker.  Sam brought different experiences to the table from those of Bob, having worked vintages in New Zealand, and the team have gone from strength to strength, culminating with the Queen choosing to serve their Pinot Noir 2008 Brut at a banquet in Buckingham Palace.

Camel1

To give you some idea of the size of the operation, they expect to make 220,000 bottles this year, but with the ever-changeable UK weather, poorer years such as 2012 only saw 50,000 bottles produced.  In order to be fair to customers they try to keep the price of the wines constant even when they are in short supply, and thankfully (even with the big demand for their product) they have built up enough stocks from the good sized 2013 and 2014 vintages to ensure that they won’t be running out any time soon.  70% of the wines they produce are sparkling, with the remaining 30% made up of still red, white and rosé wines.

Safety of the grapes here is paramount and we weren’t allowed to be let loose within the vines like at some vineyards, which was a shame.  There was netting covering the canopies and timed shotgun noises to deter the birds, and low level electrified fencing to keep out invading badgers, so it would have been a tricky experience anyway.  Thankfully they have well-appointed decking next to their retail shop where you can lazily enjoy a glass of wine whilst looking out over the sea of vines.  The grapes themselves are on their last few days of hang time as we visit, soaking up the final rays of unseasonal warmth.  The grapes are all hand-picked and on-standby is a team of 15 Bulgarians who return each year to complete the job.

Inside the winery it is a glittering city of stainless steel tanks, and our tour guide happily showed us the plethora of new machinery recently purchased, including their de-stemmer and bottling line. There is a running joke within the winery that the bottling line (which is indeed impressive with mechanical grabbing, non-brine disgorging, corking, sealing and labelling) actually cost more to buy than the original purchase of all the vineyard land.  An impressive notion!

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When having a good look around I did notice that, within the large stocks of bottles either ageing, being riddled, or in storage ready to go, there was nothing over and above the standard size.  For one of the top English sparkling wines, and with certainly enough vines to be able to produce a larger format bottle, I wondered why they didn’t produce at least a magnum.  I put the question to our guide, and she pointed out that the calibration on their bottling line is currently set for standard bottles only.  This sounds to me like a good area to develop.  English wines are in ascendency at the moment, looking for ways in to the crowded sparkling market, and if there is one thing they can do to drive forward the prestige it is to go for the majesty of the large format.  I should add at this point that they do have a one-off Methuselah bottling of their Gold trophy winning 2012 Pinot Noir Rosé sparkling to purchase for £399, and so jump straight from the standard bottle to one that holds 8 bottles.  That’s quite an impressive thing, as is the knowledge that it is the largest bottle of English sparkling wine available from any vineyard.

The tour lasts approximately one and a half hours and costs £8.50 per adult.  Included within the price is a full tour of the winery, access to the decking which overlooks the vines, and one glass of still wine.  Unusually for a wine tour, you do only get to taste one wine, but it is a full glass as opposed to a tasting measure, so you have to ensure you pick one that you think you will like.  You can also upgrade from still wine to sparkling by giving £1 extra as a charitable donation and, as it would be rude not to, I opted for the 2013 Annie’s Anniversary Brut (lovely creamy, fleshy green fruit, and searing acidity).

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As it is a working operation at this time of the year we did get to see Sam in action whilst we looked around, and owner Bob was an ever present sight running here and there, busy in some task or other.  He was also happy to briefly chat which was nice, and it was good to see that he was still quite involved in things.

I purchased both the 2009 Pinot Noir Brut (£29.95) and the 2013 Rosé Brut (£26.95), and will add my tasting notes here in due course to complete the document of my trip to Camel Valley.

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Knightor Winery Visit

Speaking to a friend about my upcoming trip to visit the vineyards of Cornwall he informed me that, being born there, he knew the area well and asked who I was visiting.  One name that stuck out was Knightor as he had never heard of them and, I must confess, until I had planned my itinerary neither had I.

In a moment of serendipity, the dull weather ushering in the start of October disappeared, and my trip coincided with what must have been some of the warmest weather ever seen in the UK for that time of year.  Indeed I was informed at one vineyard that they had stopped picking for a few days to allow the remaining grapes to reap the benefit of the final ripening opportunity.

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Knightor were born in 2006 when Adrian Derx left behind an IT career in London and purchased 32 acres outside of Seaton in south-east Cornwall.  Coming from a family where his grandfather had owned a vineyard (in central Italy), this was a firm return to his ancestral roots.  Following the first land purchase, Adrian further purchased 26 acres at Porthscatho in 2007, planting 6-8 acres of it with vines the following year.  To cap off his two vineyard purchases, in 2011 Adrian then purchased a derelict complex of buildings in Trethurgy, just outside of St Austell.  These have now been transformed in to his winery, cunningly equidistant between both vineyards for ease of transportation, and just around the corner from the major Cornish attraction The Eden Project, for which Knightor now also produce ‘Eden’ branded wines.

The first wines under the Knightor name were released in 2012, and won instant acclaim from wine critic Matthew Jukes who called the wine “expertly made” and “very impressive”.  Grapes are all handpicked and production levels fluctuate between 46,000 bottles in 2014 to the 34,000 bottles produced in 2013 and expected from the 2015 harvest.  The poor harvest of 2012 produced only a mere 12,000 bottles.  I was very surprised to learn that this limited production is split over an (expanding) number of different labels.  Approximately 50% of production goes to sparkling wines (A Brut NV and a Rosé NV), with the remaining crop servicing 9 other still red, white and rosé wines.

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The eclectic mix of grape varieties grown include regular UK choices such as Bacchus, Reichensteiner, Chardonnay and Huxelrebe, alongside other rarer types such as Madelaine Angevine, Siegerrebe and Schoneburger (which they have to brand as ‘Mena Hweg’ (Cornish for Sweet Hill, which is what Schoneburger translates as) due to the low alcohol level being completely distinct from German bottlings).  The wines are all presented with lovingly designed labels showing map images of the local area and, in a further nod to the wines speaking of where they come from, the sparkling wines are topped off with capsules made from Cornish tin.

Replacing original winemaker James Thomas is Italian winemaker Salvatore Leone, who joined the team last year to juxtapose his experiences in warm Sicilian conditions with our cooler climate here.  I spoke to him at length about these differences to which he stated that he basically flips his knowledge over completely so that, something he would never consider doing in Italy is potentially plausible here.   The team have a handful of used French oak barrels (not currently used to impart any flavour characteristics, but merely to affect mouthfeel) to complement their otherwise stainless steel operation but, whilst I was there, Salvatore revealed that they had just purchased 3 new American oak barrels to be used for their Chardonnay offering.  In conjunction with this, some Bacchus will also be tried in oak to emulate a growing trend for Bacchus Fumé wines.

The winery tour lasts approximately 1 hour and costs £8.95 per person. This price includes a full tour of the winery buildings (and access to the winemaker if he’s about) and experimental vines (not used in the commercial wine venture) that are on the winery site.  Greenhouse conditions generate additional heat enabling the production of small quantities of varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon which wouldn’t thrive in the standard UK climate, but at this time the vines exist to ensure that visitors do get to see some on their trip (no self-respecting wine tour is complete without them!).  For me it does throw up thoughts as to what possibilities there are to cheat nature and produce solid red wines in the UK, even in small quantities.  Is there a way to balance the additional costs of setting up the greenhouse environment in to a wine at a reasonable price-point?  Also included in the price is a visit to the tasting table which shows approximately 5 different wines (we were lucky on our day that extra wines were already open and so we got to try more).

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As the whole operation is run by a small, and fully working team, booking for the tour is required, but there were no problems arranging the visit and I can’t think of any way that the team could have been more friendly.  It is well worth a visit, and I naturally reciprocated buying up some of my favourite wines from the tasting table, although this does bring me on to my only niggle of the trip which was the pricing of some of the sparkling wines.  Currently the Brut NV retails for £27, with the Rosé NV retailing at £33.  When I heard that from next year they will be introducing a vintage 2011 sparkling I naturally asked what the price-point would be, to which I was told circa £40.  At this price we’re above well established brands like Moét, and so I do wonder what the future holds from that aspect.

As I work my way through the range of wines in proper tasting conditions over the next few weeks, I will post my thoughts up here to fully document my experience with Knightor wines.

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Prosecco a-go-go

I’ve recently become aware of the Tesco Wine Community – a group of like-minded individuals musing, comparing wines tasted and talking about new wine experiences. Loving a good chat about wine I immediately signed up. Forums on wine are nothing new, but this is one with a difference, and that comes directly from the ‘Wine Enthusiasts’ within Tesco. Every week they run a tasting panel – they choose a particular wine, open a new topic thread, and anyone interested in trying that particular wine can register to get a bottle – Free wine! Well, not quite – In exchange you agree to write up a tasting note on the wine and paste on to the forum and the Tesco website. Seeing the passion that other members have displayed when reviewing previous bottles makes you up your game, and many clearly spend a good deal of time and effort. It still sounds like a good deal… and it is.

The more lively a member you become, you move up ranking levels (Bronze, Silver and Gold). The higher the bracket you are, you may even be lucky enough to be chosen as forum ‘Member of the Month’, and you get a whole case of wine to taste and review! I haven’t quite earned that privilege yet, but I did manage to get on a tasting panel for Motivo Prosecco D.O.C Brut from Italian producer Borgo Molino.   From my regular blogging you will see that I have a love of all things sparkling, be that the classic Champagne, through to my recently tasted Slovenian sparklers, so this tasting seemed like a bottle right up my street. The good news is that there is absolute freedom as to how you conduct your tasting, with no set formats (I personally conducted mine in both ISO approved tasting glasses and standard flute). All levels are welcome on the forum so you don’t need any tutored expertise in tasting, just enthusiasm.

From a background perspective, Prosecco is a sparkling wine from northern Italy, and I would suggest, along with Spanish Cava (and maybe English Sparklers) the major competition to Champagne. There are probably three majors factors that will drive a purchase of Prosecco over Champagne (aside of patriotic duty), and these are quality, price and sweetness. Production of sparkling wines the world over run the gamut from wine spending years in bottle undergoing second fermentation and lees ageing, through to wines that undergo carbonation (think fizzy drinks). Thankfully we’re in the former territory here.

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The bottle in question is worthy of note and care has obviously gone in to the design and production. It’s fairly reminiscent to me of Ruinart Champagne, with its squat bottle, gold foil and beige logo, and the embossing on the front of the glass is a nice extra touch. When comparing this bottle of Prosecco to others in my local Tesco, it was a stand-out.  Some still have a light blue foil on the bottle – this to me says sweet wine (think Babycham), and it’s good that this one has erred to more ‘earthy’ colours, which make me think terroir, ergo rustic and well crafted. Of course, these extra touches all count towards the total cost of the bottle.

The next thing to notice is the extremely pale straw yellow of the wine, suggesting subtlety – again very similar to that of a Blanc de Blancs. The wine clocks in at 11% abv as you would expect from a Prosecco, and there’s no visible tears on the glass. A good barometer of the quality within the production methods of sparkling are the size of the bubbles – false carbonation gives a larger bubble. Thankfully, here we have a tiny bubble which in turn gives a subtle spritz of flavour rather than a gaseous overture.

On the nose I get a fresh and zesty lemon citric note, alongside pipped fruit – yellow melon, and green notes – at first this was pear, but it moved along to fleshy green apple. The initial palate is an explosion of froth – light and refreshing – and virtually evaporating in the mouth. Once this dissipates, the first hit is of clean youthful lemon and green fruit. This quickly gives way to a secondary note of something bordering on creamy tropical, stopping short of pineapple, more akin to passion fruit.

The vibrant acidity continues the refreshing notes of fleshy green apple. For such a light bodied wine, it is a compliment that it has such length of palate. Once the initial fruit gives way, I get hints of smoke and a calculated bitterness – something to give some sort of depth to the linear cleanse, and further indicating care in the winery. With the alcohol at a light 11% there are some noticeable touches of sweetness on the palate, but nothing cloying, and I could happily drink this as a refreshing aperitif. I tasted the wine on its own, but paired with food this would be an easy match with starters or hors d’oeuvre.

I really hope that Tesco continue this initiative in showing their commitment to their range, listening to their customers, and fostering a vibrant community. What with their recent well publicised financial troubles, this could be something that easily falls by the way-side as an unnecessary expense, but I really hope it doesn’t.

With thanks to Tesco and Borgo Molino for the bottle used in this tasting.

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