Ridgeview Estate, Sussex, England

For some time Ridgeview Estate has been near the top of the English Sparkling Wine game.  Along with Nyetimber, it was Ridgeview that ignited my passion for English wines. The wines of Ridgeview tackle the wines of Champagne head on and impress across the range. The Estate is situated on the chalk soils of the South Downs, just north of Ditchling, with easy access from  the A23.  The tasting room sits above the winery, and from the tasting room you can enjoy beautiful views across the vineyards. Everyone that attended the trip to Ridgeview promptly lost their tasting notes, likely due to the subsequent 8 bottle tasting of Bordeaux.  As such I will have to keep my the comments about the wine more general that the usual articles.

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During our visit we tasted 5 wines from the range and these were presented by a knowledgeable hostess. I am pretty certain it was only the Blanc De Noirs we missed out on tasting. Ridgeview is one of the few wineries I have visited where every single wine has impressed and I suspect this is due to keeping a narrow focus on English sparkling wine using the traditional Champagne grapes. The fine quality of the glassware is also noteworthy in keeping with the status of Ridgeview as a top producer and demonstrates attention to detail across the board at the estate.

I would recommend the wines of Ridgeview as a noble alternative to Champagne rather than a substitute. My preference within the range probably tends towards the Cavendish, a very reasonably priced Pinot dominated blend. The greater proportion of the Pinot grapes tends towards a fuller and richer style in keeping with my preferences in Champagne.  I am not being patriotic in commending the wines of Ridgeview – this estate is undeniably producing world class sparkling wine.

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Tasting: Tasting at Ridgeview is free of charge – prior reservation preferred for larger groups. We felt under no obligation to buy wine by the bottle but the quality of the wine sold itself. I think almost all of our party came home with a bottle or two.

Tours: Ridgeview also offer tours of the vineyards – contact them for further information. If you are new to the world of wine and visiting wine estates I would strongly recommend a few tours to build your understanding of the wine making process.

Sales: At the time of press Ridgview is open Monday – Sunday 11am – 4pm.  The full range of wines are on sale, including some aged offerings from previous vintages and larger formats.

Stockists: The wines of Ridgeview are widely available at wine merchants and supermarkets across the UK including Waitrose and Marks & Spencers.

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Conclusions: If you live in Sussex with even a passing interest in wine you need to visit Ridgeview.  If you have not tried the wines of Ridgeview yet I would advise going tomorrow or as soon as physically possible.

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La Cave à Fromage, Brighton, UK [Part 2]

In follow up to Part 1 of this article this is the second half of my tasting notes from a recent trip to La Cave à Fromage. La Cave à Fromage is a specialist cheese retailer with branches in Brighton, Kensington and Notting Hill and they run a series of tasting events focused on cheese pairing. During my visit we tasted 6 wines with accompanying cheeses.  This article presents the latter 3 pairings rounding off with a stunning combination of Monbazillac and Bleu de Causses AOC.

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The Brighton branch of La Cave à Fromage

Domaine La Garelle, Chardonnay and Vermentino

This was my favourite wine of the evening, and presented as rich, elegant, dry and stony. This was apparently oaked, with the oak likely responsible for the long finish, but also a slight bitterness.  Overall this was an elegant, well balanced  and enjoyable wine.

Score: 88/100 (DT)
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The cheese pairing for this wine was an Ossau-Iraty AOC: a sheep’s cheese from the Midi-Pyrenees.  Of all the cheeses tasted this is the one I felt I would be most likely to buy for day to day consumption.  Tasty and sweet with caramel notes this was less of an experience that some of the cheeses but far easier to enjoy.

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Cheese, meat and wine storage are integrated into the shop making beautiful displays.

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In some regards this Champagne was the most interesting wine of the night due to its unusual cépage. Whilst Blanc de Blancs (100% Chardonnay) is commonly seen in Champagne this wine is made from 100% Pinot Meunier.  This was similar to what I expect on Pinot Noir based blends, but lacking some of the underlying richness. The nose presents classic notes of yeast, lees, and toasted brioche. The bubbles were generous in quantity, although I would prefer a slightly finer mousse.  The Champagne is dry and has good focus from high acidity and minerality, although was slightly short on the finish. This is not going to be my new favourite Champagne but would be facinating to taste alongside Blanc de Blancs, and Blanc de Noirs examples.

Score: 86/100

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Langres AOC, Champagne-Ardenne, France

Unfortunately the cheese pairing for the Champagne just did not quite work for me. The accompanying cheese was a Langres AOC cow’s milk cheese from the Champagne-Ardenne.  Langres is unusual in that it is not turned during ageing, and is a pungent orange rind cheese.  For me the combination overpowered the Champagne and amplified the intensity of the cheese to the point of being overpowering! Pairing of orange rind cheeses is challenging, although I have previously found Époisses de Bourgogne and Gevrey-Chambertin are a match made in heaven.

La Renaudie, Montbazilliac, Semillon, Muscadelle and Sauvignon Blanc

It transpires Montbazillac is located on the left bank of the Dordogne river opposite the town of Bergerac.  It uses the same grapes as Sauternes, albeit with slightly more Muscadelle in the blend, and lies approximately 90km to the North East. This was gold in colour, with dried apricots on the nose. The wine is certainly a desert wine but only of moderate sweetness and presents a well focused, balanced and rounded palate. As this example demonstrates Montbazillac represents a good value alternative to Sauternes, and is turning out some well heeled sweet wines.

Score: 88/100

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The final cheese of the night was a Bleu de Causses AOC.  If you enjoy blue cheese I implore you to go and search this out. My first experience of fine wine was a Sauternes with Roquefort and its a combination I love to revisit. Bleu de Causses is slightly less salty than Roquefort but certainly richer – almost like blending Roquefort with butter. It seemed this was a real favourite with everyone. The Perfect Cheese!  

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Even the meat cutter manages to impress. I would just love to have a setup like this at home.

If you have any suggestions for great wine and cheese pairings please post in the comments below or on our twitter.

La Cave à Fromage, Brighton, UK [Part 1]

As suggested by the name La Cave à Fromage is a specialist retailer stocking an incredible selection of the finest cheese. Alongside selling cheese they also run a series of tasting events, based around wine and cheese pairing. I attended an event at the Brighton  bringing together two of my favourite things: French cheese and wine.  For those of you in London they also have branches in Notting Hill and South Kensington (only 100 yards from The Sampler if you want to have a real gourmet day).

We tasted a total of 6 wines and cheeses on the night and as such I have split the article into two parts. Part two is due to be posted at the weekend and I will be adding the link is here. If you have any suggestions for great wine and cheese pairings please post in the comments below or on our twitter.

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La Renaudie, Bergerac Sec, Sauvignon Blanc.

This was a pale gold in colour, with a restrained nose of floral notes and gooseberry.  The palate was bone dry, savoury and rich with a low level of citrus and gooseberry.  The finish was long and drying with high acidity and pleasing minerality.  A bitter note I was unable to place detracted slightly from what was otherwise an enjoyable dry Sauvignon.

Score: 86/100 (DT)

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The wine was paired with St Maure de Touraine AOC goats cheese from the Loire.  This was an ash coated log shaped goats cheese,  with a rich presentation and was notably less sharp than some.  It worked well with the wine as would be expected from this classic pairing.

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Cheese clockwise from bottom left: St Maure de Touraine AOC, Brillat Savarin AOC, Cantal AOC, Ossau-Iraty AOC, Bleu des Causses AOC

La Villa Angeli, Don Pasquale Cuvee, Vermentinu

This wine hails from Corsica, and I believe is the first time I have tasted a Corsican wine. Moderate intensity lemon in colour and fuller on the nose than the previous wine.  This had more fruit, smelt leesy and is oak-aged.  As with the first wine this was savoury and dry with greater complexity.  Again there was a slightly bitter note on the mid palate likely from the oak.  This had good structure, although I felt was slightly out of balance at this point in time.

Score: 86/100 (DT)

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The second wine was paired with a Brillat Savarin, a cow’s milk cheese from ile-de-France.  This cheese has an incredibly texture, described accurately as cloud-like.  There is a serious amount of fat in this cheese resulting in a creamy, buttery presentation.  Well worth seeking out if this is your cup of tea.

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The bread was really needed to bring the fatty, creamy delight of the Brillat Savarin into line.

Jousselin et Fils, Touraine, Gamay

This was a red wine from Touraine, made for early drinking from the Gamay grape.  From tasting I wondered if they use Carbonic Maceration in the production of this wine, although it may just be the nature of the Gamay grape.  This was a rich garnet with ruby rim and only light tears. Mixed red and black fruit on the palate, almost over-ripe.  This had high acidity but only light body, and was a young, fresh wine.

Score: 79/100 (DT)

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For me this was the cheese of the night – a Cantal AOC from the Auvergne.  This cheese is one of the oldest made in France, and the example we tasted had been aged to increase complexity. The rind in particular was almost overpowering, and perhaps the best way to describe the cheese is formidable. The freshness of the wine made a reasonable job of balancing the intensity of the cheese.

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Côte de Beaune Burgundy

Burgundy is best known for two major grape varieties – Chardonnay, responsible for the white wines, and Pinot Noir for the reds. Burgundy is divided into a patchwork of appellations, some making white wine, some making red and some split between the two. The wines tasted below are both from the Côte de Beaune (towards the south of Burgundy) and are both made from the less characteristic grape variety in their respective appellations.

Savigny-lès-Beaune is located South of Corton hill, and north of the village of Beaune. This is an appellation I identify with pretty, elegant red wines, and the appellation produces approximately 85% Pinot Noir.  When I saw a white Savigny-lès-Beaune reduced to £6 as a bin end wine at Gauntleys I took the plunge, despite my fear that the wine may now be beginning to tire.  At this price point although the wine is fading it is hard to go wrong.

Chassagne-Montrachet is  famed for its proximity to the Grand Cru vineyard Le Montrachet, home to some of the greatest Chardonnay in the world.  Whilst Le Montrachet produces only white wine, Chassagne-Montrachet produces approximately two thirds white wine, and one third red.  Whilst I have been tasted white wines from the appellation this was my first opportunity tasting the Pinot Noir and it sure did impress.

Savigny.jpgJean Michel Giboulet, Savigny-lès-Beaune, Burgundy 2004.

The colour of this wine has a gorgeous golden hue and is clear with tartrate crystal deposits in the bottle. This is a dry wine and the fruit has faded substantially.  The Nose is muted with echoes of Chardonnay and some richer nutty aromas. This has high acidity and a long reasonably intense mineral finish. There is not really much fruit found on the palate either although there is a note of stonefruit kernels. I think this would be better 5 years ago but it works as a wine for food and a dry digestif/aperitif. What has not faded are the minerality and precision on the finish which set this apart from the younger, lesser wines.

Conclusion: For the price I’d still take this fading bottle over cheap over-oaked new world stuff especially to accompany food.

Score: 85-86/100 as it is- but it’s faded so not really a fair test.

ChassagneMontrachet.jpgBachey Legros, Les Plantes Momières Vieilles Vignes, Chassagne-Montrachet, Burgundy 2009

This wine was served over dinner, and had been bought back from a trip to Burgundy. From some research online it appears that the vineyard is situated below the  “Abbaye de Morgeot” Premier Cru, and the plot of Pinot Noir vines used for this wine were planted back in 1946. The age of the vines, quality of the site and careful vinification have made the best of low yields to produce a high intensity of flavour, rich tannins, and a pure expression of the terroir.

This wine was superb. Ruby in colour and throwing a thick sediment. Aromas of stewed raspberry dominate the nose with the slightest vegetal nuance suggesting bell pepper. The palate is dry and showed cherry and raspberry on the palate with capsicum underlying. This leads to a spicy finish with salinity and minerality giving length and persistence. The wine has moderate (+) silky tannins leaving the mouth dry whilst high acidity gives focus. There was a slight green nature to this evoking grape pips/stalks which I found pleasing.

This is a powerful wine yet it is most definitely feminine in nature. I felt this wine was not so far from the Grand Cru Chambertin I recently reviewed but on a shorter evolution with less weight and intensity.

Day 2: By now this wine was tasting boozy and rich with the tannin continuing to give structure. The aromas were intensifying and starting to get almost animalistic in nature with increasing complexity verses the more fruit driven presentation on day 1.

Conclusion: This really is a top drawer wine.  I wish I was successful enough in choosing Burgundy that I got hold of wines like this – I feel a trip to Burgundy is in order.

As I wrote in my notebook at the time (after a few glasses I hasten to add):  “Rather bloody superb.”

Score: 93/100

Learning Point: Red Chassagne-Montrachet may not be as famed as it’s white siblings but is well worth seeking out a good example.

Wine at the jazz club.

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The Late Show, Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, Soho, London

I was keen to write a review of the below wine, but it would be difficult to do so without giving the context. As wine accompanies food, so it is also a great partner to all manner of social occasions. Complimenting the setting is confined by the often frustrating combination of the venue’s wine list and the depth of your pockets. The wine list at Ronnie Scott’s has a reasonable selection although there was nothing that really jumped out at me as a “must try”.  Regardless our choice of a 2012 Bordeaux was a decent wine and good value given the location.

We were here for the music, not the wine, so it is only appropriate to pay homage to the 82 year old Cameroonian Saxophonist who led his superb band through 90 minutes of exceptional jazz.  Below is Manu Dibango’s 1972 hit: Soul Makossa to accompany the review below.

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Chateau Mayne-Vieil, Fronsac, Bordeaux, 2012

This wine is tannic, young,  traditional Bordeaux and would have benefited from more time in the bottle.  It was tightly wound and somewhat backwards at present.  On the palate this was bone dry, tight, and showed great intensity but any complexity was hidden by the dense tannin.

Fronsac represents very good value as an appellation. I can imagine having paid a lot more for Bordeaux from more illustrious appellations and have found much the same in the bottle. For a Merlot based blend this was very seriously structured suggesting quality but whether it will wine out or fall short with time is difficult to tell just now.  This would benefit from either a long decant (3-4 hours), or another 2-3 years in bottle.

Conclusion: Enjoyment depends on liking youthful, tightly wound, traditional Bordeaux. There is scope to improve if it opens up but I am not certain this will find balance.

Score: 88/100 (DT)

Learning Point: Perhaps for the setting Champagne, Cognac, or even an Old Fashioned would be a better match; but Fronsac produces solid, good-value and traditional Bordeaux.

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Given the setting and listening to the track above what would be your recommended wine pairing?  We would love to hear your suggestions in the comments section.

Vintage Tuscan Classics

I was in Tuscany a couple of years ago and started to fall in love with Italian wines.  The below wines were tasted at The Sampler during my recent visit and this was a great chance to reminisce. I have been pining for mature Italian wines ever since but they are hard to get hold of without spending some serious money.  Being able to taste these for a reasonable price is wonderful.  Check out the main article for a review of The Sampler. One of these wines was already reviewed on the blog by my fellow author but I couldn’t resist commenting too.

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Castello Di Ama, Vignetto Bellavista, Chianti Classico, 1995

When visiting Tuscany a few years ago Castello Di Ama’s Ama Chianti Classico was one of my favourites.  Unfortunately the prices for Castello Di Ama are pretty high in the UK so I have not got round to tasting any since.  This was the first time I have tasted a wine from the Gran Selezione single vineyard range, or a Chianti Classico with this much age.  Unfortunately we tasted this as an afterthought following the Hermitage when it should certainly have been tasted before. This was delicate and aromatic with predominant red fruit and some residual tannin.  This is a complex wine that deserves the time to be enjoyed – my only note written at the time was “Delicious – I would like to sit down with a bottle of this!”

Antinori, Tiganello, Tuscany 1989

I have previously tried Tiganello in its youth whilst visiting Tuscany.  It was a treat to revisit it at the other end of its progression.  In youth this is tightly wound, highly tannic, with only a hint of the underlying aromatics and complexity showing.  At 27 it is the colour of chocolate with a hint of oxidation on the nose but an incredible depth and intensity. There were floral notes, a sense of a dusty cellar and the fruit breaking down.  This retained high acidity with perfect poise. There was some minerality (iron) notes complimenting the lengthy finish.  This was a wine towards the end of its life but it is in a very graceful state at present. I’d love to try this around 20 years of age.  Score 93/100.

An Exciting Marlborough and 1960 Vintage Port

Sauvignon Blanc is popular at present in the UK and I understand commands a higher average price than other wines among UK high street consumers. I have a suspicion that it is tropical new world Sauvignon responsible for this rather than Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé. I think fans from both camps may well be in for a shock if they wound up with a bottle of this great Sauvignon from Dog Point.

Perhaps not quite so popular among the general public is vintage Port. In part this is due to cost but it is also due to the huge amount of ageing required to tame this most magnificent of wines. At 56 years old this was ready to drink but the idea of waiting 20+ years to touch it would have shocked me even a few years ago. Lay some down

These wines were tasted during my recent visit to The Sampler. These wines didn’t fit anywhere else so I put them together. Check out the main article on my visit to The Sampler.

Dog Point, Section 94, Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand, 2012:

This is a really interesting Sauvignon Blanc. This is a serious affair from a small plot, barrel aged with extended less contact yielding a wine of great intensity. This is very different from characteristic lower end Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (primary tropical notes). Strangely all of us tasted this picked up on a strong note of capsicum on both the nose and palate, leading into a spicy finish. This was a savoury and interesting wine and something I will be revisiting by the bottle at some point in the future.

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Crofts Vintage Port, Portugal, 1960:

Boy this was a treat. My experiences with old port are limited but every one only serves to increase my interest. At 56 years old this is showing beautifully. Over Christmas of this year I opened a bottle of Taylor’s 1985 which was gloriously intense, young and fresh. The benefit of the extra 25 years shows itself in this bottle of Crofts.  This throws a strong dark sediment which gradually settled to reveal the pale pink/ruby nectar above.  Great mouthfeel (still full bodied but not thick as in youth), grip from residual tannin and a warming sensation all the way to the stomach from the alcohol. I would struggle to do justice to the flavour but its complex, fruity, silky and delicious.  This is a vintage port in its prime and I would take this over dessert every day.

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Learning Point: Marlborough Sauvignon is really getting interesting but given enough time you cannot beat Port.

Bodegas Roda, Rioja, Spain

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I continue my series on travel to Rioja with another modern powerhouse of Rioja: Bodegas Roda.  We visited the Roda Wine Bar in the station district of Haro, a short stumble along the road from R. López de Heredia Viña Tondonia, La Rioja Alta and Gomez Cruzado.

The station district in Haro boasts a ridiculous density of top flight wineries – if you only have time to make one stop in Rioja this should be it.

Bodega Roda is really the new boy on the block in Haro’s station district – founded in 1987. Roda keeps things simple making only red wines. The entry level red Roda Sela is already of a phenomenal standard and this is followed up with a pair of fascinating reservas: Roda and Roda I.  The reservas are blended on the basis of the fruit characteristics of each barrel, creating the red fruit dominant Roda Reserva and the black fruit dominant Roda I Reserva.  Forming the vanguard is the flagship Cirsion which unfortunately was not available for tasting.

The tasting room at Roda is a modern affair, serving the wines by the glass and very reasonably priced plates of local cheese and charcuterie. Rounding this off with some bread and their superb olive oil makes a delicious snack or even lunch depending on your appetite. Under the tasting room lies a 19th century cellar and this environment is the perfect place to finish off any remaining wine sheltered from the midday sun.

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The wines of Roda and a light lunch of Charcuterie, Bread, Oil and Cheese

Wines Tasted: Roda Sela 2012, Roda Reserva 2010, Roda I Reserva 2007, 2008

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A Vertical of Hermitage

A few years ago I have a vivid memory of enquiring when a bottle of 2008 Colombier Hermitage would be ready for drinking. The wine merchant jocularly replied that to open the bottle within the next few years would be infanticide. Ever since I have been cautious about purchasing this most splendid expression of Syrah. When I saw the below selection of wines to taste I had no choice but to try the lot. It would indeed have been a crime to drink these before they reached maturity but you need great patience to get there.

Tasting wines of this pedigree and age by the glass is a wonderful thing and was the highlight of my recent trip to The Sampler.  If we had not had so many samples by this point I would have sat down with a larger glass of one of these.  They were not cheap to taste, but then again they are not cheap by the bottle.  Am I still scared of buying Hermitage – well probably.

Check out the main article for a review of The Sampler.

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Left to Right: J.L. Chave 1984, J.L.Chave 1985, Marc Sorell 1988, Jaboulet La Chapelle 1995

Paul Jaboluet, La Chapelle, Hermitage, 1995:

This is still surprisingly young, fresh, and fruity.  Marizipan and Prunes dominated both the nose and palate and the wine had a great intensity.  Plenty of life left in this and a great intensity.

Marc Sorrel, Hermitage, 1988: 

Unfortunately this struggled to stand up to the competition and was showing its age.  In other company this was still a good wine (and probably delicious), but it felt a bit flat on this occasion.

J.L. Chave, Hermitage, 1985:

This is an absolute Rolls Royce of a wine. For a 31 year old wine this showing beautifully, certainly not yet over the hill. This still has fruit, the tannin is mostly resolved although the wine retains grip, and the balance is impeccable. This is a phenomenal wine from a top vintage and right in the prime of its drinking window. I’d like to sit down with a glass of this to put a formal score on it but we could well be talking 95+ points.

J.L. Chave, Hermitage, 1984:

We tasted the 1984 before the 1985 due to 1985 being the better vintage (and double the price). This is a totally different beast to the 1985. If 1985 is a prime racehorse then this is a racehorse that has gone feral. This has an incredible intensity and depth on the nose with dominant aromas of bacon fat and cured meats. The palate does not disappoint either – not as svelte as the 1985 but this has some serious character. If I was buying a single bottle I would probably go for one of these.

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The Enomatic Tasting machine that makes tasting such a selection possible

German Pinot Noir and Grand Cru Chambertin

Pinot Noir is a notoriously difficult grape to grow and low yields result in high prices. This grape is responsible for my both my best and worst wine experiences.  The best Pinot Noir is always perfumed and may combine this with intensity, elegance or even a beguiling ethereal nature.  At its worst the wines become thin and acidic. It is a grape that adapts phenomenally to terroir.  The patchwork appellation system of Burgundy is an attempt to categorise the myriad expressions of this noble grape.

The Grand Crus of Burgundy hold a hallowed place in the world of wine, but that is not to say they are alone as the top expressions of the grape. Indeed given the cost most of us will need to look elsewhere for anything but the most special of occasions.  The German wine from Stepp below would not be a bad place to start and the new world is also beginning to find its feet.

The below wines were tasted at The Sampler during my recent visit.  I have only minimal exposure to both German Pinot Noir and Grand Cru Burgundy so this was quite a treat. Check out the main article for a review of The Sampler.

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Stepp Pinot Noir, Pfalz, Germany, 2014:

No formal notes on this one but this is a producer I have been very impressed with over the past couple of years.  This was my first chance to taste the Pinot Noir and given it costs around £15 this is top flight for the price point .  I found this savoury, tasty and well balanced with a lot more complexity than I would expect at this point. I will be buying again soon. Bravo.

Leflaive & Associe, Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru, Burgundy, 2011:

I think this was probably too young to really get into.  It had an intensity but seemed somewhat closed.  Strangely this also had a strong note of capsicum running through both nose and palate, overlying rich fruit and good structure.  Medium body and tannin, warming rich and well balanced. At the moment I am unsure where this one is going but it has potential and is an interesting semi savoury, semi sweet expression of Pinot Noir.  Hopefully time will pull all the elements together.

Domaine Rossignol-Trapet, Chambertin Grand Cru, Burgundy, 2011:

Aromatic, sensuous, deliciously rich red fruit. In contrast to the wine above this was 100% together. The body was medium and the balance impeccable. Given this is so young I dread to think how good this can become with time. They talk about Bordeaux being cerebral and Burgundy being well, something else. My lack of tasting note says it all – this had us all with smiles from ear to ear: Simply Marvellous.