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


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)

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)



Jumilla DO, Murcia / Albacete, Spain

This was my first outing with the wines of Jumilla and I have been pleasantly surprised. The key grape in Jumilla is Monastrell, better known as Mourvèdre and frequently blended with Syrah and Grenache. This particular wine purports to be from bush vines grown at altitude and I think that comes across in the tasting note. This wine was tasted blind and made a fine accompaniment to a rich lasagna.


Camino de Seda, Selección Especial, Jumilla DO, 2014

Appearance: An intense and dark garnet, clear legs on swirling suggesting high alcohol.
Nose: Subdued on the nose despite time spent in the decanter.
Palate: Unlike the nose the intensity of appearance was mirrored on the palate. Dark fruits dominate, but these are fresh as if the climate is slightly cooler. There are notes of pepper, dark chocolate and coffee beans but again these are green in nature. Whilst this has a high alcohol content it remains in balance. High acidity focuses a medium length finish on this with a splash of minerality.

Conclusions: I got as far as Spain in identifying this but as for Jumilla I was in the dark. It was a welcome surprise to discover a new DO whilst tasting blind and Jumilla would be an region I seek out to try in future.  A intense and tasty wine suited to hearty, rustic meat dishes.

Score: 87/100

Hedonism Wines, Mayfair, London, UK


Flowers planted in the street outside Hedonism Wines


  1. The pursuit of pleasure; sensual self-indulgence.
  2. The ethical theory that pleasure (in the sense of the satisfaction of desires) is the highest good and proper aim of human life.

An article on a wine shop would normally be somewhat dry, were it any other than Hedonism Wines. Hedonism had been on my radar for a while, often being one of the few places stocking rare and unusual wines. The website is in line with most other independent wine outlets, albeit with a broader selection. The shop in contrast is a sight to behold.


A practical storage solution for glasses when not in use


Nestled in the heart of Mayfair Hedonism wines is a modern day Dionysian temple to wine. An astonishing collection of wines has been assembled here, with the very finest producers represented. Certain producers are on show in individual displays within the shop, almost like shrines to these gods of wine. If I consider the definition of Hedonsim above I can’t help but feel wine could indeed be the highest good and proper aim of human life.


The very finest wines are displayed in individual sections of the shop


If Domaine de la Romanée-Conti is not your thing how about a whole cave of Sine Qua Non

What makes Hedonism so much more fun that looking through the windows of a Ferrari garage is the downstairs tasting area, equipped with on-trend Enomatic tasting machines. I enjoyed tasting 6 different wine here for around £20 on the Enomatic card including a taste of Benjamin Romeo’s oustanding 2007 Contador.


A serious number of wines to taste makes for a fun afternoon shopping

There are no real budget wines on sale in Hedonism, but at the same time there are plenty of bottles in the 10 to 20 pound range. It appears care has gone into the selection throughout and I found all of the wines tasted from the Enomatic  machines were of a high standard. Hedonism also appear to be a specialist in large format bottles and several machines to serve them were also on display. For those of us on a tighter budget they stock a strong range in the half-bottle format too.


Just some of the many large format bottles on offer


The collection of spirits is also formidable

Conclusions: Hedonism Wines is well worth checking out next time you are in the vicinity. Whether window shopping, tasting, or looking for that special bottle for dinner, Hedonism supercharges the pursuit of pleasure and sensual self-indulgence in wine. Having thoroughly browsed the website I will be popping back to pick up a bottle of Nikolaihof’s Steiner Hund.

Château Léoville Barton, Saint-Julien, 1989

Being born in 1989 I hope I am ageing as gracefully as this stunning claret. Léoville Barton is known for long-lived classic claret, often inaccessible in youth. The thing with backward youths is that they have an opportunity to flourish in middle age and this is no exception. Unfortunately I missed the opportunity to get a snap of this bottle.  Instead I have included a photo of the stunning 2001 vintage Léoville Barton; one of my all-time top red wines.

Tasting Note: The rich aromas in this bottle were noted immediately on pouring, with blackcurrant dominating, but not in a primary mode.  There was plenty of complexity but the individual components were difficult to pick out – the term that sprung to mind is sois-bois (a French term meaning undergrowth or forest floor).


On the palate the tannin was mostly resolved leaving the wine medium bodied.  The fruit remarkably is still there: juicy stewed blackcurrants and red berry compote.  Aside from fruit the palate is dominated by pencil lead (unmistakable in this particular wine) with spice rounding out the long finish.  This retains good structure and a high acidity keeping the wine in one piece and balanced.

Conclusions:   Given age this has opened up into a classic mature red Bordeaux. This is a superb wine although to my palate not quite up with the 2001 vintage of the same.  Everything is here but the difference between the two is a question of the balance, poise and elegance at the time of tasting.

Score: 92/100 (DT)

Barrel Fermented Sauvignon Blanc

It has not been a love story between me and New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Thankfully the relationship is improving as I have recently tasted a number of far more sophisticated examples. This was purchased from Aldi for £9.99 and I admit to being dubious spending this amount at a low cost retailer. As with many of these wines it is difficult to know who produces this. From my understanding this is barrel fermented and blended from 2-3 selected plots across the estate. As such the wine has the opportunity to explore the terroir relative to more mass produced wines.


Aldi, Lot 13 ‘Port Underwood’ Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand, 2015

There is an almost spritzy feeling on first tasting leading in to lemon juice from attack through to the end palate. Searing acidity cuts through to the back of the mouth resulting in good focus.  The late palate has spice, warmth and a rounded body from the oak with nutty tones and a buttery mouthfeel. As this wine warmed up it became progressively more savoury with a note of capsicum coming through although this faded on day 2. The finish has a delightful splash of saltiness and stones.

Conclusion: A serious and sophisticated Sauvignon Blanc showing restraint and a giving sense of the terroir.  The barrel fermentation adds both warmth and body from the oak but also a slight malolactic flare. This would be marvelous with rich fish or seafood but make sure the flavours of the food are robust.

Score: 89/100 (DT)

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.


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)


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.


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.


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.

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.


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.


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.