Bollinger Tasting

“I drink it when I’m happy and when I’m sad.

Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone

When I have company I consider it obligatory.

I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am

Otherwise I never touch it… unless I’m thirsty.”

The true meaning of these famous words, spoken by Lily Bollinger, were revealed a couple of weeks ago, as the team at Hedonism Wines treated us to a marvellous tasting of Bollinger wines. We were lucky enough to try out the full works, including the much-hyped 2002 RD and the rare still pinot noir they produce: La Cote Aux Enfants.

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From the get go, the winemaker introduced Bollinger’s ‘5 stylistic pillars’

  1. The vineyard: unusually, Bollinger own the majority of its vineyards, giving them control over quality and consistency.
  2. Pinot noir: 60% of Bollinger’s vineyards are pinot, as reflected by the characteristic notes of the final wine
  3. Oak Barrel ageing
  4. Keeping old reserve wines in magnums rather than huge stainless steel vats
  5. Time: Bollinger ages its wines for much longer than than the average across the region, resulting in a rich, harmonious style.

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Bollinger Special Cuvee NV

02 and 06 were in this blend, giving it plenty of weight for a non-vintage champagne. Sourdough bread and honey came through strongly on the nose. Quite rich and complex on the palate with medium acidity and some figgy sweetness. Alcohol was not noticeable. This was the palest wine of all and lost its fine mousse after 30 minutes or so. 90

Bollinger Rose NV

Surprisingly this was slightly more closed to begin with with some tannic structure. In terms of flavour, doughy characteristics still came through but there was an obvious expression of mint that several of us independently picked up, along with some spicy characteristics. Not as great an expression of Bollinger’s principles of champagne-making. 87

Bollinger La Grand Annee 2007

Lower dosage now at 7g. Significantly darker than the special cuvee. The complexity on this wine was remarkable, and we kept tasting the flavour for long after each sip. A round, harmonious almond characteristic was present, along with some tropical notes as found in specific examples of Montrachet wines. The wine coated the mouth  and was really enjoyable. 92

Bollinger La Grand Annee Rose 2005

This wine really split the crowd. Most of those who enjoyed the NV rose didn’t enjoy this one, and vice versa. For me, it was a winner. Salmon pink in the glass, with aromatics that included thyme, hazelnut and ripe tomato. Pinot noir was evident. Long, but not as fresh as I would have hoped for. Smokiness and umami covers the mouth. Again, very long. 91

 

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Bollinger RD 2002

This is perhaps the most famous of all long lees-aged wines. Dosage has been lowered again to 3g. The smile on the winemaker’s face said it all: this is a ridiculous champagne. More golden than gold. Huge balance and length. Complexity hitting all the major flavour types: fruit, spice, herbs, earth, wood, flowers, nuts etc etc. A beautiful champagne that Bollinger is justly proud of. 95

Bollinger la cote Aux Enfants Rouge 2012

This still pinot noir is a rarity and it’s sublime. Only 3000 bottles were produced, and the care and quality shines through: relatively deep colour, strong red berries, fresh acidity, eucalyptus, mint and rose petals. Smelly manure notes (which I love) and some tannic structure. 91

Learning points:

Bollinger is a top notch champagne house that, despite its fame, is much smaller than the typical supermarket champagne houses such as Moet. They are the epitome of British champagne (the UK is a huge market for them), and all their wines are superb. I’ll remember these wines for their richness and balance.

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A wine and images from Elciego

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The hotel of Marqués de Riscal provides modern counterpoint to the sixteenth century Church of San Andrés in Elciego

Today’s review wine hails from Elciego in the Rioja Alavesa, and, judging by the address, basks in the reflections of Frank Gehry’s temple to wine. I spent a morning at a local festival of wine in Elciego back in September 2015 and tasting this wine certainly took me back there. The atmosphere was phenomenal, the food sublime and, the wine was free flowing if you could fight your way to the stalls. I may well have tried something from Valdelana back then but the festival atmosphere was no place for writing notes. Great wine captures snapshots in history, people, and places: I could not help but share a few images of my time in Elciego to set the scene.

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Stalls at the festival had a wide range of local produce and pintxos

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The main square in Elciego on the day of the festival

Valdelana, Rioja Crianza, 2011

Tempranillo 95%, Mazuelo 5%

This Rioja Crianza was picked up from Vinissimus for a good price about a year ago.  Being a Crianza this spends 12 months ageing in barrel using a combination of 50:50 french and american oak.  Following this it spends another 12 months ageing in bottle.

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The glorious church of San Andrés in Elciego

Tasting note:

Rustic, a little rough round the edges, but you know what? This really reminds me of a summer evening in the Rioja Alavesa. If this was on the side with sauteed mushrooms, cured meats and olives I would be feeling right at home. High acidity, moderate tannin. The fruit is slightly off ripe but with a deep richness. It reminds me of the cacao in the darkest chocolate but it would be improved if softened. I was not expecting it but this surprisingly softened and opened on day two. No score documented at the time of tasting.

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Savennières: Domaine des Baumard

Savennières is a small white wine appellation in the Anjou-Saumur region of the Loire. As with much of the white wine in the region the grape is Chenin Blanc, and Savennières is one of Chenin’s finest expressions. Whilst Chenin Blanc is renowned for sweet wines in Coteaux du Layon to the south, Savennières produces predominantly dry wines. Savennières is an appellation I rarely see in Britain, with the exception of specialist retailers. This is in part due to the relatively high price, and in part due to the style of the wine itself. Savennières at its best produces powerful, elegant and serious wines, and most require ageing to show at their best.

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Domaine des Baumard, Clos de Saint Yves, Savennières, 2009

Cépage: 100% Chenin Blanc, Alcohol: 13%.
Price: £19.99 from DBM wines.

Domaine des Baumard is a top estate for wines from the Loire, both from  Savennières, and Coteaux du Layon. This wine has 7 years of bottle age but on tasting retained the beauty of youth: taut and tense and with a crystalline purity. Baumard has left this wine unoaked allowing the expression of the terroir to come through unadulterated. The style makes for a serious wine, and one that is rewarding of the investment of time and concentration.

In the glass we have a pale gold appearance and a waxy mouthfeel. The nose and palate bring stone fruit, nuts and peach kernals, with these pretty notes belying the underlying power and concentration. Given the cool climate this has slightly less acidity than I expected, however, with the bone dry presentation, this was sufficient to retain tight focus. There is an incredibly high salinity and minerality, reminding me of the intensity of terroir from the top wines from the Wachau. The finish is excessively long with a savoury richness, evoking aged cheese, or even cured salted meat.

Frankly this wine overpowered the meal it was served with, but made a fine digestif. The following evening the remainder paid great compliment to a board of strong hard cheese. My partner found this somewhat austere in presentation, and I have a suspicion the point may be missed by the mass consumer.  Whilst this could be considered somewhat impenetrable to those new to wine, it oozes quality and class to the initiated.

Conclusion: Serious, composed, and to my palate delightful. Next time you are in the market for a rich and elegant white wine look beyond Burgundy and consider the fruits of Savennières.

Score: 91/100 (DT)

Masters of Pinotage

Having been out to South Africa earlier this year we felt it was time to arrange a tasting of Pinotage. Pinotage is a cross between Pinot noir and Cinsaut, bred in 1925, in an attempt to adapt the qualities of Pinot Noir to the South African climate. Pinotage has historically been accused of lacking the potential to make great wine, and condemned for tasting notes of burnt rubber and bananas. Having tasted almost 200 wines during the trip we identified a few standout bottles of Pinotage to showcase the grape and dispel any remaining doubts.

The wines below were tasted blind, with a bottle of Tesco’s finest Pinotage added to the flight as a comparator. All 4 wines were decanted prior to serving from the decanters. I quickly sorted the wines on the basis of the depth and complexity of the nose to determine a tasting order as below. Incidentally these wines are all from different regions of South Africa and represent a cross section of the terroir

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Tescos Finest, South African Pinotage, Swartland, 2015

Price: £6.00 from Tesco Online

A garnet of moderate intensity, this had a thin nose with notes of cherry.  A refreshing wine with high alcohol, high acidity and high tannin.  This was somewhat out of balance and was the only wine tasted where the burnt rubber notes were obvious -coming through on the late palate. I have previously drunk this wine without complaint, and whilst is in no way a bad wine, it does little to excite. On returning to this from the other wines in the flight its relative inadequacy was very much apparent.

Score: The score among the group tasting ranged between 82-86/100 with the fine felt to be above average but nothing standout.

Kanonkop, Pinotage, Stellenbosch, 2003

Price: £22.99 (different vintage) from SA Wines Online

Kanonkop are renowned as one of the leading Pinotage estates, with their black label Pinotage one of the most expensive wines from South Africa. On my recent visit Kanonkop impressed across the range. The example we tasted here was from 2003 and was the oldest wine in the flight demonstrating the capacity of Pinotage to age.

This wine was much richer that the first; sweet with moderate silky tannin.  Again we find cherry but this time closer to a black cherry.  The balance is better, and we are rewarded with greater complexity.  Perhaps a little rough round the edges but I can accept that to be rewarded with savory flavours of leather and game.  Spice on the finish rounds out a typical and mature high quality pinotage. This wine is a great match for a piece of charred steak or other fare cooked on a charcoal grill.

Score: 90/100 (DT)

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Hamilton Russell Vineyards, Ashbourne, Walker Bay, 2009

Price: £27.99 from SA Wines Online

This was the only wine that was a blend of grapes, and in this case it was made up of 82% Pinotage, 9% Cabernet Sauvignon and 9% Shiraz. This article gives Hamilton Russell’s thoughts on Pinotage, and it is worth noting that Ashbourne will become a single varietal pinotage from the 2015 vintage.  Hamilton Russell is famed for Pinot Noir, and although this may be sacrilegious, I think I actually prefer the Ashbourne red.

On tasting this was a very different wine from the first two. In comparison this was pretty, and delicate, with stacks of red raspberry fruit. High acidity keeps this in focus, and it was the only wine that expressed much in the way of minerality. Excellent balance, with floral overtones. This tastes much closer to Pinot Noir and impressed fans of the grape. If this came from Burgundy it would cost a small fortune.

Score: 93/100 (DT)

Meerendal, The Heritage Block Pinotage, Durbanville, 2006

Price: £39.99 from K&L Wines

Durbanville lies directly to the north of Cape Town and is best known for producing stunning Sauvignon Blanc. The farm at Meerendal has been growing wine since 1714 and this Pinotage was one of my best finds whilst in Cape Town. My thanks go to David at Meerendal for opening this to taste as it is a truly exceptional wine. K&L Wines appear to be selling this here in UK although I would be surprised if there are many bottles available.

This wine was a dark garnet of high intensity, and markedly strong legs.  This was full bodied yet smooth, luxurious and silky sweet in the mouth.  More tannic that the other wines tasted, and again showing a flare of high acidity keeping the wine in focus.  This still tastes youthful with the fresh greenness of fruit pips, although the bulk of the fruit is more in line with raisins or stewed dark fruits. Cracking high powered, yet classy wine.  Just edged out on score by the Ashbourne but well received all round, and well worth the effort seeking out.

Score: 92/100 (DT)

My Least Favourite Wine

Blind tasting is all about testing whether our approach to tasting is objective enough to sort the wheat from the chaff. Today I was served a wine that was unique in being the joint worst wine I have ever tasted.

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Baywood Rich Red, NV, UK

Appearance: Clear ruby/garnet.
Nose: Sickly raspberry and strawberry, incense, light volatile acidity.
Palate: Sweet, thin, mild acidity and absolutely no tannin.  There is far less fruit than on the nose but a sour strawberry dominates. This is very flabby, lacks focus and has no structure.

Score: This is a wine of exceptionally low quality deserving a paltry 55-60 points.

I have only tasted something like this once and it was made in the UK from reconstituted Merlot juice. Lo and behold this was also a wine made from reconstituted grape juice here in the UK. Given the sickly presentation I suspect that sugar is actually added at some point in the production process.

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Unfortunately for the producers of this wine I suspect I could not get much further from the intended audience. My passion for terroir driven wines is somewhat in conflict with reconstituted generic grape juice from an unknown source. I’d resist the urge to ferment this as it was undoubtedly more enjoyable as a fruit juice. For the first time in years I have a suspicion this is a wine that tastes better with lemonade.

Conclusion: I would not waste your liver on this one.

 

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)

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

The Boot and Flogger, London, UK

I like the ambiance of a traditional British pub as much as the next guy but the aromas and taste of stale beer are not so convincing. If only there was a place of tradition that replaced the ageing taps and casks with a wine cellar…

Oh wait – that would be the Boot and Flogger.

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Traditional pub on the outside; a temple to wine on the inside.

The Boot and Flogger lies 5 minutes from London Bridge station and the bustling Borough Market. Opened in 1964 by wine merchant John Davy this establishment claims to be the first real wine bar in London. It has the feel of a traditional city pub (in the best sense) albeit with a more upmarket clientele. Wine by the glass, by the bottle and a pretty impressive and fairly priced fine wine list is enough that John Davy’s wine bar deserves our attention. I have been here a few times now but never with a fellow wine aficionado so am yet to sample the wine by the bottle and the prices on the fine wine list are really rather fair.

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When I finally come with a fellow wine enthusiast I will be trying at least one of these.

It appears The Boot and Flogger also serves food, although I am unable to pass comment on either food or menu. There is plenty of wine paraphernalia inside, with some great maps, menus, and classic bottles – I get the impression John Davy really enjoys his wine. There is also a covered outside terrace, presumably suited to smoking the Cuban cigars sold at the bar. A decanter of vintage port (again very fairly priced) and a summer evening is starting to sound just the ticket.

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Pouilly-Fuissé, Domaine Simonin, Cuvée des Roches, Burgundy, 2013.

Given that this is white Burgundy I am assuming this is 100% Chardonnay. This was available by the glass on the specials board for around £6 – a fair price for central London.

This wine presents as dried citrus  on the nose- think more lemon peel than zesty and fresh. On the palate the wine is fully dry with a high acidity and an earthy quality progressing into nuttiness and butter from the mid palate without becoming satisfyingly rich. The mouthfeel was waxy, rather than buttery and there was a bitter note on the late palate, which at a push I could call minerality. You can really feel the acid on this and I think it falls just a bit flat rather than being tightly wound.

Impression: For all the above this remains an enjoyable wine.  It is fairly priced, refreshing and interesting enough to whet the appetite before moving on to bigger and better things from the fine wine list.

Score: 86pts (DT)

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Conclusions: All in all a pretty unique spot in central London with reasonable prices and a bit of history. Come with a fellow wine lover to make the most out your trip and sample the fine wine list. From Davy’s website it looks like the run a host of bars across the city  – let us know in the comments section where else is worth a visit.

Sharpham Vineyards, Devon, UK

Continuing my tour of British vineyards I made my way to Sharpham Vineyards on the river Dart for a delightful summer afternoon.  Sharpham Estate is known in equal measure in the local area for their efforts in wine and cheese.  A few years ago I tried the Summer Red after friends visited the vineyard so it was great to get back and sample more widely across the range.  Sharpham Estate offers wine tasting, cheese tasting and walking trails by the river and through the vineyards.  If you are here in time for lunch then there is also a small cafe serving locally sourced produce and seafood.

Several of the whites are based on the unusual variety of Madelaine Angevine which makes interesting whites here in the UK.  At nearby site Beenleigh, the Sharpham team also make a Cabernet/Merlot blend under polytunnels, but this was not available for tasting.  I came away with a hearty cheeseboard and a bottle of the Barrel Fermented White which proved a delicious partner for a summer BBQ.

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Price: £6 for a flight of 4 wines, £2.50 for a flight of 3 cheeses.  Prices for wines listed below are based on the website but I believe they are slightly cheaper if you purchase them in the vineyard shop.

Impression: A delightful spot on the edge of the river Dart.  Well worth a visit if you are in the South Hams area of Devon and have even a passing interest in wine and cheese.

Wines Tasted: Sharpham Sparkling 2013, Sharpham Estate Selection Dry 2014, Sharpham Dart Valley Reserve 2014, Sharpham Valley Barrel Fermented 2013, Sharpham Red 2014, Sharpham Pinot Noir and Précoce 2013.

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Even if wine is not your thing the cheese is well worth the visit.

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