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Wine

Eagle THE GREAT RHEINGAU RIESLING REVIEW

LONDON – 19th SEPTEMBER 2013

When leaving the grand halls of the German Embassy where the VDP Rheingau tasting was held yesterday, I could not help but feel sadly frustrated. I’m very fond of these fine, if pricey, Rieslings, don’t get me wrong. But bringing them to a dinner table is another matter.

It is not often you get to try so many exceptional wines in one tasting. The wines were pure, energetic and achieved the ultimate balance between acidity and sweetness. Not a single wine showed weakness or disappointment. There is no doubt in my mind that the quality of the wine is of the highest. But the rest is a mystique worthy of less praise. The labels, the names, the classification, you name it. Will this ever change?

Looking across the room there are eagles staring back at me everywhere. Some have sharp beaks and striking wings.  It is difficult to imagine bringing any of these bottles to your friends for dinner.  It may be true that wine experts can happily overcome these dated designs but I am doubtful about consumers. I also wonder how many would feel confident enough to present these tongue twisters at the party. “Oh hello I hope you enjoy this bottle of Randersackerer Teufelskeller Riesling….that I brought” Even if you get past all that how do you know how your bottle of Riesling will taste. Should you serve it before or after your meal, as an appetizer or a dessert wine?

I guess the wide range of wines from dry to sweet is both an advantage but also the biggest challenge. However, German producers seem unable or unwilling to simplify German Riesling for consumers. Volume sales are sinking year on year with a 13% reduction in volume in the UK market last year. As one of the producers nervously joked, “we were crap in marketing so we invented classification”. I rest my case.

Producers to watch:

Weingut Künstler

Weingut Leitz

Schloss Johannisberg (2011 Riesling Goldlack TBA aus dem Holzfass No. 173 that has just recently been auctioned for €1,040 per bottle is divine)

Weingut Josef Spreitzer

Weingut Robert Weil

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Sherwyn Veldhuizen & Marcel Giesen

Sherwyn Veldhuizen & Marcel Giesen

BELL HILL VINEYARD TASTING AT POLLEN STREET SOCIAL

LONDON – 17th SEPTEMBER 2013

It is always a great pleasure to taste exclusive wines of older vintages. It gives you a foresight into how the current releases may develop and age. But it’s also heart-breaking to know that none of us will be able to buy and enjoy these wines again. Aged wines from New Zealand are just not available. Bell Hill wines from North Canterbury are no different. The industry is relatively young, producers sell out of any age-worthy wines upon release due to the minimal production, holding back stock for producers is financially unreasonable and for consumers very rare.

Marcel Giesen (one of the famous three Giesen brothers) and Sherwyn Veldhuizen are the owners of Bell Hill vineyard. They were thought to be crazy when they bought 2.5 hectares of old lime quarry in the Weka Pass in North Canterbury back in 1997 with the aim of planting vines there. However, no-one is laughing now. Their wines have become some of the best and the most exclusive in New Zealand. The price tag follows the success. A bottle of current release Chardonnay 2010 will set you back round £80 and Pinot Noir 2010 close to £100 (retail price).

Production is minimal and I really mean minimal. Only 1,400 bottles were made in total of the 2010 vintage which will be snapped up before you can sneeze. If you want to get hold of any for your wine stash, you had better talk to Armit – the UK agent. There are one or two bottles of Bell Hill Chardonnay 2009 left on Providores wine list, so I am told, but Tim Atkin MW has his beady eyes on them so hurry!

So what is so special about these wines? Growing vines on limestone soil is no walk in the park. The high pH & high risk of chlorosis demands a specific French rootstock 161-49 which is tolerant to active limestone. However, Marcel and Sherwyn have chosen this vineyard particularly because of this. The high pH helps to preserve a vital acidity and freshness that makes these wines unrecognisable from Cote d’Or. What is amazing is that the focussed and long acidity is consistent across all the wines we tasted from 2003 to 2011.

Another challenge is the annual frost. This is not uncommon in the South Island and temperature programmed wind machines seem to take care of the worst. However, Marcel and Sherwyn told us that it is actually getting the right staff with commitment and passion that is the hardest job for them. They manage their vineyard with great attention to detail, hard work and just a hint of unorthodox thinking. No use of irrigation once the young vines are established, high density planting 11,363 vines per hectare to reduce yield, and limiting soil access forcing the roots to grow deeper.

But their work is not done yet. They are only just starting to realise the fruits of their hard labour and as they are working towards biodynamic certification, there is still much they have to learn about their babies, as they call their vines.

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LIBERTY WINES PREMIUM AUSTRALIAN TASTING

LONDON – 4TH SEPTEMBER 2013

There is no doubt that the strong Australian dollar is a double-edged sword on all producers’ minds. Rarely have export margins been squeezed so much due to exchange rates. Talking to several winemakers, it appears that having a strong bond and trust in your importer is crucial in times like this. In fact, having a good importer can be the key reason for sticking with a mature market rather than shifting focus to emerging markets. Investing & making the time for such tastings and talking about their wines directly to their customers is exactly what needs to happen if they want to prosper.  Those winemakers in the room – seem to get this.

Here is my shopping basket from the tasting:

Plantagenet Museum Riesling 2005, Great Southern, Western Australia – £18.99 (Cath Oates, winemaker since 2012)

Dawson & James Chardonnay 2010, Tasmania – £46.99 (Tim James, winemaker)

Dawson & James Pinot Noir 2010, Tasmania – £54.99

Mount Horrocks Watervale Riesling 2012, Clare Valley – £17.99 (Stephanie Toole, winemaker)

Grosset Alea Off-dry Riesling 2012, Clare Valley – £19.99 (Jeffrey Grosset, winemaker)

Innocent Bystander Moscato 2013, Yarra Valley – £7.49/375ml (Steve Flamsteed, winemaker)

William Downie Pinot Noir 2010, Gippsland – £48.99

By Farr Chardonnay 2011, Geelong – £46.99 (Nick Farr, winemaker)

By Farr ‘Farrside’ Pinot Noir 2011, Geelong – £52.99

Greenstone Vineyard Shiraz 2010, Heathcote – £23.99 (Mark Walpole, viticulturalist)

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EMERGING REGIONS TASTING

LONDON – 1st MAY 2013

Not sure what you imagine is an emerging wine region and I guess it depends on your wine knowledge and experience to some extent but you would have to be living in a cave for the last couple of years if you considered Mendoza, Maule Valley or Tasmania as such. Saying that, the Emerging Regions tasting showed some unexpected gems and many truly funky wines from Croatia, Turkey and Georgia and I guess that is what matters after all.

Here are my top picks:

bulgaria-flagDamon and Robin from Swig, online retail specialist were showcasing their Edoardo Miroglio wines from Thracian Valley in Bulgaria. Soli Pinot Noir 2010 is one of their best-sellers and for £10 retail this one is a no brainer if you are looking for a value-for-money. Classic Pinot Noir trademark of crunchy cherry fruit with fresh acidity and just a touch of complementary toasty oak – fits just about anywhere from wine by the glass in gastro pubs or your everyday easy tipple to any party or celebration.
Based on this success they are introducing more wines to the range and I suspect that the Soli white blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Gewurztraminer will be as popular.

Argentina_flag_1Christian from Ruta 40, specialist importer of boutique Argentinean wines, was very proud of his new Porvenir range from Salta and the Trapezio range from Lujan de Cuyo. The wine that caught my attention was Porvenir Laborum Cabernet Sauvignon 2006. Not cheap for £25 per bottle but vibrant cassis perfume with sweet vanilla, harmonious freshness of palate and silky tannins is a stand-out crowd pleaser. For £5 more you can upgrade to a real beast (15% abv) – Porvenir Blend 2005 (45% Malbec 35% Cabernet Sauvignon 12% Tannat and 8% Syrah). This bottle should have a warning ‘This wine should be consumed with a big slab of steak’…

turkish-flag-against-waterChamlija (winery) Narince (white grape variety) 2011 from Turkey – with its fresh, floral, delicate clean fruit, zesty crisp acidity and pleasing perfume – could this be the new trendy indigenous white replacing current sommeliers’ Gruner Vetliner and Godello love-affair? Maybe but at £20 per bottle this will be a bloody hard sell.

Urla (winery) Vourla blend (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and a dollop of something local called Bogazkere) 2010 from Izmir in Turkey – is a bargain for £13 per bottle from Armit – when blind tested I was thinking mini-Super-Tuscan blend, yet very approachable and affordable. And it is biodynamic as well so what is there not to like!

Croatian FlagPersuric Misal Millennium 2009 Brut (Malvasia, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay) from Croatia – my first ever Croatian sparkling and what a great little wine. I could never find wines like this when I used to go on holiday there but feel like a visit is long overdue. This bottle will set you back £29 from Pacta Connect which could be its downfall but I hope that does not deter adventurous drinkers.

Roxanich Milva Chardonnay 2008 from Croatia – despite its obvious haziness and orange colour due to long skin contact and lack of filtration (I guess), was tasting remarkably pleasing even if a bit funky. The price was not disclosed but the heavy Burgundy shaped bottle with deep punt is a sign of premium price. This is one of those love or hate wines, worth trying though.

tassie-flag_ozjimbobJosef Chromy Pepik Sparkling Sekt NV from Tasmania – astonishing bubbly made from Riesling in cool Tasmania by a Czech immigrant. If there was ever wine telling a story of the winemaker then this must be it.

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Yesterday, at the Liberty Wines Annual Portfolio Tasting, I discovered several delicious wines – the type that make you want to spin round on your heels and shout wheeeeee… and despite price tags that make your heart sink, I knew deep down that I was hooked.

Overlooking the Oval stadium, which was covered with a duvet of snow, the tasting rooms were bursting with wine lovers from all walks of life.  There were more than 500 wines on show but I barely tried 10% of them – maybe I don’t have sharp enough elbows!  Here are my favourites:

FRANCE – RHONE VALLEY

David Reynaud’s (grape grower and winemaker) wines are from Crozes-Hermitage and the NEW wine from St Joseph is made from the highest altitude vineyard in the Rhone accepted under AC at 350m. Reading my tasting notes – tomato puree, fennel, aniseed, sour cherry, green apple – you may be mistaken into thinking that I was tasting a healthy smoothie, but do not be fooled as these wines have the intensity of a fighting bull but with exquisite delicacy.

 AUSTRALIA – VICTORIA

William Downie’s wines are not entirely new to me but the quality of Pinot Noirs that can come from Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsular and Gippsland do not stop surprising me.  Not cheap but a real taste into what young winemakers of Australia can do.

Giuseppe Varja
Giuseppe Varja

ITALY – PIEDMONTE

Giuseppe Varja’s wines are so approachable for young Barolos and Dolcettos and unmistakably inspiring. I remember swirling the wines in my glass and just enjoying the perfume and the flavours. All I could manage to put down in my notes is 3 ticks, which by the way is pretty good in my book.

SICILY

Have you ever tried or even heard of Donnafugate? Neither have I.  Actually this is a small lie as I tried it blind and I loved it.  Ben Rye Passito di Pantelleria by Giulia Lazzarini is unforgettable. It reminds me of sniffing an apricot and peach marmalade jar, licking the lid and tasting the luscious sweetness and exotic freshness.

Izabella Zwack
Izabella Zwack

HUNGARY – TOKAJ 

Izabella Zwack’s Tokaji Aszu 6 Puttonyos is a sweet heaven.  This is much more then just a sweet-tooth treat, Izabella’s nectar is full of energy and mouth-watering acidity.

Oh and if you have not tried Innocent Bystander Moscato then give it a try. It is actually really yummy and not only for girlies.

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MADEIRA TASTING WITH RUI FALCAO

LONDON – 23rd OCTOBER 2012

I love Madeira wine and only wish that I learnt to appreciate its unique taste and experience much earlier in my life. It is difficult to find the array of flavours that Madeira can offer in a single sip – its never ending finish and understated value for money – in any other fortified wine. So while your bottle is chilling in the fridge here is a bit more info you may want to get your teeth into…

Why is Madeira so unique?

The vineyards are located on one of the most inaccessible and remote mountainous islands in the Atlantic Ocean, 560km off the coast of Morocco. The terraced vineyards are built on volcanic fertile soils and are trained on 1-2 metre high pergolas that make the harvest a real back breaking job. The majority of the growers own small plots from 5 hectares to a couple of plants, similar to the Douro Valley. You could see a grower harvesting just a couple of baskets worth with tremendous pride. The steep vineyards make it impossible to use mechanisation so everything has to be done by hand.

The subtropical climate creates humid and foggy weather that does not allow for the grapes to ripen fully and provides an ideal atmosphere for mildew and grey rot. If this wasn’t enough the vineyards compete for existence with other more commercial agricultural products such as bananas. Only 500 hectares are planted under vines now but even with some new plantings of almost forgotten Bastardo, Madeira is very much a niche product.

The extremely limited production is further driven by the fact that only 15% of the total plantings is of traditional accredited varieties Sercial, Verdelho, Boal and Malvasia. The majority of wine is made of Tinta Negra Mole with small amounts of Terrantez, Bastardo, Moscatel and Complexa. The advantage of having so many varieties is that they can be vinified in many styles from dry to sweet*. The term dry could be possibly a bit confusing here as even the driest styles have at least 20 g/l of residual sugar.

But why I think Madeira is so unique is for its astonishing acidity and intense complexity that defines its style amongst other fortified wines, and other wines for that matter. A combination of factors achieves this unique character. High acidity is defined by volcanic soil, which is naturally acidic, and its fertility encouraging high yields. The foggy and misty climate makes it tricky to achieve full ripeness and the varieties used retain naturally high acidity. The complex distinctive flavours are the results of an extensive estufagem** or canteiro*** ageing. Due to this treatment, Madeiras can survive a couple of centuries. Once I tried 19th century Bastardo and the freshness yet intensity just blew me away.

What is the future for this great nectar?

Overall sales have dipped 20% in the last 5 years to 3 million litres in 2011 driven largely by a drop in demand from its biggest market – France. Luckily some new markets such as Japan and Belgium are showing more interest in Madeira. British drinkers represent a steady 10% of global consumption.

But if Madeira wants to become more popular it needs to make some big changes in its image and straighten out the confusion it creates with the bewildering number of styles available and its unimaginative labelling.

Many think that Madeira is a drink for the older generation. No wonder, as the majority of Madeira enthusiasts are over fifty or knowledgeable trade people. If you had a chance to join the latest Madeira tasting in London you would notice that 90% of the attendees were males of moustache age. Both woman and the under 40’s were in the minority.

The key is to get more and younger drinkers to try it and show them how to enjoy it. Whether it is through a glass offering in bars and restaurants or more informal and entertaining consumer tastings with the focus on demystifying Madeira. Price should not be a problem here as Madeiras are one of the best value wines in the world. Furthermore, once a bottle of Madeira is opened it can keep fresh up to one year.

There is really no excuse for any sommelier not to get behind quality Madeira. I wish more care was taken when selecting the fortified section of any wine list, often it seems to be just ‘ticking the box’ without any thought to what might excite customers. Also I believe that tastings would attract younger and more adventurous consumers if they were organised in more informal (even trendy) settings and focused on food matching and how to taste & appreciate Madeira.

There is a wealth of Madeira styles. In some ways that is its beauty, but it can also cause confusion and not only amongst consumers. For a start, all Madeiras are sweet, as the fermentation is stopped by fortification so none of the styles reach full dryness. Not only is the sweetness scale easily misrepresented but it is sometimes omitted from bottle labels altogether. This means that consumers are expected to know what level of sweetness each variety represents. And then there is the huge range to choose from – Frasqueira, Vintage, Colheita, 3/5/10/15/20/30/40 Years Old, Reserve, Old Reserve, Special Reserve, Solera and Rainwater****. At the moment, only four allowed varieties can appear on the label, with Tinta Negra joining the group next year. If Terrantez and Bastardo were to follow it would be a sign of a new era for Madeira, both reviving old traditions and at the same time making things easier for consumers to understand.

Let’s not cook with it but drink it and enjoy it

1. Vinho Barbeito Malmsey 20 Years Old – Barbeito is one of the smallest operations on the Island out of total of only 6 producers – fresh hazelnuts, milk chocolates, raisins (RS 120-130 g/l)
2. Justino’s Madeira Colheita 1996 – blend of 95% Tinta Negra and 5% Complexa bottled in 2002 – tawny colour with golden rims, walnuts, dark chocolate, balsamic spices and orange marmalade (RS 80 g/l)
3. Henriques & Henriques Verdelho 20 Years Old – H&H are the experts on Verdelho – very fruity style, bags of ripe and dried tropical fruits, milk chocolate, green tea with salty and nutty notes (RS 60 g/l)
4. Blandy’s 20 Year Old Terrantez – golden colour with pink hue, grapefruit and smokiness on the nose, very gentle and delicate flavours and texture with bitter finish being the trademark of Terrantez (RS 80-90 g/l)
5. Pereira D’Oliveira Terrantez 1977 – bottled on 2011, this style is very unique where the barrels are not topped up and therefore the wine is exposed to more oxygen until bottling – an explosion of tropical fruit aromas, passion fruit, mango, pineapple, lychee with rich balsamic vinegar, toffee, caramel, chocolaty, nutty flavours – wow- more delicate on the palate yet lingers on the finish for ages

“If you like bottled electricity you will like Madeira” (Rui Falcao)

*Types of Madeira wine – Sercial = dry (RS 18-65 g/l), Verdelho = medium dry (RS 49-78 g/l), Boal – medium rich (RS 78-96 g/l), Malvasia = sweet (RS 96-135 g/l)
**Estufagem – the process of heating wine in either stainless steel or concrete tank for at least three months allowing hot water (45-55C) to circulate the container which is meant to duplicate the effect of a long sea voyage. For better quality wine, large wooden casks are used, placed in a heated room (a type of sauna) for six months to year.
***Canteiro ageing – oxidative ageing in casks for at least two years. The casks are placed on the top floor where the temperature (heat of the sun) is higher and the circulation of air causes wine evaporation.
****
Frasqueira (= Vintage) – made from a particular vintage from traditional noble varieties and aged for at least 20 years before bottling
Colheita – from single harvest, like a vintage, can be from single variety or blend and can be bottled only after 5 years of ageing
3/5/10/15/20/30/40 Years Old – made from a single variety but a blend of different vintages with designated age which is the indication of the youngest wine in that blend
Reserve (=Mature) – indicates wines with a minimum of 5 years ageing
Old/or Special Reserve (=Very Mature) – indicates wines with minimum of 10 years of ageing
Solera – a batch of wine aged through the solera system where only 10% of the existing batch is bottled at a time and no more than 10 additions are allowed, after which the wine may be bottled at once
Rainwater – a younger style of medium dry Madeira with golden colour. There are a couple of stories how this style got its name but you can be ensured that no rainwater is harmed during production.

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Pays d’Oc

PAYS D’OC MASTERCLASS

WITH MATTHEW STUBBS MW – OCTOBER 2012

In brief…

• In 2009, Vin de Pay d’Oc changed to Pays d’Oc
• IGP (Indication Geographique Protegee) = PGI (Protected Geographical Indication)
• A number of international investments in recent years have revived the region and its wines
• 236 000 hectares of vineyards – four times Bordeaux AOC
• More grape varieties allowed – from 35 to 56 now
• 60% reds 20% whites and 20% roses
• 4% of total production is organically certified but many more producers are working organically without certification
• More and more woman winemakers making the mark, all the wines mentioned below are made by female winemakers

My top 5 affordable Pays d’Oc IGP wines:

1. Domaine de Brau 2011 – organic blend of Chardonnay 70% and Roussanne 30% – deliciously refreshing and elegant wine, aromas and flavours of white linen, meadow, elderflower and zesty lemon with surprising hints of green gooseberries – Available from Vintage Roots £8.25

2. Domaine de la Dournie Marie 2011 – barrel fermented low yielding 100% Roussanne – given this wine blind tasted I would confidently place it in Burgundy so if you enjoy young Burgundies then this is the right wine for you at more than half price – a crisp and satisfying wine full of lemony, nutty and savoury notes – Available from Leon Stolarski £11.75

3. Domaine de Clovallon 2011 – 100% organic Pinot Noir – the first plantings of Pinot Noir allowed under the IGP label from this small yet entrepreneurial 12 ha estate – a light and fruity style of Pinot Noir – Available from Terroir Languedoc £12.50

4. Domaine Saint Hilaire Advocate 2008 – morish blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot that is perfectly enjoyable right now – aromatic fruity notes complimented by flavours of fresh eucalyptus, black pepper and cassis with hints of pencil shaving – Available from Slurp £12.25

5. Domaine Gayda Chemin de Moscou 2009 – blend of 82% Syrah 14% Grenache and 4% Cinsault – the Syrah trademark of white pepper, chocolate and red berries is dominating in this impressive wine – Available from Leon Stolarski £20 or The Vintners £23.50

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PLANET OF THE GRAPES

ANNUAL SUMMER TASTING – 12th JULY 2012

9 New Oxford Street, Holborn WC1A 1BA

I tasted close to 50 Planet of the Grapes wines on offer and here are the ones that particularly caught my attention. Now this may not mean much to everyone but if you prefer an understated and authentic style of wine with a restrained nose, dynamic acidity, attractive light body dominated by fruity & enchanted complex notes, only minimal use of oak and hypnotic finish – like me, then you may want to try some of these.

Verdejo Vega de la Reina 2011, Rueda, Spain £10
A young, crisp (dare I say summery) tipple full of bright citrus and grapefruit notes with lovely aromatic freshness. Drink instead of a glass of Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc. A great wine for parties and a bargain for £5.99 at Majestic when you buy 2 bottles.

Marsanne Tahbilk 2009, Nagambie Lakes, Australia £12.50
My all time favourite this wine never disappoints. This is the younger sister of Museum Release Marsanne that is worth a buy too if you find it. Perfect to drink now with its apple, pear and mandarin fruit notes but will age magnificently into more honey, savoury and herby flavours if you can spare it.

Riesling Contours Pewsey Vale 2006, Eden Valley, Australia £17.50
With 5 years of bottle maturation this is beautiful drinking now. Dry style (RS 2.2 g/l) with both typicity of aged Riesling and freshness of Eden Valley. Lively lemon sherbet notes with white flowers, honey and dried herbs lifted by perfect acidity and whimsical savoury finish.

Cabernet Franc Chinon Rouge Domaine Couly Dutheil 2010, Loire Valley, France £14
If you do not like the aromas of carbonic maceration then look away. I admit the fruit is rather over-perfumed here but it has all the hallmarks of classic young Cabernet Franc. Savoury green pepper notes, soft light body, smooth tannins and fresh fruit juiciness.

Corvina/Rondinella/Molinara Valpolicella Classico Superiore Tommasi 2010, Italy £15.50
Forget the bitter and jammy old-fashioned over-extracted examples of Valpolicella . This is a subtle smooth wine full of sweet red cherry notes with hints of exotic spice and just a touch of oak.

Lange Nebbiolo Produttori del Barbaresco 2010, Piedmont, Italy £18.50
If you like Nebbiolo and you have not tried this wine then you should. Enough said.

Pinot Noir Shug 2009, Sonoma Coast, California £22.50
This Pinot Noir has the ripeness of California but retains its freshness and silky texture and the finesse of Old World Pinot with just a complementary touch of oaky spice.

Sangiovese Brunello di Montalcino II Coco 2005, Italy £30
Great drinking pleasure this Brunello. After 4 years barrel ageing and 2 years of further maturation in bottle this is at its peak now. A soft yet powerful beauty.

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ENGLISH WINE PRODUCERS

TRADE & PRESS TASTING – 3rd MAY 2012

One Great George Street, London SW1P 3AA

My favourite English sparkling wines:

1. Danebury Cossack 2005 – 95% Auxerrois Blanc 5% Rülander – rich and complex style with plenty of biscuity character developed over the 5 years this wine aged on its lees – Retail £28

2. Nyetimber Blanc de Blanc 2003 – delicious crème brulée-like creaminess and caramel with crunchy sweet apples – Retail £36

3. Jenkyn Place Brut 2008 – 72% Chardonnay 18% Pinot Noir 10% Pinot Meunier – crisp and fresh style with lively brightness and purity – Retail £25

4. Chapel Down Three Graces 2008 – 55% Pinot Noir 37% Chardonnay 8% Pinot Meunier – beautiful balance of fruit intensity and body structure – Retail £25

5. Gusbourne Brut Reserve 2007 – 41% Chardonnay 39% Pinot Meunier 20% Pinot Noir – classic rich toasty flavours and creamy texture with refreshing appley acidity – Retail £25

6. Camel Valley Pinot Noir Rose Brut 2010 – complex and richly intense sparkling Rose – Retail £25

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THE BIG  FORTIFIED 

TASTING – 2nd MAY 2012

Glaziers Hall, London SE1 9DD

I had the pleasure of working with Danny Cameron and Ben Campbell-Johnston on the day of the “BFT” and experienced the event from both back stage and front of house. I probably shouldn’t be surprised by the high number of attendees and the general enthusiasm of tasters that came through the door, yet I wish this energy and keenness by the trade translated to consumers. I suppose there is still much work to be done in that respect.

So how did the day look in numbers?
Incredibly, 600 trade professionals registered – that is around 150 more than last year! My guess is that at least 70% of these made it to the tasting, which is not a bad statistic. 50 producers showed their gems with Sherry and Port taking up most of the floor. More than 400 bottles were available for sampling from Marsalas, Sherries, Ports, Madeiras, Moscatels, Maury, Banyuls, Rivesaltes, Topaques and Muscats. And to keep us all refreshed numerous coffees and teas were served throughout the day with some cheeky hot chocolates!

Why should you not miss out on this event next year?
Some are attracted by the racy freshness and complexity of Madeiras, some by the luscious caramel sweetness of Rutherglen Muscats, some prefer the rich concentration and power of aged ports, some come for the lively atmosphere and to catch up with old friends, some are more interested in the organised seminars and discussions and some well some just pop in for a quick sip and a tasty sandwich. Whatever your preference, if you have never been this tasting should be in your diary next year!

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Icewine harvest

WINE REGIONS OF CANADA – ONTARIO & BRITISH COLUMBIA

The Naval Club, 38 Hill Street, Mayfair W1

Keith Bown, the chief winemaker of Vincor Canada introduced us to their 7 estates from Niagara Peninsula in Ontario and Okanagan Valley in British Columbia:

INNISKILLIN
LE CLOS JORDANNE
JACKSON TRIGGS ESTATE
SUMAC RIDGE ESTATE
NK’MIP CELLARS
SEE YA LATER RANCH
OSOYOOS LAROSE

If you thought that Canada is all about Icewine then think again! Unfortunately, there is limited export of many Canadian wine treasures, partially due to their local high demand, but if you get a chance to buy some then here are my favourites.

The Ontario climate is very similar to England with cold winters and humid warm summers while its latitude is close to Tuscany and Southern France. Together with the influence of the nearby Great Lake and the windbreak from the Niagara Escarpment, the Ontario region provides a suitably mild location for wine production. From champagne style international blends, morishly sweet sparklies from Vidal Blanc, aromatic fruity Pinot Gris and SB’s to perfumed Pinot Noirs.
The designated Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) regions in Ontario producing quality wines are the Niagara Peninsula, Lake Erie North Shore and Pelee Island. The majority of vines were only planted a decade ago but are already producing distinctive and exquisite yet highly priced wines.
My favourites:
Inniskillin P3 (Pinot Gris/Pinot Noir/Pinot Blanc) 2011 VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario – with a fascinating fresh fruit expression of crunchy Cox apple (£20 equivalent)
Inniskillin 2010 Sparkling Icewine Vidal VQA Niagara peninsula, Ontario – made by the charmant process, yet tasting like heaven; due to high level of sugars (RS 240 g/l) the alcoholic fermentation only reaches 10% abv (£65 per 375ml)
Le Clos Jordanne 2009 Le Grand Clos Pinot Noir VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario – with Burgundian quality but also Burgundian prices (Liberty Wines £50)
Inniskillin 2008 Riesling Icewine VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario – an explosion of delicious and luscious notes of peach and orange marmalade (RS 270 g/l and only 9% abv) (Liberty Wines £55 per 375 ml)

British Columbia, on the other hand, is a dessert with hot dry summer days yet cool nights allowing for a short growing season. Aromatic Riesling thrives here with high mouth-watering acidity and almost Gewurz-like aromatics of Turkish delight and roses.
Okanagan Valley is the key VQA in British Columbia for making exceptional Shiraz and Cabernet blends. Due to its unique climate the phenolic ripeness is reached at relatively low Brix 19-20 so the trend is for production of less alcoholic wines here.
My favourites:
Nk’Mip Vineyards 2009 Qwam Qwmt Syrah VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia – the unusual name is from a joint venture between Vincor Canada and the local Indian tribe; this is an outstanding Syrah (for £25 equivalent)
See Ya Later Ranch 2009 Ping (blend of Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc) VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia – instantly pleasing wine full of delicious chocolaty and sweet fruit notes (however on a pricey side at £30 equivalent)
Jackson Triggs 2007 Riesling Icewine VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia – with scrumptious caramel, toffee and apricot marmalade flavours

No Canandian tasting is complete without a taste of Icewine!
It is produced worldwide, from Germany, Italy, Sweden to Australia and New Zealand but Canada is the world’s largest Icewine producer and arguably the best. Typical grapes are used, from Riesling, Vidal Blanc, Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay to more unusual such as Tempranillo and Cabernet Franc. There are two main methods in producing Icewine. The traditional natural freezing of the grapes on vines which produces the best quality and is the only allowed method in Austria, Germany, Canada and the United States. And cryoextraction which is the mechanical freezing of grapes used primarily in the rest of the New World. The ageing potential for some of the best quality Icewines is as long as 100 years, with a similar age worthiness to Tokaji wines. However, the price also reflects this: a half bottle can set you back from £50 to £100.

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Rococo Chocolates

AUSTRALIAN WINE & ROCOCO

CHOCOLATE MATCHING –  11th APRIL 2012

At Australia House, The Strand WC2B 4LA

Who has not tucked into an after-dinner chocolate whilst finishing off a glass of red and experienced a strange tingling sensation when the two tastes meet? Well I can tell you – wine and chocolate matching is quite a challenging task. You need to think not only about the flavours of wine and the chocolate but also about the perceived sweetness of each. Should we try to match the two anyway? Isn’t cheese the best match for wine at the end of a meal? Maybe, but there is something delicious and rather naughty in having a piece of fine dark chocolate with a sip of Sauternes.
So we (a group of foodies and vino lovers) had a go at this tricky art. From trying to find the perfect chocolate match for an oaky Chardonnay, an aromatic Gewurztraminer, a warming Grenache, a spicy Shiraz to a sparkling sweet Moscato and a luscious Rutherglen Muscat. And the conclusion?
There is no formula to tell you what the best match is, as we all found our personal preferences differed so much. All you can do when it comes to wine and chocolate matching is just to have fun and enjoy it. I found that the best combinations were the most unusual ones. Not necessarily just sweet wines but also dry styles.
My favourite wine to match with a variety of flavoured chocs was Innocent Bystander Moscato 2011 – a lightly sparkling sweet pinky from Victoria. The refreshing sweetness and gentle strawberry and raspberry fruit flavours worked well with white chocolate cardamom & saffron ganache, sea salt wafer and red berry ganache.
PS. One tip I learned is that the best storage temperature for quality chocolates is at 17C, which is not easy to achieve. The closest I could find is my wine fridge at 14C.

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BANCROFT WINES ANNUAL PORTFOLIO

TRADE TASTING – 7th FEBRUARY 2012

The Westbury Hotel, Bond Street, London

This had it all. The tasting room was bright and airy, the growers & marketing reps were enthusiastic, the tasters were well behaved and the wine was served at the right temperature. It is great when someone gets it right!

I had only planned to stay and speed-taste for an hour but I enjoyed the openness and chatty atmosphere so much that I ended up staying for 4 hours!

Here are my thoughts and highlights of the day.

Organic farming in Burgundy?
Chandon de Briailles (Pernand Vergelesses, Savigny-Les-Beaune) 2010 – balanced use of oak for both Chardonnay and PN, organic certified and since 2005 also biodynamic. As an aside, I am still searching for an answer to: how is it possible to produce ‘made from organically grown grapes’ wines in Burgundy bearing in mind the closeness of the neighbouring vineyards? How come Ecocert (1) seems to overlook this? Some growers decide that the certification is not important but follow organic principles nevertheless – such as Henri Gouges in Nuits St Georges.

‘Angelic Chardonnay’
Domaine Paul Pillot Chassagne 1er cru Clos St Jean 2010 – pure and lean acidity, zesty lemon sherbet, lime meringue, soft and mineral mouth-feel with an angelic finish. Please sir I want some more!

Pinot Noir at its best
Domaine AF Gros and Francois Parent 2010 – from Vosne Romanee to Richebourg Grand Cru – outstanding and in general already approachable, displaying fresh yet restrained forest red berry flavours, violets, roses, dried herbs, crunchy tannins and lifting acidity, hints of sweet mint, liquorice, sweet spice and white pepper!
It was my first time trying Richebourg Grand Cru so spitting wasn’t an option I am afraid.

New from Northern Rhone
It was a new experience for me to taste Pierre Gaillard – ‘late harvest’ Condrieu Fleurs d’Automne (RS 60-70 g/l) and Vin de Pays Asiaticus (quality and price similar to Cornas)

Pinot based fizz
My favourites from the Rene Geoffrey champagne range are 1er Cru Purete Brut Zero NV (bone dry and razor sharp acidity!) and 1er Cru Millesime 2002 (great vintage – enough said, aged for a minimum of 7 – 8 years on its lees and disgorged in 2010). It is easy to like champagne but I wish there wasn’t that snootiness round the whole production and marketing. I cannot wait till Tasmania is going to take the fizz world by storm!

Cederberg with Pieter du Toit and what not to miss!
Cederberg grow their grapes at a high altitude (2000m) comparable to Catena Zapata vineyards in Argentina. Pieter admits that this unique cold continental climate, with the highest vineyards in the Cape and without viruses, creates quality pure wines and is an important marketing tool for Cederberg!
Cederberg Chenin Blanc 2010 – unoaked yet with a spicy prickle, as the wine was briefly aged on Sauvignon Blanc lees
Both Ghost Corner SB /and Semillon 2010 are from the Elim region – East of Walker Bay – producing elegant, fresh and aromatic wines.
Have you ever tried Bukettraube? Still grown in Cederber, it originated from Alsace/ Germany in 1873 and is a cross of Silvaner and Schiava with Muscat-like aromatics. Could this be the South African answer to a trendy ‘Moscato’?

(1) ECOCERT is an inspection and certification organization, whose activity in this respect is overseen by the French public authorities and protected by legislation. It is certified by the French “Institut National de l’Origine et de la Qualité”. Ecocert is very well known for its “organic” certifications. This body certifies, amongst others, wines made from organically-grown (AB) or bio-dynamically grown (Demeter) grapes.

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NZ winemap

NEW ZEALAND WINE ANNUAL TRADE TASTING

 LONDON – JANUARY 2012

It seems that not even the chilly and wet January weather put off real NZ wine enthusiasts from joining the traditional annual trade tasting at Lords.  It is always great to have a busy generic tasting but today Lords was packed to the rafters.  A new venue may have to be considered for next year if demand and interest keep rising.

Shame however about the traditional complaints that blight many tastings – too much perfume and aftershave, people hogging samples and spittoons, overly warm room temperature yet overly chilled wine and lack of information on the wines.  Why don’t people follow wine tasting etiquette?

As an MW student it was the seminar and self-pouring tables that are the most instructive places; here is a summary of what I found out.

A regional diversity of Pinot Noir 2009 by Doctor John Forrest from Forrest Wines

Key points about NZ Pinot Noir (courtesy of NZ Wine UK):

  1. Plantings have extended to all regions in both Islands

  2. Growth in plantings from 1.126 ha (2000) to 4.803 (2011), 4.828 predicted for 2012

  3. Second most planted varietal after SB, overtaking Chardonnay now

  4. Growth 129% in export from 4.151 mil ltrs (2006) to 9.498 mil ltrs (2011)

  5. Key export markets are UK, USA and Australia

PN tasting (root day) from North to South (regional characteristics):

Wairarapa Valley – (alluvial soils) spicy, savoury, crunchy black cherries, oaky style with higher warming alcohol yet lower acidity and earthy finish

Martinborough – (clay) cleaner fresher fruit, ripe cherries, black plums, hint of minty freshness, earthy and smoky spicy notes, better balance of acidity, body and richness fruit

Nelson – (alluvial & clay) restrained style with subtle nose, dark cherries with savoury notes, g. balance of alcohol, acidity and structure – keeper!

Marlborough – (underlay of gravel with top layer of clay) sour cherries, some reds fruits (strawberries and raspberries), the most elegant style, fresh crisp acidity balanced with alcohol and body, typical of Marlborough style with leafy and black tea characters

Waipara – subtle perfume of ripe cherries, elegance yet intensity in flavour, sweet spice, earthy & smoky & savoury notes, fuller body and warming alcohol balanced by juicy acidity

Waitaki – (limestone) ripe juicy cherries and plums, chocolaty notes (dark), richer style with fuller body and balanced acidity & alcohol with mineral finish

Central Otago – age potential, warming alcohol, high acidity, plenty of oak, visible tannins and tobacco & smoky notes

NEW – Waitaki Valley (Maori “Tears of Mt Cook”)

If you have never heard of this region, like me, then read on. Waitaki is a new emerging region situated 100km north of Queenstown and 40km inland from the Pacific. It is a relatively small region (110 ha in 2009) surrounded by mountains with close proximity to the Waitaki River. It has a more maritime climate (long autumns and summer breeze days) in comparison to Central Otago. The unique soil type – river gravel with 38 million ancient old limestone seabed – produces mineral and balanced wines -Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. I tasted Doctor John Forrest Collection PN 2009 that is (as I was told by Adnams Wine Merchants) due to be imported to the UK shortly and cannot wait to see if Chardonnays are equally good.

Also worth checking out the following producers: Ostler Wines and Pasquale

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Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blanc

CHAMPAGNE TAITTINGER COMTES DE CHAMPAGNE

IMW MASTERCLASS – 2 DECEMBER 2011

Vintners’ Hall, Upper Thames Street, EC4V 3BG

It is easy to get seduced by the line up of Comtes de Champagne dating back from 1990 to 2002 and the only possible disappointment is that these beauties can reach £100 a bottle! If you were to drink a bottle everyday like Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger, President, it would set you back almost £40k a year.  Pierre’s statement: ‘’Champagne must remain affordable’ is rather questionable then. Mind you to put this in perspective, growing and producing wine in Champagne is no cheap business and a hectare of vineyard can cost €1.8 million, not to mention the cost of storage and tied up stock – any vintage champagne undergoes a slow ageing process before being released to market.

So what should you know about Taittinger Comtes de Champagne:

  • Always Blanc de Blanc

  • Always vintage (only the best years)

  • Only first pressing used

  • Fermentation in oak (¼ new and ¼ old French oak for 5-8 months) resulting in micro-oxygenation and extracting vanilla, coconut or mocha flavours

  • Minimum ageing is 10 years to compare to standard of 3 years

  • Dosage between 9-10 g/ls

  • Between 150 – 300k bottles are produced annually

  • All the grapes are sourced from the best vineyards in Avize, Cramant, Chouilly, Oger and Mesnil-Sur-Oger

  • 5% of the blend is matured in new French barriques for 4 months

  • All blends undergo full malolactic fermentation

And the key points about Taittinger House:

  • Owns 288 hectares of vineyards making it one of the biggest vineyard owners in Champagne where only 50% of grapes are brought in from selected growers

  • Chardonnay is the key to Taittinger house style

  • Loic Dupont has been the Chef de Caves for the past 26 years

  • A couple of years ago, 90% of wines were sold in Europe, however the export market is shifting to China, Russia, Japan and S. America

TASTING:

Brut Reserve NV (40% Chardonnay 35% Pinot Noir 25% Pinot Meunier) – beautifully refreshing and bright style with gentle notes of creamy yeast, pastry, braised apples and persistent yet complimentary zesty acidity. Annual production is 5 million bottles, blended from 40 different crus and aged for 4 years before release

Prelude Grands Crus NV (50% Chardonnay 50% Pinot Noir) – delicate yet complex notes of hay, brioche, orange peel, ripe apples with citrusy acidity, minerally hints and rich caramel-like texture. Annual production is 100k bottles, made from 100% Grand Cru grapes

2002 Comtes de Champagne – young and fresh style with rich concentration of flavours and brightness of sweet fruit backed by the essential and generous yeasty notes

2000 Comtes de Champagne – beautiful fruit richness and flavour complexity shine through

1999 Comtes de Champagne – luscious, rich and complex style with freshness of fruit, lean acidity and savoury notes

1998 Comtes de Champagne – wow! distinct and generous style with well-developed flavours of orange marmalade, freshly baked brioche, toasty with nutty notes

1996 Comtes de Champagne – elegant, complex and harmonious style with rich flavours of mocha, toast, caramel, baked apples, dried orange peel, exotic spice and savoury and nutty hints

1995 Comtes de Champagne

1990 Comtes de Champagne – rich and aromatic notes of truffle, mushrooms, soft cheese, orange marmalade, salted caramel and crème brule with creamy texture and lingering finish

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A+ AUSTRALIAN WINE

ONE DAY WINE SCHOOL – 28 NOVEMBER 2011
The Australia Centre, Strand WC2B 4LG

The reason for the One Day Wine School was for the UK trade to get a good snapshot of Australia, its history, terroir and climate.

A decade ago, this would have been straightforward but since then Australian wine has changed.  There have been numerous developments in sub-regional diversity and the introduction & experimentation of new grape varieties & wine styles.  Recently, social media has created a real vibe around Australian wines (for both good and less positive reasons) and this great initiative by Aplus Australian Wine is just one of the events that Yvonne and her team have organised in their aim to open our eyes to all that Australia has to offer.

To take us through the day we had the charismatic & entertaining Tim Atkin MW, the well-travelled & straight-talking Nick Stock and the well-respected & admired Andrew Jefford.

Here are some top stats and info describing the current Australian position:

  1. In 2011, 728 million litres of wine were sold abroad with 275 million litres was exported to the UK (making it the best export market followed by USA, Canada, China, Germany and NZ

  2. Shiraz still holds the highest varietal planting (400k tonnes) with Chardonnay (300k) and Cabernet Sauvignon (200k) following closely (2010 figures)

  3. The planting area covers 152k hectares with 1,1 billion litres in production (2010 figures)

  4. The 2011 vintage showed lower production due to significant issue with disease and rainfall. However, Riesling, Chardonnay, sparkling and some reds will standout and benefit from this cooler year

  5. There are now 2300 wineries across 64 diverse regions

  6. 470mm of rainfall per average year makes Australia the second driest continent after Antarctica and less than 5% of vineyards are dry farmed

Tasting feedback (tasting was organised per varietal flights):

  1. Sparkling wines – Jansz Premium Cuvee NV from Tasmania is still pretty much the star of Australian bubbles. This Chardonnay dominant blend is fresh, bright and flavoursome complimented by complex yeasty and nutty notes that result from the Traditional Method and short ageing.  It is Tasmania that is worth watching for further development of sparkling wines due its cool climate ideal for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

  2. Semillon – the common trades are relatively low alcohol (due to its early picking and thin skins), no oak use in Hunter Valley (some oaked styles in Barossa and McLaren Vale), well-suited to ageing (5 – 20yrs)

  3. Viognier – due to its natural low acidity sometimes acidification is being undertaken, some unoaked styles (entry price points) but generally oaked styles, aromatic with the obvious ripe/tinned peach flavours. Yalumba Viognier 2010 from Eden Valley with its sweet peach and vanilla custard flavours is a great example of well-balanced oak integration and creamy richness on the palate

  4. Riesling – becoming one of the most exciting and diverse wine styles in Australia. The key regions are Great Southern in Western Australia (with its bone-dry style, lower alcohol level -12.5%, high acidity, fresh citrusy flavours and soft, well-balanced body), Clare Valley (with its bony-dry to dry style, high acidity, lemon and exotic fruit flavours) and Eden Valley (with its petrol-like aromas, rich fruit concentration, high acidity and complimentary minerality). Both Pewsey Vale and Mesh Riesling from Eden Valley consistently showing the quality

  5. Chardonnay – is slowly but surely becoming trendy again! Well I hope so anyway and there seems to be a new wave of subtle, elegant and restrained styles coming from Victoria particularly Mornington Peninsula and Yarra Valley. A good example of this Burgundian style is Ocean Eight ‘Verve’ Chardonnay 2010 from Mornington Peninsula. Adelaide Hills also producing some fab buttery Chardonnays with rich fruit concentration but unfortunately the 3 wines shown during tasted did show well.

  6. Pinot Noir – some superb Pinots are coming from Victoria and Tasmania in all shapes and sizes. It is said that Yarra Valley PN are showing more red fruits such as strawberry and raspberry flavours and Mornington Peninsula favours black fruit flavours but I would not rely on this as different vintages, picking times and vinification methods will vary inevitably from producer to producer. Innocent Bystander PN 2010 from Yarra Valley is a superb value-for-money at £9 per bottle with its lifting refreshing acidity, soft sweet cherries and a touch of oak

  7. Shiraz – the King of Australia and one of the most diverse and versatile grapes growing in all major regions from New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia to Margaret River. Trying to pinpoint a particular regional style is almost impossible with different styles being created these days and to try to pick favourites is almost as impossible.  But First Drop ‘Mother’s Milk’ Shiraz 2009 from Barossa Valley was a true stunner with its violet, roses and tar aromas, fresh mint and black fruit flavours, very approachable with great balance of fruit concentration and lifting acidity, and silky pleasing finish.

  8. Shiraz blends – with Viognier inspired by Cote Rotie where a small portion is cofermented with Syrah to add aroma.  The second major blend is so called GSM blend where Mouvedre and Grenache is added to bring complexity and further structure. Turkey Flat  ‘Butcher’s Block from Barossa Valley is a ripe example. And last but not least is blend with Cabernet Sauvignon which has practically been invented in Australia.

  9. Cabernet Sauvignon – being the second most produced and important red grape variety with the key regions in Margaret River and Coonawarra but also Orange in New South Wales where a unique Cabernet is made by Philip Shaw.

  10. Fortified wines – both Muscat and Topaque styles are produced in Rutherglen in Victoria. These are some of the most complex fortified wines, improving and developing with age and with an array of flavours from Turkish delight, orange peel, peach marmalade to mocha, caramel, toffee and honey

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THANKSGIVING TASTING

AT HANFORD WINES – 22 NOVEMBER 2011
105 Old Brompton Road, South Kensington, London SW7 3LE

This was a great chance to taste some of the top crops from California.

Traditionally acclaimed for being oaky, rich, highly alcoholic and over-priced, I was interested to find out if anything has changed at all.

Chardonnays alcohol levels varied from 14% to 14.5% and you could definitely feel the warming and sometimes burning sensation on the palate, but some seemed subtler and better balanced with concentrated ripe fruit and refreshing acidity.

Kistler Noisetiers Chardonnay 2009 Carneros may not be your first choice, priced at £69 a bottle but the complexity of this wine has no ends. Possibly a little bit prematurely aged but this wine could be quite special in 5+ years.

It was the Pinot Noirs that fully caught my attention for their lightness and subtlety rarely seen.  La Crema Pinot Noir 2009 Sonoma Valley at £20 was my favourite wine of the tasting with its overwhelming freshness, clean bright sour cherry fruit and smooth silky texture.

Cabernet Sauvignons and Zinfaldels, generally blended with Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot were definitely showing high alcohol from 14% up to 16%, plenty of oak contact and rich full-body concentration.  However, considering all this I could not resist Ridge Lytton Springs 2009 Sonoma made from 71% Zinfandel 23% Petite Sirah 6% Carignan – bright juicy fruit, smooth texture backed by fresh acidity, ripe tannins and tight texture making this a wine to be enjoyed now.

So the answer is yes, the style of Californian is still true to form but there seem to be fresher and subtler wines creeping in.  Hurray!

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IMW CHABLIS SEMINAR – 21 NOVEMBER 2011

Chandos House, 2 Queen Anne Street London W1G 9 LQ

Rosemary George MW is without doubt an expert on Chablis. Together with Guillaume Gicqueau-Michel of Domaine Louis et Fils and Fabien Moreau of Domaine Christian Moreau Pere et Fils she led us through four flights of Premier and Grand Cru Chablis tasting. It was interesting to taste the different quality levels from Chablis, Premier to Grand Cru (shame – no Petit Chablis), stainless steel and oaked aged styles, to compare two domaines’ styles of both great vintages 2009 & 2010, and last but not the least to taste older vintages dating back to 1987. However, the overall depth of discussion was lacking and the information provided was vague to say the least.

Should we be drinking the 2009 vintage now (it having benefitted from near perfect vineyard conditions) and keep the 2010 vintage for later with its potential for long ageing? What will the same wine taste after 3 and 10 years? At what age should decanting be considered?

Why is oak used in aged Grand Cru (except perhaps to allow slow oxidation and the addition of tannins)? If oak used in Chablis then it is predominantly old oak so where do these old barrels come from if only 10% (or less) of the wine is aged on new oak?

We are using words like flinty, steely and mineral but what are these flavours or sensations describing and more importantly what is the source?

The wines were amazing and showed one of the widest aroma and flavour array for one style of wine. From flavours of fresh lemon, lime, apple, herbs, nettles with soft smooth texture and nutty notes for young wines to complex, savoury, vegetal and nutty matured wines with rich flavours of orange marmalade, chutney, honey, caramel, honeysuckle and truffle with hint of oxidation and wet stone notes.

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1st Growth Bordeaux 2007

THE ANNUAL BORDEAUX TASTING 2007 VINTAGE

Vintners’ Hall, Upper Thames Street, EC4V 3BG

It is daunting to be faced with 90 top growth Clarets. To taste them all, blind, write a meaningful tasting note and assessment for each, all within a couple of hours seems impossible – a feat that only the bravest could attempt. For that reason my approach was to just focus on the sub-regional differences of the wines in order to build a view of the 2007 Bordeaux vintage.

It seems that the weather had a significant influence on this vintage so much so that even winemaking did not seem to balance out the wines. The vintage started well with abnormally hot weather during flowering, the trouble started during the summer months with some seriously heavy rains bringing cool weather. The season ended with sunny and dry days in September and October but some grapes did not reach their full phenolic ripeness because of the earlier weather.

PESSAC – LEOGNAN / GRAVES

Showing the youngest with some green notes and salivating acidity. Both red and black berry fruit concentration, hollow mid-palate exaggerated by light body and higher alcohol. Complexity deriving from the wine’s development, with gentle toastiness, tobacco and black pepper.

ST. ESTEPHE

High level of grainy tannins and acidity together with a distinctive lightness and persistent dryness make these wines rather unapproachable at present. Some subtle red and black fruit favours with hints of savoury notes, but could these be potentially great samples for further bottle ageing?

ST. JULIEN

Showing the most complexity already, making these amongst the most exciting wines, with only the crunchy opulent tannnis taming the pleasure. Concentrated black forest berries, black pepper, fresh mint, dark chocolate shavings with savoury richness of smoked meat, tobacco and leather-like hints. Lingering finish with hints of balsamic drops and warming alcohol.

PAUILLAC

Persistent tannins and deep dark forest fruit flavours dominate the mouth-feel at first, then a gentle and pleasant flavour array of succulent fresh blackcurrant, sweet cassis concentrate, toasted oak, sweet spice and a touch of typical pencil shaving.

MARGAUX

Beautifully perfumed aromas of roses and violets with hints of confected sweet cherries – very feminine and the most approachable. Sweet blackberries and juicy plums with all the complexity and balance of the classic left bank.

ST. EMILION

Ripe almost caramelized fruit with odd green notes (uneven ripeness?), rich complexity of spice from black pepper to sweet clove, bitter notes of mocha, dark chocolate and cigar box. Warming alcohol matched by gripping yet fine and chalky tannins.

POMEROL

Fresh blackcurrants and vibrant flavours of cassis, smoke, toasted oak and vanilla spice. Perfect balance between acidity and rich fruit concentration, fine and smooth tannins for the age of the wine.

Many wines were good, some very good but lacked that something exceptional that it is expected from these top growths. I kept thinking – is this the best that Bordeaux can produce? Despite the Bordeaux reputation for aging, I doubt this vintage will benefit from extended bottle time. I agree with some of the comments that have already been written – drink these 2007 while you are waiting for the famous 2009 and 2010 to grow up. There are some exceptions, such as Domaine de Chevalier with its modern (sexy) take on classic Bordeaux, Chateau Batailley for its gentle and elegant style and Chateau Beychevelle for the structure and balance.

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NEGOCIANTS UK PORTFOLIO TASTING

21st BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION – 6th OCTOBER 2011

5th View at Waterstone’s, 203-205 Piccadilly, London, W1J 9HA

I am writing this review of the Negociants tasting sitting next to a toasty fire and it seems a long time ago that I was standing on the top floor of Waterstone’s grand building overlooking Piccadilly enjoying wine in the late summer sun.

The tasting included some of the best Australian and New Zealand treasures and was conveniently organised by region, from Marlborough to Hunter Valley. I was pleased to find out that Ara – a single estate winery based in Marlborough – is one of the new additions to the portfolio and even more pleased to taste the 2010 range. This was the last vintage (I believe) which the talented Damien Martin was in charge of before his sudden and unexpected departure earlier this year.

Another newish addition is Brokenwood from Hunter Valley – an old favourite of mine from my time working at Oddbins.

Brokenwood ILR Semillon 2006 – the subtle nose is like cinderella’s cloak hiding her gorgeous dress – exuberant and juicy citrusy flavours, freshly picked white blossoms with a touch of seductive melting caramel notes. This is a delightfully balanced and sherry–like wine with a bright acidity that lingers.

Brokenwood Graveyard Shiraz 2009 – a smart and beautifully made Shiraz, the way everyone should experience this grape variety. A bit richer and more concentrated than the Hunter Valley Shiraz 2009, but both true dynamites.

The stars of the show were the delightful wines from Yalumba. Robert Hill Smith is the 5th generation Yalumba proprietor and vigneron. Also present was the one and only straight-talking Jane Ferrari – a Yalumba champion whose insightful blog yalumbastories.wordpress.com is always a great read. Despite my intention to taste all the Yalumba wines, there was not enough time and here are the highlights.

Yalumba Y Series Vermentino 2011 – a light, crispy, aromatic and refreshing white designed to match seafood dishes and, as David Cross from Esbeck House & Restaurant points out, it tastes particularly good with sardines.

Yalumba The Cigar Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 – luckily no similarity to a cigar, instead a smooth and silky Cab with deliciously juicy fruits and boisterous tannins.

Yalumba The Menzies Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 – an older and more developed Cab that is drinking beautifully now.

Negociants also presented several unique vintages From the Cellar which I should have tasted first – there is a lesson to be learnt from this! Luckily, I was able to compare Pewsey Vale The Contours Eden Valley Riesling 2001 and 1997 – both real treasures.

This was not just a portfolio tasting but also Negociants 21st celebration, so bubbles were in order at the end and what better way to finish than with a glass of Jansz Rose – or two…

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CLARK FOYSTER ANNUAL PORTFOLIO

TASTING – 29th SEPTEMBER 2011

Institute of Materials, 1 Carlton House Terrace, SW1Y 5DB

The Clark Foyster tasting is like being allowed to enter a sweetshop when you are 5 years old – full of temptation and treats. The event was held in a period room with a tall ceiling and large windows creating a grand atmosphere for wine tasting.

Mac Forbes

The first jar of sweets comes from young, edgy, dynamic and inspirational winemaker, Mac Forbes from Yarra Valley and Strathbogie. Mac is a true champion of Yarra Valley region and its distinctive terroir – check out his video on the Yarra sub-region. Once you taste his wines you get enchanted in a world of dazzling, energetic and delicate flavour combinations you would not expect from sun-baked Australia. There was not a single wine that I would not feel proud to bring to my friends’ dinner yet I must admit that Mac Forbes Gruyere Pinot Noir 2010 (RRP £30) with its remarkable structure and harmonious and charming flavours is my personal winner.

Here are some more of my top favourites:

Gerhaud Pittnauer’s Blaufrankisch, Haideboden in Gols-Burgenland, Austria 2009 – the first vintage under biodynamic certification. The 2009 vintage was so good that this wine truly shines and is a great value for money bargain at RRP £14.

Mas Cristine & Coume del Mas Folio Blanc, Collioure in Roussillon, France 2010 (RRP £21) – made by Dave Cook (assistant winemaker) from 100% Grenache Gris with hints of late harvest notes.

Carlos Lucas

The three Carlos Lucas’s wines Quinta do Ribeiro Santo were amazing, with his 20 yrs of winemaking experience he has decided to produce his own selection of fruity and approachable reds from Dao in Portugal. These are unbelievable wines priced £10 – £15!

Terravin Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, NZ 2010 (RRP £16) – textbook Marlborough – clean, fresh, crisp and exuberant SB.

Felton Road Bannockburn Riesling, Central Otago, NZ 2010 (RRP £17) – with RS 50 g/l this is a luscious beast.

But if you asked me what wine I would take with me on a dessert island then I would have to shout – a case of Sylvain Cathiard et Fils Vosne Romanee 1er Cru Aux Reignots 2008 (RRP £88)!

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WORLD GRENACHE DAY

BLOGGERS’ BREAKFAST – 23rd SEPTEMBER 2011

Smiths of Smithfield, 67-77 Charterhouse Street, London EC1M 6HJ

The current consumers’ wine trend is turning from full-bodied alcoholic reds towards fresher, purer, fruit driven wines made with minimal intervention in the vineyards and during vinification. For this reason one may presume that the Grenache grape variety, renowned for its high level of alcohol, often reaching 15% abv, is not heading for a bright future. Luckily, there are many enthusiasts championing this grape variety across the world and last year the Grenache Symposium was set up with its first G-Day being held in France. The grape is truly international. Winemakers successfully blend it with Carignan, Cinsault, Syrah and Mourvedre in Southern Rhone and Languedoc-Roussillon. Its pale skin is also suited for the production of fruity and elegant rose wines in Provence region. In Spain, where it is known as Garnacha, it is mainly used in production of age-worthy Priorat and Rioja. Furthermore, it is also found in Sardinia where it is called Cannonau. The New World has approached this grape variety as a straight varietal creating some world class wines. It is great that the team Wine Australia in the UK decided to invite a small group of bloggers to celebrate the day – in style!

A group of 12 got together early in the morning to talk about what we like about Grenache and of course tasted through some stunning examples from Australia – which by the way went well with bacon butties and ketchup.

Turkey Flat Grenache, Barossa Valley 2009 14.5% (Importer: Mentzendorff/Winemaker: Peter Schulz) RRP £15.99 – the bulk of the Grenache is from vines planted in 1920 and only the top grapes are selected in production of this wine. The 2009 vintage was great for Grenache – showing lifted fruit and peppery notes. This is a soft, warming, almost luscious & richly concentrated Grenache showing great balance between body weight and grown-up acidity.

Langmeil ‘The Fifth Wave’ Grenache, Barossa Valley 2009 15.5% (Importer: Berkmann) RRP £31.99 – Alex Hunt MW has just discovered this wine and we were one of the first to taste this pre-release. Langmeil is a family owned winery and this particular wine comes from a 2 hectare single vineyard, with low yields and use of new oak; this is a real step up in quality. Has a complex array of flavours from black cherries, black olives, coffee, leather, spices, black pepper & caramel with a good level of tannins and acidity. It is the structure and texture of this wine that makes it to stand above the others in the tasting.

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HALLOWED GROUND

TASTING – 22th SEPTEMBER 2011

At Exhibition Hall House, Australia House, The Aldwych WC2B 4LG

Meeting Amelia Jukes and Elodie Cameron, founders of Hallowed Ground was a real breath of a fresh air. Their innovative and long term business approach to championing Australian and New Zealand wines in the UK is one to be applauded.  These two ladies understand what service and expertise the high-end producers expect and they provide professional sales and marketing support to carefully-selected wineries.  Their choices are driven by consistency of quality, great value for money and mainly, as Elodie and Amelia put it, for their down-right deliciousness. The portfolio stretches from McLaren Vale, Adelaide Hills, Barossa, Mornington Peninsula to Hunter Valley in Australia, and from Marlborough to Central Otago in New Zealand. I tasted all the latest vintage releases during the first Hallowed Ground portfolio tasting hosted in splendid surroundings of the Australian House in the Aldwych and met up with Mike Aylward from Ocean Eight and Rose Kentish from Ulithorne.

Mike Aylward – Ocean Eight

Mike, the winemaker and owner of Ocean Eight recently won the 2011 Young Gun of Wine for his unique approach and quality of wines.  His style reminds me of Burgundy with its purity and delicacy of fresh fruit and sensible use of oak (no new oak used) yet very approachable one year after the harvest.  What a great achievement and well-deserved Mike! I was lucky to visit the winery in Mornington Peninsula last year and was familiar with his wines so knew what a treat they are. I distinctively remember the sparkling wine that welcomed us with a platter of oysters but as only 80 dozen are produced annually this style has never made it in the UK (yet anyway).

2010 Ocean Eight Verve Chardonnay (only 800 dozen) RRP £24.99 – first vintage under screw cap (conscious decision as Mike explains) this is an essence of deliciousness. Aromas of sunshine kissed Sicilian lemons, and gentle pressed nectarines followed up be bright flavours of freshly cut lemons, limes and mandarins with underlying minerality and pure clean finish. Perfect for drinking now.

2009 Ocean Eight Pinot Noir (1000 dozen) RRP £26.99 – full of fresh sour cherries and plums. 2009 was early picked so this wine shows racy backbone acidity, balance and silky texture. Great food wine.

2008 Aylward Pinot Noir – richer and more concentration style of PN full of dark fruit and sweet spice with marathon-like finish

2007 Aylward Pinot Noir – due to the challenging vintage not all the bunches were ripe when picked and this has caused more rapid development then expected showing flavours of orange, clementine, raspberry with hints of truffle and spice

Rose Kentish – Ulithorne

Rose Kentish, the winemaker and owner of Ulithorne from McLaren Vale is probably the most known for Frux Frugis Shiraz but I have also found out that her passion is to make Rose style wine. This passion took her travelling to Provence where some of the best and most respected Rose styles are produced. She also travelled to Corsica where she made her second vintage of Vermentinu (white wine).

2005 Ulithorne Frux Frugis Shiraz (only 900 dozen) RRP £24.99 – from a single vineyard and so popular that only 50 cases are left available in the UK now. Rose believes that this wine should only be released when the wine is ready and for that reason she presented her 2005 vintage and not the current release 2008 vintage. The 2005 is a generous, well-developed wine with big flavours and surprising spinal acidity which makes it delicious and well-balanced. Rose suggests that it will benefit from a further 10-15 years of ageing but I am not sure who would have the will power to keep this wine that long.

Here are the highlights of the rest of the portfolio:

Fox Gordon from Barossa Valley shone with its quality consistency but I must admit that the Princess Fiano felt a bit too heavy and curvy on the palate.

2009 Fox Gordon Eight Uncles Shiraz RRP £20.99 – text-book Barossa Valley Shiraz that you cannot go wrong with on any occasion, will age beautifully as seen on 2004 vintage

2009 Fox Gordon Hannah’s Swing Shiraz RRP £20.99 – sweet shop-like aromas full of crème brulee, vanilla, toffee and blueberry jam accompanied with more savoury and spicy flavours, soft tannins and a hint of dark chocolate

Paringa Estate from Mornington Peninsula is a regularly award-winning winery and one well-praised by James Halliday, wining the Australian Winery of the Year 2007.  However, when it comes to my taste the wines seem a touch too oaky and extracted in general.

Tower Estate from Hunter Valley with intriguing wines, especially the whites – Semillon blends and Pinot Gris.

Te Whare Ra from Marlborough is an expert on aromatic whites – namely Riesling and Gewürztraminer.

Surveyor Thomson from the heart of Central Otago is a specialist on Pinot Noir produced from young vines planted in 2000.

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Tokaji Masterclass Tasting

BOUTIQUE WINERIES

TASTING – 20th SEPTEMBER 2011

Business Design Centre, 52 Upper Street, London N1 0QH

Truth be told, the main reason for joining the Boutique Wineries tasting was to attend Laszlo Alkonyi’s Tokaj Masterclass but I was also intrigued to see what quality of wines would be shown and what kind of clientele would be attracted to a tasting event that specialises in boutique wineries.  I had high expectations as exclusive, high-end, specialised, one-of-a-kind and niche wines are always a pleasure to learn about.

When I arrived at noon I was surprised to find the tasting room rather bare, normally by this time the place should have been buzzing with tasters and the sound of clinking glasses. The tasting took place in the Gallery Hall on the first floor but the atmosphere was lacking vibe and sparkle.  I am not sure why this was as the wines presented definitely deserved attention.

Laszlo Alkonyi

Before I tell you about  the Tokaj Masterclass I should introduce Laszlo Alkonyi.  He was chief editor of a Hungarian Journal established in 1996 and has written a controversial book on Tokaj which caused a scandal back in 2000.  In it, he expressed his views on the Hungarian wine industry and how it needed to change. Although he is passionate and knowledgeable about the Tokaj region it somehow felt a shame that his presentation here involved him reading word for word from a sheet of paper.

Tokaj history is very remarkable and as Laszo points out ‘’is a unique wine region that cannot be compared to any other’’.  It has fought for its freedom for over 500 years from the Turks from South, the Habsburgs from North and long-lasting occupation by Nazi Germany and after the WW2 the Soviet Union.

The first Aszu wine as we know them now – sweet with RS 60 g/l and up – was established in the 1500s mainly for the Turks benefit, however for the next 400 years there has been real lack of innovation.  So that when Hungary declared its Independence in 1991, there was much to be done in the way of development.  Only one cooperative was in operation as the official wine-maker supplying Russia as the main export market.  Lazslo stresses: ‘’No quality wine was made, as there was no need or understanding what this quality wine should be like.’’   The first quality dry wine from Furmint grapes was produced in 2000, steadily coming back to fashion and the last 10 years have been focussed on improving the quality and finesse of dry wines with help of foreign investment, the key for growth of individual wineries.

The classification of the region is based on terroir similar to the Burgundy classification where the vineyards/site are ranked and not the estates as in Bordeaux. The official historical classification has not been documented well and for that reason a web page (www.tokajwine.net) ”whose main purpose is to assess the classification, identify old growing sites and define their original borders’’ Laszlo explains.

There are 3 main Tokaji wine types (not including the dry style) – Szamorodni (RS 100 – 120 g/l), Aszu and Eszencia (RS 500 – 700 g/l) – made from Furmint  and/or Harslevelu grape varieties, varying in ageing method and the level of residual sugar – however all equally unpronounceable!  The berries are affected by noble rot while on the vine and once pressed can achieve up to whapping  700 g/l of residual sugar and endless flavours of Seville orange marmelade, grilled ripe pineapple and sweet exotic spice – delicious!

And on that note, the tasting (of four gems – all produced from 100% Furmint) was really enjoyable. Unusually we tasted wine in order of Tokaj wine development and not, as I expected, according to the level of sweetness.

Tokaji Aszu 6 puttonyos  2005 (Winery: Disznoko/ Vineyard: Kapi/ RS 165 g/l) – only two vintages were made (1995 and 2005), sweet golden nectar with attractive flavours of smooth honey, hot caramel, ripen lemons, apples and pears and luscious lingering finish

Tokaji Szamorodni 2008 (Winery: Barta Pince/ Vineyard: Kiraly/ RS 120 g/l) – practically refreshing stuff to compare to the Azsu wine – great balance between sherbet-like natural acidity and rich & sweet concentration of vanilla, white chocolate and honey flavours

Tokaji Furmint 2008 (Winery: Demeter Zoltan/ Vineyard: Lapis/ RS 3.5 g/l) – dry Furmint has a beautifully refreshing acidity complimented by subtle aromas and flavours of lemon, apples, pear and grapes but rather warming and persistent level of alcohol with cognac-like notes

Tokaji Eszencia 2000 (Winery: Demeter Zoltan/ RS 501 g/l) – bright amber colour and treacle like texture is the first giveaway of what is to come but not even this prepared me for the explosion of highly concentrated aromas and flavours full of exotic fruit, ripen mandarins, orange marmalade, burnt caramel, molasses and stewed spiced apples

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ANNUAL WINE OF ARGENTINA 

TASTING – 14th SEPTEMBER 2011

Lord’s Cricket Ground, London, NW8 8QN

It may not pay well, but the advantage of being a ‘wine blogger’ (without attachment to any organisation or business) is that you can truly express your own opinions, and you can stay in touch with your wine mates at tastings. London is packed full of them! Earlier this week I went to the Argentinean tasting at Lords – one of my favourite tasting venues. I took part in Peter McCombie’s masterclass on Argentina’s red blends, was pleasantly surprised to meet Rodrigo Arizu and taste through his inspiring Vina Alicia range, and I discovered some unique blends showing the development of winemaking and changing attitudes in Argentina. Shame though not to see more winemakers present or more enthusiasm from the UK agents representing their wines.

The scene as usual: crispy white cloth covered tables with proudly displayed bottles, national accounts doing the meerkat impression and watching out for the key buyers, sommeliers sniffing their glasses and smacking their lips, and bloggers scribbling their notes eagerly. It’s a jungle out there, but one that I quite enjoy!

The Peter McCombie masterclass, themed around Argentinean red blends, was informative, focussed and witty. The Familia Schroeder 2009 Patagonian blend of 54% Pinot Noir and 46% Malbec just did not work – overpowering aromas of coconut and marzipan on the nose is not what one would expect from Pinot Noir or Malbec for that matter. The blend did not do justice to either of the grapes, certainly not for £30. Pulenta Gran Corte 2007 from Alto Agrelo in Lujan de Cuyo is actually a great drinking wine now – delicate with good structure, complex flavours and well priced at £22. This together with O.Fournier A Crux Blend 2004 from Uco Valley and Colome Estate 2009 Malbec with a touch of Tannat from Salta were definitely my favourites, all in their own way. Jose Manuel Ortega is an expert when it comes to Tempranillo and his blends with Malbec. Colome are well-known for the world’s highest vineyards at 2,000 – 3,100 m above the sea level and this unique climate creates fresh characterful wines with well defined tannins. Probably the best value for money was the Malbrontes 2010 Vista Flores from Uco Valley. Under a tenner, this Malbec blend with 5% of Torrontes which was co-fermented in stainless steel works beautifully, similar to Northern Rhone blends of Shiraz with Viognier. Torrontes, like Viognier, brings the refreshing brightness and floral notes to the reds and even in a small dose of 5% it gives the wine a lovely aromatic perfume.

Rodrigo Arizu and Christian Rothhardt

The highlight of the tasting was meeting Rodrigo Arizu, the fourth generation winemaker for Vina Alicia from Lujan de Cuyo and also the owner of Luigi Bosca. This tall, rather attractive and very friendly winemaker talked passionately about the wines he makes and insisted we try the whole range. Starting with Vina Alicia Tiara, a white blend of 50% Riesling, 40% Albarino & 10% Savagnin – off-dry, juicy with bright exotic flavours and a lingering finish – I would class this as ‘thinking’ wine. Paso De Piedra Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (6 months oak age) £17 and Vina Alicia Morena (88% Cabernet Sauvignon 12% Cabernet Franc) 2007 £29 are both great examples that Argentina is not just a one trick pony with Malbec but can make some priceless Cabernets (eg. Valentin Bianchi Cabernet from San Rafael at £9.99 was a good value for money I thought). Vina Alicia Malbec 2007 (12 months oak age) £29 – probably the most memorable Malbec on the day, with its typical flavours of sweet juicy dark fruit and earthy & mineral undertones. One perfect package. Rodrigo also makes wine from 100% Nebbiolo – the only Nebbiolo vines in Argentina that are still pre-phylloxera. The 2006 is a robust wine at 15% abv and with 12 months oak ageing, this wine will benefit from further bottle ageing. Let’s just hope that the acidity will remain to lift up the freshness and keep the wine in a balance. The top Rodrigo wine is Vina Alicia Brote Negro (‘Black Shoot’) 2007 made from 100% Malbec and oak aged for 14 months. At £66 a bottle, this is not cheap and the value is debatable but the wine has plenty of guts and a deep richness to be remembered even after just a small sip. I am not surprised that Christian Rothhardt, founder of Ruta 40 (Argentinean online specialist), is proud to represent these wines exclusively in the UK.

Next to Vina Alicia was Aurelio Montes Jr, the winemaker of Kaiken wines whose wines I have always admired, mainly for their ability to achieve high quality at very reasonable prices showing the wine world what amazing results can be achieved under £10. Kaiken Reserva 2010 blend of 90% Malbec 10% Cabernet Sauvignon from Uco Valley must be the best Argentinean red for £8 in my book!

Next September, I would like to see more Bonarda based wines as this grape can produce outstanding wines at premium level and is a great point of difference for Argentina. It has been explained to me in Mendoza that Bonarda is seen as rather a ‘peasant’ grape and is not taken seriously by many winemakers but after tasting a few well selected samples I strongly believe that this grape has a great potential. Who is up for a challenge? Let me know if you have tasted decent Bonarda recently – who makes it, where you got it and why you liked it.

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STEPHEN & PRUE HENSCHKE

TASTING ORGANISED BY ENOTRIA – 12th SEPTEMBER 2011

Bistro du Vin, Soho

The Henschke name does not need any introductions. However, not many people may be aware of the amazing range of wines (mainly from single vineyards) that Prue and Stephen produce from Semillon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris to Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Grenache, Mourvedre. Probably the most iconic wine is Hill of Grace – from a 5ha single vineyard growing 140 years old Shiraz vines that can make some of the most delicious and concentrated reds. I had the pleasure to visit the Hill in Eden Valley last year, so when Romain from Bistro du Vin invited me to join the tasting in Soho I did not need much persuading. Here are my 3 top wines.

Innes Pinot Gris 2009, Littlehampton, Adelaide Hills – intriguing wine with fragnant white flower and peach flavours complemented by sweet spice, savoury and nutty hints. Well-balanced with possibly a touch low acidity and a touch high alcohol. But very much a thinking wine for me.

Keyneton Estate Euphonium 2005, Eden Valley – blend of Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc full of sweet juicy cherries, ripe plums and blackberries. Elegant nectar of red and black fruit flavours, chocolate and smoky notes.

Cyril Henschke Cabernet 2005, Eden Valley – complex and rich concentration of sweet blackcurrants and cherries, depth of flavour and texture is well-balanced by fresh acidity, and hints of mint, smoke and black pepper.

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THE DIRTY DOZEN

IMPORTER TASTING – 7th SEPTEMBER 2011

Dartmouth House, 37 Charles Street, London W1J 5ED

The Dirty Dozen showcased one of the best selection of wines I have ever come across at a single tasting. From yeasty bubblies, pinky Pinot Gris, savoury Savennieres, appley Gruner Vetliners, unpronounceable Corsican blends to delicate Blaufrankish, Italian beauties and juicy Spanish, my palate was treated to a star-like treatment. What a shame that the tasting room had to be changed at the last minute and we ended up in a tiny courtyard which was so small there was no space to breath. It did not help that the majority of today’s tasters were tall, big-bellied sweaty men. As the day proceeded more and more enthusiasts arrived and by 2pm it was not possible to get to wines, spittoons or producers. Nevertheless, there were some amazing sips that I will treasure and here are just some of them.

It was a real pleasure to chat to Mike Eaton, the winemaker for Terravin wines from Marlborough. Both his Sauvignon Blancs 2010, one fresher style with only 9% being fermented in oak and the second richer and more complex, are superb classy Kiwi wines. Together with a Pinot Noir these wines are distributed by Clark Foyster Wines in the UK.

Roger Pouillon NV Champagne ‘Nature de Mareuil 1er Cru’ from Astrum Wine Cellars is an equal blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir – full of ageing yeasty flavours, delicate mouth-feel and long lingering finish.

Marco Sara 2009 ‘Pinogris’ from Friuli, Italy supplied by Aubert & Mascoli is a gentle yet complex wine with a bright pink salmon colour and full of rich orange flavours and smoky & spicy undertones.

Castello di Neive 2010 Arneis ‘Montebertotto’ from Piedmont in Italy from Fortyfive 10 – is just beautiful stuff.

Domaine Bruno Colin 2007 Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru ‘Morgeot’ from H2vin – fresh and clean, rich with limey flavours, mineral undertones and smooth oak integration.

Weingut Moric 2008 Blaufrankisch ‘Moric Reserve’ from Burgenland in Austria from Clark Foyster Wines – showing fresh acidity, clean fruit and rich concentration in good balance.

Gut Oggau 2009 Neusiedlersee ‘Atanasius’ from Burgenland in Austria supplied by Dynamic Vines.

My old favourite 4Kilo Vinicola from Mallorca from Indigo Wine.

But the best slurp of them all must be Champagne Doyard NV ‘Cuvee Vendremiare’ – richly yeasty with complex flavours of orange marmalade, sweet spice, caramel and honey. Mmmmmm

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LIBERTY WINES

PREMIUM AUSTRALIAN TASTING – 6th SEPTEMBER 2011

Smith of Smithfields, 66 – 77 Charterhouse Street, London EC1H 6HJ

It was great to see so many winemakers present at the Liberty Australian wine tasting which made this event a huge success. Each winemaker brought an inspirational wine – mainly French wines and a couple of Italian samples which was a fun twist and a good talking point. It seemed that no one cared about the unseemly weather outside with so many exceptional wines to slurp through and much catching up to do with friends.

Here are few of my highlights.

Bill Downie’s luscious Petit Manseng 2009 was a pure expression of this man’s vision. Visiting Bill’s ‘shed’ last year in Gippsland was my first introduction to this ambitious winemaker, and I was keen to taste his latest vintage. Bill follows his own instinct, using both organic and biodynamic practices and minimising any interference during fermentation, allowing the fruit and the terroir to do the talking. No surprise then that he is producing one of the most enticing wines – from carefully selected sides in the Yarra Valley, Gippsland and Mornington Peninsula – and capturing the regional differences in his Pinot Noirs. The 2010 vintage showed great balance of gently perfumed aromas, fresh fruit and savoury & mineral flavours underlined by delicate mouth-feel. We were also lucky to try Bill’s 2005 Yarra Valley PN which just shows how well these wines develop with some patient bottle ageing. And his inspiration choice of wine? The 2004 Emmanuel Houillon Ploussard Arbois Pupillin Maison Pierre Overnoy – a natural wine from the Jura with a touch of cloudiness but exceptional taste. Now this might be slightly controversial but I must admit this was the best wine of the tasting for me.

The best discovery was tasting through Greenstone Vineyards wines from Heathcote. Alberto Antonini (winemaker) and Mark Walpole (viticulturist) can create a magic from Shiraz and Sangiovese. Both 2007 and 2009 vintages were amazingly pure wines full of personality and delicacy.

Italian inspiration is widely spread across McLaren Vale and family owned Mitolo winery is yet another great example. Jester McLaren Vale Vermentino 2011, naturally fermented to 10% abv is a fresh, young wine full of citrusy flavours and exceptional acidity. Mitolo reds are rich and robust wines with a high level of alcohol reaching up to 15% abv. It is yet to be seen what approach Andre Bondar, the winemaker, will take when producing his first vintage at Mitolo but his experience from Nepenthe and his friendly and enthusiastic character will guide him well.

Tim James has been making Willunga 100 wines for the last 3 years and he understands well what quality can be achieved at this price range. ‘The Tithing’ McLaren Vale Grenache 2009 is a gutsy red full of exciting flavours and rather impressive at the price.

Meeting Zar Brooks is always a pleasure. His bubbly personality precedes him and is possibly reflected in the wines he creates with his wife, Elena Brooks. Dandelion Vineyards wines are approachable , well-crafted and inspiring.

Another prize for being a friendly and smiley winemaker must go to Stephanie Toole who is also the owner of Mount Horrocks in Clare Valley. Her Rieslings are just amazing from bone-dry to Cordon Cut sweet style. Watervale Semillon 2010 was full of complex flavours of freshly cut grass, green plums, tomatoes, white flowers and honey.

Talking to Vanya Cullen, the winemaker for Cullen in Margaret River, she adds that the winery is now fully certified organic, biodynamic and carbon neutral. The highlights for me? Mangan Vineyard Margaret River Semillon/SB 2010, Mangan Margaret River Malbec/Petit Verdot/Merlot 2009 and Diana Madeline Margaret River Cab. Sauv./Cab. Franc/Merlot/Malbec 2009.

And lastly, I was intrigued by the labelling on Jeffrey Grosset’s Riesling. He helpfully inserts the words ‘off-dry’ on the front label so that consumers know what to expect. His passion for Riesling does not stop there as he admits that he is a co-founder of the International Riesling Foundation which is worth checking out. Both Polish Hill Clare Valley Riesling 2011 (bone dry style with clean minerality, citrusy lively acidity and exploding fruit flavours) and Off-dry Watervale Riesling 2010 were just superb.

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