The sweet side of Bordeaux

I think I would be correct in saying that almost anyone that drinks wine in Britain knows about red Bordeaux. Bordeaux is a huge wine production area pumping out approximately 900 million bottles every year. In this short series of articles I want to bring your attention to the white wines of Bordeaux because they deserve just as much of your attention as the red. In this article it is the sweet white wines formed through the action of noble rot that take centre stage.

Classification: Historically sweet white Bordeaux was included in the 1855 classification and was divided into Deuxième Crus, Premier Crus, and the lone Premier Cru Supérieur: Château d’Yquem.  This classification specifically covered the wines of Sauternes and Barsac, although there are other appellations that can present good value.Today this classification still provides a rough guide, although is less important than the classification for reds.

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What to do with sweet white Bordeaux? Classic pairing are Tarte Tatin, Blue Cheese and, if you really want to push the boat out, Foie Gras. Sweet white wines are known as dessert wines for a reason but try and make sure the wine remains sweeter than dish it accompanies.

The question of value? What we find with sweet white Bordeaux  is that the prices are compressed relative to their red counterparts. They cannot be found as cheaply due to the costs of production, but the price of the very best remains slightly more in touch than the reds. A little of something sweet goes a long way, so a half format bottle is normally enough for 4- 6 people.

What to buy? Sauternes and Barsac are the key appellations and supermarkets in the UK often stock second wines from top estates. Bargains may also be found in the neighbouring appellations: Cadillac, Cérons, Loupiac or Sainte-Croix-du-Mont.  There are also examples of sweet Bordeaux Supérieur, or Graves, although I have no experience of these.  Be wary of underspending on this style of wine- its all too easy to be lacking acidity and taste flabby.

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Château Caillou, Deuxième Cru, Sauternes, 2005

I picked this up from Lay and Wheeler for £8.25 and at the time of press it is still available.

Mid gold in the glass with a rich sweetness, spice and citrus peel on the nose. Medium sweetness on the palate, but not close to the richest of Sauternes. This is a warming drink and brings nostalgia through the flavours of Christmas. There is a slight bitterness from the peel fleshed out by boiled sweets and roasted nuts.  The balance is reasonable but the acidity is just a touch low to make this really sing.

Conclusion: This is not as complex as some wine at 11 years but it is tasty and a solid example of Sauternes.  I am in no real rush to drink this up and hopefully it should gain a bit more complexity.  This is a good introduction to the style and at a pretty fair price!

Score: 90/100 (DT)

Château de Pennautier, AOC Cabardès, France

The village of Pennautier lies just out of reach of Carcassonne’s urban sprawl.  In typical fashion for this part of France, the difference a hundred yards makes is a big one: industrial development yields to vineyards and grey concrete to platane hallways. The transformation is so rapid that, barely five minutes out of the ugly bit of Carcassonne, Pennautier already gains that “in the middle of nowhere” feel, which so charms rural France’s visitors and so bores the younger generation of its long term inhabitants.

Adjacent to the village itself, sits a large Chateau, after which the wines of Penaultier are both named and labeled.  But visiting it requires some pre-planning, without which you will see what I saw:

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The gates of greyness

The wines here comes from the small but remarkable Carbardes AOC. Although not exactly equidistant from the Atlantic and the Mediterranean from a geographic point of view, Cabardes producers make their wines from a mixture of both oceans’ favoured varietals. In fact – this is a requirement. Cabardes wines thus feature the Mediterranean’s Syrah and Grenache and the Atlantic’s Merlot and Cabernets.

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This could of course lead to un-alluring hodgepodge. Fortunately, at Pennautier at least, it tends not to be. A single family has owned the Chateau for several generations. And although this same family also owns a number of other vineyards throughout the Languedoc, the Chateau comes across as their epicenter. These folks appear to have good business sense too, despite their relatively unknown appellation, the Penaultier wines are easily available throughout Brussels and appear to have some sort of exclusivity deal with Brussels airport where they are almost depressingly, if deliciously, ubiquitous.

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Because all of the family’s wines can be bought at the Chateau, there is a lot to choose from. I can recommend three:

Chateau de Pennautier, AOC Cabardès, 2012 

The Chateau’s basic wine comes in around 6-8 euros. A slighlt variation on this theme is the Chateau’s “Terroir d’Altitude” version, which comes from different vineyards and is slightly more expensive. Very nicely balanced with soft tannins and good structure. Although perhaps slightly light on the body, the wine manages to remain relatively long on the palate.

Excellent value for money. Score: 88-90/100 (COW)

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Esprit de Pennautier, AOC Cabardès, 2012 

The flagship wine, l’Esprit de Pennaultier, is a little more pricey coming in at around 20-25 euros a bottle, which is relatively expensive for the area. But you do get what you paid for, this is a refined wine, that has the ability (and the desire) to age.

A strong mid-range wine that competes in terms of elegance and complexity with more expensive wines from other parts of France – a nice example of the premium paid on a Bordeaux bottle.  Score: 90-92/100 (COW)

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Mas des Montagnes, Côtes-du-Roussillon Villages AOC, 2010

Unlike the two wines above, the Mas des Montages comes from a separate vineyard. It is not a Cabardes – qualifying instead for the Cotes-de-Rousillon village appellation. A high altitude plantation, this is my favorite bang-for-buck wine at the moment.   The varietals here are classically Mediterranean with Grenache and Syrah. And the Mas is a powerful but elegant wine with a strikingly dark color. Elegant and well balanced, it avoids the rustic flavours that can characterize some wines from this area (perhaps due to the high altitude of the vines).

Unrivalled value for money, at eleven euros a bottle (for the high altitude version), this is the best “ten euro” wine I have had this year. Score: 92/100 (COW) 

Further Information: The website for all of these wines is pretty cool, you can check it out here.

Chateau de Valois, 2012, Pomerol

IMG_4341I got hold of this wine through some well-intentioned speculation.  Understandably nervous about receiving her New York bar results, I offered a colleague the opportunity to hedge her results with wine:  If she passed she would have to buy me a bottle of right bank Bordeaux, if she failed I would have to buy one, thereby offsetting the horror of having to resit the bar exam.

She passed – resulting in my coming into possession of a bottle of 2012 Chateau de Valois from the Pomerol area.  Pomerol, sitting just west of the more famous St-Emilion region, is young by Bordeaux standards – with even some of the top vineyards being recent creations.  And the wine is drunk young as well for, unlike in other Bordeaux areas, Cabernet Sauvignon does not feature here, merlot is king.  Less tanic than Cabernet-based neighbours, the wines of Pomerol reach maturity younger (although see below).

The Chateau de Valois itself seems a discreet sort of place.  I’ve struggled to find much info on it.  So we will have to judge it on its wine, which is hardly a ludicrous idea.

Robe:  Very dark red, verging on purple.

Nez:  Not very potent, musty odour, reminiscent of an old closest opened for the first time in a long time.  Would frighten people with allergies

Bouche:   There’s a lot going on here.  And as soon as I sipped it I knew I had messed up. This wine was dramatically too young.  Tightly bound and tannic, the youth made the other  flavours hard to access.  Were the tannic blanket to be peeled back, I do not doubt for a second that something remarkably may lie below.  But whatever that may be it was still largely hidden.  From what was exposed, the wine gave off some dark fruit notes and hinted at the elegance it could one day have had.

This came as something of a surprise – as a merlot heavy wine, with only traces of Cabernet Franc, it was unexpected for it to be so tannic and so tightly bound.

 

Venerable Riesling

Having successfully got half the team behind The Fermentation Vessel together in the same room we thought it was only right to celebrate with a tasting. After our recent tasting of young Mosel from the stable of J.J. Prum, we wanted to see how Riesling gets on with a bit of age. The vintages of 1976 and 1971 in the Mosel are known to be classics, and a bit of research  suggested that 1975 was no slouch either.

Despite, or perhaps because, they are considered classics, supply is running short on these vintages, and some of the wines are starting to run out of steam.  If we did not do the tasting now the chance would be gone forever. Taking advantage of our team being spread across Europe, we sourced the wines from a German specialist retailer in Berlin: Weinhandlung Hardy.  The service was excellent and the prices were very reasonable given the age and rarity – remember with wines of this age you are always taking a gamble.

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The line up in tasting order from left to right

All of the wines were 100% Riesling and were tasted paired by year in order of increasing sweetness.  1975 is known to be lighter in character than wines from the indulgent 1976 vintage and so made the logical start to the tasting. The wines (tasted from left to right in the above photo) began with a spätlese before tasting a pair of auslese, a pair of beerenauslese and ending with a trockenbeernauslese.

We ordered a total of 12 bottles, meaning we have another panel of 6 bottles (from 1975 and 1976) waiting in the cellar for tasting over our next few outings.  Tasting six bottles together, although an experience, was a serious insult on one’s metabolism. So, while I can honestly say I am excited to open each and every one of them, a word of warning before you run out and order some venerable Riesling: These wines are extremely intense, sweet, and unctuous.  Tasting too many side by side has a fair chance of causing Diabetes.  

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Arranged in tasting order left to right: All 100% Riesling and started life as white wines.

Weingut E. Bottler-Ostermann, Brauneberger Juffer, Riesling, Spätlese, 1975

The Shrink:  Gold in colour, this was green apple on both nose and palate.  It was incredibly acidic, still crisp, but as if the apples were just beginning to turn.  A somewhat one-dimensional wine, although the undertones were closer to a cooked, rather than fresh apple.  Initially I felt that this went flat very quickly in the glass but, on returning to it, the wine seemed to have got its zing back. Perhaps it was more to do with temperature than anything else.  Really remarkable this would taste fresh and fruity after all these years.

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Still fresh, still fruity at 40 years of age.

The Lawyer A similar view to the one set out above.  The apple flavouring was remarkable: how can the juices of one fruit taste so similar to those of another, completely unrelated, one?  The wine seemed to have lost much of its alcohol, and unlike some of those below, had not developed the unctuosity and generosity of flavour to make up for it.  This left it tasting a bit too much like expensive, old apple juice.  Interesting but would not buy again.

Score: 87-89/100 (DT) & 85-87/100 (CW)

Weingut Friedrich-Wilhelm-Gymnasium, Graacher Himmelreich, Riesling, Auslese, 1975

The Shrink: I was glad to see this producer is still going strong.  Moving up to Auslese from Spätlese we see a darkening from gold to a rich amber.  There was a slight oxidative note in this.  Here we get some petrochemicals on the nose, reminding me of mains gas. Again this was incredibly acidic to the point my face involuntarily puckered every time on drinking. The acidity lead into a long finish.  There was a slight bitter note I was unable to place. The dominant notes here are definitely more evolved than the Spätlese with caramel and toffee apple.

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A beautiful label and the searing acidity characteristic of the vintage.

The Lawyer: High acidity – perhaps too high – it felt a little as if the fruit and body of the wine had fallen too far away, now unable to support the acids.  More interesting than the first wine, however.

Score: 88-91/100 (DT) & 87-90 (CW)

Weingut Joh. Lehnert-Matheus, Piesporter Goldtröpfchen, Riesling, Auslese, 1976

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This was well deserving of its 1979 silver medal

The Shrink: Next we come on to the richer 1976 vintage.  Both wines here from from the same producer, and from the top vineyard in Piesport.  We start with the Auslese and find a marked jump in quality from the previous wine.  Here we find apple, peach, and citrus peel.  Thankfully there are no hints of oxidation but again a bitterness on the mid palate.  This has high acidity, although not quite as much as the 1971s.  The is rich, full bodied and feels pretty luxurious on the way down.  Everyone agreed that the wines were starting to reach an equitable price to quality ratio at this point.

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The labels alone on German wines are often stunning in their own right

The Lawyer: This wine, and its beernauslese brother below, were the standout wines for me.  This is a wine that better fits the post-dinner mood we were expecting.  Still well balanced it exhibited summer fruit flavours and a fantastic nose, which came closer to the adjective venerable than to any identifiable scent.  Something I would happily have in my cellar.

Score: 92/100 (DT) & 92-93/100 (CW).

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The cut foil on the Beerenauslese below

Weingut Joh. Lehnert-Matheus, Piesporter Goldtröpfchen, Riesling, Beerenauslese, 1976

The next wine is the first Beernauslese of the evening, with grapes selected for optimum ripeness and intensity.  As much as I enjoyed the Auslese from Goldtröpfchen this really upped the bar. During the previous wine I remember a discussion being raised of “well they are sweet but they are not as good as Sauternes”.  The answer was simply we had not yet got to the Beernauslese.  This does, however, raise a difficult question with Mosel Riesling in general: If its not quite sweet enough for dessert then when exactly does one drink this?

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The gold medal here is even more deserved than the Auslese above

The Shrink: In the glass we have moved on beyond amber to a rich mahogany.  The wine had still maintained an impressive nose.  On the palate, it marked a move on from the fruits and toffee apple flavours of the previous wine. Here we find maple syrup and complexity. The apple notes are still in the midst of it but now very much roasted à la tarte tatin. This is thick, its rich and its bloody delicious.  Acidity is sufficient to stop this being cloying or overbearing.  If you remember them from childhood this really reminded me of cola balls. I wouldn’t have this with desert  – I’d have it for desert.

Score: 93/100 (DT) & 93-95/100 (CW)

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I can only give this wine the highest reccomendation

Weingut J. Lauerburg, Bernkasteler Bratenhöfchen, Riesling, Beerenauslese, 1971

The Shrink: This was the second Beerenauslese of the evening and also the first wine that really missed the target. On opening this was a very sorry state of affairs. Notes of mothballs, wet dog and chlorine. On the palate we found it was thin and bitter. Only one of our party was brave enough to finish his pour, and he agreed it was not up to scratch.

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The oldest of the 3 vintages sampled

As an eternal optimist I decided to put this in the fridge overnight rather than tipping it away – the best part of the bottle was left. By the morning it seemed the mustiness had cleared and so I took the bottle on my onward journey.  After half a day travelling and 24 hours of being open I popped this back in the fridge to cool for a final taste before tipping it away.

Remarkably a transformation had taken place. The nose had cleared and, in place of the disaster from the night before, I found warming mulled notes, with orange peel and a core of roasted apples. The wine was soft, rich, sweet, warming, and full bodied almost like a old port based on apples. The remainder of the bottle was kept again overnight and by the third day it had softened and opened further showing rich citrus, raisins, spice and chocolate. This slipped down  after dinner like a refined mulled cider, no doubt helped by the setting and the log fire.

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24 hours after being open this was actually rather good

This never gained the precision and intensity of the 1976’s above but it evolved into a complex and mellow offering.  After this experience I would be tempted to suggest that this could have benefited from decanting initially – I think its the biggest positive transformation I have seen in a bottle of wine post opening.

Score: Given I would not advocate drinking this after the experience on day one I don’t think a score would be appropriate. One for the brave of heart but you may just be rewarded.

Weingut Hans Resch, Wiltinger Klosterberg, Riesling, Trockenbeerenauslese, 1971

The Shrink: And now to the the masterpiece.  If you look at the photo on the top of this page you will see a formidable glass of what appears to be black treacle.  It is nearing the consistency too.  The complexity here is off the chart, and comprising of some pretty individual notes. There is concentrated coca-cola, finest aged balsamic, and a funky herbal component that reminds me of bitter German digestif. This has high acidity, high minerality and some metallic notes (think iron filings). This is really cool stuff, really medicinal, and, for what was once a white wine, is pretty darned weird.

A half bottle of this stuff goes a bloody long way giving me the opportunity to re-sample on day 2. On the second day there was no sign of decomposition, although surprisingly primary grape juice had risen from the milieu.  Just as rich. sweet, juicy and delicious as the day before. Frankly this reminds me of something to be put on the finest ice-cream but that does not mean you shouldn’t just drink it by the glass.

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The final wine of the night simultaneously impressed and split group opinion

The Lawyer: Here we encounter some disagreement.  This is not a pleasant wine.  Most notably because it is not a wine at all.  I guarantee that no one encountering the colour, viscosity, and taste of this liquid blind would believe you were you to tell them it was bred from fair-skinned-grapes.  This was viscous, vicious small-batch Jaegger Meister home-brew.

The wine has become sugar syrup, and although – to its credit – it does maintain elegance, some fruit (but which ones?!?), and complexity, it does these things in the way treacle does.  It would be very interesting to taste a vertical to understand how on earth this  sugar blast from the past came about.

Score: I am almost tempted to pin my colours to the mast and give this 95 points but I lack sufficient experience with TBA wines.  As such I score this a resounding: 93+/100 (DT). No score (CW)- but would not buy again.

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Beautifully packaged 1975s: plenty of wine remaining for the next tasting

Overall: This was a sickly sweet but brilliant afternoon. It was a challenge to put together but well worth the effort to source the bottles direct from Germany. The wines are not done yet so if you get the opportunity to purchase a bottle from a good produce/vineyard and a reasonable fill bottle I’d suggest its worth taking a shot.

We have another 3 bottles from each of 1975 and 1976 – if you want to get involved in our next tasting let us know in the comments.

Iona: The Chard that got away

Earlier this year we visited Iona on the strength of a recommendation for their Chardonnay. Despite it being the reason for the trip this wine was the “one that got away” as it was already sold out. Of all the Iona wines this is the bottle you are most likely to see in the UK.  Marks and Spencer’s take a big delivery of this wine although this bottle was picked up from DBM wines in Bristol.

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Iona, Chardonnay, Elgin, South Africa, 2014

Mid gold on pouring. Nose aromatic and rich with melted butter and Porcini dominating. This is certainly not a fruit bomb, with far more secondary then primary notes. The palate and mouthfeel are again buttery but coupled with a darned high acidity which cuts through to give focus. This has plenty of minerality fleshing out the long finish. There is a herbal complexity to this reminiscent of the cape fynbos and a prickle on the tongue from well integrated but generous oak.

Conclusions: From the first few sips I was really enjoying this wine. It was pretty much as I had hoped for, perhaps even a touch more elegant.  Power without losing restraint and beautifully rich. In line with the other wines from Iona for quality – a superb Chardonnay.

Score: 91/100

WOTW: Vinya Carles Priorat Crianza

Now surely what everyone is looking for is a good value red wine for every day drinking. Every few months I check out what Lidl has to offer and pick up a bottle or two if it looks sufficiently interesting. Todays offering was a a “91 point” Priorat – an outrageously high bar to attain for £5.79.  I was drinking my way through this bottle for almost an hour and struggling to write a tasting note – in fact I didn’t write a word . The upshot – this is actually rather good spectacular.

Now why is this supermarket offering making me salivate? The minerality is the answer. There is an article from Jancis Robionson that suggests that Priorat is equivalent to Achleiten for terroir. Given that supermarket wines rarely champion minerality this is something I can well believe on the back of this example. I was so surprised with this wine I sent fellow contributor The Gas Man to pick up a bottle and provide a second opinion.

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Decanting often helps to show a wine at its best

Vinya Carles, Priorat Crianza, Spain, 2011

Cépage: Grenache, Carignan. Alcohol 14%. Purchased from Lidl at £5.79.

Thoughts from The Shrink:

This was pretty heavily oaked on initial tasting with some volatile acidity, it slipped down delightfully and I failed to write any notes. The wine was decanted and left in a cool spot overnight before returning on day 2 determined to write something.

This wine is an intense garnet, tending towards purple with no sign of bricking. Fresh and crunchy blackcurrant lead in to a dry wine of moderate body and tannin. We find notes of coffee, dark chocolate and dried dates fleshing out the mid palate. There is a pretty healthy dose of oak contributing structure but without becoming overpowering. The finish delivers high levels of minerality, holds a moderate length and is kept in focus by a backbone of high acidity.

Conclusions: Surprisingly fresh, crunchy fruit. Given this is a crianza I think it is spot on with the style. An interesting offering and incredible value at £5.79.  I will be purchasing a second bottle to compare further as I am truly shocked by the value of this.

Score: For me this gets a comfortable 90/100 (DT)

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A bargain basement price and a genuine bargain of a red wine.

A Second Opinion from The Gas Man:

What we are presented with, is a bright, clear, deep purple coloured wine. There is no evidence of flocculation in the wine. There is an immediate and quite intense bouquet of baking spices, vanilla, dried red fruit and even some green apple skin like tartness. Even before tasting, the wine doesn’t try to hide the fact that it has been sat in oak barrels for over a year (this is a requirement for the Crianza title).

According to the producer, they use a combination of French and American oak barrels – as the two very different woods produce markedly different aromas and flavours. For French oak, this tends to be subtle spicy flavours, for American, bold, brash, creamy vanilla (sometimes described as cream soda) – imagine the flavours of american bourbon – that epitomises american oak. Its in the skill of the winemaker to blend these two flavours to create a balanced flavour to complement the wine. A really good way to think of the use of oak in wine making, is to think of it as a seasoning. Too much, as with salt to food, ruins a wine (although such practices were seen as rather trendy in the 80s, where body was king). Too little and you don’t really get the effect. It needs to be just right (and of course everyones definition of just right is quite different)! Anyway, I digress…

On the palate, there is a smooth velvety mouth feel courtesy of a generous dose of tannins, a medium acidity, medium body, giving initial red fruit flavours such as red cherries, developing into dried apricots, vanilla and baking spices. As The Shrink pointed out, this wine has a really interesting and distinct minerality that is typical of the region (see my earlier review of another Priorat in Pinxos Party with Casa Rojo). Its almost blood like, from the irony flavour, but not in an unpleasant way. Its quite intriguing, different and you know what? great.

I am a big fan of this wine, especially at this price point. I really struggle to think of a wine that for the money would beat this. To me what lets this down is perhaps a little too much oak, but that is personal preference. In summary, Lidl is open until 8pm weekdays (10pm in some places), get yourself there and grab a bottle or two whilst stocks last!

Score: 90/100 (MI)

Tasting: The Vertical Flight

After a weekend away I returned home last Monday to find The Wine Society’s latest offer of wines from Bodegas Muga amongst my post. This offer inspired me to purchase a case of wine and formed the basis of the present article. Unfortunately I checked in to the website to find the case I wanted was already sold out.  I missed out on wine but you still can still have the article.

This article forms the start of a series on wine tasting.  In this context I am not referring to the physical art of tasting wine, nor even the appraisal of a wine, but instead thinking about the planning and logistics of arranging a tasting session. Here at The Fermentation Vessel all of our writers will agree that the greatest education and enjoyment to be had in wine is a well crafted tasting.  Even as a self-confessed wine geek it is hard to remember what a specific wine, grape or region tastes like from day to day so comparing wines over months and years is a pretty tall order. What is needed is to taste the wines side by side to compare and contrast the various qualities and train both brain and palate.

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15 wines bearing almost no relation to one another – a chaotic tasting.

First and foremost wine tasting is a social occasion.  When we hosted our first tastings it was just a group of friends and a pretty slapdash selection of wines (see above) – in fact it was totally chaotic.  Tasting 15 random wines is only slight improvement on tasting just a couple and I can assure you the hangover is truly dreadful. What is essential to a good wine tasting is having a coherent theme. We will be exploring a few different themes in the coming months and starting to think about how to source the necessary wines. One such theme that particularly appeals to me is that of a vertical tasting.

A vertical tasting is the same wine, from the same vineyard and same producer tasted over a number of different years. This is the tasting that will demonstrate to you that vintage matters and will start to reveal how wine might evolve over time. Realistically even 2 vintages of the same wine are enough to show the role of age and vintage, although I would normally recommend 3 vintages to make the most of the opportunity.  I never really believed vintage made much of a difference until tastings like the bottles of Chateauneuf Du Pape below. Vertical tastings are a unique opportunity as you cannot just turn up at a retailer or winery and do a tasting like this- not unless you have some serious kudos in the wine world anyway.

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Paired verticals of Chateuneuf Du Pape (some bottles pending delivery)

The challenge with vertical tastings is that sourcing the same wine, from the same vineyard, and the same producer is frankly just as difficult as it sounds. This is even more difficult if you want to go 10+ years back and put everything together at a good price. Wine-searcher is a good place to start, or if you are lucky a mixed case turns up every once in a while. Unfortunately pre-selected vertical cases are usually rather expensive and sell out quickly. The next articles in this series will focus on getting together the bottles of a tasting, and how to do so for the best possible price.

Conclusions: All things considered I am more distraught at missing the 6 bottle vertical of Muga Rioja Reserva for £85 than I was before writing the article. If you want to try some vertical tasting without too much expenditure I would suggest you join The Wine Society and keep a close eye on the future offers – I have seen quite a few verticals from them in the past year.

If you want any advice on putting together a vertical tasting yourself then drop us a tweet, write on our Facebook, or ask your questions in the comments section below.

Fazenda, Manchester

As a rare treat for my birthday, three of us from the team at The Fermentation Vessel assembled in Manchester. The main event was in fact a Vintage Riesling tasting (stay tuned for that), however to whet our collective appetites we decided to make a trip out into Manchester for a spot of lunch.

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Fazenda is situated in the heart of the city’s trendy Spinningfields area, its sleek black and glass frontage setting it out from the numerous other bars and restaurants in the area. Fazenda sets itself out as a traditional Brazilian Rodizio with a unique modern and classy flair. For those who have never experienced Rodizio dining, it is, in effect an all you can eat meat experience. Where Fazenda really makes its mark is in elevating this rather vulgar concept into something that oozes class.

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The decor, making further use of plate glass and black just works. I’m no interior designer but they really hit the nail straight on the head there and from the moment you step foot inside you know this place means business. The restaurant employs a very simple red/green traffic light system to indicate whether you are ready for more meat. Passadores (Meat Chefs) tour tables dressed in smart red shirts, bearing delicious skewers of fine cuts of meat and offer each person a cut from their skewer. Being a lunchtime, they offer a cut down service of meat, however for us this was still ample, and by no means was the quality lacking. I particularly enjoyed their signature meat – the Picanha (cap of rump) – that was deliciously juicy. Other notable meats were the pork belly – something I often find too fatty, but in this instance was just perfect, crispy on the outside, tender on the inside, and the gammon – or perhaps more so the pineapple with it that was just superb. It was so good that just the mere thought of it makes me salivate!

Being wine enthusiasts we were delighted to find that in addition to Fazenda’s standard wine menu, was a cellar full of fine wines, something we were only too happy to take a look at! As soon as we made our intentions aware to the staff, we were greeted by a most knowledgeable sommelier, whose enthusiasm rivalled our own, and offered us plenty of interesting information about the wines they had on offer. It was really refreshing to find someone so knowledgeable in a restaurant outside of the Michelin guide. We were even able to sample some of the other wines in their collection, by means of a most excellent device – the Coravin (a portable device with a needle for sampling and an inert gas canister for keeping the wine fresh). Looking at Fazenda’s website they do frequent tasting events. This is something I will be looking into in the near future.

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There is a clear and understandable bias towards South American wines at Fazenda. This provided us with some interesting wines that are otherwise not quite so well known. We finally settled on a great bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon by Catena Zapata from Argentina. I won’t go into too much detail here, however suffice to say it was a hard hitting full bodied wine that easily went down at 90 points. It isn’t the easiest wine to get hold of commercially, but I would recommend picking some up if you chance upon it!

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To finish the meal I was brought a slice of birthday cake with a firework in it no less! It was a lovely little touch with which to finish an excellent meal. To quote Michael Broadbent: “Drinking good wine with good food in good company is one of life’s most civilized pleasures.” I will most certainly be back to the restaurant in good time and I recommend you give it a try if you’re in and around.

 

Dusty Old Wines: 1985, 1981 and 1975

The first two of three wines in this article were being sold off for charity by Berry Brothers. They were sold on the proviso that they may not be in a drinkable condition although had good fill levels and intact foil capsules. I was off for a weekend of wine tasting so I thought they made an unusual addition to the tasting weekend. If you enjoy the article enter into the charitable spirit of things and make a donation to a charity of your choice. Old wines are always a gamble but every so often you find a gem.

Chateau de Lamarque, Haut-Medoc, Bordeaux, 1975

This had an intense bouquet, a bit too musty on initial pouring but quickly cleared.  The wine was a rich ruby with significant browning.  The nose had undertones of mixed stewed fruits with a dominant (and pungent!) aroma that reminded me of Époisses.  The palate was elegant and austere, driven by pencil lead, fennel and to a lesser extent raspberry and blackcurrant.   The body was light although there was some residual tannin and sufficient acidity to carry the wine.  It felt somewhat tired but given its 41 years of age this can be excused.

Impression: We all agreed this tasted younger than expected, especially given that the vintage is not of great renown.  It seemed to split opinions, primarily over whether the palate was sufficient to marry up with the nose.  I personally quite enjoyed this wine although it was past its best.

Score: After a third of a bottle I reached the conclusion it was not really appropriate to score this – better just to enjoy the experience.

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Prosper Maufoux, Santenay Blanc, Clos des Gravières, Santenay 1er Cru, Burgundy, 1985

Now whilst this is a 1er cru, the white wine of Santenay is not known for its great ageing potential – opening wines like this is very much a leap in the dark.  On opening this presents a rich bouquet although for me it was tainted by a slight hint of oxidation.  There is a rich gold hue to the wine and it certainly looks elegant in the glass.  On the palate we find a dry Chardonnay with good acidity. Whilst the fruit has mostly faded there is a lingering nuttiness and structure from the oak remains. There is a long finish with a rewarding glut of minerality.

Impression: This wine split the group but all agreed it was doing well given the age. There is no doubt this is fading but provides an fascinating snapshot into the trajectory of white Burgundy.

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Prosper Maufoux, Vaudesir, Chablis Grand Cru, Burgundy, 1981

Remarkably I have actually tried another 1980s white Burgundy from Prosper Maufoux. This time a 1981 Chablis Grand Cru Vaudesir purchased several years ago from Nickolls and Perks at only £12 per bottle.  Grand Cru Chablis has the pedigree for long ageing in a good vintage, although judging by Decanter’s vintage report these should have been pretty dire by now. Overall these were frankly in stellar condition. There was minor bottle variation with the first example tasted being just a notch fresher. The age was apparent but the wine was free of oxidation combining the intense dry minerality of Chablis with a regal weight and power on a backbone of taut acidity. 

Impression: If I think about quality to price ratio this ancient Grand Cru Chablis defies the odds and tops the chart. At all points in its evolution Grand Cru Chablis tends towards better value than its more southerly Burgundian counterparts.

Indigenous Greek Grapes

Greek wine is going through a renaissance. Most famous of them all is the heralded ‘Assyrtiko’ grape, especially the citrus-laden, flinty stuff, from the picturesque island of Santorini. The quality of Greek wine is said to be improving: yields are being cut, and Retsina is being ridiculed. With so many indigenous grape varietals, it’s an exciting place to drink and learn. Here are two I enjoyed from the estate, Gerovassiliou:

Gerovassiliou, single vineya20160726_205416rd, Malagousia 2015, Epanomi

This wine has certainly received a number of distinctions: Decanter Silver medal, Sommelier Wine Awards Food Match Trophy and Critic’s Choice Award, to name but a few. This was served seriously cold at our taverna, but the chill was unable to quench the immense power of the wine.

This Malagousia is potent, concentrated, linear and cutting. Delicious lemon and apple fruit, with intense minerality, akin to oyster shells, slate and nettles. Some gentle almond flavours provide a balance to this huge wine. This reminded me of good Chablis, crossed with Austrian Riesling. It paired perfectly with charred baby octopus. 91 points

 

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Gerovassiliou, estate white, 2015, Epanomi

This blend of malagousia and assyrtiko is another award winner. It has a similar flavour profile to its 100% malagouzia counterpart, with citrus fruit dominating. Floral aspects are present (elderflower), and there is a slightly oily texture. In conclusion, this is a good bone dry white to be drunk cold, but lacks the finesse, focus and intense minerality of the 100% malagousia. 86 points.

Learning point: Malagousia > Assyrtiko (OK, not the most scientific test, but everyone likes it when the underdog wins).