Sunday, December 26, 2010

R. Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Gran Reserva Tinto Cosecha de 1991

As I write this, I'm finishing my last shift at work before driving down south for Christmas. Conditions are not great at the moment and I'll be transporting my cat long distance for the first time. I'm going over several checklists in my head, hoping I don't forget anything, fretting about presents and how safe the roads are. Tasting groovy and interesting wines is a welcome comfort.

This looks like mature Burgundy with just a touch of amber/garnet. Remarkably brilliant for its age.

Raisins, dried currants and peanuts with the skins on - the nose is subtle, with cured meats coming through with some coaxing.

The palate is so sensual. Those dried fruits and nuts, cured meats, wild herbs - both fresh and dried. There's orange zest as well, roasted with cinnamon. The acidity is vibrant and provides a structure that is beautiful as it's almost undetectable. Such a great measure of fine wine - everything is in such harmony that you barely notice how it all fits together. It's long on the finish and quite ephemeral. Brilliant.


Tasted 21/12/2010 at Luvians Bottleshop

R. Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Gran Reserva Blanco Cosecha de 1987

How many top-name, quality wineries really do still kick it old school? Laying their wines for a decade in barrel, or more, and then bottling, only to keep hold of it in their cellars for another decade, until they think it's ready? Not many. These wines regularly rate close to the top of many top wines in the world lists. The Lopez family have stuck to their guns regarding tradition and it's paid off. They are anything but commercial - there's not a lot of new oak and ripe fruit, nor is there a massive amount of alcohol.

Tarnished brass and gold. Oxidative, but not criminally oxidised.

The nose is at once honey-roasted nuts and tea leaves, with edges of copper.

It changes with every sip. At one point it's briny, with chopped hazelnuts and then it's honey and maple syrup with flecks of cocoa powder and lemon iced tea. For all these things there is great harmony and balance, with superb length and richness. There's textured grip as well, leading you to a brilliant finish. This is showing age but still incredibly vibrant and bright. Exceptional.


Tasted 21/12/2008 at Luvians Bottleshop

Friday, December 24, 2010

Consolation Banyuls "Coume del Mas" 2008

This is a good time of year for Banyuls. Of course, every time of year is a good time to drink Banyuls.

Very dark with purple edges and a nigh-impenetrable core.

Dark cocoa, cherries and blueberries on the nose. There's also some mint and wild herbs.

Quite intense on the palate - big and initially fruit driven - both ripe and juicy plums, cherries and blueberries moving somewhat to more dried and raisiny notes as the secondaries and tannins kick in. Those secondaries are earthy, spicy and dark. The tannins aren't too sweet and grip nicely. In spite of the richness and intensity - this is a big wine - it never seems laden. Great stuff - very sexy and flamboyant but for pure hedonistic yumminess, it's hard to beat.


Tasted 20/12/2010 at Shorehead

*Please note - I spend harvest at this winery and help out. They pay me only in wine, though I bought this bottle myself. I review their wines as objectively as I can, but I score them all fairly highly and think they're awesome.


Thursday, December 23, 2010

2007 Vintage Ports

So in the middle of a relentlessly busy Christmas season, we have decided to taste a slew of 2007 Vintage Ports. Because we can. I'm not going to bother mentioning the colour as I think it's fairly obvious that Port this young will be dark and impenetrable and purple. And there's only so many times I can write that before I start describing wine as 'mauve'. And no one wants that, trust me.

I'm also not going to comment on the alcohol 'heat' of these unless it seems aggressive/disjointed. It's young Port, and prone to a touch of heat. These things mellow with time. Hopefully.

Croft 2007

Quite meaty on the nose, with ripe, sweet plums and liquorice. There's a wee note of winter spice as well.

That savoury meatiness from the nose comes through right at the beginning. Cured, smoked meat that then sheds into a honey glaze, roast plums and cinnamon. The tannins have grip, but they're not quite as backward as I was expecting.


Niepoort 2007

Spearmint and blueberries on the nose. Quite herbaceous.

Ridiculously sweet fruit and tannin - bursting with blackberries and plums, right up until the underbrush backbone of tannin kicks in - there's also a hint of struck match in the middle. Needs eons.


Delaforce 2007

Fresh on the nose - bright cranberries and glacé cherries.

Crunchy fruit on the palate - gives great mouthfeel and crisp, defined berries and plums. That cranberry-ness gives good definition. Structured.


Quinta do Val Meao 2007

Winter fruit salad on the nose with earthiness on the edges.

The most closed, youthful and bitter on the palate, which strangely enough gets me kind of excited about it. That winter fruit salad comes through on the nose - classic berries and plums but also red apple skin and poached pears. Then comes this intense, backwards wall of nutmeg, bark and cinnamon - rasping and close to bitter. Complex, interesting and groovy.


Churchill's 2007

Very soft on the nose - touch of mint and plum skins.

The fruit and tannins are surprisingly integrated. A more rounded palate with cocoa notes and great mouthfeel. Again, very soft, though with a bit of bite on the finish.


Taylor's 2007

Again, good integration on the nose. Mulling spices and glazed plums.

Very much 'together' already. Everybody's playing nicely with one another. Candied plums and poached pears that go into a spicy, apple skin finish. Not quite as complex as the Meao, but still compelling.


Fonseca 2007

Ripe and juicy on the nose. Quite intense - certainly the most fruit-forward but with a wee tarry bite.

Savoury meat - cherry-glazed ham follows through to eucalyptus and cloves on quite a surprisingly light and clean palate. This is more elegant than I was expecting.


Warre's 2007

Very clean and pure nose - crisp glacé cherries and rosemary.

Good lift on the palate - youthful but not cloying. The balance between fruit and herb is quite refined and there's a nice structure there too. Light in style, which is no bad thing.


Graham's 2007

Sexiest nose - the fruit of the Fonseca but with all manner of compelling winter spice as well. Red apple skins, roasted glazed plums and cloves and a hint of flint. Brilliant.

The structure is reminiscent of the Delaforce, though it's holding far sexier components together. Linear and integrated and very dark, the fruit and tannins seem pulled taut together giving a layered palate that's still quite closed, but leaves the impression that when everything comes, it will come in the right place.


Overall, I think this has the hallmarks of a classic vintage. I was pleased how tame the alcohol seemed to be and how relatively balanced it was. House style pervades each of these wines and, for the most part, I think they're showing as they should. My favourite two to taste now were the Meao and the Graham's. They certainly had the most chat and seemed to have the most in place to stand the test of time. All of these are going to last decades, most of them easily and happily reaching a half century. If you're looking for a class vintage to lay down, I would certainly choose this above the 2003s.

Tasted 20/12/2010 at Luvians Bottleshop

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Coume del Mas Banyuls 'Galatheo' 2009

This wine is normally called 'Galateo'. The 2009 was renamed in honour of Theo Cook, born that year and the newest member of the winemaking team at Coume del Mas.

I think I might have helped fortify this. Or something. I was there, though. So, obviously, my review is biased and you don't have to trust it, and that means there's more of this wine left for me.

Dark, cherry-ruby, right down to the deep core.

Cherry, dark chocolate and blueberry on the nose. It's also wildly herbaceous with a touch of wet stone.

It starts with big bunches of blackberry fruit on the palate but as it goes on there's a honeysuckle sweetness that comes through on the middle, all while there's this herby, almost minty note on the edges. As it gets to the finish the berry fruit shifts more to fleshy plums with winter spice. Good stuff.


Tasted 18/12/2010 at Shorehead


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Lustau VORS Selection

I love sherry. I've mentioned it before. I'm also very fond of Emilio Lustau's fantastic wines. I've mentioned that before as well. Many people use Christmas as an excuse to drink sherry. I need no such excuses - it's just a happy coincidence. These wines aren't cheap - £60 for a 50cl bottle.

The term VORS is often mistaken for "Very Old Rare Sherry" - it's actually "Vinum Optimum Rare Signatum".

Lustau Amontillado 30yo VORS

Bronze and pale maple.

Salted almonds and tea leaves with notes of caramel and pecans on the nose.

Remarkably salted palate. I would almost think this came from Sanlucar and started life as a Manzanilla Fino. Getting past the salt is crushed nuts and tobacco leaf. Quite intense, though in desperate need of food. Can't quite get my head around it.


Lustau Palo Cortado 30yo VORS

Bright maple and copper.

Far richer nose. There's rich mixed nuts with a hint of marzipan, some pimms-soaked mint, salted caramel and ground coffee. Compelling.

Tremendous structure on the palate. It kicks off with dry raisins, almonds and salted peanuts. Then comes the dry tea leaves - Assam or something cool like that. It's huge and rich and dry and complex and damn I love it. The finish goes on and on.


Lustau Oloroso 30 VORS

Darker with more varnish, but no less brilliance.

Sweet dried fruit with cocoa dust, maple syrup and pecans. Classic rich, dry sherry throwing that sweet nose curveball.

The palate, as it should be, is much bigger than the other two. It's quite hedonistic and rich, with sweet caramel edges to that dry fruit and nut core. There's also iced tea with a touch of citrus. Every taste reveals a little more. The depth lasts through on another lingering finish. Brilliant stuff. Better than the Palo? I'm liking it more at the moment, but I think they could easily trade places from time to time.


Lustau Pedro Ximinez 30yo VORS

This is a cracking PX. But they all kind of taste the same to me. Enormous, viscous, Raisin-y, treacle-y goodness. I could only drink a glass, but it would be a big one.


Tasted 18/12/2010 at Luvians Bottleshop

Monday, December 20, 2010

Clos du Marquis 2000

I remember finding some odd bottles of the 1986 at a shop in London. They were about thirty quid or so and I took a punt and did not regret it. These days its status as one of the the super-seconds-seconds has been eclipsed, as have all good second wines, by the ridiculous rise of Carruades de Lafite (which is so stupidly and undeservingly expensive I can't even begin to rage about it). Still, I've fond memories of these seconds, be it this or Les Forts or Carruades; amazing introductions to class Bordeaux.

Very young colour. No garnet to be seen. Nice ruby, though.

Spiced meat on the nose, with jammy fruit. Nice conserves, though, not Smuckers.

The palate irks me. It's a bit soupy or stewed, but without being cooked. It could be a phase, some transition between youth and maturity, from berry fruit to stone fruit, but I'm not sure. It certainly lacks the definition of the '04s and that's a shame. I don't think it's passed it, nor that there's taint or that it's an off bottle. There's just a bit of ho hum about it. Still, there's nothing that tastes wrong with the wine, per se. It's just a little disappointing, especially considering the vintage and wine.

**(**?) - those are some generous, optimistic parenthesis there

Tasted 17/12/2010 at Luvians Bottleshop



Sunday, December 19, 2010

Chateau Leoville Barton 2004

2004 is very much growing on me as a vintage. There's an elegance to it that reminds me of 1985 or 1988. I should note that 1985 is probably one of my favourite vintages of my lifetime.

Dark. Purple with smatterings of ruby.

The nose is far headier than the Talbot. More intense and mildly intoxicating. Brambles with crushed mint, wet stone and plum skin.

Rich, tight fruit of bramble, blackcurrant and cherry laced with cigar box, unbeaten leather, nutmeg and maybe a little tar. The integration and mouthfeel are fantastic. For all this flavour, this is not a big wine - it never feels heavy. Showing surprisingly well. Almost so forward as to arouse suspicion, but I really like it.


Tasted 17/12/2010 at Luvians Bottleshop

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Chateau Talbot 2004

It's been busy. Claret is required.

Lovely colour on the rim. Deep ruby to the core.

Cedar and mint on the nose, with savoury notes and strawberry compote. There are darker fruits underneath the strawberry, but the sweetness of the perfume is definitely strawberry.

Light and elegant though not without weight on the palate. Ripe cassis (no strawberry), earthy and gravelly with leather textures. Quite pleasing and soft. A sensory delight, though not awesomely complex.


Tasted 17/12/2010 at Luvians Bottleshop

Friday, December 17, 2010

Allegrini 'Palazzo Della Torre' 2007

So this is kind of an accidental tasting. My flatmate bought a bottle, unbeknownst to me, and so I'm revisiting this old favourite. This decision required no deliberation. I thought as I'd just written, or over-written, about La Grola I'd scribble something down about this. I haven't had many '07s from the Veneto yet, so I'm looking forward to seeing whether they have that same exuberant juiciness the Tuscans from '07 are showing.

Purple rim with a dark core and ruby highlights.

Sweet dark fruit on the nose with hints of toast and fresh-roasted coffee.

Rich, full, dark fruit on the palate. Black cherries with dark chocolate, coffee grounds and a pleasing dustiness to the mouthfeel. There's also quite a groovy nuttiness - pecans, almonds and walnuts. Not juicy, but certainly as forward and immediately enjoyable as the Tuscans. Good length and somewhat decadent structure, allowing all that ripeness and richness to reach every corner of the mouth and linger. Not quite as serious as the '06 La Grola, but in general I find the '06s more serious. Tasty.


Tasted 17/12/2010 at Shorehead

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Allegrini 'La Grola' 2006

This wine is one of two siblings. The other is Palazzo della Torre, and both used to be - technically - Valpolicella. This is the more expensive of the two, but it doesn't mean it's always the better of the two. Originally, this was made 'ripasso' and Palazzo was not. Now, they're both 'ripasso' and even a little 'apassimento'. Intriguing and obscure (and now oft-imitated) Italian vinification techniques aside, it's always amused me that in spite of the price difference, the wines have always been equals. They've also always been excellent. The last time I tried the pair together, Palazzo was the better.

Italian broody - intense ruby edges with a deep and broody core.

The fruit is cherry and cranberry on the nose with cocoa and some sweet-cured ham.

What is line that forms that separates fun wines and serious wines? Aside from price? The darkness of the palate reaches out before the fruit comes. The fruit comes with richness and depth. Ripe, but not jammy. Oddly, no hint of the raisins. The backbone is dry, textured to the point of rasping, but not coarse. It brings the finish along and keeps it going. It's complete. It's young. I think a lot of people would think this was just right. The secondaries and the primaries are both big, balanced and provide a lot. But I think there's more to come - there's a sense of complexity in the passing of the palate that isn't nuance, it's the flavour memory of what just passed. An echo. I think that happens a great deal with big wines these days. It's not new points of flavour coming out - it's the echo of such big flavours lingering. This isn't like that - there are hints of that, but there's stuff underneath. It will bear out the weight of age. And there is more to come. I'm pretty sure of that. This got serious. And for this vintage, it's better than the Palazzo.


Tasted 11/12/2010 at Shorehead

Monday, December 13, 2010

Dr Loosen Riesling Eiswein 'Blue State' 2007

The astronomical prices some of the rare, hardcore Mosel sweeties can reach would make you cry. So £26.99 for a bottle that's only 187ml is actually tremendous value. Honest. Really. Scout's honour*.

More silver than green on the gold.

The nose is more earthy than the BA. More fruit flesh than fruit perfume. A bit heady - it bears weight.

Intense on the palate. Like a laser beam of sweet roasted limes, nectarines and honeysuckle-coated green apple. Underneath the fruit is a touch of flint. I asked with the Beerenauslese where could these fantastic wines go - this is an eloquent answer: more intense, more complex and more elegant. Finer structure.


Tasted 11/12/2010 at Luvians Bottleshop

*I was never a scout.

Dr Loosen Riesling Beerenauslese 2006 (Gold Cap)

Sweet wines are important for wine merchants at this time of year as the sugar rush is essential to get through the day.

This comes in a very cute 187ml bottle. And by very cute, I mean 'affordable'.

Green gold with silver highlights.

Explosive nose. Ripe apricots and nectarines with a touch of candy apple. Maybe some marzipan and chilis.

Remarkably fresh and pure. Bright and brilliant white fruit, with the crispness of freshly chopped chillis. You can almost hear the knife slicing them as you sip it. Or maybe that's just me. Light and elegant to boot. This is entry level, as far as the class of wine goes, and leaves you kind of wondering how it could get better. Yum.


Tasted 11/12/2010 at Luvians Bottleshop

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sean Thackrey Pleiades XVIII

Weirdness in wine is definitely relative. Idiosyncrasy should be embraced, especially as modern breakthroughs are enabling more wines to taste exactly the same regardless of grape or region than ever before.

This wine has no vintage and possesses a staggering blend of varietals. Those listed are Sangiovese, Mourvedre, Viognier, Syrah and Cabernet, but apparently that's only the tip of the iceberg.

Lovely colour - reminiscent of Burgundy or Piedmont.

Salted caramel and blueberry on the nose one minute, mulling spices and cherries the next.

The dichotomy of the nose exists also on the palate - one sip and there's bunches of blueberries and cherries with cocoa powder and buttered cinnamon. The next sip is herbal; wild forest plums with cloves, cinnamon and allspice. After a few they all blend together and the spiciness comes out a bit more. It's like a winter fruit salad. There's fantastic sense of the complete on the finish. This is cool stuff. I like it a lot, and would really like to try some of the earlier releases. There are slightly oxidative notes, but as it's a multi-vintage blend I assume that's intentional. It certainly adds to the softness.


Tasted 10/12/2010 at Luvians Bottleshop

Saturday, December 11, 2010

L'Ecole No. 41 Columbia Valley Semillon 2008

I am not one of those wine dorks who tries evangelise under-appreciated grapes or regions. It's not due to lack of appreciation, it's due to selfishness. Their obscurity protects the wines somewhat from the ridiculous inflation of price that follows hype. Every time a wine pundit preaches the wonders of Vouvray or Alsace or Piedmont, I want to gag them. Those great value gems won't stay great value if everyone knows about them. So do us all a favour, guys, and keep a lid on it.

Great Semillon is not easy to find. The Bordelais are grubbing it up and planting yet more Sauvignon Blanc (or Merlot). In Australia they use it to bulk up cheap Chardonnay.

This particular gem hails from Washington State and is blended with about 11% Sauvignon Blanc.

Straw gold with glimmers of silver. Youthful and bright.

Quince on the nose, with beeswax and citrus pith. There's also a touch of pecorino.

Remarkably fleshy and textured, with a mouthfeel somewhere between quince jelly, grist and fleshy white fruit. It's bright and juicy. There's a whole bunch of exotic white fruit and honeysuckle that fills the palate. There's a lot going on with this and it's fun to drink. Tremendously more-ish.


Tasted at Luvians Bottleshop 10/12/2010

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Coume del Mas 'Abysses' Collioure Rouge 2008

The wine merchant's build-up to Christmas can be fun, fraught or a total fucking disaster. More often than not, it's mix of all three. Today was long, but not without its rewards.

Once again, I have ties to this winery. In fact, I loaded most of the Syrah that went into this cuvée (there's Grenache in it as well) into the de-stemmer myself. I still have a scar on my elbow from trying to stop a pallet-load of the grapes collapsing onto the floor of the winery. Good times.

Dark, inky purple and quite broody. It's almost impenetrable at the core.

Rich blueberry and black current nose, with just a bit of red apple skin as well. There's also something just a little wild and animal about it. Earthy and with maybe a hint of wild herbs on the edges.

Touch viscous on the palate - it's a big wine - but never gloopy. Nor does it seem heavy on the palate. The fruit is focused, pure and rich, with blueberries, blackberry seeds. After the fruit comes winter spice - cloves and cinnamon with a hint of nutmeg. This is serious stuff - proper, linear palate with great structure holding together some awesome wild flavours. After the mulling spice comes a bit of stone on the mouthfeel and a lingering finish. Weight and elegance; great balance.

***** (everyone's probably bored with me raving about these wines but it's my blog and I'll do what I want :-P)

Tasted at Shorehead 8/12/2010

Monday, December 06, 2010

Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 1996

So that meal? The one the night before the wedding? That became the barest hint of a stag do. Broomie rocked out on the ukelele while Pete Wood drank absinth (Bohemian - no 'e' at the end) and Pete Crawford sang lead vocals to whatever tunes Broomie was playing on the ukelele. Sean played Wii Golf. Hookers and Strippers were vetoed. We learned that stag do's should not, under any circumstances, take place the night before the wedding.

Krug '88 is a hard act to follow. We opened this with high hopes and before we touched the absinth, thankfully.

Straw and hay-style gold. No brass or tarnish as yet.

Precise nose. Lemon cream with quince and pith. Zingy. Exciting.

Palate is bursting with life. This is young but joyously complex. Bright, gleeful acidity with candied lemons and mushrooms leaping about the mouth and filling it. Long, with perfumed edges and a sensuous mousse that brings a smile to the face. Ridiculously fun to drink. All these things suggest a long life ahead, but I'm not sure I'm that patient. Thus far my Champagne of the year. And there's not much longer to go. Prefer this to the Krug any day. So much more focus and complexity. Brilliant, brilliant stuff.


Pete's stag, Crawford Gardens, 8 Nov 2010


Sunday, December 05, 2010

Krug 1988 (from magnum)

So last month, a mate got married. That mate was Pete, manager of Luvians Bottleshop St Andrews and author of The Tasting Note. Pete's also a founding member of the Naughton Dining Club, the erstwhile slumbering confederacy of decadent wine dorks. The wedding was small, top secret and a touch last minute. So the evening beforehand, in the company of a few friends, we met for dinner and drank some fine wines.

The colour is golden with just the beginnings of tarnished brass.

Buttered brioche, wild mushrooms, toffee apples & chalk dust on the nose. Inviting.

Utter richness and a decadent delight. All from the nose and more - richer, perhaps a bit wilder. It's a huge champagne, but elegant in it's hugeness. I've had it so many times from bottle - from magnum it seems livelier, fresher. Incredibly long finish. It takes a bit out of you. I feel I should say more, but there's no more to say. It's done everything I've come to expect from Krug '88.

**** Tasted at Nahm Jim 8 Nov 2010


Saturday, December 04, 2010

d'Arenberg Footbolt Shiraz 2000 (from magnum)

Once upon a time, there were several wine shops in St Andrews. One was independent. The others were chain shops. One of those chain shops was an Oddbins, and it was an excellent one, run by people who were enthusiastic and curious about wine. It wasn't quite as awesome as the independent, but it was fun and separated itself from the other chains kicking about. It managed to be good when being a good Oddbins was one of the most difficult things to do in the British wine trade.

At a dinner party last month some of the former Oddbins staff and yours truly, a former/current independent staff member, opened some odd bottles and this was one of them. It had been a gift, many years ago, and fulfilled its destiny that night: to be laid down for a few years and opened in good company.

We're all, for the most part, old world snobs these days. This was eye opening.

Ruby turning slightly to rust.

Soft, savoury nose with briary plum fruit and a dash of wood spice.

Incredibly pleasant, mature palate. Soft but firm tannins. There's also a bit of pipe tobacco, bit of cedar. It's a revelation to taste well-made Australian Shiraz with this sort of age on it. Delightful and more than a match for the roast roe deer. This wine was 6-8 quid when it was released. Food for thought.

**** Tasted at Naughton 12/11/2010

Friday, November 12, 2010

Domaine Fourrier Gevrey Chambertin Vielles Vignes 2007

It turns out that there's a member of staff out there that had never in her life tried Epoisses. In order to rectify this we produced some of the pungent cheese and opened a bottle of this to see if they could all get along.

Dark, bright Burgundy with a brilliant ruby core.

Juicy fruit, earth and a touch of spice well married on the nose. Red cherries, cranberries and just a hint of strawberry sweetness towards the finish.

There's some green on the edges of the palate, though a big mouthful of Epoisses takes care of that, driving that fantastic fruit right up to to the roof of the mouth. It's intertwined earth, cherries, raspberries, cocoa and winter spice on the palate - layered, structured and while perhaps a little lean at the moment, precise and delicious. At the moment it needs food but is still lovely stuff.


Tasted 11 November 2010 at Luvians Bottleshop

Monday, November 08, 2010

Domaine Serene Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir 2006

I've not much experience with Oregon Pinot Noir. I lament this. Bottle by bottle, I shall attempt to rectify the situation.

Proper Pinot hue of darkened ruby raspberries; there's a soft hint of haziness (the wine is unfined and unfiltered). That haziness seems ghostly though, as somehow it has no effect on the impressive clarity. Some manner of optical illusion?

The nose is red fruit skins - strawberries and raspberries, covered in powdered cocoa. A touch of gaminess underneath but very well integrated with the fruit.

So remarkably soft on the palate. Velvet gloves lined with exquisite leather. Frapped strawberries, raspberries and sage leaf, all nicely balanced with that velvet. It's quite a sensory delight, and remarkably delicious. There's a wee hint of oak vanillin on the finish (a long one), but that's the only imbalance I could find. It even adds a bit of charm. There's little hint that this is 14.5%. The mouthfeel is gorgeous and the fruit's lovely. My only critique is that it's a bit simple, which would be fine except that it's over £40 a bottle.

***(*) If this were £25 cheaper, it would be ****(*)

Tasted 6 November 2010 at Luvians Bottleshop

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Ridge Lytton Springs 2005

It's always irked me how expensive Californian wines are in the UK, probably moreso than any other country's markup. It's not just that they tend to convert dollar-to-pound plus five or so percent, it's also that Americans browsing will insist on reminding you just how much more expensive they are. To be fair, every French, German, Italian, South African, Spanish, Australian and New Zealander that's looked at our prices has made similar comments - and it is similarly irksome - however, I'm not any of those nationalities. I am American. I feel a sense of responsibility, just by association. Of course, it's nothing to do with me, and once a wine has travelled eight or so thousand miles and been taxed and redistributed, there's quite a lot of excess expense that must be accounted for.

In any case, I've always liked Ridge. I feel their wines stand up to the transatlantic premium.

Dark but not too foreboding. The purple is turning ruby.

Quite ripe on the nose - blueberries and quite a bit of mocha as well, but not in an aggressive or unbalanced way. Then comes vanilla and a touch of creaminess. It's almost like crannachan. In fact, it is exactly like crannachan. Awesome.

Ridiculously ripe and fruity. Freshly so, though - not jammy and barely remiscent of compote. It's just bunches of ripe, dark blue and black berries. The mouthfeel is fleshy plums - there's almost no acidity but I'm not really missing it. This is hedonistic, but never unbalanced. The fruit is fresh, not oversweet. The finish is pleasingly velvety.


Tasted 5 November 2010 at Luvians Bottleshop


Friday, November 05, 2010

Chateau Pontet-Canet 2004

My contribution to the evening's wines was one of my favourite Paulliacs. I'd not tasted the '04 before (the first vintage of their snazzy new and environmentally unfriendly bottle) and was quite excited.

Quite the dark and grumpy Bordeaux. Purple edges.

Wow. Claret that smells like claret. Sinewy cassis and cedar with the odd pencil shaving, a touch of spearmint and breath of sweetness.

Young. Dark. That cassis sweetness is stopped in its tracks by the youthful tannins, which while soft are bracingly dry. I love it. Proper classed growth claret. That tastes as it should- tight & knotted with depth, structure and dimension all providing a classic canvas-like texture.


Tasted at Broomie's 28 October 2010

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Trimbach Pinot Gris Reserve Personnelle 2002

I had dinner with the legendary Broomie last week and we, as usual, got stuck into some gems. This wine in particular is an old favourite for both of us.

Youthful green gold, bright n' shiny.

Fresh tropical nose with spice and a juicy fleshiness that hints a fibrous (mango?) texture.

So good. Ripe & honeyed melon/serrano fruit with pithiness and subtly layered beeswax & starfruit skinned mouthfeel that reveals minerality as it retreats. Then that fibrous fleshiness lingers with perfumed white fruit and something darker, flintier, on the finish.

Drink now, later and for the next decade. Maybe longer.


Tasted at Broomie's 28 October 2010

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Consolation Armistice Late Harvest Syrah 2007

This is a unique wine, picked the winemakers on 11 November 2007. There is no fortification and fermentation took several months. Only a barrel's worth was made. As far as I'm aware, the conditions have not been right for late harvest in that vineyard since, and the wine itself looks to be a one off. That is both brilliant and slightly sad.

Inky purple - the edges like a bleeding sharpie.

Intense, focused blueberry nose. Hints of varnish - seems to have some spice too. Broody & moody.

So remarkably pure of fruit and deep of texture. It's chewy but still lifting and clean. Then that great schiste-y minerality rides in just under the dusty though sometimes feisty tannins. I've never really tasted anything like it.


Tasted 27 October at Luvians Bottleshop

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

more wines that I helped make and probably shouldn't be scoring: Coume del Mas 2008

I've mentioned before my involvement with Coume del Mas, Mas Cristine & Consolation wines; one of the directors is an old friend and for the last three vintages (08, 09 & 10) I've flown down to provide an extra pair of hands during harvest. The wines are handmade in the purest sense of the term and it's hard work. Philippe Gard, the winemaker and all-around head dude is a quiet, humble perfectionist. I don't think I've ever seen anyone work harder at anything in my life.

Quite a lot of enjoying wine is about context. Tasting wine in the vacuum of a trade event allows you to assess quality, but there's little attachment gained. These wines are technically brilliant. Their reputation amongst their peers is stellar. I'd like them anyway, without my involvement (however minor) in their creation. Picking the grapes, sorting them, dumping them - 50 kilos at a time - into the destemmer or press, tasting the juice in barrel and tank, taking density and temperature readings: all of these things generate a strong connection to the end product. I'm proud of these wines, and my small part in their making. I can't really open a bottle without smiling a little. So take these reviews with a pinch of salt. I am, once again, biased.

Coume del Mas Quadratur Collioure Rouge 2008

A blend of Grenache, Mourvedre & Carignan.

Deep and purple and perhaps a touch inky.

Stoney nose with violets, blueberry compote and black pepper. There's lavender and maybe even some Balsamic as well.

Juicy plums, blueberries and a deep cocoa. Extraordinarily soft and gentle on the palate - though there is certainly power there. Delicious but somewhat understated at the moment. Lots to come in the future, but this is still rather fantastic right now.


Tasted 22/10/2010 at Shorehead

Coume del Mas Schistes Collioure Rouge 2008

100% Grenache

The purple of its youth has retreated to bright, brilliant ruby with a deep core and the occasional fleck of violet.

Intense rose petal and perhaps a whiff of seaside minerality. The fruit comes though, with pulped bramble and liquorice, laced in cinnamon and nutmeg.

Dark, crunchy fruit bursts on the palate - texture wise it feel like biting into something. The tannins give the mouthfeel fantastic circular structure and also give the illusion of weight to what is really rather elegant. It is elegance with power though, and brilliant focus of fruit. The mineral backbone goes from beginning to end. It's important to note that this wine sees no oak at all. All of the texture, depth and dimension comes purely from the fruit. This wine never ceases to please me.


Tasted 23/10/2010 at Luvians Bottleshop

Coume del Mals Folio Collioure Blanc 2008

100% Barrique fermented Grenache Gris.

Good gold. Not overly tarnished. Still lights and brightness.

Roasted melon and serrano ham on the nose. There's a touch of creaminess too, but very light and lingering on the edges. It gets more tropical with air - pineapples soaked in caramel and possibly some guava too. Pretty decadent, really.

Rich, honeycomb-wax palate. That tropical fruit from the nose is never overbearing on the tongue - luscious and soft melons, honey, pineapple. The texture is rounded but with the finish comes cleansing minerality and a touch of oak. That minerality has the barest sense of sea salt about it, bringing back that ham from the nose. There's not a lot of acidity in these parts, and as such these gripping secondaries - the minerality and such - are not just bonuses but necessary to provide structure. It's still decadent and fruity, but never lacking class. Sadly there's not much made and it sells out every vintage.


Tasted 24/10/2010 at Shorehead

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Qupé Syrah 2008

Over-Beaujolais'd. It happens.

Quite deep, though not inky.

Tar and smoke on the nose, with incredibly ripe blueberry coming through as well. Smoked meat? Mulched dark fruit with game? Yeah, it's a big dark nose. Inky.

That darkness on the nose? The mulch and the smoke and the ripeness and all that? Yep, that's here too. There's also burnt sage, more tar, hints of bruised herbs (mint) and some singeing around the edges. It's dark, savoury, broody and mulchy, but with a bit of air those blueberries come through and it doesn't suffer from any flabbiness or sloppiness. Though the viscosity suggests something a bit weightier than 13.5%. There's also some wet stone and waxiness. There is also squid ink. Marzipan? Then this serious liquidized black pepper note shows up on the finish. This is a weird wine. I don't know whether to recommend it or charge it with assault.

The next day: I decided to leave it over night and see what happened. Right off the bat, the nose is sweeter and more concentrated - still blueberry, but with cassis as well. In fact, the blueberry is bordering on Creme de Myrtille. The palate is more focused, but has lost some of that complexity and the burnt notes have intensified. All of that sweetness on the nose is nowhere to be seen on the palate and the tannins are far more aggressive. It's almost acrid. It's lost loads on the palate and gained no harmony.


The score is based on the first tasting - it wouldn't be fair to judge it the next day.

Tasted 21/10/2010 at Luvians Bottleshop

Friday, October 22, 2010

a couple of 2009 Beaujolais

I was in Beaujolais in the Autumn of 2004, tasting 2003's out of barrel. It was fun. It's a pretty, pastoral neck of the wine world. I've been enjoying the renaissance of small growers doing fantastic things in the region. Shrugging off the mass-produced, high-yielding, bubble-gum and candy-floss reputation much of the region has been mired with (much like the consumers were mired in their rubbish wines), these growers are making some cracking wines that sit just a bit out of the norm.

Domaine Alain Chatoux Beaujolais Vieilles Vignes 2009

Remarkable light in colour; shades of ruby and violet with a nice brilliance as well.

Floral strawberries and cranberries with a good meaty, savoury note as well. Kind of like beef fat. It's kind of like a red fruit and beef stew, but in no way 'stewed', if you get my meaning. Neither do I. There's also a wee touch of black pepper.

This is kind of cool. All those crazy red fruit beef stew notes are there - big flavours with an almost greasy or oily texture. Strawberries and Cranberries cooked in bacon fat? It's very country-ish - the texture past that is soft and light. Quite a surprising depth of flavour considering its lightness. I like it for what it is, and imagine that, for a big meal - such as Thanksgiving - it would go with pretty much everything on the table. At £10.49, it's pretty good value.



Domaine de la Chaponne 'La Forge' Chiroubles 2009

Right off the bat, I must confess that of all the Beaujolais Cru, this is the one with which I am the least familiar. It's also the one I tend to forget when occasionally asked to recite all the Cru. Long story.

Intense purple and violet - dark, but still translucent.

The nose is floral and mineral all at once - violets crushed with rocks or some such. There's also a touch of hedgerow. Very Zeppelin. The fruit is cranberry.

Very crunchy, bright cranberry palate. Quite a bit more weight than the Chatoux, with darker fruit notes and far deeper tannins. The acidity is forthright - not bracing, but bringing a good juiciness to it. That hedgerow on the nose comes across more as a wicker basket and sea salt on the palate. This is even better value than its predecessor - it's got complexity, good mouthfeel and an impressive length. Great for the money and the sort of thing people should be drinking more of. Yes, I just ended a sentence with a preposition; I feel no guilt.


Both tasted 21/10/2010 at Luvians Bottleshop

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Tablas Creek Vineyard Esprit de Beaucastel 2005

Chateau de Beaucastel stands quite tall amongst the lexicon of Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Owned by the Perrin family, it's never far from a list of the top 5 estates in the region. The family have taken their knowhow to California and purchased an estate (in partnership) in Paso Robles. I've been curious about the Perrin's Californian venture for sometime. The curiosity consumed me like an incendiary flame (is a non-incendiary flame even possible? Discuss). Had I been a cat, it would have been death. So I decided to open a bottle.

44% Mourvèdre, 26% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 5% Counoise

Quite bright ruby with touches of pink as it fades on the edges.

Restrained on the nose to start with, giving only dark berries and roots. Touch of chemically liquorice and boot polish as well. There's sweet berry-ness that comes out later, as well as a meatiness; kind of like cherry-glazed ham. the chemical gibberish thankfully fades to a more natural anise.

The sweet berry-ness starts things off - bright and juicy but still dark. Like shady strawberries and mysterious raspberries - red fruit, but dark red fruit. In their wake comes underbrush-like tannin and a firm, mineral core. There's cinnamon and anise with a dry, not-quite-rasping bark quality. The texture is growing on me. That journey from juice to rounded, hedgerow-y rustic tannin is a good one. I think it's a little pricey, but the earthiness and rusticity are a welcome departure from some of the more polished wines kicking about with a similar assemblage.

At the same price it's fighting Bonny Doon's La Cigare Volant, perhaps a touch more elegant than the Esprit, though both have their time, place and mood.


Tasted 20/10/2010 at Luvians Bottleshop

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Rosso del Gello Montecucco Sangiovese 2006

So I'd never heard of the Montecucco Sangiovese DOC before today. It's half the size of Chianti and several times larger than Montalcino, though this may only be a matter of geography. Googling it bears little fruit, though the impression I get is that up until recently it was for parochial consumption only, and didn't travel very far. The idea of a youthful DOC appeals to me. It's kind of a blank slate.

I think this wine is organic.

Rusty colour - touch misty.

Cherries and pebbles on the nose. Maybe some pecans? I could have sworn I got pecans. Some manner of sweet nuttiness, anyway.

The palate is a touch shabby. There's a bit of country bumpkin to it, complete with a netted baseball cap advertising fertiliser and a mullet. Slightly soupy cherries with earthy tannins. And walnuts - those pecans have turned to walnuts. There's fruit, there's tannin, but there doesn't seem to be any acidity to polish it all up. So maybe there's some stubble with that mullet.

The thing is, I like it. It's peasant wine. I think it's sadly slightly overpriced peasant wine, but fun nonetheless. This is the sort of wine that, if I was travelling through Tuscany and stopped at a local restaurant and they brought this out, I would be happy to drink it by the gallon. Over here I can do better for the money, from Italy; from more famous DOCs. This is just too expensive (£15.49) to justify it. Maybe £7.49?

Still, I'm curious to see what happens here. I'll be keeping on eye (nose? tongue?) on the wines from here regardless, to see how they develop over the years. I wonder if that nuttiness is indicative of the region?


Tasted 19/10/2010 at Luvians Bottleshop


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Chapoutier Saint-Joseph 'Les Granits' 2000

Bought by and shared by a generous customer new to fine wine. I sent him in this direction, as I knew his hippy-ish nature would appreciate the organic/biodynamic viticulture. And it's fairly awesome stuff.

Nicely mature colour. Rusty but without any amber and still dark and deep at the core.

Deep, savoury peppered black olives with whiffs of smoked game meat and bramble sweetness.

Big, tar-like mouth-feel. It hits first with a tannic bramble bush, then softens into sweet blueberry and plum fruit and finally a soft, sandalwood and leather brushed tannin finish. Maybe some mulling spices kicking about there? There's a poise and perfume to it that gives lovely lift. Fine stuff indeed. I'd drink it now and over the next 2 years or so.


Tasted 15/10/2010 at Luvians Bottleshop

Saturday, October 16, 2010

secret wines revealed and thoughts about the whole shebang...

So the Secret Wine Deathmatch Apocalypse is over and the winner is...

Not me.

Costière de Nîmes was the crafty appellation behind the the PR extravaganza and shame on hoards of wine-bloggers for not seeing it sooner. Not really. With all our votes plainly available on the above-linked site, I think it's fair to say we all tasted rather well. There was certainly consistency among most of the responses and with a couple of exceptions (couldn't see either Australia or Cahors, really) I think there's a good, blind argument for the lot. I'll confess that of every appellation that was voted for, Costière de Nîmes is the one I'm least familiar with. I wouldn't have guessed it in a million years.

The actual wines are here.

I feel quite pleased that I spotted the Syrah in 390 and the Chateauneuf-y-ness of 714 (though the latter's youth, being only a 2008, suggests it's not long for this world or my bottle was perhaps a touch oxidised due to recorking for anonymity's sake). I'm astonished that 079 is mostly Syrah. There was very little varietal typicity coming out, suggesting the terroir favours the 20% Grenache in the cuvée. I'm glad 390 is the most expensive (€13) as it was also my favourite. I also recognise its label, so it may be available in the UK. If I wasn't writing this in the wee hours, I'd check.

I still think this whole thing was pretty cool. I'm not entirely sure how it helps the appellation, but that's not my job. You could argue that instead of showing how ace Costière de Nîmes is, it just showed how it tasted a lot like a lot of other Southern French appellations, but I feel that would be a touch cynical. I think it would have been better if it didn't have to go to a second round of votes, as dragging it out somewhat cooled my enthusiasm, and I'm sure I wasn't the only one. Not much you could do about that, I suppose; we should have tasted better.

It surprised me that it provoked questions of integrity on one of Jamie Goode's comment strings. I decided not to respond there, as it's not my place, but here I'll call it as I see it. I don't feel it compromises any manner of journalistic integrity to participate in this as a wine blogger. Yes, it was run by a PR company in hopes of regional promotion, but the way it was run favoured the writer. We got three wines to taste that we were under no obligation to like, or even judge qualitatively. We weren't burdened with brand or supplier affection (which we shouldn't be anyway), as the wines were all blind. And it was fun for us. Suggesting we were manipulated is idiotic. They sent us wine, we tasted it, and then we got it wrong. And I'd be shocked and astonished if any of the bloggers involved suddenly started waving a Costière de Nîmes banner and swearing by their bottles. Because that's just fucking ridiculous. I don't even think the appellation is the big winner here. I'm not sure who is.

As such, I think it's the concept that wins. And probably Clair de Lune, as they made a packet, no doubt. But I'd take part in a Secret Wine again. At the drop of a hat. It was cool to be a part of and fun to taste.

PS - Congrats to the winners. I'm only a little jealous.

Isole e Olena Chianti Classico 2007

So we couldn't open the Fontodi without revisiting the Isole e Olena.

Chianti - good Chianti - is such a pretty colour. Bright rubies with dark, clear hearts.

Far more floral on the nose than the Fontodi - fresh violets and roses with cherry and raspberry jam. All on a dusty road. Or maybe that's my cold. Or maybe it's the shop. I'm getting dust though.

Juicy cranberries and crushed flower petals on the palate. This is sexy stuff. I've found that juiciness in quite a few '07 Tuscans. They might not be as serious as the '06s or '04s, but they're really drinkable. Great restaurant vintage as well. The tannins are very soft and quite understated. It's also lacking a bit of acidity. I like it - it's delicious in a lot of ways - but it seems really rather simple compared to the Fontodi. It used to be the other way around.


Tasted 15/10/2010 at Luvians Bottleshop

Friday, October 15, 2010

Fontodi Chianti Classico 2007

I've written about this wine's big brother before, the Vigna del Sorbo. I was introduced to this cuvée that same evening. I'm a big fan. There's always been kind of a divide in this neck of the woods - those who prefer the Isole e Olena Chianti Classico and those who prefer this one. They're similar in price and quality but the styles are subtly different. The Isole e Olena tends towards the more ephemeral and elegant while the Fontodi always seems more weighty; savoury.

Quite dark, though there's quite vibrant brilliance at the core.

Dusty nose with crushed, dried rose petals and strawberry maraschino. Perhaps a touch of creaminess too.

Gripping, bone dry tannins suck back on the tongue but with a slice of pizza (or any food with tomatoes and cheese) those cherries and strawberries leap forward with juiciness and a nice crunch. In the background floats a bit of cinnamon and nutmeg and a wee touch of gaminess. A nice balance of rusticity and polish.

Tasted 15/10/2010 at Luvians Bottleshop

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Mazèr Inferno Valtellina Superiore 2006

This wine used to have a funky label. It played on the name: black with a ball of fire and the word 'Inferno' in all caps emblazoned across the flame. It was attention-grabbing, but a little tacky. That it was a Valtellina from Nino Negri was definitely insignificant compared to the name 'Inferno'. It caught my attention quite early on, when I first started in this wine malarky. I read up on the region, a mostly forgotten area in the North West of Italy, specialising in the sublime but occasionally perturbing Nebbiolo grape, just like its more famous neighbours. I tried it and really liked it. I've followed it since. I've always felt that it scratches the Barolo itch without costing the earth. It's not as fine as a good Barolo, don't get me wrong, but it's often just what the doctor ordered.

The colour's just perfect for Nebbiolo - or Chiavennasca, as it's called in Valtellina - rusty but vibrant. The youth is in the brilliance, not the shade.

Its aromas dance around a bit. It was stoney and flinty with tar to start with. My flatmate noted that it tasted better than it smelled, as it was a bit unyielding. As it opened, the fruit came out; bright sour cherries with walnut dust, liqueur cocoa and a bit of a savoury meatiness.

The juiciness on the palate is compelling and more-ish. It grabs the tongue and tugs with that big, crunchy Italian sour cherries slathered on a bit of leather. The fruit is bright, with great lift, turning slowly towards strawberries and cream as it heads to the finish. The length is good too. I'm a little surprised at how consumed by the fruit the tannins are - they're soft, merely a whisper on an otherwise loud palate. They make an appearance at the very end, contributing to an appetite-pleasing dryness on the finish. It's not a bad thing. It's still a joy to drink over the course of a meal.

This wine has nearly doubled in price since I started drinking it almost a decade ago. There are lots that have. I still think it's good value. There aren't many others that I can still say that about. We drank this with a duck-egg carbonara that had huge chunks of wild mushrooms (ceps - yum) and it was just awesome. Proper food, proper wine.

****(and ***** for still being awesome after all this time)
Tasted 13/10/2010 at Shorehead

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Tormaresca Masseria Maime Negroamaro Salento 2005

Dark & impenetrable.

The nose is dark and intriguing - wet coffee grounds, cocoa, tannery and quite savoury, meaty. Horse hair.

This is certainly from southern Italy. Meaty, both roast & grilled. Permeating cherry fruit. A touch stewed, but in a nice way. Nice, rustic backbone.

Tasted at Broomie & Sheep's, but Sheep wasn't there 14/1/10

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Ostertag Riesling Heissenberg 2001

Intense gold - looks older than 9 years.

Nose of pineapple, orange peel, marmalade, barley water & a smattering of spice. There's stone and flint as well.

The minerality provides a parallel backbone to the acidity, which is not overwhelming. Soft, fleshy and waxy with flecks of gunpowder, flint with lime. Immensely complex, long, layered and generally ace.

Tasted at Broomie's 14/1/2010

Monday, October 11, 2010

a note on notes

I'm a little tasting noted out. It's not just because I'm fighting a cold or that I had the misfortune to sample some of Tesco's more deplorable offerings recently, though the latter certainly gave me reason to pause. It's more the repetition. As a writer I find myself cringing with every mention of 'citrus' or 'forest floor' (the latter is certainly one of my crutches). As a reader I find them increasingly boring. How many times can you type or read 'pencil lead' and 'cassis' before you want to crack open a bottle of Budvar and be done with it?

Tasting notes didn't used to be like this. They weren't a list of other things that the wine in question smelled and tasted like. Instead they were meaningless metaphors about picnicking at Easter or wandering the moors on a midsummer's eve. Immensely fun to read but of no use to anyone who wanted to know what the wine actually tasted like. Like, you know, the consumer. Parker called them all on this, screamed bullshit and did his own thing. So instead the whimsical wine metaphor was replaced with lists of fruits, herbs, condiments and in some cases none of the above (manure). And while more people know what blackcurrant and bramble tastes like than what wandering the moors on a midsummer's eve tastes like, I feel there's a sad rut that that this almost entirely unimportant literary genre has reached. So broken down are wines becoming within these lists of fruit and whatnot that you can't see the forest for the trees. You get a hint as to what a wine tastes like, but not how it tastes. There are exceptions: Jamie Goode's occasional 'complete' tasting notes, in which he describes not only the wine, but the surroundings and situation in minuscule detail are fun and fantastic in how they acknowledge that situation is essential in how a wine tastes. Gary Vaynerchuk's Wine Library TV isn't everyone's cup of tea, but he's done more to explain flavours in wine to the masses than a library full of fruit salad tasting notes. But the vast majority could be cut-and-pasted from one wine to another and no one would notice.

And maybe there's something to that. Perhaps wines just taste too much alike these days and their differences are too minute for the limitations of wine vocabulary. Is the vocabulary itself to blame? Is it too limited? It seems whenever a wine-writer strays back towards the old metaphor-style, they catch all manner of hell. When Andrew Jefford describes flavours as 'helicoptering', people call bullshit. Andrew Jefford is one of the best booze writers in the world. His New France is among my favourite wine tomes. Then he turned around and wrote Peat, Smoke & Spirit, the best whisky book I've ever read. Have we come so far from those whimsical wine-writers of the past that we cannot see some of the positive points of their writing? Is it time for another upheaval within our writing and wine assessment? Michael Broadbent still waxes the whimsy rather beautifully and his notes are a joy to read (though often fill me with a wrathful jealousy) but it's as though he's the exception that proves the rule. Once again I look at Vaynerchuk's style and content to see what might be coming next. He uses an extraordinary number of descriptors, from classic fruit salad to the geological with healthy doses of the flavours of childhood. But he also chucks in the odd metaphor - ugly girlfriends and WWF heroes - a far cry from picnicking at Easter, but people do seem to respond to it.

Of course, that brings up a question of who these tasting notes are for? Are they purely for the consumer? If so, how interested are they, really? When I host tastings for people just getting into wine and guide them through the nose and palate, their first response when I ask what aromas and flavours they get is always 'wine'. Sometimes it's 'red wine' or 'white wine'. Which is fair enough. I sometimes think that there are those in the wine trade who feel that you can't even casually appreciate wine without an understanding of the vocabulary that comes with it. And a lot of wine writers seem to be writing only for their peers and their paycheques. If that's the case, then there's even less of excuse for mundanity and repetitiveness of tasting notes these days. Am I the only one seeing this?

 I write my notes for me, to provide some manner of written record of what I'm tasting. From now on I'm going to stray into the more ambiguous, whimsical and metaphorical because a) it's more fun to write and b) it's more personal for me. That's not to say there won't be a dusting of fruit salad here and there, far from it. There'll just be a touch more garnish to go with it.

William Downie Gippsland Pinot Noir 2008

I found some old notes lurking about and thought I'd share them.

The colour is dark & clear & vibrant.

Great strawberry/cranberry notes on the nose, plus a touch of wild forest fruits as well. Touch of cured meat on the nose to boot.

Beautifully soft on the palate, glycerol coated strawberries, touch of jolly rancher. Rich & moreish. Lacks acidity but makes up for it with massive body. This isn't normally my style of Pinot, but I must confess to being rather smitten.

Tasted 14/1/10 at Luvians Bottleshop

Fontodi Case Via Syrah 2004

Opened on a quiet night.

Certainly not showing much age. Youthful, almost opaque. Ruby-rimmed.

Sour cherries with a touch of balsamic on the nose. There's some darker fruit and pepper there as well.

The palate is polished. Sour cherries and ripe blueberry with olive brine and balanced tannins. It's complete and delicious, but it's a little boring. Tastes more of impeccable wine-making than great wine. I've grumbled about this before. It's just the sort of mood I'm in these days.

*** (would be **** but for the price and lack of place)

Tasted 5/10/2010 at Luvians Bottleshop

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Secret Wine reboot

Apparently, nobody's guessed the correct wines for the Clair de Lune Secret Wine Ultimate Death Battle (that's what it should be called), so they're re-opening voting. Interesting. I did have a couple of alternative choices scribbled on a stickie lurking here on my desktop somewhere.

My original guesses were
079: Gigondas
390: Cornas
714: Chateauneuf-du-Pape with some age on it - 2004?

My original notes are here.

Shame they can't send another three bottles; it would be interesting to re-taste the wines.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Chapoutier Les Varonniers Crozes Ermitage 2004

Busy Saturdays sometimes inspire a touch of decadence.

Pale, with quite a lot of maturity on the rim (though no amber) - it looks almost Burgundian.

Forest fruit & forest floor with hints of wild mushrooms - ceps? Or are they just on my brain? It's heady, intense, brambly, perfumed and fun to sniff.

Briars and brambles on the palate, with sweet dust and black olive tapenade. The finish shows off light back pepper. Rustic and perfumed all at once, with great grip. There's rusticity and elegance that great Syrah shows with aplomb. All-in-all, it's a light wine, lighter than you'd expect, and possibly the better for it. It also tastes younger than it looks, which is neither here nor there, though it suggests you should drink it sooner rather than later.

Tasted 2/10/2010 at Luvians Bottleshop

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Huet Vouvray Le Mont Sec 1995

There are aspects of working and living here that I would have trouble trading. A couple of days ago, one of my bosses brought a paper bag full of fresh ceps and a few chanterelles. I love wild mushrooms. I made a risotto and chose a wine that I thought would be ideal.

Golden and aged, with depth and brilliance and some edges of green.

Beeswax pervades on the nose, coating grist and porridge that slowly turn to roasted limes. It's quite heady and mature with an enticing savoury-ness. The odd sniff shows of a touch of mint. It takes awhile to get to this. I plead patience. It needs to breathe a wee bit. There's a touch of mustiness and age that disappears after a bit of air.

I love old Chenin Blanc. The palate is remarkably textured - rich, honey-roasted limes with rolled oats and demerara sugar. The structure comes from an acidity that begins subtly and then asserts itself on the finish. All the flavour seems to radiate from it. It reminds me a touch of a good old dry oloroso or palo cortado in that there's always a suggestion of sweetness that comes from the richness and honeyed aspects of both the nose and the start of the palate but then there's no sweetness on the finish. It's gloriously dry and lengthy, and immensely versatile with all manner of food. It was perfect with the risotto.

Tasted 1/10/2010 at Shorehead

Grand-Puy Ducasse 2000

Classed-growth claret from a stellar vintage all in the name of staff training? Sign me up.

Looking perhaps a little old for its age - the ruby rim looks on the verge of rusting. The clarity's a bit off too - slightly smoked.

Pulped stone fruit on the nose - cassis edged plum with a meaty core. A little mossy.

Very soft. The acidity is more vibrant than I expected, drawing back the tannins and giving the fruit more crunchiness than I expected from the nose. Those tannins are soft, brushing gently on the tongue. There's not a huge amount of complexity, but it's a very sensual drop. Drink now, with food. Not the best 2000 I've ever had but good value and incredibly pleasant.

Tasted 30/9/2010 at Luvians Bottleshop

first stew of the season with two wines

Autumn is a good time of year for cooking. It's probably my favourite, as it's an excuse to get stuck into proper, rib-sticking comfort food. The first stew of the season was venison, slow-cooked in port with onions, mushrooms, sweet potatoes and parsnips. It was ridiculously rich and while it probably needed another half hour or so, we were hungry and the odd chewy bit of meat was a small price to pay.

Passadouro 2006

Opaque purple, dark core. I need to buy some new candles as these energy saver bulbs are rubbish for determining the subtleties of wine tint.

Nose is focused, intense dark bramble fruit wrapped in cocoa powder and nutmeg. There's almost a touch of mulling spice to it.

Rustic but focused - you sip it and there's an impressive acidity balanced with that crazy cocoa, nutmeg and black tea tannin. It's tight. Crushing your tongue against the roof of your mouth and squeezing brings out a good juiciness, a fruit focus that can be hard to notice with all those brambly, underbrush-like tannins. It comes out more with the stew, that dark juicy fruit of brambles edged with raspberries. Very Portuguese.


Consolation 'The Dog Strangler' Mourvedre Collioure Rouge 2008

Nicely dark. Good brilliance. Can't really tell in my dining room. *jots down 'candles' on an imaginary shopping list*

Nose is intense blueberry compote, plum and liquorice. Heady and perfumed with surprising floral edges. There is a darkness as well.

Have you ever bitten into a properly ripe mourvedre grape? The skins are thick, chewy and full of tannin - they burst with juice - blueberries, honey and plum-like juice. This wine tastes just like biting into a ripe mourvedre grape. The tannins are thick, dusty and a touch sweet; they hit first and then comes this compote fruit that manages at once to be dark berry and lightly honeyed all at once. It's all incredibly rounded and textured, hitting every part of the mouth with grip and nuance. Full disclosure: I help at this winery during vintage and have yet to meet one of their wines that I haven't liked. 


Tasted at Shorehead 27/9/2010

Sunday, September 26, 2010

some random wine thoughts

No tasting notes today, just a few random thoughts regarding the world of wine, the wine trade and such.

  • Fine wine prices are stupid, for the most part. Quantities are such that deep-pocketed investors can drive the value up by simply scooping up more of their favourite tipple. It doesn't need to be much. Just a case or two here and there and they watch the remaining stock jump 20% on wine-searcher or live-ex in the space of a week. I cannot for a moment believe that anyone who does this does it for a love of wine.
  • I find the Rodenstock fake debacle incredibly amusing. There is something deeply satisfying and iconoclastic about the whole thing. The indictments of both Broadbent and Parker as a result goes further to prove that expertise in wine has its limits and that no opinion is categorical.
  • Bordeaux bores me more and more every year. It also saddens me. I hesitate to revisit even Chateau that I've loved in the past as the combination of hot years and modern wine-making techniques suggest they'll probably taste the same as every other fucking Chateau in the same league. I wish wine writers would call them out more on this. 
  • I've said it before and I'll say it again: I'd rather taste an interesting wine than a good wine. This makes my tasting notes increasingly useless to the average consumer. I'm ok with that.
  • I find it really difficult to post notes for the dreadful wines I taste. I feel I should. I feel that wine-making is such an effort that to undertake that producing some of the lousy wines I've sifted through of late is a waste of time. And the producers that pump this stuff out by the super-tanker load should be named and shamed. 
  • Organic wines ≠ good wines. There are exceptions, but shit wine is shit wine no matter how it's produced. If you're organic and still produce dreadful wine, you should grub up your vines and plant an orchard. 
  • While I feel that there should be research put into sulphur alternatives, most of the sans sulphite crowd are ill-informed fear-mongering hippy reactionaries with little-to-no concept of wine or how it's made. A 50€ bottle of re-fermenting Le Caset des Mailloles that tasted more like Devon Scrumpy than Collioure Blanc further cemented this view. 
  • My tasting notes have been shoddy of late. Apologies.
So there you go. 

Friday, September 24, 2010

quality assessment: two chardonnays

So, I'm doing the same again but with a couple of chardonnays. This time the entry level wine is Australian and the more expensive is French. I chose it this way due to the buying habits of our customers. If they're buying cheaper whites, they tend to go New World. If they splash out, they tend to go Old World. There's a debate as to the reasons for that - several, actually - that I'm not going to get into at the moment. I will say that those who have shouted about the death of French wine for the last two decades will go hoarse long before it's anywhere near the truth.

Winding Road Chardonnay 2009 (South East Australia £8.99)

Green and silver colour - kind of Chablis-like.

Lime citrus and a touch of peach fuzz on the nose. There's also a whiff of cheesiness and something a bit earthy about it all.

Nice acidity on the palate gives it good structure. There a lees-y, oak-chip-y creaminess to it that provides nice mouthfeel. There's something very 'made' about this wine, which is to be expected at the price, but it seems well made. It's not overly oaked and there's no bucket of residual sugar lurking on the finish. It's slightly anonymous, but that is in part because there's little really wrong with it. Which, sadly, makes it boring.


Pouilly-Fuissé "La Frérie" 2006 JP & M Auvigue (£23.49)

I think there's something wrong with the lights in the shop. This looks pretty much the same as the Winding Road, except it's more gold and less silver.

Exotic white stone fruit on the nose with spice and pineapple as well. A wee touch of citrus and vanilla cream rises up towards the end. This wee village in the Macon has become legendary for boasting the sexiest white Burgundies south of the Cote d'Or. Sometimes they're downright slutty. This is rather sexy but isn't showing too much leg.

Delicious on the palate - fleshy, textured fruit with oak influence but never tasting of oak. Rich and filling mouthfeel that delivers pineapple and nectarine with hints of lime on the edge, orange flower water and butter-soaked wild mushrooms that soften to a long, gentle finish. I even detect a bit of minerality underneath all that fruit. Sexy stuff. Roast chicken with a wild mushroom broth would be a nice pairing, so would scallops seared in good butter with a blood orange reduction.

**** 1/2
This is much better that the last time I had it.

Tasted 23/9/2010 at Luvians Bottleshop

These two tastings have been fun and enlightening. Next time I'm going to test the staff blind on the wines and see if they can tell me which is the finer bottle. It's interesting that both the more expensive wines showed their merit. Part of me hoped for the opposite, just to shake things up a bit.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

quality training: two clarets

Sometimes staff training has to be simple: illustrating, taste-wise, the difference between a cheap wine and a not-so-cheap wine. It's important that as a wine merchant you can not only taste that difference but also understand why certain things really do matter, whether it's stricter selection, better viticultural practice, better wine-making, a better vineyard site or all of that and more.

Occasionally the more expensive wine won't be showing as well as it should - maybe it's not the better wine (in which case it should be de-listed immediately); or perhaps the bottle is out of condition or it's going through an awkward phase in its development. The latter happens from to time to time but will never not sound like a lame excuse. The difficulty in explaining the 'awkward phase' to either a customer or a trainee staff member makes it a futile exercise. It also doesn't really matter. If a wine isn't tasting as it should it may as well be corked, whether it's reductive, dumb or simply being awkward.

I've digressed.

We opened two Clarets:

L'Orangerie de Carignan 2007 (£8.99)

Proper claret nose of pencil shavings, a touch of cedar and sawdust with understated red berry fruit. Not quite ripe cassis, though there are darker fruits lurking there.

The palate is a bit taut; not quite as engaging as the nose. The fruit's tight and obscured by the leafy, vegetal edges. The tannins are a bit rough and the finish has a little hint of sucking on pennies. However, in the midst of some proper, rustic food, much of this would be moot - the tannins grip and the fruit comes out a bit. For the money, it's not bad - there are plenty of over-ripe New World wines at the same price that may outshine this at a tasting, but pale at a dinner party.


Chateau Potensac 2005 (£24.99)

Ripe cassis and liquorice on the nose. Deep and perfumed, it feels finer to smell, softer and perhaps a little touch of varnish on the end

That ripe cassis mixes with a touch of black cherry and anise. The tannins already seem velvety. This isn't just a better wine, it's a more modern claret. Part of me almost wants some of that graphite and sawdust the L'Orangerie boasted. That part of me is easily ignored as this is an easy wine to enjoy and pour another glass. The modernity is somewhat upsetting however, not because I begrudge oak and prosperity and things that taste good, but because I like wine that tastes of where it's from. This is not as obviously claret as the cheaper, and somewhat meaner, bottle. It is really rather delicious though and it is worth the twenty-five quid. But it's also a touch anonymous. And for a house like this, that is a sad thing.


Both tasted 21/9/2010 at Luvians Bottleshop

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


UPDATED - I've put my original votes in now.

I was going to wait a little longer, but how long can a wine geek can leave three anonymous bottles untouched? Less than 24 hours, it would seem.

Before I start - I've not opened the wines yet - I should probably tell everyone how cool I think this whole thing is: it is very cool. Even if it is a ridiculously elaborate marketing exercise and the wines turn out to be terrible, I will think of the folly fondly. It not only recognises the importance of new media formats, it tips its cap to them and provides us with an opportunity to do something we love: taste wine. Taste wine, talk about it, argue about it, discuss it and guess. The fact that there are prizes involved is incidental (though I would be delighted to win a €1000 wine trip for two). No matter how cynical their motivation, it's groovy to be a part of it.

I'll post my guesses once the competition closes, on the 27th of September.

Wine - 079 -

Colour: Dark, deep, purple with red edges - quite viscous. I thought it was Banyuls initially.
Nose: Sweet plums and honey with a bit of alcohol hit.
Palate: Quite big, dark forest fruit with bramble bush and quite rounded finish. There's a bit of alcohol to it as well and a bit of a pebbly mouthfeel.
What I think it is: Gigondas - it's the pebbles.

Wine - 390 -

Colour: More purple with an even thinner rim. It goes straight to the core in little time and that core is very dark.
Nose: Blueberries with a touch of smoked bacon and is there some black olive there? Touch of varnish.
Palate: Similar tannin structure to 079 but with more acidity and therefore more linear structure. The sweetness and ripeness of the blueberry are compelling and more-ish. The finish sees a bit more of that black olive from the nose coming through.
What I think it is: Cornas - that's definitely syrah, or mostly syrah...

Wine - 714 -

Colour: The lightest of the three, with more ruby than purple tints. Still quite dark, though.
Nose: Once again, there's that sweet, Banyuls-like dark fruit and wild honey comb to kick things off. It's the least defined on the nose. There's still a bit of booziness though.
Palate: This is also the oldest on the palate - the tannins are softer and it's a gentler run all-round. The fruit's a touched stewed and compote-y, with gentle though rich secondaries of fruit bush, the starts of saddle leather and a touch of dry anise. Nice length
What I think it is: old Chateauneuf-du-Pape - this one required no pause for consideration.

Overall, the quality is impressive. I think the wines are forward and would say the first two are either 07s or 09s as the fruit is there, but those light violet notes I normally associate with the region (that I'm guessing it is) are nowhere to be seen (or smelled, or tasted), so I'm assuming it's a ripe vintage. They all sit comfortably in the £10-£20 range, though there is a touch of modernity to them. I suspect they come from one producer as there seems to be a bit of a recurring theme. Oh well, my votes are cast and we'll see.

The wines were far better than expected. This was fun.

Tasted 22/9/2010 at Luvians Bottleshop

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

so, what's the secret?

On a whim, I've entered a competition. There's very little to it; I registered here and they sent me three bottles of blind wine to sample. The bottles are numbered. I need to taste them and then vote on what appellation in France I think they represent. They've not been opened yet; they're sitting on the counter in the shop. All three are red and all three are enclosed in Burgundy-shaped bottles. Whether this is of any consequence is a mystery. I don't know if the wines were specifically bottled in the same shape for the sake of anonymity or not. If they were, then one of the wines may well be a Bordeaux, or an Alsace Pinot Noir. If not, then they can be neither. There are 84 other bloggers competing and I've no idea if there are any other rules. I would normally blind taste with a few friends - does this contravene the competition? Not a clue. In any case, I'll blog the tasting when it happens, and I may even video it. You never know. Votes have to be in by the 27th of September.

I also just found a ton of notes to post, so there'll be some fairly groovy wines listed in the near future. Apologies for the intermittency, but I'm back again. Thanks for reading.

an interview with Richard Geoffroy, chef de cave at Dom Perignon

The following is an interview I conducted a few months ago with Richard Geoffroy, the winemaker for Dom Perignon. The wines were exceptional and the chat illuminating. This was conducted as a joint-blog effort and is also available at The Tasting Note.

His enthusiasm and the vigour with which he embraces the responsibility that comes with guiding so iconic a wine is admirable. He was a joy to chat with, and I look forward to more opportunities to discuss some of the topics we touched upon.

Your family made wine in the Cote des Blancs for several generations, but you trained originally as a doctor – was there a comfort going back?
Medicine, for me, was the way of being rebellious. It sounds funny, but it was my way of making it away from something all too predictable. I felt that I had to prove to my friends and family that I could make it on my own. And once I’d made it, I started thinking ‘well, so what’ and so the attraction back to my roots was too strong and my belief is that when you come from the land, you can deny it and think you can leave, but no – you belong. I’m from a family of farmers; I’m a farmer. Even when I’m an MD, I’m a farmer. And I’m glad I came back. I’m happier as a person, and I have a greater sense of achievement in my wine making.

It is often forgotten, particularly in a setting like this (the Scottish launch of Dom Pérignon Œnothèque Rosé at the Balmoral Hotel, Edinburgh) that what we make and sell is actually an agricultural product
You are so right. I keep telling our marketing and business people “it all depends on the elements”. You’ve got to be ambitious in business, and ambition is fine, but you have to remain humble at the same time, to know where you place yourself in the picture with nature otherwise, one day, you are in trouble. It is an element of wisdom in a way. And never to overdo things, trying too hard.

Do you find that in your role, not as a winemaker but as, occasionally, a brand ambassador?
Its funny because I don’t think this way. It is like in sport, if you start thinking “I’m Michael Schumacher”, you don’t think of the status you are at, or what you have achieved: you are only trying to make your own thing. It is the best way to have little pressure. I’m afraid of pressure, pressure is always bad because it makes you compromise or not be yourself.

It’s probably why the wines remain exceptional vintage after vintage…
Voila, Voila, Voila. It gets back to my point about not trying too hard, when you pretend… no, no. You’ve got to be yourself. I’m very suspicious of flattery, I’m uneasy with flattery and particularly when it is undeserved.

You said that your favourite vintage was always the most challenging one. You had a few landmark vintages after your first in 1990, and I’ve spoken to winemakers who say the great vintages are always the most challenging because nature is giving you a lot and they want to hold back…
Yes, you have a point because when you are given so much you had better be up to it, so it is a more personal challenge. But in the end I’m more after the technically challenging years like 1980, which I didn’t make but my predecessor did, whenever I taste it I say ‘wow’ – it is alien, it comes from Mars! For me this wine means more than the greater vintages. We released ’80 as an Œnothèque, it was my decision, and I gave it justice, because many people had been critical of it in the first place, and then when it was an Œnothèque they said “the wine is great” and maybe they were influenced in the first place by the pedigree of the vintage which was nothing in France, and I was so happy to give my predecessor justice!

1996 was challenging, there were issues with oxidisation with the Pinot Noir, it was hard to overcome that problem and I think many people failed in ’96 because of that.

You’ve just launched the 1990 Œnothèque Rosé, which was disgorged in 2007. It strikes me that there had to be a very early decision made to release this wine. Was it a few years prior to the disgorgement or was there always a plan to release an Œnothèque Rose?
We had been wanting to do one for a long time, we decided it would be 1990 and I started tasting it on a regular basis and charting its progress, and I could anticipate that the wine would be ready in one or two years and then we disgorged the entire release at once. So the second release will be from that initial disgorgement. The remaining 1990 remains on the lees for a third release. So by tasting twice a year, you see the whole thing moving along.

The British palate likes older champagne, and I was wondering if your personal preference was for an older wine or do you prefer them younger?
I’m not with the British palate; it’s not what I’m really after. I’m after what Dom Pérignon Œnothèque is: so intense but yet little fat and not tired at all. I’m at a point where I cannot separate personal taste and my job at Dom Pérignon. They became so intimate and I don’t have the possibility of distancing myself from my job.

If you are to have a glass of something outside of Champagne, what would it be?
As we speak, it would be Burgundy or Port. I love Port, I have a fascination for port. It is about as rustic and sophisticated as can be! There is a tension. Port is a paradox and I love it. And burgundy, something that is so close to my own world, and it gives a mirror image. It’s intriguing!

Do you see yourself as a caretaker of the Dom Pérignon house or as more proactive, as a builder?
A builder. I’m not good at caretaking. A journalist asked me yesterday ‘how am I maintaining the style?’ – I’m not in maintenance you know, I keep pushing. Consistency is terrible and my brief isnot make it consistent. It is push push push. The chairman of Dom Pérignon allows me to be independent enough; I’m running my business within the business (of LVMH); I’m an entrepreneur. Mark my words, in the coming years there are going to be quite a few stunning things to come… Dom Pérignon doesn’t have to be obsessed with ratings; it is about the quality of the comments. And when I’m asked about the price (of Dom Pérignon ) I say that I have to factor in the vintages that we don’t declare.

Are the vintages you don’t declare some of the more challenging? How early into the process do you realise that it just isn’t worthy of a vintage?
Not too early, I don’t want to have preconceived ideas at picking or vinification, I never comment on the vintage at the time, I wait after several rounds of tasting individual components before I comment, and yet I keep going and blending even in the lousier years, I go to the final blend. I never give up before hand and never have preconceived ideas. It is something I learned in medicine. In medicine you have someone injured coming into emergency, if it bleeds from here (points to his head), the scalp (bleeding) is very spectacular but there could be internal bleeding. It is so easy to be influenced by what you see, but without looking. Stay calm, in control.

Which vintage has proven most challenging for you?
In my time, 1996, because of the highly oxidisable pinot noir. There was a major issue of dehydration in the berries. It concentrated the acidity. It was very difficult to balance the blend, and 2003 is another challenging year because of the heat, which can make the wines very forward, but there were ways of going round the problem.

You’ve done more in the last 20 years at Dom Pérignon than had been done since the forties, and even though the range has expanded, it is a very simple and logical expansion
Its very simple, its very logical. Everyone comes up with a need for a ‘range’, but I don’t speak of a ‘range’ at Dom Pérignon. I don’t like the word range. Its simple, there are two blends and we will never extend it outside the two blends.

Thanks both to Dr Geoffroy for speaking and to Kirsty Duncanson and the team from LVMH for facilitating everything.