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At the recent Corney and Barrow Winter tasting my friend (an overly bright prize winning psychologist) humorously derided my winespeak. However, I had the last laugh because, being new to tastings, he then went on a tipsy spending spree having been seduced by the the atmosphere at the Tower of London and the wonderful wines (Salon 99, Peter Sisseck’s Flor de Pingus, Leflaive’s Puligny Montrachet 1er Cru Les Referts and Tenuta di Trinoro IGT stood out). These are serious wines at serious prices and you cannot help but enjoy being guided through a range of white burgundy by Patrick Leflaive, but what to drink every day?
Despite me waxing lyrical (wittering on) about metaphor I have had some good hits and feedback on the site recently. I am also often asked for ‘tips’ and, despite the essentially subjective nature of tasting, I do think there are some really reliable, accessible and relatively good value bottles out there that most people enjoy. Mindful of this, and the austerity Zeitgeist, I thought I would list a few ‘everyday bottles’ without resorting to too many flowery metaphors. I will start with Chardonnay as I think the ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) brigade have been throwing out the baby with the bath water. The rise of Pinot grigio, Albariño, Gruner Veltliner, Viognier et al have made Chardonnay feel very 80s but it is still a great grape.
The days of unsubtle New World Chardonnay are not completely over but each year I am increasingly impressed by Chile and you can do a lot worse than Erraruziz Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2010 and Tabali Chardonnay (Reserva Especiale) 2010. There are still issues with oak but makers seem to be holding back a bit more and the wines are all the better for it. They often have good acidity and a distinctive tropical edge (the purple prose is resurfacing) which is exciting. They are unlikely to usurp Le Montrachet but you can drink well around the £10 a bottle mark.
If you want something more frugal then Chile can still deliver with Morrison’s Chardonnay, Central Valley 2010 coming in at £4.99. Don’t forget about France because Cave de Lugny Chardonnay Macon villages 2010 is a relative snip at around £6 and readily available (Asda, Majestic, Waitrose…). It will never wow you with its depth but will happily accompany a wide range of chicken and fish dishes. The Co‐operative’s, Chardonnay Western Cape 2010 also demonstrates that South Africa can produce passable Chardonnay that retails around the magic £5 mark. I still find that you have to pay for good Australian Chardonnay (air miles are a consideration) but Oxford Landing is a staple for many, although reports of ‘bad bottles’ seems to divide people in to two distinct camps. Overall though we should be thankful that decent entry level Chardonnay is being made across the world. I may not enjoy what I would consider over-oaked examples but some people love vanilla toffee popcorn flavours in wine. They are well-served but so too are people who want more subtle food friendly Chardonnay. It can be used to make great wines but also to make good wines that do not break the bank.
I will try and work my way through other varieties, maybe Riesling (as with Chardonnay, New World examples just get technically better and better) or Rhones next (the 09 Rhones are looking like some of the best value reds out there).
I managed to mostly avoid the flash flooding on my way to a tasting of Justerini and Brooks Italian, Portugese and Spanish releases last night. Steps near Middle Temple Hall (pictured) were like waterfalls and the striking venue was full of slightly damp tasters making their way through the 165 wines on the list. I guess being co-established by an Italian explains the focus on Barbera, Barolo and Barbaresco but I was most looking forward to exploring some new wines from Spain and Portugal.
The excited huddles and whispered comments around the Angelo Gaja and Roberto Voerzio tables seemed more about reputation and price than the wines themselves. A couple of the Gaja Barbarescos from 2007 were brooding and intense, likely to be amazing over coming years but slightly overwhelming and at £200 per bottle the province of those with deep pockets.
For me, two ostensibly different wines (an Italian red and a Spanish white) stood out. I say ostensibly different because they actually have quite a few things in common once country of origin and colour are discounted. Both are excellent in terms of quality and value, and are made using Burgundian approaches.
Tenuta del Terre Nere Etna Rosso, 2010 £85 for a case of 12 in bond.
Ossian, Rueda Blanco, 2010 £85 for a case of 6 in bond
Both makers also have some pre-phylloxera vines including some more than 200 years old in the case of the Ossian. At the tasting the makers seemed particularly proud of the wines despite them being relatively humble. The great thing about attending a tasting with such a large range of wines is that you get to compare your preferences across styles, makers and vintages. You also sometimes get to chat with the people who make them which tends to add value through insight and connectedness.
Wines from Etna just keep on standing out for me. The ‘bottom of the range’ red from Tenuta del Terre Nere is Nerello Mascalese (and a smidgin of Nerello Capuccio) grown at altitude (they have vines higher than 2000 metres). It is a light, perfumed beauty perfect for ‘everyday’ drinking and a snip at this price. The Calerara Sottana, Feudo di Mezzo and Guardiola all from 2009 and the same maker were also showing really well as was the Prephylloxera 2009 which is maybe worth the premium and still represents fantastic value. Chatting with someone halfway through their MW exams he told me he had once served it following a Roumier Chambolle Musigny and it had convincingly trounced it.
The Ossian is more ambitious and riding, or perhaps in part helping to fuel, the growing respect for Spanish whites. I could wax lyrical about it but need to head to work, so try some for yourself. http://www.justerinis.com/
I met Louisa Bassant (right), the driving force behind the Wine Collective, at the recent Psychology For All conference. She mentioned that she was about to start a new wine tasting service so it was nice to attend the launch party at the Sampler in Kensington earlier this week.
Themed as ‘Hidden Gems and Rising Stars’ Louisa led us through a few of her picks. I have to admit to having had a bit of a summer cold so found it quite a strange tasting. Berlucchi Franciacorta 2006, a passable fizz, opened proceedings but was not particularly memorable. Things then picked up with Sepp Grüner Veltliner 2009 and Von Buhl Paradiesgarten Grosses Gewachs Riesling 2008 which were both technically sound and enjoyable. A South African Chenin (with a bit of Viognier and Clairette) Mullineux Blanc 2009 went down a storm with most people but I couldn’t get past the coconut notes. I am not a big Chenin fan but lots of people are and would no doubt enjoy this (with food) . As my nostrils cleared intermittently it was a bit like a sudden window of intense smells. I was taken by how obvious oak was during these lucid moments. An unlisted 2002 white Burg appeared and was welcome but a bit wasted on me given my snozzle issues.
The reds opened with a luscious Foillard Morgon Cote du Py 2009. It reflected the good vintage and showed promise not usually associated with Gamay. It might well approach Burgundian complexity in a few years. Wine of the night though was the 2004 Rostaing Cote Rotie La Landonne. The black pepper and cherry notes cut through my cold. Not Guigal but still a real treat. Drinking well now and will do for the next decade.
Unfortunately a hot toddy and bed beckoned so I had to bail out and missed the rest of the wines and the celebrations. But I wish Louisa well with her project. Have a look at what’s on offer here.
Thanks also to Kate Noble for the picture
Another year another London International Wine Conference. This behemoth continues to thrive at Excel although my impression was that 2011 was characterised by a sense of resources being increasingly scant and a tangible competitiveness amongst attendees. The big brands were especially evident in their posturing and various corporate clones busied themselves working angles. Unsurprising given the economic conditions, and the main point of the event, but disheartening in the way materialism pervades and distorts. The bigger the company the more sociopathic its behaviour. The venue is great though, familiar and easy for me to get to. We often take the kids to Thames Barrier Park and I hope attendees explored the area a bit. If you have never been to Trinity Buoy Wharf nearby it is well worth a visit.
On the wine front I enjoyed those shown by Seabright and Seabright, a small set up, who are establishing themselves in a hard market. Their portfolio includes 4 winners from the ‘Sud de France Expert’s choice’;
Galatee 2008, Cotes de Roussillon-Villages, Domaine Piquemal
Pygmailon 2007, Cotes de Roussillon-Village, Domaine Piquemal
Vent dEst 2007, Cabardes, Domaine de Cabrol
Alma Soror 2008, Vin de Pays dOc, Chateau de la Tuilerie
These are solid reds for drinking, technically good, full of fruit but enough complexity to generate interest. The Pygmalion is ‘in your face’ in a good way, Syrah, Grenache and Carignan, 14.5% alcohol but lovely garrigue notes underpinning the rich fruit. I can understand the Cote Rotie comparisons and at £16.95 this provides really good relative value. It will only get more approachable and refined over the next few years.
I also enjoyed tasting (mainly 2010) Albarinos at the Rias Baixas stand. The usual suspects showed well; My favourite is consistently the Fefinanes (which I have blogged on previously). I had not tasted the Castro Valdes from Adegas Castrobrey before and am surprised that there is no UK agent. It is more mineral than floral and has that saltiness which I love. It was also nice to see Remoissenet showing some of their’Grand vins’. No Le Montrachet unfortunately.
Less successful for me was the ‘Wines of Greece Masterclass’. Basically 5 wines from ‘the 3rd largest and fastest growing producer in Greece’. We tasted an Assyrtiko, Moschofilero, Agiorgitiko, Xinomavro and Mavrodaphne. I love Greek wines, especially Assyrtiko, but none of these shone. I also thought some of the industry briefings lacked real substance and descended into smug self publicity in line with the sell sell sell atmosphere. I was intrigued by seminars such as the ‘How to make money from wine writing’ with one guru beamed in by skype to hype progressive business models based on ad revenue with little reference to editorial integrity. The ‘access zone’ appears to be going from strength to strength though and does provide something a bit different which is welcome.
Best marketing must go to recruitment specialists chinchinjobs with their “If it pours, we reign” tag. Whoever thought up that deserves a bonus. The just-drinks.com ‘State of the nation’ analysis of the UK wine market was interesting reading and I will try to blog on this in detail.
My most enjoyable time at LIWF was, as last year, with Jonathan Simms of Justerini and Brooks who turns managing the Pommery stand into a wonderful cabaret. After the hustle, bustle and impersonal nonsense of the conference what better antidote than a glass of good Champagne and some divergent banter with a bit of humour.
I am teaching on the Masters in Positive Psychology programme at UEL later today and am reflecting on what contributes to ‘enjoyment’ of wine. I have had some amazing experiences recently (see below) and have previously argued that wine enjoyment W(e) can be understood as a function of 3 main variables; features of the wine itself (W), the personality and physical attributes of the drinker (P), and the environment or context in which the wine is drunk (E). Thus W(e) = f (W, P, E). Positive psychologists work to build on strengths and have useful ways of thinking about the nature of enjoyment and it is interesting to reflect on what I enjoyed tasting this week and maybe unpick why it was so enjoyable.
On Tuesday I was lucky enough to be invited to a vertical tasting of Frank Cornelissen’s wines by David Harvey of Raeburn Fine Wines. Frank is an intense yet very amiable winemaker who settled on Etna as his ideal terroir. He makes wild, exciting wines with names like Magma. He doesn’t align himself to movements, be it biodynamics or natural wine, but has a clear ethical and conceptual framework which informs his craft. He ploughs his own furrow and in doing so produces wines that are individual and expressive. When matched with a menu specifically designed by Claude Bosi at Hibiscus (2 Michelin stars and rated in the top 50 eateries in the world) to match these wines, it is fair to say some of the contextual ‘enjoyment variables’ should be in place.
Frank talked us through his wines, giving us intimate insights into intellectual and emotional aspects of his work, as well as details of how each wine was made. I loved the 2006 Magma Rosso N0.5R Frank has a complex system for designating his wines and when unsatisfied he declassifies them. 2006 was a hard vintage due to the hot weather and his first in a ‘lined’ amphora. In appearance, much lighter than the 04s we also tried (4VA and 5R), it was a racy, perfumed thrilling wine. It was interesting to talk with other tasters as preferences varied greatly, as would scores I guess. There was consensus though in terms of excitement and respect for Frank’s approach. Thus, in terms of variables, we had wine made with care, love even, great food designed to work with it that was cooked by a highly skilled chef, knowledgeable and engaged people to taste and talk with and the winemaker himself to enrich proceedings. This translated to great enjoyment and a memorable learning experience. I can only apologise to Neil Beckett Editor of The World of Fine Wine for eating his bread…
Another enjoyable event was a ‘Benchmark Tasting’ convened by Joe Muller at Corney and Barrow’s HQ near St Katherine’s dock. Joe put together a list that illustrated the strength and depth of C and Bs range. A 2007 Leflaive Macon-Verzé more Chablis than Puligny showed that you do not have to drink at premier cru level. Interestingly the stand out wine for me was another racy Sicilian red from 2006; the Tenuta di Passopisciaro, (pictured) made on the Franchetti Estate from Nerello Mascalese. It was a joy, light but mineral and thrilling. I am enjoying discovering my affinity for volcanic reds (and whites). Etna is on my must visit list now.
Joe, who manages private wine sales at C and B, encouraged us to relax with his understated engagement with the wines. We tasted a few bottles blind and participants had fun assuming various bodyshapes (hands in the air, fingers on nose etc.) depending on an ‘either or’ choice of variables (old or new world etc.) proposed by Joe. One managed to rattle a chandelier by throwing up his hands excitedly and another embraced the ‘buttock grasp’ with a bit too much enthusiasm…
Again, my enjoyment at this tasting depended on the combination of good wine and good company combined with someone passionate and engaged with the wines. Joe is a rising star and would be a great choice for anyone wanting someone unpretentious to guide them through a list. Corney and Barrow are maintaining an excellent selection of wines across the price range and this helped matters. They also still provide that personal service which the supermarkets can never match. Long may such variables which are integral to enjoyment, for me anyway, be maintained.
This Grenache has been scooping awards left, right and centre and its easy to see why. Imported by Liberty wines and easily accessible (Sainsbury’s), reasonably priced (£8), made from old vines using modern techniques and completely gluggable. It overflows with fruit and has a lovely savoury depth. I liked it a lot and it compares well with decent Rhones.
I started with it slightly chilled as the weather was pretty hot and the BBQ sizzling. It’s a really good match for most red meats or sausages you might chuck on the summer grill. It is 14.5% but you can’t have everything. An afternoon siesta is needed if you open this at lunch.
Given that labels are important in the decision making process I will comment on this one as it is cleverly understated. It doesn’t overload with visual information, or text, and shows a confidence in the product. McClaren Vale makers Steve Parnell and Kate May are clearly skilled at blending the different batches of fruit (the soil varies and really influences the expression of the Grenache) to produce a coherent and stylistically consistent product. It is a safe bet and a crowd pleaser. They should be proud of it and stick their names on it somewhere.
The label doesn’t mention the 5% Shiraz added to it and I seem to recall a few discussions about the use of oak (chips becoming ‘aged in French oak’) but nothing really to write home about given some of the deceptions in the wine world. A bit of the bumpf on the back is the usual play on terroir and authenticity (an old Red Gum tree etc.). Get some in because it is bound to sell out.
My ennui was banished on Friday by a tasting at the Houses of Parliament organised by the British Japanese Parliamentary Group and the British Sake Association. It had all the key elements to make it pleasurable. A great venue, interesting people and a small but high quality list to taste (albeit sake not wine).
I left the tube at Embankment to walk the last stretch to Westminster because it was the type of dry but foggy night that creates a great ambience down by the river. I used to visit Westminster often, as a friend worked in Parliament, but I had not been through the Great Hall in a decade. The most notable change was the airport style security check in the sunken ‘cage’ which felt incongruous with the surroundings. Wandering alone through such a building is always fascinating and I lingered to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy the small details.
The evening was hosted by Paul Farrelly MP and Shirley Booth (President of the BSA) who spoke about the importance of supporting traditional sake production. Paul told a humorous story about some Dutch sake and was also supportive when I took the liberty of lobbying on behalf of Educational Psychologists. I hope he delivers on his pledge to try to influence Sarah Teather over the SEN Green Paper. The subsequent legislation will have a profound impact on the lives of the most vulnerable children and the Government needs to recognise the importance of funding key services despite the economic situation.
Anyway, the sakes had been selected as being of particular interest and merit at an earlier much bigger tasting. They were;
Dassai (Otter Festival), Junmai Daiginjo, from Yamaguchi. The name of this sake is inspired by the sight of otters laying out their catch by the riverside, as if in a festival, a sight not uncommon in this part of Japan. This is a beautiful, pure and gentle sake with wonderful jasmine notes. A real treat and expensive as only the last 23% of the rice is used following polishing.
Tsukinokatsura Sparkling Nigori from Kyoto. This is promoted as ideal for novices but the cloudy appearance and overtly yeasty flavours proved a challenge for some of the tasters. I adore Nigori sakes, they have a touch of wildness about them which is at odds with the crystalline norm.
Shirakabe Gura Kimoto Junmai from Hyogo is made with a particularly slow fermentation and results in a complex and deep sake well suited to food.
Akashi Tai Honozo also from Hyogo wins my award for the most beautfiul packaging (pictured right). It also drinks really well and according to the makers “This is the drink the brew masters reach for at the end of a working day”.
Finally, Akashi Tai Genmai Aged Sake, again from Hyogo, this is not your average sake. Made from brown rice and aged (unlike most sakes) this is more like an oloroso sherry. It has caramel and fruit notes but doesn’t have the sweetness or acidity to compete with sakes or sherries in my view. A curate’s egg but always good to have something out of the ordinary.
All the sakes were between 15 and 19% ABV.
Recent tastings have convinced me that I have no desire to be a ‘professional’ wine taster. I really enjoy some tastings, but the grim reality of zipping about town and sampling 200 to 300 wines in a day is at odds with how most people think about the role. In many ways it is privileged and beats ‘going down the mines’ but it is not the unabated hedonism you might imagine.
The fact that you spit out the wine completely undermines the simple joy of consumption that wine is made for. Most tastings will have some crackers or bread, and there is the odd Michelin starred nibble or buffet banquet, but few wines, especially red, are at their best on their own. Many wines at tastings are young and tannic. An example was the Saint Emilion Grand Crus tasting this week; over fifty top class reds to try and a bunch of owners eager to talk about their products. This tasting attracts all the serious players including Parker’s UK rep and the laptops are out to upload reviews and importantly points so the market can do its thing. But it really isn’t much fun.
Tastings such as this are technical endurance exercises. The wines were often exceptionally well made, no expense spared, and will be beautiful in a decade but now they are, in some cases, literally undrinkable. Tastings like these should be left to the few highly knowledgeable and skilled tasters out there who can navigate them and have the constitution to survive them day in and day out over the years.
The toll on your body is something most people would not think of but constantly swilling alcohol is obviously not mouth friendly. Swollen tongues and teeth that should be illustrations in dental training manuals. Acidic whites can be more damaging than reds but purple staining really isn’t a good look (as this advert for ‘wipes’ shows although I am not sure this product was a hit among pro tasters). Wine professionals often have the most horrendous breath and Champagne seems to be associated with halitosis but what the hell, it’s worth it. All these concerns also pale into insignificance if we start talking livers….
I am starting to sound like a bad case of ’sour grapes’ so should mention that tastings can be relaxed, fun and informative. For example, the Alliance Wine Spring Tasting on Tuesday on Shaftesbury Ave had lots to enjoy. Someone had taken the trouble to set up a technical table showing the changes in wines due to added sulphites and also the difference oak barrels (from different countries) v chips can make. There were also wines from four to forty pounds from all over the world and a few producers in attendance.
I enjoyed tasting the Gulfi range from Sicily with someone who is clearly passionate about them. Margaret River’s Stella Bella showed quite well and Domäne Wachau consistent value. My favourite wine of the hundreds this week was, as is so often the case, was a white;
Domäne Wachau 2009 Riesling Smaragd Kellerberg Single Vineyard £15.75 It was mineral, expressive, fresh and balanced. From an area that explodes with apricot blossom it speaks of its place and its affinity with it.
I have blogged on Sake but knew very little about Japanese wine before attending this seminar and tasting at the Imagination Gallery in Bloomsbury (pictured). Jancis Robinson led a tasting of 9 wines and spoke engagingly about her visit to wineries at the base Mount Fuji last year. She is clearly championing these wines and sees them as a “great correlation with Japanese character” in terms of their calm, pure and low key characteristics. I suppose they are a bit like sake or rice wine in their clarity and style. They also are generally quite low in alcohol (10.5% to 11.5% in most cases) and much more enjoyable to taste than young high alcohol reds.
Jancis made the point that these are niche wines in Japan and that “the Japanese are still learning about them” (and some are very dismissive). This is in part due to their tiny production; one we tasted was Suntory Tomi no oka 2009, a barrel fermented Koshu; only 4000 bottles are made a year leading to the comment that they might only need one French and one American barrel for the lot. They are also relatively expensive weighing in at around £15 to £20 and only a few are available in the UK at high end outlets like Selfridges. The most obvious market is likely to be good Japanese restaurants in big foodie cities like London and New York as a match for sashimi (bass or white fish rather than tuna or salmon) or maybe to cut the oiliness of eel. They are likely to come in at £50 plus on a wine list. I would probably choose a sake but a couple were really not bad.
The prevalent grape variety Koshu is 98% genetically vinifera and is thought to have arrived along the Silk Route approximately a millenium ago. The fruit is very beautiful (pictured right), thick skinned, large and uniform. Jancis suggested Muscadet as a European comparison due to the purity and slight saltiness. Quince is sometimes offered as taste associated with Koshu but was not obvious to me. I particularly liked the 2010 Yamanashi Wine Co Sol Lucet which was very clean and slightly ricey (but not in a bad way) and the 2009 Grace Private Reserve which had some subtle acacia honey notes. Unfortunately the Sadoya Zenkouji Kitahara was the worst wine I have tasted in 2010 (possibly a faulty cork). Lynne Sheriff MW co-hosted the event and should be encouraged to keep up her campaign to get these wineries to use screwcaps.
The seminar was followed by further tasting opportunities and ‘bowl food’ with a host of producers (many looking for UK representation). I hope that the wines become more available as this was a really fascinating tasting and I would encourage you to seek out at least a couple to try.
We have a few Psychologists from Malta doing their doctorates at UEL and one (thanks Paul) kindly gave me some Maltese wine to try. I have to admit that I held no great hopes for it so was pleasantly surprised when I opened it.
The bottle (pictured right) is from one of the major wine producers Marsovin (the other players in the region are Delicata, Camilleri, Montekristo and Meridiana). It was a 2008 Gellewza/Syrah blend (Gellewza is an indigenous red variety and there is an indigenous white intriguingly called Ghirgentina). I have to admit to having had a cold for the last week so my tasting notes are not to be trusted but those sharing it were unanimous in declaring it really drinkable with the lamb and aubergine stew we were eating. The Syrah pepperiness seemed tempered by the Gewellza and it was very easy drinking. It drank like something older and, even if this was a storage issue it worked for me.
Despite being on the Roman wine map, Malta has never made much of an international impact wine-wise. Production is relatively small and some makers imported fruit. Wines are classified either as table wines, I.G.T. Maltese Islands, D.O.K. Malta or Gozo, D.O.K. Superior, Single Vineyard Estate wines and Boutique wines.
The Marsovin website is here and is worth a quick look. It is interesting to see that the company, like some other notable producers, support artists by commissioning images for labels. They also have cellars built in the 17th Century by the Knights of St. John and invite visitors in for tours. I hope to visit Malta soon and will make sure I leave enough time to explore winemaking in the region.