THE GRAND CERCLE des Vins de Bordeaux en Primeur 2016 Tasting

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The Grand Cercle tasting of en Primeur 2016 Bordeaux took place in the grand setting of the second floor terrace of Le Meridien Piccadilly on March 15th 2017.

For those of you unfamiliar with the ‘en primeur’ concept, this can be described in two broadly different ways: producers and brokers might tell you it is a chance for interested buyers to get their hands on the latest vintage of Bordeaux’ most sought-after Château before before they have even been bottled, and at the lowest prices they will ever be. Sceptics might tell you it is a marketing trick to bring in much needed cash and interest to the Château at a slow time of year. I would say it is a bit of both.

There has been a lot of noise going on in the trade press recently about 2016 being a ‘miracle vintage’ – and this is just the sort of spin that tends to bring out the sceptic in me – indeed, Le Grand Cercle’ described in their press pack the wet and miserable spring, then dry summer from June, followed by much-needed rain three months later in September. In their words: ” Who, last may, would ever have believed in a vintage year after an unprecedented record amount of rainfall?”

All that said, the spin worked, and the result was a packed terrace full of tasters eager to see if it was true. I even put on a tie for the occasion (ties are not great at tastings, you have to keep them in check so as not to spit on them) – I think this may be an indication of my assessment of the vintage! .

Grand Cercle Tasting 2017

Bordeaux Tasting à l’anglaise (with ties)

So was this a miracle vintage? Producers I spoke to agreed that the last great vintage in Bordeaux was 2010, and without exception compared 2016 to that vintage. I tasted 25 or so wines, white as well as red, and not an unripe or lean one among them (you rarely get to say that about Bordeaux). The whites were lovely, ripe wines, with a beautiful mouthfeel, and nervy acidity, the reds full of bright ripe crunchy fruit, rich but melted tannins, and mainly good levels of acidity (although some of the Merlot based ‘right bank’ wines lacked a little).

It was the Cabernet Sauvignon Left Bank wines that impressed me the most, though. I look for a combination of ripe blackcurrant fruit with tobacco and meaty savoury notes as indicators of great Cabernet wines, and all of them had this, so the descriptions below only include additional features. On this side of the river my list of favourites was:

Château Serilhan, Saint Estephe – All the descriptors above apply, with an attractive oak polish like a veneer to endear it.

Château Haut Lagrange, Pessac Léognan – 40% new oak, but integrated and wrapped around the tannins

Château Roquetaillade la Grange, Graves – Delicately oaked (25% new) with velvety tannins and potential

Château la Tour de Bessan, Margaux – Classic margaux restraint, but blessed with charming fruit sweetness

Château de Villegeorge, Haut Médoc – This had a higher Merlot content, so was a softer wine than some others, with lower acidity, but lots of charm

On the Right Bank, I found less balance, with a few low acid wines where the alcohol showed more. A certain American critic may like them! I liked:

Château Mazeyres, Pomerol – Lovely bright and creamy fruit, 14% alcohol not showing, a polished wine

Château Godeau, Saint Emilion Grand Cru – Ripe and sweet, with great depth and richness, great potential

Château Fombrauge, Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classé – Charming sweet fruit and spice, with 45% new oak integrating already

Château Yon-Figeac, Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classé – An almost delicate wine, with notes of violets, ripe red fruit, and firm tannins enveloped in 1/3 new oak

The whites were super too. In Entre Deux Mers, Château Sainte Marie refreshed me, and in Graves Château de Cerons had great balance and potential, and Château Saint-Robert was rich and satisfying.

My verdict: No spin or hyperbole, 2016 was a great vintage!

The Isle of Wight (and Red) Wine Tour

Isle of Wight Vineyard

Adgestone on a good day

It rains on the Isle of Wight; I remember a sentence that explains this: “There is no dry season in England”. And so it was that a typically murky day in June on a short holiday in the Isle of Wight, I came to visit the island’s only two remaining commercial wine producers: Adgestone and Rosemary Vineyards. These have in common that both are on the East of the island, which probably helps protect them a little from that wet South Westerly wind everyone is familiar with on the South coast; they benefit from South facing slopes on clay, silt, and sandy soil, which provides good drainage (especially useful in a place with no dry season); and, being maritime, a relatively moderate climate.

Adgestone is the dream project of ex-Chartered Engineer Russ Broughton. His sanguine

Adgestone Medium White

Adgestone Medium White

recounting of his story provides a cautionary tale for those attracted to the romance of wine production. “It’s not a retirement job, you work seven days a week; I’ve had one day off in the last 3 years.” But he’s happy, especially when the labelling machine misbehaves, as he can fix it himself (the wine world is full of troublesome gizmos like this).

 

When Russ took over the place

More Medium White

More Medium White

the vines had been abandoned since the 80s, but he revived the mainly Seyval vines, some of which were 48 years old. His Dry White is predominantly Seyval, and appropriately named: it showed the typically neutral character of the grape, with a hint of white melon nose, but a slightly unripe citrus palate. The Medium White (mainly Phoenix, some Bacchus and Orion) was more interesting, with a tangerine and riper melon nose, and only 4g/L of residual sugar. Blush (Regent, Schonberger) was a delicate flower, with hints of ripe strawberry, a bit of a red fruit cordial, attractive. Finally,

Full Bodied Red

Full Bodied Red

the Full Bodied Red, made from Rondo. I often ask myself why English wine producers bother to make red, but the answer is always that it is their best-seller, and anyone with a vague interest in money should remember the adage “Give the people what they want and they’ll come”, allegedly said at the well-attended funeral of the reviled Louis B. Mayer. It was light and fruitsome, but, without food to soften it, a little harsh.

Like many English wine producers, Adgestone have converted the farm building into very comfortable rooms; only two, but this is a small operation.

Rosemary Vineyards seem more focussed on

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Isle of Wight Distillery

their liqueurs; their Elderflower wine, an infusion of Elderflower in dry white, was beautifully floral and fragrant, with just enough sweetness; lovely. Their sprits from the Isle of Wight Distillery were perhaps the most interesting, though: Wight Mermaid gin, with coriander and rock sapphire was beautifully floral and dry, the Rock Sea Vodka fresh and intriguingly savoury. Apple Pie Moonshine, a blend of vodka, local apple juice, cinnamon, vanilla and brown sugar had a warming charm to it. Their wines reminded me of why I started this with a sentence about the English climate; and their fizz, the one I was most interested in, was not available for tasting. Maybe it would have made me change my mind?

Is the Isle of Wight the best place in England to own a vineyard? Maybe Russ Broughton’s words from his page on his website will give some insight into prospective vineyard revivalists:

  1. Am I an experienced commercial wine maker?….NO, well, I say no, but I was bought a home brew kit at Christmas when I was 19, so lets not write that off just yet.
  2. Do you understand the complex art of successful viticulture?….. Had a nice rose growing up my wall in Chandlers Ford, but..well, probably a no again!
  3. Good customer skills and ability to run a small commercial kitchen?… OK, had a life working on machines without faces, but I make a mean curry!!! … Its another no isn’t it?
  4. Fancy buying something that was a part of the whole English Wine revival. A vineyard that was so good in the 70’s it held the enviable Gore Brown trophy for English wine. Having the opportunity to feel alive again every time you wake up??….Hell yes, I’ll learn the rest, where are the papers!!

 

A Tasting of BA’s Club World Wines

The Bay at Night. A gratuitous photo, not particularly related to the content of the article, but a testament to the quality of my wife's photographic skills.

The Bay at Night. A gratuitous photo, not particularly related to the content of the article, but a testament to the quality of my wife’s photographic skills.

There are two ways to afford to travel in Club Class on a long haul flight. One is to get a proper job (and by this I mean one not in the wine trade) and pay the full price, the other is to marry someone who works for an airline. On a recent trip to California I was afforded the luxury of just such an upgrade on a BA flight (so you see which of the options I chose). This was worth it both for the bed it provided, which can only be described as a magnificent, jet lag eliminating, luxury, and the quality of the wines offered. On a similar scale, the wine would rate as more of a very welcome treat, but it was perfectly suited to relieving the monotony of long-haul flight, and a welcome change from the pleasant, but uninspiring Cotes de Gascogne Colombard I usually encounter on aircraft

I didn’t set out with the intention of trying to assess any difference that altitude has on the wines, but they don’t mess around on BA, and Taittinger Brut Reserve NV was served as soon as we had sat down, and the whole way through the climb, so a sort of impromptu comparison took place. This Champagne is a long-time favourite of mine, creamy but not too much so, toasty but not overdone, with Chardonnay elegance shining through; excellent, and perfectly balanced, at sea level, even better at 18,000 feet, and downright superb at 36,000 (or was that the second refill talking)?

I tasted (that is tasted properly, before drinking with lunch) all 4 wines on the list. All were well selected, with a well-deserved place on the list.

Ravioli and Sancerre

Ravioli and Sancerre

Sancerre 2013, Château de Thauvenay was a high fruit version, with pineapple and ripe acidity no grassiness in evidence.

Clos Pegase Carneros Chardonnay 2012 was beautifully peachy, with a rich, creamy butterscotch palate and sherbet acidity, but definitely moderate by Californian standards, and a good food pairing with a duo of salmons.

Flor de Campo Pinot Noir 2012, Central Coast, California, is in fact from the south of the state, near Los Angeles, but cooled by that Pacific fog which pervades the coast, and creates cool climate conditions. This showed an expected attractive ripe red fruit, a hint of spice, chocolate oak, but not overdone, and great balance, restraint even.

Steak and Medoc

Steak and Medoc

Château des Cabans 2011, Cru Bourgeois Médoc was poised, with ripe berry fruits and a hint of violets, earthy, mid-weight, and with spicy oak. Although Cabernet dominant, it showed quite fluffy tannins, which went very well with my steak.

A memorable flight, lovely wines, great company, good food (it’s not every day you get to say that about airline food), and a start to a California experience that culminated in a visit to Ridge, described elsewhere. All you have to decide is which route to take to Club Class. A difficult decision; both options have attributes in common, of which troublesome but rewarding might be the best summary.

Visit to Ridge with the legendary Paul Draper

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The panorama from Ridge, with the famous mist in the background

A visit to California to stay with friends in Santa Clara, just south of San Francisco, started with the principle that this was a wine drinking, not wine tasting trip. No vineyard visits, just barbecues, some sightseeing, and a bit of healthy imbibing. So of course, when we realised that our friends lived about 20 minutes away from Ridge Vineyards, we called and made an appointment straight away. For my sins, I worked for Steven Spurrier in the early 80s while his wine ‘empire’ was still extant in Paris, so from this, and subsequent study, I was quite familiar with the quality of Paul Draper’s wines, and the effect that the 1976 ‘Judgement of Paris’ tasting had on Ridge and the other ‘kids from the sticks’ (as Bo Barrett of Chateau Montelena put it at the time), although I am not quite old enough to have been there for the tasting. I could hardly miss the opportunity just on a principle.

This is why they call it 'Ridge'!

This is why they call it ‘Ridge’!

The following day, on a beautiful sunny September afternoon, the 4th in fact, we travelled the Montebello Road to the winery. The various parts of the Monte Bello vineyard are at elevations varying from 1300 to 2700 feet, and you really see why they call them the Santa Cruz Mountains as you travel upwards; the road is a succession of hairpin bends, as you would expect in a mountain, not so much in a vineyard.

PD & GW4

PD, GW, and 100-year old Carignane

We arrived at Monte Bello to be greeted by Paul Draper himself; three hours of fascinating insight into the famous estate followed. At the hopper above the winery, 100 year-old Carignane grapes were just being delivered into the de-stemmer, so we got to taste our first grapes of the 2014 California vintage. Paul described 2014 as one of the earliest in Ridge’s history, which is why grapes had been arriving in the winery since a week before. He thought the harvest would be just about finished by the third week of September; usually they wouldn’t have started until then.

...and in the cellar

…and in the cellar

Ridge are still at the top of their game. PaulDraper, always open minded, talked with enthusiasm about textural changes effected in the wine by the occasional fining they do; single parcel fermentation for each vineyard and combining the best, far too complicated to detail here; the advantages of air-dried over kiln-dried oak, and its cooperage, and the importance of grapes at moderate sugar levels. The wines are organic in all but name, and are currently getting certification for the Monte Bello vineyard. Paul has always used the minimum possible intervention, including only natural yeasts, and minimal sulphur, focussed on quality, rather than a label. That said, Ridge’s labels have always featured more winemaking information than almost any, and now include ingredient labelling; it’s lucky they don’t fine often, as the general public don’t like to see egg white as an additive (but that doesn’t stop them including it on the label when they do). Paul talked with fondness about the early days in the 70s, before the boom, when they used to import top Bordeaux like Lynch Bages and Leoville Lascases in barrel and bottle at Ridge in order to keep the cash coming in. I was even allowed to spit on the drain in the floor of the winery, as we used to do on tasting trips in Burgundy and the Rhone in the 80s. I, if no one else, derived a huge amount of childish pleasure from the looks of horror from my friends as I did it. Paul, like the seasoned professional he is, stood well clear of me.

More humidity, this time in the cellar...

More humidity, this time in the cellar…

We tasted 2013 Monte Bello in barrel in the cellar cut into a limestone ravine in the 1880s; it still has six months left to mature in barrel, and seemed very well balanced, dry, dark fruited, smoky, oaky, yes, but not sappy as I sometimes find. Promising. We tasted a 2014 Zinfandel, picked on 29th August, and still in the fermentation tank; I don’t consider myself expert, but I am familiar with tasting fizzy, sweet, semi-alcoholic fruit juice. My friends, though, were bowled over. ‘It’s like Port’, said one of my hosts; I began a wine lecture on Port production and why she was right, but happily I was quickly stopped by the groans of the audience.

All tastings should look like this

All tastings should look like this

We moved back up to the newly built tasting room. Paul introduced the 2011 vintage, which was largely something of a disaster in many parts of California; one of my favourite euphemisms, ‘challenging’, often used to describe miserable vintages in France, was even used to describe the Californian summer that year. At Monte Bello, though, they escaped the cold fog which poisoned the summer for many vineyards, as their elevation put them above it. We tasted:

2011 Monte Bello Chardonnay – Oak toast and smoke showing, edging towards butterscotch. Lovely ripe tang, but alcohol a little visible for me.

2012 Geyserville Zinfandel – Fresh, with black cherries raisins, and great balance, fluffy tannins, a freshness.

2012 Lytton Spring Zinfandel – Smokier, more complex: aniseed, pepper, lovely.

2011 Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon – Smoke, spice, aniseed, black fruit, cool climate, but ripe, with bright acidity, mineral, almost salty. Superb.

And another treat:

1985 Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon – Wood smoke, leather, Christmas cake, burned sugar, tannins still there, but smooth, the wine fading a little; graceful in age.

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‘The Judgement’ at Ridge

We talked of the ‘Judgement of Paris’ tasting in 1976. It should be remembered that Steven intended to show that California made good wine, not to enact a competition between France and the US, but the first places achieved by Chateau Montelena in the Chardonnay section and Stag’s Leap in the Cabernet was dramatic: Californian wine had arrived. It then progressed on a path of excess into ‘cult winery’ and 200% new oak territory, but Ridge continued and continues on its path of moderation, minimal intervention, and traditional winemaking with modern equipment, and long may it do so. Thank you sincerely, Paul Draper, for a fantastic afternoon of wine tasting on a tasting-free holiday!

 

 

The Third National Italian Rosé Competition

Otranto 1

An unusually well taken (for me) photo of an Otranto sunset

Concorso Enologico Nazionale dei Vini Rosati D’Italia Terza Edizione (2014)

As bit of a mouthful? In English, and only slightly abbreviated, this becomes The Third National Italian Rosé Competition, which seems more manageable. The prize-giving conference for this Puglian-inspired yearly event took place in the magnificent setting of Otranto Castle, in the far south of Puglia, the heel of Italy, on Saturday 31st May 2014, and was thirstily witnessed by a packed room of assorted Italian journalists and writers, and a smattering of other European ones, with me and Antonio Tomassini forming the English contingent.

The competition was organized by Regione Puglia and other more national institutions to promote rosés from Italy in general, and, despite a rather relaxed start, it was a well-managed, interesting, and even entertaining event. Highlights of the keynote European speakers included Federico Castellucci, Director General of the Office International de la Vigne et du Vin (OIV). The summary of his presentation comprised a page of ominously dry-looking statistics, but he managed through his enthusiasm for Italian wine to bring it to life and make it interesting, motivational even: we learned that France consumes 34% of the world’s rosé, which represents 25% of all wine drunk there, whereas in Italy the same two data are 5%. Italy’s great strength is in export, he showed, with an increase in the last 10 years from 26% to 40% of rosé exported. Castellucci encouraged Italians to practice what they preach and appreciate that rosé is an excellent wine, and drinking it is ‘cool’. Try it yourselves, he implied, rather than just exporting it.

Talking of France… Just how seriously the French take their different wine styles is shown by the existence of the ‘Centre de Recherche et d’Experimentation sur le Vin Rosé’. Many in the trade have seen the very attractive colour chart of rosés they have designed. Gilles Masson, representing them, highlighted from this that dry, lighter-coloured styles are in vogue at the moment (which is good news for this Provence based institution, as it endorses their regional style), but that this may change at any time in this fast-moving market.

Fabrizio Nardoni, Assessore alle Risorse Agroalimentari della Regione Puglia (Agricultural Counsellor for the Puglia Region), resplendent in an electric blue suit, enthused energetically about the quality of the product, and the potential for increased export of Puglian rosé; he really is a Puglian Ambassador. This point was reinforced in a more general Italian sense by Senatore Dario Stefano, in his conclusion. To put this into practice, though, a larger showing of foreign journalists and marketers would have been of benefit; also, a similar event in the UK would bring this underestimated region more to the UK’s attention.

The strong Italian and Puglian interest in this event was further demonstrated by the presence in the audience of the hugely popular (in Italy) singer Albano Carrisi, who is a Puglian wine producer himself, and Palma D’Onofrio, TV Chef and Apulian Icon, who was invited to the stage to present the prizes.
Puglia showed well in the results; a cynic might suggest that this had something to do with the fact that Regione Puglia was the main organizer. However, in fairness, the region does produce 40% of all of Italy’s rosés, which makes it less surprising that 5 of the 18 prizes went to Puglian wines. The full results can be seen on the Vini di Puglia website.

The Museum at Leone de Castris

The Museum at Leone de Castris

Lunch at Masseria Gianca Cisternino

Lunch at Masseria Gianca Cisternino

The following day was spent on a whirlwind tour of the Salento peninsula our way back to Bari, guided by Antonella Millarte, food and cookery expert, and an inexhaustible font of knowledge on Puglia. We made brief stops at three of the award winning producers. At Leone de Castris, as well as the charming ‘Five Roses’, named after the daughters of the original owner, we had a delightfully light and floral Aleatico rosé called Aleikos presented by Dr.ssa Alessandra Leone De Castris, at the ubiquitous Due Palme we retasted the fragrant Melarosa and serious Salice Salentino ‘Selvarossa’, and at Cantine Cardone we met the very energetic Marianna Cardone and Giuseppe Palumbo from Antinori’s estate Tormaresca, further to the north of Puglia, who consults at this estate. Their award winner ‘Provit’ is a Pinot Noir sparkling rosé, crisp and red-fruited. They also make Bordeaux blend wines, with 100% new oak, well managed and stylish but not particularly Puglian, in my opinion, and more characterful wines from indigenous varieties. The lunch nearby at Masseria Gianca Cisternino was fantastic!

The way to a journalist’s heart is through his stomach, to paraphrase an old wife’s tale. The buffet after the awards ceremony would normally have been the highlight of Saturday’s conference, and indeed it was excellent. The presentations that preceded it were so interesting and presented with such passion, though, that it was a close contest! Thank you sincerely to Sergio Maglio for organizing this educational competition, we are thoroughly convinced of the quality and passion of Italian rosé in general, and Puglian in particular. Thank you also to Accademia Apulia UK for providing the cultural bridge between Puglia and the UK.

Fabrizio Nardone talked of the potential of Puglian wine in export. The UK has a rather limited understanding of these wines, largely dominated by inexpensive Primitivo di Puglia; it’s time to bring the show to the UK to show them the real stuff!

Oak Aged Sauvignon Blind Wine Tasting at London Cru

1407 Bottle shot

A blind tasting of oaked Sauvignons from around the world on the 3rd July at London Cru, organised by Jean-Christophe Mau and Richard Bampfield MW was a welcome opportunity to revisit West London’s ‘flavour of the month’ venue, as well, of course, to taste an interesting and perhaps overlooked category. Richard’s invitation proposed that: “ as Sauvignon Blanc is so ubiquitous and producers will need to work harder to add value and create their points of difference in future, the use of oak will become more widespread”.

The tasting was very well attended; all the luminaries of the world of wine journalism were there (including me), so there must be something to Richard’s assertion. I think we have become submerged in the overpoweringly citrus and fruit-some (Marlborough, mainly, but not exclusively) unoaked version, to the exclusion of the more traditional, complex perhaps, version.

Overall, I found most very good; my lowest mark was 15/20. Looking back over the crib sheet, my high marks (18-19) were fairly evenly distributed between old and new world. In my notes I did record a less prominent fruit in many of the old world ones, and low marks to some French ones where the oak seemed a bit dried and resinous, and not supported by sufficient fruit, but I really liked the integration of oak in Didier Dagueneau’s Pur Sang 2008. It was surprisingly fresh, not showing its six years of age, other than in the oak (fermented and aged in new oak) integration. In my notes I see ‘Fumé style’ against this wine, which is encouraging for my tasting skills as the wines were blind. Happily, since this was their tasting, I gave a good blind rating to Ch. Brown 2012, which I found attractively toasty and spicy. I wasn’t as negative as I expected to be about heavily oaked new world styles, in fact as long as the fruit wasn’t dominated I found several with really well-integrated, classy oak, again in the ‘Fumé’ style; Jordan ‘The Outlier’ 2012 in Stellenbosch, Terre a Terre 2013 in Wrattonbully, and Chimney rock, Elevage Blanc 2010 in Napa stood out for me in this style. My highest mark (19, I don’t do 20) went to Valdivieso’s Wild Fermented Leyda 2012, aged for 11 months in 500L French oak, and good marks to most of the Bordeaux blends with Semillon (although there weren’t many).

I think Richard and Jean-Chiristophe are right that this is a rewarding category. Value is added in the complexity and broader, spicier flavours of the oaked versions, particularly when this is not to the detriment of the brightness of fruit, and that applies to both old and new world versions. I’m just rushing off to buy some oak-aged Chilean Sauvignon now!

THE AGM OF THE ASSOCIATION OF WINE EDUCATORS AT LONDON CRU, 19TH MAY 2014

44885_LDNCRUsyraharrives2013015_CreditIanStirling (1)It doesn’t sound too auspicious as a title, does it? Don’t worry, although the AWE AGM, as successful as usual, was of limited interest to Harpers readers, the venue, London Cru, was fascinating. And that’s my real subject.

London Cru, London’s first Urban Winery is the new venture of the unstoppable Cliff Roberson. This concept has been going a while in the US and Canada, but the UK seems to be lagging a few years behind on this. Roberson is setting a great example for future ventures, and I hope we see more of them. Cited in Seagrave Road, SW6, the winery occupies the site previously used by Roberson for his warehouse. The concept is not to farm a vineyard in Fulham; I can only see problems with the idea of planting vines in neighbouring Brompton Cemetery. No, London Cru ship handpicked grapes (to avoid damage to bunches) from the Continent in refrigerated trucks, to be vinified in SW6. Adam Green: Business Development Director, proudly guided us round the tiny winery, with technical questions fielded by their energetic Australian winemaker, Gavin Monery.

Here is how it worked this year: four different grapes were shipped from three producers in France and Italy. Two in Roussillon: Château de Corneilla supplied Chardonnay and Syrah, Mas Coutelou contributed organically farmed Cabernet Sauvignon. Then Piedmont: G. Codero, near Alba, brought organic Barbera; substituting a Loire Sauvignon and Merlot from Bordeaux, cancelled due to problems with the levels of rot (remember, of course, that this was the ‘difficult’ 2013 vintage). Despite the longer travel, they still managed to get the Barbera from the vine to SW6 in 48 hours. In the future, they hope to add more regions, or revert to French only supply.

Gavin describes himself as pragmatic, from my experience a very antipodean trait and one we had already seen with the supply decisions, and was also very open about treatments, additions, subtractions, etc. to the wines (something you don’t always experience on the other side of the Channel). Space precludes a full report here, but in any case the complete, and again very honest winemaking description is available at London Cru’s smart website: www.londoncru.co.uk. A brief summary is that London Cru intend their wines to be drunk young, so they do not work them too much, aiming for fruity, juicy wines for early drinking. They use oak, but sparingly, and never exclusively new.

We enjoyed a barrel sample tasting. The Chardonnay was still quite oak sappy, but had lovely fresh citrus tang (no need to re-acidify this year), the Syrah tight, with playful acidity, and a hint of aniseed greenness, the Cabernet Sauvignon more substantial, black fruited and oaky, and the Barbera a bit of a beast; rustic and chewy, with typical sour red cherry flavours, and grainy tannins. Promising wines, soon to be bottled and sold.

Some of us might have suspected that this was a bit of a PR exercise on Cliff Roberson’s part to see his name in print again. In that respect, it has succeeded already. As well, however, London Cru have a slick team working to get some return on what must have been a pretty substantial investment: Adam Green, clearly keen to start selling the wines; Gavin Monery, hugely professional, honest, and clearly striving for, and achieving, quality, and Jana Scholtzova, Head of Events. On this subject, the winery is already open to the public, with events for up to 200 and visits for up to 20 people available – educators take note! I will certainly be taking a group to visit London’s first commercial winery, and I am sure other members of the Association of Wine Educators will too. Rock on, Cliff!

 

 

 

 

 

LET’S RAISE A GLASS TO PORTUGAL

 

A  REVIEW OF A RECENT TASTING FOR THE BIRKBECK WINE SOCIETY BY SIMON STEEL

 

The idea of drinking nine glasses of wine and then being able to remember the evening may seem impossible, but it happened to me.
The occasion was a wine-tasting put on by the Birkbeck Wine Society last week. Portuguese wine was the subject studied by 28 thirsty would-be connoisseurs.

Our hosts were Charles Shaw and Jill Cameron from the society and the wine expert Gilbert Winfield, in very natty waistcoat, who introduced each wine and gave us plenty of information about them and Portuguese wines in general – that is, when he could make himself heard among the excited hubbub.

Gilbert, our wine expert for the evening.

The room in Gordon Square was decked out like a restaurant, including candles and spittoons, and by chance your solitary male correspondent was lucky enough to find himself sitting with three charming women companions (pictured) as well as two wine glasses waiting to be filled.

We started with a vinho verde, the classic slightly sparkling white wine known to Algarve holiday makers. Then came another white, then some reds, and finishing with a port and another sweet wine. We each had a sheet with the names of the wines and descriptions, with space for our own comments on each for future reference, and a map of the regions on the back.
Gilbert, Charles and Jill were our waiters.
Sensibly the glasses were small and only half-filled, for the sake of keeping an orderly evening. We usually had two glasses on the go at once, for comparison purposes.
Along the way we learnt a lot about Portuguese wine and wine in general from Gilbert.

A selection:

  • Portugal makes “delicious wines, undervalued in this country”.
  • Vinho verde, sold widely in tourist areas of Portugal, is an “abused category … people come back with a good feeling about it, buy it here, and think, hmm, I don’t remember it being this wishy-washy in the Algarve”.
  • Vinho verde, made in the north, is not actually particularly green, but since it doesn’t keep very well it is bottled early, and as young wines have a green tinge that is where the name comes from. The “spritz” comes because it is bottled before fermentation is finished so some carbon dioxide is trapped in the bottle, giving it a refreshing fizz.
  • Wine tastings are usually done from north to south. Vines  grow in temperate latitudes between 30 degrees and 50 degrees in each hemisphere. Portugal is right in the middle, between 37 and 42, although being on the Atlantic seaboard it is cooler and rainier than inland areas at the same latitudes.
  • Northern wines are lower-alcohol but with “nice depth”, said Gilbert, while the further south you go the grapes are riper, with more sugar, so they are higher-alcohol, “bigger” wines.
  • Portuguese whites “don’t leap out at you but have a very attractive white fruit aroma, and have a rich, oily, mouth-filling fulness, very satisfying”.
  • Portugal produces “big, tannic red wines … the tannin gives a tongue-coating, bitter taste which helps them go well with fatty foods”.
  • Wines made from grapes, unlike those made from other fruits, don’t taste of the fruit; they develop complex, exotic flavours that don’t remind us of the grape – except wines from the muscat grape, which do.
  • The appellation system in Portugal is looser than elsewhere and is no great guide to the quality of the wines: you can have good and bad wines in every area. “You can have low-level, low-priced wines that are absolutely delicious,” said Gilbert.
  • The exception is the Duoro region: this is the port region and the makers have recently gone into high-quality production of non-fortified wines also.
  • “I was in Lisbon recently and you could get a decent bottle of the local wine for €3 a bottle – even €2″. So there’s a holiday idea!

Fiona, Vicky and Alex, three of your corresponden't fellow wine tasters

After the tastings came a “heads and tails” quiz. Everyone stood up, and Gilbert asked a question, related to his talks, with  choice of two answers, a “heads” and a “tails” – only one correct. You placed your hands on the relevant part of your body. The answer came: if you were wrong you sat down. Then another question. The last man or woman standing won.

This went to a tie-break question unrelated to Portuguese wine: name the five main Bordeaux grape varieties.* One knowledgable gentleman walked away with the prize (in a bottle of course) and there was another winner in a society raffle.

Lastly, in a poll for future subjects, a “cheeses of northern Europe” event came top.

Before then though is the society’s next meeting, Wines of Georgia with Chris Bowling, founder of Oxford’s Georgian Wine Society.
Charles said of the Portuguese : “The event went very well, Portuguese wines can be tricky to approach, partly due to the unique grape varietals and the rich tapestry of varying styles.”

The evening cost your correspondent £15 – and he managed to make it home safely, despite not using the spittoon once.

The main red Bordeaux varietals are: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec. Of course Carménère, though much more rare, is also allowed.

Details of all the wines tasted:

1. The Wine Society’s Vinho Verde 2012

A refreshing blend of Alvarinho and Trajadura grapes, light white fruit and a slight spritz

2. Quintas das Bageiras Bairrada Branco 2012

Bical, Maria Gomes and Cerceal combine to make a fresh and citrus style, with rich palate texture

3. Caves de Pegoes Dry Muscat 2012, Setubal

This grape also makes sweet wine in Setubal, but this one is dry, but with that lovely ripe, slightly spicy fruit typical of Muscat

4. Ribeiro Santo Dao 2011, Charles Lucas Vinhos

Touriga National, Tinto Roriz, and Alfracheiro grapes combine to reveal a dark-fruited wine with hints of savoury Mediterranean herbs

5. Alianca Reserva Tinto 2011, Bairrada

Touriga National, Baga, Tinto Roriz, again black-fruited and spicy, with a hint of oak-derived vanilla

6. Monte Velho Vinho Regional Alentejo 2012, Herdade do Esporao Aragonês, Trincadeira, Touriga Nacional, Syrah.

A heady ripe fruit mix, softened by 6 months in oak, with smooth spicy toasty flavours. This is one of southern Portugal’s finest estates.

7. Quinta da Manuela Douro 2000 Tinto

A mature wine from the Port region, tannins softened with age, and rich flavours of spicy plum/fruitcake and dried fig with chocolate notes.

8. Symington Family Estates Late Bottled Vintage Port 2008

Both these last two wines are made from the port varieties of Touriga National, Touriga Franca, and Tinto Roriz. Prunes, raisins and figs, with rich cakey warmth and mouth-filling tannins to refresh it

9. Moscatel de Setúbal, Bacalhôa 2011

A rich and complex fortified wine abound with orange tea flower, raisins and a smooth, sweet yet fresh finish

This review was posted by Simon Steel of the Birkbeck Wine Society

60cm Snow in Abruzzo

Francesco Valentini holds forth

An unusually large snowfall on Monday and Tuesday of last week has destroyed vines in the vineyards of Abruzzo. Reports of the amount of damage vary, but in one case may be as high as 50%, the problem exacerbated by the tall pergola vine training typical of the region.

 

The snow itself did not come by surprise; local weather stations had forecast it to begin on Monday. It was it’s quantity, coupled with strong winds of up to 160km/hour, however, that caused major damage to the vines. Angelo Ruzzi, Sales Export Manager at Azienda Zaccagnini, explained: “The quantity of snow which fell on unpruned tall pergola trained vines was the problem. They supported it, and eventually broke. We have only lost up to 10% of our vines. Some were less lucky”

 

The 1983 vintage of Francesco Valentini’s celebrated Trebbiano d’Abruzzo (yes, the much maligned Trebbiano) may be the best Italian white I have ever tasted, but his vineyard was hit the worst, with up to 50% of the vines damaged by the snow. He viewed this from a different perspective: “The issue is not the amount of damage to my vines or any others, it is climate change. We have had up to 60cm of snow falling in November, coupled with winds of up to 140km/hour; this isn’t normal. In Italy we talk about Berlusconi, but no-one writes about these serious issues. We will recover from the damage, but the climate will continue to change, unchecked.”

 

Tonino Verna, President of both Cantina Tollo, the region’s largest cooperative, and of the Consorzio Montepulciano D’Abruzzo, put some perspective on it: “Out of 35,000Ha planted to members of the Consorzio, about 2000Ha have been affected. At Cantina Tollo, out of the 3,500Ha of our members, only about 50Ha have been affected. Yes, there has been damage to vines, especially in the hills, but not catastrophic, as some are suggesting.”

 

This year has been harsh on the European vineyard, with devastating thunderstorms in Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Alsace; this is the latest instalment. Perhaps Francesco Valentini is right, and we can look forward to more of the same next year.