Ξ October 25th, 2009 | → 1 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, International Terroirs, Wine News |
A fine Saturday afternoon in October saw the first outing for Wine on the Tyne, a new wine consortium in the North East of England made up to showcase the diverse range of wines available from 8 independent retailers.
The Sir Bobby Robson suite in St James’s Park, home of Newcastle United Football Club, was the venue for a 5 hour marathon tasting session of over 80 wines from most of the main wine countries. Unlike previous Newcastle Wine Fairs (organised by Chris Powell of the Newcastle Wine School) this was an independent event with no supermarkets or national retailers.
It wasn’t just the Wine on the Tyne banner that was new, with 4 of the 8 businesses trading for less than a year and 2 presenting to the public for the first time since start-up. Taking part were;
– Carruthers & Kent – a new start-up with Claire Carruthers, formerly manager of a local Oddbins who has featured on these pages before. The C&K range covered the New World including Australia’s Willunga 100 & Mount Horrocks and Chile’s Viña Chocalán.
– Castello Italian Food & Wines – one of the established “old guard” serving a solid and diverse range of Italian wines, including the Piemontese Cossetti family vineyard.
– Lovely Bubbly – fizz only from Fiona Amann and her range of small family Champagne houses.
– Portovino – I’ve already discussed Alan Holmes & Paul Raven’s new Portuguese venture in a recent Greybeard’s Corner and it was good to see more of their range on the table here, including several from the Companhia das Quintas group.
– Proteas Wines – This new company specialises in South African wine and was set up by Tony Raven, brother of PortoVino’s Paul. Their range is championed by Klippenkop (an export label for the Robertson Winery) and Umkhulu (a brand name for a South African internet based merchant cybercellar.co.za).
– Spanish Spirit – My “local” and a firm favourite for the Spanish component of my cellar. Bodegas Hededad Ugarte heads their current range.
– The Hop, The Vine – another newbie concentrating on the New World and especially Australia. What caught my eye was the extent of their full range, over 150 wines, of which they’d brought 18 to the event including the only North American presence in the room with the Snoqualmie Winery Sauvignon Blanc and a Domaine Ste. Michelle sparkling.
– Tyne Wines – Irwin Thompson has been flying the flag for small independent French producers for several years now, concentrating on Burgundy and the Rhône.
With so many wines to choose from there was plenty of opportunity to compare styles and varieties so I spent a few minutes comparing the sheets before deciding on the best route round the room, keeping to a varietal theme as much as possible.
South Africa was first with the Klippenkop 2009 Chenin Blanc. Tony Raven also had a cream & berry Pinotage Rosé and a simplistic Cinsault-Shiraz red from the Klippenkop range, but the Chenin was most memorable if only for the fact that it smelled and tasted of Sauvignon Blanc! It was a good wine, light and dry with some pineapple custard on the nose, but so atypical for a Chenin that I changed my plans and headed for the nearest Sauvignon Blanc to compare it against! I didn’t have far to go, as Proteas were also presenting the MAN Vintners 2007 Sauvignon, but this was uninspiring with a musky/savoury nose and simple flavour, so it was onto the Chilean Calbucco 2008 Sauvignon from Carruthers & Kent which was much more what was expected from the grape with a rich, pungent nose, dry, somewhat tart but a fruity mid-palate. Finally on to The Hop, The Vine where the Snoqualmie 2006 Washington Sauvignon added subtle, bitter flavours with a big honey finish. It was probably my favourite of the group though nearly as varietally atypical as the Klippenkop Chenin was to start with.
Other whites of interest included a powerful and strongly oaked Mount Horrocks 2008 Semillon and the mixed fruit of the Tanca su Contissa 2008 Vermentino Superiore by Cantina Trexenta. However my “best white of the afternoon” was shared between Spain and Italy after a hard fought battle. Spain provided the burnt orange delight of the Villa Narcisa 2006 Verdejo, Fermentado en Barrica, by Javier Sanz. I’ve had this before both at home and at Spanish Spirit tastings but this was the first time I noticed an extra richness of flavour with orange peel and bitter tangerine aspects coming through. On the nose you could almost mistake it for a dessert wine and the full texture may put some people off, but I found it a delight!
Italy countered this with the Cossetti 2008 Roero Arneis from Piemonte. Extremely fruity on the nose this was a stunning wine with complex, dry, honeyed stone-fruit flavours.
There was a brief Rosé interlude (the Reinares 2008 Tempranillo Rosado and Klippenkop Pinotage Shiraz Rosé were both very enjoyable) before I moved onto the serious business of red tasting and the tannic oak monster that was the Two Hands 2007 “Angel’s Share” Shiraz. There was plenty of fruit locked away which may get a chance to shine in a few years although it was a little hot on the finish and definitely needed more bottle age. I spent the next few minutes rinsing the oak splinters from my mouth before continuing, so it was with great relief that I landed at the PortoVino table and the two soothing glasses of red that came with the 2008 Gaiao and the 2005 Azamor, both Vinho Regional Alentejo.
The Gaiao, a Trincadeira, Aragonez and Alicante Bouchet blend, had a creamy, berry-fruit nose which reminded me of a rosé, although more concentrated. It was well balanced in the mouth, very easy drinking with subtle tannins. The Azamor contains Syrah, Merlot, Touriga Nacional, Trincadeira, Alicante Bouschet, Mouverdre and Petit Verdot. In spite (or because?) of this confused mix it was very smooth with some menthol on the nose and a hint of liquorice; more complex than the Gaiao but equally drinkable, as my partner Sarah confirmed (she who does not drink red wine!).
Moving onto something stronger and Malbec was the next variety under the spotlight beginning with Ferngrove’s 2006 “The King” from Western Australia. This was very elegant with a spicy complex nose and subtle flavours, drinking well now but with good grip and ageing potential.
A quick jump over the Tasman Sea for a blend from New Zealand, the Cable Bay 2006 Five Hills. Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and a splash of Cabernet Franc combined to give a muted nose with a little white pepper, while in the mouth it was meaty with medium tannins and good complexity.
Westwards to South Africa next for the Umkhulu 2002 Malbec which had eucalyptus on the nose and a suggestion of smoothness which was translated in the mouth; gentle and warming this was well made with mild tannins. Bottelary is cited as the origin of the grapes and is home to Bellevue Estate which Umkhulu use as one of their major suppliers.
Finally across the South Atlantic to the spiritual home of the grape, Argentina, with the Altos Las Hormigas 2008 Malbec from Mendoza. On the swirl this looked very young and had a smoky, meaty nose and a burnt aspect on the taste. It was a touch too tannic and although obviously young I had some doubts as to whether there was enough fruit to carry it past the next couple of years.
In general I was very impressed with the quality of the Malbec based wines, with the Ferngrove just pipping the Umkhulu – if only because the South African was nearing the end of its life while “The King” had definitely not left the building.
It’s worth noting that not many local retailers hold stock with much bottle age, so the accolade of “most venerable wine” this day went to the enjoyable Monte Toro 1997 Reserva from Spanish Spirit. There was a hint of liquorice and it was drinking well with a mix of secondary flavours, although probably it has now past its peak and should be drunk within the next year or so.
Champagne had a table dedicated to it with Fiona Amann from Lovely Bubbly offering tastes and background on their small producers. Although I’m not a sparkling wine fan I tasted a couple and was suitably impressed; the Lancelot Pienne Cuvée Rosé had a fine mousse and a delightful berry & marzipan component while Georges Vesselle’s 2003 Brut Zero was dry with apples and a lovely hint of cinnamon.
We finished off with the dessert course, and there were 3 sweet & fortified wines to try.
The Mount Horrocks 2008 Cordon Cut Riesling had an oily nose and was a typical sweet Riesling, no surprises there, so over to Portugal and the fortified Muscatel da Setúbal, from Casa Ermelinda Freitas in the Terras do Sado, south of Lisbon. This had a burnt orange nose and was sweet and slightly hot, with raisins on the finish, a very enjoyable treat; however the best was kept until last, with the Full Fronti from Pertaringa Vineyards from the McLaren Vale. Frontignac is the Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains variety, named for the Languedoc town of Frontignan which is famous for its fortified Muscat. Australia has taken the variety and style to heart and the Full Fronti is a powerful 20 year old wine with a massive attack of raisins on the nose which continues into the thick, sweet taste with toffee and chocolate aspects. A revisit to The Hop, The Vine table for refills of this nectar was required, and Sarah repeated this several times.
You may have noticed the absence of any mention of Tyne Wines. This was primarily because Irwin Thompson only arrived for the last hour or so of the event after just flying in from Australia. He would have been earlier had the car carrying the wines for the tasting not broken down en-route! I did manage a fine glass of his “La Roche” 2005 Pouilly Fuissé by Domaine Chataigneraie-Laborier but before I’d realised it 5 hours had come and gone and I had only managed 45 of the wines on offer (still the most I’ve done in one session) -I definitely need more practice at the bigger tasting events and I wasn’t spitting anywhere near enough (as the quality of my note taking at the end will testify). I can only hope the bottles I missed didn’t include anything earth-shattering and hopefully I’ll get a chance to try them in the future when this group gets together again.
As for all these new businesses starting; the increase in choice is encouraging for local wine enthusiasts, but it is also a little worrying – is the North East wine market big enough to support all these new ventures? Only time will tell, meanwhile I will enjoy what is available.