Wednesday, 27 November 2013

#WineSwap

Last week saw the culmination of many tweets, a bit of haggling and some organisation. Last Tuesday evening I drove to a hotel about 20 minutes from my house, had a couple of drinks with a new friend, and exchanged 4 of my own bottles of wine with 4 of his. We performed a 'Wine Swap'!

To explain a bit, I'll go back in time a few months. I joined Twitter at a similar time to starting this blog. I started to follow many individuals who are involved in the wine industry, to try and keep up-to-date on current wine affairs. These were people I'd heard about, or read articles by, or knew in person already. Big names to start with, Jancis Robinson, Jamie Goode and Hugh Johnson for example. Now, Twitter does a useful thing, of telling you who else follows, or starts to follow, these people. It also advises you as to who you could follow based on your current Twitter activities. Through these kind suggestions, I came across the phenomenon of the #WineSwap (Hashtag WineSwap). This 'trend' was started by two chaps from Birmingham, Matt and James.

The #WineSwap was an idea they came up with, simply from doing it themselves, realising that it may take-off on a wider scale. Matt and James, and their other friends, were already talking about each others wines, discussing their collections. They decided that should one person buy a case of many bottles, it would be good to swap some of those for bottles from a mate's collection. When you only have a small collection, having many of the same wine takes up space and narrows your choice. Swapping some of those 'excess' wines for others, broadens your collection in an easy and trustworthy way. It allows you to try different styles of wine from different regions, producers or vintages. Twitter is simply the conduit tool for the idea. It makes it easy to spread the word using the trend '#WineSwap', acting as a search tool.

As well as this, the lads thought they would try something slightly different, which they call 'The Quest'. This idea is simply to exchange a bottle of wine worth £5, for a Chateau Latour 1982. Obviously, this won't be done in one go. The idea is to make incremental #WineSwaps, that steadily get them closer to the goal. I think they explain it slightly better on their website here. Matt and James blog about the Quest, so go and have a read, it's very interesting so far.



So, having gotten in touch with both Matt and James on Twitter, I told them I had some bottles I was willing to swap. In Matt's case, I'd read about his trip to Rioja, and was pleased when he wanted to swap some Bodegas Muga (Rioja Alta). James wanted to swap some excess Cru Bourgeois Bordeaux. The precise swaps were actually: a bottle each of Chateau La Tour de Bessan 2009 and Chateau Chasse-Spleen 2005, from my cellar, for Muga's Seleccion Especial 2009 and 2006 (respectively) from Matt. James wanted to swap 2 bottles of my Chateau Potensac 2008 for 2 bottles of his Chateau Poujeaux 2008. In all cases, these seem like very fair trades, in terms of both quality and worth.

Having arranged all this via Twitter, James met me at the hotel he was staying at while away for work. Conveniently for me, it was much closer than Birmingham, and James was to be there anyway. We met in the evening and had a couple of drinks, we chatted about a lot of wine-related things, especially the #WineSwap concept, and ultimately left with new wines.

The outcome to all this then, is that I feel I have not only expanded my cellar, but additionally made new acquaintances, and learned more about the world of wine. If I ever have bottles of wine I feel I don't need (a rare occurrence) or someone offers me a bottle (or two) of something I want, I shall most definitely consider a #WineSwap, it's a great idea! I certainly intend to keep in touch with Matt and James, and may try to wheedle my way in to tasting their '82 Latour!

Read more about the #WineSwap blog and keep up-to-date with the Quest at www.hashtagwineswap.co.uk. Or if you're interested in a WineSwap, look for the trend on Twitter.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Chateau Cambon la Pelouse, 2006, Haut-Medoc.

Now I know it's not #winewednesday, but I felt like a small reward was required having done a bit of long-awaited DIY. I decided to sample a wine that has been sat in the rack for a few months. I picked up a bottle of the 2006 Cambon la Pelouse in Morrisons, on a bit of a sale. I think it was about £12, down from about £16. This is a pretty good price for a 'Cru Bourgeois Superieur'. This is actually a somewhat defunct classification now, as the Cru Bourgeois system has had several revamps over the last 10 years. As of 2010, the 'superieur' and 'exceptionnel' titles have been lost, although a single-tier Cru Bourgeois still remains.


I bought this wine for two reasons. Firstly, it was a good value, mature claret that should be well in it's drinking window, so should be delicious. Secondly, I know that Sainsbury's are currently selling the same wine from the 2009 vintage. I was hoping to try a mature version of this wine, since the 2009 (although an early maturing vintage) would probably be a little young. Sainsbury's have the 2009 at just under £20, which is starting to become less bargainous, unless the wine is exceedingly good. If I liked the 2006 enough, it might be worth buying one or two of the 2009 for the cellar.

So, how is She? (That's right, i've anthropomorphised my wine!)

In the glass, the 2006 Cambon la Pelouse is an intense, deep, maroon red. Only a mild hint of purple, with a lighter, slightly brown edge. Good signs of a wine with a bit of bottle age. Up to the light, the wine is very clear, and shows a little more browny shades. On the nose, overwhelmingly classic. I'm not sure what the blend is with this wine, but i'd say it's a cracking example of a left-bank claret. Up front is a bunch of oaky, smokey aromas, some cedar wood and pencil lead. This is combined with ripe and juicy cassis. The blackcurrent is typical, but there is a little dark cherry too. In the layer underneath, i got something floral, maybe violets, a little bit of truffle and something really savoury, a little like chilli! Not spicy, this was like green peppers, but much less sweet. I tried hard, but i couldn't find any liquorice, which actually appeals to me.

On the palate, this is an exampe of a well-made, balanced wine. It doesn't sing as loudly as some wines i've experienced, but the sweet, dark fruits, especially blackcurrents are there, and the mouthfeel is smooth. In the finish, there are some tannins. Although fairly smooth and soft, they are a touch grainy and impart a chewy-ness. This isn't unpleasent really, and the finish lingers for a long time. It's a lovely, smooth finish with little, if any, pepper/spice.

This is a lovely wine, quite ready for drinking, although it still displays fruit, acidity and tannins that mean it should have a fair amount of life left. If the fruit hangs on, then there is a good amount of acidity and tannin to keep it's complexity.

I'm pleased with this wine and like it very much. It isn't a blockbuster, but is delightful, and it suited my 'I fancy a treat' whim. At £12 this was a great value Bordeaux. Considering the 2009 is a little more expensive, i'm not so sure it would be worth the investment without a sample first. However, i'm pleased enough with the 2006, that if Sainsbury's decide to put the 2009 on sale, it may very well be worth a blind punt! Let's wait and see...

Monday, 4 November 2013

Chateau Le Boscq, 2006 - It's the taking part that counts!

Nothing much written recently. Sorry, but I've had a busy work period, leading up to a holiday. This has meant not much time for extra-curricular activities. As such, writing about wine has been put on the back-burner. This evening though, I've been thinking that i should get back into it, and what to write about next.

There's a lot of potentially wonderful wine-related topics to choose from. I'm preparing for my WSET qualification and my head is swimming with possibilities. Right now though, I'm not in such an analytical mood. I would like to tell the world about the 2006 Chateau Le Boscq I'm drinking, but I'm struggling to put my finger on the aromas and the flavours. I know its good, but my eloquence isn't flowing!


It's at this point that i realise that maybe sometimes, that's all you need. I don't feel like analysing my wine this evening. I've been to a lot of tastings recently, and 'written-up' a lot of wines in my journal. Tonight, i'm just going to enjoy this wine for what it is. At a basic level, wine is a drink that should smell and taste good. It doesn't have to be broken down in to it's elements or scored.

For those who want to know if the Le Boscq '06 is any good, well, it is! It's a lovely, mature claret that smells and tastes good! It's nothing mind-blowing, but it's ready for drinking, and if you have some, or see some on a shop shelf, get it and drink it!

I'm about to get some cheese and biscuits to eat with my wine. I've quite anjoyed the realisation and rememberance that, ultimately, we're supposed to enjoy the products we buy and consume. So that's exactly what I'm going to do! I hope you enjoy whatever you're eating or drinking this evening. I know this yummy wine may not last long!

Sunday, 13 October 2013

d'Arenberg 'The Dead Arm' Shiraz 2007

I've heard a few things about d'Arenberg wines over the last couple of years. I've been told their quirky names, but also that they're pretty reliable. I've been wanting to try one of their wines, in particular, for a while. 'The Dead Arm' Shiraz. I'd heard that it was a solid, fairly typical example of a big Aussie Shiraz. Big Shiraz should be packed full of ripe fruit. This gives them great aromaticity and concentration of flavour, but can lead to over-extraction and a tannic, chewy mouth-feel. The more balanced, smoother examples can be sumptuous though. As an example, the 2005 Bishop by r was one of the first Barossa Valley wines I'd tried, and that really did not disappoint! Incidentally, I've also tried d'Arenberg's fortified Shiraz, 2005, and that was crazy yummy!



The Dead Arm Shiraz from d'Arenberg is made from McLaren Vale vines infected with a fungus called Eutypa lata. This disease kills-off one 'arm' of the vine, turning it to deadwood. The other half of the vine continues to produce a small but ripe crop of berries. The grapes are small but full of flavour. The grapes are hand harvested and processed with great care. After fermentation, the wine is aged in new oak (french and American) for 22 months. I don't know much about Australian vintages so I cannot comment on 2007 being good or bad. However, one of the main attractions of new-world climates, is that they're more consistent than in Europe. This means that vintages, unless they're really bad, are perhaps less important.

I have to say i was not disappointed at all by the Dead Arm. This is a really lovely wine. I didn't decant it, which may have been a mistake. However, on the first evening of drinking it, i left it in the glass for 20 minutes before tasting, so it had a reasonable amount of air. The second evening showed what happens to good wine if you give it time. All the aromas and flavours grew and intensified.

In the glass the wine was really deep in colour. A dark red/purple with only a slight lightening as it thinned at the edges. There was a tiny hint of age at the rim, with a slight 'bricking' of colour. The wine was dense and viscous when swirling, and the tears were heavy and alcoholic. The nose of this wine jumped out at me. I swear I could smell it at arm's length while swirling the glass on the table! The nose was big and bold, and classically Shiraz. Concentration came first, with bits of light, sweet red fruits, raspberries and then cherries. The largest proportion of the aromatics came in the form of lightly smokey, spiced black pepper, liquorice and vanilla. The sweetness seemed to be centered around, what I thought was, quite herbaceous green peppers. Overall the nose is so full, ripe and juicy that it makes your mouth water. The palate follows on from the nose, with ripe, slightly jammy, sweet fruit. The body is on the fuller side, as expected, and soft tannins are present through the middle. This means a very smooth, rounded mouth-feel. Although slightly chewy towards the end, it is not at all bitter. The finish is really long. The fruitiness remains with only a hint of spice.

Although this is a great wine, it is expensive. I think it's about worth it if you're looking for this style of wine and need reliability. It's obviously well made with all elements in balance. The high alcohol (14.5%) is melded beautifully with the fruit and tannins, and just the right acidity remains for such warm-climate grapes. The 2007 is showing the first signs of age, but the firmness of tannins, acidity and fruit should see this wine living for many years yet. I found this Dead Arm in Tesco's, of all places, at about £25. Online would probably be your best bet for picking this up a little cheaper.

Monday, 30 September 2013

Muga - 2009 Reserva - Rioja Alta

Recently I've been enjoying the wines of Rioja, Spain. I was given a couple as birthday gifts and they've been lovely. I like Rioja, it has a smoothness to it that i can't get enough of. When there is fruit, oak and spices gliding along with it, more's the better. These factors come from the aging of the wine after it's made, in oak and in bottle. Wines of Rioja have a quality classification system that determines the required levels of aging after the wine is made. The lesser-aged red wines are known as simply Rioja (Tinto). These may see a few months of oak aging, and then maybe a little bottle aging before release. A little more aging in oak and bottle gives you Crianza. Even more oak aging, something like 18 months or more, plus bottle aging of a similar length, and you have a Reserva. Gran Reserva may have 5 or more years of oak and bottle aging before release! If I'm honest i could look up the exact rules governing aging times, but it's not really needed here, you get the idea. There are, of course, other considerations that contribute to a wine's quality, for example selecting the best grapes. However, the important thing to realise is that the longer the wine is aged (particularly in oak), the better it may become. I think Crianza's make excellent dinner-time wines. They're usually great value, and compliment food really well. Reserva and Gran Reserva Rioja's are a little more special and usually have layers of complexity and flavour that should, perhaps, be enjoyed in isolation. This isn't to say that they won't go with food, I'm sure they'd be great, but I quite like drinking wine for the wine itself, not just to lubricate a meal.

Anyway, I've found myself researching spanish wines in order to find some good examples of quality and typicity. As always, I've been looking for as higher a quality as i can manage, at affordable prices. Interestingly, during my trawling, i happened to find out something i previously didn't know. I didn't realise that the Spanish region of Rioja is itself subjugated into a few sub-regions. The DOC region of Rioja is comprised of (mainly) Rioja Alta, Rioja Alvesa and Rioja Baja. Each of the these regions expresses their own qualities in the red wine they produce. They have slighlty different grape blends and manufacturing processes, as well as slightly different micro-climates and soils in which to grow their grapes.

One particular producer's wine kept cropping up during my initial searches. The wines of Bodegas Muga. Bodega is the term given to a producer, equivilent to Chateau or Domaine, although it actually means wine cellar. In this case the name sort of means, 'the wine cellars of Muga'. Muga is the family name of the owners. I've heard of this producer before, but a friend (Twitter aquaintance) reminded me about it, as he recently went there. I looked in to them a little further and found some great reviews of all their wines. They have a range of wines of increasing quality/price. They make a white Rioja Blanco, some Rose, and a few Reds. The reds are what I was looking for so I stuck with them. They start with the Rioja Enea, move up to Crianza and then a couple of Reservas. There is a normal Reserva and a Seleccion Especial, which is made from the best grapes of that year. Then there is the more special Torre Muga, which is a Reserva, but the grapes are chosen from the oldest and best vines on the estate. Finally there is the Prado Enea Gran Reserva. Again, the finest quality grapes are used, The maceration and fermentation are a little more natural, with less intervention than the other wines, and the wine is aged for the longest, in oak (4 years minimum) and bottle (a further 3 years minimum).

After all that then, I found that the easiest and actually the cheapest stockist was Majestic wines. The more expensive Muga wines had to be ordered on special delivery, however, the Reserva 2009 was in stock at my local store. I decided to pick a couple up, at the extra special, sale price of about £14. Incidently, I am going to be getting a couple of the Seleccion Especial soon also, as I have arranged a #WineSwap through Twitter! (I may write a little post on the #WineSwap phenomenon some time...)


So what was it like?

In a word, Good! I decanted and left it to breathe for about 45 minutes. A small sip straight out of the bottle told me that it was a good thing to do. In the glass it was a lovely full, deep red. No hint of purple at all, slightly maroon, but no real sign of age yet. Good body and fairly alcoholic legs. On the nose, this wine jumps out of the glass at you. The high alcohol adds to the aromaticity and carries notes of sweet cherries. Lighter red fruits may be there, but are hard to pick out. The biggest parts of the nose were vanilla, liquorice and a lovely floral hit of violets. There were also undertones of smoke and spice, maybe cinnamon and cloves. On the palate the youthful tannins came through a little chalky, but certainly not grainy. They actually gave the mouthfeel great texture. There were plums and again cherries present, which were perhaps a little stewed. the middle was pretty well balanced. The acidity was detectable, but was not forward, which meant nothing overpowered the rest. The finish was sweet and mildly spiced with a touch of pepper. It lingered for a good 20 seconds.

In conclusion then, this is a cracking red. On sale it's a good price for a Rioja Reserva. I think it's still young, and although its obviously delicious now, I anticipate it will improve over the next few years. There was a decent dollop of tannins and acidity, but nothing massive. I would say the next 5 or 6 years should do for this vino. After that, it may start to slide downhill.

Bodegas Muga have a website, but I looked briefly and didn't find the English version. I can get by in Spanish so didn't really need it. It does have a translation though, so check it out here, there's a lot of info on their wines, and a bit more. As mentioned, Majestic wines sell a few of the Muga range. Just search here.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Amarone della

It's been a while. I'm afraid I've been busy enjoying myself! The last 2 weekends have been all about the wife and I celebrating entry in to our 4th decade. Our birthdays are 6 days apart, so a normal year is busy. This being our 30th, was even more so. We've been very lucky to have full weekends with both sides of our respective families. This has meant that, although I've drunk some great wines in this time, I have had little time for writing anything about wine at all.

So, to get back in the writing saddle, so to speak, i'll start with a quick wine review.

I was given a bottle of wine last week, not necessarily as a birthday present, but a gift nonetheless. I know little about Italian wines, other than the famous international names likes Barolo, Barbaresco and Chianti, and so hadn't come across this one before. The wine in question was an Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico. The reason for this unexpected gift was actually for my opinion, with the main question being asked; is it worth it?!

So the story goes, a friend of this friend buys 'Amorone' at £40 to £50 a bottle, and raves about it. So having spotted an 'Amarone' in Lidl, at half that price (approximately £20), the friend asks me if it's any good. Now, as described above, I know relatively little about Italian wines, so I decided to do a bit of investigating.

The internet tells me that: Amarone Della Valpolicella is a wine-producing sub-region in Northern Italy. It is part of the larger, classified region of Veneto, surrounding Verona. According to Wikipedia, AdV (as I'll call it for ease) was classified as a DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) in 1990, and upgraded to a DOCG (added Guarantee) in 2009. The Classico addition to the label means that it comes from a smaller, more traditional area, renowned for making this style of wine, and should denote better quality. As can be seen on this particular bottle of wine, it may have been made just before the re-classification to DOCG, as the 'G' is missing from it's title.



So, the 2009 AdV from Tenuta Pule (pictured above), should have been made from grapes that were left to dry, post harvest, in a shed (or similar container/housing). This could have been anything from a couple of weeks, to several months. The purpose of this process is to reduce the water content in the grapes, and therefore concentrate the sugars and the, some might say more important, flavour and aroma compounds also. This should result in a fuller-bodied, concentrated and very aromatic wine, that has a higher-than-normal alcohol level.

Having researched this wine, I was quite excited about trying an AdV for the first time. I like fuller bodied red wines, with pungent noses and fruit-bomb palates, so this sounded right up my street!

Upon opening the bottle, and pouring, the wine actually seemed a little thin-bodied and flat.The initial nose didn't reveal much at all, and the first taste was quite disappointing. I sensed sweetness on the nose, and the alcohol stood out on the palate. At this point, I happened to be chatting to my Dad on the phone, and naively relayed this to him. As it turns out, I should have waited a little longer before judging it. After about half an hour, maybe a little longer, the wine opened-up. I'm normally one for decanting and waiting for wines, so i don't know why I was in such a hurry on this occasion!? The wine developed a quite complex nose, of blackberries, sweet cherries, green peppers, a hint of vanilla, but, most of all, sweet violets! This was actually really lovely. On the palate, the wine had a good texture, medium to full-bodied. The sweet fruit flavours had a jammy quality that I could imagine a lot of people wouldn't like, if they're into lighter reds. I think this wine had a lot of residual sugar, which gives the taste a slightly port-like quality. The finish was fairly long and lingering, with a little of that green pepper spice. In my opinion, the alcohol was a little overpowering on the palate, and in the finish. The balance of soft tannins (not too chewy at all) and acidity was good, but the alcohol dominated. This is an unfortunate downside for this wine. I liked it, but it's not quite there!

Back to the original question, "is it worth it?". Well, I was a little disappointed. I've tasted big Aussie Shiraz, and this AdV didn't have the same concentrated fruit flavours at all, it delivered on the nose (eventually) but not in flavour. I was expecting much more from this wine. I think this was probably down to it's billing, and the research I'd done. Maybe this was wrong of me?! Having said that, £20 is a fair amount to be spending on a bottle of wine. I would say that if you're spending that much per bottle, you want it to be a little bit special. I have plenty of bottles in the cellar, that I would say are better than this AdV, and cost (a little) less than £20! We should also remember that this wine came from Lidl, which, as I understand it, should be providing it's patrons with value, at lower prices!

To conclude then, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this wine. It is perfectly drinkable, and has some excellent points to it when considering the complexity of aromas on the nose. It went particularly well with a rump steak and chips! However, I don't really think it's worth it's supposed price-tag of £20. If I'd bought this for £8-£10, I'd be pretty pleased with myself. I wouldn't feel hard-done-by if I'd have paid £15 for it. £20 though, in my opinion, is a touch too much. I can only assume that the original 'Amarone' that started this mini-saga, which cost over £40, must have been from a different producer. From what I've read, these wines have the potential to be quite exquisite, and also as age-worthy as the best Cabernet from Bordeaux. I hope that I may have the fortune to try one of these some day. But, for now, I shall simply thank my friend for giving me a lovely bottle of wine! To me, it was free, and therefore, was absolutely worth every bit of it!!

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Majestic's Wine Course

Wednesday seems to be becoming the evening of the week designated for enjoying wine. There's lots about #winewednesday on Twitter. It so happens that my last two Wednesday evenings have been filled by wine tasting events. This week, my wife and I attended the 'Wine Course' hosted by Majestic wines in Sale. I stumbled across it while browsing their website and finding the events calendar for the Sale store. After this, I also noticed that Majestics advertise such events on Twitter too. I'm now Twitter-mates with the staff at Sale too! A swift phone call was all that was required to book our spots, and to pay the £5 deposit. Part of the lure for this tasting event was that they are all FREE! The deposit is refunded at the end of the course.

5pm saw us get the tram from town out to Sale. Incidentally, it took far longer than the timetable had suggested! The Sale store is only a 10 minutes walk from the tram stop, but we arrived a little hot and bothered due to the muggy weather. This was alleviated with haste , for as soon as we stepped through the door, we were presented with a nice, cold glass of bubbly. I'm can't remember what it was, but I do recall it was not champagne, maybe Cava.

The tasting table was already laid out on the shop floor. This was actually quite a good setting, surrounded by lovely bottles of wine. Each persons place was already set with 6 glasses of wine. Three whites and three reds had been placed atop of a sheet of A4, with fake condensation rings (stains) printed on it to denote positions that were also numbered 1 to 7. Confusing for now, but all will be explained. Laid next to these were little booklets to accompany the course. Inside these was information about tasting, wines of different kinds, different grapes, world regions and much more. There was also space for ones tasting notes, using the provided pen.


The evening started quickly. We all sat down around the table with Flick, the shop manager (presumably short for Felicity!?). She introduced herself, and then asked us to introduce ourselves, with our names and something about our wine preferences, or why we were at the event. This, combined with a glass of fizz, was a great way to relax people and break the ice. She explained a little bit about what sort of course the evening would be. It's interesting that the Wine Course is designed less as a showcase for certain wines and more as a general learning experience - as an introduction to wine tasting. It is much more about how to taste wines, rather than the about the wines themselves.

We proceeded to the white wines, numbered 1 to 3. Flick asked us to pick up the first glass, and took us through the process of tasting a  wine. As a brief example; firstly, look at the wine. Hold it up against a white background to asses it's colour and clarity. Second, smell the wine's 'bouquet' or 'nose'. Here one tries to identify the aromas that can be found from such volatile liquids. Swirling the glass releases the magic. Thirdly, taste the wine. Here one takes a little mouthful, swills it around in the mouth and perhaps draws some air through the liquid behind the teeth. This helps to release the flavours (actually by releasing them from the liquid so they can travel to the nose again!).

We practiced these techniques with the white wines. We were asked to attempt to identify what the wines were, their flavours and what had given the wines those flavours. This was, of course, all guided by Flick. She knows a great deal about wine and was quite adept at conveying her knowledge. It's not really important what the exact wines were. They had been well chosen to illustrate the points being taught. There was a bone-dry, crisp, acidic, but fruity Sauvignon Blanc (Sancerre), a slightly less dry, mineral-textured, really mildly oaky Chablis, and another, more oaked and less dry, Chardonnay that smelled like honey and peaches, from Chili. From these is was easy to pick out the aromas, flavours and textures of each, then link them to the grape varieties, how they might have been made and the climate they came from. Comparison between the wines made this process a great deal easier than with a single wine.


What a great start! By now the tasters were all conversing and discussing what they thought of the wines and the tasting techniques they had now mastered. Here's where the numbering system was made clear. Wine number 4, which was missing from our place-mat, was a champagne. This meant that the 3 reds became 5, 6 and 7, and were identified accordingly on our sheets. The champagne was brought out by Flick's assistant. He's an assistant manager at the shop, I think he was called either Dan or Tim!? I'm not really good with names.

As we went through the tasting protocol, Flick took us through the extra steps required in the making of a champagne. This is know as the m├ęthode champenoise, or traditional method. A secondary, in-bottle- fermentation is what gives the wines it's bubbles. Flick's knowledge was tested by questions, and not once did it fail us. The champagne was a lovely example, chosen because of it's great nose. This one was really yeasty, and had lovely (slightly burnt) toast notes. The mousse was also very classy. The 'mousse', by the way, is the texture of the fizzing wine in the mouth. Less fizzy, with smaller bubbles, means a smoother mousse, and usually better quality, I think.


So, by now, a touch tipsy. I speak for myself here, others were perhaps drinking a little less of each wine, and others were spitting. Spitting, incidentally, is something I need to learn to do. Not just because when tasting lots of wine its very easy to drink a bit too much, but also because it seems to be a bit of an art form. I think it's actually quite hard to do, without it going everywhere and leaving you looking like a dribbling mess!

The red wines were a similar affair to the whites, in that we made our way through them individually, assessing each one as we went, comparing them to each other in terms of aromas, flavours and textures. Guesses were made as to what each were and where they were from. I was quite please with my own guessing. My only downfall here was being fooled by a left-bank Bordeaux, into thinking it was a right-bank. Left-bank wines are traditionally made with a greater percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon in their blend, which gives them a more ripe, blackcurrant nature. Right bank wines contain more Merlot, and so tend to be more rich and plummy, maybe like jammy cherries. These are of course generalisations, however, the lack of cassis in the Bordeaux we had made me think right-bank. I'm going to go out on a limb now and say that it was the... how do I put it... 'less than optimal' 2007 vintage that was to blame for my reasoning.


The red wines were, again, a great selection to exemplify what was being taught. The Pinot Noir from New Zealand was lighter, less tannic and a bit peppery. The Bordeaux was classically tannic and showed elements derived from oak aging (cedar wood and tobacco). Finally the Barossa Valley Shiraz was full bodied but richly flavoured with light ripe fruit, with a hint of spice in a long finish. These wines were great examples of their breeds and perfectly chosen for this occasion.

Having been through quite a lot of wine, and almost consumed our fill of information, the evening finished with a bit of food play, and wine number 8. This was, I thought, a great addition to the course. Several different foods were brought out, including tomatoes, spicy crisps, pate on toast and some cheese. In addition to these was a little bit of chocolate brownie, to go with a sweet dessert wine (No. 8). I have to admit that I can't remember what this wine was, sorry. I think it may have been a Tokaji from Hungary. The foods were tasted with the wines. This was to demonstrate that some foods don't go with some wines. The best example was the tomato, which went really badly with the Sancerre, because there was just too much acidity. It did, however, go really well with the Chilean Chardonnay and the Bordeaux. The pate went well with the Sancerre, as the acidity of the wine  'cut through' (as they say) the richness of the pate. The brownie and dessert wine were a great match to finish the evening.


The only thing that was left to do at this point was to finish the remnants of ones favourite wine and chat about what we'd learnt. I must stress again that Flick was a wonderful host. She's very knowledgeable about wines, but also a very relaxed and accomplished instructor. I think the aftermath seen below clearly demonstrates what a fun event this was. There was not much left in the glasses and everyone went away, not only happy, but with a slightly larger brain.



The Majestic's Wine Course is exactly that. It is a course, for learning. They have packed a lot of very basic, but essential, information in to it. Information that anyone with a slight interest in wine would love to know. There was also a great deal of advanced knowledge in there too, probably thanks to Flick's question answering. Information that even a seasoned pro might not know, or realise. There was a mix of people at the event. There was a couple of lads, who knew they liked red wine, but wanted to learn a bit more so they could make more informed choices from restaurant wine menus. There was a pair of young ladies that knew quite a lot about wine, but thus far had played safe and drank what they knew. They wanted to experience something different and broaden their wine horizons. Then there was someone like myself. I like to think I know a fair amount about wine. I'm not an expert, just and enthusiastic novice, but I know how to taste it, I know different varietals and regional variations. This said, I learned a fair amount at from this event. It was also a great chance to practice my tasting skills and confirm knowledge I'd obtained through reading, in a practical setting.

There's not much more to say now. Majestic Wines is a good shop, in fact, lots of shops. They have a good selection of wines over a wide price range (check out my other posts). The Wine Course is just one of a few they host at many of their branches, details of all of these can be found on their website. Whatever level you're at (or think you're at) if you want to learn more about wine, then I'd really recommend going along to one of these events. For me, a great evening was topped-off by, not only getting our deposits back, but also a £10-off voucher to use on a future purchase! Bonus ;-)

Friday, 23 August 2013

Ryedale vineyard rose fizz

Quick post here. I feel I need to express how much I like Ryedale vineyard....

A few nights ago we had their 'Yorkshire Sunset' rose, it was fruity and tart and went really well with a creamy, salmon pasta dish my wife made. It was good for English wine, and set the standard of expectation for this producer.

This evening was the start of a long, bank holiday weekend, and as such deserved to be kicked-off in good fashion. It's been a tough week at work and a bit of fizz was a grand way to clear the bad mood and make way for a few relaxing days off. Ryedale vineyard's 'A Taste of Paradise', an English sparkling rose wine, was the choice i made. I chose this over a cheap champagne also in the rack, for whatever reason. As it turned out, it was a great choice.



Today has been warm and humid and cycling home from work had left me gasping. The rose fizz was just the ticket. This wine is a little fruity to begin with, but a subdued nose is dominated with good toasty notes. A less-fizzy palate results in a light mousse that is really elegant. The palate has real fruity flavours. Light red fruits including strawberry mingle with a slight yeasty texture. The balance is perfect with just enough acidity to be really refreshing.

This is a really classy sparkling rose. Until i poured it, I hadn't realised it was a rose, but i needn't have been worried. Although missing the more forward toast and yeasty flavours of Champagne, i would argue that this style of wine is equally good, given the right situation. For a warm summers evening, it hit the spot perfectly.

That'll do for now. Apart from to point my readers to a previous post about Ryedale vineyard. I would recommend trying their wines, I shall definitely be purchasing more of the rose fizz!

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Volunteering at Holmfirth Vineyard

I've written about Holmfirth Vineyard before. I like it there. It's an up-and-coming venture with a lot of potential. About 2 months ago, I asked the owners (Ian and Bec) if I could come along and help them out, in order to learn a bit about how a vineyard is run. I get the impression that the work at a vineyard is never done, and so help is always appreciated. This was evidenced by Bec's enthusiasm with my offer to help.

I've done 2 days at the vineyard now, the last 2 Saturdays. They haven't quite been full days as I've had things to do in the afternoons/evenings. This said, I'd estimate I've done about 9 hours in total, I think.

I'll recap, quickly, what I have written previously about the vineyard. It has been set up by a young couple, Ian and Bec, who wanted a change in lifestyle. They quit there high-flying jobs and moved to the country. When pondering what to do with their new land, other than sheep farming, they came up with the idea of growing grapes and making wine. They've been going for about 5 years now and the vines are maturing nicely. They have 7000 vines, spread over 7 acres. These are neatly compartmentalised by lovely, old dry-stone walls. They have 4 grape varieties, 2 reds and 2 whites. From these, they hope to produce an average of 10000 bottle each year, although that is currently optimistic as the vineyard is still young. They have their own winery, in which they make and bottle their wines, and those of other vineyards who may not have such facilities.

When I am there, I am mainly overlooked by Luke. He is the 'cellar master', for want of a better description. He has been at the vineyard for a number of years, potentially from the start, but I haven't specifically asked him that. He, along with Al, his vineyard assistant (as he put it), look after all things vine and wine.

On day one, I was first invited to tag-along with the tour. This is run twice a day and costs £7. A group of paying guests get taken through the vineyard, and the tour guide (this varies as to who is free, Luke took the one I went on) tells them about it's history and what is going on there. Information about vines; including varieties, planting, growing, pruning, harvesting grapes, etc... is all included. There's actually a lot to take in. Then it's back to the winery for a quick introduction in to how the wines are made, going through de-stemming, crushing, fermenting, filtering, aging and bottling. Again, lots of info. Finally there was a chance to taste a few of the wines. Aromas and flavours are discussed first, and then prices!

My first job at the vineyard was removing leaves from the vines. There has been a few weeks of hot, sunny weather recently, this has encouraged the vines to put on extra growth (unwanted in some places). This means that the small clusters of potential grapes get covered by a thick mat of leaves. The idea is to remove leaves from around the young grapes to allow light on to them and to allow better airflow over them. The light is required for grape development and ripening, and the airflow helps to avoid the grapes staying moist, should it rain, which in turn helps to prevent mildew. The grapes are also kept cool should it get that warm, which it rarely does up on the hillside! The trick is to remove enough to satisfy the above criteria, while leaving enough to protect the grapes and allow the vine to photosynthesise sufficiently. Leaving leaves above the grapes, means they are protected from heavier rains and hail (the scourge of vineyards worldwide!).

I made my way through about 6 rows of vines in a couple of hours on the first day. On my second day, I continued this job to start. With my leaf-picking skills now honed, I got through about 12-13 rows of vines in about 3 hours. At this point I ran in to a slight problem. I realised my back was quite sore. I'm fairly tall and the vines are trellised quite low down. This is done due to the high winds they get on the exposed hillside above Holmfirth. As a result of this, I needed a break and therefore sought-out my supervisor and requested a different job.

The next job on the to-do list was to sure-up as many of the wooden trellising posts, as was needed. They become loose and wobbly because of the weight of the vines and, again, the high winds. I was given a large, blue and quite heavy tool to use. I don't know what it's called, but I've seen and used one before, and I'll call it a 'post knocker-in-er'. It's a metal tube with one end closed off by a flat metal plate and it has large handles on either side. The idea is that it slots over a post and guides itself as the user lifts it up and drops it down on top of the post, with force. So I set about this task. Walking up and down the rows, giving the posts a bit of a nudge and seeing if they need a whack on top! The main culprits were the row-end posts. These have a diagonal support post in line with the row, but because they only have trellis on one side they wobble more at 90 degrees to the row, and work themselves loose. The job of suring-up posts is pretty tiring. the knocker-in-er is heavy and the posts are tall. So I was quietly relieved when the black clouds rolled over and it started to rain! I'm not paid to slog away in inclement condition, so it was time for home.

I really enjoyed my time at the vineyard so far. It's a very lovely place and most peaceful. The views down in to the valley, and up the other side, are just spectacular. On a dry, less breezy day, it's great working there. I'm starting to think that I wouldn't mind the bad weather either. One of the things I like about vine/grape-growing, there seems to always be a job that needs doing, no matter what else is going on. Nature strides forward as best it can, and the viticulturist has to try and keep up!

I'll try to continue these little stories about my time at the vineyard. I don't have a permanent agreement to work a certain amount, so as and when they let me go and help, I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Desserts and wine tasting evening

One of my favourite little wine merchants, Reserve Wines in west Didsbury, quite often holds tasting evenings and events. I usually miss out on most of these, as the tickets sell-out in a matter of hours, before I can check the diary and ask permission from the boss! (For the unmarried readers, I mean my wife). I get the newsletter email (newsmail?) from Reserve Wines, which lets me know what's going on. A couple of weeks ago, they sent out information about a wine tasting evening that I knew, straight away, would be worth going to. This was advertised as a dessert and wine matching evening, organised jointly, by Reserve Wines and a small cake shop (for want of a better term, maybe patisserie?) called The Dish Ran Away With The Spoon (also in west Didsury, let us call them 'DRAWS' for ease!?). In a nutshell, I like wine and my wife likes cake. Therefore, this had to be a match made in heaven. I managed to get tickets via DRAWS, having first been told that Reserve had sold their allocation in an hour and I was too late!

The Wednesday evening of the tasting came round quite quickly, and I was excited all through the day. We went for dinner in west Didsbury beforehand, enjoying some light bites at The Violet Hour. Incidentally, their ribs and crab cakes were great, and they had a cocktail called a 'Butcher's Martini' that was amazing! Bacon-infused vodka, mixed with vermouth and maple syrup. I really enjoyed dipping the rasher of crispy bacon, served on the side, too. This is a manly cocktail, if ever there was one, and well worth a punt!

So on to the wine and cake! DRAWS is a small venue for an event, but cosy and quaint all the same. 20-or-so people attended, being accommodated on tables of 4 or 6. This proved to be a lovely atmosphere in which to meet new people and have a good natter about wine and cake!

The set-up was to have 5 cakes, matched to 5 dessert wines. The wines were served by one of the Reserve employees, I have forgotten his name, but he is most recognisable by his shaky pouring hands! The cakes were served by 2 lasses from DRAWS. Everything was well organised and ran smoothly. We were provided with a lot of detail about both the wines and cakes, and a tasting sheet, with which to jot down our scrawly notes. I have to admit here, that I am more about the wines than I am about the cakes, therefore details have been lost with regards to the culinary side of the evening.

Up first was a gingerbread cake with a lemon and cream cheese frosting. This was paired with a mixture of Primo Prosecco and a Rhubarb Liqueur from Edmond Briottet. Both of these drinks were tasty on their own, but together were something different altogether. The mix was about 2:1 prosecco:liqueur. It had a sweet, candied nose akin to pear-drops. The mouth expressed sweeter, citric notes and the feel was not to syrupy, down to the prosecco. The ginger cake went delightfully with the citric, fruity liqueur, although I think the blend of fizz and sweet could be a bit more 50:50.



Second, along came a teeny-tiny strawberry tart, with an orange and mascarpone filling. For me, this was a little bit too small, resulting in an over-proportioned amount of pastry. This was matched with a Moscato D'Asti (2012, from G. D. Vajra). This wine was a bit syrupy, but also had a slight spritz. It had a floral, elderflower nose, and a sweet and spicy palate and a fair amount of volatility. The mascarpone melded well with the sweetness of the wine, and the strawberry complimented it's floral side.

Next was an orange and almond cake, with a cinnamon drizzle (fancy!). Accompanying this delight was a 2010 Moscatel from Senorio de Sarria. This wine was very interesting and a definite divider of opinions. It had a very volatile nose that was quite chemically. I swear it smelt of acetone (nail polish remover). This did have notes of lemon and orange underneath it, but they were hard to find. On the palate, there was more citrus fruits, combinded with sweeter, more textured stone fruit, definitely peaches. It had a lovely long, lingering finish, that I liked, but other did not. The food-wine match here wasn't that obvious, which didn't help


A Pistachio and Rose cake next. Although assured they were real petals, it more appeared to be sprinkled with pink... erm... stuff! To go with it, the Yalumba Museum Reserve Muscat (NV). A good black muscat actually, and not your usual dessert wine. This one was the most different from the others. less about the sugary sweetness, and more about the depth of flavour. This had lovely rich aromas and flavours, containing dates, prunes and figs. It was quite volatile, and seemed a bit tawny and more fortified. There was slight spice to it that lingered a long time in the finish. This wine was one of the more popular. The levels of cake (lets face it, sugar) was building by this point, and half of this cake got left. In isolation, I think this cake would be delicious, maybe with a cuppa too!


Last up, a peach and almond tart. After a few 'proper' cakes, it was nice to finish on something slightly different. Especially as many people were now a bit caked-out! This was served with the, apparently, most special wine of the evening (and most expensive). The 2010 Donnafugata Ben Rye was delicious. An orange and lime nose, which was also slightly nutty, was followed by a beautifully balanced palate that showed spiced stone fruit and deep toasted caramel flavours. The tart was good, although pastry-heavy again. I personally think this desert wine would have gone with just about anything. It was quite drinkable.


This was a really fun evening and the hosts ran it very smoothly. The selection of cakes and wines was well thought out, and provided a good, representative cross-section of the dessert wine styles. The only issue expressed by a few punters, was that the whole thing was a bit sweet and sickly. I know it was an evening of cake and dessert wine, but there is only so much one can take. I am a fan of sugar, and battled my way through. Others could only manage half their slices of cake and a couple of sips of each wine. I think this sort of event is best suited to certified pudding monsters!

I'd fully recommend attending any event run by either of these two parties, I'm sure many at the event would agree. I believe DRAWS are planning a cocktails and cake event planned for the near future. Both establishments are on the high street in west Didsbury (Burton Road), so do pop in and say hello, they're very nice folk. Both also have websites which can be googled, along with Facebook and Twitter  pages.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Ryedale Vineyard - Yorkshire day tour

Yes! - Sunday morning - Very excited - Things to do first...

I woke up early on Sunday, and those thoughts went through my mind. I was really looking forward to the arranged visit to the Yorkshire vineyard, but before that, the dogs had to be walked. Having sorted the pooches, we were on the road for 11.30, Google had suggested it would take one hour and fifty minutes to get to Ryedale Vineyard, just a short way north-east of York, towards Scarborough.

I've been looking into English vineyards for a while now, and having been to a few, including the very approachable Sharpham's vineyard in Devon, thought I should investigate a little closer to home. I've already reported my visit to Holmfirth vineyard in the Pennines. I found several vineyards in the north of England simply by searching Google. I think I chose the one that was either, at the top of the page, or the one who's website looked the more impressive. I'm not sure, maybe it was Stuart Smith's smile on the homepage, but I decided that Ryedale vineyards would be a suitable place to visit. It is also in my home county of Yorkshire.

Ryedale Vineyard is owned and run by Stuart and Elizabeth Smith (I heard someone call her Liz, so I'll stick with that to save characters!). They have settle in Yorkshire after over 30 years in the business of vine importing. Stuart is and expert in viticulture and all things vine-related. They used to (and I think still do) provide climate-suitable vines to start-up vineyards, while also acting as consultants for such endeavours. The couple are friendly and charming, proven when we (the wife and I) arrived 45 minutes early for the tour. Stuart was kind enough to direct us to a local pub where could get a hearty lunch, in the form of a generous roast beef sandwich with roast potatoes on the side! (I refrained from an accompanying pint of Timothy Taylor's Landlord).

When we returned, the tour party was almost fully assembled. We set off around the vineyard, lead by Liz, expecting the late-comers to trot along shortly after. This is when the information stream began. As an individual trying to consume as much wine-related knowledge as possible, this was great. Liz first took us through the root-stock and grafting of the various vine varieties (varietals). The grafting process is employed to avoid a repercussion of the Phylloxera infestation (an aphid-like insect) that decimated European vineyards in the 18th and 19th century. The hardy root-stock now used, originates from a native-american vine species which is resistant to Phylloxera. Many English vineyards also use root-stocks developed to be frost resistant too. The different varieties are grafted onto the root-stock as a young vine, and can be just about anything it seems.

Moving through the south-facing (and, she admitted, slightly east-facing) slopes, Liz spent about an hour walking around the vineyard, taking us through the many varieties they grow and explaining why. For example, they grow a few varieties that are better suited to the English climate, such as Ortega and Madeleine Engevine, for white wine, and Rondo, for red wine. The Rondo is apparently great, because, although it is a bit unruly and requires attention, the grapes have a short season and ripen early. This is perfect for shorter English summers. In addition to these, they grow the 3 varieties required for sparkling wines, according to Champagne. These are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Ryedale make sparkling wines using the traditional method, employing a secondary, in-bottle, fermentation. There are other varieties grown there that contribute to other blended wines also. I get the felling that Stuart likes experimenting with the vines, to see which grow best under certain circumstances. He's still learning, or is it playing!? Overall they have over 5000 vines spread over 10 acres.

I took a few snaps of the vineyard. It was explained by the Smiths that the work on the vineyard is never done. they assured us that there is always something to do. Despite this, the aisles of vines all looked immaculate to me. The two pictures below are very representative of the whole vineyard, and the high standards kept there.

I took a few snaps, closer to the action, so to speak. Below, from left to right; a Rondo cluster, already doing well. A Madeleine cluster, on it's way. Apparently the flower 'caps' sometimes get stuck, if it rains at the wrong time, and prevent the berries developing. In which case, these need removing by hand! On the right, a Pinot Meunier leaf, notable by it's 'downy' hairs along the veins (I hope they can be made out. In french, Meunier means Miller, i.e. dusted with flour).



After the tour of the vines, Stuart took over and showed the group around the winery. This was a very quaint, converted, old cow barn, adjacent to their house. Just two large(-ish) rooms house the cold store and the rest of the equipment. The larger equipment includes; many-hundred-litre steel tanks, 'food-grade' plastic barrels, a de-stemmer, a bladder press, and a single french barrique. These are accompanied by many hoses, filters, metal racks, and cellared bottles of last years vintage, maturing nicely. Stuart took us through the processes, from harvested grapes, through to finished wines. This was followed by a little bit about the selection and blending processes. Interestingly, they also make cider at the vineyard, from apple trees that surround the vines. These provide vital shelter for the vines, from high winds, and also an extra, maybe more reliable, additional income. I'm always surprised by how simple the basic process of winemaking is. It seems to be the subtle differences, such as care, attention to detail and timings, that make great wines!

Next, around the back of the main house, a tasting was conducted. On a lovely lawn stood traditional wooden  tables and benches, pub-style. Here we were served a selection of cheeses to go with the wines. As this was the weekend following Yorkshire day, the theme was Yorkshire. The cheeses included Wensleydale, Yorkshire blue and a local brie. The wines we tasted were also a selection of Yorkshire wines, not just from Ryedale vineyard. I thought this was a great idea. Not only because I got to try a few different wines, but also because it gave a representation of what the region can produce.

There were 5 wines in all. A pink fizz, two whites, a rose and a red. I'm sorry to say that I cannot remember where they all came form. However, I'll do my best here. I think the fizz was from Leventhorpe vineyard near Leeds, and was great. I recall a good dry palate with rich fruit aromas. One of the whites was from Ryedale, their 'Yorkshire Lass'. This was mellow, but aromatic. It had a mineral palate with soft fruits, slight acidity and a good finish. The rose was Ryedale's Yorkshire Sunset. This was one of the best, i thought. Lots of light red fruit (strawberry) and refreshing acidity. The red wine was a Rondo from a small place near Doncaster, called Summerhouse Vineyard. This is a property that the Smith's have adopted the management of, having been asked to do so by the owners. The owners apparently feel they have, let's say, aged beyond a level they feel is able to run a vineyard! The Rondo had a surprising body to it. The aromas were fruity with a hint of spice, but the palate stood out, with lots of character. I pressed Stuart to compare it to continental varieties, which he politely declined, preferring to describe it, simply, as English. I'd say it was a nice mix between Syrah and Pinot Noir. Like something from the southern Rhone maybe.


home03

Before we left, we were given the opportunity to buy some wines. Of course, we did. We bought a bottle each of the Rondo, the Yorkshire Sunset, Ryedale's 'Taste of Paradise' sparkling rose (which we didn't get to try for some reason), and a bottle of their cider, 'Tyson's Tipple'. I'm looking forward to trying these in due course. The sales process was conducted in the Smith's entrance hall. Their cute collie dog was complaining about being banished to the stairs, with high-pitched whimpers. At this point I noticed all the certificates and awards adorning the walls. A couple of which were from the notable Plumpton College in Sussex. These compound just how passionately serious the Smiths are about their vinous venture. As we were leaving, Stuart also invited us back to help with this years harvest later in the summer. I think I may take him up on that! As we drove home, my wife and I chatted freely, going back over what we'd learnt in the short 2 hours at the vineyard. It was a little like when you come out from the cinema and recreate the best parts of a movie you really enjoyed! This goes to show just how enjoyable the experience was, for both of us, and it is one I hope to repeat in the future.

More information can be found on the vineyard's website, www.ryedalevineyards.co.uk, and can also be found on Google. I can thoroughly recommend visiting the vineyard. The Stuart and Liz also run a B&B, which looks very inviting.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Majestic's cheap and very cheerful.

This weekend has involved a lot of wine-related activities. It started on friday evening, when my wife and I realised the 'everyday' wine rack was running low. Very dangerous indeed!

So we hot-footed it down to Majestic wines, as we'd not bought from them in a while. I'd heard on the grape vine (sorry) that they had The Ned back in stock. I'd never tried it before, but everything I've read has been very positive. With an open mind I thought I should "get me some o' that", as they say.

We spent a good 45 minutes to an hour in the shop, perusing the shelves and actually tasting a small selection available for sampling. I say we, what I mean is, I studied bottles for ages and my wife waited patiently, having chosen some wines she wanted to try in about 5 minutes. She's very patient with me.

For everyday wines, I like getting a selection from various countries, regions and grape varieties. When doing this, I try to by at an average of less than £10 per bottle, which this time, we managed comfortably, yay bank balance! This means that if I fancy a couple of £6 bottles (quality much harder to find these days, at this price level), then I can also pick up a couple of £14 bottle to balance the scales. (I'm good at maths! Apparently, there are three types of people in this world. There are those who can count, and those who can't! sorry again).

We bought a bunch of stuff, including a couple I can't wait to try, and a couple we have tried this weekend and wish to tell the reader(s?) about now. The two in particular that won't be in the rack much more than this next week are;

The Chateau l'Abbaye de Sainte-Ferme, 2005 Bordeaux Superieur. This was praised by the staff for being great value (£8). It promises to be a well made, mature Bordeaux from a great vintage. I'm looking forward to it.

A 2000 C. H. Berres late harvested Mosel Riesling. I've been wanting to have a go at a mature Mosel Riesling for a bit, and although not expensive at £10, this was worth a punt. I hope it's as complex as the German on the label!

And so, we move on to the main events. I'd like to bestow the virtues of another two great value wines from Majestics. The first is The 2013 Ned Waihopai River, Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. The hype seems to be right, for a change, and this Ned is great. A white wine that is most refreshing, and went beautifully with a creamy pasta dish I made tonight. It is reasonably pale in the glass, only a hint of greenish yellow. Not surprisingly, a young, fresh wine like this is virtually straight off the vines. It has a lovely, vibrant citric nose, with elements of gooseberries, and green-grass aromas. The palate is smooth, and again citric flavours fill the mouth. There is a lovely, slightly tart edge to those, again, the gooseberries. The finish is pretty long and textured. The acidity of the wine is just about right, and not overpowering. It cut through the rich creamy sauce of our dinner perfectly. At £8 per bottle, this is another good find. A lovely wine for matching with richer foods. It may be too much for more delicate fishes, but I wouldn't be against trying it.

Next, we move back in time to yesterday evening. I was cooked a tomato and basil mince-beef 'thing' that my wife made up. It was really delicious, even if it doesn't have a name. To go with it, I tried the Rioja Crianza, 2009, Gran Vendema. I have had this before, and remember it being very quaff-able. This time around, with food, it was simple stunning. It doesn't have massive fruit concentration or complexity, it's not a big wine with a point to prove. It is though, a well made example of a Rioja. It is lovely and smooth and really easy-drinking. It went especially well with dinner also. On the nose, it was fairly 'classic Rioja'. It had notes of  lighter red fruit, strawberries and maybe a little raspberry. It also had a fairly good lump of oaky vanilla (I'd wager American, but only a quid), combined with a bit of spice. On the palate, it had a good level of fruit sweetness, again ripe red fruits, with a little cherry. It was medium bodied with very clean, easy-going tannins, resulting in a lightly chewy mouthfeel, and good acidity. The finish was great, with good length and the renowned pepperiness one expects from a Rioja. The Gran Vendema is simply amazing value at £6.50. It isn't anything posh, but I don't think it's trying to be. The oak and bottle aging required for the crianza label, imparts enough complexity to create an interesting wine. Although not pushing the envelope in any department, it is well balanced and well structured. I'm glad I bought two!

Having reported the cheaper selection of wines bought in this case, extolling their virtues, or potential virtues, I really cannot wait to try the more expensive bottles i also purchased. If you, as the reader, visit Majestic Wines in the near future, I hope I've provided some sort of a starting point for you, and maybe one or two wines to try.

Writing this post has put a thought in my head. It poses a question; Why did I buy more expensive wines, when I'm very pleased with the cheaper ones!? Well, at the time, I didn't know how good the wines would be. We'll have to wait and see what the more expensive additions have to say for themselves in response...

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

2010 'The Black Pig' Shiraz

A quick review of this pleasing new world wine. I like this, it combines Australian 'big red' fruit with spicy/peppery Rhone character. A Clare Valley red from Virgin Wines, it isn't expensive, and certainly isn't showy. The name could be mildly off-putting, but as described on the rear label, comes from the winemaker's love of their piggies, which "...roam freely amongst the scrub at the back of the winery".

The colour is deep-ish purple with a slight red tinge, especially towards the edge. It appears medium bodied with slow-forming tears. The nose is pretty good. It's full of spice with a slight smokey edge. Although secondary, there are sweet red fruits, including cherry and currents, and a touch of cassis. There's a chemical something there too, not dissimilar to that of a volatile marker pen, which isn't unpleasent.

The palate is surprisingly sweet, but good, although this covers a lot of the fruit flavours. The major flavours are spice and red pepper. It has a good balance of alcohol and acidity, and tannins provide a rounded, mildly chewy, mouthfeel. The finish is again peppery, and just long enough that bitterness from the tannins remains smooth.

I reckon this is an everyday wine, probably best paired with winter-warmer-type dishes. I drank it over two evenings, and the second was better. It developed a bit more acidity that i quite liked. As far as big Aussie reds go, made from shiraz, i think this wine lacks the ripe fruit concentration i've seen in those from the Barossa Valley. I had a 2005 Glaetzer Bishop shiraz not that long ago, and that blew my mind. This Black Pig, Clare Valley shiraz is a great attempt, but not in the same league. Having said that, for the price, i've had it before and will probably have it again!

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Cuvee Porte des Cardinaux 2012 Cotes-du-Rhone

What to drink mid-week, with a tomato bolognese pasta dish? I was wondering this as I stared at the wine rack. My wife and I 'share' an everyday wine rack, which contains whites and reds we can dip into at any time. This is separate to my cabinet, containing the more special bottles. I like this wine rack because we try to stock it with a range of wines, often varieties we haven't tried before or don't drink very often.

Tonight I found a Cotes-du-Rhone. I sometimes shy away from wines from southern france because they can be a bit too peppery and chewy for me, and i find i have to be in the mood. Tonight, it seems, I was in the mood.

This wine was from VirginWines.com and probably not expensive. Their website tells me that it is made by a Monsieur Laurent Boullard at the Roques sur Ceze winery in Saint Laurent de Carnols. The grapes are bought from various vineyards in the area and the wine is bottled on site. The blend is a traditional Rhone mix of (mainly) Grenache, with Syrah and Carignon.

So, in the glass, the wine looks like it comes from the rhone. What i mean by that is, it is very light, a slightly dark maroon colour  with a touch of purple, and a medium body that lets plenty of light through it. The legs are medium to heavy, but the wine flows around the glass beautifully. After a swirl, I have to be careful testing the nose, as there is such a wonderful volitility to the wine. The nose contains a bit of fruit, with redcurrents and light cherry present. To the fore though, is a gorgeous sweet, spiciness. It's full of cinnamon, paprika, cloves and even liquorice. On the palate, the wine is really smooth and soft. It floats over the tongue. The mid-palate is not complex, but pretty fruit-forward, similar to the sweet notes of the nose, but with a little added cassis and something almost tropical. The tannins are not harsh at all, almost not there, and they are balanced so well with the alcohol and acidity. The finish has a great, but not harsh or overpowering, pepperiness, that is typical of southern Rhone wines. There is next-to-no chewy aspect to it, and the finish lasts for many seconds, maybe 30 or 40!

I'm really pleased with this wine, and for a cheap-and-cheerfull midweek plonk, it's fairly awesome! I think much of this is down to the great grapes grown in the "barn-storming" 2010 vintage. I'm looking forward to the rest of it tomorrow!

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Holmfirth Vineyard and their 2012 release.

I've been meaning to go and visit this vineyard for some time now. It's only 40 minutes away from home and so I really should have been sooner. That said, I have now been there and seen what they're building, other than a good reputation. I was also able to purchase 'first release' versions of their 2012(v1) white and rose wines.

A little intro. This vineyard has been going since 2009, when fresh vines were planted after the owners renovated an old property next to a small (7 acres) plot, previously used for sheep. It is located just outside Holmfirth, actually closer to Holmbridge, halfway up a pretty steep hill. The setting is wonderful, and in the sunshine yesterday, the view was magnificent. The owners are a young couple from non-wine-making backgrounds. Bec is an ex-Formula 1 engineer (potentially the only female engineer at the time, or maybe the first, I'm not sure) and Ian used to run successful businesses, I think via the internet mainly. They clearly did well for themselves and worked hard for what they earned. This turned out to be enough to buy their property and land just north of the peak district national park.

The vines are now pretty well established and providing grapes for the Holmfirth cuvees. To begin with, maybe for the first couple of years, they made wine using purchased grapes. Now though, things are in full swing. They have a range of varieties including many that are adapted to colder climates, pest-resistant and utilise hardy root-stock (grafted I presume). They mainly use Seyval blanc and Solaris white varieties and Regent and Rondo red varieties.

When I got to the vineyard yesterday, I have to say I was initially a bit disappointed. I don't want to knock the vineyard at all, because I think they're doing a great job, especially considering their geographical position. Incidentally, there are more northerly vineyards near Leeds and York, however, I believe Holmfirth may be the highest in altitude. I'll describe things as they happened, and we can go from there. Hopefully I'll convey why I initially felt as I did.

The car park is at the top and looks down over the slopes. It is perhaps a touch small, like the rest of the vineyard, but I prefer it that way, rather than being overbearing on the landscape. Just below is the visitors center attached to the winery behind. It appears very well built and adapted to it's position. It has a stone facade which fits the environment nicely. Inside, it is again small, but cute. Its appearance is chic and clean, containing lots of untreated wood and glass, with clean stone floors and white-washed walls. Around the outside of the semi-circular visitors center runs a terrace and guardrail. from here you can gaze over the vines, running away from you down the slope. This the point at which I became down-heartened. I think it stems from reading a lot about vineyards, seeing many internet snaps of rows of vines, and visiting other vineyards in France. All of the above appear immaculately well groomed and carefully tended. Currently, Holmfirth vineyard looks a little shabby. The vines are coming on nicely, with flowers now starting to turn to mini grape clusters. The problem was that the grass surround the vines was too long and needed mowing. Among the vines were tall weeds and the trellis system looked like it had been battered by a storm, flopping loose. I think the pictures in my mind were probably a little staged for publicity and advertising, and therefore a bit too perfect. However, I couldn't get away from the feeling that I just wanted to get out there and give those vines at Holmfirth a bit of love. As my wife and I walked round the vines, the story continued, and in some cases was a bit worse! We also got shouted at by the neighboring farmer's wife/daughter for saying hello to a couple of lovely sheep in the next-door field. There were patches of the vineyard that seemed to have been tended-to, but they were patchy and sporadic. Well, after what was actually a most pleasant walk through countryside, we got back to the winery/visitors center and had a nice lunch. Which was, by the way, pretty reasonably sandwiches, cake and tea.

I have been wanting to work at Holmfirth for bit. I have asked if I may volunteer there and help out, in order to better understand the processes involved in grape-growing and wine-making. As I was walking round, I kept getting the feeling that I could do so much to help them, if they let me. I'm not saying I know-it-all, and I'm sure they know what they're doing, and it's far more than I do, but I wanted to get out there with a mower, do some weeding, tighten up those trellises, clip the vines and generally sort it out a bit. If only the small parcel closest to the 'punters'. I do very-much hope I get the chance.

Moving on now, I shall stop whinging. I wanted to convey my feelings because I'm passionate about wine and I so wanted Holmfirth to be something spectacular. Maybe I'd built it up too much before I went. After lunch I got a chance to speak to a lovely bloke in the winery called Luke. He'd just finished doing some 'pumping', as he put it, and afterwards was less busy, and so able to chat (I don't know what he was pumping, maybe just routine racking!?). I asked him a few questions about the vineyard and the wines, and he was most informative. He explained a little about the vines and their varieties, he also explained that they'd just finished blending and bottling the first of the 2012 vintage. I knew last year had been terrible for English grapes, due to the weather, and a lot of vineyards had struggled with, or even abandoned the crop. Luke confirmed this to me and said the Rondo had not ripened enough to make red wine. Mainly, it did not have the acidity, so they decided to try and make rose with it instead.  Maybe that's a little risky, who knows? The biggest thing I gleamed from him though, was the reason the vineyard looked as it did. He explained that the start of the year was full of snow and, more recently, rain. This meant that they were about 2 months behind in the vineyard maintenance, which is a lot of work to be catching up with! In addition to that, it's now time to bottle the winery's current 2012 lot. So even though fine weather has now arrived, this had to be done instead of looking after the outdoors area. They are now, apparently, taking on extra staff, both inside and out, in order to cope with the workload. I have to say this made me feel a great deal of sympathy for the vineyard and made me feel less disappointed about the whole thing.

On the way out we bought a bottle each of the 2012 white and rose, and has since tried the rose. It is dark for a rose, a lovely (oxygenated) blood red/scarlet. I think the must must have been on the skins for a long time. It has a lovely fruity nose that reminds me of summer puddings. It has all those lovely tart berries and currents in it. It's almost a little like jelly or sweets! unfortunately, the taste, although refreshing and pleasant to begin with, smacks of unripe fruit. There is a lack of freshening acidity and it is a bit flat. There are some fruit flavours, but they are a touch too green. There is also a large dollop of VA in the finish that leaves the palate with a slight sickly feeling. It's not a bad effort, considering, but I've had better. I'm looking forward to trying the white though, in anticipation that may be a bit better.

I'm still excited about Holmfirth vineyard. They are new, and clearly still learning their trade at that location. They are investing in new holiday homes at the bottom of the hill. This makes the vineyard seem a touch unfinished right now, but you can smell the potential in the air. They are making good wines, sometimes under considerable cosh. and I hope the vineyard establishes itself with time. I would still, very much, like to help them out with their dream, and hope I get an opportunity to do so. One thing I wish for most is that the efforts remain concentrated on the vineyard, and not on just making money from tourists. This may very well happen, through no fault of their own, because maintaining a productive vineyard, in such a location, may just turn out to be too costly. I don't know, I shall perform a sun dance and hope for more fine weather for them. Ian and Bec, the very best of luck to you, and remember, I'll help. "gis-a-job"!

Thursday, 18 July 2013

2012 Hauck Riesling 'Spatlese Trocken'

I have an unusual one here. I don't know much about German wines and I know less about whites than reds. I do however, recognise the grapes at least. I'm not going to do a full tasting review as for other wines. I think it's probably better for me to just give you my overall opinion today.

A friend of mine from work told me recently that she is part of a winemaking family. I had no idea previously, but she is the niece of Mr Hauck of Weingut Hauck in Germany. I don't know where they are geographically, and a short google search of the address hasn't helped. They have a website though, so check it out for further info. In passing she said she was going home to Germany for a visit, and that she would bring a bottle back for me to try as, she knows i'm somewhat in to my wines.

Well she kept her word and brought me a Hauck reisling. I looked up the German on the label and apparently it is a dry white made from late-harvested grapes from old vines. This sounded right up my street. I've had old vine Chablis before and there was a definate added complexity to it that stood out above the regular. I thought the old vines lifted the regular Chablis at least half way towards the 5 year old premier cru i tried at the same time!

So, without messing about further, i really like this wine! Served a touch cold to start with, it opened up after a few minutes in the glass. The nose is very citric, with definate lemons and limes. The taste is clean and crisp to start and gets more complex as it moves over the tongue. It has good refreshing acitity that cuts through a slighlty syrupy undercurrent. I think this could come from the extra sugar in the late harvested grapes. Overall this is a good clean white wine this nice flavours. Fruitiness comes through the middle nicely, but i can't place it easily. There is also a lovely texture to it that feels like a sparkling wine. I've experienced it before but i'm not sure where it comes from. The finish is pleasantly tart and fairly long.

There you go, short and sweet. I'd like to see if I can get some more of this because i think it has the potential to age a little. We'll have to see if the local merchants can get it in for me! Final point, the wife cooked a lovely pasta carbonara tonight, which went superbly well with the wine. The richness of the creamy sauce was cut through well, and balanced by the wine. A great pairing!

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

2005 Ch Caronne-Ste-Gemme, Haut-Medoc

I've had a couple of these in the cellar for a few months, having picked them up at auction for £15 each. I thought that was a good price for a 2005 Bordeaux from a "go-ahead estate". This is especially true since I've tried the 2002 and 2007, with less bottle age at the time of drinking, and i paid about the same for those. They both struck me as okay, but nothing too special, if my memory serves me correctly!

I sampled this at the weekend after a BBQ with friends. I decanted it before we left, which gave it about 4-5 hours of air by the time i got home to drink it. I was quite keen to get in to this wine because other 2005's I've had I've rather enjoyed. The 2005 Ch Artigues-Arnaud (2nd wine of Ch Grand-Puy-Ducasse) was a particularly lovely and elegant example.

I took notes at the weekend, here's hoping i do the wine justice a few days later! In the glass the CsG was dark, thick and a concentrated purple. A slight red edge suggested a bit of bottle age. This wine was rich and powerful on the nose, potentially because it was very warm, due to the current weather. I think it may have been well over 20 degrees, but still lovely! On the nose there was definate dark fruit, cherries, cassis and plums, although slightly jammy and stewed. It hinted at vanilla, liquorice, mint and tobacco also.

The palate was immediately full of concentrated fruit, probably the product of a strong vintage. It was suprisingly jammy and chewy, and had more of the same as the nose. Dark fruits, black cherries and currents, and was quite powerful rather than elegant. The finish had a nice amount of pepper to it, but was quite short to medium.

Overall this seems to be well made, well structured and well balanced. It has a Good mix of fruit, acidity and tannins. The alcohol wasn't too bad considering the tempature. At the moment the tannins seemed hard, which suggests at a bit more aging, which should hopefully soften it and add to the complexity. I have another one, so we'll see how it fairs with time. I don't think this was as good as the 2005 Artigues-Arnaud, but certainly a reasonable quality:price ratio. I'd say it was similar to the 2008 potensac i had recently, but a bit fuller and more punchy.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Wine qualifications

When getting started in industries, business sectors or trades, there is a requirement for either qualifications or experience. In recent times, pieces of paper with 'diploma' or 'degree' on them seem to be in fashion. I suppose that doing some sort of education course is one of the best ways to gain experience and learn knowledge. I should know i have 3 degrees! So apart from either, growing up on a vineyard or having a load of spare cash invest in a merchant business venture, what qualifications are out there to allow individuals to enter the wine trade? I've been looking in to this recently, and i thought I'd share some of my preliminary findings.

There seems to be a few ways to get into the business/trade of wine. It starts with an interest, maybe a hobby. Initially, one needs to obtain knowledge. How would you know you like it, without knowing something about it!? The internet is a great place to start. There are free and subscription websites focusing on wine. I've mentioned a few before, but the 'biggies' I've found are: Decanter, Purple Pages, Wine Advocate, Wine Enthusiast, Wine anorak and the Wine Doctor. Great places to start on all things wine. Another source of information are merchant/store websites, they often have info pieces associated with the wines they're selling. Of course maybe the best, but very specific, sources of info are producer websites. Here, one can often find detailed information about how the individual wines are made and aged, and vintage reports for that vineyard.

The next font of knowledge involves getting out there and talking to people. Visiting merchants, wine shops, tastings and vineyards is brilliant. I'm always amazed at the detailed knowledge people know about wines they either make, sell or just really like! Don't be scared to talk to people and ask questions. I love asking vintners how they make their wines. One often discovers surprises, such as how long wine is aged in oak, or if it's a long maceration to extract tannins designed for aging, if it's aged on the yeast lees, or if it racked under nitrogen etc....

I've got a few books that i peruse from time to time. Some i read like novels, from front to back, and others i use for specific reference. There's no point in me going in to great detail here, there are thousands, maybe millions of books out there, so I'll just list a few i like. I started with Hugh Johnson's pocket wine book, from 2008. A fantastic reference text, it organises thousands of wines/producers by country and then alphabetically. It provides good info on each, including vintage reports, and also a star rating system so you can compare wines. I now have the updated 2013 version and will probably continue with future years, being an annual publication. The Oxford Companion to wine is a huge tome of information, listing everything wine-associated alphabetically. There is nothing missed out of this book. Next, the World Atlas of Wine, now in a concise version, is another brilliant book. This book concentrates on wine regions by their geography. It covers most of the main wine producing areas throughout the globe. Listed by country, it has detailed information side-by-side with detailed maps. A recent purchase of mine is Oz Clarke's guide to Bordeaux. A more specific book, this one covers everything one needs to know about the historic and world-renowned wine region. It has the usual information about big names and geographic relationship with terroir. What i like about it, is that you feel he's actually been there, that he's retracing his own steps in writing this book. There is really nice info about lesser known Chateaux also. As a science nerd, a book i would love to own, but unfortunately its price means it eludes me thus far, is Jancis Robinson's collaboration with Julia Harding and Jose Vouillamoz. 'Wine Grapes' is another tome. A massive text containing everything one would EVER need to know about wine grapes. This includes not only listing ever variety and their characteristics, but also genetic analysis of grape family trees. In this book, the authors link varieties and demonstrate their evolutionary history. These are just a few books from well known writers, there are many more out there that i don't know of, pick any of them and read them!

Now, to get a little further, more recognised qualifications are most definitely needed, depending on the level required. I haven't found that much out about this yet, but there does seem to be a a couple of things that crop up a lot. Short term, the first choice seems to be to go through the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) training scheme. There are several levels to go through, and these can be done by anyone, in or out of the wine trade. These well-recognised qualifications are designed for individuals wanting to get in to the wine trade, most often in the service industry. They teach you how to recognise wine, the main varieties of wine based on regions and grapes, how to taste wine and how to pair wine with food. They also focus on wine service and sales. These are not cheap courses, but they are cheerful. They don't require much time commitment, at least to begin with, and are great place to get started. There are many small organisations who run the WSET courses. They should all be associated with, and accredited by WSET, and follow their curriculum and examinations. Examples of these include the various 'wine schools'. These are normally associated with a location, for example, there is a Manchester Wine School. The WSET qualifications are also often run by businesses and colleges as evening or weekend courses.

For the next level up, higher education courses are possible. Although not very popular in the UK at the moment, there are many Universities and Colleges around the world that run degree-level, or even higher-degree-level, courses. These are mainly found at institutions close to or associated with well known wine regions. For example, New Zealand, California in the US or Bordeaux University in France, among many others. As one might imagine, there are a plethera of different courses out there, studying every aspect of the wine trade. This might be a BSc degree in viticulture (growing grapes), or Oenology (study of wine and wine making), or combined viticulture and Oenology! There are probably also MBA business degrees specific for the wine trade (i don't really know, but there must be somewhere!).

Now, having said that higher education wine courses aren't common in the UK, I should come back and explain. There is one college in Sussex, associated with the University of Brighton, that is growing in reputation. Plumpton College describes itself as a college running "land-based" courses. One may have traditionally called it an agricultural college, now however, it is much more than that. Its newest faculty/division is that for the study of wine. It has a range of courses at different levels, spanning part time evening courses, up to Masters degrees. Again, like others, the courses cover the vast majority of the wine industry. It is pitched as running "the only higher education degrees in Europe being taught in English!" If I'm honest, I'd quite like to go there myself. But I've done enough exams, and now prefer to learn from books in my own time!

That'll do for now, apart from to say that if you're reading this and think you'd like to give the wine industry a go, a really good way to start to buildup experience, is to be a volunteer grape picker during the harvest! I don't think you'll get turned down, as long as you can see, use your hands and don't mind a bit of graft.