Mission impossible

Asking the owner of an independent wine shop to choose just six wines to show off his wines is definitely mission impossible.  If the shop is a creation of one person, he or she has spent hundreds of hours and selfless tasted probably thousands of wines to pick the stock … and then they have to be whittled down to just six!  But it makes for a good game and the wines should be excellent. And the selection  should tell you a great deal about the owner’s preferences. 

Tim Pearce of Grape Expectations, Andover, was the man on a mission. I had made one stipulation – we must taste his very best Champagne!  And then there were a number of bonus wines too. 

IMG_0984 Pale lemon, fine citrus notes, some melon fruit, sharp acidity and, at least in Tim’s view, some creaminess. We tasted these wines blind – because we like to have a bit of suffering with our pleasure – but this was just too obscure for that game!  This was a north Italian white: Castelfeder, Kerner ‘Lahn’ 2009 which comes from Südtirol or Alto Adige if you prefer, and is made from the Kerner grape, itself a cross between Riesling and Trollinger.  That attractive sharp acidity comes from the 15 degrees of temperature difference between night and day in the area. 
Wine number two was straw in colour, quite aromatic – flowers, sherbet and lemon, with moderately high acidity, medium bodied, persistent with a very dry finish.  ‘Fragrant, cool, good length’ was one comment; and ‘great value at £8’.  This is an excellent bottle from an unlikely source: Catarina 2010, Bacalhôa, Setubal Peninsula, Portugal, 13.5% alcohol but very well balanced.  60% Fernão Pires, 30% Chardonnay, 10% Arinto, with just the Chardonnay being fermented in oak.  IMG_0962
IMG_0987 Now here is a wine to divide opinion!  The fact that we struggled to identify it told its own story.  It isn’t made from an unusual German cross or Portuguese grape varieties … in fact it could not be more more main stream.  After some initially mustiness had lifted (natural wine making), toffee apple and vanilla on the nose with rich apple fruit, good acidity, no signs of oak on the palate: 100% Chardonnay from southern Burgundy, clearly given the big oak treatment:  ‘Aragonite’, Clos des vignes du Maynes, AC Macon-Cruzille, 2009.  Classic Burgundy isn’t, but it is a wine of real character.   
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Some wines do deserve three pictures.  A superb vintage Champagne, from Henriot, from the good 1998 vintage: still lively mousse, medium pronounced biscuity nose, full bodied rich fruit, wonderful balance combining ageing notes and remaining freshness, great depth of flavour. As one learned commentator wrote: ‘Yum’!  IMG_0964
IMG_0993IMG_0973 Back to the unknown.  Some initial ‘bubblegum’ on the nose led us down the wrong path, then ripe cherries, even cherry icecream.  A north Italian grape variety apparently … we eventually got to Lagrein,  in this wine which I had tasted a few weeks ago.  A red from Castelfeder again: Lagrein 2008. The picture is getting clear: this buyer doesn’t worry about whether the wine is well known or not, he buys what he likes … 
And he likes pairs of wines from the same estate: here is the red from Clos des Vignes du Maynes, AC Macon Cruzille 2010. And is there a twist … you bet there is!  Good raspberry fruit, high acidity, medium tannins, some old oak. So what is the one thing you don’t do with the Gamay grape – oak it of course!  Another super low intervention wine, no added SO2, but then 11 months on the lees in oak barrels.  IMG_0994
IMG_0997 OK, we did spot this one: Pinot Noir in some form or other, raspberry and strawberry fruit, some attractive farmyardy notes, quite structured with lots of fairly linear fruit on the palate, plenty of alcohol, good drinking.  Tim teased me that I had been to this estate … but as I have not ventured out of Europe recently, this seemed unlikely. Clos Henri, Marlborough, New Zealand 2008. But it is indeed from Henri Bourgeois, who I did indeed visit in cool Sancerre just over a year ago.
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On to the bonus wines.  Here is a wine you definitely can’t buy at Grape Expectations, or probably any where else: Borges & Irmão, Vintage Port 1963.  A case of six made £139  in a Christie’s auction of 2001 … a precious bottle from Tim’s own cellar, a minor house in a great vintage.  Pale, spirity, sweet fruit still with us … IMG_0980_2IMG_0978_2
IMG_0989 Two final bonus wines: a big, bold South African ‘port’ in all but name first: Axe Hill, Mossops, 2002, South Africa.  And then another sweet red wine, but this just 14.5% alcohol, a great Italian classic, Recioto della Valpolicella 2004 from the outstanding Corte Sant’Alda. Clearly some one knows my tastes!  Dense cherry fruit, nice wood notes, super balance of rich red fruit on the palate with mild tannins and a dry finish.  Marinella Camerani’s wines do not disappoint! 

In wine, as in life, it is a good idea to let people with talent express themselves … thanks to Tim and other generous guests for a great evening. 

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