Sunday, 29 August 2010

A lovely weekend wine from Provence

I thought it was time to try another bottle of this wine, which I added to the list in late 2009. As I said on my website, at the time, if you are looking for a modern, oaky fruit bomb, then you are not going to find it in Chateau Pradeaux. For this is traditional Bandol - a wine for the purist. The grapes (95% Mourvedre and 5% Grenache) are not de-stemmed and the wine is aged for at least 4 years in large oak foudres before bottling. The colour is a deepish blood red, semi-transluscent, with a quite narrow ruby rim. And the nose is uttely complex and beguiling. The initial impression is of mixed spices, sandalwood, leather and forest floor, whilst a few deep breaths reveal further notes of garrigue herbs, freshly-baked bread and forest fruits steeped in eau de vie. The palate is already surprisingly elegant, structured and fleet of foot - medium-bodied, with black berry and cherry fruit flavours, married to soft spices and herbs and all sorts of secondary/tertiary flavours. There's a touch of savouriness, but it isn't too "meaty". And whilst young Bandol (especially Pradeaux) can be quite tannic - sometimes fiercely so - 18 months or so in bottle (Pradeaux famously age their reds for up to 4 years in old oak foudres) has certainly polished any rough edges on the tannins in this one. The result is a wine that, whilst certainly some years from its apogee, is a model of balance between fruit, tannins and acidity. In fact, a common theme has just occurred to me - or rather, a common letter. For if you are a lover of tradional Bordeaux, Burgundy, or Barolo, then this Bandol should certainly appeal to you - it really is a lovely wine. The retail price is £19.95 - and for a wine of such breeding and ageing ability, it is worth every penny.

As a comparison to what I think of this wine, here's a tasting note by The Wine Gang, from April 2010 - with some remarkable similarities, I'm sure you will agree.......
"The nose is rustic and traditional, the aromas of sweet, damp earth, vegetation and meatiness rather than anything overtly fruity. There's a refined sandalwood note too. On the palate this comes together beautifully: it has a core of svelte black fruit wrapped in those smoky, meaty and vanillin flavours, the tannins surprisingly refined and the balance excellent. Powerful stuff with serious cellaring potential (10 years plus). 93/100"

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

The "joys" of working for a Government department - sorry, no wine content whatsoever!

At the day job yesterday, I received a note requesting that I call a customer, who had not received the result of a search that they were expecting (the search had been completed on our computer system, so would have generated an automatic print-off at our central processing hub, somewhere else in the country). I called the customer, but the person who took my call said he was briefly out of the office, but would get him to call me back when he returned. I mentioned that I would be going home within 15 minutes and don't work on Wednesdays, so one of my colleagues might need to deal with it. To which this person (who didn't know me from Adam) commented "Ah, the joys of working for a Government department", to which I replied that, as a part-timer, I was paid accordingly. Without pausing for breath, he added "and a nice fat pension, to boot".

I guess it would have been futile to explain to this idiot that I worked part-time because I was trying to build a wine business and that - more often than not - I'm probably at home working late into the night, whilst he is sitting with his feet up (or out spending his expense account). Because, believe it or not, this man works for a bank. And we all know how tough the banking industry is having it, these days, after having brought the country (nay, the world) to the brink of financial meltdown through profligacy and greed. Of course, if I had expressed such an opinion to him as a retort, I would probably have been given a right royal rollocking for doing so. And anyway, I like to think that I wouldn't sink to the same level as this person, in making mileage out of such a generalised, blinkered viewpoint.

Nevertheless, this little episode left a pretty sour taste in the mouth, I can tell you. In the department I work for, we bend over backwards to offer a level of customer service which just might be unrivalled, certainly in any other Government department, and quite possibly anywhere else in the service industry. So much so that we have far too many people involved in management, or looking after the customer, or simply auditing what we do. I dare say that we probably even have auditors auditing the auditors. Which leaves far too few people to actually do the day-to-day "work". Under normal circumstances, I probably would have complained to our customer service department, having received such shabby treatment from one of our own customers, but I would have expected short shrift. Which depressed me even more, because it is bad enough working in a job I despise, for a salary which (contrary to poular opinion) is worth less each passing year, and for an organisation which (through its own profligacy and bad management) has engendered a level of demoralisation amongst its staff that I have never before witnessed.

Rant over. Back to wine. Who knows, one day I might be able to make a full-time living out of it!

Monday, 23 August 2010

A brilliant white wine from Provence

This was a bottle that had been hanging around on our (largely redundant) dining table for a good few weeks, now. I sold out of the 2007 vintage of the same wine a few months back, but still have a couple of dozen of this one left. A local customer of mine had previously taken some of the '07, but decided to take a punt on the '06 when the '07 had run out. He tried a bottle and decided that he didn't like it nearly as much as the '07. Naturally, I was happy to take the remaining bottles off his hands and supply him with a substitute. Based on what the customer had said, I was minded to bin-end the last couple of cases, thinking it might need drinking quickly. But then again I was curious to see "what's not to like" about it. So I finally got around to opening a bottle on Saturday.

It is an amazingly deep gold colour for a wine of only 4 years of age, and if I didn't know this wine so well, I might even think it was going over the edge. But not a bit of it. The nose is clean as a whistle, fresh and hugely complex, and simply packed with aromas of ripe fruits - peach, apricot, apple - honeysuckle and exotic spices. Since my last bottle, notes of toffee and orange marmalade have appeared, suggesting richness, which is confirmed by the rich, mouth-filling palate, with complex flavours of candied fruits and flowers, stewed apple, mandarin and spice. And again, though made in a very slightly oxidative style (some of the blend spends 11 months on oak barrels, whilst the rest is aged in large ceramic egg-shaped vessels) it is clean, fresh and full of vitality. At the same time it is also deceptively soft, approachable and voluptuous, long in the mouth, finely balanced - and utterly delicious! In fact, consumed over 2 days, it has just got better and better. So much so that I was pretty devastated to find I had drunk it all. It really did leave me wanting more! Indeed, I think this wine will go on improving for a few years yet, like a good white Chateauneuf - or even a Trévallon white. I'm so glad I didn't bin-end it, and I will certainly be keeping at least half a dozen by for myself to enjoy over the next 5 years or more.

Monday, 16 August 2010

A tough day and a glorious red Burgundy

It's been a tough day. Rather than spending some time doing a million-and-one other things that badly need doing, I've spent far too much of my evening hunched over the engine of No.1 son's car, whilst No.2 son's car is also posing problems. Oh, the joys of motoring! And I'm the first to admit that, when it comes to cars, jobs, and life in general, our kids have it so much harder (and much more expensive) these days than we had it 25 or 30 years ago. I feel for them, and want so much to be able to help them in any way I can. Anyway, the upshot is, one car needs a new clutch, whilst the other needs a good service and a little TLC. And I needed to open a nice bottle of wine! 

Domaine Gachot-Monot Cotes de Nuits Villages 2003
To be honest, from previous experience, I had no great expectations of this particular wine. I expected it to be decent, like the previous few bottles we have enjoyed, but they have been a bit variable. Some have been quite enjoyable and correct, whilst others have shown a bit too much of that 2003 richness that tends to stifle the balance which is oh-so important in red Burgundy. Not faulty, just slightly disappointing. But this particular bottle is absolutely spot-on, and just what the doctor ordered. It is slightly savoury, maybe even a touch meaty, but behind the savouriness it also displays all the hallmark Pinot aromas and flavours, with an abundance of raspberries and wild strawberries, rotting leaves, flowers and hint of orange zest. Lots of nice descriptors, I'm sure you will agree, but - much more importantly - everything knits together beautifully in a wine that has real focus, with a citrus-like acidity which lifts it from the good to the sublime. In fact, it is unbelievably fresh and full of vitality. It is rarely an easy thing to convey the true feel of a red Burgundy in the written word, but those who know the region well will know exactly what I am getting at. Which is that - when you get the right wine, on the right night, in the right mood - there is hardly a wine style in the whole world to rival it. After a somewhat trying and hectic day, this is a lovely way to end the evening - and, for a humble village wine (and from a somewhat maligned and iffy vintage), it is a truly glorious expression of Burgundy Pinot Noir. So much so that I may never experience a better bottle of this particular wine, from this particular vintage. It may just turn out to be a classic example of the old adage - there are no great wines..... just great bottles. Then again, it may just be the first of several perfect bottles - and it really is in a great place, at the moment. So I'm glad that I still have a few bottles left, as I can see it getting better and better. A lovely, lovely wine - and it cost me considerably less than a tenner a bottle at auction! :-)

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Two nice weekend wines - an Aussie white and a Spanish red

Here's a couple of interesting wines I've opened over the weekend, from a local "bin-end" supplier to the trade. I think I'll add some to the website over the next few days, so if you like the sound of them, keep your eyes peeled - neither will break the bank!

The Black Chook VMR 2007 Fleurieu Peninsula, Australia
From the region south of Adelaide which includes the McLaren Vale and Langhorne Creek, this is a blend of 80% Viognier, 10% Marsanne, 10% Roussanne. The colour is a clear, pale straw/gold, whilst the nose is intensely fruity, floral and mineral. Aromas of apricot, melon and orange are complemented by some nicely integrated oak. The palate has a beautifully rich, intense, slightly oily texture and is laden with stone fruits and citrus/lime oil flavours. There’s a good deal of spice in there too, with a touch of warming alcohol, all of which is kept nicely balanced and fresh by a backbone of zesty acidity. An Aussie take on a traditional Rhone blend, it is powerful and full-bodied rather than elegant, but offers plenty of interest and is a lot of wine for the money. It would go nicely with chicken and pork dishes, especially a richly-flavoured and spiced stir fry.

Dominio de Aranleón Solo 2005 Utiel-Requena, Spain
This is a blend of Bobal, Tempranillo and Syrah, which has spent 14 months in Hungarian oak barrels. The colour is a deep, impenetrable purple colour with a tiny rim – at nearly 5 years of age, it certainly isn’t showing too much sign of age. The nose offers a heady mix of aromas including black fruits, forest floor and polished wood, with a hint of orange peel and eau de vie. It is at the same time both powerful and intriguing. The palate is quite powerful and full-bodied too, with mouth-filling flavours of stewed bramble and plum, allied to rich, chocolatey, slightly dusty tannins. That said, it is nicely balanced by ample acidity, whilst the fruit flavours are infused with some meaty, herby, savoury elements, which add plenty of interest. The result is a wine which - whilst quite modern and initially hard to pin down – shows more than a little complexity and potential. It isn’t “new world” modern (it is very definitely European) and if I were to taste it blind, I might first suggest northern Italy or southern Rhone, with its combination of sweet, sour and savoury. But my next guess would definitely be Spain. But it certainly isn’t one of those ubiquitous, souped-up, one-dimensional Parkerised wines that Spain produces far too much of, these days. Yes, it is rich and full-bodied, with a degree of warm climate alcohol, but it caresses rather than overpowers the senses and really does feel very “together”. And whilst very enjoyable to drink now, I think it has the structure to evolve nicely for another 5 to 10 years. I think I might keep a few bottles of this tucked away and watch those flavours turn all nice and secondary. It is very yummy, and is definitely one of the more interesting Spanish wines I have tasted recently. In fact, since we seem to be enjoying an all-too-rare sunny evening, I’m off to fire up the Barbie, to enjoy the rest with a piece of rump steak and some Cumberland sausage!

Sunday, 8 August 2010

A visit to Domaine d'Archimbaud

As promised in my glowing write-up on that memorable sweet wine (see Friday's post below) here's a brief account of our (seemingly annual) visit to Domaine d'Archimbaud, on our way back home from Languedoc in late June. The estate is situated in the village of Saint-Saturnin de Lucian, one of the most northerly wine-growing villages in Languedoc. Since it is not really within easy reach of the main holiday areas, it is one of the least-known (and least-appreciated) appellations in the region. Last I heard, there were only 2 independent growers making wine in the Saint-Saturnin appellation, namely the oft-hyped Virgile Joly, plus d'Archimbaud. To this day, the Co-op still dominates production in the AOC. Virgile Joly's fame is due in no small part to the book Virgile's Vineyard, published a few years after he created his estate in 2000. I haven't tasted any of his wines, but have read mixed reviews from both critics and punters alike. I'd like to taste them sometime, so I could make up my own mind.

Domaine d'Archimbaud was created around the same time, when the Cabanes family decided to leave the Saint-Saturnin Co-operative and strike out on their own. They bottled their first estate wines from the 2001 vintage, and have been making some pretty remarkable wines ever since. Jean-Pierre Cabanes and his daughter Marie-Pierre make the wines, ably assisted in the background by wife/mother Marie-Claude. They are a lovely family and we have always felt extremely welcome when we've visited their cave in the centre of the village, even when turning-up (as we did this year) just before lunchtime, unannounced. Nothing is too much trouble for them.

So what of the wines? Whilst unmistakeably Languedoc, the flavours tend to the more “cool climate” in style. The village is situated in the sub-region or "terroir" known as Terrasses de Larzac, in the foothills of the Causse du Larzac, a limestone plateau on the southern edge of the Massif Central. Here the altitude is higher than many of the better-known appeallations (in this case, around 500ft above sea level) and the climate is different - the days are still sunny and hot, but the nights are cooler than the more coastal and low-lying Languedoc regions, allowing for a slightly longer growing season. The vineyards are shielded from the north winds and the worst excesses of the weather systems of the Massif Cenral by the Larzac plateau and the imposing Mont de St. Baudille, which rises to 847 metres above sea level (about 2,800 feet) a few kilometres to the north east.

Approaching Saint-Saturnin from the south, with Mont de St. Baudille in the background

The resulting wines show great balance and complexity, and not a little finesse. The Domaine d'Archimbaud vineyards are planted mainly to Syrah and Grenache, plus some Mourvedre and Carignan. The vines average around 25 years of age and yields are restricted to around 30 hl/ha. More plantings of Mourvedre are now coming into production. Although the red wines have top billing, the rosé is also noteworthy for the fact that it is a vin de pressurage – in other words, it is made from a direct pressing of the red grapes, unlike most rosés made from the “saignée” method, which is a by-product of the red winemaking process. And it shows - they make one of the best rosés I have tasted from Languedoc, and I suspect it has more than a little ageing potential.

We arrived just before midday at the cave in the centre of Saint-Saturnin. I knocked on the door and waited for a minute, then went around the side to see if anybody was in the store room. I was about to give up when Monsieur Cabanes appeared, slightly dishevelled and dusty. It turned out that he had just been in the vineyards, applying some sulphur treatment to the vines (spring had been cool and somewhat damp, so with the onset of warmer weather, this was necessary to prevent any chance of mildew). As he unlocked the door to the cave, Madame Cabanes also appeared. They greeted us like old friends and sat us down at the table to taste the wines. As I am already very familiar with the Traditon and Robe du Pourpre cuvées and the 2009 Rosé, I asked to taste only a couple of new wines they had emailed me about a few weeks before;

Les IV Pierre Blanc Vin de Pays du Mont Baudile (2009)
This is a pale-ish green/gold colour, with a pronounced floral, grapey aroma, courtesy of 10% Muscat  in the blend, The remainder is 80% Viognier and 10% Grenache Blanc. There's a nice whiff of garrigue herbs, too, with background notes of stone fruits, apples, clove and fennel. The grapiness manifests itself a little on the palate too, along with a nice lemon-infused acidity, making it very fresh on entry, before the richer, slightly oily Viognier and Grenache coat the palate with spiced fruits, with some herby, savoury notes coming in on the finish. Unless I am very much mistaken, there is no oak influence in this wine, leaving the fruit to make all the running. It isn't a quirky wine - rather, it is fresh and pure and beautifully made. That isn't to say that it won't become quirky with a year or two in bottle, but it already has lots of interest and makes for a lovely drink right now. I think I'll be importing this one, and it should come in at around £10.
As for what it says on the bottle, the 2009 is in brackets because - for reasons unknown to me - the Mont Baudile VdP does not permit a vintage to be shown on the label. Monsieur Cabanes pointed me towards a code embossed on the neck of the bottle itself (not a label) showing L010/033, meaning it was bottled in March 2010. I suggested to him that other growers (notably those who market their wines as Vins de Table) get around this little problem by putting some sort of "code" on the label itself - for example, "L2009" (i.e. Lot 2009). Not very subtle, of course, but it circumvents the problem in a way that leaves little to the imagination. I think Monsieur Cabanes might decide to use this method in the future!

l'Enfant Terrible 2008 Languedoc Terrasses du Larzac
This is made from 60% Mourvedre, the remainder being Grenache and Carignan. It was bottled in February 2010, so is still a little primary, but already very expressive. The colour is a bright, youthful, quite deep ruby red with a wide rim. The nose greets you with a huge waft of tar, woodsmoke and polished leather, with a veritable pot pourri of herbs and spices, almost like incense. It isn't oak-aged, but it smells creamy. It has bags of fruit, too - dark, brambly fruit, plums and black cherries.Like the nose, the palate is spicy, herby and tarry, with ripe tannins and just the right amount of acidity to give it a fruity, sweet and sour tanginess. It is quite rich, persistent and nicely warming. As this is such a young wine, I suspected it may be even better on day 2, and this was confirmed with a bottle we consumed this weekend, which really did come into its own after 24 hours in the decanter - a sure sign of a wine that will age and evolve nicely. It had developed more herby and spicy notes, with hints of flowers, earth and red meats. It really is rather lovely, and yet another wine which I plan to import at the end of the summer. Projected price is likely to be around £12-£13.

I then asked if I could taste the sweet Vendange d'Automne 2007, a bottle of which was sitting on the bureau in the corner of the cave. At that, Monsieur Cabanes said of course, but the bottle I saw had been standing upright in the light of the tasting room for too long, so he needed to go and get another one. If I had known he meant he needed to fetch it from the winery 2 or 3 kilometres down the road, I might have said "no, don't worry", but he was out the door and in the car before I knew it. Nothing was too much trouble. We chatted with Madame Cabanes whilst he was gone. She is a delightful, gentle lady who - along with the rest of her family - is clearly at ease with the world, and the life they lead in this beautiful corner of Languedoc. Monsieur Cabanes arrived back within 20 minutes, and presented me with that bottle, which you can read about in my previous post below - and boy was I glad I let him go and get it, for it has been a bit of an eye-opener, to say the least!

Jean-Pierre and Marie-Claude Cabanes, in their cave in the village of Saint-Saturnin de Lucian

Having spent a good hour or so in the company of these lovely people, it was time to resume our long journey to Calais. We left Saint-Saturnin, armed with 3 bottles each of the red and white we had tasted (even though I expected to pay for anything more than a bottle of each, even as a merchant/client, my offer of money was politely declined) with a warm glow. Not just from tasting the wines, but also from the fact that we get to do business with some of the nicest people it is possible to meet in the wine world. Having been importing wines from Domaine d'Archimbaud since 2004, I'm certainly not going to give up in a hurry. Lovely wines, lovely people.
The wines I have described above will be available by late summer or early autumn. You can read about the rest of the wines in the Archimbaud range, which are already available to buy, on the Leon Stolarski Fine Wines website.

Friday, 6 August 2010

The best sweet wine I have ever tasted from Languedoc

Domaine d'Archimbaud Vendange d'Automne Vin de Table de France (2007)
The label says "Mout de raisins partiellement fermenté - Issue de raisins passerillés". Which basically means a wine from grapes harvested very late in the season (and therefore partially raisined on the vine). There is no AOC for such wines in Languedoc, nor I guess a Vin de Pays, hence the simple Vin de Table denomination. No vintage is allowed on the label, but this is from the 2007 vintage. As far as I am aware, it is fashioned from 100% Bourboulenc, a grape also occasionally known as Malvoisie in Languedoc. If you are confused, then read the entries for both in The Oxford Companion To Wine - and you'll end up even more confused! This wine is a rich, shiny 24-carat gold colour with orange tinges. The nose is sublime, offering captivating aromas of bonfire toffee, candied orange peel, marzipan, fig, honeysuckle and rose, whilst the palate is simply bursting with flavours of autumn fruits, preserved citrus, root ginger and toffee. It caresses the tongue with intensely concentrated fruit, before unleashing a rasp of limey acidity that almost makes your hair stand on end. The finish is immense, lasting for literally minutes, whilst revealing hitherto unnoticed flavours of toffee apple, lemon sorbet, clove and cinnamon, not to mention just about every exotic fruit nuance you could care to mention.

Now I have to admit that, although this was lovely from the moment I opened the bottle, it actually sat in the fridge for a good week or two before I eventually finished it, during which time it just got better and better. But this feeling sort of crept up on me, until I finally sat down to contemplate the last glass and realised just how utterly wonderful it was. Perhaps it just needed to be in the right place at the right time, but it finally reminded me, in the most glorious way, how a great sweet wine can be one of life's most pleasurable experiences. In fact, it is at times like this that one wonders how one could ever drink anything else! I have been privileged to taste many fine examples of the world's greatest sweet wine styles - German and Austrian TBA's, Sauternes, Loire Chenins, Jurancon, Aussie Semillons, Tokaji, Canadian Ice Wine, whatever. And this one has provided as much pleasure for me as any of them. Like all of these wines, balance is everything - a high level of concentration and sweetness demands a healthy level of acidity, and this one has plenty. OK, so the label says it is nothing more than a Vin de Table, but I for one have learned never to let such a humble denomination decieve me. It is what's in the glass that matters, and this is - in my humble opinion - a very special wine indeed. In fact, it is head and shoulders the best wine of its kind I have ever tasted from the Languedoc. And the empty (50cl) bottle has already taken its place in the "empties" hall of fame, atop the welsh dresser in my dining room.

The good news, for any of my customers who read this and are intrigued enough to want to try this wine, is that I might just be able to get my hands on some more. And if I can, the projected selling price will be a bargain at £14.99 for a 50cl bottle.
I mentioned in an earlier post (just after I came back from holiday) that I made a last-minute visit to Domaine d'Archimbaud, before we headed north on our journey home. I have a couple of other wines from this estate that I want to tell you about (apart, of course, from the ones I already sell), so I'll post about those (and the wonderul people at Archimbaud) over the weekend.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Just another week at the Wine Circle

Last week (being the end of the month) signalled the latest instalment of our little tasting group at Le Mistral restaurant in Nottingham. Although, as usual, a great evening was enjoyed by all, the sum total in terms of quality of the wines merely added up to OK - in other words, a handful of reasonably noteworthy wines, but nothing really spectacular. Best of the bunch were a delicious Felton Road Chardonnay 2005 from New Zealand, which was a dead ringer for a top 1er Cru Meursault and a slightly "poxed" (short for prematurely oxidised) Louis Jadot Puligny-Montrachet Folatieres 1er Cru 1999, which was really good, but on an inexorably downward slope towards "sherrydom". There was also an interesting Abel Mendoza Rioja Blanco 2009, which was very nice, in a light, floral, even elegant sort of way, with excellent structure. You'd never have guessed it was 100% Grenache Blanc, of course. The question was, did it smell or taste like Rioja? Well, not in any way that those present had ever experienced it didn't. Which begs the question, why make a Grenache Blanc in Rioja which tastes like Condrieu from the northern Rhone? This old traditionalist fuddy-duddy would much prefer it to be marketed as something else (anything else, in fact) other than Rioja. For when Rioja is made in the old-fashioned, nutty, slightly oxidative style and aged for a good few years before release, it is without doubt one of the world's great white wine experiences. And, whilst this "Spanish Condrieu" is a good wine in its own right, it is certainly not Rioja, Jim - at least, not as we know it!

As is often the case these days, the wines on offer at the weekly meeting of the Nottingham Wine Circle the night after were another matter altogether. Hardly a week goes by without at least a few gems to be tasted and this week was no different - in fact, there were a whole raft of successes. Here are some cursory notes on the best of the bunch;

Domaine Rollin Pernand-Vergelesses 2008
Young, lemony, with classy oak. The oak dominates a little at present, but that is only to be expected in such a young wine. But there is a wonderful core of bright, minerally Chardonnay fruit lurking in there. Fairly light-bodied, but intense and very promising. Apparently it can be had for less than 12 quid from The Wine Society. Bargain. 

Chateau de Vaux Les Haut Bassieres Pinot Noir 2008 Moselle (the French bit) 
Reeks of Pinot - in fact, the very essence of that grape. Raspberries and cream, a touch of exotic spice and older wood. It actually smells a touch Californian, with an almost sweet fruit aroma, but then it dances on the palate in a light, elegant way, like a good Burgundy or Alsace Pinot. Quite light, but manages to be generous at the same time. I loved it - andit is another bargain from The Wine Society at £10.95.

Chateau Lynch-Moussas 1985 Pauillac
Wine Circle member Kevin Scott picked this up for a song at a recent auction, and it is a cracker. Smells like aged Claret and tastes like aged Claret, but in a way that really appeals to me (a confirmed non-Claret lover). Cedary, plummy, with hints of blackcurrant. Quite dry and evolved, but the tannins are fine and the acidity is bright. Earthy, secondary aromas and flavours abound, but it still retains a delightful core of rich fruit, with some lovely wild strawberry and forest floor, tea and crystallised fruits - in fact, very complex stuff, with none of the green and red pepper notes that I find such a turn-off in many Clarets. Classy, elegant and really lovely. If only all Claret was half as good, I'd be in danger of becoming a fan!

Vincent Lumpp Clos du Cras Long 1990 Givry 1er Cru
Amazingly deep colour for a 20 year-old Burgundy. Notes of damp earth, wild mushroom and even a hint of cheese, but lurking beneath is a massive core of rich, ripe, glorious Pinot fruit, which manifests itself on the palate in no uncertain fashion. Very identifiable Pinot flavours, but at the bramble and cherry end of the spectrum, rather than raspberry/strawberry. It is earthy, even a touch rustic, but that huge core of fruit, combined with a little bit of tannin and juicy acidity, and a touch of citrus and spice on the finish makes for a complete and very lovely wine, which had many of us in the Cote d'Or. Vincent Lumpp's wines rarely fail to impress, and this was one cracking wine.

Domaine Filliatreau Vieilles Vignes 2003 Saumur-Champigny
The nose is spectacular - tobacco, warm spices, red and black fruits, flowers, minerals. Very complex stuff. In fact, it was perfumed in an almost Burgundian or Cote Rotie way, with some nice earthy notes adding yet more complexity. The palate was creamy and soft, but so complex - oodles of strawberry, raspberry and bramble fruits, with a touch of orange, cedar, tobacco and flowers, and not a hint of capsicum. Uber complex and utterly lovely. Who would have thought it? A 100% Cabernet Franc wine from the Loire which wowed just about everyone around the table - and from 2003, at that. What structure, what fruit.... what a wine! The best red Loire wine (and the best Cabernet Franc from anywhere) I have ever tasted.

Quinta do Vesuvio Vintage Port 1992
Very dark, very rich. Earthy, slightly rotting black fruits, with enormous complexity. Heady aromas of dates, figs, molasses, dark chocolate and mocha. The palate is rich and fruity, in a jammy, mixed fruit and marmalade sort of way. A wine for the hedonist, with not even a hint of alcoholic burn. Just about as good as vintage Port gets, and I loved it.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

A long day in front of the computer screen, plus a lovely red and white pair of Portugese wines

Yesterday was, as usual, golf day, and I had a pretty topsy-turvy round in the monthly medal at my local club. A shaky start saw me drop three shots in the first two holes, after which I settled down a bit with a few pars and bogies. Some laser-like iron shots and a hot putter then saw me card no less than four birdies in the space of six holes around the turn, but these were somewhat negated by another couple of double bogeys. It all added-up to a round of 77 (net 67), which saw my handicap reduced to 9.5, so I am tantalisingly close to once again reaching single figures. After that, it was home to do a bit of work, followed by a nice home-made pizza for dinner and a couple of hours in front of the TV. I love Saturdays - definitely my favourite day of the week!

After a nice lie-in this morning, it has been a pretty long Sunday sat in front of the computer. Which rather typifies the lifestyle of a civil servant masquerading as a wine merchant, in that there aren't that many "days off" from work of one sort or another. There is always something to be done, be it the day job, the wine business or the various things to be done around the house. There's not a lot of the "DIY" sort of stuff that I won't turn my hand to, be it painting and decorating, building a kitchen or a fireplace, carpentry, electrics, even a bit of plumbing. Or, to be more precise, I'd rather do it myself than pay someone else to do it. Which is a bit of an irritation to TLD, as we have a bathroom that I started around 18 months ago that still isn't quite finished. I have to admit that fitting a new bath suite and electric shower is a bit beyond what I am prepared to do, so we had a professional in to do that - in late 2008(!) Since then, I have tiled the walls and added built-in mirrors over the sink and the opposite wall. And, though I say so myself, it looks fantastic. All I need now is a window of opportunity to tile the side panel for the bath and get the floor tiles laid. And the ceiling painted. And the recessed lights fitted and wired-up. And the extractor fan wired-up. And, erm..... that's it. I must admit that proceedings took a bit of a setback several months ago, when I was replacing a floorboard and managed to drill through a central heating pipe. Pity, because I was really on a roll at the time. Anyway, that's my excuse. TLD says that if I don't get it finished soon, she is going to get somebody in to finish it for her. So I'd better get my arse into gear pretty damn quick.

Hence the day spent in front of the computer, going through the numerous processes involved in adding around 8 new wines to the website, wine list, bookkeeping system and so on. I love tasting new wines, but I hate typing out tasting notes. It takes me long enough to write the notes in the first place (although of course the tasting bit is a pleasurable experience) but if anyone can suggest a better way than writing the notes with pen and paper and then typing them out, I'd be happy to hear it.

Anyway, I've broken the back of the day's work, so I am typing this post in the middle of frying a delicious duck breast for our Sunday evening dinner, whilst TLD prepares the veg. Wine-wise, we finished off those lovely bottles of La Combe Blanche La Galine 2001 and 2007 last night, and started on another bottle of von Hessen Riesling 2005. Tonight, I have opened a bottle of Lucien Boillot et Fils Gevrey-Chambertin 2001, which I picked up for about 12 quid in a Berry Bros sale a few years back. To be honest, it is a bit uninspiring and lacking in fruit. Of course, it may be going through a closed phase, but frankly I'm not prepared to give it the benefit of the doubt. I'll let you know if it blossoms into something more interesting, but I don't expect it will.

Meanwhile, here are tasting notes on a couple of those new wines I've been dealing with today - a lovely pair of wines from Estremadura, on the west coast of Portugal;

Estremadura is the most westerly wine region in Europe, where the cool Atlantic breezes encourage a long growing season, resulting in very balanced wines. This is a bright, fairly deep yellow/gold, with green tinges. A complex nose of citrus fruits and peach, with herbaceous nettle and lemongrass notes. The palate begins with peach and orange, before a surge of zingy lemon and tart apple flavours coat the tongue. It is quite herby, too, with hints of rosemary and oregano and a steely, mineral depth. There is excellent concentration, with the fruit carrying all the way through to a tangy, even spicy finish, which lingers for an impressive length of time in the mouth. This is no simple quaffer - it is a complex, multi-layered wine, worthy of contemplation - and food. Given the prices commanded by most Alvarinho wines from Portugal, this really is a bit of a bargain at £10.75.

DJF Vinhos Grand'Arte Touriga Nacional 2008 Estremadura
This is a deep purple/blue colour with a very narrow rim. The nose offers a huge waft of bramble and blackcurrant fruit, combined with notes of leather and meat. Ageing in oak has also contributed some interesting vanilla and mint humbug nuances. I also detect just a hint of volatile acidity, which serves to give the aromas even more of a lift. After a while, the oak aromas integrate beautifully, to reveal a serious, structured wine, worthy of contemplation. The palate is full of dark cherry, bramble and chocolate flavours, with plenty of tannic grip. There is great concentration, but the tannins and the excellent underlying acidity keep it nicely tight and delineated. Although it has a modern, clean, even new worl quality, you get the feeling that it will evolve into something really complex and interesting. Indeed, it has plenty of interest already. Therefore, whilst you can drink it with pleasure already, you can also keep a few bottles by to enjoy over the next 5 or even 10 years. A lot of bang for your buck. £11.95.
Tomorrow, I'll post on some cracking wines tasted at a couple of wine evenings in Nottingham last week.