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!!

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