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On Top Down Under

I’ve written a lot about French wines in the first 3 months of the blog and also had a go at trying to decode Italian wine lists (Navigating Italy). In my looking forward to 2013 post I talked about discovering more about the delights of Australian wine so here is an overview of some of the key Aussie wine regions and the grape varieties to look out for, along with some recommendations. I’ve tried to concentrate on wines that are easily available to everyone.

The great thing about Australian wine is the simple labeling. 99% of the time the label will tell you the name of the producer, the region it is from, and the grape varieties used to make the wine. This is one of the key reasons for the success of Aussie wines, but so too is the quality at the mid to high end of the market. Also, some of the names of the wines are superb!
Aussie wine

South East Australia – a note of caution

The regional identifier of South East Australia (or SE Australia) is a catch-all which covers most of the major wine producing states (except Western Aus). Quite often the grapes used to produce these wines have been deemed not good enough to go into the regionally labeled wines. They will have been bought by a high volume wine maker to produce cheap and cheerful wines, so could be a blend of grapes from 3 or 4 different states. It’s not to say these are poor wines, it’s just they won’t have the complexity or sense of place (terroir) that you will find from location-specific wines. These are the wines you find in the cheap supermarket promotions.

Western Australia

Although WA accounts for a small proportion of Aussie wine (under 5%), the quality is excellent. The vast majority of wines from the region are in the premium category. The Margaret River region is the most famous in the area. The key grapes grown in the area are Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Chardonnay. My pick of the producers is Leeuwin Estate, who’s “Art Series” Chardonnay is regarded as one of the best white wines in the country. Other regions to look out for are Great Southern and Swan Valley.

Ring Bolt Cabernet Sauvignon 2097, Margaret River (Tesco £10.99)
Plantagenet The Lioness Pinot Noir, Great Southern (Tesco £12.99)
Vasse Felix Chardonnay 2010, Margaret River (Majestic £13.99)


South Australia

Could be called the wine state of Australia. When we come to looking at the names of the sub-regions I’m sure you will recognise many of the famous names from bottles you have drunk. When you see the names Barossa Valley or McLaren Vale, the grape that immediately screams out at you is Shiraz. Look out for Barossa wines from Peter Lehmann, king of the valley. These areas have very hot and dry summers and produce blockbuster red wines, which are rich, chocolaty and spicy. Yum! For Cabarnet Sauvignon, look no further than Coonawarra. The wines have lovely blackcurrant and eucalyptus characteristics and are a brilliant accompaniment to rare red meat.

And don’t forget the white wines. Some of my favourites come from the Clare and Eden Valleys, especially the precise citrus-led bone-dry Rieslings, which can be stunning.

D’Arenberg One Hundred for Four Shiraz, McLaren Vale (The Wine Society £7.50)
Jacobs’s Creek Reserve Pinot Noir 2011, Adelaide Hills (Sainsburys £9.99)
Tim Adams Riesling 2006, Clare Valley (Tesco £10.49)
Peter Lehmann BVS Shiraz 2010, Barossa Valley (Majestic £12.49)
Walter Clappis The Hedonist Shiraz 2010, McLaren Vale (Waitrose £12.99)

Victoria

The coolest of the mainland states in Australia, so the emphasis is more on cooler climate grapes such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The Yarra Valley region is a great place to start for both of these grape varieties. For wine connoisseurs head for the Mornington Peninsular, where winemakers are starting to make quite a noise with their high quality output. Giles, an ex-colleague of mine who spent some time in the area, has pointed me in the direction of “Main Ridge Half Acre” – Giles, I’ve found a source and got some on order! www.houseoftownend.com

And for something completely different, head towards Rutherglen and their luscious dessert wines made using Muscat – a very wine that works as well with fruit-based desserts as it does with chocolate.

Brown Brothers Late Harvest Muscat 2010, Rutherglen (Majestic £8.49)
Billi Billi Shiraz 2008, Grampians (The Wine Society £8.50)
De Bortoli DB Reserve Pinot Noir, Victoria (Majestic £9.99)
Willing Participant Chardonnay 2010, Yarra Valley (Waitrose £12.99)

New South Wales

Home of the Hunter Valley, the most northerly and tropical of Australia’s wine producing regions. The Shiraz is from the region is often described as softer and spicier than those from further south, and are generally thought to age very well. For white wine, the region is famous for Semillon, although many of the other regions are beginning to produce more and more of these grassy, citrusy wines. A region I keep reading about (well I definitely notice it!) is the superbly named Tumbarumba – I’m on the look out for some Chardonnay from he as the write-ups get better and better.

Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Semillon 2005, Hunter Valley (Tesco £9.29)
Taste the Difference Semillon 2010, Hunter Valley (Sainsburys £9.99)
Robert Oatley Finisterre Chardonnay 2011, Mudgee (The Wine Society £16.00)

Tasmania

The cool climate of Tasmania provides new opportunities for Aussie wines and the primary grape growing in the state is Pinot Noir. The island is producing nuanced and delicate wines from this notoriously difficult grape and I look forward to discovering more. White wine development is also very exciting, with precise and fruit driven Rieslings, as well as a growing reputation for Pinot Gris, in the style of the Mosel – very exciting.

For special occasions

The very best Australian wines are up there with the very best in the world. If you really want to push the boat out and try something really special, here’s a premium list to choose from.

Katnook Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Coonawarra (The Wine Society £18.00)
Kooyong Beurrot Pinot Gris 2010, Mornington Peninsular (The Wine Society £18.00)
Leeuwin Estate Prelude Chardonnay 2009, Margaret River (The Wine Society £23.00)
Ocean Eight Verve Chardonnay 2010, Mornington Peninsular (The Wine Society £23.00)
D’Arenberg Dead Arm Shiraz 2008, McLaren Vale (Majestic £27.00)
Sandalford Estate Cabenet Sauvignon 2007, Margaret River (The Wine Society £29.00)
Ten Minutes by Tractor Estate Pinot Noir 2010, Mornington Peninsular (Majestic £35.00)
Leeuwin Art Series Chardonnay 2008, Margaret River (Majestic £55.00)

Burgundy 2011 En Primeur… A taste of things to come

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:

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– 33 wine makers
– 98 Wines (37 whites and 61 reds)
– 2 hours to do it!

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!

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A wino is born!

Now my Dad has never been a drinker. He likes the odd pint of lager but I don’t ever remember him drinking a whole glass of wine. A sip and a grimace definitely; a glass, absolutely not. This Xmas things have certainly taken a turn. Whether its for better or worse really depends on your perspective!

Dad has got interested in wine since I started writing the blog. This is great as I appreciate his support… But his interest is real! When we talk on the phone the first question he asks is about something he’s read in a post and he’s forever sending me photos of wines to ask if they’re any good. But he still doesn’t like the stuff. Or he didn’t… Until I took him a case at Xmas.

I took a few of my favourites from the past few months and he loved them. So much so that when the fifth bottle was finished (there were 4 of us and it was Xmas!) out came a bottle of Echo Falls Merlot from the cupboard. And his reaction? “I’m not drinking that sh*t; its thin and tastes of vinegar!” I am so proud of him!

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Here are the wines we drank – Dad asked not to be quoted so my reactions will have to do!

Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2008, West Sussex, UK (Waitrose £29.99, reduced to £23.99)
This was Dad’s favourite. Lovely aromas of peaches and apricots with a dry but very fruity palate. The fruity flavours are delivered in a stream of deliciously light bubbles, with a delicious yeasty and long finish. 88 points

DeMorgenzon Reserve Chenin Blanc 2010, Stellenbosch, South Africa (Wine & the Vine £16.95)
Really interesting nose of melon, peaches, nuts, maybe even marzipan. Lovely zing in the mouth, lots of ripe melon fruit and a wonderful nutty, long finish. 91 points

Domaine Ferrand Pouilly Fuisse Prestige 2008, Macon, Burgundy (Wine & the Vine £22.99)
Aromas and flavours of peaches and honeysuckle. Good weight in the mouth and well integrated oak, although no new oak has been used. Lots of acidity and a lovely clean finish. Quite a modern and delicious Pouilly Fuisse. 89 points

Elboador +7 2007, Priorat, Spain (Wine & the Vine £29.95)
Yes it’s this one again! I couldn’t give Dad a selection of good stuff without including this gem! Aromas of dark cherries and brambly blackberries and black currant. Loads of spicy Xmas goodness and pepper. Super concentrated fruit, upfront tannins providing amazing structure and huge length. 95 points

Joseph Drouhin, Chorey les Beaune 2010, Burgundy (Waitrose £15.99, reduced to £11.99)
Lots of raspberry and cherry fruit and a lovely fresh palate. Secondary aromas and flavours of leather and forest floor. Maybe a bit young but delightful and a great value introduction to red Burgundy. 87 points

We didn’t get to the bottle of Sauternes so I’ll get back to you on that one!

Best value wine list… No Bull

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Going back home to Anglesey for New Year, what I had really been looking forward to was a visit to The Loft restaurant at Ye Olde Bull’s Head in Beaumaris. I hadn’t been there for a few years as we never seem to be on Anglesey for long enough to squeeze it in. So on the first night on “The Rock” me, The Fish, Mum and Peter headed off to Beaumaris for a culinary feast. The food was superb and every bit as good as I remembered (sample menu here!) but what was of more interest to me was the wine list. Below is a sample from the offering:

Domaine Gérard Duplessis, Chablis 1er Cru “Vaillon” 2007 £27.00
Domaine Dujac, Morey Saint Denis, 2001 £52.00
Château Talbot, Grand Cru Classé, Saint Julien 2001 £49.50
Domaine de Vallouit, Hermitage 1999 £43.50
Sori Ginestra Conterno Fantino, Barolo, 2000 Piedmont £56.50
Henschke Julius Dry Riesling 2005, Eden Valley South Australia £24.50
Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Marlborough NZ £36.50

You can view the whole list here

A very nice list of wines but just look at the prices. This is not a retail price list, this is a restaurant price list! At first I thought they had printed their purchase prices! I was so astounded by this that I did a bit of investigating for these wines on winesearcher.com as well as looking for their price in some top London restaurants. I won’t name the restaurants but they all have at least one Michelin star.

The Chablis (tasting notes later) retail price is around £17 – I couldn’t find the same wine on another restaurant list but a £10 mark-up is definitely acceptable. Domaine Dujac has a fine reputation and rightly so; £52 for a decent vintage from Morey Saint Denis was enough to make me go for it. The cheapest I could find this bottle on sale to the public? £66.67. How do they do it?

How about Bordeaux? The 2001 Chateau Talbot, yours for £49.50 at The Bull or £43 from Fine & Rare. If you want to buy this wine in a London 2-star establishment then expect to pay a whopping £175! The only bottle with more than a 100% increase on the retail price was Cloudy Bay. £36.50 at The Bull or £18 online. I would expect this as Cloudy Bay is a recognised brand that will draw the crowds and 100% mark-up isn’t ridiculous. Expect to pay over £60 in London!

Needless to say, this is the most impressive and value for money price list I have have ever come across. And with 10 reds and 10 whites by the half bottle also at great prices, it is a must visit if you find yourself on Anglesey or anywhere near North Wales. Don’t forget the food is also top-notch!

But it makes me realise that I’m being taken for a ride in London. I know that wine is the tool for money making in the restaurant business, but please be reasonable or I’m just going to go for the house wine and save my money and buy four bottles of what I actually want online!

Domaine Gérard Duplessis, Chablis 1er Cru “Vaillon” 2007 (£27.00)
Lots of apple with a fresh citrus streak on the nose. The wine has good body, quite “fat” for Chablis but very good nevertheless. The appley fruit is very pronounced but so is the cool, dry limestone flavour, which is beautifully integrated with the fruit. Very decent, especially at this price. 88 points

Domaine Dujac, Morey Saint Denis, 2001 (£52.00)
I’ve had plenty of good bottles from the Burgundy 2001 vintage this year and this is no different. Lovely cherry and raspberry fruit aromas and flavours. In fact, for a wine of its age the fruit is very prominent. Hints of undergrowth and mushroom but pretty linear and very delicious. 90 points

Brown Brothers Orange Muscat & Flora Special Late Harvest 2010, Australia (£12.50)
A great all-rounder to go with our selection of desserts. Lovely orange blossom, tropical fruit and honey sweetness. Simple, fun and nothing here to dislike! 86 points

My 2012 “best-of”

When I was a teenager, this was my favourite time of the year. Not because of Xmas or the presents that might await, but because the annual review editions of NME and Melody Maker were released and I could see how many of their top 100 singles and albums I had managed to collect over the past 12 months. Anyway, the subject may have changed (I haven’t bought any “new” music since 2002!) but I still love “best of” lists. So here’s a few of my wine highlights of 2012.

Favourite reds

Domaine Hubert de Montille, Les Taillepieds 1er Cru, 2001, Volnay, Burgundy (The Wine Society £46.00)

Not noted for being a great vintage but this is very exciting! Very pale, almost rose look in the glass but the aromas are incredible. Strawberries, raspberries, sweet cherries, mushroom, truffle and undergrowth. Very sweet fruit on the palate with lively acidity and such freshness. Nicely integrated oak, and dashes of leather and sweet spice. Warm, long, concentrated and sumptuous. Tannins are prominent but silky. This is my kind of wine and wish I could afford to drink it every night! (I’ve got a 2004 from the tiny vintage to enjoy over Xmas) 96 points

Elboador +7 2007, Priorat, Spain (Wine & the Vine £29.95)

Wow. What aromas of dark brambly fruit. There are cherries and blackberries and even hints of black currant. Loads of spicy goodness including black pepper and Xmas spice. Super concentrated fruit, upfront tannins providing amazing structure and huge length. This is the real thing. Having this with the Xmas goose. 95 points

Walter Clappis The Hedonist Shiraz 2010, McLaren Vale, South Australia (Waitrose £12.99)

Inky black in the glass. Chocolate, black pepper and autumn hedgerow, blackberries and black cherry nose. Concentrated and intense, blackberries, black cherry, cocoa, spice from nicely integrated oak and a dash of liquorice at the end. Bold, powerful, delicious. Palate delivers what the nose promised. And long. De-bloody-licious! 92 points

Favourite whites

Maison de Tastelune Chassagne Montrachet 2008, Burgundy (M&S £30.00)

The Fish bought me the first bottle of this wine for my birthday – thank you Fish! Beautiful nose of white peaches, honeysuckle and a dart of vanilla oak. I really could smell this wine for hours! Clean and fresh with a little bit of weight, peachy and spicy and long. Lovely texture excellent weight. Love it. 92 points

DeMorgenzon Reserve Chenin Blanc 2010, Stellenbosch, South Africa (Wine & the Vine £16.95)

Really interesting nose of melon, peaches, nuts, maybe even marzipan. Lovely zing in the mouth, lots of ripe melon fruit and a wonderful nutty, long finish. 91 points

First Press Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley, USA (Waitrose £16.99)

Overripe, fruity sweet melon fruit. Supercharged fruit with a lovely brioche waft and some nuttiness. Not as wild on the palate but a lovely appley streak of acidity. Nutiness comes through after a while in the glass. Delicious. 90 points

Favourite fizz

Camel Valley Pinot Noir Brut 2008, Cornwall, UK (direct @ £30)

We drank this at the beginning of December with my brother in law and his other half, The L’s, Luke & Laura. Lovely red-fruity aromas and summery taste of strawberries and red currants. Very pleasant with a delightfully yeasty and biscuity finish. Thought it tasted like a Rose but wonderfully clear in the glass! 91 points

Favourite restaurant

We had some amazing meals on our French odyssey in the summer, especially the Crazy Carafe in Tournon, Cave du Madelaine in Beaune and Le Chambolle in Chambolle Musigny. However, I cannot go past The River Cafe in Hammersmith. I’ve been lucky enough to eat there twice this year and can’t wait to return in 2013. Wonderfully sourced, seasonal ingredients, cooked to perfection with minimal fuss. The food for people who like eating! Amazing all Italian wine list; hopefully the guide I wrote recently will help you make a great choice!

Favourite bar

In 2012 I discovered Gordon’s wine bar, near Embankment tube station. The place is mental busy and great fun. The wine list is pretty eclectic and you can get a bottle of Latour Corton Grand Cru 1998 for £45! Well it’s better than most village Burgundys you pay more than £50 for when drinking out of home! Also a great place to get smashed with Hanski and George! I haven’t been able to get to Sager & Wilde yet, but I’m guessing it will be near the top of my 2013 list.

Favourite shop

It will be no surprise to any of you that this goes to Wine & the Vine at Battlers Green, near Radlett. Jez is a constant source of inspiration and keeps me up to date with what’s new and interesting… And long may it continue. Special mention also to Waitrose, who’s selection just gets better and better… Especially at 25% off!

Favourite website

No competition this year. http://www.winetravelguides.com was an essential resource in putting together our 2 week fantasy through The Rhone, Burgundy and Champagne. If you are looking for advice on anything to do with wine on your holidays then make this website your first stop. Use this code for a 30% discount D2Blog12

So that’s it for 2012. I hope you all have a superb Xmas, and I look forward to sharing more wine words with you in 2013… CHEERS!

The Grape Escape

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!

Pinot Noir

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!

Cabernet Sauvignon

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.

Syrah/Shiraz

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.

Grenache

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.

Chardonnay

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.

Sauvignon Blanc

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.

Riesling

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.

Chenin Blanc

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!

Battle of the sexes?

Every now an then in the world of wine we come across descriptions that suggest a particular wine is either masculine or feminine in style. Across the great regions of France, some of the appellations are even pigeonholed by these terms. In the Cote de Beaune in Burgundy, the wines of Volnay are often termed feminine, whereas Pommard, which is right next door, is often described as masculine. In Bordeaux, the wines of Margaux are softer, while wines from Paulliac are “fuller” and more manly, and in the Northern Rhone are the great wines of Hermitage really “girly” compared with the brute force of Cote Rotie?

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I have done this myself, especially when talking about Volnay or Chambolle Musigny (feminine) so I thought it was time to take a closer look. Feminine wines are often characterised as having finesses and elegance (see the photo from the vineyard in Chambolle). “Masculine” wines have lots of body and big tannins. This actually does a disservice to the variation within appellations, even wines made in the same vineyard! I suppose its an easy or lazy way of describing a wine so I think in future I’m going to ditch the battle of the sexes. If I think a wine has finesse and elegance, you can decide whether it is feminine or not and I will concentrate on the more important attributes of sight, aroma and taste.

If men are from Mars and women are from Venus, Volnay is from Volnay and Pommard is from, well Pommard!

The truth behind this post is that it gave me the opportunity to open two fantastic bottles of wine from the superb Burgundy domaine of Hubert de Montille. Hubert was the real star of the wine documentary Mondovino, which looks at the globalisation of wine styles. If you are a wine fan then order a copy as it is a really interesting, and often very amusing and frustrating watch. The domaine is now run by Hubert’s son and daughter, who both feature in film.

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So a Friday night with The Fish and the in-laws. A beautiful dish of slow cooked partridge prepared by Den and some great cheese sourcing from Jan, and away we went…

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Domaine Hubert de Montille, Les Pezerolles 1er Cru, Pommard 2001 (The Wine Society £49.00)

Very light crimson colour for Pommard but the nose is very interesting indeed. Autumnal with lots of musty leather, sweet spice and sweet red fruit. Raspberries and red currants on the palate with a deep smokey, cigar-like finish. Not super-concentrated but very sweet and refined – I was surprised to find this vineyard is on the Beaune side of Pommard as it is actually very reminiscent of Volnay. Was an excellent accompaniment to the partridge but I do wish I had decanted and given the wine a couple of hours to really open up. Top notch stuff indeed. 92 points

Domaine Hubert de Montille, Les Taillepieds 1er Cru, Volnay 2001 (The Wine Society £46.00)

Oh yes, this is very exciting! Very pale, almost rose look in the glass but the aromas are incredible. Strawberries, raspberries, sweet cherries, mushroom, truffle and undergrowth. Very sweet fruit on the palate with lively acidity and such freshness. Nicely integrated oak, and dashes of leather and sweet (vanilla?) spice. Warm, long, concentrated and sumptuous. Tannins are prominent but silky. This is my kind of wine and wish I could afford to drink it every night! 96 points

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USA vs. France… Again?

OK, it may not be original but a recent visit to Gidleigh Park was the inspiration behind this latest France vs. USA tasting. We were very fortunate to have been invited to the wedding of our good friends back in September (thanks Richard & Max!); a lovely service in Worcester, followed by a weekend at the outrageously wonderful Gidleigh Park hotel. We enjoyed Michael Caines’ stunning signature menu on the Friday evening, along with a very well judged accompanying wine flight. The standout dish and wine combo was the Cornish duckling with cabbage, smoked bacon, roast garlic and a spiced jus, paired with a 2009 Bergström Cumberland Reserve Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley in Oregon. Now I am a Burgundy man through and through… But this wine really tickled my fancy, so much so that I asked the sommelier who their supplier was. It turned out to be from Roberson on High Street Kensington, recent winners of the 2012 Decanter London Wine Merchant of the Year award. So online i went and found the listing and realised that I work 5 minutes away from the London outlet and never realised it! What an excuse for a lunchtime visit.

The truly magical Gidleigh Park

Roberson is a great shop and I know I will spending much more time at their premises over the next few months, but Bergstrom I was after and Bergstrom I did find. Unfortunately they didn’t have the Cumberland Reserve in stock, however the did have the Shea Vineyard 2010. The Cumberland Reserve is a wine made from a combination of grapes from 3 different vineyards, Shea being one of them (Bergstrom and Lancelotti are the other two). Being a single vineyard wine, the Shea was a tad more expensive but what the hell I thought! It was then pointed out to me that they also stocked a Bergstrom Chardonnay that came highly recommend. Well what else could I do? “Add it to the bill, please”, and away I walked.

This weekend we had a family get together at the in-laws in Worcester, with my parents and sister joining us from Anglesey. A perfect opportunity to try the wines out and maybe test their suitability for this years Xmas wine list. But why not make it a bit more interesting and pit the newly purchased Bergstroms against some decent tipples from Burgundy? So I picked out a couple of bottles from the rack and away we went. The tasting proved to be very interesting and great fun. Burgundy came out on top 2-0, although as you will read from the notes below, the Bergstroms could definitely do with at least another year in bottle. Also it wasn’t 100% cut and dried, with the Chardonnay battle causing the biggest debate…

Bergstrom Old Stones Chardonnay 2010

Lovely deep, inviting gold colour, nose of white flowers, with a good citrus blast and a hint the tropics (lychee maybe?). The wine has good body but the fruit is still hiding, trying to get out. The principle take away is minerally, wet stones with a hint of apple skin on the mid palette. This will only get better and may well make the list for Xmas 2013. 16.5/20, 88pts, £25.95 www.robersonwine.com

Domaine Patrick Javillier Bourgogne Blanc, Cuvée des Forgets 2010

We visited the domaine in the heart of Meursault back in July this year and enjoyed a wonderful tasting in the very cool and vey small cellar. This was the first wine we tried and although only a Bourgogne Blanc it was as good, if not better, than many of the Cote De Beaune village wines I’ve tasted recently. The wine is deep gold with a very clean nose of white peach and a hint of cobnuts. The flavour follows on from the nose as well as delivering a lovely hit of minerality and just a hint of buttered toast. Bourgogne Blanc on the label but this is another one that will keep getting better and at this price why not keep a case in the cellar? 17/20, 90pts, £18.95 www.corneyandbarrow.com (I bought mine direct after the tasting at Javillier but will be on the phone to C&B very soon!)

Final Chardonnay score 3-3… With my vote counting double (!!), a close contest just going the way of Burgundy.

Bergstrom Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010

Lovely crimson colour and very fruit forward nose. Cherries and red currants with a blast of musty leather. These Oregon Pinots really do offer secondary and tertiary smells very early in their lives. The palette is still very closed with only a hint of the fruit and some violets coming through, not quite in harmony… Yet! This will be fantastic given a couple more years in bottle – think I’ll have a look for some 2008/9. 16.5/20, 88pts, £37.95 www.robersonwine.com

Domaine Pierre Naigeon Haute Cotes de Nuits 2007

This is a bit of a go to wine with very good structure and flavour for the price. A hint of brick on the rim and a nose which offers sweet morello cherries and a whiff of smokeyness. Light bodied and the fruit from the nose is there in the mouth, along with that lovely damp forrest floor vibe. Not a wine of length but certainly one of charm. 16.5+/20, 89pts, £18.65 www.wineandthevine.co.uk

Final Pinot Noir score 5-1 to Burgundy (sorry Peter!). 2010 vs 2007 was what tipped the balance.

The verdict

A very enjoyable tasting session and some very good wines. If you’re looking for good Pinot and Chardonnay from outside of Burgundy I would certainly set my sights on Bergstrom and I will be on the look out for some 2008 and 2009s. The wine that sparked the tasting was the 2009 Cumberland Pinot Noir so winesearcher.com here I come!

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