Manzanos 1961 Rioja (Take 2)

I wrote last year about an extremely rare parcel of 1961 wine available exclusively through Laithwaites as part of a heritage programme with the Spanish producer Manzanos. Incredibly, as part of their ongoing cellar clearance, they have been able to offer a further few bottles.

I’ve re-tasted this next cache and can confirm they are every bit as good as the first. Please find below my original notes on the cellar and wonderful rare wine which I heartily recommend you should snap up before they once again becomes history!

Vinous dreams come in all shapes and sizes, whether it’s trying a revered vintage, getting a fantastic bottle at a bargain price, or perhaps even simply getting a night on your own without the kids to enjoy the bottle in question.

Thanks to the UK’s leading online wine merchant Laithwaites you can now sort two out of three dreams straight away, just leaving you to just find the babysitter.

1961 Banner

1961 was (and is) a well lauded vintage in France – Could this Rioja keep up the pace?  JFK had just become the US President, the space-race was in its infancy and the Beatles were still trying to decide on a band name.  We’re talking seriously old-school.

Commercially viable volumes of very old bottlings such as this are increasingly unheard of, and it is only thanks to the extremely close relationship between Laithwaites head buyer Beth Willard and 5th generation winemaker Victor Manzanos, that such a rare gem has made it to the UK market.

Building a strong relationship both professional and personal, Beth was on hand to support Victor through the tough times following the sudden death of his father.  Maintaining almost daily contact as the London based Victor returned to Spain to take over the family business at just 19 years old, Beth was top of the list when Victor unearthed a fantastically old cache of bottles.

Beth takes up the story: “Until around 10 years ago Manzanos were a medium sized producer focused on the area around Azagra and Calahorra in Rioja Oriental (formerly Rioja Baja). They are now one of the biggest producers of wine in Rioja and Navarra, owning several bodegas and lots of vineyards throughout the whole region.”

“Their extended family has been a big holder of vineyards dating back to the late 1800’s and (because of the large expansion) only now has Victor had a chance to dig around to see what they actually hold. In Azagra, close to where the principle bodega is located, some of his relatives’ own tunnels are full of old bottles of wine.”

The great news for wine lovers is that these older wines are now being assessed with a view to offering further archive releases in the future.

Following the discovery, the hand-harvested 1961 (mechanical picking was still in its infancy then) was rebottled, recorked and relabelled as the original packaging wasn’t up to today’s commercial standards.  The wine, however, was perfect, spending 3 years in French oak and then having laid perfectly untouched since being bottled in the mid-1960’s.  I jumped at the chance to give it a try.

1961 Bottle

Manzanos 1961, Rioja, Spain, Tempranillo based blend, 12.5%, £40

Some older wines can disintegrate a bit when left to decant for several hours but I decanted, and wasn’t disappointed.  The wine evolved significantly over several hours.

Still retaining a glossy ruby colour, there were hints of garnet colouring to the core, and a light water-white rim.

Shortly after opening, the nose began with a Burgundian barnyard tone, but this developed to include figs, mushroom, roasted nuts and sweet tobacco.  Further developed fruit came in the form of herbaceous wild black cherry, a touch of red cherry, and a whole load of green bell pepper.

Pronounced in character with a real sense of density from the off, the wonderfully fragrant nose only got better as time went on, adding liquorice, bitter black chocolate and treacle/caramel.

The palate, as expected, was extremely evolved with the tertiary notes of roasted black coffee.  Chewy, dense, with an almost oily thick texture it was still rich and broth-like, but retained a refreshing zing of acidity to balance it out and keep it fresh.

Further black cherry fruit came to the fore over time, along with pepper spice, liquorice and a light vanilla relief.  Light chalky tannins were still evident.

The finish is in the 1-minute range, carried by the acidity, black cherry and caramel.  If I was being super-critical, it’s a shame that the finish didn’t last longer, but it was still more-ish enough to have me reaching for the next glass.

Quite austere on its own (but still medium plus in weight, so not heavy in any way) this would stand up very well to most well roasted meats.  Sadly I tried it on its own and can only imagine how it would have drunk alongside a beef joint.

Knowing that there will only be so many bottles available for a relatively short time, and at a very agreeable price, I have several more cellaring, so I’ll hopefully be able to find out in time.  I fully recommend that you grab yourself a bottle (you can purchase it here) whilst you still can to give it a try for yourself.

Drink to 2026.

Château Cardinal-Villemaurine vertical 1966-1975

Great bottles of wine seem to find their way out on to the market over the festive season, but this year I have been truly spoilt for choice.  UK wine merchant Laithwaites has offered up not just one, but three, magical vintages from the 20th Century.

The modern-era of winemaking is well written as starting with the 1982 vintage.  Prior to that the last three truly great years had been the 1975, 1970 and the 1966.  Imagine my surprise when all three of these Bordeaux vintages became available, and at very respectable prices too.

villemaurine logo

The well positioned sloping limestone vineyards of St. Emilion Grand Cru estate Château Cardinal-Villemaurine were, until recently, owned by the Carrille family.  The familiar story of complex French inheritance laws finally necessitated a sale.

Needless to say, buyers were extremely forthcoming, and the land was eventually sold to top drawer Premier Grand Cru Classé house Château Angélus, who clearly saw the quality.  The actual buildings and stock, however, stayed with the Carille family.  Jean-Marc Sauboua, a Bordeaux native and winemaker/buyer for Laithwaites was first on the scene, and given the keys to their vaults, tasting wines back to the sterling 1947 vintage.

Picking out the most-lauded pre-1982 vintages, from a time when vineyards were tilled via horse drawn ploughs, and grapes were fully hand harvested, this is an extremely rare trilogy of Bordeaux wines to come to market.

Gravity fed cellars avoided the stress of pumping over and, post two years on oak, the maturing bottles were kept at a constant cool temperature.

villemaurine 1966

villemaurine stains

From the above images we can see that the bottles have certainly been re-labelled, but existing dirt on the bottles, which carries on under the new labels, show that the physical bottles are original.  The corks are fully branded but it is unclear as to whether they have been re-corked prior to re-release.

villemaurine corks

Each of the following three wines are Merlot based blends which, if following the pattern of the vineyard plantings, would be potentially 75% Merlot, 25% Cabernet France and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon.  The average age of their vines was 30 years old, spread over 12 hectares.

Château Cardinal-Villemaurine 1966, Merlot Blend, St Emilion, France, 12.5%, £50

Garnet in colour, with a thick sediment on decant, the nose was pungent and vegetal with stewed prune and figs.  Dark cherry and berry fruits fleshed over time in the decanter, but the overall sensation was rustic.

On the palate was faded black cherry, raisin, bitter chocolate and a touch of liquorice. Pepper spice, spent wood and a tea-like brew (following time in decanter) met with the still fresh acidity which kept everything lively and accessible.

The mid-palate carried well through to the acid and spicy and savoury characters, and the finish was respectable, carried by the acid and the dying embers of the black fruits.

Clearly a touch past its best, the sheer academic quality of drinking a good condition 1966 Bordeaux meant this was utterly worth the bottle price, and a good reminder of what mellow, but rich, wine tastes like at a modest 12.5% alcohol.

The tasting guide says drink to the end of 2022, but this feels like one to drink-up fairly soonish to me.

villemaurine 70 label

Château Cardinal-Villemaurine 1970, Merlot Blend, St Emilion, France, 12.5%, £40

Raspberry red in colour with garnet tints, this gave a finer sediment than the 1966.  Buyer Jean-marc was quoted as saying “I had to buy you this 1970. Delicate maturity”.

The nose was prominent, incredibly clear and well defined, even after 48 years.  With silky tones of mature (dried) red and black cherry, rich tinned raspberry, a perfumed floral vanilla nose and hints of raisin, this felt incredibly layered and complex.

The palate had a good medium weight with a touch of stew-like quality, but extremely well rounded from the off without the need for time in the decanter.  Black cherry, redcurrant and cake spice dominate and, despite its age, the fruit felt very much alive as well as mature.

Backed up with a still-lively mouth-watering acidity, the finish was in the realms of 2 minutes long and full of the depth of the palate.  Simply divine.

Laithwaites currently have magnums available for this vintage.  I would say that this is a must purchase.  The tasting guide says to drink to the end of 2022 but this one feels like it could go a little further, such was the was the immediacy, the freshness and the vibrancy.

villemaurine 75 label

Château Cardinal-Villemaurine 1975, Merlot Blend, St Emilion, France, 12.5%, £35

After a succession of dull vintages, 1975 was welcomed with open arms.  Medium ruby in colour with garnet tints, the sediment was once again fairly fine.

The nose was very clear and pronounced like the 1970, but in this case the character was overly herbaceous as opposed to fresh, with figs and prunes and a prominent mushroom tone.

The palate held a good weight, and a fresh high acid balanced against the faded blackcurrant, redcurrant and cherry.  The overall composition, whilst pleasant, seemed to drop off in the mid-palate.

The fairly short finish was saved somewhat by the acidity, but the overall savoury and herbaceous character of the wine wasn’t something that excited my palate, alive though it may be.

The notes say to drink to the end of 2025 and, for this one, it would be interesting to see which way it goes – it could do either.

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Aldi Wine Club 19th Panel round-up

I last wrote about the Aldi Wine Club (AWC) back in May, not because I was part of their latest panel, but more to address the fact that it had been a good 6 months since the previous panel had taken place.

Since that time the regular panels have returned, and I welcomed sight of the 18th iteration. The disappearance had all the hallmarks of the now-defunct Tesco Wine Club, and the natural need for supermarkets to keep tight purse strings on all non-essential spend. In a clear nod to this austerity, the number of AWC bottles to be received each month has been reduced from 2 to 1.

All fair enough I guess but, since the Aldi range has changed significantly over this period, I readily signed up to be a part of the 19th showing, which contained 3 previously untried wines all at superb price-points.

19th aldi 1

This Italian Sangiovese Loves…., Sangiovese (100%), Sicily, Italy, 12.5%, £4.99

First off of the blocks was the curiously and purposely titled ‘This Sangiovese Loves….’

Italian wine is well known to match Italian food, so the food mix (also extending to other Italian stalwarts such as pasta, meatballs and sausage) is no great surprise. I regularly heap praise on Aldi wine labelling – I think they’re clever, interesting and, above all, show attention to detail, but in this case, things seem to dumb down just a touch.

The grape ‘Sangiovese’ might put a potential purchaser off, as might the fact that they shouldn’t drink the wine tonight if they’re not tucking in to an Italian dish (it will go well on its own or with others). Of course, many non-wine aficionados could use the label as an ‘expert’ guide through to tasting perfection, so it may well be six of one, half a dozen of the other.

The above said about the quite literal descriptive title, the bright orange capsule and neck brace offset the dark wine superbly and is a real shelf eye-catcher, and it’s nice to see a wine at the modest level of 12.5% alcohol.

A nose of silky vibrant red cherry, a touch of menthol, and dollops of vanilla created a full and lovely expression. The modest alcohol gave a palate that was lighter than expected for the colour, with fresh black cherry and liquorice. The mouth-wateringly high acid (characteristic Italian for a food match) was evident throughout.

With a light-tannin and tea infused finish, the fruits dipped away to a disappointing end, I’d disagree with the label that this was close to a full-bodied wine. It has certainly got well-defined and forward flavours but that isn’t quite the same thing. The wine in general is much more accessible.

19th aldi 2

Organic Prosecco, Treviso, Italy, 11.5%, £7.99

We’re back to the classic-looking Aldi range now and one fantastic looking squat bottle, extremely reminiscent of Ruinart Champagne. I’d pick it up on visual alone.

Highlighting the Organic heritage, the Aldi notes tell us that the grapes were sourced from the Corvezzo family’s 150-hectare estate, 30km north-east of Venice. Grown with no pesticides or herbicides used in the vineyard, the grapes are predominately handpicked and gently pressed to ensure only the highest quality of juice is used. The winery is committed to using renewable energy wherever possible. Already a great reason to pick up the bottle and to feel good when drinking it.

All applaudable, but did it translate to the palate? With a very fine bead, there was ripe green apple and pear, fleshy in the main but with detectable pips. Added to this was a light lemon mousse and a touch of honeycomb and cream creating a quaffable, frothy, weightless, but layered, depth. The crisp citric finish lasted longer than a minute, giving off a drying touch of white grapefruit. Although Extra Dry, there was a touch of sweetness coming from the lower than usual alcohol level.

19th aldi 3

Freeman’s Bay, Winemakers Reserve Pinot Gris 2018, Gisborne, New Zealand, 13%, £5.79

The third panel slot was originally slated to be this £6.99 Gavi di Gavi but, for whatever reason, this Pinot Gris was subbed in.

With a wonderfully fragrant nose, detectable from a few paces away, this was full and dense, conveying a veritable fruit salad of honeyed citrus, yellow tropical pineapple and melon, orange tinged satsuma, and fleshy green pear and grapefruit.

A rich and oily texture combined extremely ripe, pure fruits, almost to a concentrate level. A medium mouth-watering fresh acidity led through to a tangy satsuma and white pepper spice on the finish. In a word (or three) – lush and moreish, and a definite buy from me.

With thanks to Aldi for sending through the bottles used in this review.

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Manzanos 1961

Vinous dreams come in all shapes and sizes, whether it’s trying a revered vintage, getting a fantastic bottle at a bargain price, or perhaps even simply getting a night on your own without the kids to enjoy the bottle in question.

Thanks to the UK’s leading online wine merchant Laithwaites you can now sort two out of three dreams straight away, just leaving you to just find the babysitter.

1961 Banner

1961 was (and is) a well lauded vintage in France – Could this Rioja keep up the pace?  JFK had just become the US President, the space-race was in its infancy and the Beatles were still trying to decide on a band name.  We’re talking seriously old-school.

Commercially viable volumes of very old bottlings such as this are increasingly unheard of, and it is only thanks to the extremely close relationship between Laithwaites head buyer Beth Willard and 5th generation winemaker Victor Manzanos, that such a rare gem has made it to the UK market.

Building a strong relationship both professional and personal, Beth was on hand to support Victor through the tough times following the sudden death of his father.  Maintaining almost daily contact as the London based Victor returned to Spain to take over the family business at just 19 years old, Beth was top of the list when Victor unearthed a fantastically old cache of bottles.

Beth takes up the story: “Until around 10 years ago Manzanos were a medium sized producer focused on the area around Azagra and Calahorra in Rioja Oriental (formerly Rioja Baja). They are now one of the biggest producers of wine in Rioja and Navarra, owning several bodegas and lots of vineyards throughout the whole region.”

“Their extended family has been a big holder of vineyards dating back to the late 1800’s and (because of the large expansion) only now has Victor had a chance to dig around to see what they actually hold. In Azagra, close to where the principle bodega is located, some of his relatives’ own tunnels are full of old bottles of wine.”

The great news for wine lovers is that these older wines are now being assessed with a view to offering further archive releases in the future.

Following the discovery, the hand-harvested 1961 (mechanical picking was still in its infancy then) was rebottled, recorked and relabelled as the original packaging wasn’t up to today’s commercial standards.  The wine, however, was perfect, spending 3 years in French oak and then having laid perfectly untouched since being bottled in the mid-1960’s.  I jumped at the chance to give it a try.

1961 Bottle

Manzanos 1961, Rioja, Spain, Tempranillo based blend, 12.5%, £30

Some older wines can disintegrate a bit when left to decant for several hours but I decanted, and wasn’t disappointed.  The wine evolved significantly over several hours.

Still retaining a glossy ruby colour, there were hints of garnet colouring to the core, and a light water-white rim.

Shortly after opening, the nose began with a Burgundian barnyard tone, but this developed to include figs, mushroom, roasted nuts and sweet tobacco.  Further developed fruit came in the form of herbaceous wild black cherry, a touch of red cherry, and a whole load of green bell pepper.

Pronounced in character with a real sense of density from the off, the wonderfully fragrant nose only got better as time went on, adding liquorice, bitter black chocolate and treacle/caramel.

The palate, as expected, was extremely evolved with the tertiary notes of roasted black coffee.  Chewy, dense, with an almost oily thick texture it was still rich and broth-like, but retained a refreshing zing of acidity to balance it out and keep it fresh.

Further black cherry fruit came to the fore over time, along with pepper spice, liquorice and a light vanilla relief.  Light chalky tannins were still evident.

The finish is in the 1-minute range, carried by the acidity, black cherry and caramel.  If I was being super-critical, it’s a shame that the finish didn’t last longer, but it was still more-ish enough to have me reaching for the next glass.

Quite austere on its own (but still medium plus in weight, so not heavy in any way) this would stand up very well to most well roasted meats.  Sadly I tried it on its own and can only imagine how it would have drunk alongside a beef joint.

Knowing that there will only be so many bottles available for a relatively short time, and at a very agreeable price, I have several more cellaring, so I’ll hopefully be able to find out in time.  I fully recommend that you grab yourself a bottle (you can purchase it here) whilst you still can to give it a try for yourself.

Drink to 2026.

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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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