A wine from southern France

Apologies for the dearth of posts recently.  Unfortunately moving to a new city got in the way of drinking wine, or at least in the way of writing about it.  To get the ball rolling as we come towards summer here is a sun scorched wine from the Pays d’Oc in the South of France.  The majority of the wines we write about on this blog are classified as Appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC), which comprise the top tier of French wines and are governed by stringent rules.  Below this are the Vin de pays, or country wines, and below that again are the table wines.

Are they worth buying?

Just because a wine is not marked with AOC it does not necessarily mean it is of low quality.  Some Vin de pays wines may be of high quality but lie just outside the appellation boundaries, some will be grown outside of traditional wine making regions, and some will be grown within the geographical borders of an appellation but in some way fall foul of the strict AOC rules. I must admit I do not know which camp this wine falls into (Cabernet Sauvignon is certainly not the typical grape of the region) but I do know it was a most enjoyable bottle.


Terre De Sol, Pays d’Oc, France, 2014

100% Cabernet Sauvignon
Médaille d’Or Paris 2015
£9.99 from Averys of Bristol

This was inky black with a garnet hue and purple rim.  The nose was herbal, rich, and was dominated by sweet aromatics of blackcurrant as typical sun drenched Cabernet Sauvignon. On the palate we find more blackcurrant, and an underlying green bramble note suggesting the grapes could have been a touch riper. There is moderate tannin with a calcareous (chalky) mouthfeel. The finish is smokey with a long drying mineral finish.  This wine was slightly hard around the edges on the first day, but very acceptable as a Vin de pays.  I had this open over a couple of evenings and it softened and opened slightly by day two.  I felt this wine was typical of wine from the pays d’Oc and a had enough going on to leave me satisfied.

Conclusion: Don’t rule out vin de pays: this example punches above it’s weight and is deserving of that gold medal award.

Score: 88/100


Bollinger Tasting

“I drink it when I’m happy and when I’m sad.

Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone

When I have company I consider it obligatory.

I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am

Otherwise I never touch it… unless I’m thirsty.”

The true meaning of these famous words, spoken by Lily Bollinger, were revealed a couple of weeks ago, as the team at Hedonism Wines treated us to a marvellous tasting of Bollinger wines. We were lucky enough to try out the full works, including the much-hyped 2002 RD and the rare still pinot noir they produce: La Cote Aux Enfants.


From the get go, the winemaker introduced Bollinger’s ‘5 stylistic pillars’

  1. The vineyard: unusually, Bollinger own the majority of its vineyards, giving them control over quality and consistency.
  2. Pinot noir: 60% of Bollinger’s vineyards are pinot, as reflected by the characteristic notes of the final wine
  3. Oak Barrel ageing
  4. Keeping old reserve wines in magnums rather than huge stainless steel vats
  5. Time: Bollinger ages its wines for much longer than than the average across the region, resulting in a rich, harmonious style.


Bollinger Special Cuvee NV

02 and 06 were in this blend, giving it plenty of weight for a non-vintage champagne. Sourdough bread and honey came through strongly on the nose. Quite rich and complex on the palate with medium acidity and some figgy sweetness. Alcohol was not noticeable. This was the palest wine of all and lost its fine mousse after 30 minutes or so. 90

Bollinger Rose NV

Surprisingly this was slightly more closed to begin with with some tannic structure. In terms of flavour, doughy characteristics still came through but there was an obvious expression of mint that several of us independently picked up, along with some spicy characteristics. Not as great an expression of Bollinger’s principles of champagne-making. 87

Bollinger La Grand Annee 2007

Lower dosage now at 7g. Significantly darker than the special cuvee. The complexity on this wine was remarkable, and we kept tasting the flavour for long after each sip. A round, harmonious almond characteristic was present, along with some tropical notes as found in specific examples of Montrachet wines. The wine coated the mouth  and was really enjoyable. 92

Bollinger La Grand Annee Rose 2005

This wine really split the crowd. Most of those who enjoyed the NV rose didn’t enjoy this one, and vice versa. For me, it was a winner. Salmon pink in the glass, with aromatics that included thyme, hazelnut and ripe tomato. Pinot noir was evident. Long, but not as fresh as I would have hoped for. Smokiness and umami covers the mouth. Again, very long. 91











Bollinger RD 2002

This is perhaps the most famous of all long lees-aged wines. Dosage has been lowered again to 3g. The smile on the winemaker’s face said it all: this is a ridiculous champagne. More golden than gold. Huge balance and length. Complexity hitting all the major flavour types: fruit, spice, herbs, earth, wood, flowers, nuts etc etc. A beautiful champagne that Bollinger is justly proud of. 95

Bollinger la cote Aux Enfants Rouge 2012

This still pinot noir is a rarity and it’s sublime. Only 3000 bottles were produced, and the care and quality shines through: relatively deep colour, strong red berries, fresh acidity, eucalyptus, mint and rose petals. Smelly manure notes (which I love) and some tannic structure. 91

Learning points:

Bollinger is a top notch champagne house that, despite its fame, is much smaller than the typical supermarket champagne houses such as Moet. They are the epitome of British champagne (the UK is a huge market for them), and all their wines are superb. I’ll remember these wines for their richness and balance.

A wine and images from Elciego


The hotel of Marqués de Riscal provides modern counterpoint to the sixteenth century Church of San Andrés in Elciego

Today’s review wine hails from Elciego in the Rioja Alavesa, and, judging by the address, basks in the reflections of Frank Gehry’s temple to wine. I spent a morning at a local festival of wine in Elciego back in September 2015 and tasting this wine certainly took me back there. The atmosphere was phenomenal, the food sublime and, the wine was free flowing if you could fight your way to the stalls. I may well have tried something from Valdelana back then but the festival atmosphere was no place for writing notes. Great wine captures snapshots in history, people, and places: I could not help but share a few images of my time in Elciego to set the scene.


Stalls at the festival had a wide range of local produce and pintxos


The main square in Elciego on the day of the festival

Valdelana, Rioja Crianza, 2011

Tempranillo 95%, Mazuelo 5%

This Rioja Crianza was picked up from Vinissimus for a good price about a year ago.  Being a Crianza this spends 12 months ageing in barrel using a combination of 50:50 french and american oak.  Following this it spends another 12 months ageing in bottle.


The glorious church of San Andrés in Elciego

Tasting note:

Rustic, a little rough round the edges, but you know what? This really reminds me of a summer evening in the Rioja Alavesa. If this was on the side with sauteed mushrooms, cured meats and olives I would be feeling right at home. High acidity, moderate tannin. The fruit is slightly off ripe but with a deep richness. It reminds me of the cacao in the darkest chocolate but it would be improved if softened. I was not expecting it but this surprisingly softened and opened on day two. No score documented at the time of tasting.


Vina Real, Gran Reserva, Rioja, 1970

This New Year’s Eve I finally got round to tasting a previous “Wine Of The Week”: Chateau St Pierre, St Julien, 2011. This was enjoyed at a local steakhouse over a hearty meal. I have mostly drunk older Bordeaux recently, but tucking into this was a revelation. Being young this was rich and sumptious, with plenty of tannin but never felt over the top. Blackcurrant dominates the palate with pencil lead coming through on the finish and rounding out an elegant wine. 92/100 (DT).

The main event on New Year’s Eve was a venerable bargain picked up at a local wine store. The shop had recently purchased a cellar and were moving on some loose older bottles at keen prices. Having visited CVNE last August I couldn’t resist taking the gamble on a bottle of the Viña Real Gran Reserva 1970. By the time this had got home from the store the 7 had fallen from the bottle so you will have to take my word on this one!


Excuse the quality of the photo – it was NYE after all

Viña Real, Rioja Gran Reserva, 1970

For me this was a classic Rioja Gran Reserva. Dead traditional (unsurprising at 46 years old) with a light body and high acidity. Held up to the light the wine was almost orange, whilst in the glass it appeared garnet with browning as expected for the age. The Gas Man noted sherry like aromas but i could not discern any obvious oxidation. There was still a slight grip from silky tannin with a satisfying silky mouthfeel. The fruit is pretty barren on this although there is a distant memory of strawberries, underlying metallic notes and a complex, if slightly hollow, palate. Rounding out the palate are sois bois, leather and dried meat, with lemon juice coming through on the finish highlighting the high acidity.

The more I drank this the more i come to enjoy it, and it was probably better after an extra 30 minutes air in the decanter whilst watching the fireworks. This wine was rather austere but given the age it was a total steal. Beware there is likely considerable bottle variation on this – we may just have been lucky!

Score: 93/100 (DT)

Second Wine Labels

Second wines have been around for a centuries. Their purpose, I suppose, was to maximise output of wine to the consumer, whilst maximising quality for the grand cuvée. Until the second half of the 20th century, only a handful  of estates bothered with second labels . Nowadays, all of the classed growths have at least a second label, if not a third or fourth.

So, are these wines just the dregs of renowned estates, manufactured and marketed to a vulnerable and label-driven consumer mass? OR, are they good value, under-appreciated chances to taste the fermented fruit of some of the world’s best estates? I decided to try out the 2nd wine label of the 3rd growth Margaux estate, Chateau Marquis d’Alseme Becker, imaginatively named ‘Marquise d’Alseme’.

img_3576Marquise d’Alseme, Margaux, 2009

This wine changed quite dramatically in the glass. Initially, earth damp forest aromas complementing dark fruit. Pencil shavings, violets and black pepper. Some cedar perfume. 45 minutes later and a totally new beast: concentrated green bell pepper, jalapeno and green olive tapenade, suggesting high pyrazine concentrations. The palate was rich, fruity and silky throughout, but there was an underlying bitterness  (not associated with tannin), which reduced the drinking pleasure significantly. Interesting, but lacking balance and hedonism. 88 points



Learning points: This was a genuinely interesting wine to taste with regards to the development in glass. However, in terms of pure enjoyment, it did not justify the £25 price from thewinesociety.com

Latour: What’s all the Fuss About?

No, I did not buy this.
Yes, I I did hope to hate it.
Unfortunately and unsurprisingly, it was delicious.

20161108_222923This was my first experience drinking mature first growth Bordeaux. I wasn’t drinking the wine blind, and I hadn’t researched the vintage much beforehand. Sad as it might sound, my main thought in anticipation of drinking the substance within was: will it be worth the money? Now, the economics of wine is a complicated business. Drinking wine is a perception, affected by attention, mood, circumstance, and subjective taste. That in itself means that no wine can be ‘the best’. Add to that the complication of market trading, en primeur interest, advertisement, and everything else that goes into supply and demand economics, and you are left in a confused mess when deciding the relationship between your wine drinking pleasure, and value. The question that I want to consider with you is to whether it is worth splashing out money on first growths simply to ‘try them’ and ‘see what all the fuss is about’.


So, how much extra cost is demanded by this presumable increase in quality? To put things in perspective, 1985 Latour can be found on the market for £300-800. It is a reasonable vintage that has little more to offer as an investment and is on the trough of its  own value-time curve. To get an idea of how much ‘better’ this wine might be, let us compare it to the £40 village level burgundy that we started with:

Meursault Les Grands Charrons, Bouzerau, 2012

Immediately exotic nose: pineapple, mango, mandarin. Balanced with oak, lemon and some pepper on the palate. Buttery as expected, with good length and mouth-feel. Great acidity, and interesting nuances in the flavour profile (dill came across quite strongly as the wine sat in the glass). 91 Points

Chateau Latour, Pauillac 1985

Not what is had expected; I would have never guessed this was a 30+ yr old wine. Deep red, with no clear orange or brown on the rim. Loads of blackcurrant blackberry cherry fruit still, matured with wet earth, porcini-like umami and some aniseed-like spice. Intense flavour, v pure balanced and long. Still enough tannic grip to carry the wine, and a lovely inky texture. 95 Points.

Latour 1985 is wonderful; no question about that. I was really really trying to criticise it and find things that I didn’t like about it, but there wasn’t anything. I was impressed that the fruit was still carrying and by the essential components of acidity, length and balance. However, it is certainly not worth splashing £800 on if you are paying simply to ‘see what all the fuss is about’. Indeed, it becomes immediately obvious that there is a disparity between how ‘normal’ wines are priced, and how ‘luxury’ wines are priced. The former is based on taste, year and area. The latter is driven mainly by history and critics.

Frederic Engerer, Latour president explains in an interview that the price is ‘a bit frustrating’ and it stems from ‘the market.’ This is fair, true, and I cannot criticise a business for making money that is there to be made. What does make me a little sad however, is that this money is probably not invested into major improvements in quality, and if it is, the wine will rarely be drunk by those who will notice the improvements (if drunk at all!)

Learning point: As Mr Engerer describes, Bordeaux is ‘a magical place’. Go explore it for yourself, before splashing the cash on Latour.

WOTW: Chateau St Pierre, St Julien, 2011

Chateau St Pierre lies within the Left bank (Bordeaux) appellation of St Julien. Lying sandwiched in between the Pauillac and Margaux appelations, St Julien shares many of the characteristics often associated with its more well known neighbours, including the fragrant Margaux nose and the dense cassis palate of the Pauillac. St Julien is home to a number of classified estates, of which Chateau St Pierre is both the smallest (17 hectares of vines) and probably the least well known of them. Ch. St Pierre was classified as a 4th Growth in the 1855 classification and can trace its roots back to the 17th Century, though as a result of family disputes, the land has been carved up (even for a period existing as two separate vinyards) before being more or less brought back together in the 1980s by the legendary Henri Martin (holding the title of l’Ame du Médoc (The Soul of Medoc)). Due to its relative obscurity, many regard the wines of Ch. St Pierre to be very much undervalued, representing excellent value for money. Typically the wines of Ch. St Pierre consist of 70-75% Cabernet Sauvignion, 15-20% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc. Wines are aged in oak for 18 months.


Chateau St Pierre, St Julien 4er Cru, 2011

Bordeaux blend (Cab. Sauv, Merlot, Cab. Franc), Alcohol: 13.5%,
Price: £19.99 Aldi (Nov 2016)

In the glass the wine is a day bright claret with a really intense hue. No signs of browning at the edges or other obvious signs of aging. There was an intense nose of dried currants and spices, which after decanting for a couple of hours opened into more discernible black fruit. The wine has medium acidity and medium tannins, contributing to a really opulent and smooth mouth feel, with complex flavours of dried fruit rolling through to a delightfully long finish of dark chocolate verging even on coffee.

There is something distinctly classy about this wine. The craftsmanship is abundantly evident in the wine and for this price it really represents superb value for money, regardless of the fact that it is a classed Bordeaux wine. It would pair well with the usual suspects for Bordeaux, however I had a distinctly pleasurable time drinking this in front of the fireplace with a few pieces of dark chocolate. As far as Bordeaux wines go, 5 years is young to be drinking, though many believe (and certainly I’m convinced) that 2011 was a vintage to be drinking now, rather than for laying down.

Conclusion: This is good enough to deserve the title of Wine Of The Week.  I’ve picked up several bottles of the stuff, and so should you – if there is any left!

Score: 91/100 (MI)

Massivo! Sicily, Italy.

Tasted blind this left me perplexed. Powerful, fruit driven, well balanced, and great depth. The climate needed to be hot but the winemaker shows restraint. Once I was told it was from Italy a distant memory of Sicily’s famous grape Nero d’Avola stirred. I have only tasted this grape once before now but there is clearly some serious potential here for the astute winemaker. On seeing the modern look bottle I was surprised, as it was something I would not normally have chosen – the moral? Do not judge a wine by its bottle!


Massivo! Nero d’Avola, Terre Siciliane, Italy, 2015

Intense garnet in the glass with a ruby-pink hue at the rim. Really fruity on the nose, exuberance described on the label is spot on. Slightly sweet with a dark brambley feel. Really crunchy berry fruits especially blackcurrant. Tannin moderate and 14% alcohol is comfortably contained. Oak lends structure and high acidity rounds out the wine.

Conclusions: Bloody delicious. We thought SA red. Bordeaux blend came to mind due to spectacular depth. I will be drinking more Nero d’Avola and reporting back.

Score: 90/100 (DT)



Savennières: Domaine des Baumard

Savennières is a small white wine appellation in the Anjou-Saumur region of the Loire. As with much of the white wine in the region the grape is Chenin Blanc, and Savennières is one of Chenin’s finest expressions. Whilst Chenin Blanc is renowned for sweet wines in Coteaux du Layon to the south, Savennières produces predominantly dry wines. Savennières is an appellation I rarely see in Britain, with the exception of specialist retailers. This is in part due to the relatively high price, and in part due to the style of the wine itself. Savennières at its best produces powerful, elegant and serious wines, and most require ageing to show at their best.


Domaine des Baumard, Clos de Saint Yves, Savennières, 2009

Cépage: 100% Chenin Blanc, Alcohol: 13%.
Price: £19.99 from DBM wines.

Domaine des Baumard is a top estate for wines from the Loire, both from  Savennières, and Coteaux du Layon. This wine has 7 years of bottle age but on tasting retained the beauty of youth: taut and tense and with a crystalline purity. Baumard has left this wine unoaked allowing the expression of the terroir to come through unadulterated. The style makes for a serious wine, and one that is rewarding of the investment of time and concentration.

In the glass we have a pale gold appearance and a waxy mouthfeel. The nose and palate bring stone fruit, nuts and peach kernals, with these pretty notes belying the underlying power and concentration. Given the cool climate this has slightly less acidity than I expected, however, with the bone dry presentation, this was sufficient to retain tight focus. There is an incredibly high salinity and minerality, reminding me of the intensity of terroir from the top wines from the Wachau. The finish is excessively long with a savoury richness, evoking aged cheese, or even cured salted meat.

Frankly this wine overpowered the meal it was served with, but made a fine digestif. The following evening the remainder paid great compliment to a board of strong hard cheese. My partner found this somewhat austere in presentation, and I have a suspicion the point may be missed by the mass consumer.  Whilst this could be considered somewhat impenetrable to those new to wine, it oozes quality and class to the initiated.

Conclusion: Serious, composed, and to my palate delightful. Next time you are in the market for a rich and elegant white wine look beyond Burgundy and consider the fruits of Savennières.

Score: 91/100 (DT)

Masters of Pinotage

Having been out to South Africa earlier this year we felt it was time to arrange a tasting of Pinotage. Pinotage is a cross between Pinot noir and Cinsaut, bred in 1925, in an attempt to adapt the qualities of Pinot Noir to the South African climate. Pinotage has historically been accused of lacking the potential to make great wine, and condemned for tasting notes of burnt rubber and bananas. Having tasted almost 200 wines during the trip we identified a few standout bottles of Pinotage to showcase the grape and dispel any remaining doubts.

The wines below were tasted blind, with a bottle of Tesco’s finest Pinotage added to the flight as a comparator. All 4 wines were decanted prior to serving from the decanters. I quickly sorted the wines on the basis of the depth and complexity of the nose to determine a tasting order as below. Incidentally these wines are all from different regions of South Africa and represent a cross section of the terroir


Tescos Finest, South African Pinotage, Swartland, 2015

Price: £6.00 from Tesco Online

A garnet of moderate intensity, this had a thin nose with notes of cherry.  A refreshing wine with high alcohol, high acidity and high tannin.  This was somewhat out of balance and was the only wine tasted where the burnt rubber notes were obvious -coming through on the late palate. I have previously drunk this wine without complaint, and whilst is in no way a bad wine, it does little to excite. On returning to this from the other wines in the flight its relative inadequacy was very much apparent.

Score: The score among the group tasting ranged between 82-86/100 with the fine felt to be above average but nothing standout.

Kanonkop, Pinotage, Stellenbosch, 2003

Price: £22.99 (different vintage) from SA Wines Online

Kanonkop are renowned as one of the leading Pinotage estates, with their black label Pinotage one of the most expensive wines from South Africa. On my recent visit Kanonkop impressed across the range. The example we tasted here was from 2003 and was the oldest wine in the flight demonstrating the capacity of Pinotage to age.

This wine was much richer that the first; sweet with moderate silky tannin.  Again we find cherry but this time closer to a black cherry.  The balance is better, and we are rewarded with greater complexity.  Perhaps a little rough round the edges but I can accept that to be rewarded with savory flavours of leather and game.  Spice on the finish rounds out a typical and mature high quality pinotage. This wine is a great match for a piece of charred steak or other fare cooked on a charcoal grill.

Score: 90/100 (DT)


Hamilton Russell Vineyards, Ashbourne, Walker Bay, 2009

Price: £27.99 from SA Wines Online

This was the only wine that was a blend of grapes, and in this case it was made up of 82% Pinotage, 9% Cabernet Sauvignon and 9% Shiraz. This article gives Hamilton Russell’s thoughts on Pinotage, and it is worth noting that Ashbourne will become a single varietal pinotage from the 2015 vintage.  Hamilton Russell is famed for Pinot Noir, and although this may be sacrilegious, I think I actually prefer the Ashbourne red.

On tasting this was a very different wine from the first two. In comparison this was pretty, and delicate, with stacks of red raspberry fruit. High acidity keeps this in focus, and it was the only wine that expressed much in the way of minerality. Excellent balance, with floral overtones. This tastes much closer to Pinot Noir and impressed fans of the grape. If this came from Burgundy it would cost a small fortune.

Score: 93/100 (DT)

Meerendal, The Heritage Block Pinotage, Durbanville, 2006

Price: £39.99 from K&L Wines

Durbanville lies directly to the north of Cape Town and is best known for producing stunning Sauvignon Blanc. The farm at Meerendal has been growing wine since 1714 and this Pinotage was one of my best finds whilst in Cape Town. My thanks go to David at Meerendal for opening this to taste as it is a truly exceptional wine. K&L Wines appear to be selling this here in UK although I would be surprised if there are many bottles available.

This wine was a dark garnet of high intensity, and markedly strong legs.  This was full bodied yet smooth, luxurious and silky sweet in the mouth.  More tannic that the other wines tasted, and again showing a flare of high acidity keeping the wine in focus.  This still tastes youthful with the fresh greenness of fruit pips, although the bulk of the fruit is more in line with raisins or stewed dark fruits. Cracking high powered, yet classy wine.  Just edged out on score by the Ashbourne but well received all round, and well worth the effort seeking out.

Score: 92/100 (DT)