Saturday, 24 December 2011

Happy Christmas!

It's been a busy few days and I'm whacked, after preparing lots of wine orders, shopping for TLD's pressies (completed only yesterday afternoon!) plus a round of golf this afternoon. It is now 11pm on Christmas Eve, and TLD and I have just finished the preparation for tomorrow's Christmas dinner for 11 people. The chicken liver parfait was a bit of a labour of love (and I have the chutney and bread to make in the morning) but it should be worth the effort. The table is set, the turkey is ready for the oven (as well as a duck, for a little added interest and flavour), the pigs are in their blankets, the spuds are peeled and the sprouts are ready for..... well, whatever it is you do with sprouts (I hate 'em). All I need to do in the morning is make my bread and prepare the carrots (I par-boil, then glaze with butter and brown sugar), red cabbage (baked, with apple, onion and Port), mushrooms and stuffing. Oh, and bung the Christmas Pudding in (I wanted to try my hand at making one myself, but TLD vetoed that idea).

If everything goes to plan, it should be a relatively relaxing day, with just a little time spent in the kitchen and a lot of time enjoying being with my family and playing with the toys that Santa brings - if I have been good enough, that is!

Now all I have to do is wrap the pressies and get a much-need bite to eat, since I've suddenly realised I haven't eaten a thing for 12 hours. :-(  Mind you, I do seem to have polished-off two-thirds of a bottle of Rolly Gassmann Pinot Gris 2008, which is truly scrummy and almost a meal in itself. I can't be bothered to prepare a link, but if you want some, you know where you can buy it! ;-)) I'm not sure what I will choose to pair with the Christmas dinner, but I have some nice old white Burgundy, red Rhone, fizz and of course some nice reds and whites from Languedoc, Roussillon and Provence, so nobody will go short of a decent drink or two. What about you?

Anyway, what I really want to say is a big thank you to all of you that read or follow this blog and of course to all of the people that have both supported me and bought my wines over the past year - you make all the hard work worth it.

I wish you all peace, love, happiness, and a very happy Christmas.

Monday, 19 December 2011

A decent weekday quaffer from Gascony

Earlier today, I had a visit from Liz and Tony Gledhill, a charming couple who became friends with Jonathan Treloar and Rachel Hesford, during their (ultimately successful) search for vineyards in Roussillon. The rest is history, of course, but I didn't realise until recently that the Gledhills (who at the time owned a house just a few kilometres from Trouillas, where Jon and Rachel finally found a home for Domaine Treloar) had actually set up a small business, aimed at helping them find a market for their wines in the UK. Liz and Tony have since sold the house and have also recently decided to wind down their business and retire. And so it was that they offered to sell me their remaining stock of Treloar wines, mainly from the 2006 vintage (plus a handful of 2007's). I will shortly be offering these wines to my customers, as part of my end-of-year bin-end sale.

At the same time, Liz and Tony brought me a couple of sample bottles of the following wine, of which they have a few cases to offer me. Considering the age of the wine (not to mention the vintage, which because of the intenses heat was challenging, even for growers in the South-West) I was of course reluctant to take a chance, even at a knock-down price. But it actually provided me with a pleasant surprise......

Domaine de Lauroux Cuvée Confiance 2003 Cotes de Gascogne
A blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. As I may have mentioned before (and never tire of telling it) I spent a week in Gascony in August 2003, and it was hot. So hot, in fact, that the leaves were falling from the trees, in temperatures of up to 43C - and the nights were even more unbearable than the days! The whole summer was an absolute scorcher, with virtually no rain for 3 or 4 months, and constantly high temperatures throughout the summer. Hardly "normal" conditions, and certainly not conducive to the long, slow growing grape growing season normally encountered in this region. Nevertheless, growers in the South-West fared better than those in the (even hotter) Languedoc and Roussillon. And this wine is surprisingly fresh. It is carefully extracted, with a bright, medium-hued ruby/blood red colour and attractive aromas of blackcurrant, plum and new leather, with delicate hints of elderflower, blackcurrant leaf, vanilla and tea. Of course, there is a fair dollop of grippy tannin, but this is countered by plenty of ripe, juicy black and red fruit flavours, a touch of earthiness and a very decent level of acidity, which makes for an enjoyable, balanced, tangy/fruity/earthy glass of wine. In fact, before I know it, I have drunk 2 glasses (always a good sign, when writing a tasting note!). I would be very happy to drink this again, and may well take a few cases, with a view to selling it at around £5.99 a bottle - which would be a bargain in anyone's book.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Time for a tidy-up - or how sweet wines taste several weeks or months after opening

I have a weakness for sweet wines of just about every description. The problem is that, although TLD and I certainly don't drink to excess, we tend to have so many bottles of wine sitting around in the kitchen at any given time (some brought back from various tasting events, others that we have opened and not quite finished) that some of them tend to get hidden or forgotten. So I decided recently that it was time to have a bit of a clear-out and make some much-needed extra space in the kitchen. Which provided an opportunity to prove (or disprove) my theory that many sweet wines actually improve for a good while after opening - in some cases, for a very long while. So here are my notes on around 15 wines, the remains of which I have tasted over the last couple of days, beginning with a trio of delicious German Rieslings......

Deinhard Winkeler Hasensprung Riesling Auslese 1976 Rheingau
4 weeks open. My oh my, that colour - a perfectly brilliant, limpid amber/gold - not bad for a 35 year-old sweet white wine! I've been privileged to taste a fair few German wines from the fabled 1976 vintage and none of them have ever disappointed. And this one is no different. The nose offers a wonderfully complex array of aromas, notably orange marmalade, roses, allspice, fenugreek and toffee, with just a hint of trademark kerosene, whilst the palate is alive with flavours of soft citrus, butterscotch, spices and herbs and a simply mouth-watering backbone of tangy acidity and minerality. The label doesn't say what the alcohol is, but I guess it must be no more than 9 or 10% abv. Whatever, this really is an exquisite wine, which hasn't suffered one bit from being open for around 5 or 6 weeks. Oh how I wish there was more than half a glass for me to enjoy!

Dr. Burkin-Wolf Wachenheimer Bohlig Riesling Beerenauslese 1989 Rheinpfalz
4 weeks open. This is a similar colour, though perhaps just a bit cloudy, though this in no way detracts from the enjoyment. The intensity level is certainly a notch higher, as can be expected from this "Pradikat" level (and from another great year, of course), with super-concentrated aromas and flavours of orange and lime, again something distinctly floral, and again with stoney minerality and a simply wonderful, almost Madeira-like tang, combining a touch of salinity and stunning citric acidity. 10.0% abv. It isn't necessarily a better wine than the 1976 Auslese - just different, and just as good. It has been a joy to revisit both of them. Amazing wines!

Kurt Hain Riesling Auslese Goldkapsel 2009 Mosel
2 months open. By comparison, this is pure infanticide - a 2 year-old wine that probably needs a good 10 or 15 years to really get into its stride. It is highly-perfumed, evoking spring flowers, freshly-crushed grapes, mandarin and apricot, whilst the palate is packed with intense, ripe, youthful, minerally Riesling flavours (typical of this, another great vintage). It is a lovely wine, with a great future ahead of it, but doesn't (yet) match the greatness of the above 2 wines. But give it a few years......... 7.5% abv.

Then to some full-on dessert wines......... 

2 months open. My goodness, this is a real turn-up for the books. When I first opened this bottle, I had marked it down as a wine possessed of a fabulous level of concentration and intensity, though possibly at the expense of a little of the eye-watering acidity and minerality of previous vintages. But I was wrong, for after a full 2 months of air, the concentration is still there - along with a definite whiff and flavour of honeyed botrytis - but that trademark acidity and intense minerality has come to the fore. So much so that we are very definitely back in mouth-watering territory again (I think there is a theme developing here)! If you want the complete low-down on this wine, then read the note on my website, but be sure to add a couple of extra marks onto what you read, courtesy of the development afforded by those 2 months of air. Simply stunning wine - and if you want some, it will set you back a mere £17.50. And that is for a 75cl bottle! 13.0% abv.

Andrew Quady Essensia Orange Blossom Muscat 2008 Madera, California
I honestly have no idea how long this has been open, but it may have been sitting on the kitchen worktop for as much as a year. OK, so it is no longer youthful or overtly fruit or "Muscatty", but it is still an enjoyable drop. A definite and quite cloudy amber colour, with lots of sediment, but with oodles of Seville orange marmalade aromas and flavours, notes of dried apricot, fig, root ginger and toffee, with a slightly madeirised tang and still plenty of acidity. Sort of Tokaji-meets-Muscat de Rivesaltes. Very enjoyable, with some decent complexity. 15% abv (but not fortified, as far as I know).

Mullineux Straw Wine 2009 Swartland, South Africa
On the other hand, I can say exactly how long this one has been open, because I reviewed it 10 months ago in February 2011. Back then, I wrote "I was expecting sweet and sour and tangy, but all I get is sweet." Well now I get the "tangy", for the acidity has finally managed to cut through some of that gargantuan sweetness. Don't get me wrong, it is still uber-sweet - and still almost too sweet for my palate - but the flavours have begun to meld together into something altogether more interesting, with those intense, marmalade and treacle flavours augmented by flavours of bonfire toffee, dates, figs, apricots (in fact, all manner of preserved fruits). And of course, 10 months-worth of oxygen, which has worked wonders for the (previously non-existent) level of complexity, not to mention the colour, which was treacle then, but is molasses now. And it is still possibly the sweetest wine I have ever tasted, which definitely needs more time - and lots of it. If I had another bottle, then I would tuck it away to enjoy on New Year's Eve - 2061. 8.0% abv.

Chateau Rives-Blanques Lagremas d'Aur Vendange d'Hiver 2006 Vin de France
5 months open. A blend of Chenin Blanc and Mauzac, harvested in winter. Although it still has some winey notes, it also has some tertiary, slightly cheesy notes (not unusual in Chenin-based wines) and a touch of candied white fruit. To be honest, the palate has lost some of its zest and fruit, though it still has decent length and a nice warm, slightly tangy finish.

Domaine d'Archimbaud Vendange d'Automne 2006 Vin de France
One month open. 100% Bourboulenc, a variety peculiar to the Languedoc, harvested in late autumn. I've written enthusiastically about a previous bottle of this wine, which had actually been open for much longer than a month, so this one only serves to confirm what I previously said, which is basically that it is a sublime wine, which benefits greatly from weeks (or even months) of air. Cracking stuff, and I can sell you some at the extremely reasonable price of £14.95. 14.0% abv.

And finally, a selection of fortified wines.........

Morris Liquer Muscat NV South Eastern Australia
6 months(?) I've always had a soft spot for this sort of wine, which is a speciality of quite a few growers in the region of Rutherglen, Victoria. This one, though, is labelled as South-Eastern Australia - always a bad sign, in my book, as it indicates a pretty generic wine, with grapes sourced from all over the place. It was a bit boring when I opened it and it is a bit boring now, with barely-adequate acidity, some figgy, pruney notes and toffee - but zero interest. It's a shame I have another bottle to get through. 17.5% abv.

De Bortoli Show Liquer Muscat NV South Eastern Australia
Possibly a year? This is a bit more like it - deep amber/brown and amazingly viscous, with intense flavours of marmalade, coffee, a hint of bitter dark chocolate, lots of Oloroso-like intensity and tanginess and a decent shot of orangey acidity. It isn't hugely complex, but it isn't cloying either. It hits the spot with a generous, spicy warmth and lingering, rich, marmalade and christmas cake flavours. A very decent drop, which shows no sign of deterioration. 18.0% abv.

Cave de Paziols Villa Passant Rivesaltes Hors d'Age 1989
3 months(?) I could be wrong (though I can't be bothered to look it up) but I thought "Hors d'Age" was a term for a blend of wines from different vintages, aged for a good number of years before release. But this one says 1989, so I can only assume it is from that vintage. It has held up well - even more so, considering the bottle was opened 2 or 3 months ago. As Rivesaltes go, this is a decent one, perhaps just turning a touch cheesy, but still with lots of nutty/tangy/rancio aromas and flavours, fruitcake, citrus and maybe even a hint of coffee. Oh, and excellent acidity - a pre-requisite in any good sweet wine. Not a great wine, but a very decent one. 15% abv.

Domaine Sol-Payré Terre de Pierres Rivesaltes Hors d'Age
Open for 6 months. No vintage shown on this one, which I bought whilst on a visit to the grower (whose red wines have of course been a mainstay of my list for a good few years). I can't honestly say that Rivesaltes is my favourite style of fortified wine - with it's extreme "rancio" aromas and flavours and distinct lack of grapiness, it feels like a bit of a halfway house between a dry Oloroso Sherry and a sweet Port and (despite the relatively low alcohol level) always seems a touch on the hot side. This is clearly a fine example of its kind, but possibly lacks the mellowness only found in the very best examples. There's plenty of body and burnt marmalade richness, together with a nice core of tangy acidity, and it is very long, but it lacks the real charm I am looking for. I suspect that some people would really love it (and I suppose I really ought to sell it) but I can't bring myself to give it a glowing write-up. Though having said that, it is better now than when I first opened it, so I suspect it will be rather good in another 10 or 20 years(!) 15.5% abv.

Mas de Lavail Expression 2008 Maury
6 months open. This wine, on the other hand, never fails to excite me. Like the pair of Rivesaltes above, it is made from 100% Grenache, and is actually slightly higher in alcohol at 16.0% abv, but it is so deliciously fruity and alive. The reason being that it is made by a process known as "mutage sur grains". Basically, the fully-ripe grape must is fermented just short of a normal dry wine, before the addition of a dollop of grape brandy, which stops the fermentation in its tracks. This results in a classic vintage Maury with some residual sweetness, but plenty of acidity and a warming hint of alcohol. Getting it just right can be a bit of a balancing act, but when done well, it makes for a style that is wonderfully hedonistic, yet not without subtlety - a wine just like this, in fact. It is pretty rich, with amazingly concentrated bramble and black cherry fruit and Christmas cake aromas and flavours, together with firm but ripe tannins and a warming coat of spicy alcohol, but it also possesses a backbone of deliciously juicy acidity, in a sweet/sour/tangy wine of real interest, depth and complexity. Several months on, some of the overt fruitiness has given way to an attractive savouriness, which makes it possibly - nay, definitely - even more enjoyable and complex than when first opened. Even after all that time, it is a gorgeous drink, and very long too. It also just happens to be just about the perfect Christmas wine. To my mind, this is a very special wine and is one of the top 5 bargains on my list at just £15.25.

Bacalhôa Moscatel de Setúbal Colheita 2005
2 months. Again, I sell this one, so I won't bore you with an identical tasting note, as it hasn't changed one bit in 2 months - and it is still completely yummy! I sell it for the rather ridiculous price of £12.95 (again, for a full 75cl bottle).

Quinta do Vesuvio 1992 Vintage Port
6 months(?) Somebody brought this to the Nottingham Wine Circle a good few months ago and - though I have never been a huge fan of Port - it was rather special. Perhaps even amongst the best 2 or 3 Ports I have ever tasted. Several months down the line, it is managing to hang on rather well - still a touch alcoholic (one of the things that I least like about Port is that it always seems a bit to spiritous) but still with plenty of juicy, complex black and red fruits, vanilla, spice, fruitcake and toffee, with a hint of savouriness/meatiness and a very long, warming finish. I once read a comment by someone who said that vintage Port should be consumed within a few hours of opening, to which I say "Poppycock"! This is not quite as fresh as the day it was opened, but is still just as complex and enjoyable.

So there you have it. As long as a sweet wine has something to preserve it - be that residual sugar, tannin, acidity, or all of these things - as well as a modicum of structure and complexity, it can provide enjoyable drinking for weeks, or even months, after opening. You heard it here first!

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Classy young Cahors - not for the faint-hearted!

These are my tasting notes on a couple of top-notch young Cahors reds that I have been enjoying over the past couple of evenings - and I have just added them to the Leon Stolarski Fine Wines online shop. Some of you may remember that I have featured the wines of this grower on my list before. They were pretty decent then, but these new vintages are absolute crackers.

The colour of this wine is something to behold - an opaque, yet vivid purple, with a barely 2mm rim. The nose is packed with aromas of bramble, stewed plum, citrus, cedar and leather, with a hint of meaty/herby savouriness. The palate is full-bodied, young and vibrant, yet beautifully poised and fresh, with plenty of acidity to match the ripe fruit and grippy tannins. I guess the faint of heart might want to give this 2 or 3 years in the cellar to let the tannins soften a little, but I was quite happy to drink it now - with food, of course. I just happened to pair it with a grilled pork chop, but it would be ideal with a medium-rare steak, Toulouse sausages, or a hearty winter stew. £10.75.

It isn't quite black, but it is almost blue! As dark as the Tradition, if not a little more so. It has pungent aromas of bramble, black cherry and plum, with all sorts of spice, tobacco and kirsch notes and a strong whiff of freshly-baked bread. And despite the colour (which is a bit daunting!) this is certainly no highly-extracted brute - rather, it is beautifully balanced, supple and not without elegance, even at this early stage. Yes, there are tannins in abundance, but they are wonderfully ripe and velvety, and once again the acidity is ample. The fruit is very ripe, but nicely extracted, whilst the judicious oak-ageing keeps it all together. It really is a lovely wine, which doesn't bore you after a single glass. Another wine which can be drunk now, with pleasure (and of course with food) or aged for a further 5 to 8 years. Superb stuff. £13.99.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Campogate - some fine investigative journalism by Jim Budd

As a follower of various other (mostly wine-related) blogs, I've been watching with great interest the ongoing saga on Jim Budd's blog that has become known as "Campogate". As a wine journalist who has done much sterling work in investigating the more disreputable wine merchants and wine investment dealers via his investdrinks website, Jim has latterly been devoting more of his time to blogging - mostly about his favourite wine region, the Loire Valley.  But that hasn't stopped him getting his teeth into this rather intriguing and possibly far-reaching wine "scandal" that has been the subject of much discussion on various wine blogs and forums. It centres on the rather shady dealings of a character by the name of Pancho Campo MW, born and raised in Chile, but now resident in Spain. Briefly, one of Señor Campo's recent activities (amongst many - see his rather grandiose CV on the Institute of Masters of Wine website) has been to facilite/coordinate visits to various Spanish wine regions by Jay Miller, who just happens to be the official taster of Spanish wines for The Wine Advocate. In other words, Miller's boss is none other than Robert Parker.

The "Campogate" scandal centres on a series of emails between Campo and the representatives of certain Spanish D.O's, in which he attempts to solicit some rather hefty fees for a proposed series of extra-curricular tastings/lectures/masterclasses by Jay Miller on his recent visit. I use the term "extra-curricular", because the code of practice applied by Robert Parker to all of his employees at The Wine Advocate stipulates that  visits should be made entirely at the expense of The Wine Advocate and should not be financed in any way by the growers or the regional wine bodies. The reason behind this (so-called voluntary) code is Parker's - and therefore The Wine Advocate's - wish to remain completely independent and free from any suggestion of favouritism or hospitality. Indeed, during a long and (depending on your personal palate) distinguished career in wine, Parker's own reputation for independence has remained squeaky clean.

That money was paid out by at least two different D.O's in order to guarantee Jay Miller's recent visits now seems certain. The big question of course is exactly whose pockets were lined? I guess it will all come out in the wash. For his part, Miller insists he has "never accepted (or requested) fees for visiting wine regions or wineries", although his subsequent departure from The Wine Advocate (did he jump, or was he pushed?) hardly serves to dispel any doubts about his possible involvement in this episode. Pancho Campo, on the other hand, seems to be left holding a smoking gun, although he denies all accusations levelled at him  and has indeed made threats (yet to be carried out) of legal action against Jim Budd. To his great credit, Jim has refused to be intimidated by such threats.

I'm not sure that any laws were broken during the making of this drama (though I am no legal expert), but it certainly calls into question the morality of the main player(s), whilst also not doing an awful lot to enhance the reputation of the wine journalist fraterity as a whole. Furthermore, it has more than likely caused a great deal of damage to the Parker "brand", especially since Robert Parker himself reportedly issued veiled threats of legal action against "these bloggers", from the sanctuary of his (subscription-only) discussion forum. Again, nothing has yet come of these threats, presumably because Parker now realises that he has nothing to gain, and an awful lot to lose.

Were it not for the efforts of Jim Budd and his associate Harold Heckle (a Madrid-based wine writer who first uncovered the emails in question), this scandal may never have been successfully investigated. And whilst it does have potentially serious implications (at least for Campo, and possibly for Miller) there is something almost comical about Campo's bungling attempts to stifle this investigation and deny the existence of the offending emails, despite the seemingly overwhelming evidence. One has to assume that Jay Miller now rues the day he ever met Pancho Campo. As Oliver Hardy used to say to Stan Laurel, "Well, Stanley...... here's another fine mess you've gotten me into!"
Edit: Jim has asked me to point out that credit must also go to Vincent Pousson, who originally broke the story on Facebook on 26th October, with the email sent out by Asevin (the Murcia winemakers Association) on 4th October detailing the now famous tarif for samples and visits.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Delicious Southern Rhône warmth in a glass

Well, technically, Costières de Nîmes isn't actually in the Southern Rhône, it is in the Languedoc. But geographically, it is pretty close and the wines are stylistically even closer - for my money, at least. The Costières de Nîmes are situated on a large, low-lying plateau, between the city of Nîmes and the west bank of the Rhône. Just to the south lies the Carmargue and the Mediterranean, and the climate is therefore extremely pleasant. The large stones or "galets roulés", which are a feature of the soil in this region, were washed down the Rhône valley from the Alps in prehistoric times, and the terroir is therefore very similar to Chateauneuf du Pape (a little further up the valley). And the resulting wines can often bear a more than favourable resemblance to decent Chateauneuf (despite often being more Syrah than Grenache-dominated), though without the hefty price tag - and this is a fine example......

Domaine de Calet Long Terme 2008 Costières de Nîmes
85% Syrah and 15% Grenache. A complex array of aromas, with bramble and casssis, raisins steeped in eau de vie, polished old wood and forest floor. It manages to be at the same time spicy (cinnamon and clove), citrussy (some lovely orange peel notes) and savoury, with some enticing tobacco and cedar notes lurking in the background. It really is a nose that many more fancy Southern Rhône wines would kill for. The palate is still relatively primary, but all the components are beginning to knit together nicely, with an abundance of rich, brambly fruit, a touch of bitter cherry kernel and spice, fine, grippy tannins and a streak of citrussy acidity. All of which makes for a beautifully balanced wine, with a gently warming touch of eau de vie and spice on the finish. It really is a joy to drink now (even more so than I was expecting) but also has the structure to age and evolve into something quite special over the next 5 to 8 years. A glorious wine for the money (£11.30).  

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Home alone on a Saturday night with a delicious Northern Rhône red

TLD is out tonight with her work mates on what is officially their "Christmas Meal" - in late November, for goodness' sake! Nevertheless, it gave her a chance to put the glad rags on and get out of the house without me in tow. And I have to say, she looked a pretty picture - and I am a very lucky man!

Isn't she wonderful? TLD, ready to go and set the world on fire.

Meanwhile, I'm left all alone on a Saturday night, with only a medium-rare rump steak and a delicious bottle of  red wine for company. I suppose life could be worse..........

J. Vidal-Fleurie Côte-Rôtie 1994
This is another bargain buy, which I bought via the online wine auction site BidForWine a year or two back - and if I remember correctly, it worked out at no more than about £15 a bottle, which is a bargain in any Cote-Rôtie lover's book. The colour is relatively evolved, with a deep-ish blood red core fading to a mahogany-tinged rim. The nose is beautifully evolved too, with delicious aromas of bright red fruits and perhaps a touch of bramble, togther with some really enticing savoury, slightly meaty (though just short of bretty) notes, forest floor, exceedingly subtle oak and a wonderfully high-toned suggestion of citrus. And the palate is certainly high-toned, in a way that tickles the taste buds and heightens the senses, whilst at the same time keeping all of those luscious red/black fruits and softening tannins in check. And the effect is just so alluring and captivating, in a wine of exceptional balance and supreme elegance, still grippy and taught, but with a deliciously sweet and sour red fruit finish. It is one of those wines which just happens to be in the right place at the right time - and as the old saying goes, "there are no great wines - just great bottles". And, for a relatively "humble" negociant-bottled Cote-Rôtie, this is one of them - and a wonderful surprise.

Right - I'm off to enjoy my dinner, followed by Match Of The Day - if I can manage to stay awake for that long!

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Whilst on the subject of the Iberian Peninsula..... A brilliant 20 year-old Portugese red wine

After 2 or 3 recent posts all about Rioja, you'd think it was time for me to write about French wine for once(!) But here's a post about another wine from the Iberian Peninsula that really hit the spot recently.

As I have mentioned before on this blog, one of my "house wines" over the last few years has been Luis Pato Vinho de Mesa Tinto - several cases of the stuff, in fact, picked up for a song at a certain well-known auction house. Most of those were from the 1990 vintage, though I also found a couple of cases of 1991. And not a single bottle of either vintage has ever disappointed. The pleasure of drinking good wine with 20 or so years of age on it that doesn't cost the earth is not to be underestimated - such finds are rare in this day and age, especially as auction prices for mature wines seem to have held up remarkably well, even during this protracted economic crisis. So imagine my surprise when a local wine supplier to the trade offered a small-ish consignment of another mature Portugese red wine, again at a price that wouldn't break the bank. I just had to try it - and I was not disappointed.........

Quinta do Poco do Lobo Bairrada 1991
A blend of 3 indigenous Portugese grape varieties, predominantly Baga, with small amounts of Castelão and Moreto, aged in small old oak barrels. The colour is a lovely medium carmine at the core, fading gradually to a pale orange/mahogany rim. Even at 20 years old, there is still plenty of fruit on the nose, with delightful aromas of wild red berries and bramble, not to mention a veritable host of floral and secondary notes such as forest floor, tar and cedar. Subtle hints of violets, peppermint, herbs and spices add yet more complexity. The flavours are equally worthy of contemplation, with those complex aromas showing through on the palate, allied to peppery spice, grippy but softening tannins (Baga is famous for its tannic structure – hence its ageing potential) and mouth-watering acidity. The finish is long, dry and deliciously “sweet and sour”. In fact, I loved it so much that I opened a second bottle the following day, just to convince myself that it was indeed as good as I first thought! I have since gone back and snapped-up the remaining handful of cases - some to keep for our own consumption and some for my more adventurous customers. It isn't a simple quaffer, and that firm tannic structure means it is a wine that demands food, though you needn’t be too choosy about what to drink it with – I can imagine it pairing equally well with red meats, spicy sausages, all manner of Italian tomato-based sauces, pizzas and mushroom dishes. For a 20 year-old wine, from what is a relatively obscure but very highly-regarded denomination, this is a real cracker. And at £12.95 a bottle, it is a bargain - you can find it in the Portugal section of the Leon Stolarski Fine Wines online shop. I promise you will not be disappointed.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Rioja Part 2 - Bodegas Muga and Lopez de Heredia

Continuing my reports on a trilogy of dedicated Rioja tastings at Nottingham Wine Circle, here are my notes on the second instalment. This particular tasting was presented by my friend and fellow Wine Circle member Andy Leslie, who purchased all of the wines during his Summer 2011 visits to both Bodegas. Yes - despite the age of some of these wines, they are all current releases!

Muga Blanco 2010
Ultra-pale, with a nose of toasty oak and banoffee pie, citrus lime and herbs. The palate is fresh, juicy and long. It isn't complex, but give it a year or two.......

Muga Blanco 2008
Slightly deeper in colour, with much more integrated oak. Perhaps a bit dumb, but with citrus and herb notes peeping through. The oak is more to the fore on the palate, but 2 years in bottle have added some complexity and there is a good deal of minerality and the finish is long and mouth-watering.

Muga Rosado 2010
A pale onion skin/salmon colour, with a fresh fruit and candy nose. The flavours are bright and zingy, with notes of cranberry, redcurrant and citrus. This is a classy rosé, with a lovely rhubarb tang to the finish.

Lopez de Heredia Vina Gravonia Blanco Crianza 2001
Now we are talking -  4 years in barrel and plenty of bottle age makes for what I call proper white Rioja. The nose is typically Lopez de Heredia (you need to have experienced them to know what I'm on about), and really fresh, with aromas of apples, herbs and spices, subtle cheesy notes and old wood. The palate is perhaps a tad less exciting than the nose, but still lovely and complex and very long. And of course it is still a baby, so give it time!

Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Blanco Reserva 1993
This is darker and slightly caramelly and honeyed, perhaps even a touch sherried/madeirised, but with lovely citrus and herb notes and a high-toned quality. The palate is stunning - rich, yet fresh and full of life, with wonderful acidity, a little bit of tannic grip and amazing length. A warming, spicy, zingy wine of great complexity and breed. Wonderful.

Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Rosado Gran Reserva 2000
The nose doesn't give too much away, but it gradually opens-out into something really quite "winey", with subtle woody notes.The palate is again quite winey, but for my personal taste, it could do with a little more residual fruit flavour. To be fair, it does blossom in the glass and is actually quite long on the finish. A good, but not great wine, which some others liked a lot.

Lopez de Heredia Vina Cubillo Crianza 2005
Smells traditional, but could almost be a rather attractive Rhone or Burgundy wine. It is young and full of fruit, ultra-spicy, slightly woody and quite complex. It is long and lovely, with a good few years of development left in it.

Muga Rioja Crianza 2007
A striking nose, reminiscent of celeriac and caraway, quite beefy/savoury and almost soupy. The palate is rich and tannic and somewhat modern, with rich bramble and blackcurrant fruit flavours. That said - and as "modern" Rioja goes - it is a decent wine, but it just suffers in the company of more traditional wines. Not complex, but decent enough.

Muga Reserva Seleccion Especial 2005
Another modern nose, laced with vanilla and burly fruit, but also seems quite balanced. Almost Bordeaux-meets-Rhone in style, with a touch of red capsicum and perfume/florality. The palate is again rich and extracted and rather tannic, but with plenty of fruit. A bit of a Parker wine, but not bad.

Lopez de Heredia Vina Bosconia Reserva 2002
The nose is subtle and rather closed, but there is something inviting about it. Red and black fruit, pepper and red capsicum, with notes of polished old wood. The palate seems slightly disjointed and young, but it has tannin and acidity in equal measure and no doubt some hidden fruit that will emerge with time. Promising, rather than lovely.

Lopez de Heredia Vina Bosconia Reserva 2001
This puts the 2002 above into perspective - 2001 was a magnificent vintage, and this wines shows why. Perfumed and floral (violets), with notes of mushroom and farmyard - and simply oodles of fruit. The palate is concentrated, spicy and complex, with layers of rich fruit, oak, spices, herbs and just a touch of typical 2001 alcohol, tempered by grippy tannins and juicy acidity. Long too. This is superb now, but could be amazing in another 5 or 10 years.

Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Reserva 2001
Initially, this smells tight, closed and almost dull in comparison to the Bosconia. But with air, the fruit begins to emerge, with black fruit aromas which almost remind me of the Languedoc, but with no discernible oak. The palate has plenty of sweet and sour red and black fruits, quite hefty tannins and medium-high acidity. It is rich and beautifully tangy, but is currently very tightly-wound and needs another 5 to 10 years to really come into its own. A real sleeper, which could also blossom into something very special. I hope so, becuase I now have 3 bottles of my own to tuck away!

Muga Reserva Seleccion Especial 1995
A lovely nose - perfumed and floral with notes of soft and crystallised fruits. The palate shows lots of sweet fruit (almost too sweet), though there is plenty of acidity. It just lacks a little something in the middle. It is a nice wine, but lacks the stucture and complexity which might justify a £28 price tag. Ultimately, it comes across as more like a new world Pinot than a middle-aged Rioja.

Muga Prado Enea Gran Reserva 2004
A deep, dark, rich colour, but smells almost like a (deep, dark, rich) Burgundy, in an oaky, red/black fruit sort of way. However, unlike the Seleccion Especial 1995 above, it has a start, a middle and a finish - in other words it has structure. Yes it is rich, and not really in the mould of classic Rioja (for now, at least) but it is a very good wine, which has all the components necessary to age gracefully for many years.

Muga Prado Enea Gran Reserva 2001
This again speaks loudly of the vintage. Tobacco and curry spices, polished wood and plenty of florality make for a rather glorious nose. The palate too has everything in equal measure - fruit, richness, tannin and good acidity. This is a lovely wine, worthy of much contemplation.

Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Gran Reserva 1991
Talk about saving the best until last! This has an utterly glorious, ultra-traditional nose of preserved red fruits, citrus peel, forest floor, fresh coffee grounds, old wood and layers of soft spices, all of which come through on the palate in a wine that is nigh-on perfect right now. Indeed, I personally think it is at the absolute pinnacle of maturity, although others think it may last for many more years. If I had some (which unfortunately I don't) I would be in no great rush to drink it, but I wouldn't let it hang around for too long either. A real cracker.

It will probably come as no great surprise that, whilst some of the Muga wines were impressive in their own way (and a couple were really excellent), the Lopez de Heredia wines won hands-down. In a region where so many growers seem to pander to the tastes of a certain influential American wine critic with an aversion to subtlety, there are fortunately still a few that continue to produce good, old-fashioned, quirky, traditional Rioja - just like they always have done. And to paraphrase the great Brian Clough, I wouldn't say Lopez de Heredia is the best Rioja grower in the business. But they are in the top one.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Weekend drinking of a pretty high order - a fabulous Rhone red

Paul Jaboulet Ainé Le Grand Pompée 1999 Saint-Joseph
This is the sort of Syrah that simply could not be from anywhere else in the world but the Northern Rhone. Richly fruity, earthy, meaty and floral all at the same time. The nose is a glorious cacophony of bramble and black/red currant fruits, violets, beef gravy and autumn forest floor, with hints of old wood, lapsang tea and mixed curry spices. It is just so damn complex - a true wine for contemplation. And the palate certainly doesn't disappoint, with such glorious red and black fruit flavours, again a touch of savoury beef/soy and myriad secondary flavours. What tannins remain are beautifully ripe and almost completely resolved, whilst the acidity is just so delicious - and at just 13.0% abv, there is nary a hint of alcohol. Modern winemakers take note - I know about global warming and all of that stuff, but still, if the grapes are picked at "optimum" ripeness (i.e. when ph/acidity and phenolics are all in sync) rather than "maximum" ripeness, then you will have balanced wines.

This wine actually comes from a period when Jaboulet wines in general were hit and miss to say the least (the glory years of the 70's, 80's and early 90's ended with the untimely death of winemaker Gerard Jaboulet in 1995). Indeed, the 1999 Hermitage La Chapelle was thoroughly slated by the critics (I have a single bottle, upon which I will one day make my own judgement). But this Saint-Joseph performs way above its relatively low denomination and is actually as good as quite a few Hermitage(s) I've had. As the old saying goes, there are no great wines - just great bottles. And this was definitely one of them.

Incidentally - and this may be of purely academic interest, to wine geeks such as myself - just look at that cork. A beautiful specimen if ever there was one, with hardly any visible faults/fissures, and with no more than a millimetre of staining at the end. The sort one finds with (un)surprising regularity in Portugese wines (Portugal being by far the biggest cork producer). If only all corks were so perfect, TCA (i.e. cork taint) may be far less of a problem.............


Friday, 18 November 2011

Faustino Crianza 2005 Rioja - a delightful surprise!

I know I'm only supposed to bang on about Languedoc Rousillon and various other southern French wine regions (which are of course my speciality), but I'm not prejudiced and I do love good wine, wherever it comes from. And I especially love good, traditional Rioja, and this one's an absolute cracker. Normally, a bottle of wine will last a whole evening between TLD and I, often with a good deal left over for the next evening. But this one is so downright delicious, it has disappeared rather too quickly (though admittedly I've drank most of it myself, whilst both writing-up my notes for Part 2 of the "Rioja trilogy" and preparing dinner).......

The colour is a vibrant medium-dark cherry red with a small ruby rim, whilst the nose offers delightful aromas of redcurrants and wild strawberries, flowers, sweet spices, cinnamon, damp earth and polished wood, with subtle notes of toasty oak. The oak-ageing is beautifully done, making for a delicately fragrant, rather than "woody" wine, with the floral and fruity elements being the dominant factors. And the palate more than lives up to the promise of the nose, with an earthiness and a delicious core of vibrant red fruit and spice flavours, married to very fine tannins and juicy redcurrant/cranberry-like acidity, which positively dances over the tongue and keeps tempting me back for more. So much so that I'd almost go as far as saying this is a Rioja for Burgundy lovers. And for a wine that is categorised on the Faustino website as "modern" (I needed to get my facts right for the tech-spec) for me it has the aromatic and gustatory profile of a reassuringly "traditional" Rioja Crianza. I have to admit that I wasn't particularly expecting this to excite me - after all, Faustino Riojas are normally considered to be decent, clean, but unremarkable wines. But this is light, airy, balanced and fruity, yet wonderfully elegant and possessed of all the secondary/tertiary attributes of classic a red Rioja. It really is considerably complex stuff, and I am very enamoured by it. In fact, all I can say is Yum!! An absolute little gem of a wine, and a very, very pleasant surprise. In fact, I love it so much I've decided to get some more, and you can buy it via my online shop, at just £8.99 a bottle.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Rioja Part 1 - a mixed bag of Gran Reservas

These are my notes from the first in a trilogy of Rioja tastings at Nottingham Wine Circle. The wines for this tasting were all Gran Reservas and all came from the personal cellar of long-time Wine Circle member and good friend John Houghton, who unfortunately could not be there, as he is currently fighting a battle with cancer. Get well soon, John!

1.  Vina Marro 2003 Bodegas Domeco de Jarauta
100% Tempranillo. Modern, meaty, thick and concentrated - a bit soupy, in fact. Also a touch hot and jammy and ultimately a bit simple. Not brilliant.

2.  Vin Alarde 2003 Berberana
Smells a touch more authentic, even Bordeaux-like. More restrained and "winey", meaty, leathery, restrained fruit ,with slightly drying tannins and a hint of bitterness, though not overly so. Creamy, woody and really quite drinkable, without really singing.

3. Lan 2003 Bodegas Lan
This doesn't smell like Rioja. In fact, I'd be in Italy if I didn't know what it was. The nose is actually a bit dumb, whilst the palate is rich, concentrated and tannic, but with a core of sweet-edged fruit. Modern Rioja personified and frankly a bit boring.

4.  Usoa Bagordi 2001 Bodegas Bagordi
Again, woody/oaky and a touch of brett and SO2. Savoury. The palate is rich, fruity and savoury, but with stalky/chalky tannins and too much extraction for my liking.

5.  Marques de Murrietta Finca Ygay 2001
This is not necessarily what I expect (or at least used to expect) from Murrietta. Quite perfumed and floral, with some nice raspberry and cherry fruit and a touch of marzipan, whilst at the same time meaty/savoury. The palate is high-toned and super-fruity, but is also super-ripe and very concentrated. Admittedly more subtle than some of the wines above and it could turn into an attractive wine with age, but I'd say it needs another 10 years or more to really sing. A halfway house between traditional and modern.

6.  Prado Enea 2001 Bodegas Muga
Eaily the best wine so far - perfumed, savoury and fruity. Subtle oak and simply gorgeous acidity and grippy but fine, spicy tannins. Still on the young side, but with lots of subtlety and elegance and enormous length. Delicious already, but should be magnificent in 10 years.

7.  Coto de Imaz 2001 Union Viti Vinicola
Meaty, savoury, minty, earthy nose with notes of bramble. The palate is a bit sweet, confected and simple, lacking structure and acidity. It isn't a bad wine, but neither is it one I would choose to drink.

8.  Marques de Caceres 2001 Union Viti Vinicola
Simple stuff. Smells a bit winey, but not in any way interesting. The palate has plenty of fruit, but is a bit soupy, with harsh tannins and sticky-out acidity.

9.  Viña Real 1999 CVNE
This is much more like it. A herby, spicy, savoury nose, but attractively fruity and elegant. Subtley oaky, with bright red fruit aromas. Almost Burgundian in style, with delicate fresh and crystallised red fruit flavours and lovely acidity. Already multi-dimensional, complex and a delight to drink, but with plenty of room for further evolution. Cracking wine.

10.  Imperial 1999 CVNE
If Viña Real is Burgundian in style, then this one is Bordeaux - and consequently (for me at least) the less enjoyable of the two. But it's a close call, for this too has plenty going on, with a tight but complex structure and lots of fruit, tobacco and spice. Long and elegant, with a great future.

11.  Viña Albina 1998 Bodegas Riojanas
Aromas of toasted brioche, pepper, balsam, savoury and spice. The fruit is a little muted on the nose, with subtle hints of bramble, but the palate is rich and expansive, without being overpowering, with excellent fruit/tannin/acid structure. Slightly savoury, with a nice sweet and sour finish.Long and really very good.

12.  904 1995 La Rioja Alta
A smoky, red pepper, tobacco and sour fruit nose - instantly appealing. The palate is at the same time rich and delicately stuctured, with rich fruit, exotic spices, appealing oak nuances and a lovely prickle of mouth-watering acidity. It is quite a contrary wine - essentially light and airy, but with considerable concentration and massive length. Superb wine, which may still evolve further, but is just perfect right now.

13.  Campillo 1995
Oh dear - back to modern. Smoky, savoury, rustic and dark, with plenty of bramble and blackcurrant fruit - and totally boring. Not faulty - just boring.

14.  Conde de Valdemar 1994 Familia Martinez Bujanda
A raisiny, porty, almost oxidised style - almost as if the grapes were too ripe when harvested. Lacks freshness and acidity. Mushrooms and Marmite. Old, tired and over the hill.

15.  Monte Real 1994 Bodegas Riojanas
A lovely evolved colour, with orange tinges. Complex aromas of incense, spices, soft red fruits, cedar and forest floor. A really compelling, earthy, elegant wine, with crystallised fruit and peppery flavours. It isn't particularly subtle and displays many of the "faults" inherent in classic, old-fashioned Rioja, but that is why I love it so much. Another gorgeous wine, with plenty of miles left on the clock.

16.  Campo Viejo 1994 Bodegas Artisanas
This is decent, well-made wine, relatively soft and with a touch of elegance, but nothing about it that really excites.

As suggested in the title, this really was a mixed bag. It was a really good lesson in how many (though not all) of the bodegas seem these days to be aiming for a modern, super-ripe, super-concentrated style of wine, with huge fruit profiles which often teeter on the brink of soupiness - and sometimes fall over the brink. I remember many years ago that numerous journalists on this side of the pond were constantly banging on about the need for Rioja to "modernise" and make wines to suit the palates of the masses. Well shame on them, for many of these wines fit that profile all too well - and consequently are of little or no interest to lovers of the "traditional" style. I'm sure Robert Parker loves them too, but the less said about that the better.

Thankfully, a few of the wines were also elegant, delicate, complex and reassuringly traditional. Clearly, it is all about the grower, and the names that stood out for me here were CVNE, La Rioja Alta and Bodegas Riojanas, with an honourable mention for Muga (about which more in Part 2).

Sunday, 13 November 2011

A couple of really wonderful wines

Yes, I know, I know - it's been a while. Quite a long while, in fact, but I guess that is what "retirement" does to you. Not that I've been doing bugger all for the last 2 or 3 weeks.... I've been doing a few jobs around the house (I fitted some shiny new door handles to the upstairs rooms last week!), cooking meals and baking bread, attending wine tastings here and there, preparing updates and new tasting notes for my website, preparing a long overdue newsletter and - thankfully - preparing quite a few wine orders over the last few days. Incidentally, if you are one of the many customers/subscribers/friends who have sent me good wishes for my new "career" over the last few days and weeks, then thank you - they are all very much appreciated.

To tell the truth, although I've been getting on with plenty of the above, I have been taking it *relatively* easy since I gave up the day job. Then again, why shouldn't I - at least for a short while? After all, following 33 years of hard labour I deserved a rest! But now it is time to get a bit more serious about the future - and also to get blogging about wine once again. Here are 2 stunners to begin with.........

La Rioja Alta Viña Ardanza 2001 Reserva Especial
The term "Especial" denotes a very special year in Rioja - so special, in fact, that La Rioja Alta have only ever used the term for this wine on 3 occasions, namely 1964, 1973 and 2001. And 2001 was indeed a very special year (not just in Rioja, of course, but over many of Europe's fine wine regions). I first tasted this wine in early October, when it blew me (and most others who tasted it) away with it's combination of concentrated, spicy fruit, restrained use of oak and sheer elegance. And since I have now secured a few bottles for myself, I couldn't resist opening one last night. The colour and overall hue is reassuringly light (as befits a wine that has been aged for the best part of 10 years before release (3 years in 4-year-old American oak barrels, the rest in tank and bottle) with a mahogany/blood red core leading to a pale-ish carmine rim. The nose exhibits more oak than I remembered from the previous bottle (different bottling/batch, perhaps?) but the kind of oak that is sure to hit the spot with lovers of traditional Rioja - polished old mahogany, vanilla, leather, cigar box and exotic spices abound. There's also an abundance of sweet, soft red and even white fruit aromas, which follow through on the palate in a rich, ripe, almost overlty sweet way to begin with. In fact, it is in some ways quite different to that previous bottle, which seemed at the time to be in the perfect place, whereas this one seemed a little too young - to begin with, at least. Not that it is too big or tannic, but simply that the fruit is so primary and so sweet. But peel away the layers and you find a wine full of complexity and promise for the future, with a wonderful layer of juicy, tangy acidity that balances things out beautifully. With time in the glass, the fruit really does blossom into something quite light, airy and lovely, whilst those spicy, leathery, meaty notes add yet more interest. And when I say "time in the glass", I really mean 24 hours of air, for this is a wine which really doesn't show it's true colours until the second night - a sure sign that it will evolve for a good number of years in bottle (and in this case, I'd say for at least another 10). It is a truly gorgeous - not to mention reassuringly traditional - Rioja, and I'm glad I have another 3 bottles to tuck away for my future enjoyment. Yum!

Talk about flowers, leather, old wood, forest floor and spice! I should say first and foremost that this is a fundamentally different wine from the Ardanza - for a start, it is made from a 50/50 blend of old vine Grenache and Carignan (the Ardanza is mostly Tempranillo, with just 20% Garnacha), and it is aged for 24 months, partly in barrel (though mostly olderFrench oak) and partly in vat. Furthermore, the fruit profile is more of the black variety (predominantly ripe brambles and blackcurrant) although there's a hint of red cherry and redcurrant in there for good measure. It is also a lot younger, at just 4 years of age, and although it isn't particularly dark in colour, is a relative tooth-stainer. But it lacks for nothing in terms of complexity, elegance, excitement and sheer drinkability - not to mention the ability to age, for it surely has a good few years left in the tank. But it is just so good to drink now, in the way that many young Languedoc wines can be when young. The fruit flavours are ripe and full, with a touch of eau de vie adding both lift and richness to a wine which is simply bursting with life. There's a touch of savouriness, too, though this is a wine which I would describe as essentially feminine, rather than big and masculine. Concentrated elegance is a phrase that springs to mind, with oh-so ripe tannins, allied to juicy, mouth-watering acidity - a beautifully integrated, seamless wine, with no rough edges. Even though I actually sell this wine, I must say that I wasn't expecting it to reach the heights of the Ardanza (at least not at such a young age) but it does, it really does - it really is wonderful! And at £18.89 (roughly the same price as the Ardanza) it is a bit of a bargain. Oh, and it also happens to be both biodynamic and a "natural" wine, with only 10mg/l of sulphur added at the bottling stage. A quite stunning and delightful wine for a quiet Sunday evening.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Free at last!

Well that's it then - after 33 years, 3 months and 22 days, Tuesday signalled the end of my old career as a civil servant and the beginning of a new one as a "full-time" wine merchant. I use inverted commas as, apart from finding new and hitherto undiscovered ways of selling more wine, I also hope to be able to spend some time getting on with lots of jobs in and around the house that have been on my to-do list for far too long. Not to mention, of course, spending more time with TLD and riding my bikes (both the pedal-powered and motor-powered ones).

Although the opportunity to give-up the day job (and receive a lump sum and a small pension in the process) was too good to miss, the actual leaving was quite emotional for me. When you have worked for so long for the same organisation and met so many wonderful people and made so many good friends along the way, it is a bit of a wrench to say goodbye. Thankfully, the age of the Internet ensures that it is relatively easy to stay in touch with people, even if you don't see them very often. Having said that, I intend to do more than just communicate online with some of my old work colleagues, especially the team I have worked with for the past couple of years, who I can honestly say were collectively the nicest bunch of people I have ever worked with. And they gave me a mighty fine send-off on the day, with some very touching remarks on my leaving card and a cracking pressie............

Although I will miss my colleagues, I certainly won't miss the job or the organisation. Land registration is a worthwhile (in fact pretty essential) cause, and was once run by people with real concern for both the quality of the product and the welfare of the staff - people with real knowledge of land law and the registration process, who very often also happened to be born managers. These days, the ones who "manage" are pretty much detached from everything to do with the actual work (and the workers) and obtain their management "skills" from books, training packages, meetings and innumerable, totally pointless workshops. All they require these days is a room with a desk, a computer and a few spreadsheets - the ability to actually connect in a meaningful or personal way with their fellow human beings is purely optional. On the other hand, a once highly skilled and often specialist workforce are now - in the main - trained to do a bit of everything and be expert in nothing. It is (or was!) a depressing experience, although I am sure it is one which resonates with millions of other people who are caught up in their own particular version of the 21st Century rat race. Of course, I will be eternally grateful to the very people for whom I developed such a healthy contempt, for the fact that they are now - in a way - paying me to never darken their door again!

Anyway, now I've got that off my chest, I can get on with the rest of my life and be my own boss. Right............ Who wants to buy some wine? ;-))

Sunday, 23 October 2011

A sad day for Moto GP fans

My life is about to change drastically - and hopefully for the better - in a couple of days, when I finally leave the day job after 33 years. More time to attend to (and hopefully build) the wine business, more time to attend to things that need doing around the house, more time to do the things I enjoy and more time to spend with my family. I should be happy, but today I feel sad.

I turned the computer on this morning and logged onto the BBC website, intending to watch the Malaysia Moto GP on the iPlayer. Trying to avoid seeing the sports headlines, but having glimpsed the name Marco Simoncelli out of the corner of my eye, I assumed that I might inadvertently have seen the name of the winner. When the crash happened on the second lap, a terrible feeling of dread came over me. Simoncelli's front tyre slipped and then suddenly re-gripped, throwing him into the middle of the track, straight into the path of Colin Edwards and Valentino Rossi, both of whom had absolutely no chance of taking avoiding action. It left Simoncelli lying face down on the track, his crash helmet having been ripped from his head by the impact with Rossi's bike. Rossi somehow managed to stay on his bike, whilst Edwards escaped with a dislocated shoulder. Understandably, Marco Simoncelli wasn't so lucky. I stuck with the TV coverage until the scheduled re-start time came and went, before reluctantly switching to the sports headlines. I knew what was coming, but it didn't make the sadness any easier to bear.

With his tall frame, huge mop of hair and a swashbuckling riding style, Marco Simoncelli was a hugely talented and exciting rider to watch. In what turned out to be a rather dull season for Moto GP, dominated by the amazing Casey Stoner, Simoncelli seemed certain to become one of the main challengers for the title in years to come. Though he raced a bit too hard sometimes and had his fair share of "offs", he seemed to be maturing as a rider, and a string of excellent finishes in recent races (culminating in 2nd place in Australia last week) promised so much for the future. But now that future has been cruelly curtailed and the world of Moto GP has lost one of its brightest stars. More importantly, Marco Simoncelli's family, friends and Team have to come to terms with the fact that their loved one has been taken so violently and so early. 24 years is far, far too short a life. Rest in peace Marco - you will be sadly missed. :-((

The late, great Marco Simoncelli - image courtesy of 

Back to wine very soon. Now I need to decide whether to go for a ride on my Honda..........

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

The story of another eventful week - various tastings, VAT, annual accounts and other stuff

Things have calmed down a bit now (which is why I have actually found time to write this) but last week was just about as hectic a week I've had in a long time. Monday began with a full shift at the day job, followed by a quick dash down the A1 to deliver some wines, then across to the M1 to deliver yet more wines, then on to Stanmore tube station to park-up for a trip into central London. A few days prior, I'd received an invitation from Sud de France to attend a rather lavish dinner at The Connaught, to celebrate the Sud de France Wine Festival. It is not that often that I'm invited to partake of a free 5-course meal in a posh restaurant - with plenty of good wines to boot - and the opportunity to meet a few growers, wine business counterparts and esteemed journalists was too good an opportunity to miss. Luminaries from the media included Julia Harding MW, Tim Atkin MW and Oz Clarke. I'd never met Oz before, so I took the opportunity to introduce myself and, at the same time, extract an email address from him(!) He's a nice fellow, and I just may take the opportunity to ontact him, with a view to sending him some of my wines to taste. Overall, it turned out to be a most enjoyable evening, with some fine food and wines and excellent company. 

Amongst some very good wines, there were a couple of real highlights; Domaine de Mingraut Passionément 2007 IGP Hauterive showed delightful aromas of crystallised fruits, blackcurrant leaf and elderflower and was velvety soft but with lovely structure - a gorgeous wine, which as far as I can ascertain is a blend of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan, aged for a year in oak. I'm not sure why it isn't labelled as Corbieres (for that is where this estate is situated) but when the wine is this good, who cares? And then there was Domaine de Traginer Cuvée Foudre 2007 Collioure, which displayed all manner of herbs, exotic spices, citrus, incense and polished wood, not to mention some really lovely, concentrated fruit aromas. It is so complex and beguiling, yet so delicate and elegant, it is almost ethereal. Clearly the result of wonderful terroir and masterly winemaking. A quite brilliant wine.

The downside to all of this, of course, was that I got home at 3 o'clock on Tuesday morning and had to be back at the day-job a few hours later. Another full shift on Tuesday was followed by a quick dash home to get ready to go out again, for our monthly gathering at Le Mistral in Nottingham, to enjoy more wines and good, hearty bistro food. Amongst a very decent, if unspectacular array of wines there was one absolute gem of a wine, in the form of La Rioja Alta Vina Ardanza Reserva Especial 2001. I must admit that I didn't write a specific tasting note (I've come to realise that on such occasions, it can spoil the overall enjoyment of the evening) but I do remember that it managed to be at the same time both immensely concentrated and surprisingly elegant, with ripe red and black fruits, exotic spices, restrained use of oak and all manner of secondary aromas and flavours. In fact, a wine to please both modernist and traditionalist (and I am very much the latter, where Rioja is concerned). It really is a fabulous wine, and one which - being made in relatively large quantities - is currently quite widely available; for example, £19 at The Wine Society or £17.50 at Majestic Wine Warehouses. Frankly, even at the higher price, it is an absolute steal.

Wednesday is usually what I call my "day off", but I actually had not one but two wine tastings. The first was in the afternoon, when I presented a selection of my wines to a group of - shall we say - more "mature" wine enthusiasts in the nearby village of Keyworth. The wines were extremely well-received and I think everyone went home happy. Then it was a quick dash home to box-up and despatch a couple of orders, before going out yet again, for a Rioja Gran Reserva tasting at Nottingham Wine Circle. In many ways, this was a rather disappointing tasting, in that there were so many wines made in the modern style (even from one or two growers previously known for producing wines in a more traditional style). Admittedly, there were a few rather decent wines, but none that really came close to the Vina Ardanza I refer to above. I will publish my notes from this tasting within the next few days.

Anyway, no less than 4 full-blown tasting events in 3 days is at least one too many in my book, and is not something I'd care to do too often. Under normal circumstances, Thursday would have provided a little respite, but not this time, for I also had the small matter of the quarterly VAT return and the annual Company accounts to complete. The VAT return doesn't normally prove too much of a problem, but this one did, for reasons (none of which are of a "sensitive" nature) that I won't bore you with. The Company accounts, on the other hand, always prove to be stressful for TLD and I, mainly due to the inadequacies of our bookkeeping software and the fact that we are completely at the mercy of our Accountant - and he does love to put us through the mill. ;-) It's a dirty job, but someone has to do it and in the end, we (or he) got there and the accounts were signed and delivered to Companies House on the very last day of September. Given that we could have began dealing with them anytime from January onwards, we really must get out of this silly habit of leaving things until the last minute - it would save us an awful lot of stress!

During all of these hectic goings-on, I did manage to find time to go out for a few rides on my Honda CBR600rr - which I have decided I will call "The Beast" - and to listen to the new CD by my favourite band, Wilco, entitled "The Whole Love". To my mind, this band can do no wrong, and if you haven't heard of them before, I suggest you check them out as soon as possible! And if you'd like to see just how good they are on stage, you can watch a fantastic 60 minute set by them, as part of a special season of gigs for the David Letterman Show on CBS. Check it - you won't regret it!

There will be plenty more posts on the way, now things have settled down just a little.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

3 new wines just arrived

It's been a busy week (with yet another one ahead) during which I finally got my hands on some new wines from south-west France and Roussillon. I'll be adding them to the website over the next few days, as and when I have had the chance to write my tasing notes. It's a dirty job having to taste them all, but someone has to do it! Here's my notes on 3 of them, tasted over the last couple of evenings......

A blend of 50% Gros Manseng, 10% Petit Manseng, 40% Courbu, aged on its lees for 6 months before bottling. This is the latest vintage of what used to be called (rather confusingly for us English) "La Rosée de Montesquiou" (rosée is actually French for "dew"). It is an ultra-pale straw/gold colour, with a lovely nose of citrus, honeysuckle and herbs and a whole load of Manseng varietal minerality - really tight, and focused - as is the palate, which is crammed full of lime and tree fruit flavours, mineral nuances and enough acidity to refresh the most jaded of palates. The flavours are intensely fresh and focused, zingy rather than pithy, with just a hint of richness and plenty of concentration. The finish is long, cool and utterly mouth-watering. This really is a complex, classy and truly delicious expression of its terroir. If you appreciate delicate, nervy whites – light and fresh on the palate, yet with tremendous depth and complexity - then you will you will appreciate this wine. Furthermore, whilst it is wonderful to drink on its own, it is also a superb match for all manner of foods. Steamed salmon or other fish dishes, seafood platter, lemon-infused chicken or a mixed salad with (say) chicken livers all spring to mind. We had it with a sweet and sour pork and vegetable stir-fry and it was a match made in heaven. It is wonderful to drink now, but there is certainly no rush. If we had to recommend just one dry white wine from our list which provides brilliant quality and value in equal measures, then this would be it. 13.5% abv. £10.50

Mainly Mourvedre, with a little Syrah and Grenache, aged in oak barrels for 18 months. A medium-dark purple core, semi-opaque, leading to a small deep red rim. The nose offers intense bramble, leather, iodine and tobacco aromas, with background notes of crystallised fruits and flowers - notably violets and elderflowers. The sheer weight of ripe fruit flavours in this wine makes it surprisingly approachable now, because the tannins are so beautifully ripe. As with previous vintages, there is a tremendous depth of fruit on the palate and the flavours are long, complex and rich, with excellent acidity. A wine of real stuctureand absolute class. Another beautiful Motus, which is every bit as good as it's predecessor vintages. 14.0% abv. £14.95

50% Syrah, 30% Grenache, 20% Mourvedre, again aged in oak barrels for 18 months. Medium/dense bright purple colour with a narrow cherry-red rim. The nose exhibits complex aromas of black cherries and bramble, with beautifully integrated notes of curry spices, cloves, cedar/cigar box and citrus. The palate is concentrated, yet fresh and giving, with juicy red and black fruit, spice and garrigue herb flavours. The tannins are grippy but very fine and already nicely integrated, whilst the tangy acidity keeps it all nicely fresh. This is the third vintage of Tahi, and whilst the 2006 demands more time and the 2007 is a little softer and more forward, this one really seems to have hit its stride already. Then again, it almost seems a shame to drink it so young. The back label says "to enjoy from 2010 to 2020" and I wouldn't disagree, because it is a wine which is approachable enough to enjoy in its youth, whilst also having the structure to age and evolve for another 10 years. But you pays your money and you takes your choice - and either way, it is an absolute cracker. Yet another benchmark Roussillon wine, which leaves me running short of superlatives! 14.0% abv. £17.75

Thursday, 22 September 2011

3 very different white wines

Domaine Sol-Payré Albae Blanc 2009 Cotes du Roussillon
Despite the fact that the label says unfiltered, this is as limpid as any wine I've ever seen - ultra-clear, ultra-pale, almost shiny gold in colour. The nose isn't giving an awful lot away, with hints of lemon, peach and a slight herbiness peeping through a fairly strong whiff of sulphur. The palate is a little more open, and whilst not overly complex, it does offer plenty of citrus, peach and apple flavours, again with some herby nuances and a zesty texture that stops just short of the pithiness I occasionally find in young southern white blends. The problem is, it doesn't really get any better than this. I left it in the fridge for a day or two, hoping that it might blossom into something more interesting, but it stayed exactly as it was on opening - frankly, a bit dull. As the Leon Stolarski Fine Wines list is desperately short on white wines from Languedoc and Roussillon, I was hoping that this may be worthy of adding, but on this showing, I'll give it a miss. Domaine Sol-Payré make a cracking range of red wines (and a rather excellent Rivesaltes Hors d'Age) but they have yet (in my opinion) to excel with the whites.

Geoff Merrill Wickham Park Chardonnay 2006 McLaren Vale
This, as the saying goes, does exactly what it says on the tin, and is a classic barrel-fermented and matured Aussie Chardonnay, with just enough oak influence to make it interesting, without smothering the deliciously lime-scented, minerally fruit. Actually, that is damning it with faint praise, for it bears more than a passing resemblance to a decent Maconnaise or Chalonnaise white. I remember tasting one or two Geoff Merrill wines a good few years ago (perhaps 20 or more years, actually) when it occurred to me that they were somewhat atypical for Australia. Which meant - at that time - that I didn't necessarily enjoy them as much as other wines from that country. Of course, I know better now, for I am able to appreciate much more the subtleties of Australian wines made with a sympathetic hand - and this is a good example. It shows a slight butteriness, although perhaps "mealy" would be a better description - I'm not entirely sure what I mean by that, but it seems to fit the bill. Anyway, there's a degree of richness, without it being too mouth-filling, whilst the acidity is ample, and there's a good deal of Chardonnay fruit character (good Chardonnay rarely exhibits "other" fruit characteristics, though there's a touch of orange peel on the palate) and a healthy dose of minerality. I even sense a bit of tannin, which may be a combination of the oak aging and some decent skin contact/extract. All-in-all, it is a rather nice wine - mellow and satisfying, rather than racy and thrilling - and one which I feel will get better with age. I think I'll keep a few bottles by to watch it develop over the next 5 years.

Campillo Blanco "Fermentado en Barrica" 2009 Rioja
As far as I know, this wine is made from 100% Viura (known in France as Macabeu). 41 days of fermentation in oak barrels has imbued it with a quite complex array of floral, earthy, gently woody aromas, which combine beautifully with soft citrus, cider apple and hints of peach and honeysuckle. The palate is delightfully fresh, focused and zingy, offering zesty lemon and peach flavours, with medium weight, good concentration and plenty of earthy, almost stoney minerality. Again, the effect of the barrel fermentation is relatively subtle, with a touch of smokiness and the sort of oxidative, slightly nutty quality that makes good (i.e. traditional) Rioja such a joy to drink. And despite the barrel fermentation, the absence of the term "Crianza" on the back label leads me to believe this has seen little or no subsequent barrel ageing - in other words, a "sin crianza" (which translates as "without ageing"). That said, although it is a delight to drink now, it certainly has the structure to stand a few years in bottle, during which those oxidative (but not oxidised) notes will develop further. All-in-all, a delicious wine, which does great credit to Rioja. I like it a lot.