Blind Tasting Challenge

I guess he was sick of hearing me talk about wine so my father thought he would set me a challenge for Easter Sunday. The challenge was to identify the bottle of wine he had opened and decanted and find out if I had a clue what I was talking about. As it happened my mother had been using a second bottle of wine to cook with which found its way into a second decanter to double the stakes.

Taking two glasses I sat down to contemplate the challenge and deliberate over the identity of said wines. I did not know the cost, where the wines were from or anything  else about them. I was also somewhat cautious he may be trying to catch me out.

From the offset there was a clear difference on the nose between wines A + B.  I opted to taste the leaner wine A first, keeping the richer, more intense wine B to taste after.

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Wine A: Hardy’s Classic Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot, South Eastern Austrailia, 2015. Wine B: Cepa Lebrel, Rioja Reserva (Tempranillo), Spain, 2011.

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Old World Elegance Meets New World Flair

My experience with South African wine is somewhat limited; however I’m always interested to try new things! Spurred on by my good friend’s recent adventures in South Africa, I decided to find out what I have until this point largely been missing out on. Being a long time lover of all things Syrah (Shiraz), it was natural I gravitated towards this particular bottle. A tall sleek bottle that left me wondering was the wine as polished as the name suggests?

The Glenelly estate lies just northeast of the town of Stellenbosch in the southern foothills of the Simonsburg Mountain, sitting on a bed of decomposing granite, which lends itself to good drainage and deep roots to the vines. Whilst the region itself has been making wine for over 200 years, the Glenelly estate is a relative newcomer, having first produced wine in 2009, after being taken over in 2003 by May-Eliane de Lencquesaing, previous owner of the Bordeaux Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande (Pauillac GCC). Wine making at Glenelly is headed by Luke O’Cuinneagain who has teamed up with the legendary Adi Badenhost (See ‘The ‘Rock-Star’ of Wine’). With this line up, the team clearly mean business and have already built up a reputation as a leading player in the Stellenbosch region.

Glenelly, The Glass Collection Syrah, Stellenbosch, South Africa, 2011

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100% Syrah, Aged for 12 months in old French oak barrels, Alcohol 14.0%
Production 42,000 bottles
£12.50 Lea & Sandeman

The wine boasts a deep amethyst colour with legs that wouldn’t look out of place on a fashion catwalk thanks to its impressive 14% alcohol content. It was the nose that truly blew me away, erupting from the glass with the most intense bouquet of roses and black cherries that does with time develop towards a more mature nose, more reminiscent of its cousins in the Rhone with black pepper predominating. On tasting, lots of red fruit juice comes to the fore, balanced well by rounded tannins and just the slightest hint of acidity to carry into a delightfully peppery finish. Again after an hour or so of air, the flavour develops a more austere character that is refreshingly different to the initial taste, once more bringing a flavour that is more in-keeping with a wine of particularly the northern Rhone (which may perhaps be a nod to the cooler year that was had in the region).

I’ve sat here and demolished several glasses of the wine with little more than a few crackers and a smearing of cheese, though I feel a pairing with a lighter pork dish or even a lamb dish would work well too. At the price point it really is excellent value, especially if you consider it along side some of the more traditional Syrah based wines which it more than stands up to. Madame de Lencquesaing, I doff my cap to you on a job well done.  89 points (MI)

Cool Climate Sauvignon Blanc

20160325sauvblanc.jpgLoma Larga Vineyards, Lomas del Valle Sauvignon Blanc, Casablanca Valley, Chile, 2013

100% Sauvignon Blanc, Steel Fermented, 6 months on fine lees.
Alcohol 13%, Ph: 3, Total Acidity: 4,31 g/L, Residual Sugar: 2,85 g/L
Bin end wine reduced from £10.50 to £6.50

I picked this wine up a few months ago to go with some seafood.  I am a big fan of crisp refreshing Sauvignon Blanc and reduced to £6.50 felt it was hard to go wrong.

Appearance: Very pale lemon.
Nose: Lemon mousse (a bit sweeter than pure lemon) on the nose. Slight hint of green fruits. Certainly no tropical fruits coming through for me here.
Palate: Reasonable attack leads to a fresh palate of citrus. Balanced acidity with alcohol barely discernible. Long finish of salinity and minerals (full marks in this area). Good poise when opened although slipping off as the wine warmed up.

Conclusions: For the reduced price of £6.50 (normal price £10.50) I can’t fault this.  Cool climate very apparent in the degree of restraint.  I suspect this could  have faded slightly from its initial intensity on bottling. I preferred it slightly on the cool side as it lent focus to the fruit.  Very refreshing Sauvignon Blanc, well suited to seafood dishes.

Score: 88/100

Wine purchased from Berry Brothers Basingstoke store.

Wines From A Trip to France (March 9 – March 13, 2016)

  • Chateau Gardiole, Chateau-Neuf-du-Pape, 2012
  • Domaine Benedetti, Chateau-Neuf-du-Pape, 2010
  • Domaine Eyverine, Cairanne, Cotes-du-Rhone Villages, 2012

BBC Good Food has an excellent recipe for a greek lamb bake. The dish calls for lasagna-esque layering of aubergines, potatos, and tomatoes. Garlic, minute but potent Kalamata olives, and an oregano dusting serve as buffers between the layers. Of course, feta is also bountifully involved. The lamb sits atop, princess of the pea to the potato mattresses, (there are no peas involved – thank god). Two hours in the oven blends the flavors together. The outcome is delicious, full of vegetable flavors and the meatiness of the lamb’s juices, scored with the sharpness of the olives and garlic.

The strength of the flavors in this dish call for a pairing with wines of strong personality. It is always nice to pair a dish with wines that match in one’s mind as well as on one’s palate. If we play by these rules, we need wines that both buy into the rustic feel of the dish, whilst staying true to the Mediterranean basin vibe. Enter the Southern Rhone.

Unlike its colleagues from the Northern Rhone, which tend towards being mono-varietal Syrah wines, the Southern Rhone is a land of blends. Grenache, Carrigan, and Syrah share the honors – mixed in with varietals that are lesser known (except in the Languedoc where some are heavily used in the Corbieres and the Coteaux du Languedoc – often to great effect).

When done right, the blending allows for smoothness and fruit to hang like silky cloth on the muscular body of the underlying Syrah. If left bank Bordeaux is fine Merlot drapery on a beautiful – but slightly underfed – model called Cabarnet, Rhone wines involve the buttocks of an Olympic rower.

Centerpiece Wine: Chateau de la Grande Gardiole, 2012

Robe: A light slightly ochre red, clearer than expected. An elegant and sensitive color that trends towards rose petal pinkness. Very large and clear rim.

Nez: Not hugely developed but, when caught, the wine reveals pleasant flavors of sweet red fruit. The strawberry note was particularly striking – no vegetable scent at all.

Bouche: Light tannins balance out a pleasant sweetness. The wine has a lovely roundness to it, which it manages to maintain for an astounding duration. Each sip demands long moments of attention. The balance feels great – no excessive acidity or strong tannin intercede to tamper the initial, pleasant sweetness.

Superb CdP for the price range. 92/100

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The “We Need More Wine” wine: Domaine Eyverine, Cairanne, 2012

Robe: Much darker than the Gardiole. The color is several hues closer to pourpre.

Nez: The vegetable that was noticeably absent from the Gardiole is back with a vengeance.   Accompanying it are forest fruit, but whereas with the Gardiole fresh strawberries were honored, the fruit in the Cairanne seem ripe or even over-ripe. The scent carries no promise of youthful sweetness.

Bouche: For a relatively inexpensive wine, Cairanne provides supple smoothness. The tannic profile is slightly higher than on the CdP but still inoffensive. As in the nose, the Gardiole’s sweetness is mostly gone. Replacing it are deeper and darker flavors. This is a stronger wine – what it gains in forcefulness it looses in elegance and intricacy. But based on the pairing it might actually be a better choice overall on the day.

Excellent for the price. 91/100;  Cairanne is considered one of the very best among the named CdR Villages appellations and this take on it was excellent (especially for six euros).

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Domaine Benedetti, 2010

A few days later, a re-organization of my wine fridge revealed four 2010 Domaine Benedetti CdP. The Domaine seems to belong to a smaller producer and boasts of coming third in the Concours des Vignerons Independants, in which smaller producers compete for a prize whose attribution is decided by trained, yet still amateur, wine tasters.

Robe: A strong purple hue. This looked more a like a young Syrah rather than a six year old CdP. From sight alone, it would have been impossible to suspect that this wine and the Grande Gardiole were from the same region. The contrast was all the more surprising as the Domaine Benedetti was from 2010, making it the Gardiole’s senior by two years.

Nez: Strong notes of red fruit – principally cherry – underscored by vanilla. The fruity smells had a slight hint of artificiality.

Bouche: The cherry, recognizable in the wine’s hue and smell, showed up again on the palate. So, unfortunately, did the slight hint of artificiality. This was particularly noticeable here as this CdP comes across very fruit heavy. Despite this sour note, the wine had some very pleasant characteristics on the mouth. Most notably, it displayed a velvety thickness underscored by a lovely long chewy finish and nicely developed tannins.

Nice CdP on the cheaper end of the range. Very interesting contrasts between this Domaine and the Cht Gardiole, perhaps reflecting a difference in vintages? 89/100. Would score higher but for the slightly artificial notes.

Some other wines:

  • Moulin de Citran, Haut Medoc, 2009 (second wine of the Chateau de Citran; excellent Bordeaux for the price range. Lovely structure – drink now / next year)
  • Chateau LeVivier, Medoc, 2005 (starting to taste tired – drink now. Already lost much of the elegance and lustre from when first tasted in the summer of 2015).
  • Intermarché’s Sancerre offering “Whose name I forget (but will update)”, Classic Sancerre Sauvignon Blanc. Very fresh and powerful nose with a strong smell of green apples and well tended lawns. Lovely fresh palate – good minerality and structure with a real sense of freshness. Eaten with Sole mariniere, for which it was a good pairing.
  • La Batisse Rouge, Cairanne, Cote-du-Rhone Villages, 2014, White (Grenache blanc, Roussane). Strong floral notes with a hint of vanilla. Very pleasant wine (which may even have suffered from having been open for a while when I got to it). Both the nose and the palate evoked the wild flowers and long wheat like grass of prairie fields. Was this contrast with the fresh grassiness of the Sancerre due to the varietals or the temperature of the wine?

 

 

Meerlust Estate, Stellenbosch, South Africa

Prior to visiting South Africa I had already tasted Meerlust Rubicon, and this wine helped set the yardstick to judge against. The visit to Meerlust came towards the end of the trip so I felt a certain trepidation for how the wines of the estate matched both expectation and memory.

Wine has been grown on this estate to the south of Stellenbosch since 1756. The estate has been recognised as a national monument since 1987, although we did not stop long enough to see more than the tasting room. Meerlust has been long recognized as one of South Africa’s top estates. The range at Meerlust is simple: 4 varietals (1 white and 3 red) and the flagship Rubicon (a Bordeaux blend). Here in the UK I have also seen an entry level Meerlust red although this was not available for tasting.

We travelled to Meerlust Estate from False Bay having followed the stunning R44 along the coast around the Kogelberg Nature Reserve. False Bay is still visible from the turning into the estate and this proximity to the sea is key to the wines. A sea breeze and mist keep the vineyard temperatures in check through the summer permitting a longer ripening season. This translates into a great intensity and permits elegance in the wines.

The tasting room and shop are in one of the estates historic buildings and are accompanied by an exhibition of photography and articles about the cape and the estate.

Opening Hours: Monday to Friday: 09h00 – 17h00, Saturdays 10h00 – 14h00.

Tasting fee: R30 per person refundable on purchase of wine.

Stockists in UK: The wines of Meerlust are relatively easily found in the UK.  The price disparity across the range is less here than in South Africa and so Rubicon is relatively more keenly priced.  I have included a link for each wine as some are slightly tricky to find.

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Wines Tasted: Meerlust Chardonnay 2014, Meerlust Pinot Noir 2015, Meerlest Merlot 2013, Meerlust Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Meerlust Rubicon 2012

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A Challenge: How to Impress People

Yesterday, I had dinner with four teenagers, so I gave them some wine.  Two of them ‘didn’t like wine,’ so I gave them some wine.

Here, lay an interesting challenge that I’m sure many people have faced themselves. If, like me, you are a self-proclaimed wine enthusiast, those around you expect you to drink exceptional wine. This expectation remains even if they ‘don’t like wine.’ Further, it becomes a challenge for you to prove them wrong. So which wine did I choose, 100% confident that smiles would ensue?

There was only one choice; my tasting notes are below

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Royal Tokaji Company, 5 Puttonyos Aszu, 2009, Hungary
Syrupy and amber in complexion. An aromatic bouquet of oily orange peel, ripe apricots and nectarine. Clear Botrytis on the palate and real length. The best thing; the thing that really makes this great is the tension between acidity and sweetness. The acidity gives it a freshness and demands that you come back for more. 92 points (BP)

Learning point: when it comes to Tokaji, pour yourself a big glass; the bottle will be empty next time you look.

Iona Winery, Elgin, South Africa

When we were recommended Iona it was with the caveat that it was somewhat difficult to find. We happened upon the sign to the winery on the main road and took a chance detour.  After following a dusty dirt road approximately 7 km uphill we arrived at the gates. The winery was empty and the tasting manager was out on other business.  Luckily the accountant was on hand and was kind enough to present the wines free of charge. It is great to see all members of the team engaged in the product and eager to show off the wines.

Production at Iona is not diluted by too many different varieties or cuvees –  they only list 4 wines – and it would appear this allows them to focus.  Compared to other wineries this was a no frills tasting experience.  There is no restaurant, art gallery, delicatessen: the wines are allowed to speak for themselves   Hell, they don’t even need a paved road.

Pride of place in the tasting room goes to a vintage Porsche, owned and renovated by the proprietor.  The car and wines both had a certain ‘Je ne sais quoi‘, the sense of something classic, elegant and refined.  I suspect much is of this is the result of cool climate and high altitude as well as diligent winemaking practice.

I would certainly visit again if in South Africa, and I will certainly be getting hold of some of the wines of Iona here in the UK.  Indeed, based on our pretty small sample, the wines of Elgin include some real gems at very competitive prices. Unfortunately the Chardonnay was out of stock at the time of our visit, although I understand it is also very well regarded.

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Wines Tasted: Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Pinot Noir 2013, One Man Band 2010

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Wines from Stellenbosch

The following wines are a mix of wines tasted by the bottle with friends in South Africa. I tasted these wines with no preconception and minimal knowledge of the producers. Unfortunately for two of these I did not have any appropriate glassware available so they were sampled from a flat bottomed tumbler (unfair I know).

StehuisMorgensterWines: Morgenster White 2012, Sterhuis Merlot 2013, Eikendal Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

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The ‘Rock-Star’ of Wine

If you Google ‘Adi Badenhorst,’ you will discover a multitude of articles and pictures describing a bearded, charismatic maverick of wine-making. WineSpectator calls him ‘a wooly bear,’ WineAnorak describes him as ‘a showman, with a nice line in self-depreciation.’ He has even been featured by the Daily Mail: ‘the joker in Swartland.’

He sounds like a great guy, but how is his wine? Temptingly, it is impeccably well reviewed. Therefore, seeing his famously good value ‘Secateurs’ chenin blanc on offer at Swig.co.uk for only £8.05, I made the order and drank up.2016-03-14 20.23.13

Secateurs 2011, Chenin Blanc, Badenhorst Family Wines, Swartland, South Africa

Rich golden colour. Clearly viscous in the glass. Honeyed nose with obvious pear and peach fruit, along with pretty floral notes. The palate demonstrates rich peach fruit, salted butter, some watermelon. Brief warm mid palate transitioning into stoney minerality as the long saline finish begins. More than good value, this is complex, intense and exciting. Lovely acidity. 91 points (BP).

Learning point: I want to be Adi Badenhorst.

Eagles’ Nest Winery, Constantia

Eagles’ Nest winery lies at the north end of Constantia on the slopes of the Constantiaberg to the south of Table Mountain.  The location of Constantia, a suburb of Cape Town, means access for visitors is straightforward and we traveled to the winery by Uber allowing us both to enjoy the wine.  Being in close proximity to the Atlantic on the west and False Bay to the East, Constantia is blessed with a coastal breeze giving its wines a cooler climate feel than those regions further inland.  I had hoped to make it to the majority of the Constantia wineries, however, due to a last minute excursion to Durbanville I only made it to Eagles’ Nest and Steenberg (link to follow shortly).

The vineyards at Eagles’ Nest were destroyed by fire back in 2000 but have now been replanted with Shiraz (Syrah), Merlot and Viognier in terraces leading up the mountain slopes.  Given that Syrah and Viognier grown together leave me thinking of Cote Rotie in the Northern Rhone I had high expectations for these wines.  Eagles’ Nest is an idyllic spot, with a modern tasting room opening on to the garden of the estate.  If I had more time around Cape Town it is a spot I would certainly return to for lunch and a glass of wine on a sunny afternoon.

Tasting Facilities: Mondays-Sundays from 10:00am – 16:30pm.
Appointments are not required, and tasting is in the gardens of the estate.
The cost of tasting is 50 Rand per person (this is refunded if spending over R500 on wine).

Refreshments: We accompanied our tasting with a superb Antipasto Platter for R165 which was more than enough for 2 to enjoy as a light lunch.  I understand it is also possible to arrange for a picnic in the grounds during the summer months.

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Wines Tasted: Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Viognier 2015, The Little Eagle Rosé 2015, Merlot 2011, Shiraz 2013

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