Friday, 17 May 2013

What I've been up to, plus a few interesting recent wines

Oh dear. Looking at the date of my last post, it would appear I have written precisely naff all for over 6 weeks. Not good enough, I know, though the reasons are manifold - with downright laziness being just one of them. To be fair, it has been a strange (and occasionally difficult) few months.

I seem to have spent a good part of my time in hospitals and doctors' surgeries, partly for checks on my own health (thankfully everything seems to be OK again) and partly due to the fact that my Mother has been in hospital on 3 occasions since December, firstly with pneumonia and latterly due to the ongoing after-effects. Seems her heart is a bit weak now, but with a few more trips to the doctor, and an ever-increasing daily coctail of drugs (warfarin next, I believe) she is still alive and kicking. And long may it continue - even at 84, she is certainly not the sort to let it get the better of her. She still lives on her own, in her own house and, whilst we have all been a lot more attentive since her illness, she manages pretty well. That said, I go to see her most days, either to do a few odd jobs or just to keep her company, which (having probably not done so as much as I should have in the past) has been really rewarding for me. Whatever happens, she isn't going to be around forever, so I'm glad it has whipped me into shape now, rather than when it is too late. After all, nothing else in life is as important as the ones we love.

Plenty of other things have been going on in my life, too. Much of March and early April were taken up driving around the country doing wine tastings, whilst May has been spent mostly in the garden - including (to borrow the phrase from Spinal Tap) a bizarre gardening accident, in which I tore some muscles in my side and cracked a rib or two. Of course, I have also been drinking a few decent wines and writing my tasting notes on them as I go along. Indeed, this post has been literally weeks in the pipeline. Problem is, with all the other stuff going on, and the resulting lack of time (not to mention the necessary drive and energy) typing everything up has, until now, simply been a chore too far. Let's face it, I don't earn any money from this blog - I do it for my own enjoyment (and hopefully to help my readers pass a pleasant few minutes!). And believe me, transcribing written notes is just about the most boring job in the world, especially since I am no touch typist! I'm actually considering buying one of those fancy tablets with a stylus pen, which would (if everything I read about them is to be believed) enable me to write on a screen and use an "app" to convert it into a text document. It could transform my dull existence and obviate the need for me to sit at the computer so much. Of course, if any of you have some useful advice on alternatives, please do let me know.

Anyway, for starters, here are my notes on some of the best or most enjoyable wines from the past few weeks (with more to come in future posts)...........

Cono Sur Sparkling Brut NV Bio Bio Valley, Chile
Rich, leesy, lime and lemon aromas and flavours, with a a touch of fresh, sweet apple ripeness, all underpinned by a strong mineral streak. Chenin Blanc, Pinot Noir and Riesling all work in perfect harmony, in a bottle that is just in the right place, although I doubt that another year or two more would do it any harm. A lovely friday night aperitif.

This is a wine that really does take time to open out and show its true colours - in this case, my note is written a full week or more after it was first opened. A hugely complex nose of white flowers, violets, mint, herbs de Provence, mixed spices, lime marmalade, old leather and all manner of white fruits (quince, peach, apricot) and even a suggestion of delicate red fruits. It really is a gloriously complex and flavoursome bottle, with myriad fruit and non-fruit flavours, a touch of tannic grip (even for a white wine) and tangy acidity. Add to that a spicy, herby, southern warmth and you have a quite wonderful wine, with real charm. For a wine that has little added sulphur, it is quite remarkable that it should smell and taste so good, more than a week after being opened. I still have a handful of bottles of this left at £12.95, but once they are gone, that's it.

Domaine La Combe Blanche Pinot de l'Enfer 1998 Vin de Pays des Cotes du Brian
For those of you unfamiliar with Guy Vanlancker's wines, Cotes du Brian has nothing to do with a Monty Python film. Brian (basically pronounced "bree-on" - though you may wish to add a bit of French spit for authenticity) is the local river - though doubtless no more than a trickle in summer - which lends its name for the most local VdP denomination. Indeed, "a local name, for local wines"! This (along with a 2001 Tempranillo from the same l'Enfer vineyard that also showed excellently) was a bottle I had been keeping for a tasting of unusual grape varieties from Languedoc that I presented a couple of weeks ago to Nottingham Wine Circle. It showed very well on the night, but once again (a full week after opening) the last glass was a real treat - which is quite amazing for any Pinot Noir, in my experience. The colour is a quite evolved brick/tawny. It has a wonderful aged Pinot character, more in the way of Claifornia in style than (say) New Zealand or Burgundy, but with a good degree of elegance. Lots of forest floor and rotting red/black fruit aromas and flavours, with classy oak and floral nuances, hints of garrigue herbs and white pepper and lots of secondary/tertiary flavours and a welcome touch of volatile acidity. In fact, after a week, it takes on an almost Musar-like quality. A really lovely wine and even mildly surprising - at least for a 15 year-old Languedoc Pinot Noir. Actually, it is (to my nose and palate) really just coming into its prime drinking window. I wish I had a few bottles left. I must ask Guy if he has any tucked away that I could buy!

Finally (for now at least) I thought it would be nice to try a much younger Pinot from the same stable - in this case an unoaked Pinot from the lower slopes near the village of La Liviniere. I must admit that (for me at least, and the above wine notwithstanding) Guy has yet to really "nail" Pinot Noir. In the Languedoc heat, it tends to have a bit too much of everything for its own good - especially alcohol. And yet....... and yet......

This really is rather enjoyable. A pot-pourri of polished wood and leather, damp earth, red cherry, raspberry and bramble, and a whole load of pepper and spice. Even despite the noticeable streak of warming alcohol, it almost seems right for the wine, which (in a curious and totally irrational comparison with Burgundy) is less about the grape than the terroir. A less Burgundian Pinot Noir would be difficult to imagine, but it is full of life and charm and rich with the warmth of the south. And it went beautifully with a barbecued/griddled selection of rump steak, lamb chops and Lincolnshire sausages, with balsamic tomatoes and a pasta salad (remember that nice wether we had last week?). A very yummy wine, which may even get better over the next few years - after all, Guy Vanlancker's wines often reward patience! £10.50 (but only a couple of cases left).

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