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Fresh Face of California

Screen Shot 2014-09-16 at 21.52.44 What happens when a room brimming full of delicious, authentic and diverse wines coincides with a hipster crowd? You get The Dirty Dozen tasting. True to its name, one of the coolest and beardiest tasting events in London. Amongst all that “I don’t care looks” and skinny jeans, I discovered the new California and learnt a thing or two.

 Many Californian producers have been in a pursuit of finesse for years but it has been only recently that this new wave has washed onto UK shores. Mainly thanks to Roberson Wine team, pioneers of new trends and finders of the best regional wines, our perceptions and misconceptions of what Californian wines taste like are being challenged.

 A place that was once dominated by rich, powerful and highly alcoholic fruit bombs is now being replaced by newly emerging bright and fresh wines. The reputation for over-ripeness and heavy-handed oak treatments was legendary. However, whereas it’s great for collecting high scores and awards, it results in wines that taste very similar and are more difficult to enjoy.

 But thanks to early picking and a focus on diversity and balance, numerous winemakers are producing wines that people would actually like to drink. That is not to say that Californian producers have ceased to produce late-picked concentrated blockbusters but many are reacting to the changing emphasis toward lighter, purer more vibrant wines.

Flowers Chardonnay from Sonoma Coast (The Wine Treasury £48)

The 2011 was picked early showing higher acidity than expected from classic Chardonnay. Yet the low yields ensured full ripeness indicated by fruit richness and texture well-balanced by moderate alcohol (13.7%) abv thanks to the cooling Pacific Ocean influence (2 miles away) and delicate roasted almost nutty notes more reminiscent of flat white than espresso. 100% spontaneous alcoholic fermentation and ageing in French oak barrels for 14 months (only 18% new) ensured elegance and defined fruit vibrancy.

Sean Thackrey “Pleiades” [plee-uh-deez] (The Wine Treasury £32)

This is one of Sean’s famously controversial and experimental non-vintage blends of Sangiovese, Pinot Noir, Viognier, Syrah, Zinfandel and Mourvèdre. With pretty aromas of pear, donut peaches and Toblerone white chocolate it is reminiscent of white wine but the taste brings you undoubtedly back to red. Despite its premium price, the wine is labelled as Table Wine due to its unique combination of different regions and vintages. The wine changes every year. Sean is not giving much importance to the terroir element or paying much attention to winemaking rules but the main focus is on sourcing the best fruit. Some suggest that this wine taste better the day after it was opened.

Broc Cellars Green Valley Valdiguié [val-dih-gee-ay] (Roberson Wine £22)

In comparison to Sean Thackrey, Broc wines are vineyard specific. Chris Brockway, the winemaker follows the philosophy of early picking, spontaneous whole cluster ferment with no/or low sulphur dioxide additions and minimal intervention. The Solano County Green Valley AVA is located southeast of the Napa Valley taking advantage of maritime climate with its cooling ocean influence mediating the summer heat. Valdiguiè is quite unique red grape variety, known in California as Napa Gamay, capable of producing fresh scented low alcohol (12%) wines. The 2012 is charming juicy tipple with lovely sour cherry streak and pretty floral brightness.

Wilde Farm Anderson Valley Pinot Noir “Donelly Creek” 2012 (Roberson Wine £39)

This is a single vineyard expression of Pinot Noir. Fresh, bright and beautiful on so many levels. Showing defined complexity full of rhubarb, cherry blossom and wild flower notes thanks to careful selection of Dijon clones. Nothing added nothing taken away this is a pure and magical Pinot.

Copain Syrah “Halcon” 2009 from Mendocino County (Roberson Wine £54)

For Syrah lover like me it only took seconds to fall for Halcon’s charms. Despite the warm and dry summer of 2009, the high elevation of Yorkville Highlands (760m) ensures that the wine achieves balanced moderate alcohol level (12.8%). Wells Guthrie, the winemaker, creates Syrah that shows Rhone attitude yet has Californian roots. The 2009 is perfect to drink now but if it does not match your budget try Tous Ensemble (‘all together’) Syrah 2012 which is available for the fraction of the price (£23). Still delicious but more approachable and blended from selected vineyards within Mendocino County.

 
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Posted by on September 19, 2014 in California

 

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What happens at MW bootcamp?

MW students at Chateau Margaux

MW students at Chateau Margaux

What happens at Master of Wine bootcamp seminar…

Despite our pact that “what happens in Bordeaux stays in Bordeaux” I wanted to give you a little feel on what goes on at the annual MW bootcamp. Just in case you are wondering whether to join this crazy MW challenge I hope this will encourage you to give it a go.

As a first year student you may be invited to join the one-week seminar held in Rust, Austria where you get to try Gruner Vetliners and Rieslings to your hearts content. This is also where you are going to make friends for life, realise that you will have to become a superhero to pass this wretched exam and consume plentiful amounts of beer to get you though it.

If you manage to proceed to the second year, you are up for a real MW bootcamp. For one week your knowledge and beliefs will be challenged to the limits. Every morning (8am!) you start with a blind tasting of 12 wines under exam conditions with detailed feedback afterwards. Shortly you will release that it is not enough to be a talented taster and display good logic in your answer but also you need to be able to write legibly yet fast and become a master of time management. Talents that I am miles away from mastering.

After a brief lunch, you are treated to one or two seminars. We were lucky to have some topical and interesting talks this year – on wine faults, barrel choice, climate change and a 3-hour masterclass on sherry – which we all loved.

There is also a little thing called the practical and theory exam in the middle of week which is something that many get a bit nervous about (well I was petrified) but the feedback that you are given at the end of the week can be very empowering (Thanks Phil!).

And of course there are the evenings. MW students can work hard but they play much harder. After an intensive day, to be able to relax and have fun is crucial as far as I am concerned. From my photos on Facebook you may get a misleading message that we just play table football, pool and ping pong all night. That is so wrong as we have done surprisingly extensive research into Heineken, ate our bodies in foie gras and drunk anything from Chateau Margaux through Bollinger to Blue Nun.

 
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Posted by on February 24, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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More spittoons less aftershave

During a cold & rainy Movember, what else is a girl to do than taste some wine?

I spend a lot of time attending wine tasting events. At least a couple of times a week if not more. Partly because I am an MW student but also because I like networking and learning about new wines. You know what really annoys me though about the some of the tastings? The majority are still suffering from so many old clichés. Too often the events are crowded and stuffy filled with an inescapable whiff of aftershave and packed full of joyless stiff suits. Still very much a macho male dominated world, miles away from the tranquil vineyards and spacious wineries where the wines are made.

Living in London, there is eclectic choice of tastings to attend.  My international friends often remind me how we take this privilege for granted. Despite the tough UK economic climate, we are still lucky that many producers are willing to trade here and provide the great diversity of wines.

One of the attractions of tasting events is that you get to discover some iconic and diverse architecture. From the good old cricket and football grounds, exclusive hotels suites to aristocratic embassies, halls and even Naval Clubs.  But it seems that however spacious the rooms are it always appears too crowded with not enough spittoons so you spend most of the time juggling mouthful of wine and eyeing the nearest spittoon while trying to hold the conversation. Way too many times I have been forced to swallow, sometimes I must admit, a voluntary and pleasant bonus (a phrase not to be taken out of context!).

For me tasting wines is an amusing, imaginary and sensory experience. Every glass has a story to say evoking memories or creating new thoughts. But too often the enchantment of colourful aromas and flavours are spoiled by pungent aftershave or perfume. My biggest nightmare is sipping a glass of gorgeous fragrant wine when suddenly all is spoiled by a stinky cloud of cigarette breath or masculine aftershave. I don’t get it. Why would anyone come to taste wines smelling like a freshly shampooed poodle. Ironically, men are worse offenders than ladies from my experience. I sometime wish I had a magic wand and could turn the worst offenders into a mouse or a pumpkin, or a spittoon for that matter.

Another unfortunate yet popular habit is for agent representatives to present the wines. To fly winemakers and viticulturists in for every event would be impossibly expensive.  However, too often the agents are poorly informed about the wines and the lack of information alongside the endless amount of worthless bullshit is tiresome. If someone mentions that their wine is from a unique terroir once more I think I will explode.  You rarely find a well-informed and engaging person that will go that extra mile to make the experience memorable. At the recent Bordeaux tasting I was surprised when one of the representatives picked up his mobile and called the winemaker to find the right answer to my question. Now this I call a dedication.

Being a woman I am naturally often encouraging more ladies to come to tastings. Despite the fact that we have been penetrating all aspects of the wine trade, men still dominate the tastings. Traditional tasting such as Port or Madeira are always very badly attended by women.  You could count the number of woman on one hand that attended the latest Madeira Masterclass in London.  I fear that this partly reflects the failure of the organisers to engage and attract a more diverse audience.

I wish we could somehow recreate the same feeling of tastings as if we were in the winery cellar itself. An inviting comfortable place where we can relax, communicate and savour the delicious flavours that wine offers. More smiles and less pretentiousness, more spittoons and less aftershave, and above all more imagination.

 
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Posted by on November 21, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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