Wednesday, 27 May 2009

More tasting notes - another evening of good food and wines at Le Mistral, Nottingham

Sometimes it seems like my personal calendar is full of wine tasting events and this is a particularly busy period for me. It's a dirty job, but someone has to do it! Last night was the latest instalment of the "Tuesday Group", a motly bunch (usually between 10 and 15 of us) that gather on the last Tuesday in each month at Le Mistral restaurant/bistro for a relaxed evening of good food and good wine. The food is simple but always good, the service friendly, the atmosphere relaxed - and they also do us a cracking deal on corkage! ;-) So if those are the criteria you are looking for and you haven't yet visited, you have my personal recommendation. Here is a picture - our little room is on the first floor with the "bay" window.........

Le Mistral, 2-3- Eldon Chambers, Wheeler Gate, Nottingham NG1 2NS

So to the wines. The theme rarely strays from "bring an interesting bottle", and last night was no different, so the 10 that came along brought no less than 17 wines between us - we never go thirsty!

Verus Vineyards Riesling 2007 Ormoz, Slovenia. Floral nose, a hint of talc, grapey with a nice touch of spritz. A nice wine to get the evening started.

Stags Leap Sauvignon Blanc 2006 Napa Valley. Very clean, racy, zippy, elegant. Some loved it, but I thought a touch...... well, boring, actually. A nice wine, but France (and indeed New Zealand) does it better.

Terre Blanche Alghero Torbato 2007. Very floral and perfumed on the nose, but the palate doesn't really deliver - it is a bit flabby, with relatively low acidity and even a touch of caramel. Pleasant, but ultimately a let-down.

Grand Régnard Chablis 1998. Smelt and tasted a little like a Chenin Blanc, but once I knew its real identity, I realised why I thought it was unremarkable. It takes a damn fine Chablis to impress me - and this wasn't one of them. The most "impressive" thing about it was the bottle - far too wide to fit in any sensible drinker's wine rack!

Weingut Brundlemayer Gruner Veltliner 2007 Kamptal, Austria. A floral nose, with pronounced notes of white pepper, spice, toffee and mineral - it could only be Gruner. Spritzy on the palate, very refreshing, grapey, spicy and slatey. Lovely stuff.

Miolo Vineyards Chardonnay 2008 Brazil. I've only tried a handful of wines from Brazil, but this was an excellent example. Another wine with distinct aromas of flowers, and quite elegant, but also smoky and minerally. Not your typical Chardonnay (and we guessed at a good few varieties beforehand) but all the better for it. A real surprise and a really nice wine.

Domaine Saint Rose "La Canicule" Chardonnay 2003 Vin de Pays d'Oc. I brought this one - a remnant from a grower I used to list, before they started selling to Majestic (whose buying power and pricing policy I cannot hope to compete with). 100% Chardonnay, partly barrel-aged. A rich gold colour, with notes of honey, rich fruit and even a hint of pineapple. Rich and powerful on the palate, balanced by good acidity. Seems "hotter" than it did in its youth (a result of the heatwave vintage and 14.0% abv) but still a well-made Chardonnay and a pleasant drink, if slightly past its peak.

Dario Princic Sauvignon 2002 Venezia Giulia. This is from the same grower as the weird and whacky "blush" Pinot Grigio I reported on recently and - for me - is a far better, more complex wine. Aromas of orange or even lime marmalade, toffee, smoke and minerals - reminiscent of a rich Pinot Grigio or even some sort of Austrian TBA - but again the palate is almost bone dry, though with odles of richness and concentration, offering flavours of lime zest, rotting apples, a certain yeasty/leesy quality and even a chalkiness (in an attractive way). Oh, and never in a million years does it either smell or taste like Sauvignon Blanc. But who cares? It is brillant, outstanding stuff!

Hugel Gewurztraminer Jubilee 2001 Alsace. Rich and spicy, laden with aromas and flavours of turkish delight, roses and toffee, but not in any way cloying, which is often what puts me off this variety. This is a lovely example - elegant, restrained and beautifully balanced with lemon and lime flavours and really decent acidity. One of the nicest Gewurztraminers I've had in a while.

Time for some food - though some still can resist the note-taking!

After the mains (many of us opted for the very good rib-eye steak) we moved onto the reds.......

Domaine Bruno Clair Marsannay "Les Longeroies" 1996. Much as I enjoy white wines, it is always nice to get onto the reds, and this was a lovely one to start with. Spicy, a touch rustic even, but lovely and tart, with aromas and flavours of wild strawberries and forest floor. Light and elegant and perfectly mature and lovely. Real Burgundy.

Cape Mentelle Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot 2004 Margaret River, Australia. Mint and eucalyptus, bramble, toothpaste - and more eucalyptus. How many tins of eucalyptus extract did they bung in this one? Actually, not as awful as it sounds, but the majority of Australian wines really don't do it for me anymore. Decent, but unremarkable.

La Giola 1997 Vino di Tavola di Toscana. A Supertuscan wine which was rich, elegant, refined and delicious. So much so that I seem to have had no time to write a proper tasting note, which is a shame, because it was delicious. I do remember thinking it might be some sort of Provencal Grenache/Syrah/Cabernet blend, but the extra acidity should have given it away -once you knew it was Sangiovese, everything fell into place. Lovely stuff - anyone else got a proper note?

I then sent round a pair of wines, to be tasted side by side......

Paul Jaboulet Ainé Domaine de Thalabert 1983 Crozes-Hermitage and Chateau Cos d'Estournel 1983 Saint Estephe 2eme Cru Classé. The only connection, of course, was the vintage, but I rather fiendishly decanted the Cos d'Estournel into another "Rhone-shaped" bottle, just to throw them off the scent (we taste all wines "blind"). It is amazing what people's preconceptions can do to their minds (and palates - and that includes me). I rarely, if ever, take a Bordeaux wine to a tasting, since I'm really not a fan, so nobody really suspected what the second wine was, although the first was pretty obvious (though most were way off with the vintage). Anyway, the tasting notes; The Thalabert was a lightish red colour, with notes of smoke and earth, with telltale hints of bacon fat and lilies and even a touch of Band Aid sticking plaster. Quote light on the palate, but recognisably northern Rhone, and losing some of its sweet fruit and richness. An enjoyable wine, but my remaining 2 or 3 bottles will be consumed fairly quickly. As for the Cos, it was a bit of a revelation (though it is a second growth, so I suppose it should be good). A rich, deep-ish uniform blood red colour, with only a touch of browning at the rim. Quite a masculine wine, with a pronounced cigar box aroma and notes of clove, black fruits, capsicum and earth. The palate has a firmer structure than the Thalabert and more fruit, too - again, quite masculine and still slightly tannic, with flavours of blackcurrant, cherry kernel and grilled peppers. You wouldn't call it elegant, but it was a lovely wine - and still perhaps with a little more development left in it. I don't often give Claret a big thumbs-up, but this was a rare exception. And I have 2 more bottles left!

We finished off with 3 dessert wines.........

El Aziz Fina Late-harvested Chardonnay N/V (from Sardinia, I think). Again, I neglected to write a proper note on this, but it was a fair ringer for a decent Austrian dessert wine. Lovely acidity and balance.

Taylors 10 Year Old Tawny Port. I thought it was a reasonable sort of Rivesaltes and quite liked it (but more than a few sips would be too many). A bit hot and lacking in real fruit. Some thought it horrible, but I just thought it was average.

Weingutt Schmitt (Something)steiner Orbal Trockenbeerenauslese 1953 Rheinhessen. I think it was Riesling. This was quite literally brown as a brown thing - almost black, in fact, and totally opaque. It also looked dead as a dead thing, but was actually very drinkable, almost like a Madeira or ancient Rivesaltes. It smelt of old, polished wood, orange peel, toffee, coffee, marmalade and chocolate. Frankly, it was totally weird, totally whacky and totally shot - but still complex and almost hedonistic. Dead wines rock! (Well actually, they don't usually - but this was an exception).

And this is what the room looks like at the end of it all.........

From the left; David Bennett, Bernard Caille, Andy Leslie....... and me! I really don't know what that expression is saying (I really don't!) but I had obviously enjoyed myself immensely!

Tomorrow, I will mostly be dining at The Ledbury in London, in some rather lofty company. Watch this space....................

Leon Stolarski

Thursday, 21 May 2009

A cracking Chateauneuf-du-Papes, worthy of its own tasting note - Clos des Papes 1999

I make no bones about the fact that I am extremely choosy about (and often dismissive about the majority of) Chateauneuf-du-Papes. Too many are hot, alcoholic, clumsy and downright jammy/baked. So here is a tasting note on a really brilliant example....

1999 was the theme at Nottingham Wine Circle last night and one of the Chateauneuf freaks brought Clos des Papes 1999. I have to say it was an utterly gorgeous wine - possibly in the top 5 Chateauneufs I have tasted, ever. Full of luscious, fresh and pastille-y blackcurrant fruit, rich, yet elegant, floral, earthy, slightly spicy, warm (but not at all hot) and, most importantly, balanced. It was served double blind (i.e. in a Bordeaux-type bottle) and I was almost in the northern Rhone. In fact, the person that brought this wine kindly allowed me to take the remains of the bottle home and I am just enjoying it now - and it is still alive and very enjoyable.

That earthiness has developed into a full-blown leafy, forest floor and forest fruit sort of complexity. It really is a very special and very lovely wine - almost (sorry to use the age-old term) "Burgundian" in its elegance. No hotness, no shittiness, no baked fruit, no overt sweetness. Yes, there is sweet fruit, but it is all in balance, with some lovely acidity. Definitely my kind of Chateauneuf! In fact, courtesy of Nottingham Wine Circle, I have tasted a great many vintages of this wine (in all honesty, possibly more than your average Clos des Papes fan) and most - though not all - have been a joy. Along with Vieux Telegraph, this has become my favourite Chateauneuf grower - and one I would be happy to drink anytime. Yum!

Leon Stolarski

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Some good company and some fine Italian wines and food at Amarone in Nottingham

Last night Diane and I met with our friends Andy Leslie, David Bennett, Bernard Caille and Peter Bamford, for a most enjoyable evening of good food and fine wines at Amarone, a new(ish) Italian restaurant in Nottingham. The main theme for the evening was predominantly Tuscan wines, although we started off with an extremely quirky wine from north-east Italy......

Dario Princic Pinot Grigio Venezia Giulia 2006 (in magnum)
Due to a very long maceration on the skins, the colour is blush - almost rosé, as you can see from the picture. A closer look reveals transluscent tawny and amber nuances - certainly a "complex" colour and beautiful to look at! A quick swirl shows some impressive tears and suggests a sweet wine, as does the nose, which offers a heady mix of peach, apricot, mandarin, ginger nuts and rose water - like a supercharged Alsace Pinot Gris with bells on. The palate comes as a bit of a shock. What you get is a very rich, yet bone dry wine, with lots of extraction, lots of complexity, some warming but not hot alcohol and a dry, almost dusty - even tannic - finish. I brought a little home with me and, drinking it tonight, a not unattractive cheesy quality has appeared, but the fruit is still evident. The others loved it, though I have to say I'm really not sure I like it that much myself. But it is certainly interesting, bordering on weird. Vive la difference!

Querciabella Batar 1996 Bianco di Toscana IGT
Deep yellow/gold colour. What a nose! Gunpowder, struck match, flint, garlic mushrooms and a hint of lime oil and mandarin. This is like a really (really) good 1er or Grand Cru Burgundy, with a warm climate slant. Rich, glycerous and gorgeous - no discernable "fruit", just full-on, rich, minerally Meursault/Montrachet flavours. Into its stride at 13 years old, but possibly with even more development left in it. Wonderful, complex and very long.

Frescobaldi Castelgiacondo Lamaione Merlot 1995 Toscana IGT
Showing some sign of age, but still quite a deep ruby/blood colour. Volatile acidity and Kiwi boot polish dominate the nose, with just a hint of cherry fruit, cigar ash and green pepper in the background. And it is pretty much bereft of fruit on the palate, too. Dry, austere and past it.

Inama Bradisismo Cabernet del Veneto 1999
Deep, bloody, slightly bricking at the edge. Meaty, savoury, warm, almost alcoholic nose and crying out "like me!" And indeed we did like it. To say this is almost 10 years old, it is super fresh and seemingly young, though not overly tannic. Very fruity, very complex and very alluring, with sweet fruits, a touch of red pepper and spice, slightly warming alcohol and lovely acidity. Long, too. A real cracker of a sexy wine, with easily 10 years left in the tank.

Barone Ricasoli Casalferro 1997 IGT Toscana
I brought this one and was most pleased with how it showed. Black cherry, tobacco, green pepper, herbs, talc and some nice Northern Rhone-like lily aromas. This was really elegant and complex. Full of fruit, but with some lovely spice, herb and tobacco flavours. Lovely, elegant, balanced and very Italian. Following the Inama 1999, this was like a nice big cigar after a jam roly poly - both lovely wines, but very different.

Fontalloro 1993 Vino di Tavola di Toscana
Another of my wines, though for some reason, I didn't manage to write a note on it. I just remember that it was good, but not great, and probably needs drinking soon.

Castellare di Castellina I Sodi di S Niccolo 1986 Toscana IGT
The first in a flight of 3 vintages of this wine, which is (I believe) predominantly Sangiovese, so the quintessential "SuperTuscan". Heady aromas and flavours of red cherry, herbs, spices and redcurrants, along with all sorts of secondary notes, including tobacco and undergrowth - a complete wine, and very "winey". Not big, not brash, but light, elegant and perfectly mature. Lovely wine.

Castellare di Castellina I Sodi di S Niccolo 1990 Toscana IGT
Much headier than the 1986, with more in the way of balsamic and VA aromas, but also some leafy undergrowth and floral and mushroomy notes. Fantabulous acidity, full of cherry and rich, curranty flavours and a touch of old oak. Another lovely wine, though markedly different to the 1986 - or perhaps with more time left to develop(?)

Castellare di Castellina I Sodi di S Niccolo 1998 Toscana IGT
Seems a touch volatile and hot and unbalanced at the moment - almost a touch clumsy, in comaparison to the 1986 and 1990. Or perhaps it just needs much more time. It does open out a little with some air, though, showing hints of elegance perhaps to come. I'm not sure it will ever hit the heights of the other two wines, but you never know. One to keep for 5-10 years, I think.

Castellare di Castellina S Niccolo 1998 Vin Santo del Chianti Classico
I'm not sure how this is made (perhaps somebody will come along and fill-in the gaps for me) but it is a rather lovely dessert wine. Sort of "Rivesaltes meets Tokaji", so right up my street. Rich and glycerous, laden with caramel, toffee, eau de vie and orangey marmalade aromas and flavours. More than ample acidity makes for a rich, yet refreshing dessert wine, and a lovely way to finish the night.

Bernard opens another bottle, whilst David attempts to throw one of his new "unbreakable" glasses at Peter. (The photos were taken on my mobile phone, which unfortunately does not have flash).

Andy looks on admiringly at David's tasting technique, whilst Diane contemplates the weird and whacky Dario Princic Pinot Grigio

Incidentally, the food was really good - a nice assortment of fresh breads, olives and an olive oil and balsamic dip as an appetiser, followed by various starters and mains, all with really fresh, flavoursome ingredients - buffalo mozzarella, juicy, herby tomatoes and salads, and some fabulous pizza. And I have to say the service was brilliant, with friendly (and very pretty!) waitresses offering just the right mix of attentiveness and space for a bunch of winos like us. I would recommend it to anyone in the Nottingham area wanting to try something a little different and off the beaten track.

Thanks also to Andy Leslie for organising - and for bringing all those fabulous Castellare di Castellina wines!

Leon Stolarski

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

What do MP's drink when they have their snouts in the trough?

Well, I have no idea, but as far as I am aware, no Member of Parliament has ever purchased any of my wines, either out of their own pockets, or at the tax-payers' expense. Which just goes to show what a bunch of tasteless numpties we have running the country. I think questions ought to be asked in the Commons - though, to be honest, I don't think my marketing budget would stretch that far.

Joking aside, I am faced with the very real prospect (for the first time in my adult life) of either abstaining or spoiling my ballot paper at a general election. Unfortunately, we have yet to introduce "none of the above" as a voting option. If we did, the "None Of The Above Party" would have a good chance of being elected by a landslide. The state of UK politics is now in such a sorry state that it is a bit like drugs in cycling - the only way to redeem its reputation is to pursue a policy of rooting-out the cheats until only the "clean" ones are left. I fear it will be a long and bloody battle, with many casualties. Who on earth do these people think they are, that they can treat democracy with such contempt?

Leon Stolarski

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

April tasting notes - some cracking reds (and a delicious rosé!)

Following on from yesterday's notes on white wines, here are some notes on just a few (honestly!) of the reds tasted in April..........

Chateau Saint Cosme Rosé 2007 Gigondas
OK, so not strictly a red, but this rosé was noteworthy - a lovely , rich, fruity, but serious wine, with some real complexity and none of the sweet-shop notes so often found in rosés. Although made from Grenache, it actually put me in mind of a very decent white Rhone wine.

Domaine Joblot Clos Grand Marole 2006 Givry 1er Cru
A gorgeous cherry and raspberry nose with a touch of sous bois and tar. Lovely, light, forest fruit flavours, a touch earthy, lovely acidity. A bitter/sweet/sour finish. Cracking stuff, if a touch on the light side.

Pata Negra Reserva 2003 Valdepenas
An enjoyable wine, with cherry fruit and good acidity. Light-ish, but balanced and quite refreshing, given the hot vintage. Not special, but currently on offer at Sainsburys at £3.99 and a bit of a bargain at that price.

Domaine Marcel Richaud 1999 Cairanne
A wine I bought a good few years ago on one of my visits to the domaine, this is still inky-dark, with aromas of blackberry and plum and an interesting note of iodine. Rich, fruity, herby and spicy, with a touch of chocolatey tannin and ample acidity. No rush to drink this - although I now have just one bottle left!

Castello di Ama 1986 Chianti Classico
A quick Google tells me this is 80% Sangiovese, 8% Canaiolo, with the remaining 12% Malvasia Nera and Merlot. Just a hint of brett, with complex aromas of meat, olives and lilies - all secondary aromas, elegant and rustic at the same time. It was so good, it was almost Trévallon-like! Rich fruit flavours and beautiful balance. Nicely aged, but still very much alive. A stunning wine.

Chateau Saint-Pierre 1996 Saint-Julien
Blimey - a Claret that actually appealed to me! I thought it was lovely and soft, full of interest and at the peak of its powers. It split the jury, with some others thinking it was just a rubbish, boring wine. I say "vive la difference"!

Domaine Ogier La Rosine 2004 Vin de Pays des Collines Rhodaniennes
I've yet to taste a wine from this grower that was anything less than brilliant. Mind you, none of them (this one included) are cheap. This might as well be a Cote-Rotie, it is so good. What a nose - lilies, red meat, smoky bacon, gravy, even a touch of lemon zest. The palate has intense, almost ethereal acidity, with such wonderfully intense, minerally, pure Syrah fruit. A fabulous wine. I just wish that I could afford to buy these wines myself!

Domaine de Montcalmes 2004 Coteaux du Languedoc
OK, so this didn't quite reach the heights of the Ogier above, but it is pretty lovely nonetheless, and shows what Languedoc is capable of. Mostly Syrah, but with some Grenache too. A lovely nose of lilies, bacon fat and heady Syrah fruit, with carefully judged, coffee-infused oak. Rich, yet beautifully poised and elegant, with lovely acidity. A top Languedoc Syrah - and at about 15 quid, I can (and did) afford this one! I have half a dozen left and think it will age beautifully for 5 to 10 years.

Chateau des Jacques 1985 Moulin-a-Vent
Wow! So this is what they really mean by old Beaujolais taking on Pinot Noir characteristics. Almost to a man/woman, we were somewhere in the Cote d'Or with this one. My second guess would have been Rhone, which tells you something about the style of this wine. A touch muddy (to look at, not to taste) with a lovely, decayed Pinot/old Rhone nose. Full of earthy, light, tertiary aromas and flavours, it really did taste like quite a special old Burgundy. A delight to drink, and a real revelation - and not about to fall off its perch, either!

Jean Marc Morey 1990 Bourgogne Pinot Noir
How good should a 19-year-old basic Bourgogne be? Not this good, you would have thought. Deliciously light and delicately perfumed, still full of raspberry and cherry fruit and hints of leafy undergrowth. I've had several bottles of this now - the worst was still very good, if just a little tired, whilst most (including this one) have been very much alive and simply wonderful. I paid the princely sum of £72 (including commission) from a recent J Straker Chadwick auction. I think £6 a bottle for a mature Burgundy of this quality makes it my bargain of the year. Unfortunately, I have just 2 or 3 bottles left. :-(

Delas Freres Marquise de La Tourette 1991 Hermitage
This simply screams mature northern Rhone Syrah. Red and black berry, violet and smoky bacon aromas and flavours, with amazing poise and elegance. Lovely wine.

Domaine Mont Redon 1998 Chateauneuf-du-Pape
Lovely, rich Grenache and Syrah(?) nose. Rich palate, but beautifully soft and earthy. Balanced and elegant and really lovely - a real surprise, for what has turned out to be an extremely variable vintage in southern Rhone.

Coudoulet de Beaucastel 2003 Cotes du Rhone
This is a cracker. A touch bretty, perhaps, but with some real complexity. Black fruits, Bovril, mushroom, earth on the nose. All manner of slightly baked red and black fruit flavours and an interesting note of roast pork! I really loved it - a revelation.

Domaine du Vieux Télégraph 1983 Chateauneuf-du-Pape
Somewhat bretty and barnyardy, but with a lovely core of fruit - amazing for such an old Chateauneuf. Raspberries and strawberries and undergrowth. Lovely mature fruit, and so light on its feet, with ample acidity and an almost Burgundinan elegance. A gorgeous wine, from my favourite Chateauneuf grower.

Leon Stolarski

My favourite vineyard photo

I'm painfully aware of the need for a few photos and images to add further interest and to punctuate some of the longer entries on the blog. This is something I will seek to rectify as I get into the groove and actually think to take my camera with me when I go out! Meanwhile, here is just about my favourite vineyard scene of them all - one of the smallest of a series of vineyards created by Eloi Durrbach at Domaine de Trévallon, outside the small town of Saint-Etienne-du-Grès, 25 km south of Avignon and 7 km west of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.

Trévallon is situated on the northern slopes of the Alpilles, a massif composed of limestone rock with sharp, jagged crests reminiscent of what the Provençal poet, Frédéric Mistral, described as a "Greek landscape". The vineyards are dotted about the hillside, surrounded by holm oaks, olive and almond trees and scrub - to the avid wine enthusiast, a quite magical landscape. And yes, the "soil" that you see is actually chunks of limestone, literally blasted out of the hillside. A harsh, yet ideal, environment for growing Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon (for the red), plus Marsanne, Roussanne and a little Chardonnay (for the white) in this sun-baked corner of Provence. The wines are wonderful, by the way - not cheap, and they need time in bottle to show their true greatness, but no serious wine lover should be without a selection of Trévallon vintages in their cellar.

Leon Stolarski

April tasting notes Part 2 - some notable white wines

Here are some notes on just a few of the more note-worthy white wines tasted in April at the weekly meetings of the Nottingham Wine Circle and a (more leisurely) monthly get-together at Le Mistral restaurant in central Nottingham. Note that all of these wines were tasted blind and (as always, on these occasions) were served in quick succession, so my notes are necessarily brief - and occasionally disjointed(!)

Vincent Girardin “En Truffiere” Vieille Vignes 2003 Puligny-Montrachet
My word, this is good! Sweet, spicy, vanilla oak and mineral notes. Rich on the palate, but beautifully balanced. Not at all bad for a 2003!

Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Blanco 1987 Rioja Reserva
Have I ever tasted a bad wine from this grower? If so, I don’t remember it. Rich yet light, aged yet still full of life, beautifully-judged oak and cracking acidity. A match for any aged white Burgundy or Hermitage. Cracking wine.

Nigl Gruner Veltliner Privat 2002
Rich, almost like an Alsace Pinot Gris. Caramel, spices, flowers and butter. Lovely rich, long palate. Cracking stuff.

Albert Grivot Clos de Perrieres 2004 Meursault
Essence of rich Chardonnay. Peaches and nectar, lovely acidity, spicy and subtly oaked. Long. Fabulous Burgundy.

Domaine Benedetti 2006 Cotes du Rhone
100% Grenache Blanc. Lovely nose – apple, pear and an interesting note of icing sugar, with floral, almost Viognier-like. Rich, long, lovely balance. Delicious and unusual.

Cave du Roi Dagobert Tokay Pinot Gris 2001
This is lovely and rich, almost buttery, with a suggestion of late harvest about it. But it had lovely acidity, too, and most around the table were guessing Riesling – but the richness made me stick with my choice of Pinot Gris. And a lovely one it was, too.

Domaine Guillot-Broux 2000 Macon-Chardonnay
So called because it actually comes from the village called Chardonnay. A really fabulous nose of gunflint, smoke, flowers and all sorts of tertiary aromas. No overt fruit aromas or flavours – just gorgeous, rich, balanced wine. And natural, too – made with no sulphur. I loved it!

Les Vins de Vienne Reméage Vin de Table N/V
Bubblegum, and jasmine on the nose – otherwise, a touch closed. The palate is nice, though – rich and spicy, yet dry and lemony. An interesting wine – not great, but really very good for the price (£8-ish from Adnams).

Domaine Pascal et Annick Quenard Chignin Bergeron “Sous Les Armandieres” Vin de Savoie 2007(?)
I’m not absolutely sure of the vintage, but this was a cracking wine. Bergeron is the Savoie name for Roussanne (more usually found in the Rhone) and this is 100% Bergeron. Apple pie, custard and ginger on the nose (honestly!) A touch of richness and fruit, but essentially light, floral, mineral and very elegant. And very lovely!

Averys “Fine White Burgundy” Bourgogne Blanc 2006
I wouldn’t normally bother writing much about a wine from the Laithwaites stable, but this one is from their (recently acquired) respectable arm, Averys of Bristol. Produced by top grower and negociant Nicolas Potel, it has a gorgeous, rich, flowery Chardonnay nose, with a kiss of oak, flint and gunsmoke. You could almost be in Meursault – and you nearly are, because this is produced from vineyards bordering that more exalted appellation. And this wouldn’t disgrace a 1er Cru label. Rich, elegant and long and lovely.

Part 3 follows tomorrow – some brilliant reds (and even a rosé)!

Leon Stolarski

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Some of the best wines tasted in April, Part 1 - a selection of Rhones, plus Gaillac, Cotes du Roussillon, Givry and Sancerre

As a wine merchant, I am sent a good number of samples throughout the year, mostly from wine growers looking for merchant outlets in the UK. But I rarely accept the offer of samples from growers unless I have a genuine interest in tasting them with a view to possibly adding them to my list. The only samples I ever accepted grudgingly were from a fairly large grower in Corbieres, who was fairly insistent that I should taste his wines. As this coincided with a tasting event put on in London by ASDW, I promised to take the wines along, so that my colleagues and I in the Association could give them an honest appraisal. I had a gut feeling that the wines would be nothing special, and my original reticence was confirmed when we endured some of the worst wines imaginable. Suffice to say that I was somewhat less than "honest", when the grower contacted me later, to see what I/we had thought. How on earth do you tell a grower that their wines are awful? In the end, I simply told him that the wines were OK, but that they weren't really what we were looking for and - mercifully - never heard from him again!

Nevertheless, most of the samples I am sent hold plenty of interest and a proportion of them do eventually find their way onto my list. Here are notes on some of the samples I have tasted in April, starting with a selection of northern and southern Rhones from Stéphane Vedau and Jeannine Boutin at La Ferme du Mont;

Jeannine Boutin "Les Hauts Granites" 2006 Crozes Hermitage
Vivid purple colour, aromas of raspberry and blackcurrant, herbs and spices and even a hint of exotic white fruits, more reminiscent of Grenache than Syrah, heightened by the evident use of carbonic maceration (as opposed to a more traditional fermentation). A bit more Syrah-like on the palate - ripe, juicy bramble and raspberry, pepper and spice, with some black cherry and beefy/gamey notes adding complexity. Lovely acidity and ultra-ripe tannins make for a silky wine, with a warm, peppery finish. Nevertheless, it really doesn't scream Crozes Hermitage and is really quite international in style. I like it a lot, but it is probably not representative enough of its appellation for me.

J. Boutin "Parcelle de Jean" 2006 Saint-Joseph
Another deeply-coloured wine, but this one is much more Syrah-like. A dense, spicy, deeply fruity nose and palate - blackcurrant and bramble, eau de vie, spices, black cherry and even a touch of toffee apple and dark chocolate. Quite extracted, but elegant as well as hedonistic. Rich and savoury, sweet and sour, with ripe tannins and more than adequate acidity, again with a long, warming finish. A Northern Rhone wine with a Southern Rhone warmth, this is again not hugely typical of the Saint-Joseph appellation, but is nevertheless absolutely delicious. Should retail for around £14.95.

La Ferme du Mont "Premier Cote" 2007 Cotes du Rhone
This has a lovely bright blood red colour, and a simply gorgeous nose. Briary and wild strawberry, redcurrant and cherry aromas abound, with notes of incense, undergrowth and polished wood. The palate is crammed full of redcurrant and cranberry flavours, countered by savoury/meaty notes and dark, bitter chocolate. Gentle tannins, lovely acidity and a warming finish. 2007 was a truly great year in the Rhone and I can hardly imagine there being many better examples of humble Cotes du Rhone than this one. Absolutely brilliant wine, which drinks brilliantly already, but will also age nicely for a few years. And at a projected selling price of £8.95, I'll be adding this one to my list!

La Ferme du Mont "Le Ponnant" 2008 Cotes du Rhone
A lovely pale straw colour, with orange tinges. The nose displays fresh white stone fruits, citrus, herbs and spice, with some lovely floral nuances. The palate is crisp and zesty, with a riot of apple, peach and mandarin flavours. Unlike many a white Cotes du Rhone I have tasted, this has no harsh edges and none of the sometimes overt aniseed flavours that I find can overpower a wine. Indeed, this remains zesty, fresh and full of vitality, not to mention a good deal of elegance and complexity. This may age for a good year or two (perhaps more) but why wait, when it is so delicious now. Another cracking wine, which should sell for around £9.95.
And a few other wines of interest..............

Domaine Treloar "One Block Red" 2007 Cotes du Roussillon
A typical young Grenache nose of blackcurrant pastille, black cherry, liqourice and eau de vie. Unlike the 2006 "One Block Grenache", this is a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre, which has been aged in oak for 12 months, and though the oak has no overt influence on the flavours, there are some interesting notes of spice, leather and even a whiff of orange peel. Rich and savoury/spicy, almost meaty on the palate, but with bags of dark and red fruit flavours. Perhaps a touch tannic at the moment, but these are finely-grained and classy, and there is lovely acidity. This will be even better after a few more months in bottle, and should also age nicely for 5 years or more. This is the first of the 2007 reds I have tasted from Domaine Treloar, and will be in stock by mid-April, priced at £9.95. It also bodes well for the quality of the other red cuvées, which will be released later in the year.

Chateau Maresque "Elevé en Futs de Chene" 2006 Gaillac
I had already tasted a decent, if unremarkable, white 2007 and the standard bottling of the red 2006 from this grower. The standard red is full of rich black fruit flavours, but is currently rendered virtually undrinkable by huge, impenetrable tannins. I have every reason to believe that there is a really good wine lurking in there somewhere, but it really needs keeping for a good few years for those tannins to soften. I was therefore rather reluctant to open the oak-aged version, for fear that it may be similarly closed for business - but what a lovely surprise! 70% Syrah, 15% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, aged in oak barrels (30% of which are new) for 11 months, it is still a virtually opaque purple/blue colour, and somewhat closed on the nose, with just hints of black fruits, chocolate and eau de vie. The palate, though, is much more open for business, with those big fruit flavours more able to express themselves. Rich and savoury, with ample acidity and chocolatey tannins, making for a mouth-watering bitter-sweet style. The tannins are still a little dominant, and on its own, this is still quite a challenging wine. But the oak-ageing has helped it to soften and fill-out nicely, and it really does come into its own with food (we enjoyed it with roast beef). Still on the young side, but beautifully poised and very promising. A keeper - and a really good one, at that. I'm not sure I have seen a price list from this grower, but I imagine I would need to sell it at around the £10 mark - which is good value for a wine with a really good future.

Domaine Raimbault-Pineau 2008 - Sancerre
100% Sauvignon Blanc. A nose of pea pod, freshly-cut grass and honey, with notes of asparagus and citrus lurking in the background. It has a lovely, rounded palate of citrus (lemon, lime, even a hint of clementine) melon and even a touch of honey, with tongue-tingling, minerally acidity and fabulous length. Beautifully dry and zingy, this is classic Sancerre - and mouth-watering stuff. Available now from my online shop at £12.25.

Vincent Lumpp La Grande Berge 2007 Givry 1er Cru
100% Chardonnay. Light-ish gold/straw colour, with a nose of citrus fruit, honey, mineral, spice and tropical fruit, with some well-judged toasty, slightly coconutty oak. Very racy and packed with flavours of lemon and lime, apple and allspice, with a lovely mineral streak. Pure, elegant and refreshing - and very long, too. An excellent introduction to white 1er Cru Burgundy and available now from my online shop at £14.95.

Next, I'll post notes on some of the highlights from April's white wine offerings at Nottingham Wine Circle and other tasting events.

Leon Stolarski

Saturday, 2 May 2009

A perk of being in the wine trade - I get to taste lots of lovely wines!

Being in the wine trade has its perks, even for a small player like me. I get lots of offers of samples from growers who are searching for a merchant outlet in the UK, for one thing. I like to play fair, though - I only ever accept samples if I think they might be the sort of wines that would fit nicely onto my list. I can think of nothing more dishonest than a merchant accepting free samples from hard-working (and very often hard-up) growers, unless they are genuinely interested in the wines themselves, rather than just another free drink.

Another benefit is that - by some or other circuitous route - I received an invite a couple of years ago to become a member of the Nottingham Wine Circle. Now this is no ordinary wine group. The 20 or so regular members of the group are drawn from all walks of life (wine merchants, car mechanics, electricians, civil servants - you get the picture) many of whom have assembled some pretty special cellars over the last 20 or 30 years. And just in case any of them might read this, I can honestly say that they are the most generous bunch of wine lovers you could ever wish to meet. Almost to a man (plus a handful of women) they think nothing of sharing the fruits of their cellars with those of like mind. And that includes people like me, who can't - for the time being, at least - hope to contribute such wonderful (and often very old) wines on a regular basis.

Furthermore, this wine group meets not once a quarter, not even once a month, but every week, 51 weeks a year (we do have a break for Christmas). It isn't for the faint-hearted - especially as an average tasing tends to comprise around 20 different wines!

And, since I have often taken notes but have rarely bothered to catalogue or publish them anywhere, it seems appropriate for me to begin making occasional entries on my blog for the ones that float my particular boat the most. At the same time, I will also add notes on any interesting sample wines, which may one day find their way onto the Leon Stolarski Fine Wines list. For now, though, it is time for Match Of The Day, a nice lamb curry and a nice glass of wine.

My notes on some of the best wines I have tasted in April will follow tomorrow.............

Leon Stolarski