WOTW: Chateau St Pierre, St Julien, 2011

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

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Chateau St Pierre, St Julien 4er Cru, 2011

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

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

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

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

Score: 91/100 (MI)

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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.

 

Pinxos Party with Casa Rojo

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As some readers may already know, I recently celebrated my birthday. As a special treat, my better half arranged for us to attend a Pinxos party, pared with wines from the Spanish producer Casa Rojo at the superb and independent TNQ restaurant, located in the heart of Manchester’s bustling Northern Quarter. Its Kitchen headed up by chef Anthony Fielden, TNQ has established itself as a leading light in the area for locally sourced fine dining with a modern Manchester twist. Introducing the wines was David Kelly from Matthew Clark and credit must go to him for a most interesting description of the wines.

What are Pinxos you say? That is a very good question, and I will admit, prior to the evenings events, I had never come across the term before. It is in fact a Basque term that comes from the word “pinchar” which means “to pierce”. Indeed the phrase came about as Pinxos were traditionally served on the end of a cocktail stick. For this evening however, the humble snack food was elevated to a whole new level, with some truly stunning morsels, but more on that later. The scene was completed by a Spanish guitarist and with beautiful accompanying Spanish wines; you could imagine yourself transported to a sunny terrace in the Spanish countryside.

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Some of the team at Casa Rojo

Casa Rojo is a relatively small producer, tracing its roots back to José Rojo’s first wine in 1920. Casa Rojo offers a range of eight different wines from eight denominations within Spain. The youthful and dynamic team assembled has a simple ethos at its core: showcase the very best of each grape by meticulous attention to detail as well as real passion for the wine, something apparent in abundance even before opening a bottle. Each wine – and indeed each vintage thereof, has a unique label created by local artists to reflect the nature of the wine. The end result are bottles that not only look inviting and fun, but actually do bear real semblance to the wine therein as well as reaffirming the commitment of Casa Rojo to the individuals and local folks involved with the growing of the grapes.

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Casa Rojo’s current lineup

Wines Tasted: Moltó Negre Cava, El Gordo (del circo) Rueda, La Marimorena Rías Baixas, Maquinon Priorat, Macho Man Monastrell Jumilla

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Vintage Bordeaux: Haut Medoc 2005

Whenever the subject of Bordeaux comes up, one cant help but conjure up images of majestic chateaux, of rolling countryside and of course some of the most expensive wine known to man. Since the rise of China as an economic powerhouse, the price of Bordeaux has simply rocketed out of control as this new market makes a beeline straight for the great chateaux of the region. Indeed such is their love for Bordeaux (China is the largest export market of Bordeaux wine in the world) that Chinese investors now own over 100 vineyards in the region.

Of course I talk about Bordeaux as a single homogeneous region, which, perhaps more than most, is a vast oversimplification. Bordeaux covers over 120,000 hectares and is made of 60 different appellations, famously divided into the left and right banks. Bordeaux makes over 10,000 different bottles of wine ranging from mere few pounds for the cheapest, to many thousands of pounds for the dearest. Navigating ones way though this vast array of wines is an exceptionally difficult task and one that few can truly say they are at home doing so. I, a mere mortal, simply have to settle for a basic working knowledge to give me some idea of what I am looking at.

This brings me nicely to today’s wine:

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Chateau Cambon La Pelouse, Haut Medoc 2005

Bordeaux Blend (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot), Alcohol 13.5%

Chateau Cambon La Pelouse traces its roots back to the 18th Century, when the Cambon family first planted vines in the gravely soil of this 35 hectare plot, located in the Macau commune on the banks of the Garonne. The Macau commune lies just South along the river from Margaux. The chateau plants 50% Merlot, 45% Cabernet Sauvignion and 5% Petit Verdot, and their blends, whilst varying from year to year, often contain a large proportion of Merlot. Wines of the chateau are aged for an average of 20 months in French oak barrels of which between 40 and 50% are new.

2005 was a year to remember in Bordeaux. It was a year of plenty – plenty of acidity, fruit and especially, plenty of tannin. It was hailed by some as the vintage of the century, its rich tannins allowing great potential for ageing.

This bottle is a fine example of the vintage, displaying all the characteristics associated with it. The wine is a deep claret colour, with a real spicy nose, traces of leather and smoke with just a hint of red fruit. As expected, tannins are not in short supply, giving a real astringency quality to the wine. Its obvious the wine has been heavily oak aged, bestowing a complex smokey, almost licorice flavour. Unfortunately these intense bold flavours somewhat mask the rather more delicate black fruity flavours. All the components of the great wines are there, however the wine is let down by the lack of balance.

Even with over 10 years of age on the bottle, there is still a lot of room for more ageing and this might just bring some much needed balance to the tannic flavours. The classic food pairings for left bank Bordeaux are simple hearty lamb dishes or fine steaks. This wine would pair very well with either. Its important to avoid overly complex flavours or foods as these would likely be lost in the boldness of this wine. 87 points (MI)

Why Can’t Great Britain make Great Reds?

Nestled within the heart of the Stour Valley, approximately 15 minutes drive north of Colchester lies Dedham Vale Vineyard, a small, 40 acre property which has planted grapes since 1990. The father and son team of Ben and Tom Bunting take an eco friendly approach to wine making, generating all their own electricity, drawing fresh water from a well and treating their waste-water in a reed bed they then mulch and use to fertilise the vines with.

British wine struggles from a lack of warmth and sunshine and can often leave the grapes struggling to ripen. As with a lot of British vineyards at Dedham Vale they have planted large amounts of modern (predominantly German) cultivars as these can tolerate our slightly harsher and cooler climate. I am a big supporter of British produce and so I was hoping (albeit with a degree of trepidation) for a real gem here.

Dedham Vale Reserve, East Anglia, England, 2013

20160402_185219Red Blend (Rondo, Dornfelder, Dunkelfelder and Pinot Noir)
Limousin oak barrel aged
Alcohol 10.5%
£10 Dedham Vale Vineyard

From the bottle I was greeted by a delicate ruby red wine. On sitting there was a reasonable amount of effervescence which is often seen with wines bottled in cooler climates. On the nose was a pungent and somewhat unusual aroma that couldn’t help but remind me of stewing plums and a hint of cinnamon added for good measure. I will admit this was initially somewhat off putting. Its initial taste was disappointingly thin, with some flavours of liquorice and sweet berries coming through, but lacking that acidity and tannin to really develop the flavours on your palate. I can certainly see where the winemakers were going with the wine, but unfortunately I can’t help but feel this wine has suffered heavily from under-ripening – the Achilles Heel of British wine, which considering 2013 was actually quite a hot, sunny summer for the UK does not necessarily bode well for the short term future. Roll on global warming!

To be perfectly honest, I wouldn’t pair this wine with most meat dishes. At a stretch I would suggest a light chicken or fish dish, though slightly chilled I could see it working well with barbecued meat (in a similar vein to some Australian reds). Its light nature lends itself well to drinking on its own, or with (dare I say it) summery salads (although you’d want to avoid too vinegary a dressing)!

Making red wine in the UK is a thankless task, and with a great deal of regret I have not yet tasted a single British red wine that I would drink again. Perhaps that is a somewhat harsh assessment, but whilst we produce some of the finest sparkling wines in the world (if not the finest), we still struggle with still wines, especially those of the red variety. Needless to say, I will be keen to try their white and sparkling offering at some point as I am convinced this wine does not do the vineyard fair justice. 70 points (MI)

Old World Elegance Meets New World Flair

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

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

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

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

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

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