Wine Australia Masterclass – Margaret River Chardonnay

As part of the recent London Australia Day tasting I attended a celebratory Margaret River Chardonnay masterclass hosted by Sarah Ahmed.  Like last years McLaren Vale Grenache event, it put an extreme focus on both variety and location.

Lineup v2

Western Australia (WA) is well away from other Australian wine production, and the recent 2017 vintage marked 50 years of wine making in the region.  A landmark 1966 research paper by agronomist Dr John Gladstone detailed that the free-draining gravelly soils and consistent wet winters/dry summers provide the perfect conditions for viticulture, which was the catalyst for modern day wine-making in the region.

Home to luminaries including Cullen, Leeuwin and Cape Mentelle, people often note that terroir and wine-making techniques are key to the finished wines, but less focus is given to the vine clones used.  In the case of Margaret River Chardonnay, this is absolutely key.

Introduced as a 1957 experiment to detect viruses, the Gin Gin clone is fairly unique to WA, giving late ripening low yields and smooth textures from high skin/juice ratios.  Known as ‘hen and chicken’, the clone produces grape bunches of different sizes, larger and fully ripe fruity ‘hen’ berries mixed with smaller less ripe ‘chicken’ berries with characteristic high acidity.

The 3 flights highlighted the differing aspects of regional Chardonnay through 8 multiple award winning wines (94+ points from respected critics).  All had precision, richness and depth of fruit.

First 4

Flight 1 – Acidic Drive and Textured Fruit

Lenton Brae Southside 2016, 13.5%, £16.95 – Winemaker Ed Tomlinson was on hand to guide us through his wine as well as some insight to the fellow producers he knows so well.  From the northern part of the region, grapes are hand-picked and go through a wild yeast ferment to add texture.  With oak playing a secondary character, this wine showed a mineral, linear, high acidity and a depth of lime citric buttered fruit.  A medium plus finish which retained smoke and butter.

Fraser Gallop Estate Parterre 2016, 13.5%, £24.95 – Another from the north, and similar in style to the Lenton Brae.  A big advocate of the acidity found in the Gin Gin clone, the 2016 harvest saw warm/rainy/warm weather, allowing the grapes to deliver layers of flavour.

Golden green in colour, this was densely packed with fleshy apple/pear and a twist of tropical melon.  A subtle touch of chalk led the way to a rich, fruit driven finish.

Stella Bella 2016, 12.5%, £18.99 – From the central part of Margaret River, grapes are hand-picked and whole bunch pressed.  This took all of the cues from the first two wines but added in more butter and, if possible, more acid.  As a note of interest, this producer wasn’t showing at the main event and so it was a rare opportunity to taste.

Second 4

Flight 2 – Use of Oak and Malolactic Ferment

Xanadu 2015, 13%, £18.49 – Back to central Margaret River and the first of two wines aged in oak (25% new in this case) and that haven’t seen malolactic fermentation.  The 2015 vintage saw early mild weather followed by a warm renaissance.

The difference in fruit character here was very evident, becoming thicker and with added tang.  There was still an extremely fresh and biting acidity and a lightly grippy finish.

Flametree SRS Wallcliffe 2016, 13%, £31.99 – This relatively new winery (2007) sits at the very northern tip of the region.  The grapes were picked several weeks early for the 2016 vintage (early Feb), pressed in French oak puncheons and left to age on the solids for an extended period.  This manifested itself in solid and darker green fruit notes, a dense weight and a light grippiness to the end palate.

Vasse Felix Heytesbury 2016, 13%, £39.99 – The nose was dense, rich and showed smoke from the 9 months in new French oak.  Malolactic fermentation provided a lush creamy, yeasty character.  A good wedge of lime set off the weight and depth of the rich ripened lemon and butter.  For me this was in my top two wines of the masterclass.

Flight 3 – Traditional Oak Spice and Aromatics

Flowstone Queen of the Earth 2014, 13.3%, £32 – Another young winery with their first vines planted in 2004.  Hand harvested and fermented in French oak (50/50 new/old) and the first wine on show not reliant on the Gin Gin clone.  A wonderfully spicy nose and stylistically different from everything in the tasting thus far.  Very rich with a zippy acidity and a heavyweight fruit finish.  Intense green fruit and an oaky overtone.

Leeuwin Estate Art Series 2013, 13.5%, £75 – A fitting end to this retrospective, and a stunning wine from pioneers Vasse Felix.  The 1980 vintage was the first to be singled out by Decanter magazine for being of exceptional quality, and from vines just 4 years old.  This wine saw 6-8 hours of skin contact, 100% barrel fermentation in new French oak and regular lees stirring.  There was a massive depth of flavour here, just on the nose alone.  Powerful green lime and kiwi was followed by dried pear (a Gin Gin characteristic) and, at 5 years old, this was still as fresh as a daisy and looking like it could last a whole host longer.  Having recently scored 100 points from Matthew Jukes, it also got top points from me and was the highlight of the masterclass.

With thanks to Wines of Australia for providing the ticket used in this tasting.

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Wyfold English Sparkling: 2006 – 2009 Vertical Tasting

The multi-award winning English Sparkler Wyfold has just released its 2013 Vintage, and when the chance came up to taste the original trilogy of Vintages, including two never commercially released, I jumped at it.

Wyfold trilogy

Following the death of Formula One engineer Harvey Postlethwaite, his widow Cherry was keen to fulfil his vineyard-owning ambitions, and in 2003 she purchased land in the Chiltern Hills and planted 14 rows of vines.  Teaming up with best friend Barbara Laithwaite (Director of the eponymous wine mail order giant), both passed their viticultural qualifications at Plumpton College, and a new venture was born.

As a start-up winery with no onsite production facilities, this was given over to famed English producer Ridgeview who, in return for a sizeable portion of the crop, would turn the grapes in to a fully realised sparkling wine.  Both the 2006 and 2008 Vintages fell under this agreement and, as such, the final production numbers were too small to justify a release.

Wyfold is made in the traditional Champagne method using the classic grape varieties of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.  Of interest is the solid reliance on Pinot Meunier, sometimes considered the lesser Champagne variety.  Even though it forms just 16.5% of plantings, with the variable UK weather it can sometimes fare better than the Pinot Noir (33.5% of plantings).

In 2006 the number of vines was upped to 4,000, and increased once again in 2014, with 9,000 vines now spread over 2 hectares.

Vines3Wyfold (June 2017)

Following the two successful production runs (2007 was a write-off due to poor weather), fully contracted wine-making was put in place from the 2009 Vintage to ensure that all of the bottles produced would be labelled under the Wyfold name.

The resulting wine was quick to receive critical acclaim and won the prestigious Judgement of Parsons Green.  The subsequent releases of the 2010 / 2011 vintages have fared just as well, winning a succession of medals, trophies and high scores by esteemed wine magazine Decanter.

Wyfold Vineyard Brut 2006 (52% CH/32% PN/16% PM), Oxfordshire, UK, 12%, £N/A

Even though 2006 was a generously yielding year, due to the SWAP agreement the final number of bottles produced under the Wyfold name was just 576!  This first vintage is also unique in having a label that was thereafter discarded as being ‘too rustic’ to compare to other quality Sparkling/Champagne wines.

Wyfold 06 Label

Medium golden yellow in colour with rusty bronze tints and an extremely fine beading from the traditional production method.  On the nose there was mature, woody, bruised/baked golden delicious apple, a touch of dried lemon curd, cinnamon and biscuit.  This smelt just like an apple orchard in autumn.

The palate delivered upfront mousse that immediately frothed up, and a clean striking acidity laced with light refreshing lemon citrus and green apple.  The aged fruit complexity was there but it still managed to deliver youthful character and vibrancy.  Light as a feather but carries a huge creamy weight that fills the mouth. The syrupy bruised fruit finish was medium plus.  I’m a big fan of this ‘very-English’ tasting sparkling.

Wyfold Vineyard Brut 2008 (76% CH/9% PN/15% PM), Oxfordshire, UK, 12.5%, £Unreleased

Under the SWAP agreement, a mere 296 bottles of the 2008 were crafted.  Due to the minuscule production, bottles were adorned with standard labels as opposed to vintage specific ones, and the Vintage, although bottled, went undeclared and unreleased.

Wyfold 08 label

Medium straw yellow with golden hints and a fine bead, this is noticeably more youthful than the 2006.  The nose has bread, butter, honeyed citrus, yellow tropical fruit, and is much more in line with a traditional Champagne as opposed to English Sparkling.  The aromas are there but needed teasing out, and this still feels a little closed/restrained.

The palate once again had a vibrant fresh mousse and a good splash of fresh lemon juice.  This time around the apple played much less of a part.  The lighter mid-palate of the 2006 has really been filled out here, but overall, this is probably more singular in tone.

I asked Barbara Laithwaite as to where Wyfold was stylistically sitting in terms of England vs. Champagne and she said she is looking to balance the two.  The south facing gravel/limestone site is perfect for the Champagne style but, being fairly high at 120m altitude, you also get the late start/long season which encourages the hedgerow/apple orchard fruitiness.

The medium finish added a touch of syrup and the pleasant bitterness of grapefruit.  This one is only just starting to come in to its own and has a life ahead of it sadly only limited by the small number of bottles available.

Wyfold Vineyard Brut 2009 (63% CH/17% PN/20% PM), Oxfordshire, UK, 12.5%, £33

Now free of the SWAP agreement, the full run of 2,449 bottles were produced which, in the time between tasting the wine and writing up these notes, have now completely sold through.

Wyfold 09 label

Medium straw yellow in colour with golden tints, the nose was full of fresh zesty lemon citrus.

The lemon carries through to the palate which adds a bready richness, light white pepper spice, and the customary syrup to the end palate.  The overall sensation is rich and dairy, and the cream is just starting to settle in against the acidity which still characterises the palate.  As before this is a very even blend that fills the mouth.

Very quaffable and easy drinking, the medium length finish is all about the lemon, with just a touch of grapefruit bitterness at the end.  I have no doubt that this will settle further with time.  Overall this was a wonderful and rare tasting of the initial 3 productions from Wyfold showcasing a crystal clear evolution of labelling and style.

With the new plantings bedded down and a good sized 2014 harvest, a Rosé has now been added to the range.  Check out the latest news at the Wyfold website, or click here to buy the 2013 release (whilst stocks last).

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Zind-Humbrecht – Herrenweg de Turckheim & Hengst Tasting

Earlier in the year I attended a glorious tasting of wines from top Alsatian producer Domaine Zind-Humbrecht, comparing their Clos Windsbuhl and Rangen sites.  I was doubly chuffed to recently receive a further invite, this time focused on their Herrenweg de Turckheim and Hengst sites.

A further bonus was that the tasting would be conducted by none other than winemaker Olivier Humbrecht MW. Olivier is one of just a handful of winemakers with the MW qualification and, as expected, his 90-minute lecture was an absolute joy.

Humbrecht MW

Humbrecht practise non-interventionalist winemaking and are incredibly passionate about making pure wines that speak for themselves.  Certified bio-dynamic some 13 years, Olivier stated that he believed that the winery was a “place that you can damage a wine, not make it better”.

As a listed ‘Domaine’ they are only allowed to use grapes produced in their own vineyards, which span some 100 acres and make approximately 200k bottles.  Their yields are much lower than permitted and perhaps some 2-3 times less than fellow producers.

The tasting today concentrated on 3 different grape varieties from different vintages: the drier style of Riesling, the sweeter Gewürztraminer and the mixed bag that is Pinot Gris.  Olivier rolled out the very interesting statistic that Alsace has as much geologically diverse soil as the entire land between Chablis and Chateauneuf.

To save any duplication in the tasting notes below, or perhaps to act as a summary, all the wines tasted were incredibly pure of flavour, rich in texture, incredibly mouth-filling and satisfying.  Truly exceptional quality.

Humbrecht Lineup

Riesling 2015 Herrenweg de Turckheim, 12.5%

Bottled as recently as February 2017, Herrenweg is situated on the gravelly valley floor, just outside of the village of Múnster.  Being the product of a single vineyard the wines have more character and increased fruit concentration.  The 2015 vintage was very hot, with June/July temperatures regularly hitting 30-40° C, giving stress to the vines as well as the vignerons.  There was, however, just enough rain to ensure a good acid/alcohol balance.

Light yellow in colour with golden highlights, the nose is both intense, concentrated, almost golden, yellow fruit.  A touch of apple and a streak of minerality carry through to the palate which is characterised by a fresh acid.  Everything is smooth and precise, with the juicy bruised Golden Delicious apple joined by gloopy lemon curd.  Very long finish.

Pinot Gris 2010 Herrenweg de Turckheim, 14.5%

Temperatures on the 19th Dec 2009 dipped as low as -19° C giving the coldest winter for a very long time and a subsequent small crop.  Further frost damage saw many buds lost and rain persisted during flowering.  This is the 3rd smallest vintage since 1989 and would have been the 2nd smallest had 2017 not had more problems.

The golden colour of the wine comes from the ripeness of the grapes and the botrytis as opposed to the 7 years of age it has at this time.  After the first wine tasted there was noticeable extra sugar on the nose as well as rich butter, bees wax and honey.

The palate showcased very pure golden yellow tropical fruit, thick rich lemon curd and honey. A very present acidity was well balanced.  Superb, with not a bit of the palate wasted.

Gewürztraminer 2013, Hengst Grand Cru, 13.5%

A top growth south facing sloped vineyard on a red limestone base, Hengst is the German word for ‘Stallion’.  2013 was another small crop vintage but, as the vines are an impressive 62 years old, overproduction is not an option.  With older vines it’s less about the volume of grapes, but more about the flavour concentration.

Olivier pointed out that Gewürztraminer is an aromatic grape which makes an aromatic wine but, just as with perfume, can be overpowering if you don’t get the balance right.

A medium yellow with green gold tints, the nose was full of orange peel and lychee.  The palate was softly sweet but densely packed with golden tropical fruit, tangy peach and satsuma.  A light spice paired with a good level of acidity kept this going in the mouth for ages.

Humbrecht Closeup

Gewürztraminer 2010, Herrenweg de Turckheim Vieilles Vignes, 13%

A rarer late harvest wine from the tiny 2010 crop makes this a wine that almost shouldn’t exist.

Golden yellow in colour with intense melon-dominant juicy yellow fruits, there’s also hints of orange peel and lemon curd.  The palate was sugar sweet, honeyed, with rich butter, bees wax and mandarin.  The acidity was high but well balanced.

Pinot Gris 2007, Herrenweg de Turckheim Vendange Tardive, 15%

A good but complicated year was how Olivier described the 2007 harvest.  A rainy start gave way to hot and dry conditions allowing good ripeness but a lot of botrytis.

A lovely aged medium amber in colour, the nose was both pronounced yet slightly restrained and full of deep dark honey, sticky toffee and caramel.  The palate oozed with a gloopy oily sweetness full of sweet lemon citrus, mature honey, and lifted by touches of mandarin and peach.

This filled all of my mouth with its silky charm.  Substantial length – well in to multiple minutes – which carried on long after the end of this superb tasting.

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Aldi Wine Club 16th Tasting Panel – Note #5

All too quickly it seems, we once again reach the end of another Aldi Wine Club Panel.  First up for review is the white offering, a curious wine that’s only recently been added to their range and a label I’ve not tried before.

Aldi 16th Greco Bottle

Campania forms the ‘shin’ area of Southern Italy’s visual boot shape and is home to many unique local varieties including Greco di Tufo.  The Greco grape, whist perhaps not the first one to spring to mind, has slowly been making inroads to the UK market and it is a fine testament to Aldi’s commitment to wine that they are branching out from the trusted and crowd-pleasing stalwarts of Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio.

Playing a key role in several top quality sites, it’s in the hillside areas surrounding the town of Tufo where Greco really makes its mark.  The town is even named after the characteristic bedrock formed from condensed volcanic ash (known as ‘tuff’), and the free-draining nature of the soil allows the resulting wines to retain freshness and acidity.

The wine is produced by Castellore who have been well lauded for their ability to produce quality wines at an entry-level price-point.

Castellore Greco di Tufo 2016, Campania, Italy, 13%, £6.99

Even before opening the wine, the first thing to catch my eye was the wonderful packaging which, in my opinion, is a real shelf standout and would definitely make me purchase on sight alone.  The matching neck label is also a nice touch.

Aldi 16th Greco Front Label

Printed on slightly embossed paper and featuring a refreshing blue-lined watery motif, it really sets you up for a refreshing and clean wine.  One thing that did seem odd though was the inclusion of a tasting note on the front label.

This guidance is something usually better suited to a back label, and certainly something you reveal after the drinker has had the chance to make up their mind on the wine.  Perhaps, due to the Greco grape being a potential unknown, this is deliberate up-front positioning to ensure that the consumer is immediately in the right ballpark with the style.

The quality continues with a branded cork, which is always interesting to see on entry level wines as it is an additional expense that the winemaker could easily forego.  Interestingly, the branding on the side of the cork seemed to indicate that the wine was bottled in Milan (!?) which is in the northern part of Italy.

Medium yellow in colour, on the nose there is clear lemon citrus and green pear flesh which, to be fair, is exactly what the front label had stated would be the clear features, so at least the pre-reveal is spot on.

Aldi 16th Greco back label

The palate adds a good bit of tropical stone fruit flesh to the greener notes, such as peach and apricot (potentially the passion-fruit referenced on the back label), there’s a healthy dose of lime, and a searing fresh acidity cuts through leaving a light and airy, fresh and fruit-forward sensation.  There’s a tiny touch of sour grapefruit on the end palate and just a whiff of pepper to round it off.

Whilst perfectly pleasant to drink on its own, if I’m honest this isn’t something I’d select as an everyday wine, due to it being fairly singular in tone.  Greco is usually blended with other varieties (usually Malvasia) and this single varietal offering was just a tad one-dimensional, lacking depth behind the fresh fruit.  So it’s not so much a failing in the wine, but more that my palate enjoys a buttery, deeper, richer style.

In general, Italian wine (especially regional specialities) are made to pair with the local foods, and so this lighter wine style would also come in to its own with some well-paired dishes.

With Thanks to AldiUK for supplying the bottle used in this tasting.

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Aldi Wine Club 16th Tasting Panel – Note #2

Another wine review now and this time we’re off for the first of the Aldi red wines offered up by their 16th wine club panel, and the north-eastern vineyards of Portugal.

Perhaps sometimes lost against the prolific and easily recognisable wines of Spain, I don’t tend to taste Portuguese wine half as often as I should.  A conversation with a fellow wine lover this week confirmed that this was their lamentable stance too.

Bottled in Portugal by Vicente Faria, the 7th biggest exporter of Portuguese wine and a family vineyard since the early 19th century, this wine is a blend of three of the indigenous Portuguese red grapes: Tinta Roriz (30%), Touriga Nacional (30%) and Touriga Franca (40%).

Brightly adorning the front of the bottle were two stickers indicating recent successes at two of the world’s leading wine competitions: a commended medal at the IWSC 2017 contest and (since the pictures were done for the Aldi website) a Bronze medal win at the 2017 Decanter wine awards.

All hailing from specially selected plots, the intention of Vincente Faria is to make a ‘delicate’ but ‘complex’ wine with a ‘persistent bouquet’.

Let’s see how they got on.

Aldi Tweet 2

Animus, 2015, Douro DOC, Portugal, 13%, £4.99

Rather than just doing a pure tasting note for the wine, which really only comes alive if you eventually go on to taste the wine, I always like to spend a little time evaluating the packaging.

As an aesthetic that can be appreciated online as well as in person, the label is used as a marketing cue for the consumer to highlight the brand as well as to help to visualise the quality aspirations and overall style of the producer.

Neck Label

Sealed under the merits of a fully branded cork there was the wonderful attention to detail in terms of the neck label, adorned with a crest to the top.  In similar fashion, the label had a good contemporary line drawing design, not too dis-similar to the artist Matisse, depicting two people having a casual drink.

On to the tasting and, in the glass, the wine was a classic youthful and inky dark purple colour.  The nose was incredibly intense and full of rich ripe fruits focusing mainly on the red (with a touch of black) cherry.  This was backed up with a good wedge of vanilla florality offset by some stalky unripe, green pepper.

On to the palate, and there were light chalky tannins with a slightly chewy character.  This gave way to a very fresh and youthful tasting wine full of juicy red and black cherry fruit, the blue fruit notes of plum, a fair whack of peppery spice and just a touch of menthol.  A medium weight in the mouth and a driving medium acidity kept it refreshing to drink both with and without food.

The length carried well, lasting over 30 seconds.  In the wake of Brexit and other economic factors in the UK, a £4.99 wine is becoming an ever-increasingly extinct artefact, well behind the current average UK bottle price of £5.60.

Aldi have, once again, managed to come through with the goods.

Already a firm favourite, scoring 4.4 out of 5 in customer ratings on the Aldi website, my thanks go to AldiUK for supplying the bottle used in this tasting.

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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.

Aldi WC13 1st batch

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.

deutz

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.

Grenache1.JPG

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.

grenache2

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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