Friday, 31 August 2012

Reunited, Together Again, Never Gonna Give You Up.........

OK, so that's enough of the song titles! Let me explain..........

A few weeks ago, I was up at my Mum's and was just going out of the front door when we noticed a car reversing from a drive across the road. I assumed that the driver had noticed my motorcycle parked there - after all, it is (for want of a better expression) big, red and shiny! With hindsight, what happened next was pretty inevitable really. In fact, it reminds me of King Harold's last words at the Battle of Hastings - "Watch that bloke over there with a bow and arrow - he'll have somebody's eye out in a minute!" Alright, so he probably didn't say that, but I bet he wished he had done. ;-)

"Ooh", said my Mum, "Watch that car over there, it looks as if it's getting a bit close to your bike." In the 2 or 3 seconds it would have taken me to run up the drive and bang on the car window, all I managed to do was to yell "Oi!!!!!!!", as the car sent my bike crashing down onto the pavement. As the rather shocked lady got out of her car, she remarked that she'd seen the bike parked there earlier, but was concentrating too much on looking left and right to notice what was behind her. I pulled the bike up and put it back on the stand, to inspect the damage. The most noticable things were a rather bad gash on the crankcase/clutch cover and a mashed-up handlebar end weight, plus a few superficial chips and scratches on the mirror, indicator, tail fin and the bottom of the fairing. "It's the first accident I've ever had, so I'd rather not go through the insurance and lose my no-claims", said the lady.

So the next day, I went to the Honda dealer to obtain prices for a new clutch cover and handlebar weight, which would come to just shy of £200. Being a kind soul (some would say naivve/stupid) I was prepared to overlook the chips and scratches, figuring I could sort those out myself. But by the time I contacted her, she'd discovered that there was some damage to the back of her car, and since her cover included a protected no-claims discount and just £50 excess, she would prefer to go through the insurance. It was all surprisingly simple and I hardly had to lift a finger, as her insurance company called to arrange collection (all the way from London!) of my bike and a replacement hire bike for the duration. Within a couple of days, I had a shiny black Kawasaki ZX6R to play with, whilst my Honda was taken away for assessment/repair.  It was a lovely bike, but not as lovely as my own, so I was keen to get it back.

Nice bike but not as nice as my own.......
What happened next was a bit more drawn-out and stressful than I had hoped. Clearly, the assessor had gone over the bike with a magnifying glass and a fine-tooth comb, because they decided that if every little bit of damage they found had to be repaired or replaced, it would exceed the value of the bike. I was left with three options:

(1) They would effect most (but not all) of the repairs, up to the cost of what they estimated the value of the bike to be.
(2) They would write-off the bike and it would be returned to me in its current condition, together with an amount of money.
(3) They would write-off the bike and dispose of it, and I would receive a cheque for the full current market value.

Being a bit dim, it took me a while to digest this information, so I asked him to just go back to option 2 and explain it to me in more detail. Basically, he said, it would be a "Category C" write-off - which in effect means "beyond economical repair, but can be put back on the road". "So", I asked, "apart from getting the bike back, how much will I get?" When I heard his answer, you could have knocked me down with a feather! "Bit of a no-brainer", I said. "Yes", he said.

It took a week or so for me to finally get the cheque, and another week before they brought my bike back, but - to cut a rather long story just a bit shorter - me and my beautiful Honda CBR600RR are finally reunited, and I have a decent-sized cheque in the bank, which should more than comfortably pay for the necessary repairs and replacement parts. All I have to do now is to get her through an MOT (which is due anyway) and re-insured (which is also due) and everything will be tickety-boo. And once I have spent a few hundred quid on replacing the damaged bits (all of which are purely cosmetic and don't affect the rideability of the bike) and some silver touch-up paint, she will effectively be back to pretty much mint condition. So who am I to complain?

Then again, it does bring into stark focus one of the reasons why insurance premiums are so damned expensive these days. That's all I'm going to say..........

Together again with my beautiful Honda CBR600RR
As a postscript, I also received a letter from my ex-employers the other day, informing me that I would receive a "corporate bonus" (or at least part thereof, for the part of the last financial year I worked). Considering I "retired" in October 2011, it came as a very pleasant surprise. Not a huge sum, you understand, but it will buy me a few nice bottles of wine. Every little helps! ;-)

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Two new wines from Provence - a classy rosé and a compelling red

Alongside all the other things that have been occupying my time in recent weeks, I have been dealing with my annual shipment of wines from Provence, including Domaine de Trévallon, Chateau d'Estoublon and a grower new to my list, Villa Minna (of which more in my next post). Meanwhile, here are my notes on a rosé and a red that I have just uploaded to the website.

1/3 each of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre, aged for 6 months, partly in oak barrel and partly in stainless steel. There is an orangey quality to both the colour and nose of this wine - an exquisite shade of pale onion skin/terracotta, with a delightful pot-pourri of flowers, summer fruits (redcurrant, raspberry, peach) and herbs and juicy tangerine. At 14.0% abv, it is definitely a food wine rather than a quaffer, but whilst undeniably rich and heady, it certainly isn't hot. The palate is in fact beautifully rounded and complex, offering soft red fruit and citrus, a layer of creamy richness, mouth-watering acidity and even a modicum of tannin. Again, there is a subtle herbiness, which combines seamlessly with the other elements in a tangy but elegant wine. It compares well with some of the finest rosés Provence has to offer (for instance, the excellent, though very pricey wines of Domaines Ott) at a price that doesn't break the bank. Classy wine! £15.79

The eagle-eyed amongst you will notice that the denomination has changed from Vin de Pays des Bouches du Rhone to IGP Alpilles. This is the result of recent reforms in the French wine regulations - see here for more information (for time-rich wine geeks only!). Essentially, though, nothing has changed - and the wine in the bottle is as good as ever - if not better!

A 50/50 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, with each variety aged in oak foudres for 20 months, prior to blending and bottling. The colour, which is deep-ish but semi-translucent, hints at an elegant wine - as does the truly evocative, perfumed nose, with its intense aromas of raspberry, redcurrant, cranberry and blackberry, hints of woodsmoke, garrigue herbs, garam masala and polished old wood. Neither the Cabernet nor the Syrah have the upper hand, with a touch of cassis and charred red capsicum melding nicely with hints of smoky pastrami and violet. As for the palate, I don't think I have ever tasted a Trévallon that shows such elegance and finesse in its first flush of youth. It is medium-bodied, rather than full-on, again more red fruits than black, and beautifully tangy, with ripe, supple tannins, soft citrus acidity and a noticeable streak of minerality. Subtle hints of lapsang tea, black olive tapenade, all-spice, meat and herbs de Provence show through, carried along upon waves of mouth-watering fruit. It is all so beautifully balanced and at 13.0% abv (quite unusual in these times of global warming) perfectly ripe - a sign of exceptional winemaking. This may not be a 20-year wine, in terms of development potential (though who is to say it won't be?) but it is so delicious now. Wines can sometimes go through a "closed" phase, but I suspect that this one will remain open for business, so if you want a clue as to the glories of an aged Trévallon, but don't want to wait, then this is the one. An utterly compelling wine. £38.75.

I'm not quite done with writing-up all of these new wines, but already have a few more notes in the can, as it were, so will be adding a few more blog entries over the next few days.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

I'm back!

To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated. Actually, there have been no such reports, but it has certainly been deathly quiet on this blog for far too long (nearly 5 weeks!). So what have I been up to that has been so important to prevent me communicating over the blogosphere for so long? Well, there was another trip to France (to visit my relatives in the north), organising more new wine imports, an insurance claim for damage to my motorcycle (no, I wasn't riding it at the time), stuff to do around the house and garden, not to mention being glued to the telly and/or computer watching Bradley Wiggins' epic Tour de France victory and those glorious 2 weeks of the London 2012 Olympics.

There are bloggers out there (including some in the wine world) who feel compelled to blog every single day, but I'm not one of them. I do it because I enjoy it - and clearly, some of my readers do too, given that I have had literally several(!) people telling me to get blogging again. But I see no point in blogging for the sake of it - even if I do have plenty to say! Sometimes, real life (and, occasionally, downright laziness) takes precedence. But now I am back, feeling (relatively) refreshed and ready to go. Who knows, I might even post several times within the next few days. Here's one I prepared earlier..........

I have been rather unkind about the wines of Domaine Matassa in the past. In fact, to say I've been forthright in my condemnation is a bit of an understatement. I wanted to like them, but couldn't find it within myself to do so. But I take each wine as it comes and try to judge on merit, rather than reputation, so it was nice to be able to say some good things (though with a caveat) about this one, which cropped up in a recent blind tasting at the Nottingham Wine Circle.

Matassa 2004 Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes
Still a nice youthful dark ruby colour, perhaps showing a touch of age at the rim. High-toned on the nose, perhaps even bordering on volatile acidity (which I like), with some very enticing aromas of redcurrant and cranberry and perhaps a touch of overripe bramble, with background notes of polished wood and leather, forest floor and a gentle meatiness. In the mouth, that slightly volatile acidity comes to the fore, in an almost unnatural (perhaps "enhanced") way - although, once again, it appeals to me, because I like plenty of acidity in my wine. My only slight concern is that the balance may (or may not) not be quite right. The tannins are beginning to resolve nicely, and there's a nice kernel of red and black fruit flavours, with a touch of garrigue herbiness. But a wine lives on it's acidity - and this wine has more than enough of thatm so the only question is, can it last? I guess only time will tell, and although I can see it ageing (and perhaps even improving) for a few years yet, I would be loath to keep it for too much longer. If you have some (I don't), then I would suggest you enjoy it now, whilst it still has a touch of sweet fruit to balance that acidity.

As fate/coincidence often has it in a blind (and, as usual at Nottingham Wine Circle, totally "un-organised") tasting, the Matassa was immediately followed by another wine from Languedoc, and built in a very similar fashion..........

Domaine Leon Barral Jadis 2005 Faugères
This is a really dark, brooding colour, again showing just a touch of maturity on the (tiny) rim. The nose is very complex, exhibiting notes of bramble, plum and blackcurrant, some rather classy oak, leather, meat, rotting leaves and a waft of eau de vie. Subtle hints of smoky bacon, herbs, wet stone and white flowers are indicative of Syrah and Carignan (plus I believe some Grenache) grown on schiste soil. It comes across as very fresh and vibrant, and again quite high-toned, especially on the palate, which possesses a rich, fruity, spicy and considerably tannic structure, but (as with the Matassa) an almost spine-tingling level of acidity. Again, whether this is all natural or enhanced is open to question. Whatever it is, it certainly makes the mouth water! And this is a mightily impressive wine, which (assuming those tannins soften a little and the acidity doesn't get too out of control) should age very nicely for another 5 to 8 years.

Finally, here's my note on the last of our samples from Domaine d'Archimbaud - not in stock, yet, but perhaps nearer to the end of the year...........

Domaine d'Archimbaud La Robe du Pourpre 2009 Languedoc Saint-Saturnin
I asked TLD the other night which bottle she would prefer - the £15 bottle (actually an absolute steal for the undoubtedly brilliant Vina Ardanza 2001 Rioja Reserva Especial) or the free bottle (i.e this one). Ultimately, I made the decision myself and, as TLD quite rightly stated, "Archimbaud have never made a bad wine". And this one is a classic example of why we both hold them in such high regard. A gloriously heady mix of red and black fruits, truffles, garrigue herbs, mint, polished old wood and cool eau de vie. Oh, and did I mention the waft of flowers and a subtle whiff of meat? It really is such a wonderful perfume, as are the flavours, which really do deliver on the promise of the nose in a wine that encapsulates everything that I love about Languedoc wines in general, and this grower in particular. As is often the case, I am writing my note on this wine based on the dregs, having opened the bottle a couple of evenings ago, but no matter, for it remains fresh, full of fruit and complexity and perfectly balanced (even at a relatively young age) with fine, silky tannins and lip-smacking acidity.

More (much more) anon!