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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Yours Sancerre-ly….. R.I.P. Tesco Wine Community

TWC Close Montage

Following the recent shock announcement, this Friday sees the sad closure of the Tesco Wine Community (TWC). Launched to great fanfare in December 2011, the site attracted such high profile names as wine expert Oz Clarke and chef John Torode, and quickly became a hive of activity with users discussing their latest purchases, hot tips and swapping information ranging from favourite producers to what wine goes best with a Chicken Caesar Salad. When added to the regular competitions to fine dine, meet winemakers, and win both bottles and cases of wine, the site became a magnet for new members and grew in popularity.

When I first joined I wasn’t aware of just how unique it was in the marketplace, and I double/triple checked all the other main players to ensure that they didn’t offer such an opportunity to get involved. This makes the closure of the site doubly sad as it throws away a true USP (unique selling point) for Tesco and is another nail in the well secured coffin of commercialism over community.

Being one of the core of active members, I could see first-hand the effects of the loss of this outlet, be that one of sadness, deflated expectancy, denial, and subdued anger as to how this was being allowed to happen. Ever hungry for a story, the media both in (The Drinks Business, The Grocer) and outside (The Telegraph, The Guardian) of the wine trade ran the story. Although the TWC was a public forum, it is particularly sad that virtually all of the articles actually lift user comments and include them out of context and without permission. These are friends talking to friends after hearing a piece of sad news, and not meant to be the sound bites of a wide reaching media piece.

Users had been lamenting for many months the continuing range reductions and favouring of bulk brands in place of well-loved favourites or new discoveries. In truth, ever since it was widely reported in late 2014 that the Tesco balance sheets had a £264m ‘black hole’, and that new CEO Dave Lewis had to make some huge cost-cutting measures, the writing was on the wall that the TWC days were numbered. Goodwill promotional exercises where wine lovers are free to pick apart any and every bottle in the range would be very ‘on-the-ball’ when it came to feeding back their thoughts on range culling and simplification. The undercurrent of confused loyalty had already begun.

The closure of the site leaves behind a perfect opportunity for another retailer to jump in and secure a ready base of advocates with a hunger to buy, try and discuss their wine range. Although the number of people registered for the TWC ran to several thousand, it was kept in motion by a core of perhaps 100 people, many of whom have their own blogs and wine forums and would be of a beneficial nature from a promotional perspective. Thanks to the community I have been in receipt of many wines I wouldn’t have tasted and dined with winemakers I would never have met. I’ve also engaged with (and in some cases met) fellow wine lovers and chatted happily about our mutual love of fermented grape juice.

R.I.P. TWC.

As a thank you to ‘Gold’ level contributors over the past 4 years, Tesco were extremely kind in providing a parting gift of a bottle of Sancerre. It seems fitting then, for one last time, that I conduct a Tesco taste panel review:

                        Tesco Sancerre

Tesco Finest Sancerre, France 2014 – 12.5% abv – £11.99

Produced under the Tesco Finest banner, this Sauvignon Blanc based wine is produced by important Sancerre estate Fournier Pere et Fils. Claude Fournier is the 10th generation of his family to be winemaker, and if this wine is anything to go by, he certainly knows what he is doing.

In the glass it’s a pale lemon yellow, but the fun begins when you nose the wine. You immediately get an intense mix of fruit, floral notes and tertiary creamy characters. White peach and green apples and pears spring to mind, as well as a little white spice and touches of the pips. The structure is creamy and seriously rounded – full, complete and inviting.

The palate is simply melt-in-the-mouth good. At the same time as being effortlessly light and refreshing, the taste is again full, juicy and complex – bursting with flavour. This wine manages to be completely intense, whilst retaining a crafted lightness of touch. I first get a golden sunshine feeling from the ripened green fruit blending well with the tropical peachy notes. This juiciness is underwritten by the refreshing acidity and the lemon and lime citrus notes. The palate, like the nose is rounded out with a generous voluptuous creaminess.

The wine clocks in at 12.5% and the seriously long-lasting finish is completely rested on the fleshy green fruit. I’d gone upstairs to do some chores, and made it all the way back downstairs with the finish still lingering long. A beautiful well-crafted wine that this red wine drinker will be buying again. I do hope that, as the Tesco range contracts whilst they get their business back on track, they don’t do away with wines in the ‘slightly more than entry level’ bracket, especially wines of this quality.

So long, and thanks for all the wine…..

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Vinas Del Vero – Luces Rosado 2014 Review

I was reading a piece earlier in the week that was questioning the point of Rosé wine. The view put across was that Rosé wines lack the freshness of a white wine, and lack the depth and body of a red wine. Consequently, they end up somewhere in-between. I’m not much of a Rosé drinker, but when the weather turns to early sunshine as it has done this week, I’m looking for my shorts, dusting off the BBQ, and well up for a glass of Rosé to top it off. By lucky happenstance, thanks to the lovely people at Tesco, this week I’m reviewing for them a Rosado from Spanish Producer Vinas Del Vero (named after the River Vero which runs through their vineyards). The wine comes from a Northeastern Spanish region called Somontano, which is tucked in to the foothills of the Pyrennees (Somontano literally means ‘at the foot of the mountain’). It’s a well-known wine region, but I’d argue that it wouldn’t be the first one that comes to peoples mind when thinking of Northern Spain – that honour would probably go to places like Rioja, Priorat, Rueda, or maybe even to Penedés if they love their Cava.

The DO (Denominación de Origen) of Somontano is fairly youthful, having been created in 1984, and the Vinas del Vero were established only a short time later in 1986. They are owned by famed Sherry producer Gonzalez Byass.

VD Vero Rosado

The new range of wines is named ‘Luces’ (Spanish for Lights), and is marketed as a contemporary blend of internationally recognised grape varieties, with labels that draw from local culture, nature, architecture and tradition. They’ve certainly come up with a striking design for the Rosado, even down to the blue screw top setting off the dark colour of the wine. The 2014 vintage Rosado is comprised of 3 red grape varieties – The famed French grapes of Merlot and Syrah alongside the Spanish stalwart Tempranillo. All were planted between 1988 and 2000 in the sandy/stony vineyards that lie between 350-450 metres above sea level.

Nipping back for a second to the article I mentioned at the start of this review, part of it was given over to the best way to appreciate Rosé wine, and the recommendations were not to over-chill the wine, and to serve it in a red wine glass, treating it almost like a light red wine. So for this Rosado tasting that’s what I did, and for the sake of experimentation, I then chilled another standard glass down to white wine temperatures (i.e. straight from the fridge).

As mentioned earlier, the colour is towards the darker side for Rosado, something I would describe as wild salmon (as opposed to farmed). It probably picks up a lot of its colour from the combined use of three quite dark grapes. The nose is at odds with this darkness and is instantly light, clean and full of fresh ripe red fruits.

For the taste test I tried my over-chilled version first, and it wasn’t pleasing. The nose took a while to stand out, and the palate was almost exclusively water-like (from the high acidity), with just hints of red fruits on the centre of my tongue. Trying the less chilled version was a completely different story. The palate is at once refreshing from the instant tingling acidity, but you are then hit with a wave of red fruits led by cherry, on to hints of raspberry and strawberry, and then backed up with cranberry on the finish. What also appears is a decent weight to the wine which, when matched with the darker colour, creates a fuller overall experience.

The finish is an interesting thing – there was something there that I couldn’t put my finger on. It would have been easy to note it as ‘complexity’, but I don’t think we’re in that arena really, and this is still an everyday sunny day drinking wine. It can be drunk on its own quite easily, or with food – The back label suggests a food pairing with fish and so, as I loved the colour of the wine, paired mine with Salmon (farmed) and it went fabulously.

In the end I settled for the palate-closer being sweetness driven by the alcohol which clocks in at 13%. In the glass that I chilled right down, the finish was short and fresh, and I couldn’t really taste any sense of the slightly above average alcohol level. On the less chilled version, the fruits really round out at the end, you get a pleasing fuller finish, and more importantly, you get a much longer finish.

Don’t worry though if you do over-chill yours by accident and get the shorter finish. It’s such a pleasing moreish Rosado that it won’t be long before you’re reaching for your next glass.

With thanks to Tesco and Vinas Del Vero for providing the bottle used in this tasting.

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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.

DSC_0557

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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