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.

 

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THE most ridiculous wine of all time.

Ok, so the title might be slightly over-the-top. However, given the wine I am about to present, I think it is justified: Lopez de Heredia’s Gravonia 2006. This is a classic marmite (love it, or hate it) kind of wine, you can just taste it. However, at £12.95 from thewinesociety.com, take some advice from me: buy it, and someone will love it.

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The wine has a beautiful golden viscosity. This is followed with an intense bouquet of almonds, white peach and apricot. As Gary Vaynerchuck would say, this is a true ‘oak monster’.

The wine brings masses of honeycomb. Not honey, I’m talking about the whole waxy thing, in all it’s glory. This is the sort of wine that, to begin with, you imagine will eventually become cloying and sickly. However, that fear never realises itself, as fresh acidity lifts the whole experience.

Orange peel oil, pear, loads of thyme and pumpkin seed oil (honestly, I’m not being ostentatious!) accompany a long long long finish. Oh, and there is some moderate salinity too…

You can really smell the age on this, as the wine has broken down and developed a sherry sort of sweetness. There is so much going on, that you almost oversee the slight bitter undertone. Now bitterness isn’t necessarily a bad thing, so long as it’s balanced. Here it sort of harmonises with the fruity, oaky pleasure, into something quite brilliant.

This would pair amazingly with pork; in fact it is kind of reminiscent of that acorny sweetness you only get from Iberico pork. 92 points

Learning point: Take time over this wine; its a real masterpiece.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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)

Young Mosel

Riesling is probably the wine – world’s most heralded white grape. Its most distinctive style, borne out of steep, cool vineyards, is produced in the Mosel valley. These wines are often low in alcohol, boasting perfect harmony between acidity minerality and sweetness. Mosel Riesling (especially.the riper wines) are known to be extraordinarily long- lived, taking on funky, herbal aromas over 20, to 50 years.

There has been a trend over the last decade away from ripe Riesling,  with more and more ‘Trocken’-labelled Riesling being produced. Amidst this trend, JJ Prum have remained true to their terroir, producing intense, concentrated wines with residual sugar. Though we have tasted a fair amount of German Riesling, most of this has been mature. So, we decided to try something young, wondering whether these wines would be ‘unapproachable’ in their acidity and concentration, or whether they would provide the heavenly nectar that we were searching for that Friday evening. This tasting was a super-focussed comparison of two wines differing only in ripeness, from the same vintage and the same vineyard: Wehlener Sonnenuhr.

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Currently available from The Wine Society at £24 and £29

Joh. Jos. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spatlese, Mosel, Germany 2012

So delicious. This had a mid yellow colour, and was extremely fizzy to begin with. The bouquet was extremely floral with elderflower and honeysuckle coming through strongly. Pure lemon, grape and cloudy apple juice on the palate. This is not a long wine, and it was highly addictive. I dare anyone to dislike this wine. It is elegant, focussed and delicious. However, it did not bring the tension, acidity and minerality I was expecting. After couple of hours, it revealed some matchstick aromas, but all other components of its flavour profile were fruit and flowers. 89 points.

Joh. Jos. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese, Mosel, Germany 2012

This was visibly more viscous in the glass, and lacked the fizz. The flavour profile was similar, albeit with some subtle differences. The wine was certainly sweeter and riper, with less emphasis on the floral aspects, and more on the apricot and honey. 90 points

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Conclusions: These wines were a highly delicious treat. We were surprised  that they were so approachable, and we were surprised that they were not overwhelmingly acidic and mineral. we suspect that the sugar is masking the acidity here, and that with age, this will come through more.

Learning point: Next time, buy a case, so that the development of the wine can be witnessed and appreciated over many years. Indeed, talking about the 2013 release, Katharina Prum, the now director at JJ Prum explains that these wines are “enjoyable now, but also to keep forever

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.

The Battle of Château Batailley

Château Batailley, named after the battle that took place on the property some 600 years ago, is the sort of wine that, on paper, I would buy. Tasting notes promise a deep cassis and fragrant cedar bouquet. Furthermore, it is known for being ‘good value’ Bordeaux, with bottles starting at under £30, duty paid.

On our third visit to The Sampler, we tasted two famous expressions of Chateau Batailley: 2000 and 2005. This was an exciting opportunity to taste mature Bordeaux from excellent vintages, and to see whether the wine lived up to its on-paper reputation.

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Château Batailley, 2000, Pauillac

Lighter than the 2005, with a touch of brown on the rim. A muddy nose with hints of chocolate, violets and plum. Disjointed on the palate. The fruit has largely gone, replaced with a distinctive tomato flavour that I often find in fully-washed coffees. Graphite pencil shavings and toasty oak towards the end. This is not silky; there is a dusty component to the mouth-feel. The tannins have faded. Conclusion: Slightly weird, and certainly not what I was expecting. Despite this, I did enjoy the wine. 89 Points (BP)

Château Batailley, 2005, Pauillac

Immediately more focussed than the 2000, with berry fruit and cassis still present. There is more structure here, from acidity, minerality and tannin. Cedar perfume, some liquorice and oak on the finish. Very drinkable. 90 Points (BP)

Learning point: The 2005 won the battle. It ‘does what it says on the tin.’

An Italian Heavyweight

When I think of Italy, I think of Rome. When I think of Rome, I think of Romans. When I think of Romans, I think of Wine.

Pliny the Elder was an important source of Roman writing on wine. In his encyclopaedia: Naturalis Historia, he includes a ranking of several ‘first growths’ of the time. If he were to be re-incarnated and update his book (published between 77-79AD), I am certain that Castello di Ama’s vineyard, Bellavista, would be included.

Castello di Ama is one of Tuscany’s most famous estates, producing a well renowned and good value Chianti Classico. However, if you want to try some truly spectacular, try the Vigneto Bellavista. This is a single-vineyard wine consisting of 80% Sangiovese with 20% Malvasia Nera. It is only made in exceptional years, with 1995 being one of them. Back in 2012, Antonio Galloni (then at Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate), gave this wine 96 points. So, with the purely educational intention of understanding what a ’96 point wine’ would taste like, I have it a try.

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Castello di Ama, Vigneto Bellavista, 1995

Wonderful concentration in colour even now, after 20 years. Exuberant nose of kirsch and strawberry. Amazing that the fruit still dominates at this age. Opulent mouth-feel, but beautifully balanced; I could drink this all day. There isn’t too much of anything: the fruit isn’t jammy, the minerality doesn’t numb your mouth, the acidity brings balance without electrocuting you. There are some hints of sweet shisha tobacco and some herbal elements. This is a brilliant wine and one that justifies its price tag. 94 points (BP- The Sampler, South Kensington).

Learning Point: I should be a famous critic (Antonio Galloni tasted a vertical from this vineyard).

 

 

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)

‘If anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving!’

If you were to offer Miles Raymond a bottle of 1982 Petrus, I would suspect he would change his mind. However, when the lead character of the Hollywood film Sideways made this remark, he was really making a jibe at the over-produced, easy-to-make, easy-to-drink, generic, sweet, simple expressions of merlot that we all know and avoid.

Instead, Miles and I pursue the ‘haunting and brilliant and subtle’ flavours of the temperamental, thin-skinned grape pinot noir. Growing pinot noir is notoriously difficult. In cold climates, there is a risk of under-ripeness; in hot climates the grapes ripen too quickly, preventing the development of complex flavour compounds.

There is a great deal of pinot noir being made in warm-climates. As these are cheaper than Burgundian expressions, I popped a bottle yesterday in sincere hope that I would find something charismatic.

2016-03-27 00.01.16Newton Johnson, Walker Bay Pinot Noir, Upper Hemel-En-Aarde Valley, South Africa 2012

100% matured in French Oak, pH 3.5, residual sugar 1.9, alcohol 13.95%

Light-mid ruby colour. Sour cherries and raspberries on the nose. A subtle touch of manure and some thyme. Lovely acidity on the palate with buckets of red fruit. Sweetness on the mid-palate (which is not a bad thing as it is balanced by the acidity).

Conclusion: I enjoyed this. It had some of those herbal aromas that you remember for days to come. However, you can tell that this is Newton Johnson’s more simple pinot . The palate is fruit driven, forward and slightly sweet. I would love to try their ‘family vineyards’ pinot noir to see how it compares. 88 points (BP)

Learning Point: Jancis Robinson is, as usual, correct when she says about South African pinot noir: ‘the coastal regions show promise.’

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)