The year is winding its way towards the Christmas and in the northern reaches of England winter’s icy touches are already starting to be felt, but as Europe and America’s wine now sits in tank and barrel there’s still plenty of news and views to look at in the wine world.
Towards the end of November a controlled burn of bush in Western Australia’s Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park suddenly became uncontrolled and advanced on the Margaret River area. The enquiry into the fires has just begun in Australia and, while there was understandable concern in the initial reporting on how this may affect vineyards and wineries in the region, in the end the damage was contained mainly within the National Park and only a few hectares of vineyard were “scorched or singed” as detailed in the recent Margaret River Wine Industry Association media release.
Also at the end of November Tim Atkin penned a thought-provoking piece on his website entitled “Who pays wine critics?”. Although a good article in its own right he briefly mentioned the controversy surrounding Jay Miller’s $15,000 lecture fee during a Spanish tour, broken by Jim Budd on his blog in August. That story resurfaced and then exploded a few days later into what is now being called by some as Murciagate, by others as Campogate (after Pancho Campo, the Spanish MW with his own history of controversy, who many view as being more deserving of the criticism) when it was announced that Miller was leaving the Wine Advocate. It has since become clear that the retirement had been planned for many months but the badly judged timing of the announcement has just re-fuelled the controversy – go to Jim’s Loire to see a whole series of posts on this ongoing saga. It should also be pointed out that Miller’s palate was not always appreciated and that his departure has been regarded as a positive step by some.
As for the Wine Advocate, on the back of Robert Parker’s frank review of his reputation at Wine Future Hong Kong from early November, Neil Martin replaces Miller’s Spanish and South American tasting roles, while David Schildknecht covers Washington and Oregon, bringing an end to a hectic year at the office for Robert Parker which began with Antonio Galloni taking over California duties from man himself.
Elsewhere in the world and South Africa producers are looking to ensure the future quality of Cap Classique Sparkling wines by formalising a new quality charter with lees ageing guidelines and introduction of “Superieur” for top examples- funny how they like the French terminology! Meanwhile Swiss researchers at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne have dissected what every wine lover does without thinking – swirling the wine in the glass to release the aromas – with their detailed investigations of orbital agitation and wave dynamics. It seems that this type of fluid shaking is critical in large scale cell culture bioreactors so the research isn’t as daft as it first sounded!
Over here in the UK and the newly resurrected Oddbins (albeit trimmed down with less National coverage than before) is courting media attention with innovative consumer events and marketing. The Drinks Business reported on the revamp to their wines. I, like many, wish this new Oddbins well although a lot of UK consumers still associate the it with the business that closed earlier in the year, even though the name and most of the remaining stores were completely bought out by Raj Chatha’s European Food Brokers (EFB) Group who have no links to the previous disgraced administration (run by Simon Baile). It would also appear that Baile’s own venture, ex-Cellars, is not doing so well either, with Jim Budd’s recent posting showing a close-down of at least two of the stores it bought on Oddbins deathbed.
On a lighter note it seems that twice as many UK consumers are happy with wines under screwcap compared to 8 years ago, according to a Wine Intelligence press release which goes on to confirm that natural cork is still the preferred closure. The report summary doesn’t mention the figures for that abomination that is the plastic cork.
As for myself, recent weeks have been relatively kind. Two local retailers have held comprehensive supplier tastings; first Carruthers and Kent with their 1st Annual Wine Fair and then Morpeth store Bin21 with a Remembrance Day event which, when combined, gave me over 120 tasting notes to work through. I also feel like I’ve been stalking Marta Mateus of MartaVine as we’ve now met up at both of those tastings plus the Durham Food Festival, Living North Christmas Fair and Hexham Christmas Fair! With the Festive Season upon us it’s never a bad idea to know a Portuguese Wine merchant and her Lágrima white Port from Quinta do Portal will definitely be appreciated over the holiday period.
As for the NEWTS then the last two meetings have been very heavy on the reds beginning with Grenache blends, where France went up against Australia in a closely matched and very enjoyable evening which saw the extracted yet elegant & complex John Duval 2007 Plexus come out as overall favourite and the meaty yet subtle Domaine De la Janasse 2004 Terres d’Argile Cotes du Rhone Villages taking best QPR at £12.95. The next tasting was a Bordeaux blends theme, with wines sourced from Majestic, which saw three French wines (including two Pauillacs) up against a selection of Old and New World. France fared less well here, with Spain and South Africa showing more character at the price points, and Australia’s Petaluma taking the group vote with the spicy, rich and smooth 2007 Coonawarra Red.
The first Christmas event of 2011 was also a NEWTS affair with the usual BYO dinner at the Newcastle College Chef’s Academy restaurant, where some delicious food was matched by equally delicious wines from the Society members. At our table a crisp Frédéric Mochel 2008 Cuvée Henriette Alsace Riesling was alongside a rich, oaky Catena Alta 2008 Chardonnay from Mendoza; the young and fruity Domaine de la Janasse 2005 Terres d’Argile Cotes du Rhone Villages contrasted to the aged, chocolate tannins of the Barossa Valley Estate 1996 E&E Black Pepper Shiraz; and the smooth, raisined Terre di Zagara 2004 Passito di Pantelleria offset the sharply acidic but immensely sweet Magnotta 2006 Vidal Canadian Ice Wine.
Of the 5 or 6 such Chef’s Academy evenings we’ve had with NEWTS this was the by far the best by for the quality of the food and the wine, not to mention some intelligent conversation along the way.
At home and with the last 15 wines I’ve bought recently my shadowing of Marta Mateus shows, with 4 from Portugal – a still white and red plus White & Tawny Ports. Another 4 bottles hail from France; a Provence Roussane, a Mâcon-Villages and a Touraine Sauvignon Blanc for the whites; a Crozes-Hermitage for the reds. The remaining 7 are scattered around the world – Spain, Italy, Austria, Australia and New Zealand – including an intriguing Piave Raboso from the Veneto, a Wagram Grüner Veltliner and a Kiwi Gewürztraminer.
This compares to the 16 wines which were opened in the equivalent time period, predominantly from France (6) and Italy (5) with the remaining 5 from the USA, Canada, Chile and Australia, yet only 4 stood out from the crowd; 2 French whites and 2 reds, one each from California and Australia.
The first white was the Domaine de Palejay 2008 Le Sablet Roussanne, a creamy wine with aspects of sweet melon, a full, rich texture and a honeyed finish. The second was the Couly-Dutheil Blanc de Franc, Cabernet Franc but made in a white style. This curiosity had a slight hint of peach colour in the glass and was richly flavoured with floral and grapefruit notes, a touch of honey for good measure.
For red the Ravenswood Lodi 2006 Old Vine Zinfandel punched well above its £8 price tag with a meaty nose with concentrated plum fruit and oak, fine grain tannins and warming finish. I originally bought this more than 2 years ago but deliberately kept hold of it as I’d previously had the ’03 of the same wine with 5-6 years bottle age and it was delicious. With the ’06 has proving to be same I think it’s time to but the ’09 for drinking sometime around 2015!
The last red was another with some age on it, Tim Adams 2004 The Fergus Grenache which I’ve been sitting on for nearly 5 years. This was smooth with a little liquorice and cherry fruit, gentle acidity and tannins – a joy to drink and a beautiful example of patience amply rewarded.
With more whites bought and more reds opened there was a slight shift in the overall colour of my cellar, which now has 28% white, 53% red and the remaining 19% a selection of Rosé, Sparkling, Sweet and Fortified. Of course whites get the fastest turnover, typically within 6 months of purchase while it is extremely rare for me to open a red so soon after I’ve got it home.
That’s another Greybeard’s Corner review over, much like the year. Like a lot of you I’m about to enter into this food and wine fest that is Christmas, so I’ll hopefully see you on the other side in 2012.
By the time you read this harvests all over the Northern Hemisphere will have ended or be well on their way to finishing. 2011 has been a challenging harvest in both Europe and America but for different weather related reasons.
In Europe vine development was accelerated by as much as 5 weeks due to a mild Spring which, by the end of June, had German and French growers cancelling their August vacations in anticipation of a ripe, full crop. Then the weather changed; with Northern Europe going through a wet, cool and downright stormy couple of months while Southern Europe experience a heat-wave, neither scenario optimal for gentle grape ripening and threatening to ruin the 2011 vintage. Finally an Indian Summer at the end of September recovered the quality, if not the quantity, in the North with the harvest ending up 2-3 weeks ahead of normal.
Italy looks to be about 10% down in volume with the heat meaning higher sugar levels and potential alcohol needing management. Wines from Spain report an inconsistent vintage with low yields (Rioja down by 20%) and CataVino include some reports from Portugal indicating good quality from what’s been harvested so far.
Inconsistency sums up France as well, especially Bordeaux where The Drinks Business (db) also uses “Challenging” and calls it “A Winemakers Year” (code for “you’d better know what you’re doing in the winery”). At least we won’t be getting another “vintage of the century” out of the Bordelais for 2011. There is a similar prediction for Germany as well, with Rupert Millar’s db article saying this year “will separate the men from the boys”. As if contending with the weather wasn’t bad enough one Pfalz winemaker saw €100,000 of Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) grapes stolen overnight – grape rustling is sadly becoming a more common event!
England seems to have fared better (summer storms were less destructive here) with the recent hot weather just in time to ripen the grapes, as reported in The Telegraph. The English harvest is going to be down on 2009 and 2010 (both good years for quantity) but with possibly the ripest grapes in a decade.
Over in North America and the summer hardly got started – “the summer that never was” – with minimal sun leading to delayed ripening and lower sugar levels, followed by persistent wet weather as autumn arrived. Jon Bonné wrote a good overview piece on SFGate; in Oregon Dana Tims writes of a stoical yet optimistic view of the harvest; while in California the concern is whether enough grapes will survive rot to make it into the bottle, as discussed by Tim Fish and Augustus Weed in the Wine Spectator. At least Mexico seems to have had a smoother time of it!
Jancis Robinson’s recent FT piece “No one forecast this …” summarizes some of this in her own inimitable style, but of course we won’t really know what this means for 2011 wines until they come out of the tanks and barrels into bottle.
Wine News: It would be wrong not to mention the passing of Daniel Rogov, Israel’s foremost wine critic. As the internet becomes the go-to resource for most wine consumers Rogov took that one step further and effectively posted his own obituary on his wine forum hosted by WineLovers Discussion Group. It will be interesting to see if a forum so closely aligned to the life and tastes of one man can continue after his death, a snapshot of the future for everyone’s on-line presence.
September also saw 11 new Masters of Wine announced taking the total number of MWs to 300 worldwide.
The rights of whether wine made in Beaujolais can be labelled as Burgundy or not was (partially) resolved by an INAO ruling at the beginning of October as reported by Decanter. The net result is that 43 Beaujolais communes who could previously label their white wines as Bourgogne Blanc can no longer do so, having to use Beaujolais Blanc instead.
While some things change in France some things stay the same over in Italy as “Montalcino says no” to proposals to allow up to 15% of other grape varieties in Rosso di Montalcino, a 100% Sangiovese wine from Tuscany. Victoria Moore added her comments on “Pleasing the Purists” in The Telegraph.
North East wine: The biggest news has to be the 1st Northumbria Food and Wine Festival which finally came together over the 7-9th October weekend after the year-long saga surrounding whether the 2nd NorthEast Wine Festival would be held at all (it wasn’t). It was a great gathering of local wine retailers and professionals – a chance to catch up with a host of people met over the years – plus a showcase for some of the best food and wine available in the region. Saturday was the busiest day with a constant stream of visitors, although the Sunday was quieter than most people would have liked, not helped by less than perfect weather (although for October it could have been worse – a 2012 summer slot should help).
I was asked to give a talk so put together a piece on Unusual Grape Varieties that seemed to go down well and which I’m planning to put into a future piece for the blog.
October’s NEWTS tasting was on Celebrity Wines, something I’ve touched on back in the early days of Reign of Terroir. Stars of the night were the classically styled 2008 Two Paddock’s Pinot Noir from Central Otago and the remarkably complex Terre Inconnue 2008 Guilhem from the Languedoc – more details of the tasting and the other wines tried can be found on my North East Wino blog.
Going into the cellar recently includes a pair of Saint-Georges-Saint-Émilion from Château St. Georges, the delicious Bunan 1997 Bandol tasted at the Wine Festival and immediately bought, an ‘09 Chapoutier Crozes-Hermitage, the delicious 2006 Falcoaria from Ribatejo and my first Vin Santo (del Chianti Rufina) by Villa di Monte, their 1995.
Passing these on their way out of the cellar and into the glass were the excellent pear & honey Rebenhof 2010 Ürziger Würzgarten Kabinett trocken (Von wurzelechten Reben) that I bought on my trip to the Mosel in June; a bargain Wither Hills 2005 Marlborough Pinot Noir on bin end at a local supermarket; the superb Jorge Ordonez & Co. 2007 Malaga Seleccion Especial No. 1 (nectar of the gods!); a honeyed Roussane by Domaine de Palejay (2008 Le Sablet); and a light, chocolate tannin & raisined finish 2004 Chinese Cabernet Franc from Château Bolongbao, opened in homage to the Chinese Wine that won top honours at the 2011 Decanter World Wine Awards.
Less encouraging was the Château Musar Jeune 2009 red I tried last month. Although I am a big fan the Musar Rouge, Blanc, Rosé and Hochar Pere et Fils labels that I’ve tasted before the Jeune, made from primarily Cinsault with a touch of Cabernet Sauvignon, was a young wine with simple fruit flavours, slightly green tannins and little complexity. I’ll stick to its older siblings for Musar in the future.
Cellar Trivia: If you didn’t already know then I’m not a big buyer of Bordeaux due to a combination of budget, mistrust and my international sense of adventure. The very good wines are too expensive while it’s often difficult to tell the very bad wines (of which there are many) from the rest of the affordable offerings. Since I don’t want to spend large parts of my life researching which producers are consistent when I can be exploring what the rest of the world has it means that I only end up with Bordeaux wines as gifts or very random purchases. The 2 incoming bottles of Saint-Georges-Saint-Émilion take my meagre stock of left & right bank wines to just under 10% of my cellar total – with the Château St. Georges nearly half of that (the wine is not readily available in the UK but I get some thanks to a French colleague).
Looking Forward: The European Wine Bloggers Conference has just finished in Franciacorta, Italy and the Wine Events calendar is winding down for the year with most of the major expos and competitions done and dusted, but there are still a few events to look forward to in October and November;
—– October 21st-23rd. Paso Robles Harvest Wine Weekend.
—– October 23rd. Pinot on the River in Healdsburg, California.
—– Ocober 24-27th. Simply Italian, Great Wines U.S. tour; Chicago, San Francisco & Las Vegas.
—– November 9th-13th. Ottowa Wine & Food Festival.
—– November 16th-20th. San Diego Bay Wine and Food Festival.
Summer’s end has come and as the northern year slips towards shorter days and colder nights it’s time for my monthly roundup of the greater wine world and my miniscule corner of it.
Wine News: South Africa hit the headlines for the wrong reasons with the release of a report from Human Rights Watch, an international non-government organisation. The detailed report, entitled “Ripe with Abuse” is based on research conducted between September 2010 and May 2011 in the Western Cape, where most of South Africa’s wine industry is based. The reading is grim, with claims of appalling living conditions for farm workers, unsafe practices at work, including pesticide exposure, and institutionalised discrimination of farm workers. It ends with a comprehensive list of recommendations to the SA Government Departments and Industry organisations, but also for international retailers and consumers to (amongst other things);
*** “put pressure on suppliers to improve … conditions”
*** “ Inquire into the conditions on farms that grow the products they purchase”.
*** “Push retailers to only purchase from farms with (ethical) working conditions”.
The take home message for consumers is pragmatic, “The answer is not to boycott South African products, because that could be disastrous for farmworkers”.
News of the report and its obviously negative description of sectors of the South African wine industry quickly spread through the International media and was picked up by bloggers and social networks. In counterpoint Wines of South Africa (WOSA) questioned bias in the report and defended the effectiveness of Wine Industry Ethical Trade Association (WIETA) and other organisations in actually improving conditions across the country’s Wine Industry.
Interestingly, within a week of the news, I saw two unrelated and markedly more positive pieces on South African winemaking; first in the Guardian with its piece A fairer Cape – the rise of South Africa’s black winemakers, which references the HRW report but states “there is a wind of change blowing through the staunchly Afrikaner wine business.”; then on Palate Press with How the Swartland Crew is Bringing Up South African Wine. Both paint a more upbeat view of South Africa, different sides of the coin.
The end of the month also saw terrible weather in Northern Europe, with massive hailstorms in the Middle Mosel which hit on Friday 26th. “Golf ball” sized lumps of ice damaged houses and cars in areas around Wehlen, Filzen, Lieser, Kinheim, Maring-Noviand, Brauneberg, Wintrich, Mülheim, Veldenz, Bernkastel-Keus, Graach, Neiderberg, Zeltingen and Kröv. Apparently there was also hail damage farther afield in Rheinhessen and Baden, although other Mosel areas such as Ürzig and Erden were spared, as were the Saar and Ruwer. Video of the ferocity of the storms can be seen on a host of YouTube uploads (search for Mosel + Hagel).
With traditional media slow to pick up on the weekend story twitter proved its worth with updates from those near to the affected areas. This allowed Reign of Terroir’s own twitter feed (@ReignofTerroir) to put out regular updates, including news that; Christian Klein in Kröv feared the loss of half his harvest; Johannes Selbach in Zeltingen was expecting 40% crop loss; Willi Schaefer in Gaach feared the loss of 50% of his fruit and his new warehouse. Whilst actual vine damage was shocking the risk of rot is now a bigger concern as the 2011 harvest starts in earnest.
The mainstream media finally caught up on the 31st with Adam Lechmere’s Decanter piece “Hailstorms decimate Mosel“, although few others seem to rate the damage to some of the world’s greatest white wine vineyards as worthy of a report.
Many thanks to @DREI_Riesling, @moselriesling, @larscarlberg, @Eurocentric, @RieslingandI and @RieslingAC for those first reports, and to Gismondi on Wine for the first written piece.
Thankfully it seems that Hurricane Irene was more gentle on East Coast vineyards with the exception of a small amount of tornado damaged at Paumanok Vineyards, as reported by Lenn Thompson on the New York Cork Report.
Elsewhere the European Harvest may be underway (although a cool July meant not as early as previously anticipated) but for California, and Napa especially, it was still a waiting game for the grapes to ripen, as reported in the Napa Valley Register.
The recurring “100pts system, right or wrong” debate reared its head again, with Steve Heimoff and Jon Bonné adding lengthy pieces to the portfolio. I preferred Jancis Robinson’s two word response (no, not those two words!) in the all-too-brief Tom Wark interview on Fermentation.
Also raising controversy (mainly on the various Wine Bulletin Boards in the UK and US) was news of a $15,000 lecture fee for Jay Miller’s recent tour of Navarra, Spain, first blogged by Jim Budd and then Chris Kissack. A UK wine forum debated a $15K payout raising doubts of independence and objectivity, while one US forum briefly debated the information and seemed to be more forgiving. eRobertParker’s own boards suffered again from the heavy handedness of its administrator with an allegedly vocal discussion being locked before it got too outspoken, even though its behind a subscription pay wall where you’d think the participants would be allowed some freedom of speech.
And finally for the news we turn to internet wine maestro Gary Vaynerchuk, who announced his retirement from regular video wine blogging on the last DailyGrape piece, less than 6 months after Wine Library TV’s 1000 show. It didn’t come as a surprise as most people are amazed he lasted so long in the first place, with the overwhelming feedback positive and congratulatory for the impact Vaynerchuk has made over the last 5+ years. Although I’ve been only an infrequent watcher for the last couple of years I saw a part of my own wine life disappear in that final episode, as it was “The Vaynermeister” who led me to the WLTV forums in 2007 where I started my rough-and-ready education to internet wine writing. No doubt Gary will reappear in the future, but I found it quite emotional when he finished with a variation on his trademark sign-off “You, with such a smaller part of me than you realise, we have changed the wine world”.
North East wine: “Enough about the rest of the world” I hear you yell, “What about North East England?” Hush, hush I say, here come the tales of my small corner of Wineland!
August was relatively eventful, starting with the news that we will be having a regional Wine Festival, just not the one we were expecting! After the success of the 2010 North East Wine Festival in Corbridge over a sunny June weekend I know there was a strong intention from the organisers to carry the momentum through to 2011 with the same event planned for June. Sadly that never materialised with, as far as I can tell, a combination of factors (including illness) meaning it was first postponed and then cancelled completely. Luckily for wine lovers in the region whatever was going on in the background seems to have resulted in a completely new event rising from the ashes, with the 2011 Northumbria Food and Wine Festival announced over the weekend of 7th, 8th and 9th October. The format looks to be the same, with local retailers, pop up restaurants, music and a smattering of educational talks over the 2 and a half days. All that we need now is an Indian Summer to appear, as October is traditionally one of the wettest months in our famously wet country!
August NEWTS was a delightful evening wandering amongst some of the weird and wonderful grape varieties available in the UK. Fellow member Elaine presented a range of 9 wines, mostly from The Wine Society and Waitrose, made with Malagousia, Pecorino, Godello, Rotgiplfer, St. Laurent, Susumaniello, Xinomavro, Saperavi and Negroamaro.
All were enjoyable, but it was Heinrich Hartl’s complex 2008 Rotgiplfer, Racemi’s value for money Susumaniello (the Torre Guaceto Sum 2007) and Orovela’s restrained 2004 Saperavi which grabbed my attention. Additional details can be found on my North East Wino blog, “A most Unusual Tasting” Part I and Part II.
Richard Granger Fine Wines also had an August tasting, this time of Aromatic Whites with a starting glass of Sauvignon Blanc to bed in the taste-buds, 3 Riesling, 2 each of Pinot Gris and Viognier, and a rich Gewürztraminer to close the event. Domaines Schlumberger in Alsace was the Old World standard bearer with a Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer from their classic Les Princes Abbés range, each showing typical varietal characteristics and all very drinkable. There was also a traditional, off-dry Bernkasteler Badstube 2007 Riesling by Mosel producer Dr H. Thanisch and the superb (if expensive, at £34.20) Domaine Louis Chèze 2008 Pagus Luminus Condrieu with fresh complexity and a pleasant salty aspect. In comparison the New World match-ups were less memorable, although the Crawford River 2005 Riesling from Victoria, Australia, stood out with its sharp acidity, elegant strength and smooth finish. It’s rare to attend an exclusively white wine tasting but I’d love to see more such themed events as none in the room showed any signs of red withdrawal symptoms!
Of course a visit to Richard Granger wouldn’t be the same without adding to my collection and I left with the Schlumberger 2007 Gewürztraminer plus an unusual Loire Cabernet Franc that I spied on the shelves, the Couly-Dutheil Blanc de Franc. This is a “white” Cabernet Franc made without skin contact but also against the Chinon Appellation rules, meaning it can’t even display the vintage on the label, but it’s exactly this sort of wine that intrigues me and guaranteed that I’d be taking a bottle home.
These two bottles added to the meagre purchases for the rest of the month, including what should be my last (of three) Château Musar 2003 (time to plan for the 2004 now) and an older Marlborough Pinot Noir from Wither Hills, their 2005 Wairau Valley which was a bin-end at a local supermarket.
Home drinking was less exciting with a batch of inoffensive but equally unmemorable quaffers. A pair of Rioja wines by Izadi had some character; the 2008 white a barrel fermented blend of 80% Vuira and 20% Malvasia; the 2006 red a fruity Crianza , 100% Tempranillo with a classic flavour profile, but it was an Australian Riesling that gave most drinking pleasure, the Tim Adams 2006 Clare Valley Riesling. This complex wine had razor sharp acidity, fresh citrus flavours and a dash of petrochemical which I love on a Riesling with a little bottle age.
Cellar Trivia: Tim Adams wines are only available in the UK from corporate behemoth Tesco, which got me looking at how much of my current stash came from that area of the wine trade regarded by many segments of the wine cognoscenti as the evil empire of retailing – Supermarkets. I am a firm believer that it is still possible to get hold of a decent bottle of wine whilst doing the weekly grocery shop, with one in three of my bottles rescued from a supermarket shelf. What surprised me a little was the average price working out at £10.83 ($17.50) – although if you drop M&S and Waitrose from the calculations that does fall to £9.54 ($15.50) – proof that it’s not all cut-throat price promotions and bulk brands. However, what surprised me even more was looking at the other two thirds, sourced mainly from independent retailers, and seeing the average price jump to £16.11 ($26) – far removed from what the majority of UK supermarket consumers would consider paying except on the most special of occasions.
Looking Forward: So to September, the start of a new season and that crazy month for grape growers and winemakers alike. It is also California Wine Month as proclaimed by Governor Jerry Brown, the seventh year a month has been dedicated to the California Wine Industry – a list of coinciding events is available from the website.
- September 10th & 11th is Portland’s Pinot in the City with over 100 Willamette Valley wineries and local restaurants hosting food and wine experiences on one city block (NW 9th and Marshall).
- September 23rd – 25th sees the (Trade Only) 10th Miami International Wine Fair with wine producers from over 20 countries showcasing their wines to retailers, distributors and restaurants, including the 7th annual Florida International Wine Challenge.
- 23rd September sees another “Grape Day”, hot on the heels of Tempranillo and Cabernet we now have Grenache Day. Unlike 2010, when The Grenache Symposium managed the event, it’s been difficult to see the guiding hand behind this year’s date. I know many in the industry dislike such contrived days as a marketing ploy, but I don’t mind having an excuse to open a decent bottle of wine, especially for such a soft, fruity, easy to drink grape!
With few standout events the regular review of the wine world’s recent happenings is a mixed bag of topics including broken Shiraz, green wineries and melting bloggers .
Wine News: Let’s start with the curious tale of the broken Mollydooker, as a shipping container holding 462 cases of the Velvet Glove Shiraz heading for the US was dropped during transport. Initial media reports suggested all of the bottles were lost – a third of the entire production of this cult wine and worth over $1 million – but a revised press release suggests that the number of broken bottles was much less, with the winery uploading a video onto YouTube with more information and showing some of the damage.
Another strange story to appear was that of Péter Uj, a Hungarian wine critic who was successfully sued by the state owned producer Tokaj Keresked?ház for decrying the quality of its wine, only to have the conviction overturned by the European Court of Human Rights, as described in Decanter’s “Hungarian Vin de Merde conviction quashed” (and also in Alder Yarrow’s Vinography a day later). I know many would like to see a few other critics taken to court for their actions, but the story is a reminder that words often have unforeseen effects and also that Justice sometimes needs a second chance!?
The next 2 stories have a name theme, first with Italy getting a new DOC approved; DOC Sicilia replaces the old IGT Sicilia (with the IGT category now being used for a generic Terre Siciliane instead). Gabriel Savage in the Drinks Business included some “cautiously optimistic” comments from Francesca Planeta, one of the islands largest producers.
Over in the U.K. it’s not so calm as there’s a heated debate ongoing on proposals for a generic brand for English Sparkling Wine, with Merret and Britagne leading the naming suggestions. Controversy reigns, however, with a large group disliking either name or even the whole concept. Decanter reviewed the story so far while Guillaume Jourdan, and Jamie Goode added their personal touches – the comments on Jamie Goode’s post sum up the debate perfectly!
I mentioned last month the advanced state of vine growth in much of Europe and July saw the Loire Valley adding to the list, with Harpers Wine & Spirit reporting on forecasts of a record breaking vintage. As with many regions, harvesting is expected to begin in mid-late August and I suspect many winemakers have already rearranged their holidays!
I also read with interest the news in The Independent on the “2011 International Award of Excellence in Sustainable Winegrowing” being awarded to Parducci Wine Cellars, America’s first Carbon Neutral winery and a Reign of Terroir favourite. The award, hosted by the Botanical Research Institute of Texas, is only in its second year with last year’s winner also from California – Hall Wines of St. Helena (I only hope this “International” award doesn’t end up only being won by North American wineries, as New Zealand is renowned for its environmentally friendly wine industry).
Parducci has a detailed section on their website including references to Climate change and Global warming, but this topic caused its own controversy last month on the release of data from Stanford University which alarmingly predicted that Northern California could lose 50% of premium wine growing land by 2040. Of course news like this was bound to be well publicized, with a host of media and twitter posts kick-starting the usual “Climate change is real vs Global Warming is a hoax” debate. A CBS video report and The Napa Valley Register gave more restrained summaries with winemaker views.
Finally to the Blogosphere, which gathered in Virginia for the 4th annual North American Wine Bloggers Conference, held in Charlottesville with wine guru Jancis Robinson in attendance. I followed much of the conference through twitter and the many blog posts which appeared quickly afterwards, with the sweltering heat being a consistent theme! Cyril Penn of Wine Business.com posted a good report on Robinson’s keynote speech, but it seems it wasn’t always a happy time amongst the blogging family, as shown in Dave McIntyre’s WineLine post “Whine Blogging..” and Swirl, Sip, Snark’s “Virtual Slapfight..”. Whingeing aside, Virginia Wine Time presented one local blog’s view of the proceedings as a whole in their series of posts on the conference. The 5th NAWBC will be held in Portland, Oregon over 17th -19th August, 2012.
North East Wine: July was a busy month in the soggy North as well, with The Wine Society coming to Newcastle for a Loire and Beaujolais tasting hosted by Joanna Locke MW and Marcel Orford Williams (TWS buyers for the respective regions) and including several of the producers of the wines on show.
I was most impressed by the Domaine Seguin 2010 Pouilly-Fumé, a subtle, multi-layered Sauvignon Blanc (which, if you know my tastes, is a variety I tend to be harshly critical off, especially when from New Zealand).
A week later was our regular NEWTS tasting, with wines from 3 local retailers focussing on 4 styles; German Riseling, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc (!), Toscana Sangiovese and Argentinian Malbec. The Selvapiana 2004 Chianti Rufina Riserva and Michael Schäfer 1991 Dorsheimer Pittermänchen impressed me the most and overall this was a superb tasting in a format we haven’t tried much at NEWTS (both in the sourcing and tasting of the wines), one I hope will be repeated.
It was trying to decide on how much of my notes from these tastings to include in this month’s diary post that led me to finally put together my own blog site concentrating on my wine experiences with a focus on the northeast England. Initially I called it Greybeard’s Corner (for obvious reasons!) but then quickly decided on a rebrand using one of my twitter handles, and North East Wino was born. The Wine Society tasting and NEWTS meeting reviews quickly went up and I’ve also started to backfill some of my earlier writings plus some personal and local posts which have too much of U.K. slant to be appropriate for Reign of Terroir.
And so to my own wine dabblings for the month, with the purchases a typically modest range from around the world including a 2001 Sauternes from Château Filhot, the Ara Composite 2008 Pinot Noir from New Zealand and Dr. Loosen’s 2009 Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett.
Of those opened and drunk the best included the perfectly balanced Glen Carlou 2003 Grand Classique, a savoury Bordeaux blend from South Africa, the light and fruity Cave du Château de Chénas 2009 Fleurie and two Rieslings; Rebenhof’s textured, off-dry 2009 Ürziger Würzgarten Spätlese feinherb Von alten Reben and the lime & kerosene Cono Sur 2008 Riesling Reserva.
Cellar Trivia: One Riesling in, two out last month and a look at the database sees that this is easily my favourite grape variety with 18 bottles still to hand; 11 from Germany (all but one of those from the Mosel), 4 Australian, 2 French and a lone New Zealander. As befits this most versatile of grapes these cover the gamut of styles from bone dry to immensely sweet.
Looking forward: August will see Northern Hemisphere winemakers preparing for harvest at the end of the month and into September, but for consumers it’s a bit quieter;
- August 13th & 14th for the 3rd annual Finger Lakes Riesling Festival at Canandaigua, N.Y. with over 20 Finger Lakes wineries taking part.
- September 1st is the first International Tempranillo Day, a new initiative hosted by The Tapas Society with the hope that everyone, everywhere will “open a bottle of Tempranillo, enjoy the fun, and share their experiences online” (I already have a something from Ribera del Duero lined up!)
- September 1st to 5th sees the Bernkastel-Kues Middle Mosel Wine Festival, the largest of the many Mosel wine fests throughout the summer from this picturesque town. ??Time marches inexorably onwards, summer moves closer to autumn and I’ve reached the end of this post.
The 2011 harvest in both hemispheres dominates the recent wine news while Germany fills up a large part of my own wine experiences in this month’s Corner post.
Wine News: Let’s get the bad news out of the way first. When I first heard of the shocking vandalism at the Terroir Al Limit winery in Priorat it was hard to believe, with tanks opened to let wine drain away and bleach added to others. CataVino were one of the first to publicize the news from the Blogoshpere on the 19th June (the deed was carried out on the 13th) but other than the expected round of condemnation from the wine world (and speculation on the wine forums) it looks as though there is no idea who did this or why. For me and many wine lovers this is akin to book burning and I hope that justice will eventually catch up with the perpetrators.
New Zealand released figures showing the 2011 harvest was 23% up on 2010 coupled with a healthy increase in global sales over the last year. The potential quality of 2011 is high, adding to the positive spin given by the New Zealand media with South Island and Sauvignon Blanc contributing most to the growth – Marlborough itself saw a 34% rise in the harvest.
Harpers also reported on Australia’s bumper (sic) harvest – a rise of 1% on 2010. While not as dramatic as New Zealand’s figures it is accepted that Australia has an oversupply problem which won’t be helped by the news.
While the 2 New World neighbours share harvest increases the two original old world neighbours, France & Italy, traded places in 2010 with the Italians now the world’s largest wine producer.
Though French production may be falling the 2011 grapes are doing their best to get here faster than normal with Decanter reporting on Bordeaux and Burgundy producers preparing for harvesting to begin at the end of August, while in Champagne there is even talk of mid-August if the clement weather continues.
The same seems to be true of England and Germany as well, the latter I can personally testify after my mid-month visit to the Mosel where one Ürzig winemaker confirmed the grapes were 4-5 weeks ahead of their normal development and an August harvest is on the cards.
The Mosel also got a mention in the media with Wine Spectator running a piece on the controversial Hochmoselübergang. The Spectator has joined the debate late in the day and as the dust is starting to settle – Decanter have been running the story since January 2010 and, sadly, the green light for construction has been given – but at least that means they can cover all the pertinent facts of the story.
Finally in France the Saint Emilion debacle looks to have been resolved with the French government finally approving the revised classification system 6 months after the INAO (Institut National des Appellations d’Origine) initially announced the new regulations and a full 5 years after the disastrous 2006 classification which saw bitter infighting between Saint Emilion producers and compromised the whole system.
The new classification will be managed by an independent panel (i.e. not from Bordeaux) and includes evaluation of Chateaux reputation, terroir and production methods but will be heavily based on blind tasting of recent vintages. Nick Stephens review on his Bordeaux Undiscovered blog provides plenty of additional information.
June for me meant Germany…. to be precise the small town of Wetzlar, near Giessen. I was encamped there for 2 weeks on business and managed to expand on my German wine education in the process. Central to this was a weekend in the Mosel, driving from Koblenz on the Rhine along the river road stopping at Cochem, Ürzig and Bernkastel-Keus.
This is an intensely beautiful part of the world with ancient riverside towns watched over by Medieval castles, insanely steep vineyards and a relatively relaxed take on life. Riesling was at the heart of the wine experience, the region favours this noble variety with 50% of total Mosel production, but far higher for the Quality wines and almost 100% for many producers with prime vineyards. The Spring frosts that decimated many German wine regions didn’t affect the steep vineyards, so quantity is good along with the early growth already mentioned – by late June some of the Riesling bunches were beginning to hang, the weight of the grapes too much to resist the pull of gravity.
The short visit was crowned with a superb tasting at Ürzig producer Rebenhof, where winemaker Johannes Schmitz poured and talked through a dozen of his different offerings from the Ürziger Würzgarten vineyard, including a sublime 4-star 2009 Beerenauslese. I’m preparing a separate post on that tasting.
Back in Wetzlar and local restaurant Malcomess provided a broad range of German wines to accompany a delicious tasting menu (especially the trio of Kid). The restaurant is run by husband and wife team Kai & Manuela Malcomess and it was Kai who gave a brief description of each wine served, including a creamy 2009 Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris) by Weinhaus Jochim and a young but structured 2008 Spätburgunder by Markus Schneider. What was also intriguing was that all the wines were served in The Gabriel Glas, the first time I’ve seen this “one for all” wine glass (made by the Austrian glass manufacturer Quatron) which is meant to enhance the aromas and flavours regardless of wine style or colour. Kai brought out one of the previous glasses they used to use in the restaurant (a Schott Zweisel) for a quick comparison test and I have to admit the Gabriel Glas(s) did give a fuller nose, bringing out the fruit more.
An enjoyable bookend to the trip were the lounge wines on offer at Amsterdam Schiphol airport during my transfers between Newcastle and Frankfurt. ?On the way out the Villa Maria 2009 Pinot Noir was light and fruity with just a touch of smoky vegetation, a more autumnal colour than I’d have expected for an ’09 with light forest fruit flavours, but true to the variety.?Coming back and it was across the Tasman sea to Australia with Ben Glaetzer’s 2008 Heartland Cabernet Sauvignon; a dense, syrupy wine with immense fruit (predominantly cassis) and a touch of mint. This was almost too much for me, a big wine with a slightly confected feel to all that dark fruit, only a basic tannin structure and a 14.5% abv which gave a warm finish – pleasant enough, but only for a small glass or two and it would struggle with food.
North East Wine: Unfortunately while I was away I missed the monthly NEWTS meeting – a Spanish tasting given by venerable member Harry Rose, whose previous tasting on the red wines of the Western Languedoc was my first ever meeting. Luckily local retailer PortoVino had their summer tasting at the end of the month where I could catch up with fellow North East oenophiles over a glass or three of Portuguese vinho – the 2006 Falcoaria by Quinta do Casal Branco was my favourite red of the evening.
A weekend in the Mosel meant that my purchases were always going to be dominated by Riesling and I returned home with 5 bottles in my luggage; a selection of Ürziger Würzgarten all from Rebenhof, including their 2008 Auslese which was harvested to Eiswein standards.
There were only 4 other incoming wines bought in the UK over June; Dow’s 1999 Quinta do Bomfim Port, California’s Seghesio 2009 Arneis & Bogle Vineyards 2008 Petite Sirah, and yet another Riesling with the Cono Sur 2008 Riesling Reserva from Chile.
Drinking at home was also reduced, the most notable being a La Motte 2005 Shiraz from the Franschhoek Valley in South Africa, a wine which blossomed after being opened for 24 hours with spicy tar, fine tannins and juicy acidity. Also worth mentioning was the Cave de Turckheim 2008 Pinot Gris Reserve from Alsace, with classically rich, not-quite-sweet grapefruit aspects and a great waxy texture.
Cellar Trivia: The arrival of the batch of Riesling got me looking at the breakdown of my home collection (currently standing at just over 150 bottles) compared to a couple of years ago. White is now up from 21% to 26%, while reds are down from 63% to 53%, confirming my thoughts that I’m not buying as much red as I used to. Biggest change is the doubling of fortified and sweet wines from just under 7% 2 years ago to just over 13% now, with a similar increase in Sparkling and Rosé (but they only make up 3% of my current stash). I don’t know if it’s a typical phase, but I’m definitely enjoying more non-red wines than ever before.
I’ll bring this month’s post to a close with the usual look forward to key wine events coming up, which are pretty much U.S. dominated;
—July 14-16 sees the California Wine Festival hit Santa Barbera showing a range of wines from all over the state.
—July 15-17 jumps over to the East Coast for the Finger Lakes Wine Festival in Watkins Glen, New York, showcasing 600 wines from 80 wineries.
—July 22nd-24th it’s the 4th North American Wine Bloggers Conference in Charlottesville, Virginia. Safe journey and well wishes to all those attending.
—July 29-31st is the 2011 International Pinot Noir Celebration from McMinnville, Oregon, with over 70 international Pinot noir producers at this 25th anniversary festival.
—August 13th and for anyone in Northern California you could do worse than head to the 19th Annual Winemakers’ Celebration in the picturesque town of Carmel for a taste of Monterey Wine with 40 local wineries on show.
Otherwise August looks remarkably quiet (well, maybe not for the European grape growers!) although there are a couple of wine competitions which have entry closing dates;
—5th August is the closing date for the 2011 New Zealand International Wine Show, with the judging on 15th- 17th August.
—The 2011 International Wine & Spirit Competition (IWSC) still has its Southern Hemisphere section to do, with August closing dates for the South American, Australian and New Zealand section (entries for the South African judging are now closed).
We’re well and truly into summer now and, for the Northern Hemisphere, the 2011 harvest is fast approaching (faster than usual in many places). For everyone getting ready for the start of the “mad period” in the vineyards and wineries I wish you a few more weeks of relative calm.
With the Rapture due to decimate the world on May 21st it hardly seemed worth researching this article, but luckily the end of the world has now been postponed until October 21st so we have a few more months to enjoy the fruits of the vine and the worldly pleasures associated with it. Sadly there were several news pieces that initially followed the themes of Disease, Death, Devastation and Destruction.
May got off of to a poor start with the Cancer Council of Australia damning drink with the doom-laden “alcohol is clearly one of the most carcinogenic products in common use” and launching TV ads in Australia where a spilled glass of red wine symbolises the spread of cancer (the beer and spirits more usually associated with alcohol abuse obviously don’t have the same visual impact) – all of this prompting a written response by the Winemaker’s Federation of Australia. Wine Spectator reviewed the fallout a few days later.
Less than a month after the death of Jess Jackson another Californian great passed away when Mike Lee of Kenwood succumbed to a heart attack while playing Golf, the Wine Enthusiast paying tribute to his life and times.
There was devastation from the elements in Germany and California as Spring frost hit both side of the globe: Decanter reported on -5oC (23oF) temperatures at the beginning of May hitting Pfalz, Rheinhessen, Franken and Württemberg vineyards with their worst frost for 30 years while California’s Central Coast gets the same treatment less than a week later, with Paso Robles most severely affected and subsequently Wines & Vines reporting on up to 30% crop loss in affected areas. The California frost actually hit in April, but it wasn’t until May that the media started reporting the news.
Man-made destruction also made the headlines as German politicians pushed the controversial Mosel Bridge plan forward – Decanter summarised the sage so far while Jancis Robinson, a vocal opponent of the plan, re-posted Sarah Washington’s emotional blog piece to the greater wine world. Regardless of the wine world’s distaste it seems inevitable now that the bridge will be built, the vineyards affected will have to adapt and all that is left is to observe.
Luckily there were some less depressing stories to be found as well, starting with the shock news that Vintage 2010 in Bordeaux is very good! UK merchants Berry Bros place it at least the equal of 2005 and superior to the lauded 2009, as reported by Harpers Wine & Spirit.
In the monthly Decanter Magazine their 2011 Power List was published on the 50 top movers & shakers in the Wine World. In a sign of the times I applaud the 16th placed “Amateur Wine Blogger” and 38th placed Eric LeVine of CellarTracker as recognition and acceptance of Social Media and the internet in 21st Century Wine.
More controversial was the furore surrounding the supposed comments of Rhône wine guru Michel Chapoutier who has expanded his interests into Alsace with the setting up of the Shieferkopf label. Decanter sensationally headlined “Petrol smell in Riesling ‘a mistake’” in their short article which lit the fuse for a host of parry & riposte comments (36 to date on Decanter.com, something of a record for them) and in subsequent articles and social media. But how many delved deeper than the inflammatory title to find out that Chapoutier was apparently referring to his views on young Riesling? (which came to light in an interview on Drinks Media Wire – “If some, following my comment on this defect in young Riesling wines, understood that I was talking about old Riesling wines: it has never been the case”). Whether Decanter deliberately omitted the “young” in their article to raise debate, or Chapoutier himself forgot to clarify in the knowledge it would generate significant attention to him (and his wines) I can’t speculate – but someone was definitely playing a PR game.
However if more proof was needed on the joys of Life after Rapture then where else to look but the heart-warming news of the twin girls born to Gina Gallo and Jean-Charles Boisset (both of whom appear in the Decanter power list at positions 15 and 25 respectively) announced in Wine Spectator as the month drew to a close – I’ll raise a glass to the continuing health of both daughters and parents.
And so to my little corner of the world where one local retailer dominated proceedings – Richard Granger based in the Jesmond area of Newcastle. Manager Alastair Stewart prepared a thoroughly informative tasting for the May NEWTS meeting focussing on North East Italy, before hosting a Spanish tasting at the store the following week.
For the NEWTS there was a representative range from Trentino Alto Adige, Friuli Venezia Giulia and Veneto with both indigenous & international varieties covering modern and classical styles, starting with a just-interesting-enough Prosecco Donna Trevigiana from Valdobbiadene as an aperitif. Out of the 8 red and white wines tasted there was an example in each colour of a great value drinking wine and a superb wine but at a price most would walk away from.
QPR in white was represented by the Monte del Fra Custoza 2009, a mixing bowl of Garganega, Trebbiano Toscano, Tocai Fruilano and Cortese (with a soupçon of Chardonnay, Riesling Italico and Sauvignon for good measure). This wine was the well balanced sum of its many parts; herbal and floral aromatics, medium-full bodied with good structure, a little oily, a little sweet, a little dry and a little bitter, leaving a textured finish on the palate. It was exactly my style of interesting and unusual for only £9.42.
The Pieropan La Rocca 2008 Soave Classico, on the other hand, was an example of a great Italian white at an equally “great” price, £23.82. This single vineyard gives late harvested Garganega is fermented and aged in large oak casks, giving a long-finishing, citrus themed, multi-dimensional wine with layered complexity and texture over flavour. Comparisons to Condrieu were made, which seemed appropriate for the price as well!
QPR in red went to the Tenuta Lena di Mezzo 2007 Valpolicella Classico Superiore Ripasso (also from the Monte del Fra stable). This had a mature nose suggesting acidity and a rich, slightly sweet taste with a hint of raisins. Mocha tannins quickly become evident and on the mid-palate a bitterness joins in through to the finish, but in good balance with all the other components. At £13.86 it may seem pricey for a good value wine, but for me this was into 4 star territory and therefore a bargain!
Also in that 4 star zone was the final wine of the night, the Ripasso’s big brother – the Tenuta Lena di Mezzo 2005 Scarnocchia, Amarone della Valpolicella Classico. I adore Amarone so this was always going to be popular with me, but the quality shone through as soon as I took a sniff of the beautiful enamel, smoke and baked chocolate aroma. In the mouth it was luscious; perfectly balanced with well integrated bitter tannins offset by a dense richness. This was a powerful, taught wine although still young – I’d give it at least 3 more years before trying the inky black juice again – however, as you’d expect from a single vineyard Amarone aged for over two years in oak, then another year in bottle before release, this was never going to be cheap and the £44.58 price tag meant that everyone in the room would have taken 3 bottles of the Ripasso instead with change to spare.
I met Alastair again in his compact but cosy store just over a week later for one of the regular Richard Granger tasting evenings, this time trying 9 dry wines from Spain accompanied by Spanish themed nibbles to reinforce the sound principle that most wine is made for enjoyment with food.
2 delicious Albariño from Bodegas Martín Códax (who was a 13th century Galician minstrel) showed the quality of this grape and region; both wines giving a creamy mouthfeel with a clean citrus taste but with the 2008 Organistrum (named for a curious 2 person musical instrument) raising the flavours to a higher level and showing a deeper honeyed nose with richer, longer finish. The Organistrum has a 3 month malo-lactic fermentation in oak which makes it my first ever wooded Albariño, although the use of oak was well handled and not overtly evident in the taste. Unfortunately both wines suffer from the effect of Albariño’s popularity and rarity: a price that often doesn’t match the relative quality. Here £11.52 and £19.80 were just about defendable as good examples of the style, but there are many other whites I’d put my money towards first.
Onto the reds and all 5 we tried were well structured wines with generous fruit, each backing up my own feeling that Spanish reds are a relatively safe bet in the £7-£25 range. My favourites were;
— Museum Real 2005 Reserva from Cigales (£16.02); the archetypal Spanish nose of dark red fruit and sweet oak which was a surprising foil for spicy Chorizo,
— Marqués de Murrieta 2004 Reserva from Rioja Alta (£18.60); a restrained nose that developed in the glass and an elegant taste with plenty of smooth tannins,
— Mas la Moia 2006 Priorat (£26.40), more smooth elegance with chocolate tannins and a dash of sour funk” which I appreciated.
The final wine was the Hacienda Monasterio 2005 Reserva from Ribero del Duero, a gentle wine that caressed the palate with subtle textures, but had a fundamental lack of fruit which couldn’t live with its £47 price.
Now on a normal month that would be the end of my local tales, but May continued to give! It was my partner Sarah’s birthday mid-month so a long awaited trip to the award winning Feathers Inn was called for, given that it is less than 10 miles from where I live the fact I haven’t visited before is somewhat criminal. Along with delicious afternoon lunches the pub has a solid and reasonably priced wine list which saw the Chamuyo 2009 Argentinian Malbec match my lamb’s liver main, while Sarah proved patriotic with a glass of Three Choirs “The English House” white with her lasagne – the food and the wine were significantly superior to a meal at the Italian-American Frankie & Benny’s Diner a couple of weeks earlier (where the wine was practically undrinkable).
Good food continued at the end of the month with the NEWTS Spring dinner at the Newcastle College Chef’s Academy, where the three courses were washed down with the member’s own selection of BYO bottles. Although my own offering, the 2005 Château Pesquie Quintessence Blanc, was horribly oxidised there were more than enough bottles to share around and we finished off with a delicious Quinta do Noval 20 year old port bottled in 1973. Even though 20 year old tawny port is ready for drinking when bottled this one had aged gracefully and its hot, rich raisin, caramel and toffee flavours were savoured by all at our table (and a couple of passersby!).
On the home front and I managed to buy in 13 new bottles for the collection, as much as in March and April combined. I’m particularly looking forward to seeing if there’s any life left in a Borgo San Michelle 2000 Taurasi, how the 2008 Au Bon Climat Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir and the 2007 Van Volxem Alte Reben Saar Riesling compare to their earlier(and delicious) vintages, and whether the 2009 Château Musar Jeune shows any of the character of its more venerable siblings. However, it was mainly a month of sweeties with a 2001 5-Puttonyos Tokaji Aszu, a 2004 Passito di Pantelleria, the Lustau PX San Emilio and Torres Floralis Moscatel Oro all promising sweet and unctuous enjoyment over the coming year or two.
As for home consumption, 11 bottles contributed to the local glass recycling scheme, sadly two of them spoiled (along with the oxidised Pesquie a decidedly corked South African red from Noble Hill). Luckily two bottles stood head and shoulders above the rest, both from California.
First was the Destino 2007 Late Harvest Viognier from Lodi, a divine dessert wine with a nutty, baked fruit aroma, a strong butterscotch flavour with a little honey, candied stone fruit and a thick textured which coated the mouth leading to a very long finish. Four stars all the way this was in 92-93pts territory and easily the best sweet wine I’ve had, sadly relegating a Tokaji Aszu into second place!
Our second notable Californian came from Mr Eclectic himself, Randall Grahm, in the guise of the Bonny Doon 2003 Cigare Volante, but is also a lesson in the mysteries of wine development. On first opening this had a funky, slightly sweaty nose with a little stewed fruit (it also had a thick plug of sediment in the neck which required scooping out with a spoon handle!) and a lean, almost green taste with alcohol heat on the finish. My first reaction was that it was over the hill by a year or two, and it didn’t really change much over a couple of hours. Fast forward 24 hours later (a large part of that with the bottle in the refrigerator) and suddenly the whole thing had opened up; the nose was an enticing light tobacco and spice while sweet fruit and much calmed tannins caressed the palate (yes, I know I’ve already used that once already, but it is as apt here as well). I could scarcely believe it was the same wine, now heading towards 4 stars – what a difference a day makes!
Cellar trivia alert! Drinking the Destino and Cigare Volante have reduced my Californian wines to 6 bottles (including the Au Bon Climat just bought), three of which were purchased at the cellar door during my trip to the Golden State last year. This makes up barely 4% of my collection and suggests I need to do something about this, even though decent US wines are relatively expensive in the UK.
Time to polish my crystal ball and peer into the temporal ether. I predict that early readers of this article will have time to consider visiting San Francisco for Pinot Days between June 13th – 18th featuring wines from more than 200 Pinot Noir producers. Nearby and the 31st annual San Francisco International Wine Competition will be going on over June 17-19th, although you probably won’t recognise any of the judges in the street. June 14th – 16th also sees Southern California host the 8th annual California Wine Festival in Santa Barbara (remember your sun-block).
Over in Europe and the big trade event is in Bordeaux, where Vinexpo 2011 runs between 19th and 23rd June. This year Italian wine seems to be getting the lion’s share of exposure in the programme.
Moving into July and back to California when the 16th sees Passport Day for the Wineries of the Santa Cruz Mountains, with more than 50 wineries in the passport program from Half Moon Bay to Gilroy.
If you’re planning on attending any of these events I wish you a safe journey.
Spring takes hold in the wine world with the unsurprising news that Bordeaux is superb again, Oddbins goes through its final death throws and California sees the resurrection of an historic name.
The big news of last month was En Primeur in Bordeaux; the usual circus of scoring wine designed for years in the bottle based on a taste of some embryonic barrel sample barely finished fermentation. The general consensus seems to be that 2010 is an excellent year for White Bordeaux and the Cabernet grapes, Sauvignon and Franc, but merely very good for Merlot and the Sauternes (with Barsac outperforming its more famous neighbour). Alcohol levels are up and the 2010 reds will probably need more ageing compared to the ‘09s with high tannins but balancing acidity.
My pick of the reviews includes James Suckling’s succinct summary, Wine Enthusiast’s four part diary posting and Decanter’s on-line’s breakdown of the right-band and left-bank plus 5 year vintage comparison of the major Châteaux.
Over the English Channel and the demise of Oddbins was completed when Whittal’s, part of Raj Chatha’s European Food Brokers (EFB) group, bought 37 stores in Scotland, London and scattered middle & south England sites as April drew to a close – Jim Budd posted the “Welcome aboard” letter to the lucky survivors on his blog. At the same time the much reviled Simon Baile, Oddbins previous owner (and many would say instigator of its downfall) was looking to buy a small number of stores in the South of England from Administrators Deloitte. Unfortunately, for the remaining stores, the end had finally come and, over the long Royal Wedding weekend, they closed their doors for good with Twitter providing a range of images showing the emotions in play across the country, as shown by the montage image.
As I’ve managed to sneak in a reference to the nuptials of Prince William and Kate Middleton then I can also link to Eric Asimov’s positive piece on English Sparkling wines in The Pour, although his prediction was off as it was Pol Roger NV Brut Réserve Champagne served at the wedding reception.
Over to the US and Inglenook is set for a comeback as the Coppola Estate announced the purchase of the name from Constellation Brands. Inglenook Vineyards was founded in 1879 by Finnish sea-captain Gustave Niebaum and acquired an international reputation winning medals at the turn of the (20th) Century. Although Coppola has been making his Rubicon wines at the Niebaum property since 1975 the reclaiming of the name finally reunites all the original parts and signals a shakeup of the brand as the announcement also confirmed Chateau Mârgaux’s Philippe Bascaules as Estate Manager and Winemaker, replacing Scott Macleod who retired last year.
Sadly April in California also saw Kendall-Jackson founder Jess Jackson succumb to cancer at 81 – Tim Fish for The Wine Spectator posted a thorough euology on the man and his legacy.
There were two major wine competitions last month with the Decanter World Wine Awards (DWWA) and the International Wine Challenge (IWC), both running at the same time and seeing 85 Masters of Wine (out of the 290 MWs worldwide) descend on London (with approximately a 2:1 ratio for DWWA). Both events were well represented with tweeters and internet wine pundits; the DWWA included Anthony Rose (@antrose33), Robert Giorgione (@robertgiorgione), Jim Budd (@jymbudd) and Jeannie Cho Lee (@JeannieChoLee); the IWC included Tim Atkin (@TimAtkin), Jamie Goode (@jamiegoode), Ollie Smith (@jollyolly), Neal Martin (@nealmartin) and Charles Metcalfe (@thewinesinger). The results of both competitions are to be announced at the London International Wine fair on 17th May.
Back to the UK and a new Budget saw alcohol duty rise 2% above inflation, adding at least another 15p per bottle and meaning that, over the last year, wine prices have increased by about 15% (including VAT increases) making the UK is the highest-taxed in Europe. To help keep track of how much goes on tax I found an interesting app for the iPhone called “UK Wine Tax Calculator” which shows how much of your purchase is left for the winemaking, marketing and distribution.
With wine prices rising the financial rewards of counterfeiting wine are becoming more lucrative, but it’s not just affecting French wine as Victoria Moore in the Telegraph recounts with the news of Jacob’s Creek being ripped off. Apart from discerning consumers noticing something not quite right with the taste, the fakers didn’t do themselves any favours with the back label declaring “Wine of Austrlia” (sic).
As usual I’ll move the focus up to the North East of England and my monthly wine dabbling. The Oddbins saga had local ramifications as the 2 remaining stores in Newcastle and Gosforth weren’t part of the last minute buy-outs and both closed. Window art this time turned into an advertisement, with Gosforth retailer Carruthers and Kent (run by an ex-Oddbins store manager) benefitting from now being “the only wine store in the village”!
Along with Carruthers and Kent, Newcastle and its environs still has a decent share of independent wine stores scattered around and one I’ve been meaning to visit for a while is “The Wine Chambers” based in North Shields. I’d first heard about young Ben Chambers at a North East Wine Tasting Society (NEWTS) meeting last year and am hoping he’ll do a presentation for us sometime soon, especially after belatedly reading an encouraging article by local wine journalist Helen Savage.
Personally April was also a busy month, including 3 family birthdays and my first ever tasting presentation to the NEWTS as I attempted to show the members that there’s more to Germany than Mosel Riesling. The tasting was well received and can be read about in more detail in my next Reign of Terroir piece, but by way of a teaser we tried 10 wines from 6 Anbaugebiete, 5 varieties and 6 styles covering most of what Germany has to offer, with the most impressive wine of the night a Pinot Noir by Baden producer Karl H. Johner.
As well as buying (and drinking) a fair amount of German wines for the presentation the month also saw a modest increase in both purchases and consumption at home as well, not hard after the very frugal start to the year.
Four reds provided enough interest to mention, starting with the Coppola Votre Sante 2009 Pinot Noir from California – an appropriate choice given the news about Inglenook (although this entry level Pinot will not be wearing that label!). This was a fruity, thirst quenching wine with a dry finish, but there was a confected aspect and a slightly green edge to the finish – enjoyable if a little simplistic.
Moving up in complexity was the Svir?e Winery 2007 Plavac Hvar from Croatia which showed a warm nose with some creamy oak. Smooth and balanced, this was a light-medium bodied wine whose fine, dry tannins had a touch of bitterness but was compensated by strong fruity flavours.
Italy next and another step up in flavour with Sainsbury’s own label “Taste the difference” 2006 Amarone della Valpolicella made by Cantina Valpantena, a Decanter Regional Trophy winner in 2009. This was thinner than some Amarone I’ve tried and a touch too bitter on the finish, but there was a pleasant hint of almonds, a good balance of acidity and plenty of sweet cherry and oak.
Finally another supermarket own label, with Tesco’s Finest Viña Mara 2000 Rioja Gran Reserva made by Baron de Ley. This was a classic Rioja; a nose of sweet fruit, vanilla oak and a little tobacco – a lot of complex flavours were bouncing around the glass all the way through the long finish. It was a little coarse on its own, but great with food with a taught balance of acidity, astringency and chocolaty tannins.
As for the bottles that made it into the cellar, a business trip back from China via Dubai airport started off the month’s purchases with the Château Musar 2001 white (a unique blend of Obaideh and Merwah grapes which was unlike any white I’ve ever tried when I first tasted it a couple of years ago) and the 2006 Rosé (a Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault and Carignan which I’ve never seen in the UK). These take my Musar collection to 19 bottles covering 7 vintages, nearly 15% of all the wine I have and a continuing reminder of my fondness for this country first started at the beginning of my wine journey nearly five years ago.
My birthday also generated a few bottles, with some promising early drinking from La Villasse Côtes du Rhône and Izadi Rioja (a bottle of red and white from each) plus an intriguing Bodegas Castaño 2008 Dulce Monastrell sweet red to ponder over. Finally the d’Arenberg d’Arry’s Original 2008 Shiraz Grenache should provide some drinking pleasure in the next 2 or 3 years (another useless stat is that my total number of bottles of Australian wine is only 18, one less than my Musar hoard!).
Looking forward into May and June and the 2011 London International Wine Fair runs from 17th-19th May with tastings, seminars, those awards I mentioned and over 20,000 wines on show – it’s just a shame I can’t make the relatively short journey on those dates.
A few days later and 20th-22nd sees the 29th annual Paso Robles Wine Festival in California featuring more than 140 area wineries.
May moves into June with English Wine Week, starting on the 28th to raise awareness of English Vineyards and wines, while in China the 6th Shanghai International Wine Trade Fair runs from 1st-3rd June.
Peering a little further into June and the 9th & 10th sees Brock University, St. Catharines, Ontario host the 2011 Riesling Experience in Canada, bringing together producers, trade and media from around the world to showcase this sublime grape.
Until the next time, Slainte!
“Oddbins, the Demise” would be a fitting sub-title to this month’s post, for what a month it’s been for arguably the most popular wine retailer in the UK. Founded in 1963 by Ahmed Pochee, run through the 1970s by Dennis Ing and Nick Baile, Seagram from 1984 to 2001 and then by French group Castel from 2002 to 2008 it was finally purchased by Nick Baile’s son Simon in 2008. Unfortunately Baile number 2 also inherited the poor debt, range and management decisions from Castel and, with hindsight, left it too late to do something about it.
News of Oddbins troubles first went public at the beginning of March with the closure of over a 3rd (39) of its stores, unfortunately it soon became clear this was too little, too late and by the 18th the wine media were reporting on the company’s attempts to enter into a CVA (Company Voluntary Agreement) with its creditors as the next step in their attempt to stay afloat. Victoria Moore wrote an upbeat piece in The Telegraph with Baile giving his side to the saga (interestingly using the same photograph as an equally complementary piece in the same paper only a year ago by Jonathan Sibun) but a close look at the comments section revealed that there was a lot of tension and unhappiness below the surface which seems to have included the largest creditor as well when, less than 2 weeks later, the CVA was vetoed by the UK taxman (HMRC are owed £8.6 million out of the company’s £20 million total debt) – the company went into administration. Tim Atkin wrote an excellent piece on the saga to bring the month to a close with a telling comment – “HMRC clearly had little or no confidence in the future of the business under its current owners.”
It promises to be another busy month as administrators Deloitte look for potential buyers, so next month’s Corner post will no doubt include an update to the tale and whatever twists still remain.
Elsewhere in the wine world Bill Koch’s complaint against Christie’s, originally filed in March 2010, was finally dismissed by a New York Judge. The Christie’s litigation was latest in a line of legal actions by Koch in his crusade to expose Counterfeiting and Fraud in the fine wine trade – summarised in an excellent article in The Slate by Mike Steinberger from last year – it was only in January that Zachy’s and the Chicago Wine Company settled with him out of court.
Victoria Moore caught my attention again with her article in The Telegraph on alcohol in wines, a current theme as May’s Decanter magazine (delivered in March!) includes, for the first time, alcohol levels for all the wines reviewed. At least the magazine isn’t still pushing ridiculous filler articles questioning whether fine wine can be made above 14%, as they did last year.
The last news I’ll review here hit an emotional chord as the last ever Wine Library TV episode was aired; episode 1000 saw Gary Vaynerchuk sign off with his trademark catchphrase “You, with a little bit of me…” after a week which included some of the oldest WLTV Forum members. The WLTV Forum was where I cut my teeth in the art of “free wine speech” (arguing would be another appropriate term!) before Reign of Terroir, and, although I now rarely get time to join in on the discussions, I still have a soft spot for the people and the Video Blog. Of course that wasn’t the end of GV and his pieces to camera as he announced the start of a new site, The Daily Grape, intended to be a more relevant, focussed and (the clue is in the title) regular wine video show. I’ve caught a few of the episodes and it’s comforting to see Gary keeping most of the enthusiasm that made WLTV so unique in the realm of wine reviews.
Oddbins demise was evident across the Northeast of England as well with the quick closure of the Darlington, Durham and Whitley Bay stores (plus the new “Oddies” convenience store in Gateshead which Decanter.com discussed in December). I talked with local Oddbins staff who were saddened by so many store closures and job losses affecting friends and colleagues, but understandably relieved that the main Newcastle and Gosforth shops were still going, while after the CVA failure the mood is “wait and see” (something that seems to be a job requirement working for Oddbins) but business as usual in the meantime, although the number of bottles on the shelves is looking thinner.
NEWTS this month was the AGM where the discussions went on for an age before the first wine was opened, followed by something of a tasting sprint to get through 8 wines in just over an hour. It was a quartet of reds which filled most of my notes for the night, starting with the Chilean Cousino-Macul 2007 “Finis Terrae” Cabernet-Merlot blend, a strong, herby nose with plenty of juicy blackcurrant fruit and soft tannins . Next was Australia’s Barrossa Valley and the Yalumba 2007 M/G/S with a very smooth herb nose & palate, although a touch one dimensional , not something that could be applied to Le Vieux Telegraph 2003 “La Crau” Chateauneuf du Pape which had smooth complexity – both wines initiated debate on the relative merits of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre blends from Old and New World, each having its supporters (I was leaning towards the Yalumba). Finally to the Barossa again for the palate pleasing St. Hallet 2006 “Old Block” Shiraz, a well made wine which showed good complexity, balance and integration but just needed a few more years of maturity to really shine.
The next NEWTS meeting is my own, first, presentation, a tasting showing a cross-section of German wine grapes, styles and regions to a group that has not shown much enthusiasm in the past to white wines or thin reds – I expect a “tough gig” but will let you know how it went next month!
Traveling kicked off again at work with a 2 week visit to Guangzhou in the south of China. The scale of the city is truly awesome – 14 million people stacked together in an endless high-rise skyline – a major culture shock for someone more used to the rolling green Northumberland countryside! Although I was in China for nearly two week a winery visit was not forthcoming so I made do with a visit to Grace Vineyard’s store in central Guangzhou where I tasted their Tasya’s Reserve Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon (both 2008 vintage), both solid wines with plenty of fruit and structure. Grace Vineyard looks to be making a name for itself as one of the leading Chinese producers focussing on quality above quantity and I may follow up with a more detailed piece in the future, but don’t go looking for a bottle with your local merchant – exports are rare, like the 2008 Tasya’s Reserve Cabernet Franc that came home with me!
That leads me nicely onto this month’s review of my own drinking and buying, a lean month on both fronts.
Along with the Chinese Cabernet Franc only two other bottles were added to the home collection; Tim Adam’s 2007 “The Fergus” Grenache blend joins its 2004 and 2006 siblings, whilst a favourable TV review from Olly Smith encouraged me to get the Paul Mas 2010 Marsanne from the Languedoc, the first wine I’ve bought with the new IGP labelling I discussed on Reign of Terroir in 2009.
I also took advantage of my flight to Guangzhou routing through Dubai and, in anticipation of a “lean” 2 weeks in China, picked up 2 Château Musar wines for drinking; the 2006 Rosé was my first experience of this style from Musar and was a fresh, savoury wine which blossomed over 3 days (even a pink Musar seems to improve with air) while the 2002 Château Red was simply a joy to drink (especially after 10 days in China!) and further suggests to me that the ’02 is on a par with the delicious ’99 after relatively disappointing ’00 and ’01 bottles.
I also managed to try two other Chinese wines in Guangzhou, the 1998 Great Wall and 2003 ChangYu, both Cabernet Sauvignon and both mildly corked (although not enough to be undrinkable, and faced with the choice of that or nothing then drink I did!). I had serious suspicions on both the claimed vintage and variety of the Great Wall while the marginally better ChangYu at least showed some Cabernet character – these retailed for between £5 and £10 so are at the cheaper end of what is available in local wine stores (the Grace Vineyard Cab-Franc I brought home came in at just over £20).
It was a Rosé and Red which provided the most enjoyment at home as well as abroad; the 2009 Domaine de la Garenne Bandol Rosé (Comte Jean de Balincourt) proved a hit with fellow NEWTS at a March dinner with its smooth strawberries & cream profile and a “grown up” texture on the palate, while the inky 2006 Montes Alpha Merlot showed a powerful blackcurrant nose with balanced, savoury tannins and a chocolate mint finish, perfect for quiet evening drinking at home.
Looking forward and with the start of Spring, the world wine diary is beginning to fill out. VinItaly has just come to a close in Verona, and California hosts the next two major events the end of April with the 19th annual Hospice du Rhône in Paso Robles on the 28th – 30th and the 2nd annual California Wine Festival in Orange County on 29th & 30th.
May then sees the start of the UK’s National Wine Month, an initiative run by the Wine & Spirit Education Trust under the slogan “Make Time for Wine” with the headline act of the London International Wine Fair on 17-19th May.
Even if, like me, you’re not able to make any of these events then I trust you’ll still find some time to open a bottle of something special and toast the end of Winter.
Where did January go? After the excesses of Christmas and New Year the month seemed to fly by with barely a growl, at least in my corner of the world. There were a few interesting news stories which, for a change, don’t include anything on how China is buying up Bordeaux.
The long running saga of billionaire Bill Koch and his counterfeit wine claims reached partial conclusion with an out of court settlement with Zachy’s, although this is unlikely to be the last we hear of Koch and his crusade against the ambiguous provenance claims of the auction houses.
From old bottles to even older winemaking. The Southern Caucasus has long been viewed as the birthplace of winemaking and new research in the Journal of Archaeological Science described how excavations at the Areni-1 cave complex in south eastern Armenia found 6000 year old “installations and artefacts” which suggest wine production. Although the article was published in November it was only in January that the media got hold of it with Decanter calling it “The World’s Oldest Winery”.
Weather has again been in the headlines with Decanter following up on fallout from the LCB warehouse roof collapse I mentioned last month, with one company losing 80% of the stock it had stored there. More serious to the global business is the significant loss of vines after the recent heavy rains and flooding in Australia, with Wine Spectator reporting on the damage in Victoria with 20% of this year’s crop already lost.
Staying down-under but on a lighter note, Tim Adams, who makes a range of affordable wines that I’ve never been disappointed with, came full circle with his purchase of the Leasingham Winery from Constellation. It was at the same winery in 1975 that Adams started his winemaking career although, as Decanter pointed out in its coverage of the news, the deal was only for the original winery and not the Leasingham brand which is still part of Constellation.
January in the North East had good potential with the visit of Tamra Washington, winemaker for Yealands Estate in Marlborough, to local retailer Carruthers & Kent. I did a piece on Yealands in 2009, Little Sheep and Green Wine, and was looking forward to attending but unfortunately work commitments meant I had to miss the event – instead I point you to the resulting article in the local newspaper.
I did manage to attend the first NEWTS meeting of the year, an enjoyable adventure through wines of the Southern Rhône – a red only tasting to warm us up on a cold January evening. I have a fondness for this area and was not disappointed by a selection of bold, high alcohol wines mostly from the ’06 and ’07 vintages. Sadly I seem to have mislaid my detailed tasting notes and the formal minutes of the meeting have not been distributed yet, but the best and most memorable wines of the evening were;
– Xavier Vignon 2007 Vaqueyras Sweet fruit and spicy oak on the nose, a concentrated but elegant and well balanced wine.
– Domaine de Mourchon 2006 Séguret Grand Reserve Sour cherry, smoke and liquorice on the nose, sweet tannins and fruit in a stunning but young mouthful – needs a couple more years.
– Domaine Grand Veneur 2005 Clos de Sixte, Lirac Tar and Garrigue nose and a fresh, lifting wine typical of the South Rhône.
– Raymond Usseglio 2003 Cuvée Impériale Châteauneuf du Pape More cherry and smoke on the nose, but also a touch of spice and cigarbox – a creamy taste with subtle sweetness gave a deliciously integrated 4 star wine.
The wines had two other things in common in addition to their origin in that they were all bought from the Big Red Wine Company (based in Suffolk with mainland UK delivery) and all cost between £5 and £10 less than the guesses coming from the tables (a rare event from my own experience). This is the first time I’ve tried wines from this retailer but on this tasting I’d recommend UK based wine lovers to give them a try.
January was also a quiet month at home, with barely a half dozen bottles moving in or out of the cellar. For drinking only one stood out amongst pleasant but mediocre quaffers – the 2002 vintage of Château Musar from the Lebanon. This is still early in terms of Musar but already displays some of the classic characters which makes it the “love it or hate it” experience it is.
The first glass was straight out of the bottle (I’d normally decant for at least an hour) with a touch of spritz and a disjointed aspect to the nose and taste, but after a few minutes this blew off and very quickly developed into a superb drinking experience. The nose was smoky with a touch of barnyard while in the mouth it was delightfully smooth and warm with integrated flavours, chalky dry tannins and some chocolate with the manure (yes, manure!). Deliciously textured there was a long, earthy finish and an overall quality approaching that of the ‘99.
Incoming bottles were predominantly French with an Alsace Pinot Gris and Sylvaner from the Cave de Turkheim, something pink from Champagne by Charles de Casanove and a Loire Muscadet (although from the Côtes de Grandlieu rather than the more common Sèvre et Maine). The New World exception was the Cono Sur 2008 20 Barrels Pinot Noir as I once more make an effort to trade up in my Pinot Noir purchases to get a better look at what this esoteric grape has to offer.
Normally as I’m writing these diary posts I use my Facebook and Twitter feeds as an aide de memoire in fleshing out the sections, but this time round I barely had anything to work with. I’m hoping that this retreat from the on-line neighbourhood is only temporary and just a symptom of a slow start to a new year, especially as Ken’s enforced absence as his Documentary work progresses has meant a dearth of Reign of Terroir posts recently from either of us.
Keep the faith!
A warm welcome to 2011 from Reign of Terroir and there’s a whole new year ahead to look forward to but, as we move into a new decade, here’s one final look back to 2010 as Greybeard’s Corner reviews the run up to Christmas and New Year.
Winter hit the UK fast and hard, so much so that one of London’s bonded wine warehouses, London City Bond’s premises in Purfleet, had its roof collapse under the weight of snow resulting in significant loss of stock. Luckily no one was in the building at the time but 100,000 cases of wine were stored in the warehouse by several merchants and initial recovery efforts only amounted to 40%, with sub-zero temperatures a worry for those bottles not destroyed.
Staying in the UK and The Wine Gang, a collaboration of 5 wine writers and critics, reshuffled their line-up with the departure of arguably their most famous members, Tim Atkins and Olly Smith, to be replaced by David Williams and Jane Parkinson. It would seem that Tim and Olly had too many other projects vying for their attention to dedicate enough time to the Gang.
Atkin’s December article on The World Beyond Bordeaux is yet another argument that there is more to wine than the celebrity French region – unless of course you’re in China, where Bordeaux wine is the status symbol above all others. Château Mouton Rothschild nearly doubled in value after its new label, created by Chinese artist Xu Lei, was unveiled and then came the news that a Chinese billionaire had purchased Château Chenu Lafitte in the Côtes de Bourg.
Keeping the focus on Asia and Decanter magazine announced that Hong Kong based Jeannie Cho Lee MW would be a Contributing Editor for Asia. The wine business must be good in Hong Kong as it was Cho Lee who successfully bid for an enormous white truffle at a charity auction in Italy, sharing the news with the world on her twitter feed in November,
“Just became the owner of the lrgst wht truffle (900gm) for 105,000 Euros, shared among friends. We will have a wht truffle feast in 7 days”
However 2010 came to an end with a darker side of Chinese wine industry, as a counterfeit scandal surfaced. The fact that China produces fake wine shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, but that shouldn’t detract from the developing legitimate fine wine business in the country as I saw when I visited Château Bolongbao in November.
A couple of other stories kept my scientific curiosity piqued. Hot on the heels of upsetting Jamie Goode, Dr Pascal Chatonnet released more research into wine faults, this time with an alternative to TCA for tainted wine – MDMP. Interestingly this research points to oak chips and untreated cork as a source of the contaminants, as opposed to oak barrels that caused the previous controversy. Finally one of the original wine evils, Brett, got another review in Victoria Moore’s Brett, friend or foe? piece in the Telegraph.
Moving closer to home and the last NEWTS meeting I wrote about was in October when we had a wonderful Californian themed tasting which was going to be a hard act to follow, but I needn’t have worried as November’s meeting was equally enjoyable and somewhat educational as well.
The theme chosen by the presenter was “The Jefferson Tour”; wines from the regions Thomas Jefferson visited during his three month tour of the southern part of France and Northern Italy between February and June 1787.
Jefferson began in Burgundy travelling from Dijon down to Lyon, then through the Rhône to Orange and Nimes, east along the Cote d’Azur into Italy and Turin, Milan and Genoa, before backtracking to Monaco and Nice, down through the Languedoc to Toulouse, then to Bordeaux, up the coast into Brittany then back along the Loire Valley to Orleans before returning to Paris. During the 1200 mile tour he compared red and whites wines and wrote in his journal of the soils, cultivation and commercial aspects of the winemaking.
Our tasting homage to Jefferson began with a bottle of fizz, the Château Rives 2008 Blanquette de Limoux made from the local Mauzac grape with green apple, a little bitterness and a hint of oxidation. Burgundy was next with a textured white from Nuits Saint George, Jean Bourguignon’s 2007 Mersault. This was concentrated; a thick oily nose, perfumed with some banana, and very smooth and creamy with oak in the mid-palate going into a long finish, although the flavour drops off. The final white was from the Rhône, the E. Guigal 2007 Condrieu, a thick wine with an oily nose and taste. The flavour was intense, if a little one dimensional, with some zestiness and a floral, creamy nose which improved in the glass.
For the reds we mimicked Jefferson’s route, starting in Burgundy with the Pommard 1er cru Les Épenots 2001 from Francois Parent. It was brown in colour with a nose of slightly stewed fruits and had a lean taste, not too much fruit but good secondary flavours. It was well textured with subtle tannins, although lacking acidity and a touch dilute. I’d describe it as a “happy wine”, but it did elicit a heated discussion in the group, some arguing it was delicious, others that it was past its best.
For the Rhône a special Hermitage was poured, La Chapelle 1995 by Paul Jaboulet Aine. Also browning this had tar and liquorice on the nose with herbs and smoky meat. There was a herbal bitterness at the front which, once accustomed to, was very pleasant and the wine was dry with plenty of smooth tannins. This was a delicious wine with a lot of integrated complexity, flavours and textures and I managed to salvage the remnants of a bottle at the end of the tasting to enjoy at home.
Moving into Provence we tasted the Dalmasso 2004 Domaine de la Source from Bellet, one of the most unusual Appellations in France as it is completely surrounded by the city of Nice on the Côte d’Azur. The Domaine de la Source red was made from FolleNoir and Braquet grapes with some Grenache and had a smoky ash nose, sweet and a little vegetal but the finish dropped off disappointingly. There was a dry bitter undertone and not enough acid to carry the tannins through.
Then into Italy and the Giuseppe Mascarello 2003 Barolo Villero from Piedmont. This was an all round 4 star wine with an epoxy/enamel nose which developed into cherry menthol with a little tar. It was supremely balanced with sweet fruit throughout, smooth tannins starting in the mid-palate and remaining strong through the fruity finish, an elegant and savoury wine.
In Bordeaux Jefferson enjoyed Château Haut-Brion but unfortunately our tasting budget couldn’t run to that so we settled for the 2005 Château Larrivet Haut-Brion from Pessac Leognan instead. This 50/50 Cabernet and Merlot blend had a complex, smooth nose with mint and a balanced texture with tannins developing on the mid-palate. This wine was 4 star but still too young, its moderate acidity and strong tannins giving it great potential for further development.
The final wine was a Muscat de Frontignan from Château de la Peyrade, which was sweet, smooth and dangerously easy to drink, although not particularly complex. “Nice” was used as a criticism and bottles of this stuff could disappear quickly which, at 15% abv, is not always a good thing!.
After the superb excesses of November December’s meeting was an informal pre-Christmas tasting of a range of wines provided by the committee, three of which stood out – although one for the wrong reasons. We started with a bottle of sparkling served blind and various suggestions came to the fore but the truth was stranger than fiction with the English Ridgeview Bloomsbury 2007 revealed, an award winning wine in 2010 but a disappointment to many in the room. It was very frothy and a touch simplistic with citrus acidity, lime and apple fruit – maybe a year or so of bottle age would improve it (I hope so as I have a bottle myself!).
The most interesting red of the night was the Bodegas Ochoa 2002 Reserva from Navarra; an oaky, spicy nose with some liquorice, very smooth on the palate with a mixture of flavours including black olives, cherries and plums.
Finally the Royal Oporto 1977 Vintage Port was something special; a delicious raisin and alcohol nose which suggested it had some “bite” to it, while in the mouth it was a smooth, rich mix of fruit and tannins surrounded by the alcohol spice. This was the oldest Port I’ve tried and I found it truly exceptional, but some of the more experienced members confirmed that this would improve further with more age, taming the alcohol that was still pronounced on the palate – I only hope I’ll have a chance to try more mature Ports in the future.
Two local retailers also make it into my last report for 2010. PortoVino hosted a tasting of new Portuguese table wines, Ports and Madeira looking to make it onto their retail lists. All the Madeira’s were from Pereira D’Oliveira (Vinhos) and I found their style very dry across the range. I wasn’t overly impressed with their younger wines, all from the Tinta Negro Mole variety, as they were too dry for my palate, but some of the older ones were delicious, especially an unusual Terrantez from, I think, the ‘70s. Unfortunately I managed to leave my notes on a ‘plane during my Chinese trip so I can’t recall any specifics of the wines that night.
In the middle of 2009 I wrote of the Wine on the Tyne tasting in Newcastle where newcomers Carruthers & Kent exhibited for the first time. Although taking on-line orders they were expecting to open up a shop in Newcastle’s Gosforth area in November ’09, but, due to a range of factors, this had been delayed by a year and so it was only in November 2010 that the doors finally opened. Their Facebook page contains plenty of photos of the shop and they have a great range of wines including the excellent Patricius Dry Furmint from Hungary. I intend to buy a selection from them over the coming months, I’ve already started with the new 2009 Boekenhoutskloof The Chocolate Block which they had in just before Christmas.
And so we come to a close with my usual ramblings of what I’ve been buying and drinking at home.
A much appreciated Christmas present from my parents was the Krohn 1978 Colheita Port while another 2009 Beaujolais joined the collection with Louis Latour’s Brouilly from my local Costco. More from 2009 around the world were Ata Rangi’s Crimson Martinborough Pinot Noir, Pieropan’s Soave and Saladini Pilastri’s Falerio dei Colli Ascolani (yes, I’m still buying Italian whites!).
On the drinking front there were some seriously good wines opened, not that surprising as this covered the Christmas and New Year break.
The Dr. Wagner Saarburg 2007 Riesling and Cossetti 2008 Roero Arneis fought it out for best white; one a classic, deliciously sweet and oily Riesling, the other floral with lemon biscuit and honey.
For red it was a Chilean stand-off with the dense, extracted Terrunyo 2006 Carmenere from Concha y Toro and the elegant menthol and blackcurrant Miguel Torres 2001 Manso de Velasco Viejas Vinas.
Cheese and desserts were accompanied by a trio from California, Australia and Portugal; the Suncé 2008 Sweet Zora Cabernet Franc was in a rustic sherry style with sweet and salty flavours, Pertaringa Vineyards Full Fronti 20 year old Frontignac had a dark nose of cinder toffee and sweet raisins with nuts and toffee on the palate, while the Quinta do Infantado 2004 LBV Port was a balanced and complex with maybe a touch too much alcohol burn in what was otherwise a stunning Port.
So, the decade has ended and after finally shaking off the bout of ‘flu I picked up over the holidays I finally got round to finishing this piece and can start to look forward to what 2011 has to bring.
Pickled frogs, fungal barrels and superb Bordeaux (again) highlight in this reprise of the last couple of months in the wine world.
Unfortunately I have been guilty of letting my Corner posts lapse recently, a mix of work related time constraints and travel – so this post is an attempt to recover lost ground, starting with a whistle stop tour of some of the main wine stories of the last couple of months.
All over the Northern Hemisphere harvesting of the vines began, and nowhere was it more eagerly anticipated than Bordeaux, where, once again, the harvest of the (insert decade, century, millennium here as required) was pronounced after a relatively dry, mediocre summer was supported by fine weather just before picking resulting in slow, evenly developed grapes with great (possibly superb) potential. Elsewhere the Loire was also successful while German yields were small but of good quality. Over in the US the situation in California was more uncertain after a cool summer which slowed ripening. Everything depended on decisions taken in September and the subsequent weather – for those that made the right vineyard choices 2010 could be a great year, for others it was barely salvageable, as summed up by the Wine Country Minute.
Nine new MWs were announced in September joining the first 2 from earlier in the year. US journalist Jean Reilly joins 5 from the UK, including writer Peter Richards, and new MWs from Belgium, Norway, Australia, Japan and Canada.
Decanter reported on research identifying TCA in oak barrels, although Jamie Goode had some words of caution on his blog which elicited a response from the paper’s author Pascal Chatonnet in the comments section. The abstract of the original article can be found in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
After the news of James Suckling leaving the Wine Spectator we all wondered what he’d do next but I’m not sure many would have predicted a wine blended by him being served to The Pope! – Decanter and Jancis Robinson got a sneak preview. Aside from ensuring his place in the afterlife we’re still waiting on his new web-site, but the “teaser video” on JamesSuckling.com has managed to ruffle a few feather’s, especially Jamie Goode who posted a critical piece (make up your own mind if the video is meant to be self deprecating or serious).
One more Decanter mention when their World Wine Awards were announced at the beginning of September. All 384 pages of the magazine’s October edition gave me plenty of reading material recounting details of the tastings earlier in the year. Noteworthy of the International Trophy winners was a 2006 Ridgeview Grosvenor Blanc de Blancs beating off Champagne in the sparkling category – highlighting England’s strength with that style –Chile beating off all contenders for Sauvignon Blanc, and an Israeli Shiraz beating France and Australia for high-end Rhône varietals with the Carmel 2006 Kayoumi.
Moving from the sublime to the ridiculous and October saw a UK woman suing supermarket retailer ASDA (the UK arm of Wal-Mart) after she claimed to have almost drank a frog poured from a bottle of relatively clear Moscatel de Valencia last Christmas. One assumes the alcohol must have been flowing freely for some time for no-one to have noticed that before the glass was raised to the lips!
Equally ridiculous is yet more news of grape thieves pre-empting a legitimate harvest, this time in Hamburg, Northern Germany, where almost all of the tiny St. Pauli crop was picked clean.
The biggest news from the Blogoshpere had to be the 3rd EWBC in Vienna, Austria in October. The wrap-up can be read here but Reign of Terroir’s own Ken Payton was present, ably participating in a talk on Wine Communication as well as accosting Austrian Politicians and winemakers. [Also see Wine Politics In Immoderartion - Admin.] Next year’s EWBC is to be held in Franciacorta, Lombardy, Northern Italy on October 14-16th.
On a more personal note, and as an unashamed advocate of German wines, especially Riesling, I had to accept the depressing truth of The Guardian’s post “The Curse of the Blue Nun” which details the poor image of Germany in the UK. Whilst this does mean I can continue to purchase world class wines at bargain prices I often wonder why it is only the wine cognoscenti who seem to “get” Germany, a point of view echoed by The Wine Rambler with his recent post on another German wine stereotype, Black Tower.
Sharpening the focus to the North East and the September NEWTS meeting was a commercial presentation from Oddbins, given by Gosforth store manager David under a New World/Old World comparison theme.
The most interesting match ups were for Chardonnay and Syrah;
— The creamy, tropical fruit Ladies who shoot their lunch 2009 Wild Ferment Chardonnay (£20) held its own very well against the brioche and crème-caramel 2007 Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru by Domaine des Bons Coteaux (£75).
— Chapoutier’s mature and minty 2008 Les Meysonniers Crozes-Hermitage met Craggy Range’s deep and dark Single Vineyard 2008 Gimblett Gravels – both at £18 and, for me at least, the Kiwi just took it.
October became a California-fest when all my business travelling finally paid off and I had the opportunity to visit San Jose for a training course, spending a day in Napa before flying down to San Diego and a couple of days work in Carlsbad. I then took the rest of the week off and drove back to San Francisco visiting a few wineries along the way, including detours to Paso Robles, Santa Cruz and Sonoma. Coincidentally when I returned to the UK there were also 2 California-themed local tastings to attend which means that I have more to write about than I can do justice to here– so I won’t bother! Look for some California-biased pieces on this blog some time shortly.
Other than the Californian tastings the main local news was a new source of wine in my area; MartaVine is the second Portuguese retailer (PortoVino started last year) to set up in the North East, except founder Marta Mateus has the added advantage of being Portuguese. I’ve only had a brief meeting so far but hope to find out a little more about her and her wines in the near future.
And so we finish with my roundup of wines that I’ve bought for, and drank from, my modest home collection. I may not have noticed at the time, but for some reason purchases outstripped pourings nearly 3:1 over a 9 week period, aided by a modest little haul brought back from California.
First the drinkers, of which two reds and two whites stand out. Penfolds 1997 St. Henri Shiraz was opened for friends along with two more understated examples of South Australia’s most famous grape. The St. Henri blew the others away with a structured, somewhat Pinot nose – a little stinky moving into a sweet spiciness & some liquorice. This was a full flavoured mouthful; smoky with some sweet fruit and very fine tannins throughout, but even this superb wine was outshone a few weeks later by the Zlatan Plavac Grand Cru 2005 Vinogorje Hvar. This brooding Croatian had a dark inky colour with a hint of rusting on the swirl and a dusky, inviting nose of sweet smoke and spice. In the mouth there a juicy acidity perfectly balanced by plenty of smooth, fine-grain tannins and a sweet-sour plum fruit component. The tannins give you the urge to chew so you almost miss the medium-length finish of the flavours drifting off into a slightly sweet, herby aftertaste – a damn fine wine which could last another 3-5 years with ease.
For the whites Riesling, that perennial favourite of mine, dominated. The Reichsgraf Von Kesselstatt 2004 Scharzhofberger Riesling Kabinett had a light nose with a touch of kerosene coming through, sweet and floral in the mouth. The texture was light and flavours were simple, but enhanced by some bottle age – this was a crowd pleaser, an enjoyable Mosel wine with a mix of sugar, acidity and age. Somewhat younger but far superior was the Wild Earth 2008 Riesling from Central Otago, New Zealand. This had a crisp, petrochemical nose with a slight creamy nuttiness. In the mouth it was just dry, with clean, zesty acidity and a touch of residual sugar – really fresh and youthful with a relatively full texture. This was an excellent wine, exactly what I like from the variety and one of the best New Zealand Rieslings I’ve tasted.
Now to trim down that buying list and suggest what may be interesting in a few years time.
Top of the pile must be the 2002 Château Musar, last on the shelf as my local Waitrose was moving onto the new 2003 vintage of this Lebanese classic. I’ve yet to taste the ’02 but this completes my trio of that vintage – the only wine where I purchase multiple bottles for staggered opening, something I resist doing for other wines as it reduces my ability for one-off, impulse buys.
From Lebanon to England, and the Ridgeview Bloomsbury 2007 Brut. This fine example of English Sparkling now also resides with my two Reign of Terroir compatriots, Ken Payton and Brandon Miller, as I brought them a bottle each on my Californian road-trip – I hope they enjoy it at some point over the 2-3 years as I intend to.
Iberia next, with the Quinta do Poço do Lobo 2007 Reserva (Portugal, Red), Quinta do Infantado 2004 LBV Port (Portugal, fortified), Done José Oloroso Reservas Especiales de Romate (Spain, fortified) and Jorge Ordonez & Co. 2007 Malaga Seleccion Especial No. 1 (Spain, sweet). This mix typifies my eclectic tastes and spirit of adventure in wine buying, especially the Jorge Ordonez Malaga which is made in collaboration with Austrian maestro Gerhard Kracher, the subject of a two part Reign of Terroir interview only this month.
I finally started buying some of the fêted 2009 Beaujolais…. well, a bottle at least, the Côte du Py 2009 Morgon Vieilles Vignes. Hopefully this will be the start of a gradual expansion of Cru Beaujolais in my cellar, an underappreciated wine in my household but one I always want to give more time to.
Finally there was the selection of Californian wines which made it safely home with me at the end of October; 3 fortified wines, a white Rhône blend from Santa Cruz, a red blend from Napa and a Carneros Pinot Noir. To find out more about these, and the stories behind their purchase, keep an eye on your Reign of Terroir RSS feed over the next couple of weeks!
The ubiquitous Randal Graham seemed to be everywhere last month as a barrage of tweets, articles and interviews hit the ‘net. Decanter.com posted an interview by Adam Lechmere (including a brief Bio for those few of you not familiar with this eclectic giant of the business) referencing his new project of growing a vineyard from seed, which was also discussed on Decanter.com but given more in-depth exposure by Jon Bonné over at SFGate – who then followed up with a set of tasting notes a few days later.
Grahm’s genetic plans were put into context with the news of militants in France destroying a crop of genetically modified vines in Colmar, Alsace. Unlike GMO crops previously targeted by activists around the world these vines were part of a government funded project set up by the National Institute for Agronomic Research (INRA) to investigate resistance to the Grape Fanleaf Virus. Ironically it was only a couple of months after a detailed article in the Washington Post explaining the Colmar situation. As someone trained as a geneticist I know I have a more “relaxed” view of genetic manipulation of plants and animals, but even after several re-reads of this story I just find myself sad and angry that a project with so much potential for good was destroyed for a principle which is tenuous at the best of times.
On a lighter note August also saw data showing that US wine consumption has risen for the 16th year running to the highest ever levels. Looking a little deeper at the statistics I found it interesting that the current levels are only marginally higher than the peak seen in 1985 & ’86 – feel free to drop a comment if you know why the mid 80s seemed to be a boom period for wine drinking in America?
Closer to home and I found myself reading a lot by British wine writer and critic Tim Atkin, including his amusing article on novelty wine labels and then a to-the-point piece on Wine, Social Media & the power of the internet. Tim is a no-nonsense character and has made a few enemies along the way (mostly in South Africa, which is strange since that’s his wife’s nationality) but he is also a concise and clear writer who I enjoy reading and usually end up agreeing with. He is also a writer for The Times newspaper, the first UK on-line media website to go behind a subscription wall, but luckily he uploads his pieces on his own website shortly afterwards.
August is the month where many Europeans take their main summer vacation – in France many take the entire month as holiday – but this year factors have conspired against me so that I was work-bound with no sign of any R&R on the horizon. It was also a quiet month for wine events in the N.E. of England with only the regular NEWTS meeting as a beacon of light, this time a South African themed tasting hosted by local retailer Tony Raven, of Proteas Wines. Although I’ve tasted some of his range before the theme this time round was Chenin Blanc plus his Umkhulu range of aged reds. As I have a soft spot for Chenin and am trying to expand my experiences of reds with bottle-age then this promised to be an enlightening meeting.
First was the Beaumont 2009 Chenin Blanc from Walker Bay (although the winery at Bot River is a few miles inland from the main region near Hermanus). This was a well made wine with creamy fruit on the nose and a fresh acidity, not overly complex but easy drinking. One step up was the Hope Marguerite 2009 Barrel Fermented Chenin, also from Beaumont. Grapes from 30 year old vines were fermented in large French barrels to produce a rich, oaky nose and a floral taste. The mid-palate was a little soft and the oak a touch extreme, but this creamy, long finishing wine was still delicious and should improve with age.
2 Chenin blends were next, with the complex, spicy Lammershoek 2008 Roulette Blanc (Chenin, Chardonnay & Viognier) from Swartland and the chemistry experiment that is the Miles Mossop 2007 “Saskia” ; a blend of 67% Chenin (including some Botrytised grapes) and 33% Vioginer fermented on the lees. This was a wine you could sit back and contemplate on with an unusual nose (probably the botrytis grapes) with an rich oiliness – not cheap at £17 but unique and therefore worthy, for me at least.
We then moved onto the Umkhulu wines covering the ’03 Shiraz, the ’02 Malbec, ’02 Pinotage and the ‘01 Akira – a 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Pinotage blend. Umkhulu is Zulu for “The Big One” and the brand plays on African heritage with the traditional Zulu warrior shield on the labels, although the wine is actually made at Bellevue Wine Estates in Bottelary.
The Umkhulu wines Proteas stocks are mature and all the better for it; the Shiraz had a beautiful earthy nose with some liquorice and smooth, integrated tannins with a touch of menthol and toffee; the Malbec was big on liquorice but a bit flabby and short on the finish; the Pinotage was herbal with noticeable acidity, quite youthful relative to the others; while the Akira leaned towards barnyard on the nose with a blueberry and herb undertone, with a chewy attack on the palate, mixing fine tannins which were the main feature of the finish – although its short mid-palate detracted somewhat.
It is rare to find affordable bottle-aged wines but all these reds were retailing at just over £10 and each one showed enough integration and secondary complexity (as well as tasting damn fine) to easily justify the price.
The evening finished with a return to Chenin Blanc, this time with a sweet offering by Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards and their “Vin Pi 2”. I couldn’t find out much background information for the producer or the wine, other than that it was made from naturally dried grapes using the Solera method more typical of fine Sherry. The nose suggested a sour freshness with some honeysuckle, and the first sip coated the mouth with a lusciously sweet floral toffee flavour, although there was no mid-palate as such. At £25 a bottle it’s not cheap, but this smooth, moreish delight is one of the better dessert wines I’ve had this year.
And so to conclude this month’s diary post with the round up of wines I’ve bought and drank for myself (well, Sarah helps me with the whites!).
It would have been a pure Old World purchasing month – with 3 Italians, 3 French and a German – were it not for the last minute impulse buy of two Australians in the bargain bin at a local supermarket; the 2002 and 2003 Rosemount Estate Show Reserve Shiraz from the McLaren Vale. For $10 each I couldn’t resist and they set me off thinking of a Shiraz tasting with the 1997 St. Henri Shiraz I bought in July…more on that next month. The old world contingent was a mix of the traditional and the unusual; a Saint-Estephe, Barbera d’Asti and Riesling in the former camp and a Pecorino, Picpoul de Pinet and Raboso Piave in the latter (I’m not sure where a Côtes du Luberon Rosé fits in!). As you can see I am firmly resisting any attempt to focus my buying on a particular style or country (and doubt I ever will, there’s always something new to try!).
Of the wines I opened during August all but one were enjoyable 3-star wines including a quaffable Portuguese Vinho Tinto, two very good Austrian Grüner Veltliner (Huber’s 2007 “Berg” and The Wine Societies’ Exhibition 2008, made by Willi Bründlmayer) and a surprisingly good 10 year old Condrieu from Guigal.
However, it was the “one” that stood head & shoulders above the rest; Jim Clendenen’s entry level offering, the Au Bon Climat 2006 Santa Maria Valley, which I bought for £18 ($28) about a year ago. I guess many reading this post will be wondering what I’m smoking, getting so enthusiastic about a wine that may not be the best of what California has to offer, but remember that good Californian Pinot is a style I have limited exposure to here in the North of England and for me this was a superb 4-star example compared to the cheaper supermarket labels I’ve tried before.
The wine had a slightly dirty nose (that’s good by the way) with some smoky ash and as you drank it was sweet at first, with some savoury fruit, then a touch of dryness and a gentle warming at the back of the throat. It was deliciously smooth with enough character to keep interest as you poured another glass and took another sip, and another, and another….OK, you get the picture. The last couple of glasses went perfectly with pan-fried duck breast and, as I put down the empty bottle, I thought to myself that this is what food and wine is all about.
On that contented note (even the memory as I write this is satisfying) I bid you farewell for another month, Slainte!
Death was an unfortunate theme running through July’s wine news. The would-be DRC blackmailer, Jacques Soltys, committed suicide in a Dijon jail while awaiting trial, as reported on Decanter.com, but the industry also lost 3 of its own on separate continents with the passing of Douglas Murray, Bill Wagner and Graham Beck.
Murray co-founded (with Aurelio Montes) Viña Montes in 1987 and became a champion of the Chilean wine industry. He died of cancer aged 68, as did 80 year old Beck, the pioneering South African winemaker and champion of the Méthode Cap Classique sparkling wines the Cape does so well. At 83 Bill Wagner was also a pioneer, this time in the Finger Lakes where he initiated the Riesling plantings which the winery now excels with.
Another era came to an end with the surprise resignation of James Suckling from Wine Spectator. The news resulted in a flurry of blog posts and twitter feeds but it was Eric Arnold’s article in Forbes which I enjoyed as a concise summary of the Suckling saga to date.
A couple of other pieces also caught my attention over the month. Have you heard of Jacques Boissenot? No? Well, neither had I until I read about him in Decanter magazine, but he’s a consultant to four of the five Bordeaux First Growths and was recently named Winemaker of the Decade by the Chinese Bordeaux Guide in a ceremony in Bordeaux. Biossenot and his son Eric seem to consult for most of the area (at least the left bank) but, unlike other consultants, likes to keep a low profile – a refreshing change in today’s self-promoting world.
Finally, with the various debates on closures still going strong, Catherine Jevans on ThirtyFifty.co.uk penned an interesting piece on how cork tainted wine from several recent wine events is coming in at less than 1% – below the typical percentages still used in the aforementioned debates (1-15% depending on who you ask).
Blind tasting was the name of the game for me in July with 2 separate events in Newcastle to attend.
The first was organised through local retailer Richard Granger as an informal, leisurely sit-down gathering covering 5 wines from their range – 6 if you included the Blanc de Blancs from Philppe Herard, a delicious Burgundy sparkler to start off the proceedings. Although served blind things were made a little easier as we were provided with a choice of 3 answers for each glass, either variety or country, and two hours disappeared easily in a relaxed discussion of the merits of the wines with the group of about 20 people.
The Wine of the night was also one of the ones I got wrong, the de Bortoli “Windy Peak” 2008 Pinot Noir from the Yarra Valley in Australia. I had guessed New Zealand as the slightly stinky nose with warm, savoury flavours and delicate complexity seemed too elegant and “classic” to be Australian, based on the few examples I’ve tried previously. At less than £10 a bottle this is a wine worth seeking out as a good introduction to what Australia can do with this difficult grape.
A week later and The Wine Society juggernaut rolled into town with their “You’d swear blind” event. In comparison to the Richard Granger night everything was scaled up; 20 wines to get through over 2 hours in a large, walk-around hall amongst a scrum of about 150 other tasters. We were told at the beginning that the last red was a Competition Wine whose identity would be revealed 45 minutes before the end – the nearest guess winning a bottle of Champagne.
There were no help sheets or clues to any of the wines this time so to have a chance at guessing as many as possible I knew I had to be organised and efficient. I got off to a good start with 8 white wines, a sparkling and a Rosé within the hour, making a guess at variety, region and price for each. By the time the “reveal” of the competition wine came around I’d tried it and 2 other reds, so was starting to fall behind but was confident I’d get close to the 20 before the end, even if it meant spending a little less time trying to figure out region or price and concentrating just on variety.
It shouldn’t have come as a surprise that the competition wine was a ringer; the Château Ksara 2007 Reserve du Couvent (Syrah-Cabernet blend) from Lebanon at £8.75 a bottle. My guess of a 2-3 year old Cru Beaujolais was way off mark, but I was not alone as no one came close to its origins with the Champagne given to a lucky lady who had gone for a Syrah dominated Rhône blend!
Unfortunately that was where the evening’s enjoyment stopped, as the host then proceeded to reveal every wine’s identity, much to the surprise of everyone there. After that I only half-heartedly went round the remaining reds, with their jackets removed and labels visible, as the excitement of the challenge was now gone and I felt thoroughly disappointed. I chatted to a couple of people I knew who said the same; the atmosphere in the room had changed, at least for me, and it suddenly felt as though everyone was being pushed towards the door with no new bottles being opened up even though there was over 20 minutes before the official close.
I consoled myself with the 6 varieties I correctly identified from the 8 white wines tried (although none of the 3 reds) and the lingering taste of a superb Royal Tokaji Wine Company 2007 Áts Cuvée, Late Harvest Furmint still in my mouth.
This was the second Wine Society I’ve been to and, while I really enjoyed the first, this one was let down by an ambitious number of wines (20 in 2 hours was too much for a walk-around blind tasting) and the quick reveal (which I later found out was 30 minutes earlier than intended).
I also attended a “normal” tasting by my local retailer, Spanish Spirit, who put on a Tapas and Wine evening at a local cafe in celebration of Spain’s World Cup victory.
Although I’d already tried the majority of the wines before it was a great evening with plenty of good conversation. I arrived early and managed to find a table to sit at, but by the time the last arrivals had come in it was standing room only in the small room.
A selection of Verdejos started us off, with the Enebral 2009 by Bodega Liberalia showing well – well balanced and fruity in a creamy Sauvignon style. Before moving onto the reds we tried the excellent Veiga Serantes 2008 Albariño which had a sharp acidity carrying with it a range of secondary flavours, most likely from the lees that it is fermented on. At £12.99 a bottle this shows how the popularity of Albariño is pushing prices up across the board, but for a well made and complex white such as this sometimes it’s worth paying a few extra pounds.
Onto the reds and we tasted our way through a mix of Tempranillos from Toro and Ribera del Duero while finishing off what remained of the cured meat and cheese. An old favourite provided drinking pleasure with the Tamaral 2004 Crianza; spicy oak on the nose and plenty of sweet fruit supported throughout by good acidity and integrated tannin – good for a couple of more years yet. Finally a bottle was opened “for the brave” in the room, the Barrel fermented 2009 Cero from Liberalia. With menthol and liquorice on the nose this had a big texture with fresh acidity and, although there was a background greenness, wasn’t as we were led to expect. Given 3-5 years and I’d expect this to be drinking as well as, if not better than the Tamaral is now.
The monthly NEWTS meeting was presented by the Society chairman Geoff Cullen on the Loire Valley, one of his favourite areas . “Touraine” was the theme with a selection of predominantly Vouvray, Chinon and Saumur wines, sourced during one of his frequent holidays to the area, but it was a delicious Sancerre which started us off; the J.P. Balland 2007 Grand Cuvée (Terres Blanches) which had a subtle, floral nose, plenty of citrus acidity and elegant texture.
Vouvray was represented by the venerable producer Domaine Huet with the clean, relatively full bodied “Le Mont” Sec and the honeyed, sour-sweet pineapple “Le Mont” Demi-Sec – a very interesting wine (“Tart Tatin” in a glass was overheard) although a few questioned exactly what it was trying to be, a dessert wine or aperitif (I favoured the latter).
The reds were mostly as expected from a Cabernet Franc region; lean, acidic and vegetal with the exception of the Ladoucette 2007 Les Doux Tours (AOC Touraine) which was a Malbec, Cabernet Franc blend with a very fruity, almost jammy flavour, but lacked complexity. Of the others the 2007 Fours à Chaux (AOC Saumur) from Philippe et Georges Vatan at Château du Hureau showed great texture on the mid-palate with juicy fruit and oaky tannins throughout – a wonderful wine and better appreciated than its more expensive sibling, the 2006 Lisgarth, which had a fantastic cherry menthol nose but the dry tannins needed a little more taming.
The final wine of the night was a treat; the 1999 Château de Fesles Bonnezeaux; a burnished bronze colour in the glass with an unctuous oily perfume and a cinder toffee and burnt orange taste, but with a solid backbone of sour acidity underneath the sweetness.
Back at home and July was the first month in some time where I acquired nearly twice as many bottles than I drank, which caused its own problems as I ran out of space to put them! Emergency action was required and on the last day of the month I purchased a second 40 bottle cooler and installed it in the garage. As the painful process of reorganising the collection didn’t start until August 1st I’ll leave that tale until the next ‘Corner post!
The purchase of the wine cooler meant a visit to a store where they have a wide range of older wines (a few of which have officially moved into the “over the hill” category). I couldn’t resist buying a bottle of E. Guigal’s 2000 Condrieu for £10, even though it has surely seen its best days, however, a Penfolds 1997 St. Henri Shiraz should hopefully have some life left in for my first experience of an aged Aussie stalwart.
A trip to Corkscrew Wines in Carlisle was very successful as I brought back two Château Musar 2003 Blanc, joining one remaining ’01 and pair of ‘04s. This unusual wine, made from the Obaideh and Merwah grapes, made an everlasting impression on me when I first tasted the 2001 a few years ago and I intend to continue purchases of this as well as the more famous red label. To remind you of my mini-obsession with Lebanon and Château Musar I now have 18 bottles of varying colours and vintages – over 12% of my increasing collection of bottles.
I also added to my mini-vertical of Château St. Georges, AOC St. Georges St. Emilion, after a visit from a French colleague who gets a regular allocation of this small producer. With the 06, 07 and 08 laid down I hope in a few years to try again to ignite an interest for Bordeaux which, as yet, just hasn’t happened.
Of the wines opened at home only two excited to any level;
Pfaffenheim’s 2005 Steinert Grand Cru Pinot Gris from Alsace had a delightful fresh honey nose and was beautifully smooth with a slight herbal bitterness throughout and a good balance of acidity in an off-dry style.
The Umkhulu 2001 Akira Cabernet Sauvignon & Pinotage blend (South African, as if you needed telling) had a wonderful warm, smoky, vegetal nose with vanilla and liquorice and a smooth, chocolate texture with barely noticeable fine tannins. This was a savoury, juicy wine with plenty of fruit left for its age, drinking beautifully right now.
August promises to be a sedate month, so, until then, Slainte!
The Wine News for June saw Auction Houses breathing sigh of relief at the beginning of the month as a New York Appellate court ruled that Bill Koch may not sue Acker Merrall and Condit over alleged counterfeit bottles bought by the Billionaire collector, although Koch’s representatives said they’d appeal the decision and this could end up in the Supreme Court. For an insight into Koch’s motives there’s a good article on Bloomberg by Elin McCoy from February this year.
Over to Europe and the controversial Mosel Bridge looks like it is going ahead despite continuing protests. UK daily newspapers The Telegraph and The Independent carried similar articles, with the Independent also posting an emotional piece by Hugh Johnson, one of the bridges most vocal opponents.
Across the border in France and there were changes to two Rhône wine regions. Fed up with being associated with the bad press of the Tricastin Nuclear Power Plant, especially after the 2008 Uranium leak, the Côtes du Tricastin appellation, founded in 1973, has now become AOP (Appellation d’Origine Protégé) Grignan-Les Adhemar, while the renowned Rasteau region has finally been promoted to the ranks of the Crus des Côtes du Rhône, joining Condrieu, Châteauneuf du Pape, St. Joseph and others nearly a decade since its application.
The new UK Coalition government’s “Emergency Budget” in June did not change the already high Excise Duty for wines, much to the relief of the wine buying public (well, me anyway!), however, the increase of VAT from 17.5 to 20% in January 2011 will see prices rise accordingly. We already have one of the highest rates all European countries for wine taxes – working out at £1.69 ($2.50) for most still wines, £2.16 ($3.25) for sparkling and £2.25 ($3.40) for fortified – so any additional targeted taxes will be keenly felt.
As for me, one event at the beginning of the month took centre stage – the inaugural North East Wine Festival (NEWF) held in the quiet Northumberland country town of Corbridge on Friday 4th and Saturday 5th June. The weather surprised everyone and remained perfect for the open air event; a good dose of sunshine and no rain to scare off potential visitors. Saying that, attendance was not as high as hoped for with only about 350 on the Friday and approaching 800 on the Saturday, however, retailers I talked to at the end of the show seemed happy that they’d more than covered their costs and spread the word about their wines to a group of new people.
I gave a talk on both days entitled “The World Wine Web” on how to use the internet to get what you want out of wine, discussing a range of useful web based resources and links – although targeted for the North East of England you can download a PDF of the handout sheet for a taste of my first ever public speaking roll!
Of the other speakers I really enjoyed Massimo de Nardo’s engaging description of Prosecco production at his Fasol Menin winery in Valdobbiadene, while Ian Cobham, ex-winemaker and now Sommelier at the Hotel du Vin in Newcastle, kept us all guessing with a blind tasting session as part of his presentation on understanding wine.
Over both days the 11 attending retailers poured their way through hundreds of bottles, but what really made the festival were the three local eateries who set up mobile kitchens and cooked a delicious selection of snacks and light meals to be eaten in the open air Cafe environment at the tables laid out between the marquees.
Bouchon Bistrot, winner of the Best French Restaurant on Gordon Ramsay’s “The F Word” TV show last year, put together a Gallic inspired menu with wines by local stalwart Michael Jobling – the delightful Chicken liver Parfait with Onion Compote & Cornichons was my only real food on day 1.
Renowned local Chef Terry Laybourne of Café 21 was behind the pass at the temporarily renamed Casa 21 with a selection of delicious Tapas dishes accompanied by wines from Spanish Spirit, the event organiser.
Finally the Feathers Inn, one of the best Gastro-Pubs in the region, put on a menu including the incredibly popular Lindisfarne Oysters and a damn fine cheese board.
My star wines of the festival were;
* Patricius 2007 Dry Furmit (£10.99. Carruthers & Kent). This elegant dry Hungarian white had a honeyed floral nose and textured, full bodied mouthfeel – another delicious example of a style I’ve yet to have a bad example of.
* Amayna 2007 Barrel Fermented Sauvignon Blanc (£19.49. Carruthers & Kent). This was a thick, fruity wine with nutty complexity – savoury and dry but suffering from 14.5% alcohol and its hefty price tag.
* Morgado Sta Catherina, Quinta da Romeira Vinho Btanco (oaked Arinto) (£16.15. PortoVino). Another oaked white, this time from Portugal’s Arinto grape, the Morgado was light and inviting with a lemon sherbert taste, dry mid-palate and long, almost sweet finish.
* Domaine Pattes Loup 2007 Chablis (£12.95. Tyne Wines). A good example of the Chablis style; clean and flinty with a refreshing citrus fruit aspect, this was an uplifting wine with a full mid-palate, although the finish was a little short.
* Cossetti 2004 “Il Conteso” Nebbiolo D’Alba (£18. Castello). A fruity and complex Nebbiolo with a herb and tar nose, strong tannins and a very long finish. This has been nicknamed the “Baby Barolo” with good cause, as good as many a Barolo in the £20-£25 range.
* Latium Morini 2003 Campo Leon Amarone della Valpolicella (£29. The Hop, The Vine). Possibly the most expensive wine of the festival this had a smoky, savoury nose with some cherry wood. In the mouth it was juicy with lots of fruit and a very, very long finish. Although the tannins were fine they were also in abundance and a few more years would soften and improve the wine. At 16% abv this was a big wine in every sense, however, the price tag puts this well out of many people’s range.
* Château Vespeille 2007 Muscat de Rivesaltes Vin Doux Natural (£6.70. Michael Jobling). This wasn’t even on the lists as Michael poured the wine as part of his Food & Wine pairing presentation on the Saturday. The floral, uplifting nose, thick texture (but not cloying) and very long finish marked this out as one of the better sweet wines available on the day and a QPR hero as well!
* Jordan 2008 Mellifera Noble Late Harvest Riesling (£10.75. Proteas Wines). A decadent delight, this candied Botrytis wine oozed richness, with a mouth-coating texture but acidity to balance the high sugar content – one for the hedonists!
* Quinta do Infantado 2004 LBV Port (£18.15. PortoVino). This is what every LBV should be – a hint of sweetness and the character of a Vintage Port. The nose was more of a rich, deep red with plenty of liquorice, while in the mouth there were firm tannins and juicy complexity.
The dates for next year’s Festival have already been announced as 3rd & 4th June 2011, this time with a possible 3rd day on Sunday 5th, so if you’re anywhere near the North East of England then put it into your diary and I’ll see you there!
As if one major event for the month wasn’t enough the following weekend had a large commercial tasting organised by Newcastle Wine School as part of the Newcastle and Gateshead EAT festival. The usual suspects were present, with most of the NEWF independent retailers plus the addition of local store Fenwick and the National chains Oddbins and Majestic.
There were no talks, food or the luxury of a whole day to browse the offerings here, it was the quick-fire taste and move format with a deadline to work to. Naturally I avoided wines I’d had from the week before and found a few more gems worthy of mention;
* Cossetti 2007 Roero Arneis (£18. Castello). A wonderful Italian white with a deep, musky nose which pulls you in. A textured mouthful, a little oily with a creamy buttery finish.
* Lammershoek 2007 Roulette Blanc (Proteas Wines). Extremely perfumed nose with some honey & toasty oak. Slow to start but a full mouthfeel with a long honey finish with this Cheni-Blanc, Chardonnay, Viognier blend.
* Alpha Domus 2008 Viognier (Fenwick). Herbal nose with a little rubber and a wonderful texture; smooth & rich, medium dry with a lot of subtle flavours.
* Casa Ermelinda 2006 Quinta da Mimosa (PortoVino). This fruity red was flying off the shelves and had a beautiful warm nose with some liquorice, crying out “sunshine”. I found it a little light in the mouth, very smooth on palate with subtle tannins on the finish and a savoury aspect – an easy drinking wine but it didn’t live up to the promise of the nose.
* Cantina Mesa 2008 Prima Scuro (Carruthers & Kent) This Sardinian Cannonau (Grenache) had a savoury, roasted herbs nose and was smooth with good acidity. Relatively light bodied it was delicious with a range of complex flavours and tannin, one to look out for and for £10.99 I’m definitely getting a bottle or two.
* Priests Hill 2009 Pinot Grigio (Michael Jobling). For only £5.52 this was the best white QPR by the Hungarian label, part of the Hilltop group. It had a fruity nose and, while not thought-provoking or complex, was very, very quaffable.
* Mountain Pass 2008 Pinot Noir (Fenwick). This took best red QPR at only £5.93 after Fenwick picked up a job lot of cases from the defunct First Quench group. This Victorian Pinot Noir was made by Yering Station and had a savoury nose with a little mushroom, was light & smooth in the mouth with a touch of sweet tannin and was an absolute bargain.
* Veiga Serantes 2008 Albarino (Spanish Spirit). This had a subtle lemony nose and light texture – a very good example of Albarino but, at £12.99, was unfortunately also a typical price for this fashionable grape which is becoming expensive to taste.
I’m not going to put any detail on June’s NEWTS premium South American tasting as it received a full article of its own a few weeks ago, other than to say my predictions for the World Cup proved way off mark! As I was not sent off anywhere with work there are no tales of exotic restaurants or wine exploits either, so I’ll finish off the post with the usual round up of bottles bought using my hard earned cash and consumed in the privacy of my humble home.
June saw the final flourish of my Italian White Wine buying quest with 2 more bottles, the Cossetto 2008 Roero Arneis and Della Valle Isarco 2008 Müller Thurgau, added to the Deltetto 2008 Favorita Sarvai, alta Battistina 2009 Gavi, Borgo San Michele 2005 Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio and 2005 Greco di Tufo dei Feudi di San Gregorio which I bought in May. Now all I have to do is start drinking some of them! An Australian oaked Chardonnay, the McGuigan 2009 Bin No. 156, and an Argentinean Torrontés from Vinalba concluded the whites for the month and only one red made its way home with me, a simple 2003 Grenache blend from the Languedoc destined for uncomplicated drinking within the month.
The unusual weather (i.e. not raining) meant that it was time for the first BBQ of the year and what else could there be for a pleasant evening sitting out on the patio but a Rosé? The fruity Jacob’s Creek 2007 Shiraz Rosé was an uncomplicated sipper to complement with the various chargrilled vegetables and ribs. Most of the rest of the bottles opened during the month were uncomplicated or uninspiring, except for Salentein’s 2004 MCM, a Malbec, Cabernet, Merlot blend which had an earthy, almost animal nose with smooth, integrated tannins and a smoky, sweet complexity which made it a pleasure to drink.
July promises to be equally interesting with two blind tastings to detail amongst the usual background noise. Until then, Slainte!
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May was a relatively quiet month for news but sent a steady trickle of wine and events my way, including a welcome addition to my Château Musar collection. My involvement in the inaugural North East Wine Festival at the beginning of June means that this post is even tardier than usual but, while it may seem strange posting a piece about May in the middle of June, I suppose it’s no different to the Decanter Magazine I get in June July on the front cover yet being full of stories from April!
The biggest news for May must be the rise in opposition to HR5034, the dreaded bill for State based alcohol regulation: in the US which threatens free wine trade across the country. Although proposed in April it was last month that saw a concerted outpouring of opposition to the bill with a dedicated web-site and Facebook page. Anti-HR5034 Tom Wark of Fermentation has put together a compelling set of posts on this subject while Jon Bonné has written a good piece over at SFGate.
Over in France researchers at the Institute of Vine and Wine Sciences (ISVV), in Bordeaux released details on their study of wine stored in different packaging types; glass, bag-in-box, single-layer PET and small multi-layer PET. The initial results don’t indicate any obvious negative effects for red wines, but for white it suggests that signs of oxidation are apparent after only 6 months in the plastic packaging.
Moving across to Burgundy and Decanter.com reported the news that Domaine de la Romanee Conti was the victim of a blackmail attempt which threatened to poison vines at the famous Estate.
Keeping with a French theme but moving to Asia for Vinexpo in Hong Kong at the end of the month and Decanter.com reported on the Bordeaux 2009 Vintage being the main talking point. The exhibition ended with a 40% increase in attendees compared to 2008 and confirmed a resurgent Asian wine market, at least when it comes to Bordeaux.
Australia’s woes continued with news of falling grape prices and unsold wine in warehouses as an era comes to an end in Antipodean winemaking and sees thousands of hectares of vineyards being grubbed up. The most likely outcome of the expected 3–5 year realignment of the industry will be a smaller but higher quality production and the disappearance of the ubiquitous cheap Australian brands from UK supermarket shelves.
Bringing the news summary to a close and I had to smile when I heard that Gary Vaynerchuk is to be an airline wine consultant for Virgin America and that passengers will have the delights of WLTV broadcast on the in-flight entertainment. Having watched my fair share of these videos I’d be interested to see how an average passenger takes to his enthusiastic presentation style!
So to my little corner of the North East of England and Château Musar proved to be a running theme throughout the month. My occasionally random tweeting as @KSLaczko persuaded one of my followers to pick up a 2002 Musar from our local Waitrose store and open it for her husband’s birthday at the beginning of the month. I haven’t even tried the 2002 myself yet so I was relieved to hear it went down very well, so well in fact that by the end of the month she’d bought the 2001 and tried it over a supper of Fish & Chips (which apparently was a lovely match!). However the best Musar news came with an e-mail from the Wine Society with a special offer of a mixed case; 2 each of the 2003 Rouge, the 2004 Blanc and the 2003 Père et Fils. Since the 2003 Rouge would normally only be available in the UK towards the end of the year the decision to spend £84 was almost instantaneous and less than a week later I added these early release bottles to my cellar.
Spain supplied a large proportion of drinks while out and about during May. A week on the South coast of England courtesy of the day job required a cheap bottle of wine for hotel room drinking and £5 at the local Sainsbury’s got me the Castillo de Calatrava 2001 Gran Reserva Tempranillo from La Mancha, which punched way above its price range. Later on a Thai meal was accompanied by the young and fruity Torrelongares 2003 Reserva, a Grenache/Tempranillo blend from Carinena, while night-time drinks in the hotel bar had me trying out a selection of Sherries including a fine dry Amontillado – although after all that the most memorable wine turned out to be the Vidal 2009 Hawkes Bay Riesling, a racy citrusy white from New Zealand.
Back home and I had cause to dust off the kilt for a friend’s wedding, however the evening meal at one of the local hotels didn’t have an inspiring wine choice. A rather sharp, chemical Chilean Carmenere underwhelmed, followed by an inexcusable Vin de Pays du Gers Blanc (Cuvée Lamartine). A passable Pinot Grigio Blush was an improvement but luckily Spain came to the rescue with a fruity Viña Sanzo Verdejo and a half-decent 2005 Rioja Crianza to dull the senses and lubricate the rest of the evening, ending up with me dancing like my dad into the wee hours!
The monthly NEWTS meeting was a showing of some of the latest offerings from UK retailer Majestic, although due to a booking mix-up store manager Greg wasn’t available to give the presentation.
The first big wine was a white in the form of the Astrolabe Kekerengu Coast 2009 Sauvignon Blanc with a heavy citrus flavour, but with a quick finish and a £20 price tag this didn’t receive a lot of enthusiasm from the members with comments about “why produce another (Sauvignon)?”. A Beaujolais then provoked a mixed response; the Domaine Christophe Cordier 2008 Morgon, Côte du Py Vieilles Vignes, was decreed an atypical Beaujolais but for me it was the better for it, with smoked strawberry nose, chewy tannins and a cherry mid-palate. It had a slightly bitter aspect and plenty of acidity which cried out for food, and could possibly have benefitted from a year or two more in the bottle.
The reds moved up a gear with the Contino 2005 Rioja Reserva which had a turbo-charged nose with vanilla and smoky liquorice. This full-bodied, modern style of Rioja had plenty of sweet fruit and received unanimous approval befitting it’s price tag approaching £30. For significantly less than that the £13 Bordeaux Blend Craggy Range 2006 Te Kahu Gimblett Gravels from New Zealand’s Hawke’s Bay also met with group approval. This was a superb wine; a slightly vegetal nose with blackcurrant and liquorice, smooth and rich in the mouth with plenty of tannin on the mid-palate and finish, but could have done with a few more years to integrate.
In comparison the D’Arenberg 2006 Coppermine Road was rather dull, good for a second before turning rather flat and with nothing to commend its £25 price, so we moved to South America for the final wines of the evening; the Catena 2006 Alta Malbec from Mendoza and the Viña Mayu 2007 Syrah Reserva from Chile’s Elqui Valley. The Mayu had only recently been lauded in Decanter magazine as a 19pt, 5 star wine so I was looking forward to trying it, especially as it retails for less than £12. Unfortunately it was a confected, syrupy wine with a chemical nose and a cloying texture that impressed no-one – “alcoholic Ribena” was shouted out, the reference to the sugary blackcurrant juice not a sign of appreciation! Argentina didn’t fare too much better with the premium Catena Alta either, as I don’t usually pay over £25 for an easy-drinking “quaffable” wine which doesn’t elicit much thought while you drink.
The Contino (owned by Spanish Stalwart CVNE) was voted best wine on the night but for less than half the price I’d recommend the Craggy Range Te Kahu – if you’re in the UK then look for the Marks & Spencer Lone Range Gimblett Gravels Red, which is effectively the same wine made with an M&S label.
And so finally to my monthly roundup of bottles at home and it was definitely a month for the cellar with 17 incoming and only 8 outgoing, suggesting June will be a lean month! Apart from the 6 bottles of Château Musar there was another country theme with the Feudi di San Gregorio 2005 Greco di Tufo, Borgo San Michele 2005 Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio, alta Battistina 2009 Gavi and Deltetto 2008 Favorita Sarvai catering to my current quest for Italian white varietals.
I also managed to pick up a couple of good Australian deals in local stores; first with a Tim Adams 2006 Riesling hiding amongst the 08s in Tesco, and then with a Tempus Two 2003 Botrytis Semillon for only £5, however, it was 2 bottles of another dessert wine which had me most satisfied as it completed a search for an unusual German example – the Schales 1999 Huxelrebe Beerenauslese from Rheinhessen should be the perfect close to a tasting I’m planning for next year.
Of the drinkers only 2 were of note. A classic English white was first, the Chapel Down Winemaker’s selection 2006 Bacchus reserve. This crisp aromatic wine had similarities to Sauvignon Blanc with a touch of lemon and nettle – not great QPR at £11 but worth it for the experience. The £10 Heredad Ugarte 2005 Crianza proved to be an excellent Rioja from a very good vintage, ticking all the boxes for a medium bodied, food-friendly and easy drinking red.
And so to June, already upon us, but you’ll have to wait a short while for news of the Wine Festival.