Wednesday, 23 February 2011

A delicious trio of wines

Even apart from the lavish birthday celebrations last week, I've had the good fortune to enjoy lots of really good wines over the last few weeks - always in moderation, of course! But it's a bit of a job keeping all my notes together, so it may take a while to put them together into something more cohesive, before writing about some of the stand-out wines. Meanwhile, here are my notes on a rather delicious trio from this week.

Kurt Hain Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Riesling Spätlese No.12 2006 Mosel-Saar-Ruwer
Already a hint of petrol on the nose, making me think it may be quite advanced. But the palate is bright, fresh and simply crammed full of youthful fruit, with an astonishing intensity of flavour, combining stone fruits, sweet apples and soft citrus. The level of ripeness and residual sugar is pretty much up to Auslese level, but any suggestion of sweetness is more than offset by stunning acidity and a wonderful backbone of slatey minerality, all of which makes for a wine of incredible focus and balance. It makes your tabs laugh alright, but puts a real smile on the face at the same time, and the length on the finish is very impressive. It is a beautiful, world-class Riesling. In about 2 weeks' time, I will be taking delivery of a host of wines from Weingut Kurt Hain. I was hoping to be able to include some of this very wine, but by the time I placed my order, it had unfortunately sold out. The good news is that I will have the 2009 vintage, which is already every bit as good, and perhaps with an even better future ahead of it. Look out for it on my list, very soon - at £14.50 a bottle, it's a lot of a wine for the money.

Les Vins de Vienne Sotanum M.M.I Vin de Pays des Collines Rhodaniennes
Vins de Vienne is a collaboration between three of the Northern Rhone's top growers - Yves Cuilleron, Pierre Gaillard and Francois Villard and this wine, made from Syrah (and perhaps a little Viognier) grown on the slopes around the commune of Seyssuel, just north of Vienne. Therefore, it cannot qualify as Cote-Rotie (which lies a few miles to the south, and on the other bank of the Rhone) but my goodness, it smells and tastes an awful lot like Cote-Rotie - and a very good one, at that. It is quite a deep, rich purple/red colour, but just beginning to show a little maturity at the rim. It smells lovely - crunchy black and red fruits, violets and lilies, damp earth, just a hint of smoky bacon and some well-integrated, top-quality oak. The palate shows plenty of depth and even some richness, but is supremely balanced and elegant, with softening tannins and really juicy acidity. There's plenty of black fruit in there, but also a layer of sweet and sour cranberry, which gives a refreshing lift. Finishing the dregs of this wine tonight (i.e. day 2) it has lost a little of its initial vitality, but gained even more complexity. Indeed, this is one of those Northern Rhones that - for me, at least - displays an almost Burgundy-like flavour profile and elegance. If you have some, I'd say you can start drinking it now, or age it for at least another 5 years. A real stunner, which cost me about £16 at auction, although current vintages aren't cheap, retailing at up to £35.

I wrote a note on this wine late last year, from a tasting sample sent to me by Les Vignes de l'Arque, whose wines used to feature heavily on the Leon Stolarski Fine Wines list. And thanks to that sample (plus a whole host of other good wines) they are now very firmly back on my list. They arrived in stock last week, so it was never going to be too long before I opened another bottle of the Duché d'Uzès red, and (as if I didn't know it already) it is a cracker. It has amazinly intense aromas and flavours of bramble, plum skin and blackcurrant, with further notes of orange peel, soft spices, tobacco, oak vanillin and meat/leather. A riper, more sun-drenched red wine would be hard to imagine, with those red and black fruits complemented by chocolatey tannins and really good acidity acidity. At 14.8% abv, it is no shrinking violet, but it remains beautifully balanced, without even a hint of heat - just fruit, fruit and more fruit. Oh, and a bit of fruitcake thrown in for good measure. For the money (£9.95) this is a brilliant wine, and without a shadow of a doubt provides the best quality/price ratio on my list. You'd be mad not to try it!

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Celebrating 50 years on Planet Earth

I was honoured to be joined on Tuesday evening by some close friends and family at the Pretty Orchid restaurant in Nottingham, to help me celebrate my 50th birthday. My friend CY Choong did us proud with an excellent assortment of  fine food, whilst his wife Elsie made a rather wonderful birthday cake. And thanks to CY's unceasing generosity, we were able to enjoy a veritable feast of fine wines, brought from our own cellars. I made no tasting notes to speak of, as this was a night for drinking, not analysing. But, from memory,  (and I'm sure I've forgotten at least a couple) we enjoyed.........
  • Cave de Buxy Cremant de Bourgogne 2005
  • Piper-Heidsieck Brut Divin Blanc des Blancs NV Champagne
  • Joseph Drouhin 1992 Beaune Clos des Mouches
  • von Schubert Maximin Grunhauser Riesling Spatlese (?) M-S-R
  • Trimbach Gewurztraminer 2007 Alsace
  • Rolly-Gassmann Pinot Gris 2008 Alsace
  • Michel Gros 1995 Bourgogne Haut Cotes de Nuits
  • Chateau Simone 1988 Palette
  • Clos de Gamot 1985 Cahors
  • Masia Barril 1987 Priorato
  • Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou 1995 Saint Julien
  • Chateau Leoville Barton 1985 Saint Julien
  • Domaine de Trévallon 1993, 1995 and 1998 Vin de Pays des Bouches du Rhone
  • Paul Jaboulet Ainé Domaine de Thalabert 1990 Crozes Hermitage
  • Chauvot-Labaume 1961 Pommard
  • Hain Piesporter Goldtrpchen Riesling Felsterrasen Spatlese 2009 M-S-R
  • Domaine de Montesquiou Grappe d'Or 2004 Jurançon.
I'm happy to report that there wasn't a single dud amongst the wines, although the 1961 Pommard was admittedly about 20 years past its best - unlike me, of course! That said, it did have some merit, and I found it curiously enjoyable, in a faded old dame sort of way. In terms of sheer quality, the highlights included the Piper-Heidsieck (a fine example of a classy non-vintage Champagne with some decent bottle age), Clos des Mouches 1992, Simone 1988, Leoville Barton 1985 and Thalabert 1990. All three Trévallons were right on the money, with the 1993 getting my vote, simply because it was at the peak of its powers, whilst the '95 and '98 still have plenty of evolution left in them. And, of course, the Grappe d'Or 2004 was as lovely as ever.

Of course, great food and wine is worthless without great people to share it with, and I can honestly say that those people helped to make this one of the most enjoyable and memorable evenings I have spent in many a long year. So, to CY and his staff, Andy L, David, Bernard, Peter, John, Andy G, Doug and Jenny, Roger and Ann, Richard, Ruth, Marj, Mum, TLD, Alex and Dan - thank you so much. I am truly blessed.

The Fab Four - Andy L, David, Bernard, Peter

Doug, John

Ann, Ruth, Richard

Roger, Andy G, Marj

Alex and TLD, with Dan, my Mum and me
(looking tired and emotional, as usual) at the back


Tuesday, 15 February 2011

50 not out

'Twas on 15 February 1961 that I was brought kicking and screaming into this world. In the grand scheme of things, my 50 year journey from complete anonymity to almost total obscurity has been relatively unremarkable. No million-selling CD's, no Hollywood blockbuster movies, no Champions League-winning goals, no Open Golf-winning Claret Jugs. I've seen a good many of my sporting and musical heroes, and even been lucky enough to have briefly met and spoken with a handful of them - and, in many cases, I have the photos to prove it! Hell, I even once walked into a hotel lift (or elevator, as they say across the pond) just as the legendary Windsor Davies was walking out of it. How many people can say that?! Unfortunately, I don't have a photo to prove it. ;-)  OK, so I'm really scraping the barrel there (with all due respect to Windsor Davies!) but I'm merely attempting to articulate the sentiment that my life has been no more eventful than the millions (alright, hundreds) of people who read this blog every week.

But one aspect of my life in which I can very definitely say I have been very lucky is the most important one of all - my family life. Following my formative years, spent in the bosom of a loving and close-knit (most of the time!) family - as the youngest of 4 siblings - I was fortunate enough to meet and marry the the love of my life, Diane, who gave me two wonderful (and wonderfully challenging!) sons. Of course, life hasn't been without a few minor hiccups, but nothing that couldn't be overcome with relatively good health (touch wood), good friends and a family that I wouldn't swap for all the tea in China. Life is good.

TLD - the best thing that ever happened to me

Yours truly, with Daniel and Alex - we're all a few years older now!

Tonight, a few friends and family members will gather at a Nottingham restaurant to help me celebrate my half-century and to enjoy a nice meal and some fine wines - though I'm not getting my hopes up about a bottle of 1961 Volnay that I picked up for a song at auction a year or two ago. Still, you never know........... I'll report back tomorrow.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

A lovely, Spring-like Saturday, plus 2 very different white wines

Although today is grey, damp and blustery around these parts, yesterday provided a tantalising glimpse of Spring. It was a lovely day to be out on the golf course (even though my game wasn't exactly on song - though I did come tantalisingly close to another hole-in-one) and we even had to take a layer of clothing off after a few few holes, with glorious sunshine and the temperature almost nudging into double figures. Of course, it is still only mid-February, so there is still time for a sting in Winter's tail, but I always feel that when March is approaching, we're almost there. Having said that, I think the long spell of bitterly cold weather we had in November and December has delayed the growing season a little - perhaps not a bad thing, since the seasons have certainly been a bit out of synch over the past few years. So I guess it is just about the right time for these pretty little flowers to put in an appearance.............

The first Snowdrops of Winter, spotted by the side of the 17th green

Hain Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Riesling Kabinett 2009, Mosel Saar Ruwer, Germany 
Here's something that fits perfectly with the almost spring-like weather we enjoyed yesterday. TLD and I enjoyed our first bottle of this wine whilst sat on the terrace at the Hotel Piesporter Goldtröpfchen in September last year  - and have enjoyed several more since then. It really is a wonderfully drinkable and more-ish wine, with aromas of limes and wet slate, nettles and cut grass, apple and mandarin orange. Over the last few months, it has shed a little of its puppy fat, with the intensely mouth-watering acidity integrating more with the rich, almost Spatlese level fruit. I have no doubt that this wine will age and evolve gracefully for another 5 to 8 years, but I find the combination of mandarin and lime, a touch of honeyed richness and oiliness, together with truly mouth-watering acidity almost impossible to resist. Look for this wine appearing on the Leon Stolarski Fine Wines list, within the next month or so. The price will be around £11.75 - a bit of a bargain, for a wine from a top grower, in a top, top year.

Mullineux White 2009 Swartland, South Africa (widely available - average price around £14.95)
61% Chenin Blanc, 23% Clairette and 16% Viognier, fermented and matured in 225 litre barriques (it doesn't say how new, or for how long). This is the third in a trilogy of wines from this grower that I have drank over the last few weeks, and I was hoping (given some positive - even, occasionally, gushing - reviews I have read) for great things. On first pouring, the nose displays quite pronounced sweet apple and stone fruit aromas and a touch of Chenin minerality, with background notes of honey and sweet oak vanillin. But I don't really get much in the way of freshness - it comes across as big, rich and ripe, without any of the high notes or suggestion of acidity that I would expect from a wine dominated by Chenin Blanc. The palate shows more promise in the acidity stakes, but still not quite enough to lift it sufficiently for my taste. There's a good deal of Chenin flavour, again with some rich, baked apple flavours and a touch of mineral, but the overall impression is of a slight pithiness and alcoholic warmth, rather than elegance and freshness - perhaps more in the way of a southern Rhone blend (and, to be fair, 40% of it is just that). After a day or two in the fridge, the remains of the bottle begin to show a little more freshness and the overripe flavours have receded somewhat, although the elegance I crave has still failed to materialise. It is an OK wine, but I was hoping for so much more, and I wouldn't buy it again. If you're interested in trying something in the same vein (in fact, a very similar blend, from the same region) that really does tick all my boxes, then I would suggest the gorgeous (and significantly cheaper) The Liberator Episode 1 The Bureaucrat 2009, which I will happily sell to you for the princely sum of £12.95. ;-)


Sunday, 6 February 2011

A delightful old Gamay, and a new toy to make my life easier

It seems like everyone is talking about Beaujolais at the moment, especially following the hugely successful 2009 vintage, which threatens to put the region firmly back on the quality wine map. But it isn't just Beaujolais that makes good wine from Gamay, for it is quite widely planted in the rest of southern Burgundy, and most notably in the Maconnais, the most southerly appellation of the region. And in my humble opinion, Macon Gamay can be every bit as good as the wines from even the most exalted Beaujolais Crus - especially with bottle age. And this little beauty is a fine example of it's kind. 

Domaine Guillot-Broux Beaumont 1996 Macon-Cruzille
It is a delightful "old" pale ruby/blood colour - clear and bright, but showing definite signs of amber/bricking at the edge. I've had a few bottles of this wine in the past couple of years, ranging from good to very good - always quirky, and occasionally a bit stinky, but this one is almost clean as a whistle. I say almost, because there is undeniably a hint of funky, barnyardy brett on the nose, but just enough to add interest and complexity to a wine that is still full of wild strawberry and red cherry fruit, with touches of cedar, spice and forest floor. A good wine will always age on it's acidity (and of course tannins) and this one still has bags of acidity, whilst any tannins that were there to begin with have resoveld nicely. Experienced palates might just identify this as Gamay, but I'd wager that the first suggestion of many would be Pinot Noir. It is often said that top-notch Gamay can develop Pinot characteristics with age, and this is a classic example of that phenomenon, for it really does have that elegance, minerality, delicate fruit and overall fleet of foot that a really good Bourgogne Rouge - or even village Burgundy - tends to show at this sort of age. It has so much juicy, sweet, elegant fruit - evolved, yes, but still  beautifully poised and full of vitality. And oh, that acidity!

Incidentally, the bottle photo above was taken on my new HTC Desire HD. Strictly speaking, it is a mobile telephone but, as we all know, the concept of mobile 'phones has moved on a little, in recent years. And this little beauty just about has it all - or, at least, all that is available in phone technology thus far. It has an 8 megapixel camera with zoom and flash, video camera, music player, FM radio, wifi, bluetooth, GPS, word processing (with an excellent, user-friendly keyboard), games, apps....... the list goes on. Most importantly for me though, it  has a perfectly formed mini Internet browser, which enables me to access the Internet (and therefore my web server) whilst on the road. Which means that I can access my emails and check for customer orders, without the need to be either sat at my home desktop PC or driving around searching for a wifi signal on my laptop.  At just a shade over £30 per month, for a 2 year contract (including the hardware for "free") I consider it money well spent, for a piece of kit that will make my life so much easier and save me a lot of time into the bargain. In fact, as with the advent of the personal desktop computer and the laptop, I guess it won't be long before I'm asking myself how I ever coped without it!

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

The journey continues - yet more white wines!

Domaine de Calet Esprit de Blanc 2009 Costieres de Nimes
I can't remember the last time I tasted a white Costieres de Nimes - I know I've had at least one or two, but they were obviously such a long time ago that I had no real idea what to expect from this wine. The reds from this estate are really good, but a rather sweet, blowsy - in fact, quite sickly - Chardonnay tasted a few weeks back had me thinking that the other whites might be disappointing. But this one was a very pleasant surprise. The blend is 60% Roussanne, with the remaining 40% being Vermentino, Bourboulenc and Clairette. The nose really is very appealing, offering peach, apricot and zesty lime/lemon fruit aromas, together with hints of honeysuckle, buttercream and garrigue herbs. In the mouth, it manages to be both rich and distinctly refreshing at the same time - quite a rare combination in a white wine. The honeyed oiliness of the Roussane, the savoury, slightly salty tang of the Vermintino and the  fresh fruitiness of the Bourboulenc and Clairette make for a really interesting and beautifully balanced wine. The inherent zestiness of many southern Rhone whites can sometimes be a bit too pronounced and pithy for my personal taste, but this one offers just enough lime peel tanginess to match the rich tree fruit flavours, whilst the savoury, almost spicy warmth is countered by excellent orange-tinged acidity. All-in-all, this is a rich, rounded, yet poised and elegant wine, which belies its rather humble origins. I like it a lot. I have some wines on order from Domaine de Calet, which should be arriving within a couple of weeks - this one will retail at £8.50.

Pegasus Bay Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2008 Waipara Valley, New Zealand
This is another wine sent to me by Staurt Travers at Cambridge Wines - and another real winner, I have to say. The nose is a gloriously fresh combination of gooseberry, lemon, elderflower and mineral. The merest hint of tropical fruit perhaps betrays this wine's new world origins, but it would otherwise be easy (if tasted blind) to mistake it for a very good white Bordeaux or - given that the Sauvignon seems to dominate - Sancerre. The flavours offer a beautifully focused and zingy combination of gooseberry, lime and bramley apple, with a subtle hint of peach countering the tartness, whilst a strong mineral streak adds a touch of depth and complexity. The finish is long and fresh. New Zealand continues to go from strength to strength, and this is a fine example of what it can do with a classic French blend. Lovely stuff, which more than held it's own against the house lamb curry.

Rolly Gassmann Riesling 2007 Alsace
This is the last in a trilogy of wines I now list from the latest relases from this fine Alsace grower - and another real winner, in my book. As a lover of the German "fruchtighe" style of Riesling, I often struggle to appreciate the more robust, dry style of Alsace Riesling. But this one ticks all of my boxes. It has a wonderfully expressive nose, combining lemon, peach, apple and grape skins with a really pronounced, up-front wet stone/mineral quality. The palate has an earthy richness to it, with a sweet, almost cider apple quality, offset by zesty lemon and lime flavours, and again a palpable streak of minerality. The aromas and flavours continue to grow in the glass, in a wine of real complexity, finesse and great length. Although an absolute joy to drink now, it promises much for those who are patient enough to cellar it for a few more years. Boy, I love these Rolly Gassman wines! £14.99.

Mullineux Straw Wine 2009 Swartland, South Africa
I've heard some good things about this grower, and especially this particular wine, so was really looking forward to trying it. The colour is a dark orange/brown, whilst the nose has intense orange marmalade and toffee apple aromas, with a touch of grapiness. But such is the intensity of these aromas, I really am struggling to pick out any subtle nuances. The texture in the mouth is almost like treacle - and so, unfortunately, is the taste. Nobody could ever accuse the Chenin Blanc variety of lacking acidity, but what acidity there is in this wine proves to be woefully inadequate in balancing the shockingly concentrated, almost painfully sweet flavours the palate has to offer. I was expecting sweet and sour and tangy, but all I get is sweet. I have always had a sweet tooth (and have spent many a painful hour in the dentist's chair as a result) so a love of sweet wines is one of my weaknesses. And, to use a muscical/satirical analogy, I've even been known to like the occasional wine that goes up to eleven. Unfortunately, this one is all bass and no treble.