Saturday, 28 June 2014

An American Chardonnay with a Difference - Crossbarn by Paul Hobbs

After stopping off in London for the Wine Fair, I thought I'd head west and pay a visit to California and review one of the wines from Paul Hobbs, who Forbes magazine describe as 'the Steve Jobs of wine' and was named as the most influential winemaker in California.

Paul is the second oldest of 11 children, he grew up on a working farm near Lake Ontario in western New York, where his father had him taste the same variety of apples grown in different orchards from all over, giving him the first hand experience of 'terrior'. In 1969 his father let him taste a 1962 Chateau d'Yquem which captured his imagination and inspired his interest in wine, from that evening he and his father decided to start planting vines on their apple farm and start learning about wine.

Paul moved west, and studied winemaking at the University of California, and where he did an internship at Robert Mondavi, who he would later go and work for, eventually becoming the winemaker of Opus One, probably America's most prestigious wine. In 1991 he decided to go it alone and setup the Paul Hobbs Winery in Sebastapol, then in 1999 he started Vina Cobos in Argentina, he also consults all over South America, in Cahors and even as far as Armenia.

His Crossbarn Chardonnay is produced from fruit carefully selected from selected vineyards from all over the Sonoma Coast appellation, where careful management of the yields is maintained to maximise the ripeness and concentration in the fruit. All the harvest is carried out by hand to ensure the fruit arrives at the winery in immaculate condition. 80 % of the harvest is fermented in Stainless Steel with the other 20% in old French oak, all the wine is then left to go through Malolactic Fermentation to soften the acidity and give it much more of a rounded mouth feel.

The wine has a wonderfully bright golden colour with a slight hint of green it, on the nose it had quite pronounced aromas of citrus, pear and honeysuckle. On the palate the fruit came through beautifully, with the pear becoming much more apple, a touch of white peach/nectarine and a delicate touch of lemon oil, it has a lovely rich mouthfeel that wasn't too intense and a well balanced soft acidity. Combine all these together and you really do get such a well crafted wine that takes a step away from the big heavily oakey Chardonnays that California produce so well. Would I recommend this wine, absolutely, but if I'm honest, it's hard to find a bad wine that Paul has had anything to do with.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

A South African Tasting with Gary Jordan

The other week saw the wine world descend on London's Kensington Olympia exhibition hall for the London Wine Fair, bringing together producers and agencies both large and small showing off their wares and trying to extend their current reach. While spending the day tasting several great wines/producers, many good producers and bulk producers whose wine is likely to and up on supermarket shelves on some half price offer, which is all it's worth to start with, their is one producer who stuck in my mind the whole day, and that is Jordan from Stellenbosch in South Africa.

The 146 hectare Stellenbosch property was bought in 1982 by Ted and Sheelagh Jordan who embarked on extensive replanting, selecting varieties suited to. Then their son Gary and his wife Kathy returned to the estate in 1992 to build a new cellar, and since 1993 have been producing world class wines.

They have a comprehensive range producing single varietals from Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and several blends to round of the range, and I have to say it's pretty hard to find a poor wine. For the moment though I want to look at their Chardonnays, but I definitely would recommend anything from their range, the reds are as fantastic as the whites.

2013 Unoaked Chardonnay

The fruit for this wine comes from vines that are 28 years old which gives the fruit much more depth of flavour to start with. It is all Stainless Steel fermented and kept on the Lees for 4 months to help develop the leesy characteristic.

In the glass you had the wonderfully bright pale lemony/green colour, with aromas of tropical fruit, citrus and some delicate floral hints coming through. On the palate these all shone through with the citrus coming through as lime and the floral characteristic being elderflower, along with this you got a lovely racy acidity which just made your water and helped the flavours linger around in your mouth. I have to say one of the best unoaked Chardonnays I've tasted for a while.

2013 Chardonnay

The fruit for this wine comes from vines that are between 11 - 28 years old, which are situated on the cooler east and south facing slopes. It's then fermented 228 litre French oak barrels (51% new and 49% second fill) and where it stays for another 9 months on the lees which occasional rolling of the barrels to accentuate the leesy character. They then blend in around 8% of tank fermented Chardonnay to help balance the citrus flavours, and both wines allowed to go through Malolactic Fermentation to soften the acidity.

In the glass it had a beautiful golden colour to it, with aromas of citrus, green fruit, sweet spice and a toasty/buttery character coming through. You got these flavours coming through, with the toasty oak being quite dominant but not overpowering. It has quite a rich/creamy mouth feel and a soft, but plentiful acidity which all worked perfectly in balance with one another, this will also develop over the coming months getting richer and creamier. I'm not usually a fan of rich, oakey Chardonnays, but this is definitely one that I would happily buy and drink.

 2013 Nine Yards Chardonnay

This wine is produced in the same fashion as the oaked Chardonnay, except the the fruit comes from a 23 year old specific vineyard and it aged in barrel for 13 months not 9, a small proportion is also allowed to go through natural fermentation helping to give it different characteristics to oaked Chardonnay.

This wine had a slightly richer golden colour to it, with wonderful aromas of Citrus, Butterscotch and a touch of spice coming through. These all came through on the palate with the citrus and butterscotch coming beautifully, while coming through there was a touch of stone fruit, it had a wonderfully rich mouth feel and a soft acidity to it. While this is still young and wasn't very forthcoming with the aromas and flavours, give this 12 - 18 months so everything can integrate together and this is just going to be a big, rich, opulent and a stunning wine.

I just want to say a massive thanks to Gary for taking the time to go through his wines with us, and would definitely advise you giving his wines a try, whether you go for the whites or his reds, your not gonna go far wrong with them.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

A Tasting with Alexandra Curatolo from Curatolo Arini Part 2

Having first spoken about their Marsala wines, we should also have a look at some of the other wines they produce;

2012 'Coratto' Inzolia
This had a pale straw yellow colour, with delicate aromas of citrus and white flowers, these came through on the palate with a touch of stone fruit and melon coming through. It has quite a steely minerality combined with a racy acidity that worked very well together, a very refreshing wine that would be great for hot sunny lunch time drink, even more so at 12.5%.

2011 'Coralto' Nero d'Avola
This wine had a bright ruby colour with pronounced aromas of spice, red fruit and violets. On the palate these came through, the red berry aromas turning into more sour cherry that is so typical of Italian reds. It had a good amount of fine grippy tannins and a balanced acidity which helps wash away the tannins and let the flavours linger that little bit longer.

And finally, the one that really caught my eye;

2013 'Curatolo Arini' Zibbibo
This is produced from 100% Zibbibo, which also goes under the name Muscat of Alexandria, is fermented in stainless steel to help preserve the flavours and freshness of the wine. As with the Inzolia it has a pale straw yellow colour, with pronounced aromas of grapefruit, orange blossom with hints of sage coming through. These all came through on the palate with grapefruit still the dominant flavour, it had a crisp and fresh acidity which was well balanced with the fruit. This for me was the star out of these three wines for me, and one I'd say was worth grabbing a bottle and giving it a try.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

A Tasting with Alexandra Curatolo from Curatolo Arini Part 1 - Marsala

After calling in on Provence for a bit of Hollywood Glam, we head south east and to the Italian island of Sicily. Possibly the work horse of Italian wine production and the home of Marsala, another wine for me that I knew very little about but is amazing.

Marsala's history dates back to 1773, when John Woodhouse, a trader from Liverpool who during a violent storm was forced to take shelter in Marsala, where he discovered the local wine 'Perpetuum' and decided to take some home with him. Concerned that it may not last the journey he added alcohol to fortify it, and the first Marsala had been born. Such was it's popularity by the end of the century it had replaced Rum on board the British Royal Navy ships and had become Lord Nelson's victory wine. With the rise in popularity of Marsala, Woodhouse went back to Sicily in 1796 to start mass production of Marsala wine.

The other week I had the opportunity to meet Alexandra Curatolo from Curatolo Arini, who's only production till the 70's was Marsala, when they then introduced a range of still wines from indigenous Sicilian varieties. Founded in 1875 by Vito Curatolo Arini, he focussed on producing high quality Marsala, while opening up new overseas markets with the use of clever, eye catching labels and packaging. After the introduction in the 70's of a range of still wines, the 90's saw more innovation from them with introduction of a range of mono-varietal wines, showcasing the very best of the indigenous grapes, expressing the unique character and flavours of the Sicilian terroir.

Curatolo Arini produce a range of five Marsala's, however I'm only going to look at two of them, a sweet and a dry Marsala. They are both non vintage wines and are produced, as is all Marsala from Grillo, Catarratto and Inzolia grapes, with the addition of grape alcohol and 'Mosto Cotto', which is a cooked must that has been cooked over a direct fire for 36 hours to produce the required colour and concentrated sweetness. Finally 'Mistella' or 'Sifone', which is made from fresh must with added grape alcohol or wine acquavitae to halt the fermentation and add complex aromas and balance to the wine. Marsala can be classified in a number of ways, by it's sugar content (Dry, Off-Dry or Sweet), colour (Gold, Amber or Ruby) or ageing time (Fine-1 year, Superiore-2 years or Superiore Riserva-4+ years).

The first one I want to taste is the Superiore Dolci, the base wine for this Marsala has a residual sugar level of 22 grams per litre and an alcohol level of 12%. To this they add the 'Mistella' and 'Mosto Cotto', giving it a final alcohol level of 17% and the desired sweetness (110 grams per litre). They then age it for over five years (minimum two years by law) in 150 hectolitre Slovenian oak casks.

In the glass it had a lovely bright dark gold/amber colour, with pronounced aromas of dried fruit and molasses, on the palate you got dried fruit, Figs and Sultanas with Caramel coating them. It had a lovely sweetness to it that was cut through by a perfectly balanced acidity and a length of flavour that just kept ongoing.

The Superiore Riserva goes the same process as the Dolci with the main differences being the residual sugar level of 28 grams per litre (nearly a quarter of the Dolci) producing a much drier style and that it is aged for about 10 years ( minimum four years by law) in Slovenian oak.

This wine had a pale amber colour with wonderfully pronounced aromas of dried fruit, spice and almonds, it also has an oxidised/sherry character, not surprising really having spent 10 years in oak. On the palate you the oxidation with the dried fruits of Dates and Sultanas, Almonds and then gently from the background you got a touch of Cinnamon and Caramel. Again you got a perfectly balanced amount of acidity helping the length of flavours just keep going.

I have to say I was hugely impressed with these wines, even more when I saw the price of them (between £12 - £17) when you think the Superiore Riserva is aged for 10 years before release. Both wines were stunning, showing great flavours and complexity, for me though I did prefer the dryer style personally, I'd  definitely recommend trying one if not both, they work fantastically with Italian deserts and cheese, I'll definitely have a bottle at home.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

A Provence Rose with a Touch of Hollywood Glam

I tried to avoid writing about this last year, actually I did pretty well at not writing about anything at all but that's a different matter, and that is the now infamous Brangelina rose, Miraval, mainly because I thought I was a bit of a gimmick, especially at £20-£25 a bottle. Also because I was a fan of it's predecessor Chateau Miraval Pink Floyd, which was a stunningly crisp and delicate Provence rose.

Château Miraval is located in the village of Correns, which is just north Brigoles in the south of France, and produces white's under the Coteaux Varois appellation, and red and rose under the Cotes de Provence. Another claim to fame is that one of it's previous owners, the French jazz pianist Jacques Loussier installed a recording studio in the Chateau where artists such as Sting, The Cranberries and even the legendary Pink Floyd all recording there.

Moving back to the present day and the Chateau is now owned by Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, wanting to produce the very best Provence rose they could, they enlisted the help of the Perrin Family from Chateau Beaucastel in the Rhone valley as their wine makers. This was actually quite interesting given that while the Perrin's bought an amazing reputation for producing wonderfulyl, big, rich powerful wines, they had never produced a rose.

For this amazing rose Marc Perrin, the winemaker has used a blend of Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah and Rolle, 95% of which was fermented in stainless steel to retain it's freshness, with the remaining 5% going in to oak barrels, which just adds that little bit more complexity.

In the glass it had this wonderfully delicate pink colour, with quite pronounced aromas of wild strawberries, fresh herbs, rose, citrus and a touch of steely minerality coming through. On the palate you got all the fruit right at the start with this wonderfully refreshing soft acidity, made first think of wild strawberries and cream. You then started to get the citrus and fresh herbs come through on the palate with a real sense of a steely minerality to the wine, which I have to say was just fantastic.

Well, what do I think of this wine, I have to say, to start with I did think it might be very much of a gimmick, but I have to take my hat off to Marc Perrin the winemaker and say, bravo. This is such a beautifully crafted wine with all the flavours and acidity beautifully in balance with one another, I can also see why it made it into the top 100 wines of last year. Which also leads me to say that if you see one, buy it, as I can't imagine it lasting too long!