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.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

It's been a while - the story of my eventful September so far (including a new addition to the family)

Right, I'm back! Actually, I haven't been away, I've just been so busy/preoccupied with myriad other things over the last couple of weeks that something(s) had to give - and in this case it was the "non-essential" things like blogging. Then again, I often feel as though I am letting myself (and who knows, perhaps others) down by not posting regular entries. Heaven forfend, I certainly don't want to lose the relatively small but very loyal following I have built up!

So, what have I been up to that has taken up so much of my time? Well, for starters, I had a rather brief but relatively successful promotion on some of my wines at the beginning of the month (if you aren't an existing customer, then you wouldn't have known about it) which had me burning a lot of midnight oil for a good few days. One should never underestimate the time and effort it takes to process and package orders for several hundred bottles of wine in such a short space of time - especially as I'm not just the brains of the operation, but also chief administrator, picker, packer and despatcher. I always think very carefully before deciding to offer (what really are genuine) discounts on my wines, because if one does it too often, there is a chance that customers will simply wait until the next offer before buying - and that is a dangerous road to go down. Frankly, I'd rather leave the deep (and totally disingenuous) discounting down to the supermarkets and remaining high street wine retailers. But in this instance, it was designed to make some quick sales, with a view to banking some money in order to finance some upcoming imports from growers in Roussillon and South-West France (of which more shortly).

And it had the desired effect of boosting the Company coffers......... until I got the email from one of those growers, reminding me that we had still to pay for last year's wines(!) My heart sank. We always, always pay our growers within the allotted time - but somehow, this one had slipped through the net. It's a long story and I won't bore you with the details, but suffice to say that I felt compelled to get on the blower to my foreign currency provider and ask them to make an immediate transfer of almost 2,500 Euros to pay the invoice. It was a real setback, I can tell you, but at least we managed to save face with a grower that I consider to be one of (if not the) most important in our portfolio. Thankfully, September is shaping-up to be a really good (without being great) month, so despite this setback, the coffers are looking relatively healthy again - at least for the time being.

During this rather trying time, I was also in the process of organising a couple of pallets of wines from Domaine Treloar in Roussillon and a "groupage" pallet from South-West France, namely Domaine de Montesquiou in Jurancon, Chateau Peyros in Madiran, and a brand new grower in Cahors called Domaine du Garinet (whose wines I am very excited about adding to our list). One only needs to look at the map to see how scattered and geographically distant from each other these 3 growers are - which makes grouping the wines together onto a single pallet a very difficult job. The phrase "herding cats" springs to mind. nevertheless, it all went relatively smoothly, and I actually found out today that all of the above wines were delivered to my bonded warehouse today, so I can get my grubby hands on them tomorrow. Yippee - yet more work to fill my time over the next few days!

But although September has already proven to be a rather stressful month, work-wise, I've still managed to find time for a little play. And one of the highlights was a rather memorable gig at a small venue in Nottingham called The Rescue Rooms, courtesy of the brilliant Ron Sexsmith. Why this man is not a world-wide megastar is beyond me, although I have to admit that - having released around 10 albums - his music appeared on my radar only relatively recently. It was a brilliant set (and an initially reticent TLD enjoyed it as much as I did) and one that I will remember for a long time to come. Who knows, perhaps Mr Sexsmith will eventually get the recognition he deserves, but I'm not holding my breath. Meanwhile, here's a video of one of the songs from his latest album......

Finally, some of you may know that, after 33 years working for the Land Registry, I will be leaving at the end of October. The decision has been made so much easier by the fact that I am going on a "voluntary exit" scheme - in other words, my employer will be giving me a lump sum (and - because I am now 50 - a modest pension) to not work for them any more! Because the wine business does not yet provide me with a decent living salary, there's no way that I would have been able to leave of my own accord. And having watched some of the higher grades in the organisation (and a lot of the lower grades too) taking pay-offs over the last couple of years, I had assumed that there would be little left in the pot to get rid of middle-ranking people like me. So it came as a very pleasant surprise when the offer was made and - after a quick discussion with TLD - I grasped the opportunity with both hands. Don't get me wrong, it isn't a huge amount of money, but it will enable us to pay-off our (rather modest) mortgage, and the resulting reduction in our fixed monthly outgoings, combined with a modest pension income, will mean that we won't be much worse off than before. All of which will, of course, enable me to devote much more time to building the wine business - frankly, it's a win-win situation.

On 3 July 1978, I arrived at my first (and ultimately one and only) day job on my beautiful new Yamaha RD250 motorcycle. A couple of years later, it was written-off when some numpty cut through a line of stationary traffic and I went straight into the side of his car. Instead of buying a new bike with the insurance money, I blew most of it on on a 5-day trip to watch Nottingham Forest in the 1980 European Champions Cup Final in Madrid. It was a wonderful experience and provided me with many treasured memories - but it meant the end of my motorcycling days. Until now, that is, because part of my lump sum has been earmarked to buy me another bike. Well actually, thanks to Mr Mastercard, I've already gone out and bought it! So I'd like to introduce you to my 2005 Honda CBR600RR.......................

She (who is yet to be named) has a modest 15,000 miles on the clock and is to all intents and purposes in mint condition. She has a 599cc liquid cooled inline 4 cylinder 4-stroke engine, with a close ratio 6-speed gearbox and produces 105 bhp at 13,500 rpm. She is capable of 0-60 mph in 3 seconds and 0-100 in less than 7, with a top speed of just short of 170 mph. Which is of course all purely academic, because I'm far too old to be a boy racer and I doubt I'll ever use much more than half of that. But it's nice to know I have it in reserve, if necessary!

She looks great from all angles - especially her backside!

I think I'm in love!

I must admit that it was a bit of a nerve-racking experience riding the bike home from Derby on Saturday afternoon, given the slightly damp roads and the fact that I had hardly ridden a motorcycle in 31 years, but she handles beautifully and feels rock-solid. Nevertheless, this is a machine that demands respect, and I intend to go very carefully until I feel really comfortable. But I'm going to enjoy the ride........

Tomorrow, I will be mainly talking about wine. ;-)

Saturday, 3 September 2011

A hearty Spanish red for the weekend

Aranleon Solo 2005 Utiel-Requena, Spain
After a couple of high(er)-end wines in the middle of the week (ref; Domaine de Montcalmes and Domaine de La Marfée) I opened a bottle of this little Spanish number last night. Actually, it isn't really little - it is quite a big, strapping wine really. A blend of Bobal, Tempranillo and Syrah, aged for 14 months in Hungarian oak barrels, the label describes how it is "the result of 2 years work; patient and accurate, like the snail's walk" (hence, the snail-shaped text on the label). And I must say that at 6 years of age, it is ageing at a snail's pace, and may well take another 5 to 10 years to really come to maturity - perhaps even more.

That said, it is rather pleasurable to drink now, albeit in a super-ripe style, with big, brambly fruit aromas and flavours, big, but velvety tannins and a touch of eau de vie. Every now and then, there's a hint of raspberry and flowers (the Syrah coming through, perhaps?) which adds a promising touch of aromatic lift. The one possible downside is that it shows only a modicum of acidity, although there may be a little bit to spare, hidden behind that really rather massive fruit/tannin structure, but only time will tell. Stylistically, though, it isn't a million miles removed from some very decent Cotes du Rhone Villages, which benefit from a similar sort of hot climate and tend to be imbued with relatively low acidity, but often blossom with age. Meanwhile, this wine remains more in the way of a winter warmer (which is unfortunate, given that we have just experienced what presumably passes as the English "summer") fit to match a hearty stew or a Sunday roast. Then again, it should go reasonably well with our traditional Saturday night pizza - home-made, of course! 14.0% abv.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Two very different Languedoc reds

Domaine de Montcalmès 2005 Coteaux du Languedoc
60% Syrah, 20% Grenache, 20% Mourvedre, aged for 2 years in new and one-year-old oak barrels. The oak is beautifully judged, insofar as it remains very much in the background, rather than competing with the fruit. Curiously though, the Grenache and Mourvedre content provides more than a match for the Syrah, in terms of aromatics, with some really quite smoky, savoury/meaty elements (and perhaps even a touch of brett?) plenty of ripe, brambly, slightly "confit" fruit, damp earth and an attractive whiff of eau de vie. In fact, it puts me more in mind of a Chateauneuf-du-Pape, albeit a rather good one. Somewhat more recognisable Syrah-like notes of white fruits and flowers emerge after a while, adding a welcome touch of elegance. The tannins are ripe and there is adequate (rather than ample) acidity, which - for now at least - is not quite enough to match the rather obvious feel of alcohol (although the label says 13.5%, I suspect it is somewhat more). Having said that, there is plenty of time for it soften out a bit. I do hope so, since I have more bottles of this tucked away (plus a few 2004's) so I must give it the benefit of the doubt - and a few more years under the satairs. It is a good wine, but it is (for now, at least) no match for the sheer unadulterated beauty of................

Domaine de La Marfée Les Vignes qu'On Abat 1999 Coteaux du Languedoc
This one is 100% Carignan and the phrase "les vignes qu'on abat" translates roughly as "the vines they are pulling up". An alternative (provided by Google Translate, which does things more literally) is "the vines that shade". I much prefer the former, although the latter also has some merit, due to the fact that this much-maligned variety is figuratively "in the shade" - i.e. forgotten and forsaken by all but its most ardent fans. Or at least in 1999 it was.............. These days, many short-sighted growers who pulled up their old Carignan vines in return for an easier life (and some easy money) will be quietly crying in their soup, given its resurgence in popularity amongst the more enlightened Languedoc winemakers and wine aficionados.

This wine still has many of the hallmarks of a young wine - deep purple in colour, with an abundance of fresh, ripe red and black fruits, but with some tell-tale secondary notes of tobacco and polished wood, and the classic hallmark of all La Marfée wines - crystallised fruits, blackcurrant leaf and a wonderfully unusual (for a red wine) whiff of elderflower. There are also some subtle hints of herbs and leather, which only serves to add yet more complexity. And yet, even at 12 years of age, the emphasis of this wine is very much on a combination of wonderful fruit, juicy acidity and fine tannins. Actually, it hasn't moved an awful lot since the last bottle I enjoyed, a good 18 months ago, but that is no bad thing in my book, because although it has another 5 to 10 years before it reaches its peak of maturity, it is just so lovely to drink now. Another utterly glorious wine from Domaine de La Marfée. Oh, and in case I haven't mentioned it before(!), you can buy the full range of current vintages from La Marfée - plus a couple of older wines - from my online shop.