Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Beaujolais nouveau!

The third Thursday in November is not the grandest date in the wine calendar but it is one of the most frivolous. Last thursday was Beaujolais Nouveau day, when Beaujolais celebrates the release of its latest vintage. In stark contrast to Bordeaux's drawn out en primeur campaign, Beaujolais's latest vintage is released without fanfare for immediate enjoyment.

View from Domaine de la Rochette

Unlike the 'classic' mouthwash taste typical of Beaujolais Nouveau, this was a surprisingly good and already well developed wine. This could bode well for the 2011 vintage. Domaine de la Rochette in Régnié has produced a great little wine.

In true burgundian style we tasted the wine with gougères. It had a surprisingly deep violet core; attractive Beaujolais bubble gum nose; very light, silky fruit & lots of granite minerality without excessive acidty and a short 'ribena' finish. 1* 6/10

Thursday, 18 August 2011

In the beginning... Villa Cafaggio

This is the wine that started my love affair with Chianti. Villa Cafaggio is one of the best producers of Chianti and it is both widely available and excellent value.
The Conca d'Oro

Like my all time favourite Chianti, Fontodi, the Cafaggio estate is located in the "Conca d'Oro" of Panzano in the Chianti Classico region.  Not only has Tuscany been blessed with an almost uninterrupted run of excellent vintages since 1999, but it is also probably the only terroir in the world capable of harnessing sangiovese to perfection. In a world where most wines struggle to assert themselves in what has become a commoditised market, it is beyond me why Chianti producers choose to dilute their unique identity with international grapes. Thankfully, this Chianti Classico is made entirely from Sangiovese and aged in traditional Slovenian oak casks.

Villa Cafaggio, Chianti Classico, 2007

Appearance: deep & sumptuous

Nose: the nose of an older, more mature vintage with eucalyptus, cedar and herbs

Palette: sumptuous, deep and soft fruit (blackberries & leather - almost Hermitage) with an elegant balance of acidity. Middle palette fades fairly quickly but the acidity whips up lovely mature tannins & black cherry fruit into a long fruity finish.

Conclusion: still in my top 3 Chiantis. An approachable & delicious wine but where can it go from here? 3.5* 8/10

Monday, 4 July 2011

Vermouth: the insider's tipple

At the end of a recent Piemonte tasting, with puckered lips and purple teeth, I approached Roberto Bava of the eponymous winery. To my amazement, he suggested I don't bother trying his wines but have a vermouth instead. "Vermouth, isn't that an 80's throwback drink?", I thought to my self.

Wow, what a pleasant surprise! This is not just any vermouth, this is Cocchi's Vermouth di Torino. Mixed with a few ice cubes, some sparkling water and some lemon zest, this makes the most refreshing and delicious drink I have had in a very long time.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Piemonte: the good, the bad, & the ugly

I love Italian wine. Indigenous grape varieties, an array of idiosyncratic regions,  and not to mention probably the most food friendly wines in the world with their moreish acidity. Italian wines are unmatched by any other country for their character and diversity. 

However, I am a relative newcomer to Italy and her wines and thus far I have not ventured far from the well trodden path of Tuscany and Abruzzo. Until recently, I knew the wines of Piemonte only by reputation, and so I jumped at the chance to taste some of the best the region has to offer at the Decanter Piemonte Grand Tasting. Unexpectedly, there was one common theme running through most of the wines: oak. There was a clear distinction between those producers who aged their wines in the traditional botti and those who used the more modern bariques. To my taste, the former made wines with more balance where the oak complimented and lifted the fruit, while the latter made wines that were utterly lacking in fruit and perfume, having been swamped by new oak. Here are a few highlights as I have since lost my notes! 

The good...

Barbaresco, Produttori del Barbaresco, 2006
A beautiful brown colour and an enticingly perfumed nose. Very burgundian. A lovely, well balanced wine that, although young, is drinking well now.

For a co-operative, these are superb wines. Interestingly, they produce single vineyard wines too.  The website has some great photos and details on the individual vineyards themselves. 

Roero, Sudisfa’, Angelo Negro e Figli, 2008
100% Nebbiolo and aged in botti. Herbs on the nose,  a darker colour suggesting a heavier wine but it had a nice balance between ripe fruit and light, perfumed texture. In another two years this will be perfect!

Having never tried a wine from Roero, this was a fantastic introduction to the region. In geographic terms, Roero, is opposite Barolo, but in vinuous terms it is very close, being 100% Nebbiolo. What is more, Roero's wines represent value for money - this one is approximately £30 a bottle, which is half the price of many Barolos of similar quality (bear in mind this is Piemonte!).
Moscato d’Asti, La Rosa Selvatica, Icardi, 2010
So crisp & delicate that it barely touches the palette. The bubbles lift the sweet grapey fruit and release it as they pop in the mouth. At 5%, it's light in alcohol too.

The bad...
Cortese. I like indigenous grapes, but this one has very little to offer. Piemonte, stick to the reds and the sparkling wines, your whites do you no favours!

The ugly... 
Like a horrific creation, Enzo Boglietti's wines had more in common with Frankenstein, having been constructed with the incongruous 'limbs' of Nebbiolo and rampant new oak. The fruit was caged in the oak, making these wines unpleasant to drink.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Return of the Soave

Although not in the same league as Pieropan's La Rocca, this is another really god wine from Soave. If anyone ever needed proof that the Garganega grape can rival Chardonnay for richness and Sauvignon for crispness, this is it.

The Coffeles have 25 hectares of vineyard in Soave. Made entirely from Garganega, the Soave Classico is the entry level wine to an impressive and diverse range.

Soave Classico, Coffele, 2009

Appearance: light & golden with  a green hue

Nose: clear with minerals & wild herbs

Palette: clean and crisp with some underlying honey richness and apricots. More mineral on the finish, which isn't particularly noteworthy.

Conclusion: a good wine with all the right flavours but a little two dimensional. 2.5* 6/10

Monday, 9 May 2011

An Italian discovery

Falerio dei Colli Ascolani DOC is hard to find. It doesn't exist in most wine books, even the indispensable Hugh Johnson Pocket Wine Book 2010 draws a blank. The little known appellation is in the Marche, the central coastal region of eastern Italy. Falerio dei Colli Ascolani is a DOC for white wines made from a traditional blend of Trebbiano, Passerina, and Pecorino (the grape variety, not the cheese!). 

The producer, Saladini Pilastri, was the first winery in the Piceno area to achieve the prestigious Tre Bicchieri award from Italy's wine bible the Gambero Rosso. The winemaking is overseen by celebrated enologist Alberto Antonini and the vineyards are clasified as organic since they are kept without the use of chemical fertilizers. While the wines are not amongst Italy's most well known, they are well regarded. Wine Advocate raves about the wines of Saladini Pilastri, which regularly receive scores of 90 and above.

I didn't make a tasting note but it was an interesting wine with a richer palette than other Italian varietals and pleasant minerality: 2* 6/10. It turns out that the same wine was stocked by Berry Brothers who noted the following:
Falerio is the appellation, a little known enclave of The Marche, in the centre of Italy. The producer, Saladini Pilastri, has been making organic wine since 1995 and this example, which includes the rare grape varieties of Passerina and Pecorino, is delightfully lemon oil and fennel-scented, and is crisp, dry, intriguing and compelling.
Finally, not only do Saladini Pilastri make excellent wines, they are also not bad with a camera. The website has some great photos, perfect for vinuous escapism...
The vineyards
The surrounding area
The Colli Ascolani

The clock tower in Spinetoli

Sunday, 8 May 2011

A lust for Meerlust

The Meerlust Estate
With the Bordeaux 2010 en primeur campaign about to kick off, hot on the heels of the much-hyped and expensive 2009 vintage, it looks tempting to snap up a few bargains in what is rumoured to be as good a vintage as the previous one. However, after the price rises for 2009, a bottle of cru classe claret starts at circa £25 per bottle and at these prices consumers would be forgiven for looking elsewhere for a cheaper alternative. Can an entry-level wine from the New World and costing less than half as much offer a decent substitute?

Meerlust is one of South Africa's oldest, most reputable wine producers, renowned for its top wine, a Bordeaux blend called Rubicon. Having been established in 1693, Meerlust certainly has the heritage of the top Bordeaux chateaux. It has been owned by the Myburgh family since 1756 and Hannes Myburgh is the 8th generation of Myburghs to own Meerlust. It has even got a chateau,  a fine old manor house on the estate near Stellenbosch. When it comes to finding a claret substitute, Meerlust ticks all the right superficial boxes.

Meerlust Red is the entry level wine selected from a combination of the younger Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabenet Franc and Merlot vines destined for the flagship wine, Rubicon.  Meerlust even suggest that it can be aged for up to 12 years. How many of those Bordeaux garagiste bombshells will age that long?! And, at £10 a bottle this is not only amazing value but it is also a serious contender for a claret alternative with a very Old World pedigree and taste.

Meerlust Red, Stellenbosch, 2008

Appearance: scarlet rim with a claret translucency

Nose: initially, very merlot with lots of 'green peppercorns', then plenty of cabernet franc aromas and mocha with a hint of mint.

Palette: perfect balance, very Old World with a cabernet franc bias as well as creamy cab sauv blackcurrant & mocha with well integrated oak and lovely juicy acidity and tannin. A medium finish but a point now.

Conclusion: if I had tasted this blind I would easily take this for a cru classe claret. A luscious red wine that is both classy and moreish. 3* 7.5/ 10

Sunday, 1 May 2011

The perils of the modern wine writer

Origin of the Gout, Henry William Bunbury, 1815
How does the modern day wine writer quench the multimedia's thirst for frequent tasting notes and oenological insights whilst observing medical guidelines regarding alcohol intake? As a regular reader of the vinous press and wine blogs, it has often struck me that, in order to publish such an enormous amount material on a constant basis, wine journalists must have strong livers and hollow legs.

Now, of course, I realise that at most wine tastings the professional wine hack makes use of the spitoons, but what of the sheer number of wines tasted? Are gout, a ruddy complexion, having a liver that looks like foie gras and a constant hangover the inevitable side effects of a successful career in the wine media? The only conclusion I can draw is that the venerable Michael Broadbent, with a career in the wine trade spanning decades, must have the constitution of an ox to have lasted this long and keep going!

Friday, 29 April 2011

Soave & sophisticated

Pieropan's single vineyard La Rocca is one of Italy's top wines, and one which demonstrates that Soave can indeed produce world class wines of real distinction, as opposed to the flaccid, over-produced wines that have dented the reputation of this appelation.

If you've ever been to Venice then you've probably drunk Soave. One of many diverse local wines in the verona area, Soave is based on the garganega grape. The wines can be intense, with mineral flavours and can age well, but like so many Italian whites they are often underrated.

The Pieropans were pioneers of single vineyard Soave and produce two single vineyard wines, Calvarino and La Rocca, on which their reputation has been built. The Pieropan website gives the following information on La Rocca...
The vineyard La Rocca is situated on the Monte Rocchetta hill, just below the mediaeval castle built by the Scaligeri family in the town of Soave. The microclimate in this vineyard produces wines with a unique perfume and distinctive taste. The grapes are picked when very ripe, often as late as the end of October, giving tremendous complexity and aromatic qualities to the wine, making it a wine of great breeding. The wine was first made under this label in 1978.

Soave Classico, La Rocca, Pieropan, 2008
Appearance: bright golden hay with a green hue
Nose: sweet honey & minerals (wet stones, reminiscent of a Vouvray)
Palette: an altogether richer feel than the Coffele Soave Classico we drank as an aperitif. A spoonful of honey, brown sugar and apricots. Initially very Meursault and then the minerals & acidity kick in to reveal a complex wine. A very long finish of honey and brown sugar.
Conclusion: a wine fully deserving of its excellent reputation. Intense and almost demi sec with a rich a creamy texture which really came out after being open for an hour. 4* 9/10

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Vino nobile indeed!

Montepulciano is a picturesque fortified hill town in Tuscany, famous for its version of local sangiovese grape, Prugnolo Gentile, the principal ingredient in Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. We visited Montepulciano in 2005 on our first wedding anniversary and bought back a few bottles from a variety of producers (Avignonesi, Contucci...). At the time, Boscarelli was by far and away the best producer amongst those we tried. After six years, would the wine still be as good and would it be worthy of its 'nobile' name?

Boscarelli is one of the leading producers of Vino Nobile. Unlike some of their peers in Tuscany who go for supercharged Sangiovese, bolstered with international grape varieties such as merlot and cabernet sauvignon, the Boscarellis prefer a more traditional style. Their Vino Nobile is a blend of 85% Sangiovese, 15% Canaiolo, Mammolo and Colorino, aged for 24 months in oak before the bottling. 

In keeping with the wine's Tuscan origins and in a attempt to recapture a wonderful holiday, I served the wine with a Tuscan feast of pappa al pomodoro, followed by tagliata di manzo.
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Boscarelli, 2001

Appearance: dark & brooding, still youthful but with a garnet rim 

Nose: slightly closed but strawberries & balsamic come through later

Palette: juicy with moreish acidity. Toasty fruitti di bosco & chocolate backed by dry, sappy tannins with just enough oak that lends a sweetness and lifts the fruit and balances the tannins, thereby avoiding the dryness often associated with Vino Nobile. The finish is very long with mocha and prunes and the acidity comes back to re-release the fruit, this time strawberries & balsamic.

Conclusion: a first class wine from an excellent vintage with sublime balance, worthy indeed of its nobile title. I must buy more! 4* 10/10

Sunday, 24 April 2011

A pascal Pomerol

Bordeaux and lamb are a match made in heaven. Few other wines have both the acidity and the structure to handle a strong, fatty meat such as lamb. So, as we celebrated Easter with lamb, out came the claret.

With 47 hectares, Chateau de Sales is the biggest vineyard of  Pomerol, the merlot-dominated right bank of Bordeaux. The vines are on average 30+ years old and comprise of 70% merlot, 15% cabernet franc and 15% cabernet sauvignon. I bought a case of the 'stellar' 2000 vintage en primeur (funny how there are so many so called 'must have' vintages in Bordeaux!) and I'm now about half way through. So far, this wine has been very good so I was looking forward to trying this bottle...

Chateau de Sales is on the north western border of the Pomerol appelation

Chateau de Sales, Pomerol, 2000

Appearance: soft garnet & developing a brick coloured rim with age

Nose: very merlot with green pepper corns and some oak. However, also a pungent whiff of tarmac (is this a defect or a dirty glass?)

Palette: light & ultra smooth with silky tannins. Red fruits and that tarmac again (?!) with a greenish undertone which is unusual for a year such as 2000. Some oak & vanilla on a medium finish.

Conclusion: a delicious, light wine but disappointing versus the last tasting and my expectations. 4* 5/10

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

A tale of two Pulignys

Both were bought at the same time, cellared in the same conditions, they come from the same vintage, the same village, even from the same grower and the same grape variety, and yet they are two totally different wines.  Such are the subtleties of Burgundy that two such similar wines can taste so different. While les Perrieres is relatively mute, les Folatieres is expressive, forthright and leaps from the glass. Sadly, this was the last in the case, so here's to hoping that the three remaining les Perrieres find their voice...

Like all the premier crus, the two vineyards are on the steeper section beyond Puligny village and les Folatieres is the higher of the two.

Puligny-Montrachet, 1er Cru Les Folatieres, Gerard Chavy, 2002

Appearance: golden hay

Nose: Dances out of the glass before even trying to sniff! A heady mix of honey, hazelnuts, apples and a surge of herbs (basil & thyme?)

Palette: deceptively subtle given the nose. A perfect balance of depth and delicacy. Honeyed fruit and almonds, but with a soft mineral undertone and Braeburn acidity. Finally, a finish that refuses to, well, finish!

Conclusion: a truly impressive and intoxicating wine. 4* 9/10

Sunday, 10 April 2011

A bargain burgundy

It's not often that you can drink premier cru burgundy, or even burgundy for that matter, for £12 a bottle, especially not from a well established producer such as Henri Prudhon et fils. So, when I stumbled across this oxymoron of a bargain burgundy, I snapped up a case without hesitation.

St-Aubin has an excellent reputation for producing very good whites that at their best can give Puligny-Montrachet more than a run for its money. But what about the reds? Having never tried a St-Aubin rouge before, I was eager to see if the reds can match the whites, particularly a premier cru wine such as this.

The Prudhons farm 1.24 hectares of 55 year old pinot noir vines in 'Sur le Sentier du Clou', a steep, south facing vineyard to the east of St-Aubin, above 'les Perrieres'...

For a region that markets itself on the uniqueness of terroir, the Prudhon website has a nice way of showing each of their vineyards, with a photo marked with the chardonnay and pinot noir plots in each vineyard...

St-Aubin, 1er cru Sur le Sentier du Clou, Henri Prudhon et fils, 2007

Appearance:  translucent with tawny rim

Nose: doesn't give much away

Palette: light (strawberies, cherries, cloves...) but feisty with a deeper vanilla core (this must be the oak?) with light sappy tannins. Definitely a summer wine.

Conclusion: not a bad wine, but too light for my taste with plenty of character but not enough fruit. An overly hasty purchase perhaps? 3* 6/10

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

A prodigal Beaujolais

I can't remember the last time I drank Beaujolais, but I now know is that it was too long ago! Like the return of the prodigal son, this wine not only marks my return to this blog after a long absence, it is also a reminder that in my world of wine, Beaujolais was lost but is now found.

When it comes to the 2009 vintage, Bordeaux may have stolen the headlines and more than it's fair share of the money, but it wasn't the only French region to produce good wines. So, having heard how good the 2009 vintage was supposed to be in Beaujolais, I sought out this little gem from the Wine Society (a bargain at only £7.50). Chateau d'Emeringes is a Beaujolais-Villages wine from the hills above the crus of Chenas and Julienas.
The chateau, nestled in Emeringes village
Chateau d'Emeringes, Beaujolais-Villages, Vieilles Vignes, 2009

Appearance: deceptively dense, sumptuous deep purple core with lilac rim
Nose: heady fruit cordial and smell of grapes fermenting in a cellar
Palette: instantly appealing, bursting with ripe fruits (blackberries, strawberries, raspberries) but with a concentrated sweet undertone that reins in the fruit to form a dense and long finish that's like a fruit coulis
Conclusion: dangerously easy to drink & deliciously fruity but this is no bimbo! 2.5* 7/10