Posts Tagged ‘Barossa Valley’

Rhône varieties – home and away

Following last month’s highly successful tasting on Bordeaux grape varieties around the world, this month’s fine wine supper focused on the Rhône varieties.  In fact this turned out to be too big a subject matter, but we had such great wines from the northern Rhône that it became a matter of ‘home and away’.  The other big difference is that Rhône varieties are all stars grapes in their home territories. Unlike Bordeaux there are no varieties which are minor at home and have become stars in another place.  Syrah and Viognier strut their stuff at home, Marsanne and Roussanne do well too and the key grapes of the south are originally from Spain anyway and have hit the world stage from an adopted home: Grenache and Mourvèdre, originally Garnacha and Montastrell/Mataro.  Cinsaut and the minor whites are not really stars anywhere unless you think of the former’s role in the best rosés of Provence and, anyway, according to Jancis & co, it is likely to be from Languedoc anyway.  So perhaps ‘home and away’ is the correct theme.  On to the wines!

The aperitif for the evening was provided by the southern Rhône.  The south of France is famous for its rosés, whether elegantly pale or full bodied and structured. ‘La Dame Rousse’, Domaine de la Mordorée,Tavel AC, 2010, 14.5% is certainly in the latter camp with 14.5% alcohol by volume: cherry, boiled sweets and marzipan on the nose, still very fresh with a fine, substantial palate of red fruits, medium to high acidity and weight in the mouth. Would go brilliant with food too. 

Our first ‘home and away’ pair featured the now well travelled Viognier, famously rescued from near extinction by Georges Vernay (see the penultimate red wine below)  in the then tinyPichon's Condrieu and Churton Viognier appellation of Condrieu after the second world war.  Our pair showed how differently it can turn out.  Domaine Christophe Pichon, Condrieu AC, 2009 is really trying to be a big white Burgundy with its restrained, structured elegance and weight in the mouth, with buttery and candied fruit flavours.  Half the wine does time (nine months) being matured in barrels which are only 10% new but the effect is to tone down Viognier’s attractive fruitiness.  Meanwhile the outstanding fruit from a very unusual and tiny plot of Viognier in Marlborough, New Zealand is 50% fermented in oak.  Viognier, Churton, Marlborough, New Zealand, 2010, 14.8% does the obvious really excellently: powerful aromatics of new oak and luscious fruit with the quintessentially Viognier apricot and peach to the fore.  It was similar on the palate with the fruit heading in an even more exotic pineapple direction. Most people much preferred the Marlborough offering. 

The second ‘home and away’ pair focused on what has come to be known as GSM, Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre.  This trio are the work horses of the massive Côtes-du-Rhône appellation, France’s biggest wine export to the UK.  The winesCh. d'Aqueria and Sequillo red can be anything from mundane to marvellous and this is a very good example from Lirac which has an appellation of its own.  The mix for Château d’Acqeria, Lirac AC, 2009, 14% is 50% Grenache and 25% each Syrah and Mourvèdre and it was a bundle of berry fruit, spice and vanilla with a structure held together with fine tannins.  The style is a bit too modern (new oak) for me but there is no denying the quality and poise.  By contrast our ‘away’ wine was Red (that’s original!), Eben Sadie, Sequillo, WO Swartland, South Africa, 2009, 14.5%. This was a big, powerful, number with those berries again but this time balsam and cedar wood, a fruit-ripe sweetness on the palate, long and outstanding.  It was very young indeed but shows great promise.  From an unspecified blend of Syrah, Mourvèdre, Grenache accompanied by the southern French duo of Carignan and Cinsault. 

Three Syrahs marked the climax of the evening, two from the northern Rhône’s top two appellations and one from the Barossa Valley which has developed a world-beating style of its own.  The hill of Hermitage, rising above the left bank of the great southern river, produces what was the greatest French red wine in the world in the eighteenth century, long before Bordeaux was classified. It produces dark, intense Syrah which can age for decades. Our example was very young but impressive: 

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Les Miaux, Ferraton Père et fils, Hermitage AC, 2007, 14%. Farmed biodynamically, this spends no less than four weeks macerating on the skins to extract all that colour and the tannins for the long haul.   It was already showing red berry, pepper, smoke and meat notes with great concentration and length … and it has barely begun to develop.  The second Rhône example had some of that bottle age: Maison Rouge, Côte Rôtie AC, Domaine Georges Vernay (of Condrieu fame), 1997, 12.5%. There was a marked contrast here between the fully mature nose of balsam, cedar, mushroom and red fruit and the remarkably young, super sweet fruit palate with its long, supple tannins.  And it was not a big alcoholic number – note that 12.5% alcohol. 

The final wine of the evening was big – but big, complex and satisfying.  Powerful dried figs and caramel to start with, then black fresh and dried fruit, excellent acidity to shore it all up, mouth filling and balanced.  Basket Press Shiraz, Rockford, Barossa Valley, South Australia 2003, 15% is a tribute to the monumental Shiraz of dry farmed Barossa – but had all the complexity and depth of a great wine just getting into its stride after a decade or so.  The producer tells you nothing about how it is made but that the fruit comes from very old vines – between 60 years and staggering 136 years.  It is one of the ironies of the so-called new world that most of the oldest vines still in production are to be found there. 

This was a great evening marked by the outstanding quality of the wines.  We may not have had time for the Marsanne/Roussanne duo or the minor southern blending varieties but there was no shortage of quality, nor contrasts in styles – whether the Rhône grape varieties were home or away. 

Mission impossible

One of the quirky charms of Overton’s ‘Bring a Bottle Club’ is the practice – usually followed by one of the regular members – of bring a joker bottle to be tasted blind, like all the wine.  There are not many other places where you could taste a 10 year old English rosé, a Maltese red or a white Nero (that’s the clue) di Troia.  However, as there is no conferring before the tasting on what people will bring, the ‘joker’ factor will spread to the usually more conventional choices of others.  When this happens, blind tasting becomes a somewhat random series of increasingly desperate guesses.  It is still possible to comment on the ripeness of fruit, the weight of the wine and much more, but identification becomes mission impossible. And so it proved on a pleasant summer’s evening when the chance to be inside out of the rain belied the fact that this was the July meeting of the ‘BBC’. You could say that the most recognisable alcoholic beverage of the evening was the one in the first picture below.  Plus a fine picture of post-Kilimanjaro beard …

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IMG_3139 This first wine is a major classic and should have been recognisable.  Slightly oxidised, pale gold, floral, sharp apples and honey, some sweetness. But there was a long debate over Riesling v. Chenin Blanc, the majority wrongly favouring the former:  Le Haut-Lieu, Vouvray Sec, Huet 2002.  When you don’t spot the most distinctive wine of the evening, you know you are in trouble.  
Having started with Riesling on the mind, here was another perhaps more obvious Riesling. But there was still something strange about it – trying to locate it in the world’s Riesling zones was not productive … Edgy acidity, some mineral notes, but then ripe apple and stone fruit … What nobody had in mind is a Riesling /Albarino blend grown at 1000m of altitude in NE Spain:  Ekam, Castell d’Enclus, 2010. Much praised by Jancis Robinson and stocked by Caviste.  
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IMG_3144 OK, this one should have been easy and most got the grape correct: fairly austere if oaky nose, some concentrated citrus fruit, medium acidity, good length.  It turned to be the oaked version of a fine NZ producer’s Chardonnay. But even those who drink Kumeu River regularly thought that the oak overwhelmed the fruit in this example:  Maté’s Vineyard, Chardonnay, Kumeu River 2004
On an evening of unusual wines, this was – deservedly – the official, full on, joker.  And yes, it does say Barossa Valley Gewurztraminer on the label.  My note says ‘light, quite floral, lime [fruit]’ but nothing that might suggest its grape variety as grown in more typical locations:  Goldilocks would have needed more forensic questioning to lead her to 4 Bears, Gewurztraminer, Barossa Valley, 2008. IMG_3147
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IMG_3154 Another oaky number if again in a subtle and expensive way, then good rounded fruit, all pointing to barrel fermentation, but where? As Caviste has become something of a N Spain specialist, this would be a fair surmise but trying to place this blind was impossible: made from 100% Verdejo, Naiades, Naia Viña Sila, Reuda DO, Spain, 2007
This was the Rosé which I brought, partly to make the point that there are pink wines that will stand up in this company.  So the cloud of unknowing briefly lifted at least for me. Fragrant strawberry fruit, excellent structure, unusually for a rosé, fermented in a barrel, good length, most thought it was Provencal. In fact it is from further south:  Le Rosé, Domaine Gardiés, Côtes-du-Roussillon, 2011 IMG_3158
IMG_3162 Oh dear, seriously off-piste again.  Dense colour, minty and a touch burnt on the nose, dried fruit and black cherry, medium tannins, medium length …. no idea.  It was bought as a joker. I think it is fair to say that no one had tasted (a powerful and slightly clumsy) Cretan Syrah before: Diamantopetra, Diamantakis Winery, Crete, 2009.  Made from Syrah and the local grape Mandilari.
My wine again and one that has been taking  up a space in the rack for a few years.  Quite dense in colour and texture, probably at its peak with delicious, perfectly knit together red and black fruit, some leather notes and the slightest touch of green leafiness. People were really surprised at the weight and density of this quality Cabernet Franc:  Coteau de Noiré, Phillipe Alliet, Chinon 2003 IMG_3165

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Petit Verdot … Sicilian Petit Verdot of course!  PV to its friends is a minor but spicy Bordeaux variety which the adventurous experiment with in hotter climes.  Here the nose was restrained and hinting at the powerful black fruit dominated palate.  Chianu Carduni, Baglio di Pianetto, IGT Sicilia, 2004 is late picked at the end of October, and is the product of heat and long hang time on the vine in the Palermo district of Sicily. 
To complete this mission impossible, another unusual wine: bold new world fruit, hugely extracted plus lashings of fine oak; chocolate, red and black fruit, but no one obvious varietal clue.  This turned out to be made by Masi from the Veneto, northern Italy, produciing wine from Amarone-style semi-dried ripe grapes but with a blend of Corvina and Malbec … in Argentina: Masi Tupungato, La Arboleda, Argentina 2008, 14.5% abv. 
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We are now looking forward to BBC2 on Austria (plus Germany as necessary) when at least there will be a theme – and no doubt a joker, but hopefully not five!

BBC2 Australia

Two new challenges for the unwary wine taster:

  • The Overton blind tasting group has decided to meet a second time in the month and this time on a theme. As the group is known as the BBC (bring a bottle club, of course), the new evening has to be known as BBC2.  And the first theme is Australia – a pretty big theme.   But just to make it more of a challenge the rumour is put around that no Caviste wines are to be brought (on the shaky grounds that we are too familiar with its stock), even though this wine shop is something of an Australian specialist, due to David Thomas’ connections and wine making experience in Barossa.  It is also a challenge to me as I have a total of two Australian bottles in my collection, one from Caviste and one which I have taken to the group before …
  • For me, an attempt to tackle the very difficult lighting conditions for photography in the Red Lion.  Muted, rather yellow light might make for romantic dining or pub bonhomie, but it is about as difficult as it could be for the photographer.  I tried to use a tripod (to avoid setting a very high ASA number which reduces depth of field, for the photo geeks) to give longer exposure times but its not easy to manipulate the camera to exactly the right position for this. In summer, the answer is easy for the first half of the evening, even if it means rearranging bottles and glasses by the window.  The struggle goes on.  Next time, improving the white balance – I bet you can’t wait!  Then, having thought I was properly prepared, the battery went flat in the camera and the recharged spare was in the other bag … trusty IPhone 4 to the rescue. It’s definitely time for some wine. 

There are two advantages to a themed blind tasting. First it focuses on a smaller range of possibilities – if you think you have Chardonnay in front of you, you can forget Burgundy and California and take a stab at an Australian region.  Second, given that there are only so many classic styles in a country, there is the chance of illuminating side-by-side comparisons. So, for example, we ended up tasting the first three wines side-by-side.  Did this help with identification?  Not a lot! 

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What do you mean it’s early late harvested Sauvignon Blanc? 

To return to the first three whites. It transpired that two shared a grape variety – but were so different that no one spotted this, and two more or less shared a vintage which was easier spot, except that they were different grape varieties.  The consensus for the first wine was a Chenin Blanc with some bottle age, while all thought that the second was Riesling, because of slight whiff of petrol.  Oh dear, they were both Hunter Valley Semillon, only five years apart but completely different in aromas and taste.  Take a bow, Meerea Park Semillon 2000 and Mount Pleasant Semillon, Lovedale Single Vineyard, 2005.  The first was a beautifully dense gold, with delicious ageing notes of mature apples, wet wool and pear drops, which in time became positively marmaladey, underpinned with a seam of refreshing acidity.  The second was pale in colour, with a strong lemon character on the palate, that strange petrol note, same high acidity but more noticeable still in the younger wine and quite long.  Wine number three had some oak in tandem with good Chardonnay fruit (apples and pears), an attractive richness, though apparently not as good as other bottles of the same:  Petaluma Chardonnay, Piccadilly Valley (Adelaide Hills), 2001. Here they are in nice soft natural light by the window:

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The next bottle was a real disappointment – a potentially fine 25 year old bottle of Penfolds Bin 389, Cabernet-Shiraz, beautifully decanted whose ‘wet cardboard’ aroma shouted ‘corked’.  Being bold we tasted it and found a super palate, soft and rich  with good red fruit – if you ignored the dastardly cork taint. What a shame. 

Three Cabernet-based wines were in better, much better health.  Bethany, Schrapel Family Vineyards, Barossa Valley, 2006, Grant Burge, Cameron Vale, Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 and, er, Spinifex Esprit 2006, which has no Cabernet 

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it The first, a 70/30  Cabernet/Merlot blend, has excellent blackcurrant and blackberry fruit, some mint, well balanced and refreshing The second is 100% Cab and has great depth of fruit, a rich perfumed nose with some pepper and a velvety palate.  The third had a big bold nose with a real richness on the palate and was very persistent.  We thought it was a Cabernet blend but in fact it is mainly Mataro, Grenache and Shiraz, with a touch of Cinsault.  I blame the spicy Mataro for misleading us!

The final pair of the evening were presented as dessert wines but could hardly have been more different. We tasted them in the wrong order to start with but that did not 

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matter. On the left, finally the Riesling which we all expected somewhere in this tasting and, on the right, a late harvest Muscat.  To deal with the latter first, Grant Burge Lily Farm Late Harvest Muscat 2004 did not give up its identity easily – no characteristic ‘grape’ aromas, rather, lemon and that petrol whiff again, and a searing lemon, even lemon sherbet, acidity. I wondered about sweet Semillon but this was barely sweet at all.  To my taste buds, interesting rather than that enjoyable.  By contrast, the star wine of the evening was Lindemann’s Coonawara Botrytis Riesling 1994 with its layers of interest: butterscotch, caramelised raisins, marmalade, mushrooms, and then lots of acidity and fruit on the palate.  Superb.

And the photographic challenge?  The IPhone 4 is fine for basic shots but note the strong yellow colour cast which is what I am trying to get away from.  It might be worth trying a table-top tripod.  Here’s one photo that half worked (two ages of Semillon), to see the potential. It’s not just the blind tasting which needs more practice.

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Tasting in the dark

IMG_0211Blind tasting sounds a slightly terrifying prospect. The phrase itself is slightly worrying, like ‘deaf skiing’ or ‘mute horse riding’. It’s not entirely accurate in that you can still use visual clues in the colour or viscosity of wine, but obviously not read the label. But it is a remarkably different experience. Rather than interpret what you taste in the light of what you know and what you expect, you are forced back on to your basic senses and wine knowledge. But it’s a great way to extend your experience and can be very convivial.

The formula is simple. A group of friends or colleagues each bring a bottle of something that is worth savouring, carefully wrapped in tin foil, decanted into another bottle or somehow covered up. Each bottle is then tasted in turn. A first taste is poured and mused over – appearance, aroma, taste, finish  – but no information is given. You immediately realise how much you depend on your preconception of what a wine is and how much it cost. More tasting and musing. Sometimes you just know what it is, sometimes you can make an intelligent guess, often you have no idea. Questions can be asked, especially to see if the group can agree some basics: is it Old World or New, warm climate or cool, a single grape variety or a blend? Of course the person who brought the wine doesn’t have to answer or confirm anything. Then comes the great unveiling. If you get it right, you feel (quietly) elated, if you get it wrong … you are in good company. And my did we get some of these excellent wines wrong! In a way it’s very reassuring … even the professionals get it wrong, so it is a genuinely difficult and revealing task.

Stanley Park, Berkshire, England, quality sparkling wine: this had been decanted into another bottle for disguise and so wasn’t as sparkling as it once had been.  Good colour, heavy legs, slightly oxidised nose. Nobody guessed England!

Engelgarten, Marcel Deiss, Bergheim, Alsace, 2003: it you are going to set a test, it might as well be a bit of a tease too. This wine puzzled people, with its strangely deep yellow/gold appearance and disappearing ‘petrol’ nose. Most plumped for Riesling initially –  that nose, the substantial texture – then the aroma seem to fade or transmute. Lots of appreciation and head scratching. As I had brought this wine I was in the Jeremy Paxman/University Challenge position – I had all the certainty that knowing the answer in advance gives you. Yes it’s 50% Riesling but the rest is a field blend, a mixture of three Pinots (Blanc, Noir, Gris) and Muscat, and hence the disappearing trail of the Riesling/non-Riesling nose.

IMG_0198Domaine de Montbourgeau, L’etoile, Jura, 2006: another real puzzle, big oxidized nose, sherry like almost; again quite a mid yellow colour, appley fruit, much bewilderment over the grape variety. It turned out to be Chardonnay of all things but made in an oxidative style, rendering it interesting but completely unrecognisable.  But a wine of real character and in a old-fashioned style.

Christian, Chenin Blanc 2007, Barossa Valley, Australia:  mid pale gold, excellent fruit, some floral notes, decent acidity, long persistence.  A moment of triumph as I guessed the grape correctly … and we all remembered that we had drunk this wine quite recently during Dennis Canute‘s visit from Rusden vines.  Yes, tasting blind does make for a level playing field.

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Chateau du Tetre, Margaux, 2001: this fabulous claret pretty much fooled us all. Everybody got the presence of Cabernet Sauvignon with the menthol and blackcurrant nose but its bright, full-on fruit had most of us in the New World or Italy. It turned out to be from this classed growth, a tribute to what Bordeaux can now do. Incidentally, the Chateau is owned by Eric Albada Jegersma who owns not only a second Bordeaux chateau but also the excellent Caiarossa on the Tuscan coast.

Ch. Cantemerle 1971 – sadly had passed away, very tired. It could have been a great experience but this wasn’t to be.

Hermitage, Monier de la Sizeranne, Chapoutier, 1999: a great depth of strawberry/raspberry to plum fruit, nice mineral streak and sour like so many Rhône Syrah.  Big debate over whether New or Old World.  Happy to say I spotted the Rhône Syrah.  But for each one you get right, there’s a following one you have no idea about.  The ageing of Syrah is also a much subtler process than some grapes – it was quite difficult to spot this was more than a decade old.

Cornish Point Pinot Noir, Central Otago, New Zealand, 2005: probably the biggest surprise of them all.  A deep ruby colour, complex fruity almost porty nose, big in the mouth, rich and dense.  One brave soul plumped for Pinot Noir and was roundly met with disbelief from the others – it’s too dark, too fruity, too big … but it was.  An amazing feat of extraction in the winery, by the company now known as Felton Road.  An excellent wine and quite an eye-opener.

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This was a great evening with excellent wines of real personality (£20+ per bottle), a good meal at the Red Lion in Overton, and great  company.  We all learned something, had a stab in the dark and were often wrong … and enjoyed one another’s company.  And appropriately enough the evening ended in the dark.   We had a lift back home but sadly we broke down and ended up waiting for the excellent bus service on a dry, warm and starry night.

But how many places have thatched bus shelters?  Very classy, Freefolk, Hampshire.

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