Sunday, 31 July 2011

A couple of impressive Cahors reds

Not long before we went on holiday to France (which, although only in mid-June, seems almost a lifetime ago now) I received an email from a customer, who was on holiday in the Cahors region, alerting me to a grower whose wines had impressed him. He suggested that I might want to visit the domaine, but unfortunately our route south took us some considerable way east of there. Nevertheless, he had mentioned me to the owners, and following a little email correspondence with them, I asked if they would be willing to send some samples to where we were staying in Languedoc. Things worked out perfectly and samples of 3 different cuvées arrived in good time for me to transport back to the UK. I opened the first one last evening and was sufficiently impressed to open the second one this evening. It is worth mentioning that the owners Mike and Sue Spring are British - which just goes to show that there are yet more "outsiders" making wine in the south of France than even I was aware of. And I have to say that they are doing a very good job. All of the red wines are made from 100% Malbec, and whilst they are made in a fairly traditional style, there are clearly sympathetic hands at work, for these wines have plenty of fruit and considerable charm.

Domaine du Garinet Classique Malbec 2004 Cahors
Whilst this is spicy, herby, savoury and ever-so-slightly meaty, it certainly isn't short on fruit aromas, with an abundance of red and black fruits steeped in eau de vie. On the other hand, it is mature enough to have also developed plenty of secondary citrus peel, blackcurrant leaf, cedar and forest floor aromas. And what the palate might lack in real complexity is more than made up for in its sheer drinkability. It still has the slightly tannic grip of a traditional Cahors, but the fruit remains deliciously vibrant, with flavours of bramble, blackcurrant and tart red cherry and a lip-smacking streak of acidity. A beautiful combination of sweet and sour, just perfect balanced and seemingly approaching the peak of its powers, although it certainly seems to have the structure to stay there for a few years yet. A delicious wine.

Domaine du Garinet Reserve Malbec 2004 Cahors
My first impression is that this one is a bit darker, a bit more extracted and a bit more "worked", due to having spent 14 months in old(ish) oak barrels. Again, we have plenty of fruit, but this time more at the black end of the spectrum, and again a real savouriness. But the secondary aromas of forest floor, eau de vie and polished old wood are much more to the fore, resulting in a nose that - whilst possibly a bit more complex - is less immediately appealing and overtly fruity than the un-oaked Classique. The palate is quite different, too, with this one clearly being built to age a little more, with a touch more extraction and the 14 months ageing in wood imbuing the wine with more in the way of tannin and grip. That said, it has plenty of juicy acidity and a core of ripe fruit that should have no trouble outlasting the tannins. Add to that a very decent length of flavour and a warm, spicy finish, and you still have a wine that is a fine example of traditional Cahors.

To be honest, there isn't a lot to choose between these two wines, although if pressed, I would probably go for the Classique. Based on my experience with the above two wines, I'm looking forward very much to tasting the 2001 Futs de Chene. Watch this space.........

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Some cracking wines from a recent blind tasting at the Nottingham Wine Circle

After more than 3 weeks of feeling distinctly under the weather, I've been steadily working my way back to good health (although a brief bout of gastric flu at the weekend was a setback) and actually managed my first visit to the Nottingham Wine Circle in 6 weeks, last week. And I'm certainly glad I went, because there were some brilliant wines on offer, at what was supposed to be a "standard" bottle blind tasting. Here's just a few of them...........

Perrier-Jouet Grand Brut NV Champagne
Although this is non-vintage, it clearly has plenty of bottle age - so much so that David Selby (who brought it) could not remember when - or where - he bought it. The nose is minerally, slightly oxidative, with notes of apple pie and fresh bread. The palate is beautifully rich, with what feels like a touch of residual sugar, but is probably just down to gaining weight with bottle age. A lovely, rich, generous wine - if only more Champagnes were so good!

Afros Vinho Verde 2009
This has a lovely combination of peach, mineral and smoke on the nose, with plenty of richness on the palate, with bags of fruit and lovely acidity. The red Vinho Verde from this estate is a real stunner, but this white ain't bad, either.

Chateau Tahbilk Marsanne 2006 Nagambie Lakes, Victoria
Smoky, minerally, lemony, hints of honeysuckle, very rich and with a touch of sulphur/reduction. Some thought it over-oaked, but not me. And in fact, a quick look at the back label confirms it sees no oak-ageing at all - so what do they know! Not the most popular wine around the table, but I thought it was really good, with lots of promise for the future.

Domaine des Baumard Clos de Sainte Catherine 1996 Coteaux du Layon
My goodness, this is so lovely. It smells like toffee apples and clotted cream, with hints of aromatic herbs, brioche, orange and butterscotch. The palate is heaving with flavour, concentration and extreme complexity - apple, root ginger, toffee, fig, honey, cinnamon and cloves........ and amazing lime and lemon acidity. It is powerful, rather than delicate, rich, but supremely balanced, and with gargantuan length. A great sweet wine.

Clos Roche Blanche Cot Rouge 1999 Touraine
Peppery on the nose, with cherry and raspberry fruit and sous-bois. The palate is very much alive - fruity, peppery and really quite floral and elegant, even soft, though the tannins are ever-so-slightly rustic. Lovely acidity, too, which I guess is what keeps it all together. A lovely wine - long, too.

Murua Rioja Reserva 2001
There's plenty of coconut and banana on the nose, courtesy of some rather lavish oak, together with plenty of bramble fruit, which almost puts me in mind of a Barossa Shiraz. The palate is rich and again quite oaky, but with some really rather attractive red and black fruit flavours, allied to fine tannins and ample acidity. The finish is long and spicy. Although this has a quite modern feel to it, there's enough quality and development to suggest that it won't always be that way - in fact, it could turn out to be rather special in another 10 years' time.

Ninth Island Pinot Noir 2004 Tasmania
This is spicy and quite rich, but is elegant and restrained enough to fool some into thinking it might be Burgundy. Aside from a slight alcoholic warmth, it seems essentially cool-climate, and is far from being confected, displaying plenty of cherry and strawberry fruit, along with a touch of spice and forest floor. A very nice wine.

Paul Jaboulet Ainé La Chapelle 1983 Hermitage
A gorgeous nose of sous-bois, flowers, fruits of the forest and incense, with just a hint of savoury, smoky bacon. The palate is wonderfully generous, both fruity and warmly spicy, with savoury elements and wonderfully piercing acidity. The tannins are there, but are perfectly ripe. This is one of those wines which effortlessly combines power and elegance, and - at the grand old age of  28 - is just about reaching the peak of its powers. Then again, it isn't likely to fall down the other side too quickly either. Although a J L Chave Hermitage from the very same vintage remains perhaps the best northern Rhone wine (and therefore one of the best wines, full stop) that I have ever tasted, this one really isn't too far behind. A wonderful wine, and a real privilege to taste.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...............
I opened this through necessity, rather than choice, because I noticed it had a leaky cork, so was not fit for sale. But I'm happy to say that the wine is in fine fettle. Mourvedre-dominated, with just a splash of Grenache and Syrah, it has a magnificent nose of bramble and dark cherries in eau de vie, exotic spices, leather, tobacco, sous-bois and charred oak. The palate manages to combine a good deal of concentration with remarkable elegance and balance. It is rich and brambly, with a touch of meaty savouriness and spice, whilst the tannins are fine and relatively soft, and there is a wonderful backbone of acidity to keep it lovely and fresh. It really is very complex stuff, which has come on leaps and bounds over the last year or so (I initially thought it too oaky, but not anymore). It is already a joy to drink now, but certainly has the capacity to age for another 10 years or so. I think this cuvée (the 2006 and 2008 are also superb) is Jonathan Hesford's best. (£14.80 via my website).

Monday, 18 July 2011

Two very different Vins de Pays - and a heart-warming Open Championship victory for one of golf's good guys

Yes, I'm still here! As I mentioned in my previous post, I've been feeling pretty lousy recently, and the after-effects of my flu virus have lingered for far too long. Thankfully, after 2 long weeks of feeling pretty sorry for myself, I almost feel human again, thanks to a decent night out on Saturday, a bit of positive thinking and a few Sudafed tablets. I've even enjoyed a few glasses of wine over the last 2 or 3 days - which is a relief, after having consumed what amounts to a total of no more than 2 glasses in the previous 10 days. Here's a couple of really nice ones for starters, both of which are available via my website;

I thought I'd give this a road test, since I haven't had a bottle for a year or more and I wanted to see how it is evolving. At getting on for 4 years old, it is still heady with the scent of bramble fruits steeped in eau de vie, but is now beginning to develop some genuine complexity. There's a real savoury quality to it, with beef, game, polished leather, forest floor and bready notes mingled in with the fruit, with garrigue herbs and even a touch of mint lurking in the background. And that preserved fruit and savoury theme certainly continues through to the palate, which - combined with juicy acidity, fine but grippy tannins and a touch of bitter-sweet dark cherry - makes for a wine with a deliciously sweet and sour quality. Add to that a touch of warming alcohol and more than a hint of spiciness and it all adds up to a wine of real southern character - not big, not soupy, not hot, but rich, characterful and warming, with a delightful freshness. A bit of a bargain at £9.20.

Despite the very hot vintage - and what turned out to be by far the earliest harvest in the history of the estate - this has many of the attributes of classic Trévallon. The nose offers remarkably fresh aromas of blackcurrant, raspberry and damp undergrowth, along with a distinct note of violets and a very slight herbiness and savouriness at the end. The palate is equally fruit-laden, displaying plenty of ripeness, without being too rich or soupy. And whilst the tannins are a little more dusty and grippy than in a "normal" vintage, they are fairly ripe, leaving an impression of dark, bitter chocolate, rather than any feeling of greenness. There is also a core of delightfully fresh, almost lemony acidity - I don't know if there was any re-acidification in this vintage (and if there was, who could blame them) but if so, it has been very skilfully done. The finish is grippy and quite dry, but there is more than enough fruit and acidity to keep the tannins at bay. Whilst this may not go down as a classic Trévallon vintage, it is nevertheless an extremely interesting and enjoyable wine, which every Trévallon aficionado should have in their cellar, which is beginning to drink well now and should soften-out and evolve nicely for another 5 to 10 years. £39.95.

I can't sign off without a few words in praise of one of the genuine good guys in sport - the 2011 Open Golf champion, Darren Clarke. As a keen golfer myself, I have followed Darren's career since he came onto the scene in the early 1990's. Blessed with an elegant swing and a cheery demeanour, he was always a fans' favourite. But whilst he won the odd big tournament and was for some years one of the European Tour's highest ranked players - not to mention a stalwart of the European Ryder Cup squad - he never managed to win an elusive "Major" title. When Darren's wife Heather died in 2006, after a long battle with breast cancer, golf must have been just about the least important thing in life. But a few weeks later, swept along by a huge tide of emotion and affection from the Irish fans, he contributed 3 vital points towards another Ryder Cup win for Europe, whilst his courage and dignity cemented his position as one of (if not the) best-loved golfers of his generation. From there, it would have been easy for Darren Clarke to fade into the background, thinking his best days as a golfer were behind him - and for a while, he probably did.

Darren Clarke holes the winning putt to become 2011 Open Champion

And then, 5 years later and as if from nowhere, he suddenly found himself at the top of the leaderboard, going into the final round of The Open. He'd been in such a position on a couple of occasions before, but could never quite convert the lead into a victory. Until this weekend, when it all came together in the most glorious way. It is easy for me to say now, but for some reason, I just knew he was going to win this one. I don't think I have ever seen a golfer look so happy, so comfortable, so serene in "leading from the front" - a combination of great shot-making, pure ball-stiking, solid putting and a hitherto unseen self-confidence ensured that he never put himself under any pressure. To be fair, neither did his nearest challengers, perhaps because they - like me and no doubt countless others - realised that their efforts would be futile and that this was destined to be Darren Clarke's Open. Perhaps the golfing gods - and maybe even his very own angel - were smiling down on him this time - or perhaps it was simply written in the stars. And when that final putt went in, it was all I could do not to burst into tears (TLD was in the room, and I do have some pride!) but boy was I shaking inside. After the sad death of Seve Ballesteros earlier in the year, this was an occasion to warm the heart of every true golf fan. And it was lovely to see Darren's parents and his new fiancée there to enjoy it - and also to see his fellow competitors offering their heartfelt congratulations to one of the sporting world's genuine good guys. It was a truly memorable and utterly deserved win for a lovely man. Well done Darren Clarke.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

A thoroughly miserable few days - plus French supermarket bargains - Episode 1

It has been a thoroughly miserable week for me. Ever since I returned from holiday a couple of weeks ago, I've prayed that whatever illness had been ailing my youngest son Daniel wasn't going to get me too. But by Tuesday afternoon, I knew I'd succumbed. Flu. Not "man flu", but the real thing. Burning-up, delerious, aching joints, sensitive skin, headache, nausea, you name it, I've had it. I wish I could say it is all now a hazy memory, but I can't - almost every hour of the past 5 days has been a waking (or at best semi-conscious) hour. Brief moments of meaningless, dream-filled sleep grabbed wherever and whenever possible, interspersed by hour after hour of tossing and turning, coughing and spluttering. Hot lemon, paracetamol and ibuprofen have all featured heavily on the menu, whilst any food I've managed to force down has been out of necessity, rather than enjoyment. I hesitate to say it, but I think I might just be over the worst of it now, although the constant bouts of coughing and sneezing are beginning to drive me to distraction - another sleepless night beckons, I fear.

Needless to say, wine has hardly been high on my list of priorities during this time, although I did manage a glass or two on Thursday evening - but mainly for some perceived "medicinal" purpose, and because TLD had opened a couple of bottles during the week. I can't say that the wine helped make me feel any better (indeed, it probably put paid completely to any chance I had of achieving quality sleep) but it made me feel a bit more normal for a while. It wasn't the good stuff, of course - but it was pretty decent for what it was................

Every other Wednesday, just as I'm off to the Wine Circle, TLD always asks me the same question - "Have you got a bottle of wine I can open?" That is because every other Wednesday, her parents visit for dinner. And it always pains me to think that - because I only tend to keep "good" wine in the house - one of those good bottles is being opened, when an "everyday" one would do. I know it may sound awfully snobby, but to some people, wine is simply another beverage, and my In-Laws neither appreciate (nor care) whether a wine they are drinking cost £50 or £3.
So whilst were were in France recently, I scoured the shelves of a couple of branches of Intermarche (one in Pézenas and one somewhere near Rouen) for some "bargain basement" wines, to be used for just such occasions. That's not to say I was interested in any old crap - I see little point in shelling out 2 or 3 Euros per bottle on wine that I know will give no pleasure at all. At least, that was the theory. Let's just say that I expect less from the wines at the 2 Euro level than I do of the 3-4 Euro level. We bought a couple of dozen bottles - mostly reds, but with a few whites and a couple of rosés thrown-in for good measure. And for purely research purposes, I intend to at least grab a half-glass of a some of those wines and report back over the coming months. Who knows, if any of you are planning a holiday in France this year, it may give you a few pointers for "emergency" wines, for when you can't get to visit a grower or two. So here are a couple to be going on with;

Saint-Chinian (1.95 Euros!)
A mass-produced negociant wine (I can't be bothered to do the detective work from the minimal information on the label) which does not even show a vintage - possibly a blend of 2009 and 2010? At under 2 Euros a bottle, one has no right to expect any regional or varietal character, but if somebody gave me a glass of this and told me it was Saint-Chinian, I would not disbelieve them. OK, so it has a certain "generic" Languedoc quality about it (carbonic maceration has the effect of masking any perception of terroir) but it has enough fruit, spice and herb quality about it to make it a rather drinkable everyday wine, with enough guts to stand-up to a pizza or some toulouse sausages and pasta with a tomato sauce. A bit of a drink-me-now bargain.

Expert Club "Les Petites Baies" 2009 Minervois
Again, this could certainly pass as Minervois, and indeed does show a little more "terroir", insofar as it has an earthiness, married to some quite rich, brambly fruit, a touch of the garrigue, a bit of concentration and a touch of warming eau de vie. Yes, it is a bit rustic, but in a Minervois sort of way, and really rather enjoyable. It is another wine to drink young, but another relative bargain at (if my memory serves) a shade under 3 Euros.

Right, now for another attempt at sleep................