Archive for the ‘Wines’ Category

Happy 5th birthday!

Andover Wine Friends’ 5th birthday party was a splendid occasion.  28 interesting bottles brought by members on the theme of ‘5’s – lots of 2007s, a good smattering of 2002s, some 1997s and one glorious 1982.  And it was a good mix of 16 original members who were there in 2007, plus those who have joined and much enriched us in the last five years. This was not an occasion for a lot of words but here are the bottles.  Here’s to the next five years …

26 bottles

The two class acts

two magnums

Five sweet wines

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Ageing gracefully in Roussillon

Quality wine develops over time. If a wine has sufficient fruit, acidity, structure and tannins, it can develop over years in the bottle, in exceptional cases over decades.  This is well known in relation to the classic wine regions. But what about up and coming ones – in this case Roussillon?  Most wines in this region are made to be drunk in the first few years, whether they are inexpensive simple bottlings or better lines from today’s new, quality-oriented, producers.  Most estates here do not keep older bottles for sale, let alone sell cases of older vintages.  It is fresh fruit and immediate drinkability they have in mind. 

But there are of course exceptions.  Domaine Cazes in Rivesaltes has at least three lines that are intended for ageing:

  • the vin doux naturels, fortified sweet wines, of course (the current vintage of the very top VDN is an amazing 1978);
  • Alter, to which we will return shortly;
  • and the Bordeaux blend which made up the Le Credo line up to 2006. 

In fact the shop still has some bottles back to the middle of last century.  So how does a typical South of France blend of 40% Syrah, 30% Grenache and 30% Mourvèdre, matured for one year in barriques, develop in the bottle. And, indeed, are the wines good enough to make it worth the wait? 


The six vintages of Cazes’ Alter which were tasted were served in twos.  Even the 2005 has some bottle age, but there was a marked difference between it and the 2003. 2005 has a modest fruit level – red plums and blackberry – and then some developing cloves and cedar wood notes but the tannins and acidity are still noticeable.  Without food, it is still quite a challenging glass of wine. This is surprising as most Roussillon reds are full of fruit and approachable.  No doubt the difference is due to the long maceration period the wine undergoes to give it the structure to develop in the longer term.   2003, from a very hot year, is much more approachable now, with a rather richer palate and much softer in the mouth. 

The next pair answer the main question.  There is a remarkable development in the 2001 and the 2000.  Within these wines the nose and the palate are beautifully integrated, positively perfumed.  There is some rather surprising vanilla notes on the 2001, but not the common new oak version, and a perception of sweetness which is probably the fruit showing through.  After an initial medicinal aroma has faded, most people thought the 2001 was the wine of the evening.  The 2000 showed very soft tannins and was highly drinkable. 

The final pair, 1998 and 1996, moved into another register – at first a marked ‘Bird’s custard powder’ smell and then the more typical aromas of fully mature wines: leather, truffle, mushroom.  There were still some years ahead of the 15 year old wine, although it is already all tertiary notes.  So from our intermediate and final pairs it is quite clear that these Roussillon reds of this quality develop markedly and attractively in the bottle. It is worth cellaring them. 

IMG_0864IMG_0855The final bottle of the evening was Domaine des Schistes, Les Terrasses, AC Côtes de Roussillon Villages Tautavel, Sire, 2002.  This wine was bought in the UK, whereas the Cazes is not currently imported – apart from privately that is. It is also a blend: 40% Syrah, 40% Grenache noir, 20% Carignan and about the same price of €13. The result is a rather richer style with again excellent development over the years.  Ageing gracefully is clearly part of the wine scene in Roussillon. 

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Sancerre meets Roussillon

IMG_0543Andover Wine Friends’ September tasting featured a comparison between two very different French wine regions: Sancerre very much in the middle of this large country in the aptly named ‘Central Vineyards’ and Roussillon, 600 kilometres further south and on Spain’s Mediterranean border. 

The contrasts between the two regions are marked:



  • historic vineyard with a recognisable name, famous for a century for its white wines
  • bulk wine producer for much of the twentieth century now trying to establish a profile for excellent value and increasing quality
  • moderated continental climate, with short hot summers and cold winters, with a risk of frost in spring; nearly 1,900 hours of sunshine a year (Oxford has 1,500), and an overall average temperature of 11.8° C (Oxford is around 10° C). 
  • highly reliable sunny Mediterranean climate with low rainfall which mainly falls in winter.  2,500 hours of sunshine a year and an overall average temperature of 14° C
  • overwhelmingly white wine from Sauvignon Blanc, around 80% of production, and the rest is Pinot Noir, mostly of local interest
  • mainly red blends, but with important production of rosé, sparkling wine in Limoux, some interesting whites and sweet vin doux naturels – the full range of wines!
  • an internationally recognised style of Sauvignon Blanc – not aggressively ‘green’ and grassy, but grapefruit flavours, mineral, potential for complexity; capable of being made in unoaked and oaked styles and, unusually for this variety, age-worthy. 
  • typical modern wine styles  – full-bodied, moderately high alcohol, fruity, clean, highly drinkable, mostly not intended for ageing
  • the vin doux naturels have a whole style catalogue of its own: read more

The wines tasted were mainly from two estates Janet and I visited in October 2010 and June 2011: Henri Bourgeois in Chavignol, Sancerre and Domaine Gayda, near Bugairolles, just in Languedoc but with vineyards in Roussillon as well. This was a great opportunity to reassess the wines away from the ‘bonus’ factor of being at the winery. 

Bourgeois’ Sancerres more than stood up to the test – they are wines with a great sense of place, full of flavour, and with a great balance between their fruit, the mineral notes IMG_0557and the characteristic acidity of grapes in a fairly northerly latitude.  The fairly basic ‘La Bougeoisie’ AC Sancerre 2007 has sophisticated gooseberry and grapefruit fruit, with just a hint of lime and more exotic fruit and a good refreshing length.  Jadis, Sancerre 2008 is a much more substantial affair: made with the fruit of old vines (50 years and more) like the other wines it is part fermented in stainless steel and part in oak.  It is still extremely young but has a powerful nose and palate of melon, asparagus/grass, some enticing floral elements with some as yet unintegrated blockiness.  Great persistence.  By contrast, Etienne Henri, Sancerre 2002, manages to hold together the sweet roundedness of the oak (this is fermented in oak barrels) and the rich fruit, ranging from melon to grapefruit to lime peel. The ageing means there is less immediate attack but a big bonus in terms of complexity and completeness. 

We stayed in central France briefly.  Unfortunately our bottles of simple Sancerre Rouge had somehow mysteriously been drunk  before I put this tasting together … Pinot Noir does not stand much of a chance in our house unless it is carefully secluded in the fairly impenetrable depths of the wine store.  So we made do with a bottle of Pinot from Chablis producer, Vignoble Dampt, just a 100 kilometres away in the most northerly part of Burgundy – pale, mild cherry and savoury notes.  I like this style because it is clearly Pinot from a cool site but many others were underwhelmed. 

Meanwhile down south, Domaine Gayda shows a typical southern eclecticism: a white made with the local grape variety, Maccabeo, a single variety Grenache and IMG_0556then a Cabernet Franc.  We tasted these with a much more typical southern blend from Les Vignerons de Lesquerde: Grenache, Syrah and Carignan. These showed the vitality of the wine scene down here under the sun. 

First the three wines from Domaine Gayda.  The Figure Libre, Maccabeo, Pays d’Oc IGP, 2009 is a  really excellent effort – Maccabeo is more known for dull, rather acidic wines, rather than this lively palate of peach, citrus and some leafiness.  Jancis Robinson found honey and granite – quite an interesting combination!  The Grenache Vin de Pays d’Oc IGP, 2008 is the vivacious, delicious substantial quaffer which Gayda serve at lunch times in their roof-top restaurant.  Figure Libre, Cabernet Franc, Pays d’Oc IGP 2009 is beautifully judged – great depth of ripe fruit, herbs, some chocolate notes: ‘chocolate digestive biscuits’ was the snappy description of one professional taster!  This is rich without being sickly or jammy. 

The wine from Lesquerde’s excellent co-operative was Hesiode, AC Côtes de Roussillon Lesquerdes, 2008.  This is a special selection of the three varieties mentioned above, from very low yields of 17-25 hectolitres per hectare, half those that are typical of quality producers. The Grenache here on the village’s granite soils producing a great palate of strawberry and balsam, ripe fruit of course, then black pepper and structure from the Syrah.  Excellent quality for about £8 at the co-operative in France. 

We finished the evening on with a bottle of, I thought, rather undistinguished vin doux naturel from Domaine des Soulanes, Maury 2008, but it was certainly pleasantly moderately sweet with some fruit.  Although an unconventional pairing, Sancerre and Roussillon showed the richness of winemaking styles in France.  Sancerre – I hasten to add of this quality – showed why it is one of the great names of French viticulture and Roussillon demonstrated variety,  vivacity and value-for-money. 

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Ch. Palmer and Monprivato

The setting is a very generous dinner invitation, a tour around a ‘cellar’ – that is, a very fine collection of wines, many of them old, in a well-protected garage – and congenial wine-appreciating company.  Ten wines were served with four splendid courses, enjoyed by eight people.  The highlights included Duval-Leroy’s 2000 vintage champagne and a 20+ year old bottle of Blanc de Noir and, at the other end of proceedings, a vin doux naturel from Priorat – yes, they do exist: Nus de Mas d’en Gil, not cheap but concentrated and delicious. But the two stars of the evening were Chateau Palmer 1982 and Giuseppe Mascarello’s Monprivato Barolo 1971

On the blind tasting front, there was as always good news and bad news: I got the old left bank Bordeaux correctly (the general area and style, not the individual chateau and year, I hasten to add) but I couldn’t place the Barolo, which was rather surprising given that I taste far more Italian wines than claret. However, my normal fare is not 40 year old Barolo! What I missed were the tannins … but by the time a wine is this old the tannins are not what they were. 

Both wines were in good or even very good conditions.  The claret was remarkably lively – as Robert Parker told everyone (and made his name) it was a good year: the quality showed particularly in its richness, ripe fruit softened with age, no shouting Cabernet Sauvignon notes as, with the passage of time, all has been melded into a harmonious whole. This bottle didn’t quite make its 30th birthday but it was a tribute to the development of fine and quite assertive claret. 

IMG_0856The Barolo was more difficult to spot but then it was another ten years older.  It showed very fine clovely and red berried aromas, in colour pale ruby with hints of garnet, and a taut palate of real length.  That tautness was what remained of the acidic and tannic structure of the Nebbiolo grape.  It was a very beautiful old wine.  For my palate, I would have liked to try it at 20 and 30 years – I guess that I would prefer this wine with more of the red berries flavour and rose perfume of a younger wine. Monprivato is one of the great historic vineyards of Castiglione Falleto (one of Barolo’s villages), six hectares in all, mid-slope, at 280 metres above sea level, for which there is documentary evidence going back to 1666.

Some guests noticed the slightly unusual bottle shape, that is neither Burgundy nor Bordeaux, while I puzzled over the bottle count given on the label, which counted the numbers produced in ‘Albeise’.  I had forgotten or perhaps never understood that the good inhabitants of Alba – between the Barbaresco, Barolo and Roero wine areas – had created a distinctive bottle for their great wines. It apparently goes back to the eighteenth century and was resurrected in 1973 by the Unione Produttori Vini Albesi – though obviously Mascarello was using it before this. 

Thanks to Lefty and Trish for a great evening … may your bottles age ever more gracefully and us with them! 

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Truly, madly, Friuli

Ok, sorry about the title!  The Italian region, Friuli Venezia Giulia, to give it its full title and restore its dignity, is one of Italy’s politically semi-autonomous areas, in this case on the far north east border.  Its neighbour to the east is Slovenia, with Austria to the north.   It suffered a great deal in the twentieth century because of its position on key transport routes, north-south and east-west, but has spent the last 64 years in Italy.  Geographically, over 40% of the region is alpine, with a further nearly 40% being the coastal plain. From a wine point of view, it is the 20% hilly area which is of the greatest interest. 

Personally, I have a very soft spot for Friuli as Janet and I learnt Italian in the seaside town of Grado – there is nothing like getting up at 7.30 in the morning on ‘holiday’ to go to Italian class for the first of six hours of contact time and two lots of homework per day! The enoteche, wine bars, were full of Friulian whites.  

The wine scene in Friuli is very diverse because of the range of types of land, differences of wine making and climate.  In general it benefits from weather which in turn is dominated by warm winds from the sea and cool/damp conditions from the mountains.  The most important wine area of all is Collio, the twenty kilometre by four kilometre crescent of land which runs parallel, more or less, to the Slovenian border.  These rather modest hills (80-200 metres) have a very particular geology, which, rather like Chablis, owe a great deal to trillions of crustacean shell forming a sea bed which over millennia has become the complex ‘flysch’ sandstone and ‘ponca’ soils of the area.

In Italy and indeed abroad, Friuli is synonymous with white wine. As such is the only Italian region to specialise in white wine.  Campania has great whites, Sardinia has its Vermentino, Trentino and Alto Adige, Friuli’s neighbours, have reds and whites, but Friuli is 80% whites.  Quality whites are, however, a modern phenomenon.  It is only in the last 50 years that Friulian producers have learned to make white wine predominantly in a contemporary, fresh style.  Before that the wines were quite oxidised, spent a lot of time in old wood barrels and were basically cheap wine for local consumption. 


How did this change of direction come about?  In the late 1960s Mario Schiopetto (pronounced in Italian without the ‘h’ sound: sci…) influenced an entire generation of growers to make a new style of wine. He started to process harvested fruit quickly with the minimum use of sulphur dioxide, kept his fermenting musts cool to preserve fruit flavours and aged wine mainly without recourse to wood. As a result, his wines brought out the fruit characteristics which in turn depended on assiduous work in the vineyard.  Without oxidation and wood ageing, everything depends on the quality of the fruit and then on the lightest possible touch in the winery.  The style overall is well summed up ‘freshness, clarity, purity’ – see Carla Capalbio’s excellent introduction to the region, ….It is this revolution which created the modern wines with which Friuli has made its name at home and abroad. 

At dinner on Saturday, we had the chance to taste just about the whole Schiopetto range, now in the capable hands of the next generation.  The picture above shows two white blends, four single varietal whites and one brave red.  We are missing just one, the simpler of the two red blends.  What is most striking is the family resemblance in the whites – they are all elegant, quite powerful and structured wines, with 13.5-14% alcohol, with stone fruit flavours, good mouth feel, refreshing acidity and persistence.  They are refined, full of character and mostly age-worthy, all good characteristics in a white wine.


Let’s start with the white blends, not least because the wines in this area used to be the traditional blend of Malvasia Istriana, Ribolla Gialla and Friulano grapes.  The first of these is a Greek variety which has been here at least since the fourteenth century and probably much longer and is aromatic. Ribolla Gialla is perhaps the most assertive of the Friulian whites and has become a focus for some growers, eg Josko Gravner.  However, here it is just used here in this blend.  Friulano, on the other hand, is Friuli’s most important and distinctive grape, just about re-emerging from the debacle of losing its traditional name, Tocai Friulano in a scrape with the Hungarians over the European naming rights. 

Just to make life more complicated, Collio Bianco 2007 has become a quality designation which is in effect a blank canvas.  While it used to be a blend of the three local white grape varieties, you can now take your pick from any combination of the historic three varieties plus Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Traminer, etc.  Schiopetto’s version is something old, something new: 45% Friulano and 55% Chardonnay.  Pale in colour, it shows ripe apple, lemon and then more exotic fruit.  The peaches and yellow plum fruit is probably the expression of Chardonnay in quite a warm climate. 

One of my favourite wines was the other blend:   Blanc de Rosis, Bianco Venezia Giulia IGT, 2008, which draws on five varieties, Friulano, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon, Malvasia and Ribolla.  As an exception, the Malvasia is aged in wood.  Mid lemon in colour, similar on the nose to the Bianco above but much assertive on the palate and slightly more aromatic.  If you find Friulian whites rather withdrawn, you should try this one. 

Most of the whites, however, are made of single grape varieties.  In the tasting we started with the Sauvignon Collio DOC 2008 as the aperitif.  I am happy to admit that this is because I am not particularly fond of this grape except on the Loire, but I liked this one: not grassy or overly herbaceous, after three years the fruit here resembles melon and peaches, with some honey tones.  It would be interesting to try a young bottle.  All the usual Schiopetto qualities of balance and persistence were certainly present too. On the matter of age, the Pinot Grigio Collio DOC 2008 was the least successful wine. It had lost the youthful zip of this variety and not really gained anything in return.  Nice mouth feel – but for an older white you would do better with Pinot Bianco Collio DOC 2007, with its mildly exotic bouquet, and luscious but firm peach fruit. In the mouth it was simultaneously silky and substantial. Very good – some said it was like a medium weight Burgundy.  Finally, there was of course Friulano Collio DOC 2008. The nose here was not unlike the Pinot Bianco palate, suggesting peachy fruit and fatness.  The hall mark almond flavour was not very obvious in the mouth but there was certainly all the polish and substance that all the wines showed. 

IMG_0522The final wine was of course the red, Rivarossa, Rosso Venezia Giulia IGT 2001, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot.  The seller of the wine was anxious that it might have gone over but nothing could be further than the truth; interestingly the label specifically says it is suitable forIMG_0536 ageing.  Fine, bright fruit still with the leafy notes of Cabernet Franc to the fore, mint and eucalyptus, lively in the mouth, fresh finish and balanced. An excellent red in the region of white wine.  Good work in the vineyard and the winery – as exemplified by Mario Schiopetto – will always show through in the glass. 

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Champagne challenge

The ‘Bring a Bottle Club’ on the theme of Champagne – chosen to honour Janet’s birthday – proved quite a challenge.  As the wines are tasted blind, there are only a small number of possible factors to consider:

  • colour – all the wines were all white, not a single rosé!
  • there are a small number of still wines from Champagne but no body brought one
  • similarly, there are various grades of dry and sweeter wines, but these were all pretty much Brut: no ‘nature’ or anything half or fully sweet
  • grape blend: some permutation of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier
  • non-vintage or vintage
  • age
  • house style – the big Champagne houses aim for continuity from year to year which might give you a clue, but in fact all the wines were from the interesting, less predictable small houses
  • if you are in the advanced class, individual Premier Cru or Grand Cru villages.

So with hindsight, it is easy to see why this was such a difficult, if pleasurable, exercise.  And, as it worked out, we agreed that we needed to organise an expert-led tutored tasting.  With wine tasting, as in so many other fields, the answer is ‘more research needed’!

IMG_0457 We started with a really nice gesture – a bottle of Berry Bros Grand Cru produced by one of the group who wasn’t able to come to the tasting. Not only was that really generous, but it set a sort of benchmark, especially as it was tasted knowing what it was.  75% Pinot Noir and then Chardonnay, this was an excellent wine, fine, rich and yeasty on the nose, substantial and structured on the palate, with a long finish.  It was rather more substantial than quite a few of the wines which followed, but then it is Grand Cru. 
Wine number 2 was younger, lighter and more refreshing than the first. We guessed correctly that it was a classic Champagne blend,  Pinot Meunier Pinot Noir and Chardonnay (in this case 40, 40, 20%). People commented on the way that it filled the mouth with its sherbet bubbles.  Autréau Premier Cru Brut, from Champillon, near Epernay.  IMG_0463
IMG_0470Inevitably there were some unknown connections in the wines that we brought. Here the common factors were first Waitrose and then Duval LeRoy, based in the Côtes de Blanc village of Vertus. As it happened Duval LeRoy is literally next door to André Jacquart which also featured in the tasting.  In tasting order, a Brut 2004 vintage wine (picture on the left), 100% Chardonnay – quite floral, IMG_0488excellent sharp apples, lees, biscuits, with some ageing. The second, Fleur de Champagne Premier Cru – again good ginger biscuit notes, rounded fruit, apple and melon, very persistent.  A contrast to its neighbour from André Jacquart, Blanc de Blanc Brut, which has fine assertive fruit and freshness with a creamy even rice pudding or banana finish, having been fermented in barrels.
IMG_0475 Ok here was the googly.  After a slightly sulphery start, this wine was rather different, with a ‘fruit drop’ or confected nose, some elderflower aroma, then a rich and mouth filling palate with fruit sweetness and a drying finish.  Some wondered if it was Champagne … and they were right. It was an English intruder … Camel Valley, ‘Cornwall’, Brut 2009
Was this really Champagne or had an old if light glass of sherry with a hint of effervescence been smuggled into this company?  The colour alone told us that this was not in the best of conditions.  But it still had merits if in an oxidised way with some toffee notes, residual fruit and decent acidity.  My guess was for 40 years old which was about my only correct one of the evening! Louis Roederer 1971 – other bottles had withstood the rigours of age better.  IMG_0480IMG_0481
IMG_0483 Not so much back on the straight and narrow but to the top of the (quality) pyramid. Fine nose of elderflower and fruit and then a beautifully structured wine with sinews. Some spotted that it was Blanc de Blanc, ie 100% Chardonnay. Jacques Selosse VO (Version Originale) Extra Brut is a grand Grand Cru wine. The unusually informative back label tells us it is made in a tiny batch of 3600 bottles, blended across three years and from three vineyards, Avize, Cramant and Oger, You can read a particularly enthusiastic review of this wine here and a professional one here.
And another unannounced ‘pair’, perhaps not surprisingly from local wine merchant CavisteCamille Savès: the non-vintage ‘Carte Blanche’ Premier Cru on the right, the Grand Cru Bouzy 2002 in the blue label on the left.  The former presented as a nicely balanced wine from 75% Pinot Noir and 25% Chardonnay (with some Premier Cru and Grand Cru fruit)  with a rich, spicy approach.  The latter, leads with rich fruit (quince) and oak notes, a rich palate featuring ripe and sharp apple flavours, not particularly  IMG_0503complex but powerful and very good. From the Bouzy Grand Cru vineyard: 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay.
IMG_0505 IMG_0507
IMG_0482 As always, the food at the Red Lion, Overton, was superb – and you can eat with your eyes as well as your taste and smell: so much easier.  Champagne is a great theme but we could have done with more variety in styles.  And we clearly need more practice.
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Around the world in eight Cabernets

In his introduction to a tasting for Andover Wine Friends, Martin Hudson, Master of Wine, summarises the key points about Cabernet Sauvignon with masterly (of course) clarity:

  • Cabernet Sauvignon only became significant in Bordeaux at the end of the eighteen century, i.e., despite its worldwide fame it is a very young variety
  • it is the result of a crossing between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc and so is, unusually, perfectly named
  • a thick skinned, late budding, late ripening grape which needs a hot climate and free-draining soil
  • it makes highly coloured, tannic wines with fresher acidity and less alcohol than Merlot but with greater ageing potential
  • Blackcurrant is the key fruit character with some green pepper and herbaceous notes in cool climates, and richer dark chocolate and coffee notes in hotter areas
  • It has a great affinity for oak
  • It is blended in Bordeaux (principally with Cabernet Franc and Merlot), but stands alone elsewhere

The tasting which followed illustrated these points and perfectly showed the range of outcomes with this grape variety around the world.  This is case worth making as the perception is that because Cabernet is such a dominant character and so reliable in suitably hot climates, the wines are basically the same around the world.  But read on …

IMG_8371 A bonus wine to start with and the only one in this tasting to be made with Cab Franc – Ackerman’s Crémant de Loire, sparkling Rosé, nice mid salmon to apricot pink, strawberry fruit, some yeastiness from second fermentation in the bottle and a ripe, rounded palate (12g per litre of residual sugar, the sweet end of Brut).  All this for €5 a bottle in a French supermarket? – let’s move to France! 
Phebus, Mendoza, Argentina, 2009: a classic deep colour (as with all the following Cab Sauvignons), from a vineyard at 3,000ft above sea level, ripe but not super-ripe blackcurrant flavours and chocolate; soft, no oak, so untrammeled fruit.  Lots of sun, low humidity, fully ripe fruit but the cool evenings preserve the fresh acidity.  Stocked by Waitrose.  IMG_8374
IMG_8375 Casas del Bosque, Rapel Valley, Chile, 2008: the first oaked wine, so black fruit again but not in simplicity.  Under the subtle oak veneer, ripe fruit and a herbaceous note (this combination is the clue for Chile), plus tannic structure and sweetness from nine months in French oak.  A fine result from some altitude in the Rapel valley. Available at Grape Expectations, Andover. 
This was a surprise.  The reputation of Californian Cabernet is for big, clunky Cabs with loads of new oak.  But Beringer Knights Valley 2005 is grown on well-drained volcanic soil in Sonoma, which is a bit cooler than Napa, and has had 12 months in French oak, much of it new.  Pure fruit and a silky, rather refined palate and a grippy finish. Classy. Sold by Berry Bros.  IMG_8377
IMG_8380 The rule of thumb is that Cab S is made as a single variety wine in the New World but of course there are exceptions.  Esk Valley Gimblett Gravels, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand 2009 is one of them, being Merlot, Cab S and Malbec in roughly equal proportions. A very deep colour with a purple edge, this was restrained on the nose, with fine ripe fruit but with added richness on the palate, no doubt due to the Merlot.  Very impressive: Berrys
From New Zealand to Australia: Katnook Founder’s Block, Coonawara, 2008.  Slight smell of sulphur, then super ripe fruit on the nose, tar and chocolate (perhaps a bit overdone), nice tannins, not much acidity – not a keeper and the result of endless Aussie sunshine.  Available at Waitrose IMG_8386
IMG_8387 Another surprise: Constantia Glen ‘Three’, South Africa 2007, a 40, 40, 20 blend of the two Cabs and Merlot, made from very low yields on a North facing slope and matured in new wood.  A slightly rustic nose, high ripeness and some green notes, smoky, concentrated, but tannins and overall balance very good. Still opening up after four hours.  New World fruit and Old World elegance? Berrys
Quinta da Bacalhôa, Setubal, Portugal, 2008: 10% Merlot, otherwise Cab S, held together by quite a big slug of new French oak.  A big, opulent wine which really needs time, but showing the sweetness of the oak and lots of structure, as well as good ripe fruit.  Whether or not Portugal ought to be using French grapes when they have so many great ones of their own is another question.  Stocked by Grape Expectations IMG_8390
IMG_8393 No Cab S tasting would be complete without a classed claret: Ch. du Tetre, Margaux, 2002, roughly a three way split between the Cabernets and Merlot, matured in oak, 50% new.  Just beginning to show tertiary ‘pencil shaving’ notes, savoury, medium level of fruit, but subtle, elegant and long.  A pretty decent classed growth in an average vintage – unlike many of the above, Bordeaux is a marginal climate for Cab S so the vintage is vital.  Berrys (of course!) 
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The very last bottle …

I was cooking on Saturday evening and needed some wine to moisturise some belly of pork I was going to cook for a couple of hours – why stand over a stove if you can leave the dish to cook itself?  And I was trying to find a space in the ‘everyday bottles’ bin in the kitchen so I could empty a box cluttering up the cupboard. So I took a chance on a bottle without a label, which I knew was about 25 years old and which was – I can say definitively – the very last bottle on the planet of this particular wine.  Having had the bottle since around the mid 1980s I had no idea if it would be drinkable or not, I rather suspected not.

So, what was it like? The cork was distinctly small and virtually jumped out of the bottle, not a good sign.  The wine was a fairly attractive amber colour, with a clear orange rim, a sure sign of age, and wasn’t entirely clear. The bottle had thrown a bit of sediment but in general there was some very slight cloudiness. One approach to the glass reveals that the wine is in drinkable condition … a moderately oxidised nose, but with pleasant honey and raisin aromas, some marmalade and mushroom notes developing after a while, a bit like an old sherry.  The palate is consistent with this – a slight woodiness, some residual sweetness, some smoke, definitely high in alcohol.  It reminded Janet of the sherry she used to drink many years ago.  But all in all, the wine was still more than drinkable, in fact quite pleasant with the pork, five spice and wine dish.

And what was the wine?  I was an impoverished post-graduate student for many years and in those years made country wines – elderberry and elderflower especially – and kit wines.  The resulting bottles were drinkable but not great, but they do teach you about wine making and I tried all sorts of styles: still, sparkling, dessert, even a sherry type.  In my first job the economic equation and time constraints began to change the balance and so wine production stopped and wine buying began.  Most of the home production was drunk fairly rapidly but a couple of bottles hung about and didn’t get drunk.  As the years passed they got moved from house to house like heirlooms you don’t know what to do with.  Finally one bottle was left, one without a label of course, so it is difficult to know exactly what it was!

I think, and this is my best guess, it was a sherry type wine made from raisons (so it does just qualify as wine) and I believe also had some sort of grain in it – which might account for the woodiness.  Anyway, it was jolly decent of it to bring down the final curtain on this now far distant chapter of my wine education by being recognisable and even drinkable all these years later.  After all, when this wine was made, computers were still the size of a small fridge (I bought my first Amstrad with 512K of memory at much the same time), the internet was the preserve of IT professionals and blogging had not been invented.  There has been lots of development since then, but none as pleasing as the fact that even a home made bottle without a label can be drinkable and give pleasure after all these years.

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The guessing game

Blind tasting line-up – with a few interlopers (shop samples)


Ah, the monthly challenge of blind tasting … can you tell your Chardonnay from your Chenin, your Syrah from your Sangiovese? This month there were a couple of easy numbers, some real surprises and some that were completely off the wall. It all makes for a great evening!


Sancerre 2009, Cuvée G.C.  Jean-Max Roger

Phew, an easy start. All eleven of us (I am pleased to report) recognised the old world Sauvignon Blanc and so headed for the Loire.  The grapes in this wine are mostly from the Le Grand Chemarin vineyard in the village of Bué, with stony, clay-limestone based soils.  Moderate gooseberry notes, a good mineral streak, very long … from one of the premier ACs, Sancerre, in a warm year, so lots of body and ripe fruit.  Very good. 

IMG_7410 Not so simple.  Allende 2006, Rioja blanco. Lovely colour, dense mid yellow with gold hints.  Most of us thought this was old world – but had forgotten about white Rioja, here 50/50 Malvalsia and Viura grapes.  Very rich, tasted as if it were almost off dry, hugely oaked, fruit somewhere in there.  Good length. 
Meursault Premier Cru Les Charmes, Vincent Bouzereau, 2002, which had us all foxed.  A great year, a great producer, very assertive nose, some toffee apple in there, but amazingly fresh on the palate without being obviously acidic.  Perhaps not typical Meursault but impressive. No one I think spotted the Chardonnay from this classic region and village.  IMG_7423
IMG_7425 After we had learned what this was I asked after the vintage – which is written in huge letters on the label!  So blind tasting can be blind in more than one sense.  Argilo, Vouvray Sec, Bourillon-Dorléans, 1999.  Very attractive flowers and apple on the nose, lots of development, very good acidity (which was the clue that this is Chenin Blanc), rich and delicious.  Although technically dry, some residual sweetness.
IMG_7426 IMG_7431
First of an (unplanned pair of wines) made with Pinot Noir. Savigny-les-Beaune Premier Cru, Cuvée A. Girard, Hospices de Beaune 2004. Quite a deep colour for Pinot, not very obviously Pinot nose but that’s what the consensus was (rightly), fine velvety texture.  Some thought it was New World, but in fact it was red Burgundy.  The second Pinot, promoted in the batting order for the sake of comparison, everyone thought was New World and indeed most thought New Zealand, correctly: Felton Road Pinot Noir 2004.  Rich, deep and fresh, a completely different style from the red Burgundy.  IMG_7429
IMG_7454-1 Most thought wine this was Italian – because I had brought it – a drawback of a tasting which was not truly blind.  The further thoughts were either to place it in the North (Piedmont) or the South, which just left the Tuscany of the famous areas.  Cloves and sour cherries and dark plum fruit, in fact Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Boscarelli, 2002 (bottle on the right of the picture on the right). 90% Sangiovese, with some help from Mammolo, Canaiolo and Colorino, a  blend of traditional Tuscan grape varieties, aged in old and large barrels. Very classic.  
On the left in the picture above was a complete mystery, after an initial punt on a very warm part of Beaujolais was ruled out.  Spicy, dense fruit, good palate, some complexity but rather short, what could it be?  Most were in the New World, which was a reasonable deduction.  Azamor Petit Verdot, Alentejano, Portugal – an unusual example of the minor blending grape from Bordeaux being given a star role.  IMG_7434

I have only a very weak memory of this wine. But that could be due to palate or just social fatigue – it was wine number nine, or rather number twelve as there were three other shop samples not written up here.  We got the continent right, but no one had the correct grape variety: lots of mint and menthol on the nose, dense red and some black fruit, impressive, say my notes.  In fact it is Ridge 1996, Lytton Springs, California, 78% Zindfandel, then Carignan and Petit Syrah. 

OK – this was a lot easier, especially in contrast to Portuguese Petit Verdot!  Most plumbed straightaway from Shiraz and for the Barossa and were right, more or less. Typical densely packed black fruit, pepper, some richness, good refreshing finish.  ?migré, The Colonial Estate, Barossa Valley, 2003, Australia, is a blend of predominantly Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre. One final red to go!  IMG_7437
IMG_7440 And the last red was a complete mystery!  Initially this wine was not very expressive and then gradually red fruit and some oak began to appear, but what was really noticeable was the high tannin levels.  We thought it was in the Old World, correctly and were offered Italy as a clue – so that’s just down to 500 or so common varieties then.  Let’s cut to the quick: Toar 2005, Masi, Veneto, Italy. It is mainly Corvina (as in Valpolicella) but is cut with Oseleta, which I am happy to admit I have never heard of before. It produces tiny berries for wines of great concentration and must be massively tannic to beef up the normally tame Corvina to this extent. The name Toar refers to the volcanic soil of the region. 
The first sweet wine proved to be a star and therefore merits two pictures, one for the  bottle and one for the splendid colour, in real life a mid salmon pink turn towards orange.  ‘Bright copper’ says another commentator.  Domaine des Aubuisières Vouvray, Le Marigny, Sélection de Grains Nobles, 1990 was rich, luscious and balanced, our friend Chenin Blanc again – see the dry Vouvray above.   You can see the texture in the impressive ‘tears’ on the glass, but it is so brilliantly set off by continuing acidity which keeps this 21 year old in healthy mid-life.  A treasure probably best shared with a group of friends! IMG_7450IMG_7446
IMG_7456-1 And finally – a technically sweet red wine which people tried to place in Italy and finally got to the South of France.  Cirera, Domaine Madeloc, Pierre Gaillard, Banyuls 2005, was not that sweet in fact and slightly spirity, as benefits a Vin Doux Naturels.  Made from Black Grenache, it is surprisingly tannic.  Overall it is certainly robust and no push over. Not sure it would do well with chocolate as per the classic match. 
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French dinner at Longparish

The North Hampshire countryside is full of small treasures, the trout rivers, the attractive villages, the cricket pitches (immaculately maintained or suffering from neglect), the ancient trees in the fields.  Increasingly the pubs are having to diversify to survive.  The Plough at Longparish has gone very successfully down the gastropub route, while retaining a loyal band of local drinkers.  This proved to be a very good venue for Andover Wine Friends to hold a themed French dinner with matching wines.  The food was in the main very good, and the wines, chosen and supplied by Ian Hewson (Wine-Man Ltd) were a study in good combinations.


Consomme First up a pretty ambitious starter, Fois Gras ravioli in a chicken consommé finished with truffle oil.  The consommé was excellently carried off, full of flavour and with that unmistakable truffle aroma.  The pasta didn’t quite live up to that. Clearly hand made, it was a bit rustic for such a subtle dish.  Pinot Gris Reserve 2008 from the Cave de Hunawihr was an excellent match, simultaneously rich and refreshing, with that luxury touch which matched the truffle oil. 
The fish course put the ‘pub’ back into gastropub with its interpretation of Crayfish tail and lemon croquette with almond beurre noisette.  The flavours here were fine, the salty tang of the crayfish set off by the almonds and citrus. Attractively presented, the croquette was a bit on the large size with lots of potato – fine for feeding hungry manual labourers, not really needed for pampered diners.  Tourraine Sauvignon 2009, Domaine de la Colline, had those characteristic gooseberry fruit notes of Sauvignon Blanc but the very good vintage gave the wine an additional rich and rounded character. IMG_7396
IMG_7400 Again remarkable ambition here, with Date stuffed crown of duck on thyme potato rösti and duck sausage on plum mash with a cherry jus, pretty successfully carried off.  The matched wine was Chateau Brion la Romaine 2005, Medoc.  2005 was a great year in Bordeaux and by some happy accident I have some stashed away so it was good to get a preview.   This example (at a modest price) had some beautifully developed aromas on the nose but not quite the follow through on the palate.  But a good glass of wine to go with the meat course.
Lemon tart with lemon crème fraiche was excellent, especially the zip of the lemon filling of the tart.  Also very good was Côtes de Bergerac Moelleux 2006 Cuvée Dalmain which was honeyed, rounded and luscious.  If it wasn’t quite sharp enough to stand up to the Lemon tart, that wasn’t exactly its fault!  IMG_7404

All in all, this was a splendid evening with 24 of us having an excellent time. Many thanks to David, Kerry and all the staff at the Plough.  May your dishes and wines always be perfectly matched!


A very rare sighting of an occasional attender at Andover Wine Friends!

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