Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Some lovely wines enjoyed over the last few days

Last week was the first "bottle blind" tasting of the summer season at Nottingham Wine Circle. As usual, there were almost too many good wines for me to comment on in any detail, but two wines turned out to be rather special - and both courtesy of the ever-generous David Selby;

Albert Boxler Gewurztraminer 2000 Alsace Grand Cru Brand
This had some of us (me included) fooled into thinking it was a Pinot Gris - it really was that good(!) The nose screamed toffee, orange pith, violets and rich, earthy minerality. I guess the giveaway should have been the notes of lychee and rosewater, which I often find in Pinot Gris, but are always there in good (or in this case, great) Gewurztraminer. For what it's worth, there were even shades of a rich Riesling, courtesy of some appley notes and a touch of herbiness. In other words, complexity by the bucketload. With a nose like that, one would almost expect the palate to be a bit of a let-down, but it was nothing of the sort. It was rich but not cloying, floral without smothering the fruit, sweet-ish but with the most delicious streak of citrus-like acidity and a long, minerally, tangy finish. And once again, oh-so complex - in fact, one of the finest (if not the finest) Gewurztraminers I have ever tasted.

Charles Joguet Clos de La Dioterie 1997 Chinon
Now here's a real rarity - a Cabernet Franc that had me (not to mention most of the other Cab Franc naysayers in the Wine Circle) completely bowled-over. Almost Pinot Noir-like on the nose - perfumed, ripe, floral, earthy, with notes of raspberries and violets and a touch of cedar - and no stalkiness or green pepper! The brilliant nose was matched all the way by the brilliant, beguiling palate, which was deceptively light and elegant, with oodles of secondary red and black fruit flavours mingled with some really quite fresh notes of raspberry and strawberry, a touch of cream (presumably courtesy of beautifully integrated oak) and gorgeous, mouth-watering acidity. Very long and very lovely. In fact, its sheer elegance, lightness and complexity really would give many a fine Burgundy a run for their money. Fabulous wine.

And here's a couple of nice ones TLD and I enjoyed at home over the weekend..................

Les Vignes de l'Arque Vin de Pays Duché d'Uzès 2002
I remember seeing the articles on the news and in the press about the floods in Languedoc and Rhone in September 2002. Images of trees and furniture (and even a grand piano) floating down the swollen River Gard, following no less than 26 inches of rain in 24 hours, linger long in the memory. Aside from the damage to so many people's property and possessions, it was a disastrous end to what had been a pretty dismal vintage in both of these regions, with rain and cold (or at least not very warm) weather prevailing for most of what passed as summer.

But what of this 2002 red, from a relatively unknown backwater of the Languedoc, around 15 km west of Uzes? Well, as with quite a few wines from this much-maligned vintage that I have consumed (and of course sold) in the past, it really does disprove the theory that all 2002's were thin, green and unripe. It is a 50/50 blend of Syrah and Grenache, aged for just 4 months in oak barrels. The colour is fairly evolved - light and bloody, with a hint of bricking at the edge. But the aromas and flavours are perferctly preserved and really quite fresh, which is a real confidence-booster, considering that this is the oldest wine sealed under a DIAM cork that I've ever drank (I have long been an advocate of DIAM as an alternative to one-piece corks, with only the potential longevity to be proven - until now). On the nose, we have refreshing aromas of raspberry, cherry and bramble, with hints of meat and savoury, polished leather, forest floor and eau de vie, whilst the palate delivers equally refreshing fruit and secondary flavours, with tannins which are reasonably grippy, perhaps even a touch stalky, yet essentially light - and certainly not unripe. But there is plenty of fruit left in a wine from a vintage which - perhaps by common consent amongst Languedoc and Rhone lovers - probably should have been drunk years ago. It isn't a great wine - few, if any 2002's ever were, or ever would be - but it is a thoroughly enjoyable one. I'm not entirely sure why I kept it this long, but the wait has done it no harm. I do actually still have a handful of 2002's from other growers tucked away here and there, and on this showing, I see no reason to drink them quickly. Who knows........ some may even turn out to be as good as this one.

Incidentally, if you fancy trying a bottle of the Duché d'Uzès Rouge 2009 (a totally different animal, and from a superb vintage), it will cost you the princely sum of £9.95. And the other wines from Les Vignes de l'Arque ain't half bad either.
Alain Graillot La Guiraude 1995 Crozes-Hermitage
This is the second or third of a handful of bottles I picked up at auction a couple of years back for a real song (around a tenner a bottle, if memory serves) and it is really is in fine fettle. 100% Syrah (I assume) with classic aged Crozes aromas of bramble, violet and lily of the valley. Actually, there are none of the smoky bacon/fat aromas one normally expects, with the savoury elements being more in the way of Provencal herbs, Asian spices and damp earth. But it really is a squeaky-clean example of its kind, and a beautifully balanced one at that, with deliciously ripe, but acidity-laden fruit - brambly, but with a lovely citrus edge and no impression of sweetness or extraction. There's still some tannin there, which adds a tangy, tea-like quality, but of the fragrant, flavoursome kind, rather than the bottom-of-the-pot kind, leading to a dry but mouth-watering finish. It really is a cracking wine, from a very fine Northern Rhone grower at the height of his powers. Yum!

Monday, 16 May 2011

Weekend wines - a nine year-old Mosel Riesling, a 22 year-old Minervois(!) and a rather lovely 2005 Banyuls

Domaine La Combe Blanche Minervois 1989
Never let it be said that Languedoc reds don't age. I may even have blogged about another bottle of this wine, sometime in the past, since I have (or had) more than a dozen bottles, which I picked up for around 10 Euros a bottle from winemaker Guy Vanlancker's private "library" collection. To be honest, it is probably now a few years past its absolute peak, but it still provides enjoyable drinking. The colour is blood red, with a definite amber hue, whilst the nose offers secondary red and black fruit aromas with hints of polished old wood, incense, soft spices and forest floor. The palate is a gentle mix of aged raspberry, bramble and cherry, with subtle herby/spicy/savoury notes and a hint of eau de vie, with a slight bitter cherry kernel finish. For a humble Minervois at the grand old age of 22 years, which undoubtedly was not designed to age for decades - and which, incidentally, received very little in the way of oak-ageing - it is quite remarkable. Even more so, considering we drank this over 2 evenings, and it was still going strong by the time we finished the bottle. 12.0% abv.

Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt Scharzhofberger Riesling Spätlese 2002 Mosel Saar Ruwer
I sold a few cases of this in the none too distant past, but kept just a few bottles back for myself. It has a lovely, complex nose of lime zest, orange, apricot, nettle and wet slate, with a hint of fresh root ginger and just a suggestion of petrol. There's even an enticing note of fresh emulsion paint - which I find rather alluring. Swathes of lime and lemon fruit caress the palate, with a core of intense, tingling acidity and slatey minerality that is simply mouth-watering. Yet there is also an underlying richness, courtesy of some beautifully ripe fruit, with suggestions of apricot, clementine, sweet apples and subtle spicy notes. There is purity and focus, with lovely acidity combining beautifully with ripe, only fleetingly sweet fruit. This will undoubtedly evolve for a good few years yet, taking on more of those classic Mosel Riesling mineral and petrol nuances, but I love where it is at right now, whilst it still retains some of that lovely fruit. 8.0% abv.

It is difficult to compare and contrast this particular vintage with the 2003, because they are quite similar in so many ways. Then again, 2003 was such an unusual vintage, due to the (in)famous heatwave, that the full-on richness inherent in such a vintage would be hard to replicate. Having said that, the fact that this wine is matured for no less than 4 years in old barrels, outside and exposed to the elements of all four seasons, means that there really isn't that much difference. And make no mistake, this is another delicious Banyuls. Bonfire toffee, Christmas cake, roasted mocha, prunes in eau de vie, Seville oranges, marmalade and polished old wood are just a few of the aromas which greet the senses on the first sniff, along with a definite hint of damp earth/forest floor. And whilst the flavours are a shade less dense than the 2003, there's a degree of subtlety and elegance in their place, with the aforementioned toffee and fruitcake qualities accompanied on the palate by flavours of crystallised red and black fruits and almost fresh orange acidity, whilst whatever tannin remains is tempered by a level of sweetness that is comforting, rather than cloying. There's a warming touch of eau de vie on the finish, but you almost don't notice it, because it gets buried beneath those fruit flavours, which go on and on for an age - and at just 16% abv, this is a fortified wine which majors on fruit, not alcohol. In fact, as I write this note, I'm tempted to say that I actually prefer this vintage to the 2003 (I have a bottle open, by way of comparison). It really is a quite wonderful wine, and a relative bargain at £18.79.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Burgundy Part 5 - Domaine Dubreuil-Fontaine

Pernand-Vergelesses is a pretty village, nestled at the foot of the famous hill of Corton. We had a 10am appointment at Domaine Dubreuil-Fontaine, a grower that I personally hadn't previously heard of (though, with my general ignorance of Burgundy as a whole, that is not unusual). Dubreuil-Fontaine has quite a large vineyard holding for a Burgundy grower - 20 hectares in total, covering 20 different appellations. Two thirds of the production is red wine, and a third white. They practice "lutte raisonnée", which translates literally as the "reasoned struggle", but loosely (and more appropriately) as reasoned viticulture - basically, not quite fully organic, but they only use non-organic treatments in the vineyards when absolutely necessary. The current proprietor of the estate is Christine Gruere-Dubreuil, and although she did not conduct the tasting, she did pop in later to say hello. We were treated to a most interesting tasting, from a range of no less than 16 wines.


1. Bourgogne Aligote 2009
Simple, fresh, with aromas of apples and pears. Fresh palate, robust and quite long. Nice.

2. Bourgogne Blanc 2008
Steely, with high acidity. A simple quaffer.

3. Pernand-Vergelesses 2008
Aged partly in barrel and partly in vat. Steely again, but qite oaky and mealy, with flavours of sour apples. Not for me.

4. Pernand-Vergelesses 1er Cru Sous Fretille 2007
Fennel, anise, cloves and apple pie. Richer, but still with an underlying steely structure.

5. Pernand-Vergelesses 1er Cru Clos Berthet 2007
Richer still, nicely oaked, with vanilla and spice. Very mineral, and very nice.

6. Pernand-Vergelesses 1er Cru Clos Berthet 2008
Spiced apple pie again, generous, herby, mineral. Lovely oak nuances. Lemon and mineral palate. Complex and rather lovely.

7. Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru 2008
A lovely nose - restrained oak, peach, apricot and tree blossom. A real contemplation wine. Sugared apples on the palate, voluptuous, toasty, buttery, but with great mineral backbone. Complex and softly spicy, with wonderful length. I bought a bottle at 46 Euros.


8. Pernand-Vergelesses Clos Berthet 2008
Very light. Strawberries and jam. Quite simple.

9. Volnay 2008
This is instantly more appealing. An almost new-world nose (not always a bad thing!) of cherry, redcurrant and wild strawberries. Grippy, meaty even, but with bags of fruit. Elegant.

10. Pommard 2008
Bigger than the Volnay, more masculine, more Burgundy-like. Cherries, apples and spice. Rich, long and tight, but with some elegance.

11. Pernand-Vergelesses 1er Cru Les Fichots 2007
Fresh, almost yeasty. Cherries. Quite tannic, and more simple than the Pommard.

12. Beaune 1er Cru Montrevenots 2008
Cherries in eau de vie. Rich, generous, tight, but nicely balanced. Mouth coating and quite tannic, but a nice wine. Needs time.

13. Pernand-Vergelesses 1er Cru Isle de Vergelesses 2008
Beefy, almost yeasty, with cherries and berries. Cherry fruit and a touch of tar on the palate. Grippy, but with oodles of elegance. This has much more to give, in time. I bought a bottle at 22 Euros.

14. Pommard 1er Cru Les Epenots 2008
Polished wood, redcurrant and soft spice - a lovely, generous nose. The palate is very grippy, but has generous fruit, with notes of cloves and other spices. Needs time, but a very promising wine. Sexy!

15. Corton Bressandes Grand Cru 2008
Closed in every respect. Clearly quite serious, but seems quite tough. A very difficult wine to assess.

16. Corton Clos du Roi Grand Cru 2008
This, on the other hand, is showing real class. Beefy, almost Bovrilly nose, with exotic spices and good fruit. The palate is rich and expansive, but with really quite delicate (and very complex) flavours. Beautifully balanced. Still very tightly-knit and rather grippy - as you would expect at less than 3 years of age - but already a delicious wine nonetheless. This will be fabulous one day. A lovely wine to finish, and I bought a bottle at 35 Euros.

In the cellar at Domaine Dubreuil-Fontaine - from left to right,
Leon Stolarski, Andy Leslie, Bernard Caille, Peter Bamford, David Bennett, Bill Nanson
(photo by Jane Nanson)

My overall impression of the wines of Dubreuil-Fontaine is that the lower-end wines (Bourgogne and some of the Village wines) are a bit lacking in both fruit and structure and hence, for me at least, don't provide particularly good value. On the other hand, the majority of the 1er and Grand Cru wines are really quite impressive and do in fact provide rather good value for money - at least in the world of Burgundy!

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Seve - a sad day for all golfers and sports fans

Despite the fact that it is Saturday, and therefore my early start means golf instead of work, my happiness has been tempered by a fair degree of sadness on hearing of the death of one of the true greats of the game, and a real hero of mine. Severiano Ballesteros was one of those rare people whose fame transcends a particular sport and finds its way into the psyche of a much wider audience. To millions of people around the world, whether they were ardent golf fans or just casual observers of many different kinds of sport, he was known simply as "Seve". Following a two-year battle against a malignant brain tumour, Seve finally succumbed to the inevitable and passed away last night, at the tender age of just 54. And if the reactions of the various people I spoke to in the clubhouse today is anything to go by, it isn't just me that feels such a keen (and almost personal) sense of loss. And even though Seve's time in the spotlight finished a good few years ago, he was still viewed with affection by a great many people, to whom he gave so many great memories.

Seve was blessed with a swing which - whilst not quite textbook - was powerful, fluid and ultimately a joy to behold. He could certainly be wayward, especially with the driver in his hand, but his ability to extricate himself from difficult (and often seemingly impossible) situations on the golf course was unmatched by any other player in the history of the game. And, of course, he was a wizard around the greens. In fact, his 5 Major Championship wins (3 at The Open and 2 at The Masters) almost seem like scant reward for a man who may just have been the most naturally gifted golfer of them all. Nevertheless, a total of 91 professional tournament victories, including no less than 50 on the European Tour, amounts to a glittering career in anyone's book. And then, of course, there was the small matter of the biennial Europe v USA Ryder Cup Matches, in which Seve played 8 times between 1979 and 1995, and was the winning Captain in 1997. Until Seve came along, the Ryder Cup Matches were consistently a pretty one-sided affair, USA having lost just 3 times between 1927 and 1985.

In what was undoubtedly a golden era for golf, Seve was a true giant of the game, whose swashbuckling style and charismatic presence captured the imagination of a whole generation of sports fans, whilst his success had an almost immeasurable effect on those who followed in his wake. In fact, it isn't too fanciful to suggest that he almost single-handedly dragged the standard of the professional game in Europe - and therefore the success of European Tour itself - to the level it is at now. And in doing so, he also brought about a rise in the popularity of the game amongst amateur and club players that has endured to this day. Although I first picked up a golf club before Seve came on the scene, my interest was certainly galvanised by watching him - and his book "Seve Ballesteros - Natural Golf" has always been my golfing bible.

Of course, it takes more than talent and success to endure someone to the masses. Many sportsmen and sportswomen have the talent and the motivation to reach the pinnacle of their chosen sport, but only a select few have the sheer personality and charisma necessary to really work their way into the affections of millions of fans the world over. And make no mistake, Seve was one of those people. Tiger Woods might just be the most famous person on the planet, right now - though not necessarily for all the right reasons. His talent as a golfer and his influence on both the game of golf and on millions of impressionable young people around the world is without question. But his qualities as a role model leave much to be desired, as does his demeanour and general behaviour on the golf course. The same could never be said of Seve Ballesteros.

Of course, Seve was always feisty, often controversial, occasionally angry (sometimes with himself, sometimes with others). He certainly had a "game face", which could at times be menacing and intimidating to his opponents....... and sometimes to his fans, which I experienced at first hand during the World Matchplay Championship at Wentworth in 1987. We were following his match against (I think) Sandy Lyle, and as the players putted-out on one green, we headed to the next hole, to grab a spot behind the tee. As Seve walked onto the tee, I pointed my camera at him and focused-in as he walked towards me. He and I both knew that cameras were not allowed - unless of course you were an official photographer - and he fixed me with a steely glare that I can still see clearly in my mind's eye to this day. Needless to say, I didn't get the photo. Not that he said anything to me, because he didn't need to. I knew my place - and it was an absolute privilege to be put in it by someone who I was (and still am) in absolute awe of. And it was also a privilege to see him at such close quarters as he spanked the ball down the middle of the fairway......... or perhaps even into the trees - that bit I can't remember!

But despite the "game face" and the aura, Seve could never quite hide the thrill he obviously felt at simply being out on the golf course and playing the game that he loved. And if he was in the mix - or better still, winning - then he had a smile which could light up the world. And even when his powers on the golf course began to wane, his aura never did - and that is the mark of a true legend.

Seve also had a great sense of humour, which enabled him to connect with his fans in a way that so many of today's so-called superstars would do well to emulate. My favourite such moment was when he was about to play a long iron shot from the fairway. With hundreds of spectators gathered behind him, somebody moved, just as he was about to hit the ball. He calmly stepped away from the ball, turned to the fidgety culprit and in that wonderful Spanish accent uttered the memorable line..... "Stay still, if you don't mind, please - I know you're nervous, but I am too." Just one of many wonderful memories of a wonderful golfer and a true sporting legend.

If you need a reminder about the genius of Seve (and that comedy moment mentioned above), then have a look at this little retrospective on the BBC website.

In a world which seems increasingly bereft of public figures one can really look up to - and to aspire to be like - Seve was my hero. So adios, Señor Seve, y gracias por todos los maravillosos recuerdos - Voy a levantar una copa esta noche.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Three more new wines from Domaine Treloar

I have at least one more post (maybe two) to publish about the Burgundy trip, which I shall get around to within the next few days. But I am currently distracted by the process of tasting and writing notes for my new batch of Domaine Treloar wines - and what an enjoyable distraction they have been, thus far! Here are three more..........

Domaine Treloar Three Peaks 2008 Cotes du Roussillon
Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache, Carignan, aged in French oak barriques (mostly used, I would guess). A lovely bright, medium-deep purple core, with a small ruby rim. Beautiful aromas of cherries, brambles, plums and apples steeped in eau de vie, with background notes of garam masala, polished leather and a savoury, almost Marmite note. The palate is immediately appealing, even at this relatively early stage, for though there's plenty of concentration, there's also enough elegance and fleet of foot to make it deliciously drinkable. The tannins are present, but beautifully ripe, making for a wine that finishes dry, but with enough acidity and juicy red fruit flavours to make you keep going back for more. There seems to be a bit of a theme developing here, in my notes for these new Trelaor wines. The Tahi 2007 that I wrote about yesterday was an absolute cracker, and so is this one. In fact, in my opinion, it is by some way the best - and most elegant - 3 Peaks yet. Makes me look forward to trying the other new wines even more! This will be available to purchase via my website very shortly - price £11.75. 13.5% abv.

Domaine Treloar Le Secret 2008 Cotes du Roussillon
This one is Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, and again aged in French oak barriques. The colour is very similar to the Three Peaks, though a little darker and more opaque. And despite the fact that Syrah is the dominant variety, the Mourvedre really shows through, with some really smoky, meaty, leathery, almost farmyardy notes mingled with the bramble fruit, but countered by notes of orange peel and fried spices. There's a touch of oak influence, but it is totally harmonious and serves only to add complexity. And again - as with the Three Peaks - the palate has a delightful freshness, with juicy fruit flavours and fine tannins countered (or rather complemented) by excellent acidity. Moreover - and this is something I've noticed in the other new Treloar wines - there's absolutely no impression of heat or over-ripeness, with the alcohol level at a very respectable 13.5%. Slightly earlier picked grapes, perhaps? Whatever the reason, the result is more freshness, more finesse and wines which are much easier to drink young. Having said that, this is yet another wine with excellent keeping potential - I'd say another 5 to 8 years. Again, look out for this one appearing on the website very soon - price £13.95.
Domaine Treloar MO2 Vin de France
100% Muscat Petit Grains, from yields of just 20 hl/ha. Described by winemaker Jonathan Hesford as "fermented in the presence of oxygen until dry, fortified with grape spirit and aged in a 2 year-old oak barrel with headspace, out in the sun". I'm sure Jon won't mind me revealing that this was actually a batch of Muscat that "went wrong" (i.e. oxidised). Instead of pouring it down the drain, Jon decided to experiment. The result is a wine that to all intents and purposes looks and smells like a slightly nutty (in both senses of the word) Muscat de Rivesaltes, a deep-ish orange/gold colour with orange marmalade and solera/flor-like notes, classic Muscat grapiness, a touch of honey, perhaps even a hint of digestive biscuit and a subtle herbiness. And whilst your nose prepares you for a sweet wine, the palate is very definitely almost dry, with only the fortifying grape spirit contributing a perception of "off-dryness". Conversely, the texture is quite rich and unctious, coating the mouth with delicious grapey, marmaladey, buttery/biscuity and nutty flavours, yet remaining steadfastly refreshing and distinctly tangy. In fact, there is even a touch of salty flor-like character to it, which would no doubt appeal to Amontillado lovers. I should say here and now that I am no Sherry lover (apart from rich, sweet Oloroso and Pedro Ximinez wines, which appeal to my sweet tooth) but this really is a wine for contemplation. The length, by the way, is immense - unlike Parker, I'm not one to put the stopwatch on, but we're talking minutes, rather than seconds. The more I contemplate this wine, the more I am growing to love it. I could try and categorise it, but that would be unfair to a wine that is - albeit by accident, rather than design - pretty unique. In short, it is completely and utterly lovely. And whilst it isn't going to be cheap, at around £15 for a 50cl bottle, I think it is worth every penny. 15% abv.