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.

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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

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Hedonism Wines, Mayfair, London, UK

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Flowers planted in the street outside Hedonism Wines

Hedonism:

  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.

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A practical storage solution for glasses when not in use

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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Just some of the many large format bottles on offer

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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.

The Mistake

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Recently, I had the immense pleasure of visiting Mayfair’s best premium wine shop, Hedonism. I came with the sole intention of buying a single half bottle of red, but was tempted by the immense selection, and knowledgeable staff. The wine was to be drunk at Hawksmoor, the renowned steak restaurant which offers £5 corkage on Mondays (a serious rarity in London). This was a special occasion, and required something interesting and good. In the end, I opted for ‘New Zealand’s best pinot noir,’ from Ata Rangi.

The story of Ata Rangi’s pinot is the stuff of legend. Back in the 80s, Clive Paton (the founder and owner), called on the help of winemaker Malcolm Abel. Fortunately for Paton, Abel had identified some exciting pinot cuttings, brought over illegally from Burgundy in a Kiwi’s boot. In fact, it is thought that these cuttings came from non-other than the world-famous estate of Domaine de la Romanee-Conti. These confiscated vines were bought by Paton, planted in his estate, and have been called the ‘Gumboot clone’ or ‘Abel clone’ ever-since. The estate now employs the characteristic of several different Pinot clones, including the Dijon clone for its perfume, and clone 5 for its structure.

These wines has been incredibly well received in the press. Here are the experts’ opinions:

  • Hugh Johnson explains it as ‘seductively fragrant’ and ‘powerful.’
  • At the 2010 International Pinot noir Conference, it was given the title ‘Tipuranga Teitei o Aotearoa,’ translating from Maori as ‘Grand cru of New Zealand.’
  • Bob Campbell, MW writes: ‘Ata Rangi produce one of the country’s greatest wines’
  • James Suckling calls it ‘a materpiece’, giving the 2013 vintage 98-99 points.
  • Tim Aitkin and Nick Stock have both called it ‘New Zealand’s best pinot’
  • New Zealand experts Sam King and Raymond Chan reward the 2013 vintage 98 points

So, what is the hype about? I gave it a try… below are my tasting notes.

Ata Rangi Pinot Noir, 2013, Martinborough

Visuals: Ruby-purple, clean and medium viscosity.

Nose: Austere primary fruit: blackberries, cherry. Very light touch of oak. Peppery and herbacious. Obvious smoked bacon fat. Alcohol is quite strong.

Palate: Some cherry fruit. Very peppery, almost Rhone like! Dried oregano. Good acidity, great tension and minerality and extremely long finish. Masses of tannin; the most tannic Pinot I have ever tasted.

Conclusions: This is clearly very youthful and primary. Overall, actually rather difficult to drink. So intense, so tannic and overall, rather overpowering for steak. This would probably need something gamey to pair with. I am no expert in anticipating a wine’s potential to age, but based on the structure, the tannin, and the primal nature of this wine, I can at least see why the experts suggest you leave this for a bit in the cellar.

Learning Points: Don’t be greedy. Yes, you can drink wine young, but if everyone is telling you to wait, just wait! To quote Decanter: ‘it would be ‘Sacrilegious to drink it [Ata Rangi 2013 pinot noir) now, despite its deliciousness.’

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).

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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)

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.

 

Birthday Wine: An Eternal Dilemma

Birthday wine is a funny thing. The dream is always to discover a glorious old bottle, originating from your friend’s date of birth. The reality is that you know nothing about the obscure vintage, you can’t find something that was made to age, and you ultimately have to sacrifice quality along the way.

Now I’m all for birthday wine, but when all your friends were born in 1994, you run into some difficulty. Grange was very good that year, but the student loan won’t quite stretch that far. Port was pretty good, but is again too expensive. Bordeaux was ‘wet and cold,’ Sauternes ‘should be avoided’ and Burgundy was ‘a train-wreck.’

Where to go? Answer: The Wine Society’s ‘Anniversary Wines’ page. However, there is a problem. The only wine they list is a certain Domaine Roumier Bonnes-Mares Grand Cru, at a meagre £595. Bullocks.

How does one resolve such a travesty? Don’t go broke. Don’t waste more time searching. Instead, buy the much more affordable (£14)/available 1996 Rivesaltes dessert wine, and pretend you got their date of birth wrong. By the time it gets to dessert, they’ll be drunk enough to forgive you!

20160820_183330Parcé Frères, Vin Doux Naturel, Rivesaltes, France 1996

Orange-brown colour throughout this concentrated wine. Orange liquor, burnt hazelnut, mollases and cinnamon come through. Lacking acidity which makes it slightly sickly. Toasted oak on the finish which is well integrated.  This was drunken in the summer, but really would have suited a frosty Christmas night. Overall, very good value: expressive and rich. 88 Points (BP).

Learning Points:

Look towards this under-rated region of the world for great value, crowd pleasing sweet wines.

 

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.

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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)

The sweet side of Bordeaux

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

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

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

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

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

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Château Caillou, Deuxième Cru, Sauternes, 2005

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

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

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

Score: 90/100 (DT)

Château de Pennautier, AOC Cabardès, France

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

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

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The gates of greyness

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

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

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

Chateau de Pennautier, AOC Cabardès, 2012 

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

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

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Esprit de Pennautier, AOC Cabardès, 2012 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chateau de Valois, 2012, Pomerol

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

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

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

Robe:  Very dark red, verging on purple.

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

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

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