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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).
As previously blogged, reading The Drops of God Manga (review here) whetted my appetite for a decent Burgundy. I couldn’t stretch to the 1990 DRC Richebourg (featured) in the story so plumped for a Monopole Beaune from Nicolas Potel bought en primeur from the wine society in a mixed case. Just as an aside, I have more or less given up on buying en primeur. The last time I bought any Bordeaux was 2005 and I have no intention of buying any more. This is partly because of prices which are increasingly exploitative and subject to fluctuations due to trading such as those seen with 2010. There are also longevity issues (not simply that the wines will not be ready to drink for 20 years but also that I am now 45…), although I am happy with the idea of my kids cracking some open in their twenties and thirties. I have also come to the conclusion that I prefer Burgundy (red and white) and Rhones (red) so will focus on them. I am also at a stage where I want to ‘back fill’ with wines that I know that I enjoy and are ready to drink.
With all things Burgundian generalizations can often be of limited use but the 06s are mostly drinking before the 05s and I have tasted a few recently that are in really good shape. Nicolas Potel is generally a safe pair of hands and the Beaune is a Parker 90 pointer (cited for reference not kudos). The fruit was bought from the owner of the decently sited Monopole (Les Vignes Franches) near the southern end of Beaune’s Premier Cru vineyards close to the boundary with Pommard and I had reasonably high expectations given the vineyard, maker, supplier and critic’s assessments.
On opening it was a lovely colour, crystalline raspberry with a pink rim and no obvious signs of age. It had quite a boozy nose which surprised me (13%ABV) but not much else going on. First taste showed concentration yet it was relatively light as pinot should be (in my opinion). It was cherry all the way with little meaty or herby complexity.
I was looking to satisfy a craving (although as I was playing tennis 3 hours later I knew one glass would be all I could indulge in) and so ‘pumped and fridged’ the rest of the bottle, hoping that it might be more expressive the next day.
24 hours later it was still slightly montone (a reasonably pleasant tone but not the complex melody I had hoped for). Don’t get me wrong, this is technically ‘on the ball’ and a really nice wine, it just didn’t have that magic I craved. It could be characterized as a feminine wine and would probably make most people very happy; especially if they love those round cherry liqueur chocolates (which is what it most reminded me of).
Anyone into their wikis could update the wikipedia entry for Monopole Burgundys (here) because Clos des Vignes Franches is not listed.
Building on the Manga blog below, have a look at this site (here) which has some wonderful graphic wine reviews by Lily Elaine Wakawaka. A really refreshing alternative to stuffy point driven descriptions. I guess it is only a matter of time before reviews become increasingly multimedia and perhaps multisensory. I would happily listen to some music someone has matched with a wine whilst looking at a painting or graphic representation and guess it might add to the experience. Here is some research on the links between the two. Adrian North music and wine There are also some papers on the research page exploring multisensory perception and taste.
I am at a loss to why the lower alcohol wines of the Mosel are not more popular in these health conscious times. Perfect for drinking with a wide range of foods, including increasingly popular South East Asian cuisines, they still tend to languish in the popularity stakes whilst bars and restaurants select monotonous New World bottles for their lists. The explanations for this usually include the complexity of the German language with quadruple barrelled classifications, crap marketing, confusion over sweetness and perhaps there is a vague sense of distrust of things Germanic amongst some in the UK as well as intransigence on the part of the producers themselves. It could also be that some consumers use a heuristic that more alcohol equals more ‘value’ or that modern tastes have become accustomed to the increase in alcohol levels over the last few decades and only full on boozy fruit bombs register.
Whatever the cause, and it is likely to be a convergence of factors, wines from good producers in the Mosel are some of the most subtle, ‘terroir’ focused and wonderful wines out there. They can also offer excellent relative value if you can work out which style you like and have a history that underpins their quality. Many of the great vineyards were developed by the Romans and have been nurtured over centuries by families who have developed intimate knowledge of them. Riesling, which accounts for about 60% of volume, is recognised as a ‘great grape’ by a majority of the wine cognoscenti and devoted advocates include some of the wine writers I most admire such as Hugh Johnson who wrote the Foreword for Freddy Price’s excellent Riesling Renaissance, an erudite paen to Riesling (pictured).
I am no expert on the Mosel but have been lucky enough to taste quite a few of Joh. Jos. Prüm’s wines over the years and despite a few that push my tolerance for sweetness found them to be consistently interesting. I am really glad I succumbed when I was offered a case of J. J. Prüm 2009 Riesling Kabinett recently at a pretty good, not cheap, price. It combines wonderful fullness with a clarity of flavour. It’s lime zest acidity makes it feel relatively light and 9% alcohol means you can have a glass with lunch without falling asleep mid afternoon. It also has an underlying stoniness to it and will evolve well over coming years so I have pushed a couple of bottles to the back of a double depth rack in the hope they remain unnoticed for a few years.
The J. J. Prüm website is under construction and will hopefully be better than others which fail dismally to promote these great wines effectively.
Price, F. (2004) Riesling Renaissance Mitchell Beazley
A midweek outing to see Great Britain play Serbia in the Olympic Basketball Arena (pictured left) was destined to be dry as the tickets specified ‘airport style security’ and ‘no alcohol’. However, on arrival we were happy to note a shiny airstream trailer selling a decent selection of bottles. It is part of a fleet of vintage vehicles, also including classic Citroen vans, used by the Wondering Wine Company (I wondered if it was a misspelling…) an offshoot of Bibendum Wines committed to entering the lucrative ’festival market’.
The list includes three sparkling, five whites, a rose and five reds. A solid mix of the familiar and dependable with a few pleasant surprises including some at a fiver a glass. The De Castellane Brut NV was ok but not cheap at £45 for a bottle or £7.50 a glass, although the blurb was a bit OTT with ‘compote, brioche and gingerbread’. Spy Valley Pinot Noir is consistently good, as is their Sauvignon Blanc and both were under 30 quid a bottle or £7 per 175 cl glass. Having wines like this available is welcome and I had a brief chat with Simon Swift MD the driving force behind Wondering Wine. He was particularly effusive about the Margaux on the list, La Bastide de Dauzac (£34 or £8.50 for a glass) which was ‘spicy’ as advertised but confusingly described as ‘clean’. It was technically sound and very drinkable. Having wines like this available, rather than some of the horrors on offer at other sporting events, has got to be a good thing.
I was most interested in the way in which the wines were served though. A lot of effort, and cost, had gone into the cardboard box, with optional ice, and the ‘specimen bottle’ style plastic decanter (£5 deposit and pictured left). A nice touch is the label with the details of the wine on which is attached to the carafe with a rubber band. The tumblers were also plastic but a cut above the standard flimsy things favoured at glass free events. Perfect for picnics. If you are paying 30 quid for a bottle of wine you don’t want to drink it from something that completely undermines the taste and these were the best non glass ‘glasses’ I have experienced.
We got lucky in the Olympic ticket lottery with boxing, shooting, basketball, handball and diving tickets (friends attribute it to a postcode conspiracy) so it was exciting to get a taste of what’s to come. I can really understand people being frustrated with the lottery but for me the tragedy of the games is that local kids have not been allocated tickets. My kids will get to be part of it but many of their friends will not. Boris should reconsider this and keep in mind the alienation felt by many young people in East London.
Btw Great Britain lost in a nail-biting finish: with two seconds to go and two points behind Serbia they completely fluffed a potential 3 pointer which would have won it. Oldest son Luke, who is ‘shooting guard’ for Newham All Star Academy, could have got it closer! It was an exciting game though and the series of ‘test events’ should help preparations for the real thing next summer. Hopefully some decent wines will be available but the burger company monopoly might undermine a wide range of food being available…
I went to a couple of tastings last week including the launch of Delamotte 2002. A very drinkable Blancs de Blancs from one of the oldest Champagne Houses best known for its connection to Salon. It retails at just over £30 (Corney and Barrow) and is a lovely special occasion fizz. Despite such continental distractions, I seem to be blogging about English sparkling wine (ESW) a lot at the moment. This is partly due to being UK based and having lots of family in the south of England but I think it also reflects the way in which ESW is moving from a relatively niche position into the mainstream. Vineyards are well established and attracting international investment. The product itself has proven quality and it has been reclaimed as solidly ‘English’ because Dr Christopher Merret was the first to record the addition of sugar in sparkling wine production. I love Champagne but I am also increasingly enjoying ESW and its success in blind tastings. I am also loving the shenanigans over what it should be called.
Given the above, I decided to stop in at Ridgeview in Sussex on the way to a family gathering near Lewes. Despite having a serious cut on his arm Sales and Marketing Exec Oliver Marsh kindly showed me around. Ridgeview concentrates on the traditional triad of ‘Champagne grapes’ and has an interesting range of wines (website here) and all are sparkling. They have invested in some serious kit and are awaiting a disgorger that should speed up production. This is a good thing as they are running out of reserves due to their popularity. I really liked the ‘Knightsbridge’ a Blanc de Noirs (pictured right) but this was out of stock and we had to track down a bottle tucked in amongst the cider and perry at Middle Farm near Firle.
The current debate regarding the implementation of a generic name for ESW is a healthy statement of intent but probably doomed to failure. Interestingly, one suggestion, ‘Merret’ , was copyrighted by Ridegview owner Mike Roberts and is used for a friends of the vineyard club. Other suggestions include Bretagne which sounds a bit like a bad 70s marketing strategy (Pomagne), Albion (Brighton and Hove, not West Brom) and Lancelot (French import). All seem flawed and, as I write this, I like the simplicity of ESW but guess any committee decision is likely to be a complete ‘camel’.
BTW the image at the top of this blog is of course of Thomas Thornycroft’s wonderful statue of Boudicca by the Thames near Westminster. Cast many years after his death it is instantly recognisable and uses her proper name not the Roman corruption Boadicea. The people suggesting Boadicea (Decanter September 2011 page 9) as a generic name for English fizz should be ashamed of themselves given its Italian connotations. Long live Boudicca!
My first case from the 2009 en primeur campaign arrived mid week and, although this is a baby, the experts are pretty united in suggesting that the 09 Meursaults are approachable and drinking early. The case was from Haynes Hanson and Clarke who provide a combination of astute buying and good customer service. The offer notes are here.
I stuck 11 bottles in the cellar and one in the fridge because one of the best things in life is exploring a wine over the years, especially white Burgundy, and I am always (over) eager to try the first bottle. Father’s day and a roast chicken with stuffing, made with a glug of Istrian truffle oil, provided the perfect excuse.
The bottle was a bit cold and the first sip felt tight and was one dimensional. Colour was good though, crystalline with green and soft golden tones. There was a surprising steeliness (stoniness maybe) to it and it clearly isn’t a particularly ’rich’ style. I was not really sure how much complexity this would show in the long run but then the temperature increased and suddenly there were some really interesting spicy notes, the oak needs to settle over the next few years so that these can come to the fore. Food is key and a wine like this can only really show itself properly with a meal.
I have been reading about how the the 2008s are being re-evaluated really positively at the moment. There seem to be a few good value gems emerging and maybe its time to back fill although I couldn’t find this in the 08. Wine reading is generally on the back burner though as I am really busy examining doctorate theses at the moment. I have four in July; three are written by Educational Psychologists and one by a Clinical Psychologist. It is interesting that it would be hard to tell them apart in a ‘blind’ design. There are loads of stereotypes about the different divisions of psychology but actually we are much more similar than different.
I am also having to tie up loose ends before a sailing trip on Friday. I will be meeting up with my excellent crew mates Paul, Mike, Pete and Roy, and (easy jet willing) and we will be picking up our boat in Parma de Mallorca before heading off around the Balearics. Rumour has it that a night race to Ibiza is on the cards which should be fun. It will also be good to be somewhere Spanish speaking as I am a bit rusty at the moment. I will never forget how to order tinto de verrano though…
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.
My mum’s birthday on Sunday saw a gathering of the ‘clan’ in Leigh on Sea. The venue was chosen so that we could all admire the boats built by my stepfather Brian, a marine engineer. There were 4 or 5 docked (two pictured left) and a few more came and went during the afternoon. Most are cocklers but he also builds tugs and the odd commission including a really impressive replica of the boat Joshua Slocum used in his ground breaking round the world trip.
We had lunch at Simply Seafood, the name says it all. Between us we covered most of the menu. My sole was fine and it was good to eat some of the local cockles given the boats we were there to admire. Highlight of the wines was a Macon Lugny ‘Les Genieveres’ 2008 from Louis Latour. Nice green tinge to it and a balance between honey and lemon. Refreshing with a surprisingly good finish. Versatile in terms of matching different fish dishes and pretty good value at £21.45. I am a fan of Macon and in a decent year like 2008 there are bargains to be had. I might order some of this as it is drinking well.
Interestingly I am working my way through a 2002 white Burg from a good supplier. Five bottles in and three have been badly oxidised. Symptomatic and sad because this ‘hit and miss’ aspect of Burgundy really puts people off experimenting and they, understandably, head for the mass produced reliability of supermarket mega brands. I am happy to let the odd bottle go but when half the case is problematic it becomes impossibly expensive to do this. The merchant has agreed to refund in full for the ‘bad’ ones because they understand that not honouring this would destroy trust and therefore valued long term custom.
I have loved Croatia since the 80′s when I found myself, at 18 years old, penniless on a beach in Greece. I needed to find my way back to the UK to earn more money to extend a summer spent ‘Interailing’. The first stage of the journey involved a train from Athens to Belgrade with a friend and a couple of Croatian girls returning home. We only just made it through the quite stringent border controls as Yugoslavia was still very insular at this time. We survived on Ouzo and goodwill and I still associate the area with this attitude.
I have been back a few times but had not been to Rovinj (pictured above) before last week. Perched on the Istrian coast it is a sweet little port with a lot to offer, including its proximity to Italy (Venice is a couple of hours by boat) and countless vineyards. It is an area of fish, wine, truffles and game with an admirably simple approach to gastronomy. Its people are relaxed and welcoming, especially ‘off season’. The local currency is Kuna and your money goes a long way here. The Adriatic is renowned for its calmness and colour so sailing around the unspoiled islands of the archipelago is a big draw, as is nature trekking. I made it to a couple of islands but spent most of the time reading, writing and playing tennis. The tennis infrastructure is excellent and lessons half the price of the UK.
Rovinj now has its first 5 star hotel the Monte Mulini and wine is one of its big selling points with ‘The Wine Vault’ (pictured right). Head sommelier Emil Perdec has a deserved international reputation and leads a big team by example. The wine list (over 500 bins) is mainly Croatian so it provides an opportunity to really explore the potential of local varieties, or ‘culturas‘, such as Malvasija and Grasevina. The fizz is improving and there are some easy drinking sweet wines such as Prosek made from the autochthonous Hvar grape varieties Bogdanusa and Parand Trbljan. It is now well known that Zinfandel is the same as Plavac Mali and Croatia’s contribution to the world of wine is really underrated. One successful match at the Wine Vault was Belje Merlot 2008 with a main of goat and asparagus. The local tiny asparagus spears are incredibly bitter but attributed with healthy properties by locals. Small slices of kid liver (sic) were scattered in it and the Merlot stood up well to the strong tastes. A bit on the modern side for a traditionalist like me; 14.6% alcohol but technically good it convinced Decanter medal judges and has done well at blind tastings. Mark up was reasonable and local bottles excellent value compared to French imports.
The best meal of my trip (although pasta with truffles is both affordable and reliably good in Istria) was something called ‘fisherman’s pie’ in a local cafe. This is a simple pizza base folded with anchovy, tomato, onions, garlic and herbs. Doused in lots of the local wonderful olive and wood fire baked it is obviously Italian influenced and passes the quality control of Venetian millionaires who drop anchor nearby. Cheap, honest food (£3), I could have eaten it every day with a glass of house rose’. It is a dish that sums up the area.