The Vineyard at Stockcross – ‘Judgement of Paris’ Tasting Menu

Sir Peter Michael, owner of 5 star vinous hotel experience The Vineyard, was directly inspired by the 1976 Judgement of Paris; the famous play-off between the traditional wines of France and the upcoming wines of California.

It’s therefore fitting that they offer a tasting menu which pays tribute to the original event, accompanied only by French and Californian wines.

Comprised of 7 courses, each dish allows you to decide which wine works best with the food, and if you prefer the French or US offering.  Opting for the full sensory experience I decided to taste my wines blind, replicating the conditions of the original event.

(Note: The individual dishes change seasonally as do the perfectly paired wines.  What follows are my thoughts based on those served on the day).

Course 1 – Beef sirloin tartar, sorrel sorbet, raisins and bone marrow crumb matched with:

  • Peter Micheal Winery (PMW) L’Aprés Midi (Sauvignon/Semillon) 2015, –
  • CaliforniaCháteau Tour des Gendres (Sauvignon/Semillon) 2015, Bergerac Sec, France

The US wine managed to trick me as it was in the lighter style.  The Bergerac boasted a silky texture with melon and tropical yellow fruit, and seemed almost too intense for their climate.  The PMW had a lighter colour and, alongside rich buttery oak, was characterised by a light airy character and peach and tangerine rind.

1/0 to the USA

Course 2 Lobster Raviolo

Course 2 – Lobster ravioli, citrus bisque, grapefruit, pickled ginger, basil matched with:

  • Donelan ‘Nancie’, Chardonnay 2012, Sonoma, California
  • Sophie Cinier (Chardonnay) 2014, Pouilly-Fuissé, France

The intense lime, mineral nose and refreshing acidity made the Poilly-Fuissé easy to pick out against the rich lemon curd style of the Donelan, but it was this weight that made it blend all the better with the Lobster and the Cajun style sauce.

2/0 to the USA

  • Course 3 – Foie gras ganache, pistachios, cherry and brioche ice cream matched with:

Domaine Loew, Les Cormiers Pinot Gris 2014, Alsace, France

Just one wine was to be matched with this course but, served in an opaque black glass we had no identifier as to whether it was white or red, let alone French or American.

The intensity and sweetness of the lemon matched up to the cherry very well, almost to the point of revelation.  A touch of cakey/bready spice in the wine very reminiscent of shortbread, cleansed the palate after the rich foie gras.

By default France wins, but its 2/1 to the USA

Course 4 – Roasted cod, cauliflower, curry and coconut matched with:

  • Peter Michael Winery Le Moulin Rouge (Pinot Noir) 2008, California
  • Domaine Audoin, Cuvée Marie Ragonneau (Pinot Noir) 2010, Marsannay, France

The PMW felt a little artificial, with the acid a touch too high and a mid-palate that didn’t have enough to excite.  It was straightforward compared to the Audoin that delivered a floral vanilla nose and redcurrant fruit.  Soft and delicate it blended well with the curry and the coconut.

France wins, making it all square at 2/2

Course 5 Loin of Lamb

Course 5 – Loin of lamb, turnips, baby gem, girolles and lamb jus matched with:

  • L’Aventure, Cóte á Cóte (Rhone blend) 2007, Paso Robles, California
  • Fortia 2012, Cháteauneuf du Pape, Rhone, France

Both made using the signature Rhone varieties of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvédre, the French offering was lighter in colour and more floral than its counterpart, offering up ripe black cherry fruit.  A mouth-watering acid worked very well with the lamb jus.

The L’Aventure, inky and youthful purple in colour despite its age, was dense, rich, spicy and alcoholic, and a seriously robust wine.  Mistaking this power for the classic hallmarks of Cháteauneuf and the fact that the depth of colour confused me, I guessed this one wrong.

Regardless of the confusion, the Cháteauneuf worked best.

France take the lead 3/2

Course 6 Peach Melba

Course 6 – “Peach Melba”, raspberry sorbet, almonds matched with:

  • Elysium Black Muscat 2014, Andrew Quady, California

Another single wine served in black opaque glassware to further intrigue and confuse, and this one completely outwitted me.

Thick and gloopy in consistency, this was syrupy and full of rich tropical melon and pineapple.  With a lip-smacking acidity it went wonderfully with the raspberry and the overall acidity of the dish, BUT it transpired that this was a sweet red wine!

Once armed with this information I found tinned raspberry and plum, but this was a good example of tasting with your eyes vs. tasting with your mouth

The US win by default.  All square at 3/3

Course 7 Chocolate Caramel Tonka Bean

Course 7 – Chocolate, caramel, hazelnut and tonka bean matched with:

  • Justin Vineyards, Obtuse (Cabernet Sauvignon) 2012, Paso Robles, California
  • Cháteau Coutet (Semillon) 1998, Barsac, France

The Cháteau Coutet was made in an oxidative style, amber in colour, and offering bruised brown soggy apples, thick honey, and summer cider.  Having said that, the slushy quality went very well with the peanut butter food and caramel notes of the food.

The Obtuse, whilst having an over-the-top (in my opinion) sweetness did actually pair well with the numerous sweeter aspects of this dessert (especially the chocolate), but was quite singular in tone.

A tough call at the final hurdle but:  France wins 4/3

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Aldi Wine Club 13th Tasting Panel – Notes #5 and #6

Well, here we are already on to the final two wines of the 13th Aldi Wine Club panel, and once again it has been a great opportunity to try some wines not on my ordinary supermarket list.

As per the first two bottles received there was a last minute swap out by Aldi and, due to the nicer weather we’ve been seeing here in the UK recently, instead of the planned Chateau Peyredoulle Bordeaux I received:

Aldi Prosecco v3

Aldi Prosecco Superiore NV, Valdobbiadene DOCG, Italy, 11%, £7.99

Prosecco is a tried and trusted crowd-pleaser when the weather is warmer, such is the light fresh and fruity nature of the style, and I’ve no doubt that this particular example will be a favourite for many.

A lovely vibrant medium yellow in colour, the nose was full of clean apple and citrus notes.

The palate was immediately light and quaffable with the soft bubble explosion literally melting in your mouth.  A well balanced and refreshing acid streaked down either side of my tongue giving a good spritz whilst allowing the fruit to stay in the centre of your palate.

Juxtaposing this lightness was the fruit character that the bottle described as autumnal, and they weren’t wrong.  Rather than the crunchy green ‘Granny Smith’ apple you usually find in these lighter styles, there was a definite broody yellow apple tone reminiscent of ‘Golden Delicious’.  Notably darker in character than ‘Granny Smith’, we had soft and sweet yellow flesh, both creamy and slightly bruised, with almost a touch of clove and cinnamon.

A touch of lemon citrus lifted the syrupy apple end palate which, at times, became almost cider-like.  The shift between light and dark certainly made this an interesting wine to try, and the sweet apple kept the finish going in the mouth for some time.

Aldi Andara Merlot v2

Andara Merlot 2015, Chile, 13%, £3.99

This particular Merlot was due in the first batch of wines a couple of months back but, in a similar way to the Prosecco above, was shifted out and joins us here in the final two.  Merlot is, of course, one of the French varieties that has made its home in Chile and thrives in popularity.

A medium youthful purple in colour with visible alcohol ‘tears’ in the glass, the nose was particularly full and interesting, with perceptible layers and density.  Included were liquorice notes, black pepper, dark black berry and cherry, and wood with a whiff of vanilla.  The overall sensation was slightly herbaceous with a cakey-bready thick complexion.

On the palate there were jammy blackberry fruits and a fairly high acidity, matched up against smoky dusky blue-skinned plummy fruit.  There were also secondary tones of bitter dark chocolate and a touch of mint on the aftertaste.  Whilst this should represent a veritable compote of flavour, all in all the palate felt a bit disparate with a raw unfinished quality, and not entirely well blended together.

Such was the imbalance of this wine, unusually for an Aldi Wine Club submission, I was able to discern the price prior to looking for it.  At £3.99, whilst there is a good argument that such imperfection should perhaps be expected, I would counter-argue that wines such as Toro Loco show that quality at this level is actively attainable.

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

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Aldi Wine Club 13th Tasting Panel – Notes #1 and #2

Nearly a full year after I first joined up with the Aldi Wine Club to review half a dozen bottles in their 7th panel, I’m very pleased to once again be linking in with them for their 13th panel.  In a happy coincidence, the first wine I’m trying is the sister act to the first wine I ever reviewed for them; the Vignobles Roussellet Malbec.

ALDI Wine Club Logo

As a quick reminder for anyone not familiar with the club, every other month Aldi select 30 would-be wine experts to become their next tasting panel.  Each month over the following 3 months you are sent two bottles to taste and rate.  You’re free to be as honest as you want with the wines, and they won’t stop sending them to you if one isn’t to your taste.  All you need to do is be prepared to share your views via social media.

Applying to be on the panel is free and you can find all of the application details here (UK only).

Here’s my thoughts on the first two wines that I have been sent for this 13th panel.

Vignobles Roussellet Sauvignon Blanc, France, 11.5% £4.49

Reminding myself of my notes on the Merlot I tasted a year prior, one of the first things I mentioned was that the bottle came under screwcap (largely not favoured by the traditionally led French) and didn’t feature either a production year or a region of production other than the general label of ‘France’.

All of this is exactly the same for this Sauvignon Blanc, but a tiny note on the back label and a Google later tells me that this wine was produced by Grands Chais de France (LGCF), who partner smaller winegrowers all over France and have access to some 2,000 hectares of vines.

In colour this is a medium lemon yellow with golden tints to the rim.  Even before I am six inches close to the glass I’m greeted by a fully fragrant nose of green, be it lime, apple flesh or grassy florality.  There’s also touches of yellow tropical fruit in the form of pineapple and melon.

On the palate you are immediately hit by a big dash of lime and an overwhelming sense of bright sun ripened fruit.  There’s a good medium weight, full of creamy, fleshy, tropical fruit (distinct melon), along with both pink grapefruit and satsuma on the end palate.

Along with a refreshing and precise acidity, the creamy lime carries on for ages and is incredibly satisfying.  With such a lovely, focused and textured wine of multi-layers it is hard to believe that such a full package can be achieved at just 11.5% alcohol.  There is absolutely no restraint in character and this in itself is a revelation.

This is amazingly good value at £4.49 and I would happily pay twice the price for it.  An easy wine to recommend, and by the time you read this I will probably have bought some more.

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Castellore Pinot Grigio Blush 2015, Veneto, Italy, 11.5%, £4.29

Usually each panel will pair off a red and a white wine but this month, for whatever reason (I’m assuming low stock/supply issues as the bottle currently shows ‘unavailable’ on the Aldi website), a Chilean Malbec was set aside to make way for this Italian Rosado.  This bottle hails from the Veneto in north-eastern Italy which is the heartland of Pinot Grigio production.

I was trying this wine on one of the handful of nice sunny days we’ve seen this year, and with the bottle up to the light the medium farmed salmon pink seemed almost luminous.  The nose was a bit more subtle and I spent a little time trying to draw something out other than the red fruit that you would expect.  Apart from being able to discern that there was a healthy amount of redcurrant alongside the expected strawberry, my conclusion was that this wine was all about the pure up-front fruit.

The palate hovered somewhere between light to low medium weight, and continued the red fruits found on the nose.  There were also good traces of the classic Pinot Grigio characteristics coming through, with an abundance of pear and green apple.  If there was any peach in place it was sucked in to the general red fruit medley, but overall this was fleshy and fruity.

Sadly this was where the problems began and, when pitched against the high acid, the singular fruits felt a little too sweet for me.  It isn’t, of course, a sweet wine, but the perception was further highlighted by the lower alcohol level of 11.5%.  As a result, much of the guts and weight were missing for me, and the finish was fairly short.

In the spirit of finding a way of balancing things out I decided to leave the bottle out of the fridge to warm it a touch, even though fully chilled is recommended.  Whilst this did shave a bit of the harshness off of the acidity, the overall whole still felt pretty water thin, and perhaps it is one to retry with food?  I’m not 100% what was vintage about this wine, and would think that it was in no way different to the style produced every other year.

Even though the sun was out whilst I tried the bottle it wasn’t that warm and, knowing that Rosé/Rosado wines fair better in the summer, perhaps Aldi shouldn’t have bought this bottle forward from the later delivery?

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

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Champagne Deutz Masterclass

Champagne Deutz were in town recently as part of the Gonzalez Byass 2017 portfolio tasting, and commercial director Etienne Defosse was on hand to guide us through a masterclass of eight of their wines.

Founded in 1838, much of their production is consumed domestically in France and so this session was a rare and welcome opportunity to taste through their standard Brut NV, their Vintage Champagnes, and their prestige Amour range.

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Producing a mere 2 million bottles per year (a drop in the ocean compared to the annual 300 million bottles produced in the Champagne region), Deutz have 42 hectares, 80% of which are classified at either Grand Cru or Premier Cru level.  This accounts for 20% of their grape needs (a fairly high amount by Champagne standards), with the compliment bought in from the Cru status vineyards of local growers.

The house has 150 individual vats each containing one particular component of their wine.  This distinct and high level of separation gives them absolute control and flexibility when blending their final cuvées, and their NV, for example, contains the grapes from up to 40 different sites.  40% of their annual production is kept as reserve wines for future blending.

The big take-away from this tasting was just how rich and vibrant their wines are, from the classic and classy NV’s through to the rich, layered and yet fantastically ‘alive’ Amour vintages with 10+ years of age already under their belt.

Champagne Deutz Brut Classic NV ~ £30

The base of the current Classic NV is comprised 50% of grapes from 2013, with the compliment made up of 2012 and a touch of 2011.  The NV Champagnes account for 85% of Deutz production and Etienne enlightened us with a good level of detail of the costs involved (€6.50 per kilo of grapes and each bottle needing 1.5kg of grapes to make).

Composition is split evenly between Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, and the house style is accessible, fresh, lively and crisp for immediate pleasure.

Champagne Deutz Rosé NV ~ £40-45

The current Rosé NV is comprised of 50% reserve wines, mainly from the 2011 vintage.  Fully refreshing and bursting with strawberry and cranberry fruit, this showed a good complexity at this level.

Champagne Deutz Blanc de Blancs 2009 ~£55

Hailing from the great year of 2009 this Blanc de Blancs had a wonderfully layered texture throughout.  The nose was full of bread and brioche, cream and a touch of smoke to the citrus.  The palate followed this up with lemon curd, a twist of lime, and blossom florality.

No oak is used in the ageing process and so the density and complexity here is fully achieved through the detailed blending.  Etienne did mention that one very large barrel had recently found its way in to their cellars, with the Chef de Cave clearly trying out a new cuvée!

Champagne Deutz Rosé Vintage 2009 ~£55

With 80% Pinot Noir in its composition, the Rosé had a fragrant nose, immediate strawberry and then headed off to the darker notes of raspberry and redcurrant.  To achieve the precise colouring and fruit characters a vat of red wine is added; at just 5 to 7% of the overall blend.

As a point of interest Etienne disclosed that the same red wine vat is used for the colouring of both the NV Rosé and the Vintage Rosé but, even so, the difference between the two Champagnes was obvious.

Champagne Deutz Brut Vintage 2007 ~£50

I’m pretty sure that this was my first tasting of a 2007 Vintage Champagne, with the wet summer weather and uneven ripening resulting in many houses side-stepping the year.  When quizzed on this Etienne responded that they almost always try to make a vintage expression, only recently failing to do so in 2011 due to vegetal characters in the Pinot Noir.

Etienne also divulged that the bottling was smaller than many vintages and so is already becoming harder to find.  Using a greater compliment of Pinot Noir than usual (65%), this had a very distinctive nose (fennel, apparently) and followed it up on the palate with biscuit, ripe green pear flesh, and honeyed citrus.

deutz-amour

Amour de Deutz Blanc de Blancs 2006 ~£100

Amour de Deutz Blanc de Blancs 2005 ~£100

Amour de Deutz Blanc de Blancs 2003 ~£100

First produced with the 1993 vintage, we were treated here to a trio of the most recent Amour releases.  Many characteristics were present across all three vintages, not least the distinctive, almost luminescent colour (Imperial Gold, so we were told).

All three featured developed noses full of bread and biscuit, with a touch of nuttiness to the older two years.  They were also all able to show off a freshness and vibrant mousse that showed no signs of dulling down any time soon, and the layers of cream and butter were a true treat.

The 2005 and 2003 both showed what felt like a small amount of tannin, and there was an identifiable smoky quality to the 2005.  The 2003 had a particularly great depth and character.  All were wonderful and long lasting on the palate.

We ended the session with one fun anecdote surrounding the Amour range.  Since the 1999 vintage Deutz have produced a limited bottling of 365 numbered Methuselahs; one for each day of the year (and yes they do make 366 in leap years!).  One particular customer who is an avid James Bond fan has block-reserved the bottle number 007 for all future releases.

With thanks to Gonzalez Byass for the tickets to their portfolio tasting and Champagne Deutz masterclass.

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McLaren Vale’s Great Grenache – Masterclass (Part 2)

In the follow up to my first article on the wines presented in the ’McLaren Vale’s Great Grenache’ masterclass, presented in tandem with the London Australia Day tasting event, below you will find my thoughts on the final 5 wines tasted.

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As a short reminder, the mission statement for the session was to highlight that “Grenache delivers what Pinot Noir promises” and, with the use of Burgundian techniques such as whole bunch pressing (and malolactic fermentation) to drive the softer fruits and the use of well-seasoned French oak, it is possible to craft well-structured/balanced wines as opposed to simply warm climate Grenache fruit-bombs.

Yangarra Estate ‘High Sands’ McLaren Vale Grenache 2013, 14.8% (£80)

One of the most northerly vineyards in McLaren Vale, this fine parcel of land is high altitude and low producing.  Being made from the prized older Grenache vines, the nose of the wine had an austere, almost fortified quality with perhaps a whiff of diesel.  The palate is equally rich, concentrated and spicy, with tight tannins and acidity.  Sarah pointed out how well structured the wine was instead of being a 15% fruit-bomb.

Nick Haselgrove Wines ‘The Old Faithful Northern Exposure’ McLaren Vale Grenache 2013, 14.5% (£30)

An award winning wine hailing from the north and situated at high altitude.  Coming from just 5 hectares (and not made every year) this is an extremely rare wine to come by (just 1,470 bottles) and therefore a pleasure to taste.  Aged in seasoned French oak for 40 months this was a voluptuous mix of red cherries and berries and all the spice and liquorice you would expect.

Caught Redhanded ‘Oscar Reserve’ McLaren Vale Grenache 2012, 15.2% (£?, not currently imported)

Although a typo in the show-guide had this listed as the 2016 its placement in the flight and the darkened colour of the wine gave it away as having a few years of age.  Destemmed berries are aged for 12 months in seasoned French and USA barriques, and a small amount of 2015 Sauvignon Blanc (3%) has been added to keep things vibrant.  The nose contained very fragrant cherry notes which carried on to the palate.  This wine has mellowed with time but still retains an inherent spicy note.

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Chapel Hill Winery ‘Bush Vine’ McLaren Vale Grenache 2010, 14.5% (£22.50)

Hailing from the 2010 vintage, which was the first year to see good rainfall after several years of drought, this wine exuded a wonderful rose perfume.  My notes listed this as a mellow wine in terms of both the settled tannins and the silky nature of the fruit.  Indeed it was so relaxed that at no point did you feel that you were tasting a wine packing nearly 15% alcohol.

As you would expect there were notable tertiary characteristics providing the intrigue of old vines.  This was probably the standout wine of the session for me.

d’Arenberg ‘The Beautiful View’ McLaren Vale Grenache 2010, 13.6% (£60)

I tasted a full flight of the d’Arenberg wines on their table in the main event but didn’t recall seeing this wine, which was part of their ‘Amazing sites’ programme.  I had a quick check in with Sarah after the masterclass and it transpired that this was a special pick and, for one reason or another, d’Arenberg had not released any vintage more recently than the 2011.

Located in the loamy clay soils in the north of McLaren Vale where the hills begin to ascend, the grapes for this wine (which are 1/3rd old bush vine) are trodden by foot part-way through the fermentation, which is completed in seasoned French oak.

Still retaining (an albeit slightly muted) perfume on the nose and clean blue plummy fruit there is clear development on the palate with leather and farmyard qualities discernible.  The tannins are still evident but finely grained and a vibrant acidity keeps this lively in the mouth whilst juxtaposing the complexity.

Overall the masterclass was a fantastic insight in to how Grenache performs in the complex geological make-up of McLaren Vale, and I got exactly what I needed from the wines on display.  You can read Sarah’s own write-up of the new breed of McLaren Vale Grenache’s and the driver for the masterclass here (complete with a small soundbite from yours truly!)

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

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McLaren Vale’s Great Grenache – Masterclass (Part 1)

It’s always a great opportunity and pleasure to learn directly from the experts, getting their forensic insight as to the finer details of a wine.  As part of last weeks Australia Day tasting I attended the ‘McLaren Vale’s Great Grenache’ masterclass led by Australia and Portugal wine specialist Sarah Ahmed.

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Being more familiar with Grenache from a France/Spain perspective this was a good way for me to become more acquainted with it when produced in a warm climate (nearby Adelaide is the driest of Australia’s capital cities) and, knowing that Sarah would choose wines specifically to run the gamut of what McLaren Vale Grenache has to offer, I looked forward to being able to understand and appreciate how the various flavour components are driven specifically by terroir.

As something of a hangover from the old days of fortified wine, McLaren Vale has 1/3rd of Australia’s plantings of Grenache.  The geology of the region is incredibly diverse with something like 40 different soil/rock types but, in a nutshell, the sandier and lower lying south gives way to more complex and rockier soil in the north as the altitude ascends in to the inland mountain ranges.  It was likened to looking north as if “reaching for the spice rack”.

If there was any kind of mission statement for the session it was to highlight that “Grenache delivers what Pinot Noir promises” and, with the use of Burgundian techniques such as whole bunch pressing (and malolactic fermentation) to drive the softer fruits and the use of well-seasoned French oak, it is possible to craft well-structured/balanced wines as opposed to simply warm climate Grenache fruit-bombs.

The wines on show clearly proved that this was the case and there were some wonderfully fragrant, well-judged blends where you would be hard pressed to say that you were drinking 15% abv.  You can read much more about the scene setting and lead-up to the tasting here.

The flight of 8 wines ran from the most recent vintage backwards and presented many wines that were not available to try in the wider tasting event.  In this first part of two pieces on the masterclass I will go through my notes on the first 3 wines tasted, with the remaining 5 wines covered in the 2nd part.

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Wirra Wirra ‘The Absconder’ McLaren Vale Grenache 2015, 14.5% (£40)

From towards the southern central part of McLaren Vale with a blend of southern sand and the stone and schist soils of the north, this wine was also on show at the main event and I was keen to see if my notes differed when casting a more critical eye on it.  What came across more in the masterclass was the crunchiness of the fruit and the spice and leathery notes.  Sarah pointed out that the wine spends 9 months in seasoned oak and, perhaps being made aware of this, I became more attuned to those qualities.

Other than that I recorded a lightness of touch on the palate in terms of delicate aromatics and a fresh and fruity quality.  Cherry and plum fruits abound and a light grippy tannin is evident.

Serafino Wine ‘Serafino Reserve’ McLaren Vale Grenache 2014, 14.5% (£25, not currently imported)

Sarah described how the sandy soils really come through on to the wine in the shape of the sandpaper tannins, as well as the lighter soil type highlighting the lighter notes and aromatics.  Indeed this wine was full of fragrance and contained mouth-wateringly fresh cherry and kirsch flavour.

The juicy fruit was matched with a well-pitched acidity, with only the slightly raw tannins off balance.  Nevertheless this wine was the epitome of the reason that I placed myself in the masterclass, to see how the landscape makes it’s presence felt in the end product.

Bekkers Wine ‘Bekkars’ McLaren Vale Grenache 2014, 15% (£50)

Up to the north of McLaren Vale now where the soils comprise sand, ironstone, loam and clay, and another good example of how the darker denser make-up brings out the darker denser notes of the Grenache.

We had clearly hit a different level of richness and concentration with this wine, but again it was so well balanced against the medium acidity.  With hints of both black and red fruits, invigorated and lifted through 20% whole bunch pressing, the 18 months spent maturing in seasoned French oak drew out the spicier notes which rounded out the whole.

To keep reading about the next 5 wines in the flight and the conclusion of the masterclass, please click here.

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

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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.

laith-press-taste

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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Laithwaites Premiere Tasting – October 2016

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A Laithwaites Premiere tasting now and the two choices for October 2016, both of which are completely new to me.

Journey’s End Pathfinder 2014, Stellenbosch, South Africa, 13.5%, £12.99

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This is apparently a ‘top tip’ from Laithwaites, handcrafted and offering a Bordeaux blend with a New World ripeness.  It’s a blend of 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Franc.  Founded in 1995 by an Englishman, his ethos is all about creating an amazing wine from a small scale quantity.

I like the label of this wine as it evokes the simple detail displayed by the classics, and with Stellenbosch being the absolute epicentre for fine wine making in South Africa, the £12.99 price-point (which is slightly above average for the Premiere scheme) created high expectations.  The wine is sealed under screwcap.

In colour this is a dark (but not opaque) youthful purple with a nice clear water white rim.  The nose is full of clean and pure fruit but again speaks of its relative youth (although we are talking 2+ years at this point).  There’s a clear hit of blackberry and crunchy cherry (from the Cabernet), cake and spice (from the Merlot) and light vanilla florals (from the Cabernet Franc), and so this is a wine that absolutely shows its constituent parts.

When I first had a taste shortly after opening the bottle there was a distinct spritz on the palate, again highlighting the vibrancy and youth of the wine.  After a while this disappeared, but it is still an important indicator of where this wine is on a trajectory of its ageing cycle.

The palate continues the dark cherry notes and blackcurrant, as well as showing touches of both dark chocolate and coffee, but we’re still very much in pure fruit territory.  There’s a light chalky tannin as well as a vibrant acidity that works through the palate, but the overall tone is one of youth.

If I’m honest the wine feels pretty one-dimensional and I could maybe, if I tried really hard, imagine other core fruits such as damson in the mix.  It’s certainly a powerful palate giving the best of what it has got, but the price-point and the youth it shows work at odds for me.

The end palate, long as it is, shows some smoke, but was still a bit too ‘tomato’ tangy for my liking.  It would be tempting to say ‘try with food’ as that is sometimes a way to mask an imbalance within a wine, but my over-riding thought here is that this needs more time. Whilst there’s a certain silk to the palate there is still a rustic nature.

The provided tasting notes state that this wine is best consumed by 2021 which isn’t that far away really.  This leaves me a bit confused as to how far this one can go, and I’m not sure that £12.99 is a fair price for something that needs a bit of love and warmth to make it come alive.

Pico Attila Chardonnay/Ribolla Gialla 2015, Venezie, Italy, 13%, £8.99

Next up is the white wine offering, and what a very good looking bottle this is.

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The simple, factual front label makes it almost look like the faceless bottle you can sometimes find as the house wine in restaurant, but don’t be deceived.  There are plus points, from the fact that the wine is sealed under cork, but even to the fact that they’ve gone for a slightly arched bottle shape giving a subtle notion of premium.

The wine hails from the mountainous northeast of Italy and, coming from the strategic frontier of the Roman Empire, is named after the hill that (as legend states) Attila the Hun’s soldiers built out of their helmets in AD 452.  It comprises the native grape variety Ribolla Gialla alongside Chardonnay, 20% of which was aged in oak.

In colour, even for a wine as young as 2015 there is a nice deep lemon yellow colour with gold hints. The nose is clean and full of fresh lemon and lime, a touch of dried pineapple, pear drops and a hint of honeysuckle and golden syrup.

The palate is full of bruised green apple, pear drops, honey, and there’s also the cream and butter from a good Chardonnay.  Medium and gloopy in weight, there’s an almost bronze quality to the palate adding a stability and a depth to the core fruit.  Whilst the last wine showed its youth, this wine hides it, despite it being the younger of the two bottles.

Layers of flavour envelop each other and I continually jostle between the core fruit and the deeper flavour profiles.  This is great on its own, and would be even better with food.

A clear winner this month, and it is the cheaper of the two bottles, I recommend the Pico Attila Chardonnay/Ribolla Gialla 2015.

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Cru Bourgeois Tasting – 2014 Official Selection

I recently had the pleasure of attending the trade tasting of the wines that make up the 2014 Official Selection of Cru Bourgeois de Médoc.  Set within the splendour of the British Academy in London, three rather large rooms were given over to showcasing some 183 different wines.

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The Cru Bourgeois quality system incorporates those wines from the Medoc peninsula that sit outside of the famous ‘1855’ classification.  To qualify as Cru Bourgeois a wine must be blind tested and approved by a panel of wine professionals two years after the harvest.

The 2014 selection features 278 Cháteaux producing 30 million bottles of wine.  That’s equivalent to 33% of the Medoc’s production.

With 68 wines on show from the Medoc and another 68 from the Haut-Medoc I was already sensing palate fatigue from going through these larger appellations, and so decided to focus my tasting on getting close to the smaller appellations.  These included Listrac-Médoc (7 wines on show), Moulis (12), Margaux (10), Pauillac (3) and Saint-Estéphe (15).

What follows is my thoughts on the style offered up by each appellation followed by my standout wine.

Listrac-Medoc

Overall the wines from Listrac-Medoc would best be described as rustic and crunchy with good grippy tannins.  Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon were the dominant grape varieties here with small amounts of Petit Verdot peppered throughout.  Stylistically the wines had dark cherry overtones topped up with spice, wood and fruitcake.

Standout Wine: Cháteau Capdet.  70% Merlot/30% Cabernet Sauvignon.  A vibrant colour in the glass with a wonderful perfumed nose full of fruit and vanilla.  Red cherries led the way with a soft and gentle blend working well with the grippy tannins.  Good weight.  N/A UK

Moulis

Everything moved in to more subtle and silky territory as we moved just slightly south to Moulis.  There were good powerful wines that had been made with such a lightness of touch that pure clean fruit abounded and the length of each was long.  Many wines were incredibly perfumed and tannins were evident, but lighter in texture.

Standout Wine: Cháteau Lalaudey.  This was a tough one to call but this wine just pipped the others for me.  It was full of black cherry and even a touch of meat, but in amongst the darker notes I could find menthol and vanilla as well.  The palate was pure silk in a glass.  66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25.5(!)% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 3.5% Petit Verdot.  N/A UK

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Margaux

As we headed towards the banks of the Gironde the colour of the wines on show seemed to take on a darker, inky black colour.  The silky texture and vanilla fragrance which I adore was still evident and I made several references to both chocolate and confection throughout my notes.

Standout Wine: Cháteau la Fortune.  I used several punchy adjectives for this wine including rich, dense and chewy.  The principal fruit is of black cherry with savoury notes coming through.  Again, this was made with a lovely fragrant nose and a silky smooth palate.  Good fortune indeed!  74% Cabernet Sauvignon and 26% Merlot.  N/A UK

Pauillac

With only 3 wines on show from this appellation it was pretty hard to gauge the full parameters, especially as one wine did nothing for me whatsoever.  I did note that the alcohol levels were also going up as I moved onwards, and were sitting at 14% here as opposed to 13% in Margaux.

Standout Wine: Cháteau Plantey.  This Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon blend (55%/45%) combined the lightness of fragrance on the nose with a powerful and weighty body filled with ripe black cherry, confectionate notes and a good grippy tannin.  Very pleasing to taste whilst being brooding at the same time, I was left thinking that this would have been taken to an even higher level with the right food. N/A UK

Saint-Estéphe

As we move northwards up the banks of the Gironde, the rusticity seemed to creep back in to the wines of Saint-Estéphe.  There was lots of power and tannin on display, alongside spice and vanilla/wood fragrances.

Standout Wine: Cháteau Tour des Termes.  A Merlot heavy blend (60%) with Cabernets Sauvignon and Franc, and some Petit Verdot along for the ride too.  A lovely deep nose, crunchy black cherry, fruitcake and spice.  The blend has been extremely well executed to form a rich and weighty palate.  This one is actually available in the UK too – £25 from Nicolas.

Following a spot of lunch I did spend some time tasting through the various highlights of the Medoc and Haut-Medoc just to ensure I had covered them off.

In closing it was a real privilege to taste through the classification, especially nestled alongside some noted professional palates.  It’s a real shame that a good majority of the wines are not available in the UK, but conversely, that also made the tasting more unique.

With thanks to Jo at Belleville Marketing for the invite.

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