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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!

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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