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).