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.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Sauterns speculation

Well, once again I've been to my local Co-op. I don't mean to harp on about it, but they seem to be getting rid of a load of stock, and i can't miss out on wuch silly offers.

This time it's Sauternes. I have no experience when it comes to to this southern area of Bordeaux. I do know that it's the (almost) southern-most area of Bordeaux, next to the Graves and Barsac. It is famous for making sweet, desert white wine from, mainly, semillon, sauvignon blanc and muscadelle grapes. I fact, dry whites from this region are not allowed to be called Sauterns! Like good red wines and quality dry whites, the sweet wines of Sauterns age quite well. It is the high suger content of sauterns that allows them to do so.

I knew this much when i spied another special offer. Maybe not as good as recent others, this time a half bottle of Chateau Roumieu was at the (seemingly magical) price of £7. On the shelf i found both 2009 and 2010. I decided to get one of each. Because these were good vintages, i thought about getting a couple of each. However, as this blog is evidence to, i've bought a bit a wine recently, and i've never heard of this producer before, so i decided just to get one of each.

I thought it might be nice to leave them at the back of the cabinet for 5 years or so, and then, on a fitting special occasion, try both the 2009 and 2010 together and try and compare the differences/similarities between vintages.

Lets see how long i last. I really like trying new wines, and i know how much i like desert wine! We'll see, but I'm very much looking forward to that time. Once again, this shows that keeping an eye on your local outlets pays dividends, and this time, it's something different in the cellar!

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Chateau Potensac 2008

My local Co-op store has gone crazy again! I went in to get milk and bread, but like many wine nerds, i had to check the wine isle. I'm very glad i did, because i stumbled across another rediculously cheap Bordeaux. This time it was the Ch. Potensac, Medoc, 2008. They didn't have the original (non sale) price on the shelf, but i think I've seen it at about £18-£20 before. The current replacement price is just £7 again. Crazy! So i bought 4 bottles.

Now, I know that this wine is one for medium-term cellaring, even from the 2008 vintage, which is good, but not quite as good as 2009 and 2010. This is confirmed in Hugh Johnson's pocket wine book, which i consult quite often for quick reference. He also confirms that this wine is from the same stable as Leoville-Las-Cases, and the class shows in good vintages. Despite this, i though it rude not to give it a taste, to see how it's faring. It was only £7 after all!

I decanted and left it for one hour before tasting, but i did sample a tiny bit of the dregs straight out the bottle. This was of course a bit gritty, but it was also surprisingly fresh and supple. Not at all closed or bitter/green. I ate my desert, post summery salad, while the wine was airing. I had strawberries from the garden with meringue, which isn't the best thing to have just before red wine, but actually served to clear the palate quite well.

The 2008 Potensac looked very dark in the decanter, but in the glass was less so. It was a good, dark red colour with not much purple. There was a slightly lighter red edge, under light, but not much sign of age. Giving it a swirl, it looked to be medium to full bodied, with good legs. The nose was light and fresh with definate blackcurrents, and also lighter red fruit that were hard to place. This wine, apparently, has a lower merlot content, which would explain the lack of plummy and jammy flavours, i think. There were also slight aromas of flowers and maybe cool mint, both potentially coming from the Cab Franc, which is over 20% of the blend. On tasting, the wine keeps it's freshness, presenting cassis and cherry to the tongue. At this stage it's easy to tell that this wine is young. The fruit flavours become secondary to chewy tannins as it moves through the mid-palate. The tannins are fairly smooth, though they impart green bitterness, but it's not wholly unpleasant. The finish is still smooth and fresh, with a hint of spice, and surprisingly long lasted.

Overall, i like this, and it's another crazy bargain at £7. The wine shows great potential. It has a good balance of acidity, alcohol and tannins. It's another petit chateau that is maybe more powerful than elegant, but it's still well structured and will definately age well. I hope it softens and leaves the fruit flavours intact. I would say, although it's approachable now, it really needs a good 5 years in the bottle. Potentially drink this between 2018 and 2022. I can't wait!

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Bargains at the Co-op - Part 2!

It's been a few days since my last post, and i was wondering what to write about today. Since visiting the Co-op at the weekend, i've now had the chance to try both the red Brdeaux and white Burgundy i found there, at such a great price as £7! Therefore, i thought i should tell you what i thought of them....

Chateau le Boscq, St Estephe, 2006.

Being a Cru Bourgeois, i thought this had a good chance of being a bit more special than your average claret. Being from St Estephe, maybe more so!? Being from a supermarket though, put doubts in my mind. Having said that, it was still worth a punt. At the time, i didn't have chance to look it up before buying, but thought that at £7 it didn't really matter. I needn't have worried. Reviews from Decanter, Wine-Searcher and Cellartracker all looked good, if anything, suggesting that it's good, but is a keeper!

So having decanted and left for a couple of hours, i ventured in. The colour was a good, deep red, almost purple, but showing a little bottle age around the edge. The nose was that of a lovely, classic claret. There was a presence of rich, plummy dark fruit, baked cherries with a little sweetness. The slight aging showed, with notes of musty, oaky cedar wood and maybe pine cones. In the mouth, the fore-palate was sweet and juicy on the tip of the tongue. Unfortunately, the fruitiness is not at the front of the main palate. There was still baked fruit, jammy damson maybe, but the tannins and acidity presented themselves. The punchy middle led in to a slightly bitter, but not unpleasant finish, that lasted. The balance of acidity, alcohol and tannins, was good, but this wine was more powerful than elegant. I think it's still young. I'm glad i bought a half case, because i can see how it progresses with time. I'm hoping that the balance and structure this wine has will see it through a period of softening, and the fruit flavours will remain, leaving a smooth elegant Bordeaux. We'll just have to wait and see!

Domaine Jean Monnier et Fils,  Puligny-Montrachet, 2009.

I know relatively little about burgundy whites, other than the odd Chablis. As such i try to have an open mind. I know i prefer unoaked chardonnay, as one finds in Chablis. Can you tell I've been there by now? Anyway, again for £7, this Cotes du Beaune was well worth a punt.

I first tried this straight out of the fridge. It was definately too cold and had a really witheld nose. The palate was also flat, but still very smooth. I tried a second glass after 30 minutes, and a little warmer this time. The nose was there now, it had opened up a bit. It was still not overly pungent, but had light woody and earthy notes, like leafy grass. There was little citrus, and mainly tarter fruit like gooseberry, and maybe fleshy stone fruit. On the palate next, was a small amount of acidity, not really refreshing, but lingering. There was a rounded fleshiness to it and a small presence of oak. A complex mixture of flavours that were hard to identify, included, i think, again gooseberry and unripe nectarine. There was a slight minerality to it and an overall syrupy texture that wasn't unpleasant. The finish was really long and very smooth. Good balance, actually, might have been this wine's downfall, with nothing really standing out. That said, this was still a very good wine. If i'd paid £20-£30 for this i think i'd be a bit dissappointed, but having paid a lot less, i'm really pleased.

The moral of the story seems to be: Keep a regular eye on all your local wine outlets, you never know what you might find!

Monday, 1 July 2013

English bubbles!

Yesterday was my first wedding anniversary. Yay! To celebrate, my wife and I shared a bottle of fizz we bought on honeymoon and had saved specifically for this purpose. We honeymooned in the south of England, spending time in Devon and Cornwall, seeing the sites and generally relaxing. On the last day we visited the Sharpham estate vineyard. We'd heard very little about this particular vineyard, but it was reasonably close to where we were staying, on the southern side of Dartmoor national park. I'd read a little bit about English vineyards, and had come across the Holmfirth vineyard, just outside Manchester, and the Camel Valley vineyard in Cornwall, among others. I'd never tried English wine before but was curious to see what the fuss was about. I'd read that English winemakers were making names for themselves, creating lovely wines in a distinctive English style. I'd also read that the sparkling wines of the south coast were capable of matching the standards of those from across the channel! So while at the Sharpham's vineyard, we bought some wines that we had tasted. One of which was their Sparkling Reserve NV. At the tasting, this wine stood out as something special, so was a good choice to keep for our anniversary. The Sharpham's Sparkling Reserve is apparently made using the same, old fashioned, methods employed in Champagne. It is a blend of 4 grape varieties, Pinot Noir being the majority, I think. It is aged on the lees, which are removed by freezing the top of the inverted bottle, where the lees collect. Unfortunately, I can't remember many more details, as it was a year ago I was told them, and I'd been tasting the wines! I do recall it being £25 though, a fiver cheaper than it is now.

Now, I'm not a big Champagne drinker. I have done, but only on special occasions really. I have also drunk Prosecco and Cava , but I'm not sure I'd know the difference between these at a blind tasting. I might be able to have a guess though, based on the size of the bubbles! I would, however, like to think I can pick out the characteristics of a sparkling wine, and I know what I like. This said, I am not an expert on sparkling wines (nor other wines for that matter) so I shall not try to act like one here. I can't really review the Sparkling reserve objectively or too critically. What I'm going to try and do instead, is to describe how this wine made me feel!

Yesterday was a lovely bright sunny day, and was warm and humid. We'd been for a walk with our dogs, early afternoon, and it was therefore time for a late lunch. We made a nice light salad, (as we were heading out for restaurant meal in the evening) accompanied by some tuna, cheese and bread. I was so excited to open the fizz. I'd moved it to the bottom of the wine cabinet a couple of days before, where, at it's lowest, the temperature is about 10 degrees C. I thought this to be a good temperature to serve a more complex sparkling wine, of the same ilk as Champagne. To open, as normal, I unwrapped the black foil and removed the cork cage. I noticed that the foil seemed thicker, more robust than other sparkling wines I've opened before. Maybe that's a sign of quality? I quite liked the Sharpham's logo, printed atop the cage, white on a black background. I am under the impression that the correct way to 'de-cork' the bottle, is to hold the cork and twist the bottle. I don't know if this is the right way, or the wrong way, but it worked! The pressure in the bottle was great, the cork actually would have come out on it's own, had I not controlled it. It made the delightfully satisfying 'pop' you expect from such a thing, and added to the excitement. There is always a rush of bubbles to the top of the bottle and a great mist that gathers in the neck. With nowhere else to go, the mist overflowed the glass lips of the bottle like a mini waterfall, or like fake movie smoke from a witch's cauldron. I poured the wine into our flutes, adorned with 'Mr' and 'Mrs', in italic font. No prizes for guessing that they were a wedding present. The bubbling foam that ensued quickly filled the glass, but was depleted almost as quickly, leaving behind a fizzing nectar-like liquid. It was a darker yellow, gold-like colour than I was expecting, but not as dark as maybe an aged Burgundian white wine. Having plunged my nose into the glass, my mouth started to salivate as the aromas reached me. There was also a noticeable increase in the sound coming from the glass. The fizzing, tiny bubbles bursting out from the surface, leaving little pin-pricks of texture on the tip of my nose. The nose of the wine was floral and sweet, with a little bit of fruit, maybe stone fruit with a little bit of apple. There was a gaseous texture coming from the carbon dioxide too. In the mouth, there was lovely, mouth-filling feeling of expanding gas. It makes the wine feel less like a liquid and more like something you could chew. It excites the tongue and adds to the experience. The wine was dry, with good complexity of fruit, without being too dry and sucking the life out of your palate. It had a great, refreshing level of citric acidity and a slight, light nuttiness, maybe almonds. The finish was short and sweet, in both character and flavour.  At this point, my partner and I looked at each other. We both had big grins on our faces, confirming that we were delighted with, not only the wine, but the situation in which we found ourselves at that moment. We'd saved this wine especially for this occasion, and we were not disappointed. Personally, I had a sense of achievement and satisfaction, that we had accomplished something we had set-out to do. For desert we had some strawberries from our garden, with cream. The wine complimented the strawberries even better than it did the salad. As I've heard before, the strawberries brought out the complexities of the fruit flavours in the wine. It really was delicious!

I'm going to stop there. Hopefully I've conveyed what this wine meant to me, not only in terms of smell and taste, but also emotionally. I believe a wine should speak to the drinker in both ways. Sometimes an individual wine can taste better when drunk under exceptional circumstances. It all adds to the experience. The wines of Sharpham vineyards, are great. They may not be to everyone's taste, as they do have their own style, especially the reds. The sparkling reserve however, was as good a bottle of fizz as I have tasted, and equal, if not better, than the few Champagnes I have to compare it against. Look them up online to buy some and try it. Even better than that, visit the vineyard and do a tasting. They make great cheeses too!