Category Archives: Learning
This is the first of a 2-part exploration of the wonderful wines of New Zealand. Click here for the second part – Fine Wines of New Zealand at Roberson
It wasn’t quite the first vintage of Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc in 1985 that leapfrogged NZ into the top tier of wine producing countries, but by 1986 a legend was born. This is the emblem wine of NZ and there are plenty of fans of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc in the UK and the world over. Its pungent aromas of gooseberries, elderflower, tropical fruit and searing acidity are almost instantly recognisable but NZ has so much more to offer the wine loving world. In 1960 there were less than 1,000 acres of vines in NZ, fast forward to 2006 and that figure was in excess of 54,000. Given the amount of NZ wine on the market these days its remarkable that only 0.3% of the World’s wine output.
For the record, Cloudy Bay Vineyards was bought by luxury giants Louis Vuitton Möet Hennessy in 2003 and many believe it has lacked character since then. Also champion winemaker Kevin Judd left in 2009 to start Greywacke; that’s where I would choose to spend my money!
I started writing this post as I was looking forward to a tasting of some quality NZ wines at Roberson so it was done for my own education as much as yours! Here’s a quick tour of New Zealand’s wine regions.
Going from top to bottom; on the North Island we have the regions of Northland, Auckland (look out for wines from the Kumeu River sub-region), Waikato/Bay of Plenty and Gisborne (the most eastern wine region in the world!). These are the warmest of NZ’s vine growing areas producing mainly red wines made with Bordeaux varieties but also some lovely zesty and balanced Chardonnay.
Next comes Hawke’s Bay. Hawke’s Bay is NZ’s oldest wine producing area and second only to Marlborough in terms of wine production. Much of the wine produced is Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc but recently it has acquired a reputation for producing quality Rhone varieties, Syrah and Viognier. A number of internationally renowned wineries including Te Mata Estate, Craggy Range and Kim Crawford are based in the region.
The Wellington/Wairarapa wine-growing region is one of New Zealand’s smallest, with several sub-regions, which include Gladstone, Martinborough, Masterton and Opaki. Martinborough is the most recognisable name in the region, which is a small wine village located at the foot of New Zealand’s North Island, and is fast becoming my favourite region for Pinot Noir.
Now its time to move across to the South Island, where the names and regions are perhaps more famous and recognised across the wine world. We start off in the North-East in the small region of Nelson, where the focus is on aromatic white wines such as Riesling, Gewurtztraminer and of course Sauvignon Blanc. Possibly the most recognisable name in the region is Neudorf, who produce wines using all of the stated white varieties as well as one fine Pinot Noir.
Then we reach the NZ heartbeat of Marlborough, with almost half of the country’s vinous output coming from the region. The star attraction in Marlborough is without doubt Sauvignon Blanc, however don’t forget to give the Pinot Noir a go too. Sauvignon Blanc accounts for 50% of the region’s plantings, which suit the warm days and cold nights, which lead to those tropical and herbaceous flavours and aromas.
Further south we reach the Canterbury region – large in size but small in wine production. One of my very favourite producers, Pegasus Bay, is based here and I dare you not to fall head over heels in love with their Riesling! Finally we reach the south eastern tip of the South Island and home to some of the best Pinot Noir outside of Burgundy, Otago. Some people (photographers especially) also believe Otago to be the most beautiful wine area in the world. Almost two thirds of planting at given over to Pinot Noir, the remainder split evenly between Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris. A couple of names to look out for here are Mount Difficulty and Felton Road, as well as my favourite Surveyor Thomson.
So there’s a quick fly through of the wine regions on NZ and here are a few of my favourite wines:
Saint Clair Omaka Reserve Chardonnay 2011, Marlborough, NZ (Wine & the Vine £16.35)
Peach, apple and honey aromas with a lovely toastiness. Good body and weight with yeasty, bready and honey notes and peachy later on. It tastes like a spicy, oven-baked peach, covered in luscious double cream, topped with nuts! Very much in the Fuisse mould of a big mouth-filling and delicious Chardonnay. 93 points
Pegasus Bay Riesling 2009, Waipara, NZ (Roberson £17.95)
Ok so this isn’t cheap but its bloody brilliant! I first came across this wine at The Providores restaurant in Marylebone and now I can buy it at Roberson, just around the corner from work! Intense lime and pineapple freshness – like crushed pineapple chunks. Lovely off-dry finish and very, very long. One if my very favourites. 93 points
Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Marlborough, NZ (The Wine Society £12.50)
This is so subtle compared to so many other NZ Sauv Blancs. Lots of green pepper, balanced with grapefruit, lime and black currant. There is real tension here – thus a really electrifying wine with masses of acid but the balance is simply superb. Couple with that a length of flavour I have never before witnessed in Sauvignon; I really love it. And at £12.50 I think I’ll have a case please! 92 points
Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Marlborough, NZ (The Wine Society £16.00)
From Kevin Judd, king of NZ Sauvignon Blanc – this has everything you all love about NZ Sauvignon but with real grace and restraint. Green pepper, elderflower and passion fruit, but just so subtle and gentle. A real touch of class and elegance. Lovely. 93 points
Surveyor Thomson Pinot Noir 2009, Central Otago (Swig £23.75)
Beautiful fresh red currant aromas supported with spicy, thyme and herbal notes. Very fresh and beautifully elegant red currants, cherries and raspberries and a beautiful, long and savoury finish. 93 points
Escarpment The Edge Pinot Noir 2012, Martinborough (Waitrose £13.99)
Very delicate and pretty nose of sweet, ripe cherries, violets and just a hint of black spice. Very fresh with lovely acidity. The first taste is violets and spice and a cooling freshness, the there’s some red fruit and a pleasant, lingering finish. Kind of backwards but very tasty. Nice smooth tannins give nice structure too. 90 points
I’ve spent a fair amount of time over the past couple of months reading various opinions on the latest Bordeaux vintage, receiving emails about the quality and release prices of said wines, and generally thinking so what? I’m not into investment wine; I buy wine to drink and enjoy now. I have a few prized bottles that I picked up in The Rhone and Burgundy last year that require a few years and I’m prepared to wait for them, but that’s as far as my long term plans stretch. However when I saw a competition on Jancis Robinson’s website to win tickets for the forthcoming Bibendum tasting I though why not give it a go… And a couple of weeks later I was delighted to receive a congratulatory email to say I’d won a pair!
This was the 8th Bibendum Bordeaux tasting and took place in the wonderful surroundings of Lord’s cricket ground – I was at the test match at Lord’s a few weeks ago and didn’t expect to be back quite so soon! This is the biggest Bordeaux tasting event in the UK and is open to us mere consumers as well as those in the trade. What I particularly like about the event is a) the opportunity to meet some of the winemakers and b) each Chateau is asked to bring a second vintage if their choice to taste alongside the latest release.
With over 70 Chateaux present this was certainly the place to explore the 2012 vintage. The nursery pavilion at Lord’s is a wonderful space and the room is laid out in a series of long tables, with each of the appellations grouped together. Its a great way of establishing the winners of the vintage. Overall I found that the 2012s showed lots of fruit – plenty of blackcurrant and cassis, but perhaps lacking concentration and maybe a tad green, particularly on the Left Bank. The Right Bank appellations of Pomerol and St Emilion certainly shone but I was also impressed with Margaux and the ever consistent St Julien. But the real winner for me were the whites of Pessac – I’m new to white Bordeaux but I’m looking forward to giving these wines a fair amount of attention when I visit the region in July.
Chateau Calon Segur, St Estephe (£250)
Delicious mix of black fruit, violets and minerality. Very fresh with lively acidity. The second wine Calon showed was 2007 which I didn’t enjoy and was nowhere near the quality I tasted at a recent vertical tasting.
Chateau Batailley, Pauillac (£245)
Lots if fruit and freshness with good concentration. Also really enjoyed the 2007 on show. Good value for sure.
Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron, Pauillac (£700)
Very elegant by Pauillac standards, reminiscent of summer pudding. Definitely a better wine than Comtese de Lalande in 2012.
Chateau Leoville Barton, St Julien (£490)
Super concentrated, polished, with delightful minerality and spicy back notes. I think this will be a cracker in 10 years time. Langoa Barton was another good wine with bags of fruit front and centre.
Chateau Cantenac Brown, Margaux (£285)
I wrote down “best so far” after tasting this – delightfully elegant, yet muscular and beautifully structured. Lots of cassis but just a hint of red fruit too.
Chateau Gazin, Pomerol (£440)
Lovely mixture of red and black fruit, soft almost buttery texture with lashings of acid.
Chateau la Conseillante, Pomerol (£650)
Powerful and concentrated, fantastic texture and very pure fruit – delightful (the 2010 was spectacular but so is the price at £1,600 per case in bond)
Chateau Rouget, Pomerol (£265)
A fine and delicate wine, simple but delightful. The 2004 was also delicious and just about ready to drink now.
Chateau Le Prieure, St Emilion (£225)
Fruity, fragrant, concentration and very charming.
Chateau Figeac, St Emilion (£525)
Took me a while to get my head around this one as it was almost backward. Not a lot on the initial attack but a wonderful elegant finish. Lots going for it and I’m looking forward to my visit in the summer.
Chateau Troplong Mondot, St Emilion (£595)
Pure Ribena and cassis – possibly the most fruit forward of all the reds I tasted – I was amazed there is only 8% of Cabernet in the blend (90% Merlot)
Chateau de Fieuzal Blanc, Pessac-Leognan
Plenty of cuts, even tropical fruit with deliciously integrated oak. Delightfully refreshing after all those reds! 65% Sauvignon Blanc, 35% Semillon
Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc, Pessac-Leognan
Pure class with lots of fruit combines with a spicy and exotic finish.
I will happily pay for a ticket to next year’s event!
German Rieslings are notoriously difficult to decipher. The classification is based on the amount of sugar in the grapes – the higher up you go, the more potential alcohol and the more sugar, or sweetness is left in the wine, which is referred to as residual sugar:
Kabinett – light in body with high acidity and a touch of sweetness
Spatlese – means late harvest, often fuller in body and medium sweet
Auslese – more body and more tropical flavours.
Beerenauslese – individually selected, over-ripe grapes
Trockenbeerenauslese – even more concentrated, more sweet, and more expensive!
The word Trocken on a German wine label means dry – these are becoming more popular these days as wines from the German regions are becoming popular again.
I’ve rambled on a fair amount about the joys of Riesling over past few months. I’ve written about Riesling from the Old World and the New World, but its mainly been about young wines with lots of bright fruity freshness and razor sharp acidity. I’ve never written about aged Riesling. In truth I haven’t had much experience of aged Riesling…
… Until I attended a tasting of wines from legendary German estate JJ Prüm at West London Wine School earlier this week. The Prüm family have had a presence in The Mosel region for over 400 years. The estate was founded in 1911 by Johann Josef Prüm and has 33.5 acres of vineyards planted only with only Riesling. The wines are characterised by their purity of fruit as well as by their distinctive mineral character, and have a reputation for ageing superbly.
The Fish is also a big fan of Rieslings and she joined me at the tasting, which was arranged as a series of flights. I’ve written recently about how I like to taste wines in pairs so this was right up my street. And the wines? Just wow. Read on for a full rundown of the 9 wines we tried and look at the prices; for fine wines they are remarkably good value, especially if your benchmark is Bordeaux or Burgundy.
The first two wines were Kabinetts from the Wehlener (the town) Sonnenuhr (the “sundial” vineyard). Kabinetts are generally thought as having a lifespan of about 5 years from the harvest, but the 1996 showed that even at this level, JJ Prüm wines are made to last.
JJ Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett Riesling 2011 (The Wine Society £18.00)
Delightful nose of sweet red apples with hints of citrus and tropical fruits. What hits you straightaway when you taste is the mouthwatering acidity and the flavour of apple skin, white peach and a dash of sweet pineapple. The palate is clean and fresh with a lovely off-dry finish. Delightful balance. 91 points
JJ Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett Riesling 1996 (KL Wines £24.95)
Wow. The nose has intense concentrated aromas of apricot, mandarin and that wonderful whiff of petrol you get from aged Riesling. On the palate the wine is still so fresh; its so clean, almost glacial in texture, with flavours of lime and green apple, maybe a hint of pastry, tarte-tatin perhaps? The balance of off-dry sweetness and precise acid is utterly stunning. Best value wine of the night by a long stretch. 94 points
The next set of wines were from the same Wehlener Sonnenuhr vineyard, but this time at the Spatlese level – you’ll see from my notes that I preferred the Kabinetts… I can be a really cheap date sometimes!
JJ Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spatlese Riesling 2009 (The Wine Society £21.00)
Lots if chalky minerality on the nose here but I’m struggling to get a great deal of fruit, maybe some apple and apricot? What’s very different to the Kabinetts is the fuller body of the wine in the mouth and the fruit is mainly limes with a touch of peach and apricot. The texture is very nice with plenty of chalky stone, with a rich mouthfeel and medium sweetness level. Still very young for a Spatlese and very closed at the moment. 91+
JJ Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spatlese Riesling 1999 (no UK stockist)
So what does 10 more years do? The first impression are the petrol aromas but quickly complimented with hints of tropical fruit and a touch of honey sweetness. The palate has lovely texture and body but there isn’t the acidity of the previous wines and the sugar feels unbalanced. There’s some nice mango and pineapple fruit but this wine certainly has a better texture than flavour. 90 points
The next pair contained my wine of the night. We moved up to Auslese level and compared two different vineyards from the highly rated 2005 vintage. The first again from Wehlener Sonnenuhr, the second from Graacher Himmelreich, translated as “the kingdom of Heaven”… And boy is it!
JJ Prüm Graacher Himmelreich Auslese Riesling 2005 (Fine & Rare £45.20)
Oh yes! Aromas of ripe mango and apricot and its oh so concentrated and intense – so aromatic but with a delightful slate minerality in the background. On the palate the acid is like a rapier cutting through the sweetness of mangoes, limes, peaches and apricots and the subtle slate underpinning it all. The wine just has the most sublime balance of sweetness and acidity. This is masterful and the best Riesling this wine fan has ever drunk. 95 points
JJ Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese Riesling 2005 (Fine & Rare £52.80)
This has so much mineral and petroleum on the nose that I’m slightly missing the fruit, which is hiding in the background – some citrus and a touch of the tropical. The amazing thing is how it all changes in the mouth where its all about the tropical fruit, very sweet with honey and marmalade and just a bit of supporting minerality. Just doesn’t have the balance of the Graacher with just a bit too much emphasis on the sweetness. 91 points
For the last set of 3 wines, we remained at Auslese level from Wehlener Sonnenuhr, tasting a further 3 vintages, which highlighted the consistently high quality of the winemaking at JJ Prüm.
JJ Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese Riesling 2003 (Fine & Rare £38.40)
Another delightful nose of mineral chalkiness but with plenty of peach, apricot and tropical fruit to the fore. There’s a chalky, almost tannic texture here which really is delicious and all of that fruit I could smell is there in abundance. This is the wine most suited to desserts yet and there was some lemon tart on the able that was a delightful match. Marvellous and magnificent value for this quality of wine. 93 points
JJ Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese Riesling 2001 (Lay & Wheeler £50.00)
The aromas are jumping out of my glass and its lots of developed tropical goodness, balanced by the chalky minerals I’m growing to love. This has enormous levels of acidity and a surprisingly light texture. Unfortunately for me there is just too much acid and not enough sweetness… But I’m being very picky as I’m loving the peach and apricot a lot. This got the most votes for wine of the night (if not mine!) 92 points
JJ Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese Riesling 1988 (No UK stockist)
The first thing to mention about the ’88 is the deep golden colour, which is quite magnificent. The second is the unpleasant smell! It smells musky and mouldy and I was convinced it was cork taint. If you’re brave enough to keep your nose in there it is very nutty and you can get some peach and apricot fruit. But on the palate it is marvellous! Lots of pithy, zesty orange, marmalade perhaps and them some sweet nectarine. In the mouth its so pure and glacial in texture and still so fresh with that wonderful balance of medium sweetness and still bags of laser- guided acidity. Just get over the smell, you’ll be rewarded for your bravery! 93 points
Apologies for the long food intro… Just skip to the menu if you’re only here for the wine; I will get to the dark/blind tasting bit!
As is tradition on our trip to Devon, me and The Fish cook for the guests on one of the evenings. The guests consist of Den & Jan (the in-laws), and long term Devon devotees Richard & Sue; all of whom are fans of great food, and have enjoyed plenty of top nosh by the time our turn comes around.
The plan was to go down to the tiny fish counter on Beer beach and choose what looked good and go from there. In my mind I’d planned scallops as the focus of the starter and maybe brill or sea bass for main course (I’d even picked some wild garlic earlier in the week to finish off a beurre blanc). Unfortunately the weather was against us and many of the fishermen hadn’t been able to go out in the windy conditions. Plan B consisted of a trip to Sidmouth to see what was to offer there.
The fishmongers in Sidmouth, behind the lifeboat station, were able to supply me with the scallops I was after but the rest of the fish was looking a bit tired and uninspiring. This meant a Plan C was needed! If any of you are fans of Rick Stein like me then you’ll remember the episode of Food Heroes where Matthew Fort’s brawn has gone mouldy and Rick ends up in a Sidmouth butcher to see how brawn is made… That’s where I ended up too. Devon produces some fantastic pork and I spotted the pork loin I wanted as soon as I entered the fabulous shop.
So the menu was ready:
Starter – scallops with black pudding, cockles and lemon dressing
Main – pork loin with roast potatoes, cabbage and apple & cider gravy
As I had planned to cook fish originally I already had a couple of fish-friendly whites to serve as a pair; a Picpoul de Pinet and an Albariño. The gang struggled with the minerality and light lack of fruit from the Picpoul without food but certainly enjoyed it far more with scallops. The Albariño was a winner with and without food with its thrilling fruit and seductive saltiness – outright winner of this pair (see the previous post for my new obsession with pairs of wines!)
Domaine la Grangette L’enfant Terrible Picpoul de Pinet 2010, Languedoc (Wine and the Vine £10.75)
The absolute essence of crushed up oyster shells – very mineral and just a hint of lemon and lime on the nose. It’s very steely but the fruit does show up at the end, especially with food. If you like Muscadet you’ll love this. 87 points
Sera da Estrela Albariño 2011, Galicia, Spain (Wine and the Vine £14.25)
There really is nothing to dislike about this wine. Lots of fruity intensity on the nose with apple, peach and even a touch of the tropics. All of the fruit is there in your mouth too and its quite full bodied too; a lovely texture. The fruit stays with you for quite one time and the saltiness of quality Albariño is there at the end. Lovely stuff for any occasion. 92 points
As I hadn’t planned to cook meat for the main course it meant going wine shopping! We came across and well stocked and very friendly wine shop on Sidmouth High Street, called, quite simply, “The Wine Shop”. I was hoping to find a Riesling from the old and new world but wasn’t that taken by the choice so I decided to go a bit left field. I also decided not to take my own advice (see Easter feasting) and went for two classics, two crowd pleasers… Chianti and Rioja.
Now, we’d been comparing pairs of wines all week and this was too good an opportunity to turn down. As well as seeing what everyone preferred I upped the ante and went for a blind challenge… Oh what fun they all thought! As I like to have a common theme to the pairs of wines, they were both from the 2006 vintage, and Reserva/Riserva, so each aged for around 3 years. I decanted the wines into jugs about 2 hours before dinner and asked each of the guests for their preferred wine if they had to choose. 3 went for Chianti (my choice) and 3 for Rioja. This is all going well!
We then got to the fun bit of identifying the wines. The discussion went on for a good 20 minutes before I asked everyone to make their guess, after tasting both wines. Again 3 were right and 3 off the mark. Amazingly it was the three men who got it right. But don’t worry, I’m not reading too much into that! Three of us chose our pre-taste favourite as our preferred choice of the 2 wines – one of them (no names!) chose the Chianti at the start and the end, but identified the wrong wine.
Anyway it was a fun way of drinking and discussing wine, and both bottles were very pleasant. I can’t wait until the next one!
Here’s what I thought of the wines:
Carpineto Chianti Classico Riserva 2008, Tuscany (The Wine Shop £12.99)
Lots of bright red fruit on the nose with some enticing leathery and slightly earthy notes. On the palate the bright sour cherry and raspberry hits you right between the eyes and us backed to by those earthy, leathery notes. The wine has lovely well structured tannins which are soft enough but suggest you could leave for another couple of years. Would be even better with a pizza! 91 points
Ondarre Rioja Reserva 2006, Rioja (The Wine Shop £9.99)
I thought this was obviously the Rioja with the strawberry, vanilla and slightly oaky nose – very pleasant. In the glass it was very dark but the palate was very bright with the red fruit fruit bursting through with a hint if dried herbs and sweet spice. For the price it’s really very good but maybe just lacking a bit if finesse and length. 88 points
If there are a few of you together for dinner then give it a go – it certainly puts the wine at the centre of the evening and makes you realise how much you do or don’t know!
The subject of wine appreciation scares people when it shouldn’t at all. The great thing about wine tasting is there really isn’t a right or wrong answer, simply your own conclusion. There are only three things you need. Your eyes, your nose, and your tongue. Couple that with a half decent vocabulary and away you go!
Keeping notes of the wines you drink is a great way of learning what you do and don’t like. Your notes will help you when you’re choosing wine in the shop or in a restaurant as you will be able to tell your server your preferred grapes or styles.
Keep your notes simple! If a wine doesn’t smell or taste like sweaty saddles or you don’t even know what that means (who does??) then don’t use the phrase!
First things first… Don’t overfill your glass. You can always refill it! Leave plenty of room for the wine to breath and give it a good swill in the glass.
In simple terms, using your eyes can tell you how fresh the wine is. What colour is it? If its white wine is it pale and watery, or golden and shimmering? It should be clear and bright. If not you might want to open another bottle! If so then you’re probably ready to move to stage 2. With experience you can start to identify elements of age and even origin by sight alone.
Probably the most important part of tasting – scientifically speaking, most of what we think we’re tasting, we are actually smelling. Apparently!
Use words and comparisons you recognise. Here’s some useful start points: fruit, flowers, spices, oak, animal (really! Is it meaty? Syrah often smells like smoked bacon). If you think its spicy, can you be more specific? Is it pepper, clove or star anise? If its pepper is it black pepper or white?
Can you recognise the flavours you smelt? If you thought it smelt of citrus, does it taste of lime or lemon? Always try and narrow it down. Can you taste any sweetness or how about acidity? Acid makes your mouth water. Is it light or full bodied? And how long does the taste stay in your mouth – does it have good length?
And there you go – you’ve written your first tasting note. Not that difficult and you can now compare this note with other wines to work out what you do and don’t like.
Over the next few weeks I’ll give you some ideas that will help you explore different regions and grape varieties, learning as you taste.
Until recently my only experience of South African wine had been with the indigenous Pinotage grape. I recognise the regions of Stellenbosch, Constantia and Walker Bay on a label, but that is about all. Having said that, the DeMorgenzon Chenin Blanc from Stellenbosch did make it into my top 3 wines of 2012 so it is definitely due a closer look.
Pinotage is a bit of a Marmite wine amongst wine drinkers. The grape is actually a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault, “bred” by Professor Abraham Izak Perkid at the University of Stellenbosch in 1925. Personally I am a big fan and have never encountered the “ripe banana”, “cheesy” or “metallic” descriptions that often appear in reviews of the wines. I find the wines to be intense and savoury, with low tannins a velvety texture. Where I do draw the line, however, is with “coffee Pinotage”, which really does do what it says on the (coffee) tin. If I never taste one again it will be too soon!
The wine region of South Africa is situated at the South West tip of the country, where the cool current from the Atlantic creates a cooler Mediterranean climate, and perfect conditions for wine growing. Many of the wines you will find on the supermarket shelves are made using international grapes so there really is nothing to be frightened about!
Regions & Grapes
The hub of the South African wine industry is the area centred around Stellenbosch. The region is producing excellent Cabernet Sauvignon and good quality Pinotage on the red front, and Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc on the white side. A bit further north is the region of Paarl, which produces good quality and good value Chenin. The Constantia region is one I always associated with Pinotage so was very surprised to read that Sauvignon Blanc represents a third of the regions vines, followed by Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Swartland is quickly gaining a reputation for quality Syrah (often blended with other Rhone varieties) and Chenin Blanc from old vines. One of the southernmost and coolest regions is Walker Bay, which is starting to produce some very high quality Pinot Noir and Chardonnay (similar to the growing reputation of Tasmania in Australia).
Groot Constantia Pinotage 2010, Constantia (£12.85 Wine & the Vine)
Very dark and brooding colour, with red fruit on the nose and just a touch if earthiness. Quite big bodied with fresh fruit on the palate and a good earthy, chocolatey finish. 87 points
Glenelly Lady May Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Stellenbosch (£20.79 Wine Direct)
Blackcurrant, blackberry fruit, lots of smoky oak aromas and just a touch of minty freshness – very enticing. Good concentration but not huge body, the fruit is upfront and the oak is nicely integrated with a good, strong tannic structure. Nice smoky finish, just cuts off a bit short. 89 points
DeMorgenzon Reserve Chenin Blanc 2011, Stellenbosch (£16.75 Wine & the Vine)
The 2010 vintage made my wines of 2012 and the 2011 is even better! Really exciting nose of melon, peaches, nuts, and marzipan. Lovely fresh zing in the mouth, lots of ripe melon fruit and a wonderful nutty, long finish. If you are bored of Sauvignon Blanc and want something a bit more subtle, this is the wine for you. 92 points
Jordan “The Real McCoy” Riesling 2011 (£11.45 Wine & the Vine)
I love Riesling, whether from Alsace, Germany or South Australia. This delivers something from everywhere! Lots of limes and green apple plus a dash of tinned pineapple on the nose. Crisp and fruity and just a bit smokey on the smokey, lots of freshness and just a hint of sweetness. Seriously good and just over a tenner. Brilliant with my Friday night curry! 91 points
En primeur is the process which allows consumers to buy wines early while a vintage is still in a barrel. One of the benefits to us is the opportunity to purchase the wines at a discounted price, before thy are bottled (although this is by no means guaranteed). Another benefit of the process is to secure an allocation of a wine only available in small quantities – only a barrel or two of some top wines are produced in Burgundy owing to the massive fragmentation of some vineyards. The benefit to the producer is improved cash flow and an opportunity to market their wines and encourage new consumers to savour their vinous delights.
But there is a downside… Most of these wines will need another 5 years or more before they are ready to drink!
This week is the en primeur kick off for the 2011 vintage, so these wines have been developing since the grapes were picked in September 2011. Many of the wines will be bottled in February, however some of the very best Grand Crus may spend many more months in their oak barrels to develop even more complexity.
2011 appears to be a good, if not great year. Elegance seems to be the buzzword, with light and fruity wines. The view from the experts are that the wines will be great for early drinking so that’s good news in my book.
So off I went to the Lay & Wheeler Burgundy 2011 En Primeur tasting:
I managed 21 whites and 25 reds… And I know this sounds ridiculous but it was really hard work! The reason it was such hard work was because I found it so difficult to judge these young wines, many of which won’t be at their best for another 10 years. To give scores to any of these wines would be impossible for me, and made me realise how much I have to learn. Also, 40-plus wines is a heck of a lot to get through and I did feel my palate getting tired! Some wine experts will do 3 of these tastings for 3 or 4 consecutive days, scoring each and every wine they taste – that to me is miraculous and I genuinely raise my glass (of water!) to them.
For me, the winner on the night was the Chardonnay. This is a very floral vintage but with lots of pure fruit aromas and flavours. I get the impression that the wines will be very approachable in their youth as there is plenty if crispness and decent acidity, although I would like just a touch more. The disappointment for me was Meursault, which just didn’t have the precision and purity of Chassagne Montrachet or Chablis. My pick would be Chassagne and I may put my name down for a couple of cases.
The redsI found really difficult to pinpoint. Being so young, the wines are still very tannic and you have to look beyond that to find the fruit – I suppose its a bit like buying a house and trying not to notice the floral yellow wallpaper! The Côte de Beaune reds I found a little uninspiring, lacking a bit in acidity and freshness. Having said that, my favourite red of the night was the De Montille Clos du Roi, from Corton (one of their Volnays was my wine of the year in 2012). The wines from the Côte de Nuits, however, seemed to have more depth and are built to last. The other thing that was also consistent was the quality progression from Village to Premier Cru to Grand Cru wines.
But the last word has to go to Chassagne… My choice of last wine on the night was the Domaine Fontaine-Gagnard Criots-Montrachet Grand Cru… I just wish I had a spare £540 for a case of 6!
Understand Italian wine? Me neither! The country really is a vinous nightmare, with so many indigenous grapes and so many wine regions. The biggest problem with Italian wine is working out what is the region (usually on the label) and what is the grape (generally not!)… Except for Montepulciano, which is both, but the grape isn’t used in the wine that bears its name! So I’ve done some digging and tried to come up with a (fairly!) simple way of negotiating an Italian wine list.
The word “Classico” on an Italian label doesn’t necessarily mean its better, it just means the vineyard is in the originally defined area. The Chianti region, for example, has grown over time so “Classico” simply means it is produced in the original area. In the regions where the “Classico” area is often better I will mention it! “Riserva” on the label means it’s been aged before release… But the time required is different by region… And you thought French wine was difficult to understand!
I’ll start in the north and go through by region. I’ll then look at the more “famous” wines from each region, attach an area name and the principle grape(s). There are 20 regions in Italy and I’ve picked the 11 you might expect see on a decent wine list.
A stellar white wine region, using more international grapes such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Bianco (same as Pinot Blanc) and Gewürztraminer. Most of the wines in the region are produced by small, quality-conscious growers, making wines that really represent the grapes and the vineyards, so very mineral and very fresh and often very complex.
Some of Italy’s best wines come from the Friuli area. The area has the lowest yields in Italy and is a highly quality conscious wine region. The wines are mainly blends containing Pinot Grigio, Pinot Bianco, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay (plus two local varietals Ribolla Gialla and Malvasia). What you’re looking for on the label is simply the region, Friuli. This is the area to look for if you’re into Pinot Grigio. I’ve had a lot of pretty poor Italian Pinot Grigio, usually because the yields are so high so there’s no concentration and zero complexity, but the grape is taken seriously here and can deliver some truly outstanding wines.
The region is home to the world famous Barolo and Barbaresco red wines, which are 2 adjacent regions, both made from Nebbiolo grapes. Barolo must age minimum 3 years before release, 5 years for Riserva (Barbaresco is 2 & 4). These wines don’t come cheap and are still very tannic when young but,given time, they can be absolutely amazing. Most Italian red wines are almost designed to be drunk with food, given the country’s fame and love of eating, so big tannins are to be expected.
Also look out for Nebbiolo from Alba and Asti, labelled Nebbiolo d’Alba or Nebbiolo d’Asti, for a bit more value. The other two red grapes to look for in Piedmont are Barbera and Dolcetto, again from the areas of Alba and Asti – Barbera d’Alba, Dolcetto d’Alba & Barbera d’Asti, Dolcetto d’Asti. These wines are far more approachable young, and have a softer edge.
The major white wine production is from the Gavi region. The wines are made from Cortese grapes, but you won’t see this anywhere on the bottle. Gavi di Gavi means “Gavi from Gavi”, so it is grown in the town itself but is not necessarily better than simply Gavi(their version of Classico). I’m a big fan of these wines and find the quality pretty consistent.
Valpolicella is probably the best known red wine from the Veneto region. Lots of fruity deliciousness and very approachable, like drinking a Summer Pudding. The main grape in the blend is Corvina with smaller amounts of Rondinella and Molinara. This is one area where you should go for Classico on the label as the Classico region generally does deliver a higher quality. If you want a sturdy, rich wine then go for Amarone della Valpolicella, which is made with the same grapes, but they are left out to dry for a period of 2 or 3 months. If you want the good stuff, don’t pay less than £20 for a bottle; it will be money well spent.
The most famous white wine area of Veneto is Soave, which is primarily made from Garganega grapes, often blended with up to 15% of other varieties. Like Valpolicella, most good Soave comes from the Classico region. These are often simple, fresh and delicious wines, very underrated and often the best value on a wine list. Another region to look out for is Lugana. Lugana is made from the Trebbiano grape, which often makes very flaccid and cheap but dull wine (it is the most planted white grape in Italy). But the wines I have tried from Lugana have been full-bodied, complex and delicious.
We can’t talk about Veneto without mentioning Prosecco. The full name of the wine is Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene. Prosecco is the grape variety, Conegliano and Valdobbiadene being the names of the two villages in the region. The second fermentation of this fizz occurs in big steel tanks, so it’s cheaper to produce and cheaper to buy than Champagne. Great party wine!
The home of the Chianti region, one of the most famous names in red wine. The principle grape in Chianti is Sangiovese, and has to make up at least 80% of the blend. The two sub-regions I look for are Classico and Ruffina – both produce excellent wines. But also look out for Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, both regions within Chianti, and both made using Sangiovese. In the case of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Montepulcciano is the town, not the grape! There is also a Chianti Superiore, where the winemakers have to adhere to stricter rules on which grapes can be included, but it is not necessarily of better quality.
A development over the past 30 years in Tuscany has the appearance of the so-called “Super Tuscans”. These are wines that are produced using more “international” grape varieties, very often led by Cabernet Sauvignon. These wines are named after neither the grape nor the area, but they do have fancy brand names and very fancy prices. Sassicaia, Ornellaia, Solaia. If you get the chance to try one expect maybe more Bordeaux than Tuscany… and a call from your bank manager.
Orvieto is the main wine producing region of Umbria, making white wines using the Trebbiano and Grechetto (new one for me!) grapes. These are fruity and fun wines. Maybe not one for the connoisseur, but great with shellfish.
The region may not be a wine powerhouse but it does produce a white wine that most of you will recognise from the supermarket shelves – Frascati. The wine is made using Italian favourites Trebbiano, Greco and Malvasia and often delivers a lovely fresh wine, perfect for a sunny afternoon in the garden.
The most notable wine of the region is Montepulciano d’Abruzzo – this is the one made using the Montepulciano grape! You will often find this very close to the top (or bottom?) of a wine list, as it is relatively cheap and there is a lot of the stuff made. I find these wines very approachable, not overly tannic and delivering a good mouthful of deep, dark fruit. A pretty safe go-to wine on any list.
The two white wines that make Campania famous are Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino. And very handily, they give you the name of the grape (Greco and Fiano) as well as the name of the region (Tufo and Avellino)! Both of these grapes are capable of making big and strong flavoured wines. I was lucky enough to try an excellent Greco di Tufo at a recent tasting, which really made me think I need to try plenty more. Another white grape variety to be found in the region is Falanghina, another great match your spaghetti di frutti de mare.
Puglia is the “heel” of the Italian boot. Very hot, very dry and the perfect environment for producing concentrated and powerful red wines. The two main grapes in the area are Primitivo and Negroamaro. Primitivo is the same grape as Zinfandel and offers massive fruit flavours of blueberries and blackberries, with lovely hints of smoke and mocha. When I’m not sure what to go for on an Italian list this is often my default choice. Negroamaro makes some lovely, earthy and rustic wine with dark fruit flavours that taste of the sunny climate in which they were grown.
The fortified Marsala is probably Sicily’s most famous wine. Made using the native Grillo, Catarratto and Inzola grapes, it can be made in sweet and dry styles, and makes a nice alternative to Port or Sherry. Also used in lots of Italian cooking to give real vigor to sauces accompanying meat.
When I first came across Nero d’Avola in a local pizza restaurant, I thought it was Italian for table wine! Maybe this wasn’t quite such a ridiculous thought as it is often the cheapest wine on an Italian list. It happens to Sicily’s most important red wine grape and is indigenous to the island. The wines have sweet fruit and pepper flavours and are a great match for pizza and tomato-based pasta dishes.
So next time your contemplating whether go have the thin and crispy or deep pan, give a bit of thought to which wonderful Italian wine wine to pair with it.
Not another French post! Well no actually, it isn’t. Well not really. I know I’ve written a fair bit about French wine over the past couple of months but I do think its the best place to start and is a great introduction to most of the well known grape varieties. But most of these varieties are grown all around the world, so this post highlights the places to look. I’ll use the recent articles about decoding French wine to take us on a trip around the world. It’s a bit like Amazon… If you liked that, then you might like this!
My love of Burgundy has also taken me to a few other places over the past year and back in February I even bought a case of 6 bottles from Majestic of Pinot Noir from everywhere but France! New World wines, particularly New Zealand and USA,I have found to be more fruit focused, which lots of people like, but often without the earthy, forest aromas and flavours of Burgundy. Getting any Pinot for under £10 is never easy, but it can be done, and the best example I’ve found comes from Pfalz in Germany (M&S – find it!). Ive been told that the best up and coming region for Pinot is Tasmania, owing to its cool climate, so I’ll keep my eye out for a couple to try for you. I really am sooooo selfless!
From the epicentre of fine wine in Bordeaux, Cab Sav is grown all over the world and thrives in hot climates. We only need to go back to the famous “Judgement in Paris” in 1976 when the Californian wines whooped the asses of the Borderlais in a blind taste test to realise there are great Cabernets around the globe (get yourself a copy of the film “Bottle Shock” to learn more and to enjoy another superb performance from Alan Rickman). Then there’s the fabulous region of Coonawarra in Australia, famed for Cab Sav. And for value head to South America – Argentina and Chile are making some great stuff.
Same grape, different name! In fact Aussie Shiraz is probably better known to most casual wine drinkers in the UK than Syrah from the Northern Rhone! So where better to start than Oz! The Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale regions of South Australia produce some stunning Shiraz, as does the Margaret River region in Western Australia. Try “The Hedonist” from Waitrose at £12.99 – one of my favourite wines of the year.
The Grenache blends of the Southern Rhone are available all over the World. In Oz they are often referred to as GSM (Grenache, Shiraz, Mouvedre). The famous Chateau de Beaucastel in Chateauneuf du Papes even transported and planted some of their wines in Paso Robles, California! I’ve also written a lot about my love of Priorat in north-east Spain, usually made primarily from Garnacha (yep, same grape!). Hot country = spicy and fruity and often excellent.
This grand grape has had a tough time over the past 10 with the ABC gang getting into a tizz. Now it’s true that the supermarket shelves have been full of basically crap stuff from Oz and the States… But what do you expect at 3 for £10? There is so much great winemaking around the world now that Chardonnay is regaining its place as one of the most fantastic and flexible grapes out there, both with and without the use of oak. I’ve found some amazing wines from the US and Oz over the past 12 months and recently tasted a stunner from NZ. Also look to Chile for value. I also tasted truly excellent Spanish Chard on our recent trip.
Where else to start but New Zealand? Since the inaugural 1986 vintage of Cloudy Bay ( not Oyster Bay, repeat not Oyster Bay – never pay more that £5 for it!) those clever Kiwis haven’t put a foot wrong. Supermarket shelves are packed with the stuff, and there is some great value to be found as well as some real class if you’re prepared to go above £10. The up and coming country for this often gregarious grape is Chile, but prices are rising with improved quality. Also look to the south of France for some lovely clean wines.
Germany is the place to start as they probably produce some of the best anywhere in the world, but as usual the top stuff comes with a hefty price tag. However, if you like something really fun and a bit sweet then give the Dr. Loosen from Sainsburys a go. I’m a huge fan of Australian Riesling, especially from the Clare or Eden Valleys. They offer real concentration of limes and tropical fruit and lovely minerality. Also look to NZ who are really starting to get into the grape more and more. Recently I also tasted a lovely example from South Africa… Expect to see more and more on the shelves over the coming months.
Not unlike Oz and Shiraz, Chenin has become synonymous with South Africa and there are bottles at all price levels. I am really getting into these wines at the moment and have a blockbuster lined up for Xmas day. Australia is another country making some Chenin waves and these are generally easier to find in the supermarkets than the French bottling from the Loire Valley.
When you’re having a dinner party, try buying a French and other country example of a white and red wine and see who prefers what… My guests are probably getting fed up of the same old game but I’m still enjoying it!
Following on from my post on decoding French white wine it only seemed fair and decent to do the same with reds. Some of the best red wines in the world come from France and the names of Bordeaux and Burgundy are synonymous with fine wine. I love Burgundy and am fast becoming far too interested in Bordeaux so this post will concentrate on them, and the other wonderful red wine producing area of the Rhone. There are some other wonderful regions to explore red wine options in France, and more often than not, at far more affordable prices – I will cover these off next week.
I hope this guide helps you match grapes to regions as well as giving you a bit of inspiration to go and try out a few new wines over the festive season. Well we all need an excuse don’t we??
Probably the most famous red wine producing area in the world and commonly referred to as claret in the UK (and not anywhere else!). Most red Bordeaux you buy will be a blend of grapes, most likely containing at least 2 varieties of either Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Cabernet Franc.
Red wine production is divided into 3 main sub-regions (there are many more!). On the left bank of the Gironde estuary you will find the Medoc, home to the famous first growth (Premier league – remember!) chateaux of Latour, Lafite, Mouton and Margaux. Medoc wines are made primarily with Cabernet Sauvignon, with a bit of Merlot and/or Cab Franc. On the left bank you will find the famous appellations of Pomerol (I’m sure you’ve all heard stories of business men in London spending thousands of pounds on Petrus to impress potential investors) and St. Emilion (Cheval Blanc is probably the most famous chateau here). Pomerol’s main grape in the blend is Merlot (Petrus is normally 100% Merlot), whereas Cabernet Franc becomes more important in St. Emilion.
Bordeaux wines are often characterised with blackberry and blackcurrant fruit, pencil-shaving type minerality (sounds weird but it is wonderful!) and big tannins which mellow over time but work brilliantly with red meat. Other flavours and aromas often associated with Bordeaux are woody/cedar and even eucalyptus (especially if the main grape in the blend is Cabernet Sauvignon).
Prices for the top wines are astronomical but there is plenty of value on offer around the £10 mark. Also, most of these wines require a minimum of 10 years cellaring before reaching their best; not ideal if you’re after a nice bottle to go with your steak tonight! 2009 and 2010 were superb vintages and are starting to find their way onto supermarket shelves and merchant wine lists so keep an eye out.
Here’s a few to try from some of the different areas and at some different price-points:
Chateau Tour Chapoux, Bordeaux Superieur 2010 (Waitrose £8.89)
Chateau Labecorce Margaux 2002 (Majestic £8.99)
Chateau Givriere Medoc 2004 (Majestic £8.99)
Mouieux St Emilion 2009 (M&S £13.99)
If Bordeaux is powerful, then Burgundy is spiritual! The home of Pinot Noir and the most expensive wine in the world, from Domaine de la Romanee Conti… £15,750 for a bottle of 2009 anyone??
From North to South we start in the Cote de Nuits, head down into the Cote de Beaune (together these make up the famous Cote D’Or), then comes the Cote Chalonnaise (you’ll find great value here) before we get to Beaujolais. All red wines from the Cotes are made using pinot noir. Beaujolais is made with Gamay.
The classification of wines in Burgundy is actually pretty simple. On the Cote D’Or the entry level is Bourgogne, the next step is to sub-regional wine such as Côtes de Beaune Villages, Côtes de Nuits Villages, Hautes-Côtes de Beaune or Hautes-Côtes de Nuits. These, like the white wines, are from lesser know villages or a blend of grapes from here, there and everywhere. We then move up to Village wines, which have the name of the village where they were harvested on the label. Examples of these are Volnay, Alox-Corton, Nuits St George and Gevrey Chambertin. The next after this is to 1er Cru, which are vineyards that have been designated the best in the appellation (e.g. Volnay 1er Cru). Each of the vineyards also have their names on the label, for example Volnay (village name) 1er Cru (classification) Taillepieds (name of the vineyard). The top of the tree is Grand Cru. There are 25 red vineyards at this level and prices can be astronomical.
Now that seems pretty straightforward… but we’re talking about French wine here, so here’s the twist! In Bordeaux each plot of land is owned by a Chateau. In Burgundy, each vineyard is split between many producers, the Grand Cru of Clos de Vougeot has more than 100 different growers owning vines within its walls! So finding a god producer can be as important as choosing by classification. A great winemaker’s village wine may well be better than the poor winemakers Grand Cru.
Burgundy is far lighter in colour than Bordeaux, often looking a tad weak –but don’t be put off! Here, the fruits are raspberries and cherries, and the secondary flavours are earthier, mushroomy, and even meaty. A good bottle of aged Burgundy is an amazing thing. It sounds daft, but you could just smell the wine all day and feel very happy. Why not try some for yourself:
Nicolas Potel Bourgogne Pinot Noir (Majestic £11.99)
Joseph Drouhin Chorey les Beaune 2010 (Waitrose £14.99)
Louis Jadot Côte de Beaune-Villages 2009 (Majestic £14.99)
Louis Max Cote du Nuits Village 2009 (Sainsburys £15.99)
You will be more familiar with the wines of the southern Rhone, but the Northern Rhone is home to some wonderful inky, spicy red wines. The key grape of the region is Syrah, better known to most of us as Shiraz (yes, they are the same!).
There is no classification as such in the Northern Rhone, but possibly the pinnacle of the crop is Cote Rotie. Cote Rotie can be loosely translated as the “roasted slope” due to the many hours of hot sunshine the amazing aspect allows it. This is also expensive wine and there are 3 reasons for this. The first is that it is a small area and production is low and in demand (only 224 acres planted), secondly the slopes are so severe that special pulley systems have had to be implemented in many parts in order to harvest the grapes, and thirdly, it tastes bloody great!
The next big name of the Northern Rhone is Hermitage. Hermitage is an amazing hill which overlooks the town of Tain l’Hermitage, just on the right bank of the Rhone River. Again syrah is dominant, although up to 15% of the white wine grapes Marsanne and Rousanne are permitted in the blend, they are very rarely used (up to 20% of Viognier is also allowed in Core Rotie).
The surrounding areas of Hermitage are labelled Crozes Hermitage, and on the other side of the river is St Joseph. These two appellations produce some really excellent (and variable) wines at affordable prices. The other important appellation in the region is Cornas; and the most interesting fact is that this wine HAS to be 100% Syrah. I’ve got a couple of these from the 2007 vintage lying in wait for Xmas 2013!
And what should expect from these syrah-laden wines? Well lots of power, tannin and acidity. Inky dark colours, with blackberry fruit, dark chocolate, black pepper and… Wait for it… smoky bacon! Delicious!
Cave du Tain Crozes Hermitage 2009 (Majestic £9.99)
Sainsburys Taste the Difference St Joseph 2010 (Sainsburys £13.49)
Spicy Grenache is the king grape of the Southern Rhone, and is usually more than 80% of the blend. In this region there is a classification, which is pretty straightforward and also a pretty fine indicator of quality!
We start with simple Cotes du Rhone. We’ve all had it and all thought, do you know what, that’s not half bad. And there are some very good ones out there. Many of the big name Rhone producers make a Cotes du Rhone – Guigal, possibly the biggest name in the Cote Rotie, makes one and you can buy it in Majestic for £10.99! We then move up to Cotes du Rhone Villages, which is a selection of 95 communes and then on to the “better” Cotes du Rhone Villages, which over the years have produced better quality wines and are allowed to append the village name to the label. There are 18 of these villages and my faves are Sablet and Cairanne.
Next, and finally, we come to the “Crus”. These are villages and areas that have consistently produced top-notch wine and have the right to simply call the wine by where it’s from. The key Southern Rhone Crus are Lirac, Rasteau, Beaumes de Venise, Vaqueyras, Gigondas and Chateuneuf du Pape. Again, like Burgundy, finding a producer you like and trust is key in these appellations, and certainly worth the effort to find.
Wines made primarily from Grenache have brambly fruit flavours and lovely spicy and herby notes. Lots of black pepper and after a few years they start to smell like Christmas. Also you can often smell and taste the wonderful aromas in the southern French air.
M&S Cotes du Rhone Villages Cairanne 2010 (M&S £9.99)
La Bastide St-Vincent, Pavane Vacqueyras 2010 (Majestic £12.99)
Ogier Clos de l’Oratoire des Papes Châteauneuf-du-Pape (Co-op £16.99)