I was interested to see how the Co-op’s range of wines has changed from last year but probably wouldn’t have gone to their tasting if it hadn’t had been at the ICA. It is an attractive venue and there was the bonus a provocative show by the Bernadette Corporation (image left), called 2000 wasted years (here). Fittingly, they are a bit of a co-operative with a shifting membership and an interest in image and consumerism.
Last year one of my picks from the co-op range was the ecotastic Cono Sur Sauvignon Blanc 2011 (see blog). This year another wine from the Cono Sur stable stood out. The Bicicleta Pinot Noir 2011 shouted out incredible ‘quality to price ratio’. Smoky on the nose, lovely and crystalline to the eye and full of spiced fruit. At £7.49 this is a wonderful standard. Tesco often stock it too but why not plump for the Co-op instead and support their commitment to fair trade.
The Jour de Nuit Chardonnay Viognier 2012 is also a crowd pleaser with the 30% viognier adding aromatic and exotic notes to the chardonnay. Made by Xavier-Luc Linglin in Languedoc Roussillon this is yet more evidence of the area being able to produce wines that can compete in a higher price bracket (£9.99). The Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt Riesling Kabinett 2011 was a fine example, also at just under ten quid. There is much to enjoy about 2011 Rieslings from the Mosel. They are fragrant, accessible and warm but a hard sell in UK supermarkets. I hope this wine does shift because it is the opposite of the mainstream homogeneity that often thrives.
I was really amazed by this wine as I would probably have plugged for Puligny in a blind tasting! Made in the Okanagan Valley, the main viticultural area in British Columbia, by CedarCreek Estate (twice crowned ”Canada’s Winery of the Year”). This is part of their top-of-the-range Platinum label and was obviously made with serious care and attention, not to mention expensive barrels. It is easy to see why it’s picked up awards in Canada and the US. 357 cases were made but I guess not many pitched up in the UK. I will keep an eye out for other wines from CedarCreek and try to visit if I am in BC. This will drink well for years to come and I would love to taste it as it evolves and that expensive oak becomes more integrated.
Hand picked clone 76 and whole berry cluster pressed. 100% barrel fermented (25% with wild vineyard yeast) and 10 months in oak “from Coopers François Frères, Mercurey, Berthomieu, Remond and Dargaud & Jaegle”. Bottled September 2011 and released June 2012 . I love makers who put comprehensive information on the net. As well as the geek stuff they also have fun with tasting notes (see below) and a featured recipe; ‘bacon jam’ . If you haven’t tried bacon jam their version is here. You could cook up a batch and pair it with this wine.
WHAT WE SMELL Pineapple and roasted almonds.
WHAT WE TASTE Grapefruit. Minerals and spice.
WE’D EAT IT WITH Fresh crab, just pulled from the pot on the stove.
WE’D ALSO PAIR IT WITH Joni Mitchell’s 1971 album, Blue.
I have been pleasantly surprised by the 2011 Burgundy En Primeur tastings. The wines haven’t been massively hyped but are stylistically more ‘up my street’ with lower alcohol and more restraint than the lauded 09s and 10s (both of which I like). I guess most telling is what I actually bought to drink and it wasn’t at Grand, or even Premier, Cru level. I am increasingly priced out of these as Burgundy becomes ever more globally fashionable but in 2011 it also seems that top end wines might not be the best value because of the understated nature (limited longevity?) of the vintage. Given the problems with 2012, 2011 en primeur may be an opportunity not to be missed
The Corney and Barrow Tasting at the Tower of London gave an excellent overview of the pros and cons of the vintage and was the one that got me to part with cash. I ended up buying all three wines being shown by Domaine A & P de Villaine. The name will probably ring DRC bells but this is Aubert de Villaine’s own Domaine, based in Bouzeron, set up with his wife Pamela and now run by his nephew Pierre. (Website here). Villaine is of the ‘wines are made in the vineyard’ school of thought, and the wines reflect restraint in the cellar. A & P de Villaine has been organic since 1986 (certified by Qualicé-France) and the approach is well-bedded in, perhaps influencing the high quality of the fruit despite challenging conditions in 2011.
The Côte Chalonnaise (named after the region’s county town Chalon-sur-Saône and AKA Région de Mercurey) was identified as having good terroir by monks during the Middle Ages. Wines from Bouzeron, Rully, Mercurey and Montagny often provide value at a basic level but the area also has some seriously good makers some of them, like Villaine, interested in tradition rather than fashion. These wines also seem to be particularly food friendly.
Bourgogne Aligoté de Bouzeron (2011) A & P de Villaine; Aligoté may have been relegated in much of Burgundy (often for good reason) but in Bouzeron it is still extensively grown. This is Aligoté Doré, more refined than the more prevalent Aligoté and, in this incarnation, it ages well. Lots of lemon and hints of melon with wonderful minerality. Not cheap but fascinating and satisfying. Corney and Barrow, £135 per case of 12 in bond.
Rully Les Saint-Jacques (2011) A & P de Villaine; Despite its youth this is accessible (and may not be the longest lived white burg out there). The usual suspects of green fruit and blossom with a bit of brioche. I guess I could have bought any number of similar wines elsewhere but there was something about staying with the maker once I had decided on the other two wines. Corney and Barrow, £175 per case of 12 in bond.
Mercurey Les Montots (2011) A & P de Villaine; ‘Les Montots is situated on a fairly steep slope with southern exposure, planted with a selection of Pinot Noir vines from Nuits-Saint-Georges chosen for their aromatic qualities and moderate yield.’ Assorted red fruits and pleasant spiciness. At first it appears quite slight but there is an underlying structure that makes it surprisingly age-worthy (ready to drink in a year or two but potentially until 2020 onward). Traditional yet quirky, I can’t wait to drink it cellar cool with food. Corney and Barrow, £100 per case of 6 in bond. (This is made in such a small quantity that there is a limit of 6 per customer).
I was in town for a conference on inclusion earlier in the week and dropped in to a tasting in Bermondsey with Andrea D’Ercole from italyabroad.com, a small set up specialising in Italan wine and food. We were joined by Stefano Camilucci from La Valle Franciacorta who was showing three of his wines. What I really liked about the tasting was the small number of wines being shown; three sparkling Franciacorta, two whites and two reds all of which are drinking well now (see below), with a selection of anti-pasti and good company to discuss them with. This is much more analogous to how wines are drunk in real life rather than the false setting of a controlled tasting or a huge free for all with juvenile tannic monsters.
Franciacorta, La Valle NV
This Italian sparkling wine is made using the ‘Champagne method’ with a second fermentation in the bottle. Chardonnay, pinot bianco and pinot noir are vinified separately and then blended. It is a surprisingly structured and elegant Brut fizz. 12.5% and definitely worth trying at £20.99.
Franciacorta Rose’, La Valle NV
Left on its lees for at least 30 months, this blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir is a lovely onion skin/pink. Fragrant fruit and lingering yeasty aftertaste I really enjoyed. Durable enough for food and good competition for more expensive French competitors. 12.5% and £24.59
Franciacorta Zerum, La Valle 2001
Zerum is a Riserva made only in the best vintages fom Chardonnay from the oldest vineyard. This is a big, rich fizz that clearly benefits from the aging process (60 months). Only a few hundred bottles are produced each year. Very versatile in terms of food. Impressive even at £53.99.
From a single sea facing vineyard in the north west of Sardinia. This is an atypical Vermentino, rich and minerally. Lots of fruit on the nose and hints of tropicality. Most striking is an ozone quality and long finish. A really good food wine (13.5%) £13.99.
The Olympics have defined this summer. In many ways they are now defining September too which is a huge achievement for the Paralympics. I had committed so much to the former that the latter became a bit peripheral despite my work with kids with disabilities. I came back from France (see below for winey stuff) and was faced with awe inspiring images of people showing the world that our stereotypes are patronising and outmoded. There are challenging new discourses opening up and wandering around Stratford is even more inspiring than it was 4 weeks ago. Fantastic! Luckily quite a few friends have tickets so I am going to get to see some events. I can’t wait.
I managed to visit Languedoc‐Roussillon, Burgundy and Champagne over the summer and it has been a good opportunity to reflect on their relative strengths and weaknesses. The extreme south east of France will always be one of my favourite places. The wildness, magical light, social history, food and wine … it has it all and is a hugely underestimated wine region because of its history of mass production. Makers such as Jean Gardies and Olivier Pithon are the antithesis of this, making terroir driven wines characteristic of the physical landscape but also representative of cultural capital and attitudes. I was told that Pithon is no longer making his ‘Saturne’ and have contacted him to try and find out if this is true. That wine epitomises all that’s good about the area; old republican vines, grenache, carignan and syrah, biodynamic experimentation, garrigue and minerality. It would be a profound loss and I have had my fill of that this summer.
I had been due to meet up in France with my friend Mark and his family but he had already told me he would be too ill to travel due to surgery and chemo. He died a few days before I left after demonstrating how to face a terminal diagnosis with bravery and humour. I found myself surrounded by the beauty of Collioure reflecting on how much I would have enjoyed sharing the wines of the region with him as our kids played on the beach. He will be badly missed, particularly by Nicola, Ella and Nick. He is also a loss to Psychology, the training of clinical psychologists and to our understanding of disability, the area that fascinated him.
I have spent years in search of obscure vineyards and dragging my family around cold and dimly lit cellars but they still show great magnanimity about such visits. In Burgundy we had bikes and the highlight was a pleasant ride from Beaune to Puligny‐Montrachet taking in Meursault and a few other villages sacred to ‘Burg hounds’. It was a wobbly ride back after a tour, tasting and lunch at Domaine Leflaive. Disguised as exercise this was still great fun and my boys thought Simon Aplin’s engaging wine spiel the best of the summer visit talks.
Like Burgundy, Champagne has so many tasting opportunities it can be a bit overwhelming. A lot of the bigger houses are closed in August but Mumm was buzzing and they have good infrastructure for visitors. They also have a house style I quite like (not as much as Verve Cliquot or Pol Roger though) and a few interesting lines not available in the UK. Visits to Epernay and various growers are easy and well worth it. Although everyone is raving about ‘grower champagne’ I found them patchy though a couple were superb.
So my favourite wines of summer;
Mon P’tit Pithon Blanc Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes Domaine Olivier Pithon A snip at 16 euros for a magnum given the current exchange rate. Maccabeu, Grenache Blanc and Grenache Gris blended to accompany food and please rather than impress. Not too boozy and very gluggable so perfect for long lunches with lots of local anchovies.
La Torre (2009) Côtes du Roussillon Villages Domaine Jean Gardies Not cheap at twenty quid but a seriously good wine with a great future. Mourvedre, Grenache and Carignan, it has depth and balance that could stimulate a myriad of pretentious comparisons.
Saint Romaine Sous Le Chateau (2009) Domaine Olivier Leflaive Lovely mineral white Burgundy that is good value at not much over a tenner in France (premier cru status is being pursued but has not been granted yet). The 2010 is available in the UK from Haynes, Hanson and Clark.
Champagne Fernand Lemaire Champagne Brut (2005) An admirable effort from a medium sized family concern. 80% chardonnay and 20% pinot noir. Ginger biscuit notes which might not be everyone’s cup of tea but works for me. Premier cru although that designation in Champagne doesn’t really say much.
And favourite things to see and do; say ‘hello’ to the mischievous ‘Messire Bertrand’ in the kitchen at the Hospices de Beaune, eat Bouzigues oysters at the fishermen’s outlet in the harbour at Port Vendre then night sail back to Le Racou, visit Montrachet as a reminder that magic can emerge from pretty humble fields, ooh and ahh at the Champagne themed and Chagall designed stained glass windows in Reims Cathedral, whisper ‘Merrett’ by Dom Pérignon’s grave in the pretty chapel at Hautvillers, and perhaps best of all go on all the slides at ‘Aqualand’ in Argeles with fearless kids…
Re the end of previous blog the medal reference was a joke but I actually ended up wearing a (chocolate) gold medal at the Corney and Barrow summer tasting. Unfortunately everyone was enjoying the evening so much that I haven’t got a picture of it! I am really bad at taking pics ,pretty unphotogenic, forgetful and try to be ‘in the moment’ rather than capturing it digitally. However, on this occasion it would be lovely to have a record of it as I scored highest in the blind tasting and won a case of very nice wine (result!).
About thirty of us pitched up the C and B in Paternoster square. I was joined by friends, Paul, Phil and Huw (also not pictured as too busy enjoying themselves) but it was an individual competition. Nicely warmed up by the house Blanc de Blancs a lovely ugni blend from Jura which is a steal at around a tenner we were led through the tasting by Joe Muller and colleagues. The first 6 wines weren’t blind. A Riesling from JJ Prum, Cakebread Sauvignon Blanc, Dampf Chablis, Fiano Masseria Bianca (all 2010), an unwooded Chardonnay from The Lane and Macizo from Benjamin Romero (both 09). The latter was most popular followed closely by the Chablis.
Then the real fun started. I love the challenge of tasting blind and am always heartened by the abysmal performance of experts in truly blind tastings. There were six wines and we had to identify the country of origin, the price point of the wine to the nearest fiver and, for a bonus point, the city and year in which the Olympics were held in that country. Being a psychologist I was attentive to the commentary and immediately knew the identity of the ‘best seller’ in front of us (Domaine de Saissac). I also nailed the 09 PSI from Pingus producer Peter Sisseck and an Achaval Ferrer Malbec. I did this without an obvious clue re the Malbec that tipped off the other tasters. But before I get too carried away with Sherlock Holmes comparisons I failed to notice the opening wine was a very light rose’ and thought it was an oxidised white… Despite this I managed to get 19 out of 24 points. Joe kindly coordinated celebrations with Muddy Water Pinot and the remains of the tasting bottles. A fun night.
I like Jackson Estate and, for a few months during the prolific rise of wines from New Zealand, their Sauvignon Blanc was a bit of a ‘house white’. I still think it is consistently better than most of the ‘premium’ SBs (Cloudy Bay et al), and head and shoulders above the myriad of monotonous wines being churned out there now. However, for some reason I hadn’t had, or at least hadn’t registered having, the Shelter Belt Chardonnay until yesterday.
There is a bit of sun this morning so I am not going to spend much time on this review as who knows when the next respite from the Great British monsoon will be! Jackson are a paragon of consumer information and my guess is that this is just another reflection of a conscientious outfit doing their best to make their wine accessible. They provide good tasting notes and the pdf for the 08 Shelter Belt is here.
If only all producers made the effort to do this the wine world would be more accessible. I guess most people don’t care about ‘titratable acidity’ or that it was Geoff Woollcombe doing lots of hard work in the fields, but others do and providing this information can add value. I was really taken by this wine and wanted to see if my impressions were ‘right’ in terms of how it was made. I also like to check out my tasting notes with others (I guess this is an ingrained tendency to triangulate).
You don’t get much change from twenty quid with this wine but it knocks spots off many white Burgundys from the same year that cost more. It is drinking beautifully but has a good few more years left in it. I guess it demonstrates the utility of screwtops and I am going to cellar a few to see how they evolve. The lovely balance and tropical notes make it really moreish. The French oak has been used sensitively and there is a nice oatmeal flavour in the background. Not much was left by the time the chicken had roasted…
Jackson Estate Shelter Belt Chardonnay 2008 Ocado £17.00
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 had a wonderful lunch at the Corner Room in Bethnal Green before I went sailing but did not have time to write it up. It really merits a review as I can still recall the meal despite eating out every night last week. Timeout had given it five stars and a rave review and I had high hopes having previously eaten Nuno Mendez’s impressive food at the Loft. The Loft was his testing ground for Viajante, the flagship restaurant, in the ambitious Town Hall Hotel and Apartments (pictured above). The Corner Room though is a much humbler space accessed through the impressive lobby with its sweeping staircase and quirky modern art.
I think Sommelier Witeke Teppema is one of the brightest stars among young sommeliers in London. She isn’t in awe of Bordeaux and articulates a clear vision in terms of her role in helping people enjoy wine. She also manages to find matches for Nuno’s, often challenging and sometimes exceptional, cooking and has put together a list that is full of good value and interesting wines.
I started with poached artichoke, San Jorge cheese and spinach which showed great confidence in its simplicity. The mustard sauce and little pink radish slices contrasting prettily with the green leaves. It ate brilliantly, no fireworks just great flavours. A glass of Mas des Agrunelles “Fleur Blanche” 2009 (pictured right) recommended by Witeke was a good match. Not a wine I would normally be drawn to but it manages to combine the best aspects of Chardonnay (70%) with the floral fun of Roussanne (30%). It was fresh and citrus with a lovely richness. Almost waxy it is a good food wine and has depth way beyond its relatively humble cost (a fiver a glass). This is further evidence of the great things happening in Languedoc Roussillon and the value of trying a wine I would normally ignore because of my biases.
My main course of pork and ‘Portuguese bread pudding’ was one of the most enjoyable plates of food I have had this year. Top quality Iberian pork with carrots and wonderful buttery fried bread. This dish was clear evidence of confidence in three components’ that, when cooked well, work together brilliantly. Slightly decadent, hearty and satisfying I felt compelled to thank the kitchen and encourage them to keep serving the pork quite rare (as I guess many diners might look at it and be a bit worried by the pinkness of the meat). The Domaine Grosbois “La Cuisine de Mere” 2010 Chinon Rose had a touch of tannin and worked fine to cut the unctuous crispy bread but the Giacomo Borgogno Langhe Freisa 2009 is probably a better bet. The list is small (five whites, the rose’ and four reds) but they are solid and as well thought out as the cooking.
I can still recall the flavours of the dessert of blueberries with goats cheese caramel, brioche and shiso. Pretty as a picture and fresh as a daisy, the shiso granita was a palate tingling joy. Not one for sugar and chocolate freaks but they are well served by the dark chocolate with peanut butter ice cream. The atmosphere was relaxed (the room pictured left is informal and bright), the service was great and I can’t recommend it enough. Luckily this qualifies as local for me and I hope it thrives as I intend to revisit asap and as often as I can, as cooking of this confidence and quality is rarely available at this price.
My great friend Paul was the nominated photographer for the sailing trip and once he gets me some images I will post them. We had an amazing time including a lovely encounter with a pod of seven playful dolphins in the Bay of Palma and some decidedly demanding waves off Dragonera island. Time for emails now and prep for the coming hectic week. I also want a quick spin round the park with Sarah and the kids before we settle down to lunch and the Wimbledon men’s final.
A friend brought this bottle over at the weekend. I was intrigued and, once we tasted it, really impressed. I have not got much experience of Israeli wines but know that they have been picking up international plaudits and awards, including the Decanter best Red Rhone varietal over £10 awarded to Carmel winery from upper Galilee (trumping Guigal et al at their own game).
This bottle, from Galil Mountain Winery, which is also in Upper Galilee, is a blend of 69% Viognier and 31% Chardonnay called Avivim. The bottle describes the area as “a wild mountainous region of forested slopes, gorges, stony ridges and running streams” no doubt appealing to terroiristes with air miles to use. The winery is linked to a Kibbutz so maybe a good one to volunteer for on a gap year.
I find most Viognier over-perfumed, one dimensional and gag inducing, so was intrigued by the potentially moderating influence of the Chardonnay. This was balanced but still retained enough ‘tropicality’ to appeal to Viognier fans with peach, papaya and ‘blah blah blah’ (insert favourite tropical fruit from usual list, melon maybe) with a not unpleasant spicy tang. I have tasted lots of Condrieu at twice the price which was less enjoyable (in my own unique taste world I am never wrong). I don’t give points but this is technically sound, interesting and drinkable stuff.
I was surprised to see it was 15% abv as it did not strike me as overly alcoholic (in tune with good Rhones). Fermented on its lees, 9 months in French oak, a weighty bottle and talk of terroir signals intent. It had a $20.90 price tag, which I guess equates to around £15, and a suggested storage/drinking window from 2010 to 2013. It also states ‘Kosher for Passover’ on the back. I think the stereotype of boiled up Kosher wines is still quite strong and the politics of the region unhelpful to Marketing types. This could be seen as a good recipe for value for money but perhaps the conscientious would feel it also appropriate to make a donation to a worthy cause in the region…