Sunday, 30 June 2013

Bargains at the co-op!

A quick post for those having a read right now. Just popped in to my local Co-op, just a small one in West Didsbury. I'm really glad supermarkets don't know what a vintage means to a wine. I just picked up a half case of 2006 Chateau Le Boscq, ste-estephe and the last 3 bottles of 2009 Domaine Jean Monnier & Fils Puligny-Montrachet Les Petit Nosroyes, Cote de Beaune. All at £7 each. A fair amount to fork-out at once, but also a saving of maybe £150! I may go back and try to pick up more of the white, if the wife and i like it. The only reason i can see for this crazy 60-70% off potential retail prices, can be that they found a load of old stock in the back, and wanted to get rid of it! They have both the 2007 red and 2010 white on the shelves, NOT included in the sale. I'll be popping in more often from now on, as they also stock a few other £20-£30 wines, that could be on similar bargain sales as new vintages reach the shelves. Happy hunting!

Friday, 28 June 2013

Naked Wines annual tasting

This has to be one of my favourite nights of the year. I buy the tickets as soon as they're released and would cancel just about anything I already had in the diary! I've attended the last 3 Naked Wines tasting sessions in Manchester (I'll call them NW from now on, for ease!). I think they may have only done 3 tasting tours, so I've done them all, so far. The NW tasting tour occurs annually, about the same time each year. They travel around the UK, visiting about 10 cities, some of them twice. I think the first tour only did 5 or 6 stops along the way, but this one has about 15. It's basically the big cities or towns; Manchester, London, Glasgow, Brighton, Bristol, Leeds, etc. The idea is to showcase a load of their wines. I don't think all the wines NW stock are there, but last night had 100 wines to sample, so plenty to be getting on with. For the majority, it's a chance to show off the new vintages or brand new wines that will be on offer in the coming season. Having said that, there are plenty of old favourites there that one can try, and try again! One of the best elements of the NW tastings is that the actual winemakers are there in person. They come from all over the world to chat to the tasters and demonstrate how good they think their wines are. It's wonderful to see so many really enthusiastic, lovely vintners. You can ask them anything, it doesn't even have to be about the wines if you don't want. I kept my lines of questioning to the wines, mostly, as I'm interested in production and how it relates to the wines 'performance': from grape growing and harvesting, right through to barrel and bottle aging, before it's sent to us, for the drinking.

This episode of the tasting was held in a downstairs hall at the Palace Hotel. A bit too giddy when we got there, I almost missed the signs leading the way from the lobby to the hall. Down many steps and round several corners, the function hall was surprisingly large, considering it's underground location. Dated decor and an aged carpet, with an horrific pattern, was mostly covered by the swathes of tables. These table, simply adorned with white covers, displayed the wines. They were arranged around the room by country, signified by the national flag of each. The producers different varieties were allocated a number (1 to 100) to make referencing back to the associated information booklet a touch easier. The booklet was handed out on arrival, along with a pen and angel badges (angels are those members of NW who commit to a monthly 'wine savings' credit system, see yesterday's post!).

So, without any further setting of the scene, on to the tasting. I think I tried about 30-35 of the wines during the evening. I had 2 and a half hours, so with quite a lot of chatting, I don't think that's too bad. I made notes on, maybe, 26-28 of those. My hand writing got progressively worse as the evening went on. I had good intensions of using the spittoons a little more than I evently did! Never mind. I'm going to stick to the few favourites of the night, because if I don't I may run out of time and space, and you'd probably get bored before finishing

As I think one should, we (the wife and I) started on whites. We headed straight for our favourite NW white wine producer, Small and Small. Husband and wife team Claudia and Bill make some lovely Marlborough sauvingnon blancs. They have a regular and a 'Sylvia Reserve' (named after one of the Small's children), and both are great. They are similar, however, the reserve gets a little more attention and access to wood (rather than the steel used for the regular, to maintain freshness). They both have lovely aromas of citrus fruits, as the majority part of a slightly sweet and floral nose, while conveying a great acidic freshness. On the palate, the regular cuvee is mainly fresh acidity, but retaining fruitiness and a slight minerality. The reserve is softer, with greater complexity, and flavours of grapefruit and honey. It's much more 'tropical' than the other. Both have a good finish and leave the mouth completely without any tiredness. I've been buying these two wines for the last 3 vintages, and it's good to see that after a weaker vintage in 2011, the 2012's i tried last night are back on track! Now, we sampled more whites before coming back to this next red, but I'm going to stick with S&S for now and tell you about their pinot noir. This vino is almost a heavy rose, as it's very light. In the glass it's a great purple colour, but lots of light passes through it, turning the edges a slighty more scarlet red. The nose is immensly full of fruit, mainly red fruit such as strawberries and redcurrents.The taste is surprisingly full and mouthfilling. The red fruit persist through the fore and mid palate, and then a long spiced finish contains lovely peppery and maybe leathery notes. The tannins are not strong with this wine and it's not one for the cellar, but this does make it lovely and smooth. It's not at all astringent or bitter and has great balance of alcohol and acidity. In summary, I think I may be able to survive on only the wines of S&S if I was pushed. Not that I really want to give up the juicy, fuller-bodied bordeauxs in my cabinet.

A quick mention goes to  the 2012 Villebois wines from the Loire, in France. I sampled 4 of their whites, all of which use only sauvignon blanc, a grape in which the makers, apparently, specialise! The standard sauv. blc. and 'prestige' sauv. blc. are their 'everyday' wines. They are fresh and fruity, with good acidity. The prestige cuvee is a little more complex, but both have good fruit flavours. The regular displays citrus-y lemon, and some stone fruit, maybe nectarine. The prestige however, is designed to display a single flavour profile of blackcurrent! I wasn't convinced by this, but that's what I was told. If anything they may be a bit too dry and crisp, but both were still quite drinkable. The Villebois Sancerre was disapointing. The complexity and used oak seemed flat to me, and nothing really stood out. It had lost its freshness and the majority of its acidity. There were elements of fruit present and it drank easily, but I won't be buying any in a hurry. Finally, their top wine present, was the Pouilly Fume. This was much better than the Sancerre. The complexity was good and smooth, but you could pick out the seperate flavours. Acidity and alcohol were balanced, and stone fruit, syrupy sugars and floral notes came through. It was fresh and easy drinking, not dissimilar to an old vines chablis, but I don't know if it quite earned it's price tag.

Another quick mention should go to Gorka Extebarria, who makes some really great reds in Rioja. I love his Burgo Viejo range, but NW have now stopped stocking these. They have replaced them with his new range of Embeleso reds and a single rose. He makes tinto, crianza and reserva reds, all of which are mainly, if not completely, temperanillo-based. They differ by the amount of oak they see, and I was pleased to be told by Gorka that his crianza sees 12 months in barrel, of which a fair amount is new. I was under the impression that spainish rules meant crianzas saw less oak, but Gorka informed me that in Rioja, this is different. The tinto sees little oak and reserva sees much more, but I forgot to ask the exact details, sorry. All his wines are very drinkable and pack a lot of fruit concentration. The reserva has the most vanilla to it, which is so typical of Rioja, but is not too chewy in the mouth. Dark cherry dominates, but with slight elements of blackcurrent and berries. I don't think it's got much cellar time in it, but it is already aged for about 5 years (2 in barrel and 3 in bottle I'd guess) and all these reds are perfectly ready for drinking now.

On to more reds then. I'm goign to start with another great producer. From Argentina, and with a great name, Patricio Gouguenheim makes some lovely wines. His Ocaso Gran Malbec is lovely and plummy. Fruits hit your nose instantly and invite you in. The rich, concentrated palate is full of dark fruits. Cherry and jammy plums come before an intruiging smokiness. Course tannins and a slight bitterness show that this wine should age well, along with punchy but balanced alcohol and acidity. Not bad at all for his everyday wine. His star though, was the Ocaso 2007 single vineyard blend. I didn't ask what the blend was, but I was informed that it spends 2 years in 20 percent new, french oak (I hope I've remembered that correctly). Another 3 years in bottle before release means it's approachable upon release, however, I think this wine could age for a long time if you give it chance. The nose is very concentrated, almost fortified, like ruby port! There is so much sweet fruit in the nose, it's almost uninviting.... almost. In your mouth then, it is again, really concentrated. Deep dark purple in colour leads on to great flavours of damson and plum. I was told mulberry also, but I don't think I know what that tastes like. I thought it tasted a little young, showing its aging potential, but it did have really nice caramel/burnt elements to it, I presume from charred barrels. The structure of this wine is great, it's silky smooth with tannin, alcohol and acidity all in balance. The finish is really long, not at all astringent or chewy. Flavours of cherry and liquorice linger, and maybe a hint of vanilla. I really liked this wine, and I think I'll be ordering some in the next NW case!

I've been rambling on for a while now, so I'll come to the last producer I wish to talk about. I have though, in my humble opinion, saved the best until last. I speak of the american father-son partnership, Joe and Ryan O'Connell. Their O'vineyard wines are from their Domaine in the south of France. I believe they're based in Carcassonne in the Languedoc-Roussillon region. They have a few wines in their range, but had 3 at the tasting, two of which I tried last night. The one I didn't, their Trah lah lah, I've had before and  it's quite pleasant. The other two were the 2011 OMG and 2008 Proprietor's reserve. The reserve, I've had before and I have a bottle in the cellar. It's a very smooth, well structured wine, which is a blend of cab. sauv. and merlot. As a result it is reminiscent of a Bordeaux blend, but has a slight Longuedoc edge to it's fruity cassis flavours. It's silky-smooth tannins will allow it to age for a long time. The NW website reckons 30+ years and Ryan O'Connell himself couldn't put a figure on it when I asked him last night. My close run favourite of the night was the, number 31, OMG 2011. This is a new O'vineyard wine and I was keen to try it, having spotted it on the NW website. I was not dissapointed. By this time in the evening, my note-taking abilities had waned, mainly due to my tiredness, resulting from a hard day's work.....honest!! As such I don't have much detail to relay to you lovely readers. I did note that the OMG is a blend of cab sauv, merlot and syrah. I mentioned to Ryan that the syrah adds a lovely spice to the end of this wine, and he told me, in confidence, that he actually added a small percentage of other grape varieties to the blend, which help out alot with these added complexities. One of these is carignon, but none are mentioned becasue they had already printed the bottle labels!! I also managed to remember that this red has fresh fruit dominating the nose and palate. Really good red cherry and darker berries, especially cassis. The spicy finish is not too strong and very smooth. This is an incredibly drinkable red that would go well with so many foods. The obvious red meat dishes could be replaced with lighter pork dishes or less hearty cheeses. I'd happily drink this on it's own after a short chambre-ing, to allow it to open up.

I'm not really sure how to wrap this post up. I think I should mention just how nice and friendly all the people at NW are. Aside from the wine makers, who are most open to conversation, I spoke to lots of company representatives and even the founder, Rowan. It's always a great atmosphere at the tastings, and represents the company well. So much so I'd love to get more involved with it. I enquired as to how one becomes an archangel. Apparently, an archangel is a special NW angel who has a lot more involvement in the company than normal. This involves a greater presence on the online forums, talking to people and helping to answer FAQs. If you're lucky enough, it also involves helping to choose new producers and wines by providing feedback on samples, sent through to your home. I'll finish now by giving an example of the love in that room last night, and maybe an explanation as to why I like the O'vineyards family so much. Whilst talking to Ryan, I mentions visiting Chablis this year. He responded by saying that if I was every in france again, which I will be, I should pop in to see the O'connells. This isn't unusual for a winemaker. What was though, was that I was invited for a homemade dinner with the family, cooked by ryan's mum, accompanied by a vertical tasting of all their wines! I'll just have to hope that I get the chance to take them up on this kind offer in the not-too-distant future

 If you get the chance, try some Naked wines, and get yourslef to one of their tastings!!

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Wine buying withdrawal symptoms!

I often browse websites i know of, in search of future potential purchases. I'm always hopeful that i'll stumble across a sale, special offer, bin-end or bargain. While doing this today i realised i haven't bought wine in ages! I don't mean to say that i haven't bought any wine at all, i've bought the odd supermarket bottle here and there for evening and weekend drinking. What i mean is, i haven't bought wine by the case. Over the last year or two, we've purchased a case of wine, probably, every 2 months or so. These wines are usually for everyday drinking, but i do I also like to pick up goodies for the cellar in smaller lots, of maybe 2-3 bottles. You know, slightly more special bottles that may be ready for drinking now or that are to be shut away for a few years. This said, i haven't done this since going to france in march. So that's no big buys in over 3 months!

For me, buying wine by the case usually means from either Naked Wines or Virgin wines. I like both these companies for a few reasons. The one thing they have in common is that you can join, and become a member, without commitment. Companies like laithwaites and the sunday times wine club (i don't want to poo-poo anyone here, they're just not for me!) usually make you commit in an 'opt-out' style. They'll send you a case periodically, and charge you, unless you tell them not to. Naked and Virgin wines don't do this. What these companies ask for is a monthly 'savings payment'. You pay at least £20 per month into an online account and then use this credit to buy wines, whenever you're ready. Apparently, you can get your money out of this ethereal account at any time and without penalty, but i've never done it. Thats a good way to start, but i also like these companies because they have different wines. Virgin have a good range of wines that you don't see in the shops everyday, but Naked wines are my favourite. They take the money you pay into your account, and buy wine with, and invest it in new up-and-coming winemakers. This means that the wines they sell are often brand new and exclusive. They're also, very frequently, really high quality and very good value. Incidently, the wife and i are at the Naked wines tasting evening tonight, so readers can expect a piece on that pretty soon!

Because i haven't 'invested' in wine much lately, I've been looking through the websites of merchants and other wine sources. I check out Nickolls and Perks quite often because they specialise in Chateau Musar. They have pretty competitive prices, along with a great sellection of in-bond wines by the case (12 bottles). One thing i have my eye on at N&P, apart from all their stock, is the Chateau Reynon 2009 premier cote de bordeaux. The 2009 vintage makes this interesting to start with, the price tag of about £12 a bottle also appeals. This wine though, is really appealing because it's made by the director of vine and wine sciences at the University of Bordeaux, Prof. Denis Dubourdieu. You'd like to think he knows a thing or two about making good wine! Just one of about 6 properties the Dubourdieu family owns, Ch Reynon often crops-up as i'm reading wine articles. It's quoted as being the major player in the entre deux mers region of Bordeaux, being from Cadillac. Since N&P also sell this wine by the bottle, duty paid, i think i may have to get some to taste. If it's good i'll probably get a case for the cellar too!

Now, supermarket wines are, more often than not, average. You can sometimes find a gem if you get lucky, no doubt. However, most of the UK supermarkets now have separate wine by-the-case websites. I've been perusing Tesco wines over the past few days. They have the normal wines from their shelves, but they also have non-store stock too. Someone at Tesco must know something about wine, because they have a really large proportion of 2009 Bordeaux reds. I reckon, that when 2009 was acclaimed as the vintage of all vintages, presumably upon tasting in 2010, Tesco thought "we'll have a piece of that action!". So much so that they used their buying power and capital to get as much as possible. They have the big names, Margaux, Haut Brion, Cheval Blanc, Rothschild, Leoville, etc, etc. These are priced as you might expect, but are in fact restricted to a single case per customer. They do though have many other medium level options, many that I'd like to have in my cellar. Examples included, Chasse-spleen, Senejac, Potensac, Cantemerle, Poujeaux, Graud-Larose, Talbot, and many others. These range in price, but are all competitive. They have Ch Fonreaud at £15 a bottle, which is not too shabby. They have Sociando-Mallet at under £30 a bottle. All prices shown are duty-paid and inclusive of VAT, which is refreshing to see, so you don't get a shock at checkout. The best thing, in my opinion, is that although they say "wine by the case", they mean 6 bottles, not 12! Normally, buying wine by the case gets you the best value in savings. But you have to spend a lot to save a lot! Buying 6 bottles from Tesco seems to be a great option, you get the case savings without havign to stump-up a load of dosh. This is something that doesn't crop up very frequently, so is very pleasing to see.

My plan is to save a few squids over the next couple of months and try to buy some 2009 vintage wines for my cellar. The options are open, I could spend £300 on a single case of 6 bottles of Ch Graud-Larose. These will sit for 10 years before opening up into their drinking window. Alternatively, I could spend my money on 6 bottle of Chasse-spleen AND 6 bottles of Potensac. That would be a treat. They'd be ready to drink pretty soon, but will also have a good shelf-life of 15+ years. Whatever I decide to do, Tesco wines seems like a good option. additionally, I think I'll probably end up buying some Ch Reynon. It's very hard to resist such a seemingly great value vine! The only down side to all this is, is having to save the pennies in the first place! Now where did I put that lottery ticket... :-)

Monday, 24 June 2013

Roc de Lussac: Supermarket bargain red?

Sainsbury's have had the Roc de Lussac (Lussac St. Emilion) on their shelves for a good few years. I think I tried a 2003 a few years ago. I remember, I only bought it becasue it was on offer at half price. As I recall, it was OK, but nothing special. And at full price (£15) you could definately find a much better wine for your money.

About 2 weeks ago, I spotted that Saino's had the RdL at half price again. On the shelves at the moment, for the majority, is the 2011 vintage. This isn't a great vintage for Bordeaux wines and, I figured, did not bode well for this RdL. I think the vintage reports for 2011 contained weeks of wet weather, damp and mold problems, the need for spraying, and an eventual hail storm that ruined crop yields. I may be getting some of that confused with 2012, but either way, I know it's not at the '09 and '10 standard. As I was looking at the shelf, I remembered that the '10 vintage was rather a good one.

     -  Now, a quick tip for supermarket wine buying. Shelf stackers, even managers, do not understand what a vintage means to a bottle of wine, after all, the labels look the same. As a result, new stock, most likely a new vintage, often gets chucked on the shelf at the front, covering the old stuff at the back. I've found that it's a good idea to check all the bottles on the shelf, especially those at the back, for older vintages that could potentially be better than the new one. This is easier for me than for others. The top shelves usually contain 'the good stuff' and reaching the back could be hard when bottles are 6 or 7 deep. Unless, like me, you're 6'5" and have long arms!  -

Anyway, becasue of this, i reached to the back of the shelf to find exactly what I was looking for. There were 3 or 4 bottle of 2010 RdL remaining, right at the back, covered in dust. This may be dodgy, becasue they've probably been sat there, upright, for while. However, at the current price of £7.50, I figured I'd get one and see how it shaped up.

I opened the 2010 Roc de Lussac last night. I had it with a slow-cooked lamb hotpot dish I made that afternoon, which, with it's deep meaty flavour, was a good choice to accompany a Bordeaux red. On pouring, the RdL looked pretty good. It was a deep purple that looked young. medium to full bodied, it had good legs in the glass. There was a slight thinning of colour around the edges, but not the aged, garnet/maroon or brick colour of better wines. In fact, the edges had an almost synthetic 'pinky' tone. I'm not sure if this means anything, but I've seeen it before on cheaper, mass-produced wines. I have a suspicion that it arises due to the addition of enzymes during the maceration process. These help to bust open the cell walls of the grapes, to extract as much of the goodness as possible (from, maybe, lower quality grapes!?). Regardless of this, I swirled the glass and plunged in my nose. Not bad, i first thought. Not really ripe and aromatic, but definately not flat. There were good, traditional Bordeaux notes. Dark fruits, cedar cigar box and alike. There was a lot of alcohol, but thats not too suprising from a wine at this price range. On tasting, the wine was textured and mouth-filling. Pleasant! Again, there were traditional flavours, some nice fruit: dark cherry, blackberry and cassis. The mid-palate was a bit chewy, not fine-grain tannins at all, but not unpleasant. Again the alcohol was strong, but there was good acidity to match it. The finish was a little spicy and reasonably long.

Overall then, I was quite surprised. This is not a bad wine at all. It is certainly being helped by a good vintage, giving the wine reasonable structure and balance. However, it's not at the quality of other petit chateau's from 2010. I'd give the wine something like 83-85 parker points (just estimating!). At full price I still think that I'd put my money elsewhere. Morrison's have a lovely 2006 Bordeaux 'something' right now that is really luscious (sorry the name escapes me right now, and a quick google didn't find it!). What I've decided to do, is to buy another bottle, or two, of the 2010 RdL, at half price. I'll stick them away in the cabinet, as an experiment, to be opened in a few years (1 or 2) and see how it fairs. At £7.50, I could fish them out at any point without worry, and when they're gone, then they're gone. Given the structure and tannins, they may even age well and get better.

The Roc de Lussac might not be an amazing bargain deal then, but it's not half bad at £7.50. What I hope I've illustrated, is that good wines, even bargains, can be found if you look for them. You need to monitor the shelves/webpages, and be willing to have a punt. You need to try it and see. You never know what you might find!!

Let me know if you've found a bargain deal somewhere, leave a comment. Let's share the wealth!

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Storing wine - From cupboard to cabinet.

Ideal wine storage conditions are not really set in stone, that is unless you have a traditional cellar space below your mansion! I have this problem, and as a result I embarked on a few months of research into how i should store my little collecion of bottles. I simply did a lot of google searches, and routed through the books i have at home. lots of information is out there, and most of it is in reasonable agreement. I'm going to try to elaborate on my findings for those who wish to read on...

The old way to do it then, is to have a cellar. How many years have wine makers and merchants been storing wine underground? I'd wager a long time. So why not stick with this? The simple reason is that not everyone has a lovely basement. This means that most people who wish to look after their wines for a long time (lets say keeping for more than 2-3+ years before drinking) need to find alternative solutions. The ideal conditions for long term wine storage should, therefore, be those of an underground cellar. These have been found by lots of individuals monitoring their own space and presumably sharing that knowledge. The consensus seems to be: a dark space with a temperature somewhere between 12 and 14 degrees C and around 70% humidity. These are benchmark figures quoted very often. The degree of change in these figures should also be kept to a minimum. For example, a cellar will probably increase in temperature between the seasons. 11 degrees in the winter up to 15 degrees in the height of summer. As long as this change occurs very slowly, there shouldn't be an issue. In fact, there are some out there who say that this natural flux is important in the aging process of wine. Problems arise when the temperature and humidity of a storage space fluctuate by such margins over shorter periods of time. If, during a single day, the temperature fluctuates by 5+ degrees, most likely between day and night, then the wine, and cork, expand and contract much too quickly. This may then lead to a leaky cork. A perturbation of the cork's seal, through such push-pull forces, or the cork drying out due to low humidity, will lead to air infiltrating the bottle and spoiling of the wine through unwanted oxidation. The result will be, at worst, undrinkable vinegar!

Apart form fluctuations, what happens when the temperatures are too low or too high? If i'm honest i've found very little information on this. If the temperature is too high, over 20-22 dgerees C, for an extended period (days to weeks) then the wine will 'cook'. The flavours of the wine will turn to those of cooked food. This means stewed or jammy fruit flavours instead of fresh ripe fruits. I haven't experienced this, so i'm not entirely sure what that would taste like, but it's not what the winemaker intended. All I've learned about low temperatures is simply that it is bad, and freezing will probably push the cork out of the bottle!

It seems to be a general rule, and makes scientific sense, that the warmer the temperature, the faster the aging process. You may think then, that you could enjoy 20 years of aging in half the time, if you keep the wine at a warmer temperature. Unfortuneately that's not the case. The aging process requires desirable degradation of molecules in the wine and occurs slowly at lower temperatures in a cellar. The molecules in question are the preservatives in wine that help it age. These included the tannins and phenolic compounds obtained from the skins, seeds and stalks of the grapes. This is a subject i am currently reading about and way to complex to go into now! Anyway, these chemical processes are sped-up as the temperature rises. The problem is, that there are other chemical processes, very unwanted ones, that  start to occur as the temperature goes up. The unwanted reactions also replace the good ones, which compounds the issue. Again, there is much more detail required here, that i do not know yet. As such i shall stop there and say that with wine, slow and steady wins the race.

Aside from temperature and humidity, other storage considerations include: light, vibrations and air quality. UV light, from sunshine and domestic bulbs, increases the rates of chemical reactions and degradations,  in a similar way to high temperatures, therefore are most unwanted. It is thought that vibrations can also act as a catalyst to unwanted chemical reactions withing the wine. More importantly, vibrations stir up the naturally occuring sediment in the wine, which prevents the wine aging properly. So if you live near a railway line or busy road, look elsewhere for your site of storage. Finally, it is thought that nasty smells and odours can infiltrate the wine through the porous cork. Therefore don't store your wines in a shed near a pig farm. Also, do not store them in a musty box in the dogs room!

So to my personal experience. After learning all of this, i decided to see how it went with what i had. I have a cupboard upstairs that is dark and cool and not often ventured into. I decided to store my wines in there, on their side in wooden cases. Storing wine on it's side is said to aid in keeping the cork moist and in shape. This cupboard is not insulated, and is nothing special, but it's a space i had. After a couple of months I was starting to get paranoid about the cupboard. The weather outside was funny this year and fluctuated between hot and cold on a weekly basis. I decided that a £7, combined thermometer and hygrometer (humididty monitor), was a good investment. I started to monitor my 'cellar' by recording the maxmium and minumum temperatures and humidities in every 24 hours. My gadget also had a probe at the end of a couple of meters of cable. This meant I could monintor the ambient stats in the cupboard AND the stats in the middle of the wines. This was good for me. It reassured me that the wines were in no immediate danger. The daily temperature fluctuations were no more that a couple of degrees and the larger changes occured over many days. What was not surprising was that the conditions in the cupboard correlated very well with that of the outside weather. If we had a warm snap, then the cupboard would warm a bit. If it went cold, the cupboard would cool. This is most probably down to a lack of insulation and that the cupboard is on an outside wall.

Everything was fine, and I'd been monitoring the 'cellar' for about 6 months. I used to get so frustrated if I forgot to check the temp and humidity. The monitor clears itself every day at midnight. Ironically, I usually forgot because I'd had a couple of glasses of wine and I'd rolled in to bed without thinking! The changes in conditions followed the seasons, this was ok at the time. I kept an eye on things, and logged all my data in a spreadsheet (remember I'm a science nerd!). I created a running average to give myself an idea of how the actual wine might be behaving in bottle. It should take a day or two for 750 mL to equillibrate to a change in temp, especially ones so small. By now you must have guessed that something would go wrong! So... about a month-or-so ago, things changed. The summer arrived at last and we had a 2-week spell of hot weather, with outside temperatures in the mid-twenties. As could be predicted (good-old science!), conditions in the cupboard followed the trend. Alarmingly, it only took a couple of days for the cupboard temps to get up to 21 or 22 degrees C. As I've mentioned above, this is bad, and I was panicking! After speaking to my wife about it (she'd spotted the wrinckles in my forehead just after checking the wines), she said that it was ok for me to investigate other methods of storage.....

Yippee!! Although I knew we don't have that much money to be spending on this, I was immensely relieved to have her understanding. After all, I could have been risking hundreds (almost thousands) of pounds-worth of wine investment. This is aside from the personal, emotional investment I'd put in to selecting which wines I wanted and the fact that many were presents. The only real option for me was a wine cabinet. At the top end, these are vastly expensive. Eurocave is the big-name brand, and can cost up to £10,000!! For that you could dig a hole and build a large cellar under your house, so what's the point!? Most make sense though. They are fridge-sized lumps that maintain the ideal conditions for storing wine (having read this far, you know all that now, right?). I scoured the internet for a couple of days, I had in fact looked into this previously and so had a good starting position. For example, I knew that a brand-new Eurocave or Liebherr was WAY out of my reach. This was OK. I reckoned on snatching a cheap, used something, from ebay or similar source. As it turned out, I found that if you don't care about the brand, or neccessarily the looks, then getting a new wine cabinet may be an option. I also found that because of the aforementioned reasons, the catering industry is an excellent place to look. You have to be careful and read the detailed descriptions of the products, becasue a simple wine fridge is exactly what it sounds like. There are many cheap models that simply cool the contents like a normal fridge. These do not consider humidity or vibrations, and in fact cool the interior in an entirely incorrect way. As far as I know, a normal fridge basically blasts cool air in to the interior space. A more appropriate wine cooler/cabinet should gently cool the air using elements distrubuted evenly though the interior. It should also maintain humidity, filter the air using something like a charcoal filter and make use of a low vibration compressor, mounted on rubber dampeners. Wood shelves are also better than metal ones for vibration dampening, apparently.

So, a very long story short (sorry about this post being so long btw, I'll try to be more concise in future. I'm new to all this remember!). I found a wine cabinet from a Danish brand, called Vestfrost. I found it on a catering website run by a company based in my city. They also had a quite large model (116 bottle) on special offer at 50 % off!! After also finding a coupon code online for an additional 5 % off I paid £540 for a great cabinet, delivered to my door! The cabinet maintains a constant temp, has a low vibration compressor (including rubber thingies), a charcoal filter and a smoked/tinted glass door. The only thing it doesn't control is the humidity. I figured this isn't the end of the world because I live in the UK and the humidity is normally between 50 and 70 % naturally, which is OK. The bottles also look great, though the glass door, sat on lovely wooden shelves. Having been told that whatever size collection you think you want, you should treble that number when considering capacity. So holding 116 bottles should be sufficient for this cabinet, for a while at least.

This all contributes to what I have said in previous posts. If you're willing to put in a bit of effort, investigate the situation and learn about what you NEED, then collecting wine does not have to be reserved for the rich. I know that the sums of money I'm talking about here are still large to some, but I hope I can assure the reader that I am not loaded and what I refer to, for the majority, is at the budget end of the fine wine world! I also hope that the drivel I spout can be of use to someone in need of it. Thanks for reading to end!

Saturday, 22 June 2013

A young cellar

I started collecting wine about a year ago. I could have started earlier, but the main factor controlling my wine collection is finance. Another is space, but i'll hopefully come back to that in a future post!

Over the last few years, my wife and i have usually had a reasonably full wine rack. Let's say between 10 and 20 bottles at any one time. We both enjoy wine and have found that buying by the case from internet sources is the easiest and most cost-effective way for us. I think i'll post something about that soon too.

Through a particular source, i discovered the wines of Chateau Musar. This is a producer in Lebanon and one that often gets cited when refering to wine-making in that country. Knowing nothing else about it, i tried a 2003 simply interested by the fact it was from lebabon! A description along the lines of "...a complex wine with musty, old, leathery, notes. Deep black and red fruits mixed with spices like cinnamon..." also helped. I like african and mediterranean food, especially moroccan, so this sounded right up my street. I tried it, and liked it. So much so that i investigated it a little further. I found out that these wines were renowned for being complex and especially age-worthy. A wine such as this, one that can be cellared for 20 years or more, would normally cost a great deal more than the £20 i paid for this delightful tipple. As a result of this, and my concurrently growing interest in wine, i decided it might be possible to start a wine collection. I decided that i wouldn't get too carried away and i would collect this one wine, from this one producer, and see how i got on. The plan was to buy a half-case each vintage, on realease and stash it away. I would need more than a couple, so that i could try them over the years and see how they were doing and when to polish them off!

This is how i got started, but it wasn't long before i wanted more. I bought bottles from a few vintages and started comparing them. I then tried to get hold of older vintages, to see how the wine aged and developed. I found a few bargains and special offers in sales and my lovely wife organised the purchase of a small vertical by asking family members to buy me a single bottle from different vintages one birthday. That is how my collection started.

I currently have about 35 bottles of wine, about two-thirds of which are Ch. Musar. I have picked up bottles from local shops, merchants, supermarket sales, internet auction sites, and most recently a holiday in france and a very fortuitous trip to a carrefour with a great wine sale.

My collection consists of at least a single bottle of Ch. Musar from each vintage from 1999 through to  2005 and i am eagerly awaiting the release of the 2006. Some of these i have several of. My prized possessions are the 1981 and 1983 Musars i picked-up from auction for a bargain! Those two came with a 1979, but I've already had that. It was a worthy celebration! In addition to the Musars, i also now have a selection of bordeaux's from petit chateau's (chateaux?). I have a few 2005s from Ch Caronne ste gemme, Ch Tourteran and Ch Artigues-Arnaud, again picked up at auction, ready for drinking now. They reside alongside examples of 2008, 2009, and 2010 (all good years) from Ch Bernadotte, Chasse-spleen and Clos rene. These will be left for at least 5 years, before we see how they're doing! I have a few other 'odds-and-sods' in there that i feel are not for long-term storage, but are too good to be in the everyday wine rack. For example, i have a some sociando-mallet in there that could be great, according to the literature, but i really know nothing about them, having not tasted them yet.

I hope anyone who reads this looks upon it favourably. I like to think that my choice of wines are sensible and reasonably well informed purchases. I'd also like to think that my modest collection will be inspiring to those readers starting out, like me, and that it shows you can appreciate fine wine on a budget. It takes time, but maybe not as long as you think. I have a reasonable amount of disposable income, but i'm not loaded. One could spend as little as £20 per month and, in only a year, end up with the makings of a fine cellar. Of course this has to be on top of the other wines one wishes to drink, otherwise there would be nothing to put in the cellar. We, as wine enthusiasts, need to remember to enjoy the wine. Don't go mad and buy a single bottle of expensive stuff that you never drink, what's the point!? Buy within your budget, taste it, think about it, even write about it. Best of all, Learn from it! Learn what you like and what you don't like. Learn how to taste it properly, how to serve it properly. Maybe before all this, learn how to store it propely. With that, i think i have my next topic. Until next time...

Introductions - My first post!

My name is Max. I will be 30 this year and have been interested in wine for almost the last 10 years. I  have several higher education degrees and i am currently a post-doctoral research associate in the UK. I am an enzymologist, or geek, if it you like. I'm not your average nerd though, i am capable of conversation with non-science folk and have other interests. I enjoy many sports,  historically, playing cricket and squash to a high level, and currently triathlons and other endurance events. I am married and have 2 cats and 2 dogs.

This blog should primarily be about my love of wine. I may diverge onto other subjects, but hopefully will return to wine. It's not my profession, just a hobby. I like drinking the stuff most of all, but i also enjoy reading about wine and learning everything about it too. I started by drinking wine i liked. Introduced to various types and styles by my parents and friends, i have been a wine drinker for as long as i can remember drinking booze of any kind. I like red wine more than white, however, i will mainly drink a wine paired with food, whatever that may be. It's also important to me that i drink a wine appropriate to a particular situation. While writing this, i am sat on the sofa at home, with the football on (i'm not a huge fan but its an international) and i'm drinking a cheap-and-cheerful 2008 red burgundian 'something' i picked up in the shops while buying bread today. Its very pleasant. Nothing special at all, but fitting.

So why a blog about wine? There are probably better sources of information on this subject on the internet. Decanter have good articles, Jamie Goode's wine anorak is good, the wine cellar insider is also a good free source. Other websites are better but require subsrciptions: Jancis robinson's purple pages and the wine doctor are just 2 at the top of my head. I used to really like Chris Kissack's web site, it's really informative but also impartial. He goes to great lengths to reassure the reader that it is always just his humble opinion!

Again then, why? Well i am a novice wine enthusiast (another good website, btw) and i am just starting on my big wine adventure. I decided to start a blog because i felt i could be of some help to individuals out there in a similar position to myself. In addition to this, i have a bad memory, and writing down the contents of my mind may help me remember it. it will also be logged should i forget! I have trawled the internet, bought and read books on wine, visited merchants and tasting sessions, all in an attempt to learn more. However, i still feel like everyone i talk to knows much more than i do about wine. This isn't really a bad thing, i can learn a lot from the well educated. Maybe i am just searching out the wrong people, but i haven't, yet, found other like-minded young people who have a similar interest in wine and are at a similar level of education as myself. I think they must be out there, doing what i do, trawling the internet, desperate for knowledge, but more importantly, desperate for help and advice!

Through these posts i hope i can share my experiences, successes and failures, and helps others on a similar path. They may already be doing the same thing and already know what i'm spouting about, but sometimes it's reassuring to know that you're doing the same as someone else.