Wednesday, 26 November 2014

A Dinner with TerraVin from New Zealand

A few weeks ago I had an invite to meet several of the investors in TerraVin, a boutique New Zealand winery from Marlborough, for dinner at the newly opened Four to Eight restaurant in Covent Garden. I remember meeting Mike Eaton the former wine maker and tasting their wines a few years back at a Jascot's tasting, there was one particular wine that really stuck in mind, and that was the Te Ahu an oaked Sauvignon, which shouldn't be, but was stunning. Since the last time I encountered there wines, they have handed the wine making reigns over to Gordon Ritchie, who had previously been a winemaker at Seresin.

On arrival we were served a glass of the 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, which had all those typical New Zealand characteristics of Gooseberry, Green Pepper and Citrus, but with a much more rounded/softer acidity to it. We then moved on to the 2011 Chardonnay, now this wine is wild fermented and then aged in oak for 18 months, it is then all blended together and spends another three months in tank before being bottled. It had a lovely creamy texture with touches of butterscotch and vanilla, there was a hint of baked apple in the background, combining with a soft but plentiful acidity.

Next came the wine that I really wanted to taste again, the Te Ahu, it was also served with a cream of celeriac soup, which was just beautiful, and had an earthy character that worked so well with the flavours of this wine. You had apricots with some citrus, you also had in there some kind of almond/nuttiness which worked with the fruit perfectly and you had this soft and silky acidity which just brought it all together perfectly. The wine has this earthy character to it that worked with the soup perfectly.

With the main course we were served two of there Pinot Noir's, the 2011 and the Eaton Family Vineyard 2010. The 2011 was delicious, very typical New Zealand Pinot, lovely red cherry fruit, with a touch of smoke and spice mingled in with it, and a lovely acidity that's not to tart, but just enough. The 2010 Eaton Family however was another notch up, more depth in each of the flavours wonderfully soft and silky tannins, I have to say this was my second favourite wine of the night behind the Te Ahu.

And finally for desert we had the 2012 Late Harvest Pinot Gris, which the 3 bottles apparently had been flown over especially just for this dinner as it's not available in the UK. This was lusciously sweet as you would expect, but it had this wonderful acidity that just cut through the sweetness perfectly to show flavours of white peach, citrus and honeysuckle which were just stunning, only a shame that we won't be able to get it over here!

Monday, 10 November 2014

A Middle Eastern Delight - Chateau Musar

I had another boutique New Zealand winery for this post, which will now be my next post, but I had the opportunity to taste the 2001 Chateau Musar, which was just absolutely stunning and had to get it on here.

Chateau Musar are based in the Bekaa Valley in the Lebanon, the first vines were planted in 1930 by Gaston Hocheron on his return from a trip to Bordeaux. In 1959 Gaston's son Serge became winemaker after completing his winemaking studies at the University of Oenology in Bordeaux. Throughout the conflict that ravaged the region, they only failed to produce a vintage only a hand full of times, which when you consider it is pretty amazing.

Chateau Musar Red is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault and Carignan from vineyard sites near the villages of Aana and Kefraya, the vines are an average age of 40 years old with low yields and planted in gravelly soil over limestone. Each individual component is fermented separately in concrete vats, then after 6 months they are transferred in French oak for a further year. They are then blended together to create the iconic taste that is Musar and placed for another 12 months in the concrete vats, when it is then bottled. After bottling it is then paced in there cellars for a further 4 maturation before they release it for sale, so by the time it hits our shelves it's already seven years old!

The 2001 had this lovely, mature brick red colour in the glass, with wonderfully pronounced aromas of dark fruit, leather, spice and cigar box. On the palate the fruit came over as much more mature, with figs and prunes, then all that lovely spice and cigar box combined together beautifully, there was a little touch of acidity and soft silky tannins. I've tasted quite a few vintages over the years even going back to one from the 60's, but this has to be one of my favourite vintages, Musar is definitely a wine that I would recommend, but make sure it's nice and mature, as it gets so much better with age.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

A Little Beauty from New Zealand - A range of Single Vineyard Wines

The other week I called into the SITT (Specialist Importers Trade Tasting) at the Royal Horticultural Society, and I had the pleasure of meeting Fleur McCree who is the owner of the boutique New Zealand winery Little Beauty. They are based down in the Waihopai Valley, Marlborough, and produce a range of single vineyard varietal wines from Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Reisling And Pinot Noir.

Fleur has bought in Eveline Fraser, who used to be head winemaker at Cloudy Bay to make her wine, and she really has done a fantastic job with them. Throughout the vineyard they employ sustainable growing techniques, have installed a sophisticated irrigation system and an advanced climate monitoring system to ensure they get the very best fruit possible. In the wine making process they use wild ferments and mature there wines using French oak from Fleur's favourite Burgundian coopers, all of these wines are produced in very limited quantities

Now for the wines;

2010 Single Vineyard Dry Reisling - had some lovely aromas of citrus, lemon and lime with a touch of floral honey suckle, a nice and refreshing acidity which just combined stunningly.

2013 Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc - grapefruit with a touch of gooseberry coming through and a hint of basil which surprised me, plenty of acidity but not overly tart and very enjoyable.

2012 Single Vineyard Pinot Gris - this was light and delicate with some lovely floral characters and a touch of citrus, a hint a vanilla spice and again a perfectly balanced acidity.

2010 Single Vineyard Gewurztraminer - this wine had aromas of sweet oranges, rose and clove, a soft elegant acidity which all worked together beautifully.

2013 Single Vineyard Pinot Noir - lashings of dark berry fruit, raspberry, and smoke, it had a savoury character to it as well with soft and silky tannin, only one word that can describe it, stunning.

Picture Courtesy of Little Beauty

They also produce a small range under the Black Edition label from Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir which are produced in even smaller quantities and are really a notch above there Single Vineyard range and are absolutely glorious, but think I'll save these for another post.

These wines really do match up to there name of Little Beauty, if you get the chance to buy or order a bottle in a restaurant then I would definitely recommend that you do, I really was bowled over by how good they all were.

Monday, 29 September 2014

An Italian in Bulgaria - Eduardo Miroglio

I called into the Emerging regions tasting in London the other week, they had wines from all corners of the world such as Croatia, Lebanon, Greece, Romania, China and even Brazil, but there was one producer from Bulgaria that really caught my eye, Edoardo Miroglio.

Edoardo an Italian textile and wine producer, on a trip to Bulgaria in 2002 discovered in the Thracian region, the perfect soil and climate conditions for the production of quality wines. After extensive soil and climate analysis, they found that the terrior of Elenovo was unique in Bulgaria and equally as good for growing red and white grapes. After combining his Italian know-how in the development of vineyards and oenology with the terrior they had found, they produced there first vintage in October 2005, the overall process in the production of the wine is led by the world famous oneologist, Marco Monchiero.

Over the 220 hectare estate they grow both French and indigenous Bulgarian varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Pinot Noir with others such as Mavrud, Rubin, Melnik 55 to name just a few. They produce in the region of 1 million litres annually, which they use only French oak for the maturation process of there wines.

I had the pleasure of tasting few of there range which were excellent, but what really caught my eye was the mini vertical of Pinot Noir, they age the wine for 12 - 15 months in French oak then another three - six months in bottle before release, to help it soften and allow all the flavours to integrate perfectly.

2012 Pinot Noir

This had a pale ruby red colour with quite pronounced aromas of red fruit with a touch of spice coming through from the background. These all came through on the palate with the fruit being more strawberry with some lovely red sour cherry. You got some smoke and spice coming through with it, all combining with the tannins perfectly, lovely now and only going to get better with age.

2011 Pinot Noir

Very similar to the 2012, however the acidity had softened out a little and the fruit was starting to get richer and the spice was coming through with much more vigour giving it a more savoury character, again was beautiful and a good insight as to how the 2012 will mature.

2008 Pinot Noir

The colour now is starting fade a little giving the wine an almost brick coloured edge, the fruit was again full of Strawberries, Cherries and Raspberries but now they are more cooked, jammy in the there style and the spice of Clove, Cinnamon and Vanilla are really starting to shine through.This was absolutely stunning, and really showed how the wine developed after a few more years in the bottle, soft silky tannins and such a great depth of flavours.

2006 Pinot Noir

As the 2008 just showing more development in the fruit and spice flavours and aromas, the tannins were almost non existent now, just a touch in the background so you knew that they were still there and a soft, juicy acidity which just worked so well together.

I have to say these wines really were truly stunning and definitely worth trying, they've aged beautifully and for me really rival some of the wines coming out of Burgundy, especially when your looking at a retail price of between £16 - £19.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

A Pair of Bargains or Not?

I was reading an article the other day about the state of the UK wine trade and one of the stats which still amazes me is that the average bottle price in the UK is £5.27, which once you've take the VAT and duty out of the price, the cost of the wine, bottle, shipping, labelling and retailer profit is £2.34. This to me is just amazing, the once you take out the other costs, the wine inside the bottle is costing you anywhere between 50 - 60 pence, which when you think about it is not a lot, and also makes me wonder is it any good?

So with this in mind I popped down to my local supermarket to see what they had around this price, also remembering about the articles earlier this year with regards to so called special offer wines, that aren't really that good an offer! And I found quite a few around this price from all over the world, but decided on two a Tempranillo/Grenache blend from Spain and a Petit Verdot from South Australia;

2007 Marques de Carano Gran Reserva

Having a quick scan of the back label the first bit of information you see is that this wine hails from the Carinena region in north west Spain. Carinena is one of the oldest protected DO's (Denominacion de Origen) and was created in 1932, it is also acknowledged as the source of the French Carignan grape, which is still grown in the region and is better known as Mazuelo. The other bit of useful information apart from some information about the region is that it is aged for at least 24 months in American oak. Adding in the age I was expecting quite a lot from this wine, even more so as it's original price was £10.99 but it was on a better than half price offer for £5.

In the glass it had a deep inky purple colour, with pronounced aromas of dark fruit, cherries blackberries with a touch of sweet spice namely clove and cinnamon. On the palate you got the fruit and spice coming through, unfortunately it had a large amount of bitter, green tannins which were not enjoyable and made this a very disappointing glass of wine, and one I wouldn't recommend.

2013 Wine Makers Selection Petit Verdot by Sainsbury's

Petit Verdot is not something you tend to see a lot of as a single varietal, it's mainly used in blends and originates from Bordeaux in France, the grapes for this wine come from south Australia.

In the glass it had a bright ruby red colour, with aromas of red berries, predominately cherry with a touch of graphite (pencil lead) and violet hue's coming through, these all came through on the palate and combined with plenty of soft juicy tannins. It had a refreshing acidity which bought the flavours and tannins together perfectly. Again this bottle cost me £5 and I really enjoyed it, and would definitely recommend it even more so when you consider the price.

Considering what I was looking for when I purchased these two bottles, I don't think I did too badly, yes one I wouldn't recommend and but one I definitely would!

Monday, 25 August 2014

A Bordeaux from St Emilion - Ch. La Fleur Cravignac

Having been in Italy, I thought I'd head north west and pay a visit to Bordeaux, more precisely St Emilion and have a look at Chateau La Fleur Cravignac.

St Emilion is situated on Bordeaux's right bank and has been for many years far less significant then the wines from the left bank. These wines tend be Merlot dominated which means they don't have the same tannic structure of the wines from the left bank which are Cabernet dominated, this results in wines that are much softer and mature much quicker.

This wine is as with all right bank wines predominantly Merlot, with some Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon blended in, this makes it much more approachable earlier in its life. It had a deep purple/red colour in the glass with a slightly garnet edge, you got aromas of dark fruit, Blackcurrant and Blackberries with some smoke and spice coming through from the background. These all came through on the palate beautifully with the fruit showing some maturity and fine, smooth tannins and a tiny amount of acidity but everything was all in balance with one another.

I have to say I was rather impressed with this wine, I'm not a huge fan of Bordeaux as they usually take so long before they become approachable and they command a high price, even more so with the interest from the Chinese market and the reputation they carry. However the wines from St Emilion mature quicker and are no where near the price of the wines from the left bank, such as those from the Medoc, Margaux, Pauillac, etc and this is one I would definitely say is worth giving a go.

Monday, 18 August 2014

A Tasting with Paola Falabretti from Camigliano

Tastings seem to have been coming thick and fast for me recently, and we head back up from the southern hemisphere and to Tuscany in Italy with Paola Falabretti from Camigliano, to taste through some of their wines.

Camigliano is a village which can trace its origins back to Etruscan times, and was dedicated to the cultivation of grapes and olives. In 1957 Walter Ghezzi bought the estate, and produced their first Brunello vintage in 1965, the estate today extends over 530 hectares, of which 92 are under vine. To the south of Montalcino their are 50 hectares planted with Sangiovese Grosso which is used to make their Brunello. The grapes are still harvested by hand and the winery has been designed for minimal environmental impact by building the majority of it underground, they also use gravity to move the wine around to avoid any damage to the wine.

I got to taste through a few wines from their range, but 3 really stood out for me;

2013 Gamal Vermentino

Fermentation happens in stainless steel to help preserve the wines freshness, with a lovely green hue in the glass, you got delicate aromas of grapefruit and lime, a touch of tropical fruit and delicate floral aromas. On the palate these came through beautifully combined with a zingy acidity which gave this a real refreshing character. Definitely a great one to try, especially nicely chilled on a hot sunny day.

2011 Chianti Colli Senesi

The grapes for this wine come from some of the youngest Sangiovese vines on the estate which give the wine much more fruit flavours, and is fermented in stainless steel with pumping over the skins for 8 - 12 days to help preserve these. The wine had deep purple/red colour in the glass, with pronounced aromas of dark fruit, cherries, blackberries, on the palate you got this wonderful sour cherry with some soft and silky tannins which all combined fantastically and produced a great wine for drinking.

2009 Brunello di Montalcino

Again produced from Sangiovese, the grapes are fermented in stainless steel with pumping over for 15 - 20 days after fermentation, it is then aged in oak barrels, then a final two years in stainless steel and bottle before release. You got a pale red with an orange rim in the glass, with some delicate aromas of dark fruit, spice and tobacco box. These all came through in wave after wave gloriously in the mouth, combined with a gentle acidity and soft/silky tannins which were all combined perfectly. Now I haven't tasted many Brunello's to help me to compare quality and style, all I can say is that it was a magnificent wine that for that special occasion I would definitely recommend.

I have to say I was very impressed with the wines from Camigliano and I would definitely trying any of them, whether it be as an everyday wine the Chianti Colli Senesi or for that special occasion with the Brunello di Montalcino you definitely won't go to far wrong.

Monday, 28 July 2014

A Barossa Beauty - The Chookshed from Rusden Vineyards

Having done that fantastic tasting with La Rioja Alta, it's time to head back down under to the southern hemisphere, and review an old vintage from Rusden Vineyards that had been given to me by a friend.

In 1979 Christine and Dennis Canute bought 40 acres of run down vineyards right in the heart of the Barossa, initially as a hobby farm with plenty of room the kids to run free around. Believing in the quality of the fruit they were growing Dennis and his friend Russell decided to make a barrel of Cabernet Sauvignon, that was not just good enough for personnel consumption, but good enough to put a label on it. This was 1992 and Rusden (the amalgamation of Russell and Dennis) was born.

In 1997 they bought 5 second hand barriques and started to experiment with Shiraz, Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon keeping the pressings and free run juice separate to see the different maturation of each wine in different styles of oak. 1998 saw them make them make their first commercial wine from Chenin Blanc crushing 7.5 tonnes of grapes grown on their estate, 1999 saw them crush 10 tonnes of fruit including from red varieties such as Shiraz, Zinfandel and Mataro. Today the estate is still family owned and crush between 80 - 100 tonnes of fruit to produce wines from fuit that is all grown on the estate.

The bottle I was given was a 2005 Chookshed Zinfandel, I've not seen any Zinfandel produced in Australia before, you tend to see it mainly from America or Italy where it goes under it's other name Primitivo, but where ever it comes from it is a grape I adore. After having a quick read of the back label, the first thing I noticed was the 16.5% vol, now this got me a little worried and a little intrigued as to how this would work.

In the glass it had an opaque red/purple colour with wonderfully pronounced aromas of sweet/jammy fruit and spice, on the palate you got lashings of juicy, jammy dark fruit that was inter laced with sweet spice of Liquorice, Clove and Cinnamon. The tannins were soft and juicy, not that their was left, and you got just a touch of acidity that all combined perfectly, you also didn't notice that it was 16.5% which amazed me, I was expecting to really feel it on the back of my throat.

Unfortunately you can't get hold of this vintage any more, unless some merchant has a case or two squirrelled away at the back of cellar, but if you spot another vintage I'd definitely grab a bottle and give it a go.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

A Tasting with Francisco Corpas from La Rioja Alta

The other week I got the chance to meet Francisco Corpas from La Rioja Alta and have a taste through their range of wines. La Rioja Alta, S.A. was originally founded in 1890 by five growers from the Basque and Rioja regions, in the Haro Station district of the north western corner of the Rioja region.

In 1988 they purchased and renovated the Lagar de Fornelos winery, which produces the Lagar de Cervera Albarino, 1989 saw them make the the decision to fund a new winery based in Ribera del Duero, Aster, then in 1995 saw the addition of the Torre de Ona winery, which is located in the heart of La Rioja Alavesa.

Their are many traditional aspects that they still employ throughout the whole group of wineries, they only use grapes that are grown on each estate, nothing is brought in. Originally they had their own coopers in the winery to produce their barrels, in 2002 they decided to re-establish this tradition and started shipping in wood from France and America, which they season over a two year period. They also still hand rack all the barrels every six months by candle light.

On to the wines;

2013 Lagar de Cervera
100% Albarino all from their own 100ha estate, where only 77ha is currently in production, the wine in the glass has a bright yellow colour with just a tinge of green to it. You these wonderful aromas apples and citrus which come through on the palate balanced with a lovely acidity which helps the flavours to linger on the palate that little bit longer. Have to say this is a great example of Albarino from Galicia, definitely worth trying.

2009 Aster Crianza
Produced from 100% Tinta del País (Tempranillo), the wine is aged in 100% French oak, 70% new barrels and 30% two year old barrels and bottled in July 2012, 50% was allowed to go through Malolactic fermentation giving it a slightly softer acidity. In the glass it had a deep ruby red colour, with pronounced aromas of dark fruit and spice. These came through on the palate with the spice separating out into Liquorice, Cedar and Mocha, it also had wonderfully fine and silky tannins and a lovely soft acidity which were all perfectly in balance with one another.

2009 Torre de Ona Reserva
This wine is a blend of 95% Tempranillo and 5% Mazuelo, it is aged for 24 months in 70% French oak (40% new barrels and 30% two year old barrels) and 30% Russian oak, the 70% in French oak was allowed to go through Malolactic fermentation, then a further 24 months in bottle. In the glass it had a bright ruby red colour, with pronounced aromas of dark fruit and spice. On the palate the spice again separated out into Liquorice, Cigar box and cedar with loads of dark fruit, cherries and blackberries. It had a lovely silky tannic structure and a soft acidity which again  just made your mouth water and help the flavours linger on the palate. I have to say this is a stunning wine.

2007 Vina Alberdi Reserva
100% Tempranillo which is fermented in stainless steel then aged for one year in new American oak and then a further year in 3 year old oak barrels before spending a further 24 months in bottle before release. In the glass you got this lovely bright ruby/cherry red colour, you got aromas of red berries and coffee with hint of balsamic coming through. These all came through on the palate with soft/silky tannins and a perfectly balanced amount of acidity, which again all go to produce another stunning wine.

2005 Vina Ardanza Reserva
Made from 80% Tempranillo and 20% Garnacha, these are aged for three years in three year old american oak before blending and bottling. It had a ruby red colour in the glass with a slight garnet rim to it. You got these wonderful aromas of jammy dark fruit and spice. On the palate the spice was dominant with Pepper, Vanilla and a touch of balsamic, while through the dark fruit came through from the background. Again it had these wonderfully soft, silky tannins and a perfectly balanced acidity.

2004 Gran Reserva 904
This one is a blend of 90% Tempranillo and 10% Graciano, the wine as with all the others is allowed to go through Malolactic fermentation before ageing for four years in four year old American oak barrels, then a further 5 years in bottle. In the glass it has this deep cherry red colour with a garnet rim to it, on the nose it had an abundance of spice, balsamic and cocoa. These all came through of the palate with a touch of Vanilla added in, lovely tannins and a perfectly balanced acidity. The length of flavours just kept on going, depth and complexity of the flavours was just absolutely stunning, but you wouldn't expect anything else from a wine of this quality and price.

1998 Gran Reserva 890
This wine is only produced in exceptional vintages, roughly three out of every 10. It is a blend of 95% Tempranillo, 3% Graciano and 2% Mazuelo, and the vines are all a minimum of 40 years old. After Malolactic fermentation the wine is then aged for six years in American oak and then a further six in bottle. The cherry red colour wasn't as deep in this wine as the 904 and it had a much more orange rim to it. On the nose their were pronounced aromas of smoke, spice, leather, cocoa, tobacco and a touch of vanilla with some gentle, almost candied fruit coming through from the background. Again the tannins were silky and soft, and balanced out with a soft but plentiful acidity, the length of flavour was just amazing, as was the one, but you really wouldn't expect anything else from a wine of this quality that's aged for 12 years before it's released for sale.

I have to say it's hard to find my favourite wine out of all of these, the two Gran Reserva's, as they should be were absolutely stunning, but their not your everyday drinking wine, definitely for that special occasion. For me though I have to say my favourite was the 2009 Torre de Ona Reserva, but if I'm honest you can't wrong with any of their wines, they're definitely worth taking one or two of them home to enjoy. 

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!

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

A Pinot Noir from the Loire

After visiting the southern hemisphere, I thought I should venture back up to the northern hemisphere and pay a visit to the Loire Valley.

The Loire is renowned for it's white wines, especially those from Sancerre, Pouilly Fume and the slightly lesser known Menetou-Salon, all produced from the Sauvignon Blanc grape, but they also grow a small amount of Pinot Noir. They use the Pinot Noir to make their rose, but also they produce a small amount of red Sancerre. While Sancerre blanc gained it's AC qualification in 1936, it was not until 1959 that the AC qualification was extended to cover both the red and rose produced from Pinot Noir.

The 2012 Jean Colin Sancerre rouge is produced from vineyards situated around Thauvenay, on the hills southeast of sancerre. The soil here is made up two thirds Clay/Limestone and one third Flint which all add to the flavour and complexity you get in the wines from this region. They also practice Bio-Dynamic farming methods, although they are not certified, using natural pests, cover crops and the lunar cycle.

The harvesting is all done by hand and the grapes are packed into small crates to prevent them from being damaged, after going through a pre-fermentation cold soak maceration, it then goes through a two to four week fermentation, with regular cap punch downs to aid extraction. Once the fermentation process has been completed, the wine then goes into new oak barrels, from the local forests for a further 10 months maturation, where it will also go through Malolactic fermentation to give it a much more rounded and softer character.

In the glass it had a pale ruby colour, with lovely red berry fruit, raspberry, cherry and red currant you also got pear drops and a touch of spice coming through from the background. On the palate these all came through with a small amount of fine tannin and a lovely acidity which all balanced out beautifully.

I have to say I was rather impressed with this wine, it had a nice depth of flavour and was well balanced, it didn't bowl me over but I would happily drink a glass or two. On a hot day you could chill it down slightly and would be perfect for a lunch time drink, especially as it's only 13%.

Monday, 14 April 2014

A Directors Cut with a Difference from Heartland

After starting in New Zealand it's time to cross over the Tasman Sea to South Australia, and pay a visit to Langhorne Creek and stop by Heartland wines.

Wine growing in the Langhorne Creek region of South Australia dates back as far as 1850, and was originally a watering stop and then a cattle stop for drovers moving cattle across the country. It got it's name from two drovers, Alfred and Henry Langhorne who settled there to raise cattle, and then later discover it's potential for growing grapes.

Moving forward to today, and three more people have discovered the delights of wines from Langhorne Creek and teamed up together. Grant Tilbrook, who has consulted all across the Australian wine trade for many years and Scott Collett who has run the family wine business in McLaren Vale since 1982 have teamed up with young Australian winemaker Ben Glaetzer, who has known of the potential of Langhorne Creek for a long time from his uncle John, who has over 40 years of wine making experience and won a prestigious four Jimmy Watson trophies.

Langhorne Creek is situated about 80 kilometres south-east of Adelaide and founded on the broad flood plains influenced by the local Bremer and Angas rivers which are dominated by the magnificent River Red Gums, then running down to the nearby Lake Alexandrina. It has a markedly cooler climate than many of it's neighbouring regions, this is partly down to what the locals call the lake doctor, these are the winds coming off the nearby Lake. These winds have a cooling effect on the summer sun and help to ward against pests and damaging winter frosts, but the difference to the climate is quite dramatic.

The grapes are transported over a hundred kilometres to Barossa Vintners in Tanunda which is where Ben makes and matures his wines at his state of the art winery, and where he makes the 2010 Directors Cut Shiraz. All the grapes come from the Langhorne Creek region and are picked at night and crushed in small open top stainless steel fermenter's where it is allowed 24 of skin contact before the fermentation is started. It then go's through eight days of cool fermentation with three daily hand plunges before being placed in American and French Oak Hogheads for 14 months ageing before release.

In the glass, you got this wonderfully deep, almost opaque inky purple colour, with pronounced aromas of dark fruit, cassis and cherries followed by gentle sweet spices of liquorice and vanilla with a hint of pepper. On the palate these all came through with amazing depth of flavour on the fruit and beautiful integration with the spice that just lingered in your mouth for ages. To go along with all the fruit and spice you had plenty of fine juicy tannins and a balanced acidity that made your mouth water just enough to help wash the flavours around your palate.

I've been a fan of Ben's wines since I was introduced to them a couple of years ago, and they just keep getting better with every vintage, and this one certainly didn't disappoint. It was just an absolutely stunning glass of wine which will on;y get better with time, and for me was what a proper Aussie Shiraz should be. It Is one that I'd say every time you saw a bottle, you should buy it.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

A Pinot From Across the Main Divide

I thought it was about time got back on with my blog, I've only written a hand full of pieces over the last 18 months, despite tasting numerous wines, and what better way to start off again than with a Pinot Noir from New Zealand.

Main Divide, apart from being the other name of the Southern Alps on New Zealand's southern island, it is also the name of the winery from the Donaldson family, the other being Pegasus Bay, who make some stunning wines, but that's for a later post I feel.

In it's beginning, fruit was bought in from local growers as required, then in 1997 the decision was made to change Main Divide into a "quality focused brand". In order to achieve this they began working much closer with growers who they felt would produced top quality fruit, and from sites that expressed regional and varietal characteristics. By working closely with the growers they are able to promote their beliefs in sustainable viticultural management, organic techniques, low crop levels and minimal handling of fruit.

Within the winery they employ gentle pressing the use of wild fermentation, malo-lactic fermentation and to clarify by settling. By employing all of these techniques through the whole process this allows enables them to produce some absolutely stunning wines with great fruit flavours and a depth not found everywhere.

The 2010 Main Divide Pinot Noir has an opaque ruby colour in the glass, not something you tend to see with Pinot Noir very often, this comes from the use of oak barriques from selected artisan Burgundian coopers, where it is matured for 14 months. You get aromas raspberries, blackberries and black cherries, with hints of sweet spice and smoke coming through. On the palate you get the flavours of all the fruit, the sweet spice seperates itself out into cinnamon and liquorice with hints of smoke intermingled in between all the fruit and spice. The tannins ripe and juicy, balanced out with just enough acidity to make your mouth water and help all the flavours linger for ages.

I have to say this for me is an absolutely stunning Pinot Noir and one of my favourites, it's not your typical fruit bomb style you get from many New Zealand producers, it has much more complexity and depth which they get from the use of burgundy coopers. You can find this wine online and from most good independent wine merchants