I’ve moved … mi sono trasferito

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After a happy time on the blogging website wordpress.com,  I now have a new website, blog and much more. 

I hope you enjoy the new website and do let me have your comments:  

                       www.winefriend.org

I look forward to your continued company with glass in hand.

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Tasting at Ca'Marcanda

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Tasting in the dark 2

Andover Wine Friend’s summer party was held in the garden of our house on a warm July evening. This being England we were lucky – if it was 24 hours later it probably would have been raining.  As it was it was a perfect evening, warm without being oppressive. And, as I forgot to take any pictures at all, I can resort to garden shots taken earlier this year.  First of all, spring: 

Snow drops

Hellebore

The theme of the evening was a blind tasting, but in a simple and, hopefully, fun way. People brought a plate of something to eat to share and then there were six wines to taste and indeed drink, each with three possibilities as to its identity.  Two people were in a strong position as they had sourced two wines each, but they were very well behaved.  I did suggest half way through the evening that if they collaborated, they should get at least four out of six correct! 

Wine no. 1 had an excellent aromatic nose, peachy, and then good texture and plenty of substance.  All around a good refreshing and quite versatile white.  Most plumped for the clue, ‘rather a mild mannered Riesling’ but in fact it was the Vedejo grape from the inland Reuda region of Spain. The wine is called k-naia 2009 (Vedejo and Sauvignon Blanc, £8.60).  It is currently sold out but came for Andover’s exciting new independent wine shop, Grape Expectations.  

The second wine was the first of our special imports, brought back from Roussillon in the back of Paul Gumn’s car.  In recent decades the south of France has seen an explosion of inward investment and excitement with lots of new ventures.  One of these is run by a couple of South Africans who cleverly exploit the seasonal difference to get two harvests a year, one back home in South Africa and one at Domaine Grier in France.  This blend is Maccabeu (think white Rioja) and Viognier, to make an impressively subtle wine, nice white flower and fruit aromas, medium in weight, some intriguing herby notes.   And the good news is that most people guessed this one right!  Not widely available in the UK but speak to Paul nicely …

Summer in the garden (1): 

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The two rosés caused quite a lot of debate.  The first, a sparkling wine (nearly everyone spotted that), was ‘pale and interesting’ as one of the clues had it, in fact a pale salmon pink; so on those grounds it could have been from Provence.  In fact it was Grenache-based, again from the far south of France, Cremant de Limoux and retails there at €10.  There was a very even three way split here between this being Provencal rosé, English Pinot Noir or Perle de Rosee, Domaine de Fourn, Robert.  The wine is 50% Chardonnay, 30% Chardonnay, 10% Mauzac with the colour coming from a mere 10% of Pinot Noir.   This had decent fruit but to my taste there was something hard or slightly metallic about it. 

The second rosé, a still wine, was an vivid pale red colour, with a fruity nose with something like bubblegum about it, very moreish.  It is really unusual, being a Nebbiolo based wine (think Barolo or Barbaresco) and is made by the de Marchi family of Isole e Olena fame in Chianti, but back in their Piemonte homeland. Called Rosa del rosa, from Proprieta it cost £12.50 from Caviste.  It obviously was completely unfamiliar as by far the most votes were for the joke clue – a white wine with Ribena added.  Well it was the fourth wine people had tasted.  Summer (2): 

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Finally the two reds.  The first I had to try for its sheer novelty value – Australian Sangiovese (far from its Tuscan home) with some Shiraz.   It had brilliant dense fruit, somewhere between strawberry and plum, good acidity, very good but quite unlike any Sangiovese I have tasted.  The majority voted for this, from a choice of three, closely followed by Cabernet, perhaps going on the fairly dense colour.  The Squid’s Fist 2009, is an interesting wine, sourced by Grape Expectations (£14). 

The last lap was rather paler wine, more elegant.  Faced with a choice of a single commune Beaujolais, quality Valpolicella or New Zealand Pinot Noir, not many spotted the Pinot from Daniel Schuster, Two Vineyards Pinot Noir, 2006, £16, from Caviste.  Pale ruby in colour, it had a good red fruit and farmyard smell, a bit of shirbety wood (some noticed the ageing), strawberry fruit and a nice bitter twist to finish.

All in all a great way to spend a summer evening – excellent food shared between friends, interesting, sometimes off-beat wines, a good way for a wine club to go into its summer break.  I might even remember to take some pictures next time. 

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Tasting in the dark

IMG_0211Blind tasting sounds a slightly terrifying prospect. The phrase itself is slightly worrying, like ‘deaf skiing’ or ‘mute horse riding’. It’s not entirely accurate in that you can still use visual clues in the colour or viscosity of wine, but obviously not read the label. But it is a remarkably different experience. Rather than interpret what you taste in the light of what you know and what you expect, you are forced back on to your basic senses and wine knowledge. But it’s a great way to extend your experience and can be very convivial.

The formula is simple. A group of friends or colleagues each bring a bottle of something that is worth savouring, carefully wrapped in tin foil, decanted into another bottle or somehow covered up. Each bottle is then tasted in turn. A first taste is poured and mused over – appearance, aroma, taste, finish  – but no information is given. You immediately realise how much you depend on your preconception of what a wine is and how much it cost. More tasting and musing. Sometimes you just know what it is, sometimes you can make an intelligent guess, often you have no idea. Questions can be asked, especially to see if the group can agree some basics: is it Old World or New, warm climate or cool, a single grape variety or a blend? Of course the person who brought the wine doesn’t have to answer or confirm anything. Then comes the great unveiling. If you get it right, you feel (quietly) elated, if you get it wrong … you are in good company. And my did we get some of these excellent wines wrong! In a way it’s very reassuring … even the professionals get it wrong, so it is a genuinely difficult and revealing task.

Stanley Park, Berkshire, England, quality sparkling wine: this had been decanted into another bottle for disguise and so wasn’t as sparkling as it once had been.  Good colour, heavy legs, slightly oxidised nose. Nobody guessed England!

Engelgarten, Marcel Deiss, Bergheim, Alsace, 2003: it you are going to set a test, it might as well be a bit of a tease too. This wine puzzled people, with its strangely deep yellow/gold appearance and disappearing ‘petrol’ nose. Most plumped for Riesling initially –  that nose, the substantial texture – then the aroma seem to fade or transmute. Lots of appreciation and head scratching. As I had brought this wine I was in the Jeremy Paxman/University Challenge position – I had all the certainty that knowing the answer in advance gives you. Yes it’s 50% Riesling but the rest is a field blend, a mixture of three Pinots (Blanc, Noir, Gris) and Muscat, and hence the disappearing trail of the Riesling/non-Riesling nose.

IMG_0198Domaine de Montbourgeau, L’etoile, Jura, 2006: another real puzzle, big oxidized nose, sherry like almost; again quite a mid yellow colour, appley fruit, much bewilderment over the grape variety. It turned out to be Chardonnay of all things but made in an oxidative style, rendering it interesting but completely unrecognisable.  But a wine of real character and in a old-fashioned style.

Christian, Chenin Blanc 2007, Barossa Valley, Australia:  mid pale gold, excellent fruit, some floral notes, decent acidity, long persistence.  A moment of triumph as I guessed the grape correctly … and we all remembered that we had drunk this wine quite recently during Dennis Canute‘s visit from Rusden vines.  Yes, tasting blind does make for a level playing field.

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Chateau du Tetre, Margaux, 2001: this fabulous claret pretty much fooled us all. Everybody got the presence of Cabernet Sauvignon with the menthol and blackcurrant nose but its bright, full-on fruit had most of us in the New World or Italy. It turned out to be from this classed growth, a tribute to what Bordeaux can now do. Incidentally, the Chateau is owned by Eric Albada Jegersma who owns not only a second Bordeaux chateau but also the excellent Caiarossa on the Tuscan coast.

Ch. Cantemerle 1971 - sadly had passed away, very tired. It could have been a great experience but this wasn’t to be.

Hermitage, Monier de la Sizeranne, Chapoutier, 1999: a great depth of strawberry/raspberry to plum fruit, nice mineral streak and sour like so many Rhône Syrah.  Big debate over whether New or Old World.  Happy to say I spotted the Rhône Syrah.  But for each one you get right, there’s a following one you have no idea about.  The ageing of Syrah is also a much subtler process than some grapes – it was quite difficult to spot this was more than a decade old.

Cornish Point Pinot Noir, Central Otago, New Zealand, 2005: probably the biggest surprise of them all.  A deep ruby colour, complex fruity almost porty nose, big in the mouth, rich and dense.  One brave soul plumped for Pinot Noir and was roundly met with disbelief from the others – it’s too dark, too fruity, too big … but it was.  An amazing feat of extraction in the winery, by the company now known as Felton Road.  An excellent wine and quite an eye-opener.

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This was a great evening with excellent wines of real personality (£20+ per bottle), a good meal at the Red Lion in Overton, and great  company.  We all learned something, had a stab in the dark and were often wrong … and enjoyed one another’s company.  And appropriately enough the evening ended in the dark.   We had a lift back home but sadly we broke down and ended up waiting for the excellent bus service on a dry, warm and starry night.

But how many places have thatched bus shelters?  Very classy, Freefolk, Hampshire.

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A serious rosé

Chateau de Sours

Chateau de Sours

Recent years has seen a surge in the popularity of rosé in the United Kingdom.  It must be something about all those summer parties or just people looking for a change from white or red.  On the whole the style is light and easy drinking, a quaffable crowd pleaser.  But every now and then you come across something much more serious.  Chateau de Sours do something really memorable. It’s difficult to describe the colour – is it a deep ruby rosé or a light red wine?   The nose is of confectionery, sweets and ripe red fruit, of moderate intensity.  In the mouth there is sweet ripe fruit, good balance, a depth of flavour, some acidity – though this is not predominant as the wine is 7 years old now – and low astringency.

The wine is made from free run Merlot, ie the juice which is extracted without pressing which accounts for the low tannins.  It is  left to ferment for eight to ten weeks.  I am not sure that ageing potential is the right phrase but is certainly doesn’t fade away after a year or two.  It’s a serious wine, stands up well to food, is extremely drinkable if 13.5% alcohol and, overall, very good.  This was a welcome gift but on a quick check I see that Majestic stock it at £10 a bottle.

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South African stars

Writing in the middle of the World Cup in South Africa it is just as well this is about the country’s wine and not about football.  Along with most of the other African teams, the home team could not get out of the group stage of the competition, though they did win their final game against France.  Meanwhile England played poorly and departed in the most spectacular fashion.  By contrast, South African wine has much of which it can be proud.

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The history of wine production in South Africa is long and varied.  Initially famous 300 years ago for the sweet white Constantia, the trade came to be dominated by the production of huge quantities of cheap wine destined for the distillation plant.  But in recent decades a crucial section of the business has been concentrated on quality.  And as this Andover Wine Friends tasting showed, that quality is available in everyday wines as well as in more expensive bottles.  These wines were sourced from a Wine Society offer.

IMG_5403 Klein Constantia Riesling 2008 (£9): the Constantia name lives on, here represented by this good dry Riesling – inviting and lively young varietal nose, good acidity, refreshing, excellent.

Bon Cap Viognier 2009 (£11.50): nice pale gold colour, rather neutral on the nose, not obviously fruity but full of flavour including a slightly salty note on the palate, decent silky texture.

Villiera Chenin Blanc 2009 (£6.75): an inexpensive example of South African’s star white grape variety.  An excellent complex nose, floral and fruity the apples and especially pears register.  An excellent wine at this price level.

IMG_5417 Sequillo White 2008 (60% Chenin Blanc, 20% Grenache Blanc, 10% Viognier, 10% Roussane; £15.50)  This classy white blends Chenin with some white Rhône varieties to produce a mid gold in colour, a fine expressive nose (honey, nuts, a bit of oak), lovely silky texture combined with real structure, fine and long.  Outstanding.

IMG_5406In the Rosé department, we tasted Circumstance Cape Coral Mourvèdre 2009 (£8).  This was many people’s favourite wine – a lovely pale salmon pink, nice perfumed nose, substantial and rounded in the mouth, slightly strawberry fruit, moderate to low acidity.

The reds were somewhat atypical as they were heavily weighted to top quality.  While they were all more than drinkable, the last three would have a lot of development in them.

Douglas Green Shiraz Viognier 2008 (£5) – fully ripe rich fruit (cherries and plums), good balancing refreshment, easy drinking but with real depth of flavour and interest. You can’t really ask more for the price, assuming of course that you like the style.

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Impressive levels of concentration here!

Kanonkop Pinotage 2007 (£17): a big price jump here in a top example of South African’s own grape variety, Pinotage, a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault. Deep purply red in colour, complex berry nose, brilliant sweet fruit on the nose and depth of flavour in the mouth, great acidity for keeping and development in the bottle, some good bitter notes. Excellent.

Boekenhoutskloof Chocolate Block 2008 (mainly Syrah with Grenache, Cabernet, Cinsault and Viognier; £18) Brilliant strawberry/raspberry/oak nose, the fruit-oak balance just right on the palate as well, full on and substantial in style, rich texture, excellent.

Meerlust Estate Rubicon 2005 (69% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc) Super rich Cabernet nose, very ripe and full of blackcurrant and red fruit, mint, very substantial but balanced.

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Congratulations to South Africa. The football team might need a bit more work, though perhaps not as much as England’s, but the wine already has star quality.

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Chianti classico finds its soul

The thirty miles between Florence and Siena takes you through one of the most famous landscapes in the world of wine.  But while the landscape has enduring appeal – gently undulating hills, now smart renovated farms, vineyards, cypresses, woodlands, more vineyards, medieval towns and castles – the wine is little understood.

Line drawing from Hugh Johnson, Tuscany and its wines

This is because the second half of the last century saw this famous name go down all sorts of blind alleys.  It is an undoubtedly an historic wine but one that has only recently begun to settled down with a clear identity. The debate has focused on:

  • the zone:  the classic area was given its first designation by Cosima III de’ Medici back in 1716 but in the 1930s the name of Chianti was bestowed on a vast area of central Tuscany between Pisa and Arezzo and well south of Siena.  It was not until 1996 that the Classico zone was redefined as the historic area between the two historic Tuscan cities.  But how many consumers know the difference between Chianti Classico and Chianti?
  • mass market or quality wine? The 1970s and 80s saw subsidised expansion of  land under vine at the lowest cost and with no regard for quality and the result.  The result was a lot of IMG_5366mediocre wine.  By contrast the Chianti 2000 project undertook research into clones of Sangiovese and has enabled Chianti Classico to head in the quality direction. It was spurred on of course by the fame and fortune that was being made by those creating the Super Tuscans, wines made from French grape varieties especially on the Tuscan coast.
  • the blend: at least since the later nineteenth century this has been Sangiovese plus secondary additions of other grapes to soften the wine.  Up to 20% of the other local grape varieties (usually Canaiolo, Malvasia nera, Colorino) gives you one result; 20% of Merlot, Cabernet or Syrah a completely different one.  So should Classico be a defined Tuscan style or a international red with a Tuscan twist?
  • oak ageing: should the wines be aged in small French barriques, older or newer, or in traditional, larger Slavonian oak barrels?  Or in other words should the fruit have a suave aroma of vanilla and tobacco or the more neutral if perceptible notes of balsamic, cloves and leather?

These questions were given a pretty clear answer in a blind tasting of Chianti Classico wines from the very good 2006 vintage, mostly sourced from the Wine Society.  The selection may of course simply reflect the preferences of their buyers but it showed that Classico does now have a clear identity:

  • pale to mid ruby red
  • distinctive aromas of sour cherry, fresh and dried fruit plus a moderate veneer of oak ageing
  • an absolute maximum of 10% of non-IMG_5388Tuscan grapes.  More than that and the wines may be good but they won’t be Chianti Classico in style, whatever it says on the label
  • good fruit on the palate (but certainly not fruit led) with moderate to high acidity and tannins. The wine at this quality level is  no longer either thin or tough as it was in the past, but it is no pushover either – it is quite rightly a wine of medium intensity, complex, lively and refreshing.
  • an excellent wine to accompany food including fatty/salty food such as prosciutto or tomato based sauces; good persistence.

Chianti Classico seems to have found its proper and distinctive place in a world awash with big, fruit led, wines – and long may it continue in this style.

The wines

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Monteraponi 2006, £14

90% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo, 12 months 70% in 23hl casks of Allier oak and 30% second passage barriques.  Pale ruby, medium intensity aromas, nice pretty palate of cherry leading in the raspberry and strawberry direction, lowish acidity, subtle.  Good plus.

Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Chianti Classico 2006, made by Cecchi from the Villa Cerna estate, £7.50 Sangiovese, Canaiolo and Colorino grapes, but the proportions not declared.  Mid ruby, not a fruity nose but spices, eg cloves, good fruit on the palate which faded in intensity quite quickly but then persisted at a lower level, good plus.  Worthwhile introduction to the style and held its own with wines up to nearly twice the price

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Villa Calcincaia 2006, £11.25

80% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo, 10% Merlot, 18 months in Slavonian oak.  Initially muted nose which then opened up, quite perfumed, slightly intenser than average of this field, greater acidity, powerful, quite long if not very complex finish.  The relatively substantial amount of Merlot does not dominate the wine.

IMG_5364Brolio 2006, £13 The website unhelpfully says: Sangiovese with small addition of other grapes, but probably with some French grapes in the mix because of a deeper colour with a continuing purple tinge. Very good fruit but not a clear Sangiovese profile (?Merlot), good persistence.  Very good if heading towards an international style.

Fonterutoli 2006, £16. 90% Sangiovese; 5% Malvasia Nera and Colorino; 5% Merlot.  Purply red, denser colour; rich, clove nose; velvety dense fruit, more obvious tannins, very good if slightly international in style

Villa di Vetrice, Chianti Rufina Riserva 2006, £8.50: 90% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo.  Not Classico of course but from the Rufina area directly East of Florence.  The most traditional wine in this tasting. Quite a dense ruby, rich and demanding, Sangiovese very dominant, more tannic than acidic, very good plus if very traditional

An older wine for comparison’s sake, with thanks to David Thomas of Caviste:  Castello dei Rampolla, Chianti Classico riserva 1998, generally viewed as a decent but not outstanding year in Tuscany. No grape variety breakdown available.  Colour very similar to the 2006s, lively pale to mid ruby red, no signs of ageing; complex nose, cloves, some red fruit, leather, fading fruit on the palate but still quite drying tannins.  Drink up.

Favourites

The clear favourite of the tasting group was the Monteraponi with its subtle ripe fruit.  Then came Brolio.  My choice was the traditional wine from Vetrice in Rufina – but that’s just a matter of which style you prefer.

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the good and the great

One of the endearing features of tasting wines in situ is discovering the range of wines produced.  Most areas will have a wine style that they do really well, occasionally outstandingly. But alongside those wines will be competent wines, sometimes from local grape varieties, sometimes from the well travelled international brigade.  The Tuscan white Vermentino would be a good example of competence and local interest.  It’s normally not as good as the great reds of Tuscany, there might be better Vermentino in Sardinia, but it still well worth it.

Dinner with friends who have a house in Roussillon was an excellent second best to tasting in situ.   Five wines, four from the locality, give a snapshot of the lively Roussillon wine scene and fill out the picture gained by the visit of Jean Pla from Maury last autumn.  The first two were a fun rosé sparkler and an interesting white, a Maccabeu-Viognier blend – try saying that clearly after a few glasses!   I shan’t write up these two in detail as they will figure in Andover Wine Friends’ summer tasting/party in July … watch this space!

Brief digression – in the picture we have a lively Welsh wine, sourced by star wine restaurant,IMG_0173   The Harrow Inn, as part of  a summer menu. This is Ancre Hill’s Welsh Regional Wine (mainly Madeleine Angevin), initially leafy like Sauvignon Blanc but then quite complex fruit  on the palate and a good finish.  Well worth a try.  If not ‘great’, certainly ‘good plus’ and proof there is life in the British wine scene.

To return to Roussillon, the star wines are undoubtedly red, in both dry and sweet styles.  Typical of the quality and value is this Corbieres,IMG_0178 Domaine du Grand Arc, Aux Temps d’histoire 2008, mostly the Carignan grape.  On the nose is deep red fruit with a pleasant layer of oak, then substantial structure on the palate, balance, great depth of ripe fruit with a refreshing and long finish.  It’s a perfect example of what the area does really well and at 12 euro.  

Second digression: with the cheese course we tasted the  characteristic wine of the Jura, far away on the Swiss border of IMG_0179France.   Les Coteaux de Val de Marne, Côtes de Jura 2008, is made from the indigenous grape, Savignin.  This bottle was a normal table wine though the wines from semi-dried grapes are perhaps more famous.  With its bright if pale yellow colour and intense apple aroma, this went perfectly with the local cheese, Comté, quite light in weight but with good acidity. I like the home made label. 

Finally, to return to Roussillon, and to perhaps its most famous wine, sweet red Banyuls.  If you are setting a challenge for food and wine matching, IMG_0182chocolate and chilli pots are pretty much up there with asparagus or raw artichokes in difficulty. But Maury’s big, sweet, structured red is where to head.  A vin doux naturel, ie with added spirit, gives a heady 17˚ of alcohol.   You can just see the legs on the glass in the photo with all that extract and alcohol.   This was the vinous climax and after a splendid evening, we left the car at our host’s house and walked home. 

Thanks to Paul (whose rack of lamb with a lemon and nut crust is not to be missed!) and Penny for their splendid hospitality. 

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