Thursday 10 March 2011

The Find Wine Competition Review - my big chance...

My initial excitement after receiving my sample bottle of The Opportunist Shiraz from Find Wine was beginning to fade as I struggled to round up five friends to help me review the wine.  Modern family life seems determined to make what should be the simplest of tasks difficult.  But you can depend on your work colleagues.

With a deadline approaching they’ll always muck in and help you out, and doubly so when free wine is on offer.  So, having resorted to bribery I’m now able to write this review.  We didn’t get off to the best start.  Their suspicion turned to uncertainty as I rounded them up and mutterings of  “I’ve a bus to catch you know” were distinctly heard.  My fears were reinforced when a quick straw pole revealed only one previous wine tasting attendee and someone confessed, “I don’t really like red wine”.  Too late now – I had my cohort and a wine to review!

One Chain Vineyard The Opportunist Shiraz 2008
Find Wine received as a sample but about £6.50 (tasted 10 March 2011)
In the glass The Opportunist Shiraz is an inviting intense purple-ruby wine, with fine legs – there is no escaping the 14.5% alcohol hit of this wine.  The clean nose suggests a developing wine full of black cherry cassis and hot cinnamon spiciness.  Dry.  The restrained tannins and acidity makes The Opportunist an unexpectedly light, but not lightweight, shiraz.  The same black fruit and spice flavours are now complemented with dark chocolate and white pepper notes. A firm long length reminds you of the alcohol load this wine packs.
Now, I enjoyed this wine, but is it the ideal introduction to red wine tasting?  Lets see what the panel thought…

Tom – “I think it’s got a lot of tannin…definitely a wine to savour.”

Maxine - “Definite cherries and decent fruit.”

Keith – “A good wine but could be more rounded.”
Steve – “It’s really warming – you can really tell it’s 14.5%”

Paul – “I like the spiciness.”

In general, The Opportunist was well received and enjoyed.  But what made it extra special was that with a little encouragement, everyone was happy to spend a little time thinking about one glass of wine and sharing their opinions with their friends.  If The Opportunist can do this, then in my opinion it is a fabulous and valuable wine.

Monday 31 January 2011

It will end in tears

The battle between good and evil has been joined.

The propaganda peddled by Stan Hieronymus, Pete Brown, and Michael Jackson (no, not the monkey-loving pop freak but the now dear departed Beer Hunter) has proved too compelling and I found myself today stood at the counter of Beer-Ritz clutching these seven bottles of Blegium's finest and feeling somewhat uncomfortable about what's to come:

  • St Bernardus Pater 6
  • St Bernardus Prior 8
  • St Bernardus Abt 12
  • St Bernardus Tripel
  • Timmermans Gueuze
  • Oud Beersel Gueuze
  • Lindemans Faro Lambic
At the present time these esoteric little beers are down in the cellar laughing at the homebrew and intimidating a bottle of Cote du Rhone, whilst I hide at the top of the house trying to pluck up the courage to open them.

And I don't like the way the monk is looking at me.

Sunday 30 January 2011

One for the boys

Looking back through my tasting notes I have noticed reoccurring themes and that the wines tend to fall into two broad groups - no, not red or white - but pointy and curvy.  What am I talking about?

New wines are all sharp edges and pointy lines.  This is not always a criticism - the best young wines are  clearly expressed and tightly defined.  The separate elements of the body, aroma and flavour come together in beautifully intricate structure.  Where the facets cross and overlap one can glimpse how the wine will age and develop.

However, at its worst young wine will be agressive and unapproachable.

Individual components clash and grind against each other; the wine has no rhythm, no surprises or mystery.  One particular characteristic will always bully its way to the front: biting acidity; hand-grenade tannins; splintered oak; an abrasive finish.  Like a talentless burlesque dancer, there's no tease and everything is on display.

So, if in my wine-world new wines are pointy, the  mature wines must be curvy.  Time mellows a wine, eroding the edges like a pebble which is washed on the beach.  Over time, the individual characteristics of the wine drift apart before reforming into something more homogenous; your palette is forced to work much harder if you want to describe the separate elements of the wine.

I have another way of thinking about pointy and curvy wines - and I hope it doesn't offend anyone - as it involves comparing wine to women.

The ladies on the left front the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty - which aims to encourage women and young girls away from today's beauty stereotypes and to be confident and proud.  As a husband and father to a young daughter I wholeheartedly support these sentiments.

But what has this got to do with wine? Well, let's consider the alternative?

The picture on the right is of  the contestants from Britain Next Top Model 2010.   These are young girls who work incredibly hard to meet an artificial expectation of beauty - one which appears to require women to be thin, angular, and pointy.  Do these adjectives sound familiar?

So, on the one hand we have the Dove girls - all natural curves and confidence, and on the other we have the Next Top Models not looking very inviting with their pointy elbows and delicate necks.  I can appreciate the inherent beauty in the aspiring young models, but I hope that given time they will realise that beauty is achieved not through hard work but comes naturally through confidence - and it takes time to develop real confidence.

I know which group of ladies I'd rather be buying the drinks for and I also know which wines I prefer to drink - give me confident and curvy every time.

Mont Tauch Fitou 2008
Morrisons Supermarket £7.99 (tasted 16 January 2011)

A clear bright and ruby red wine giving both red and black fruit on the nose with some white-pepper spice.  It is dry with a big burst of acidity and a nice wash of tannins, medium bodied at 13.5% alcohol, the black fruit and cinnamon spice is more pronounced on the pallet and is now supported with chocolate notes and medicinal oak touches.  The length, whilst pleasant, was shorter than expected.
A perfectly acceptable southern France red which you should enjoy by the carafe.

 Clos St Magdelaine Cassis 2007
Yapp Bros (tasted 13 January 2011)

A beautiful golden luster precedes the rich complex aromas rising from the glass: bananas and melons, vanilla and coconut blend together into a quite heady bouquet which lingers and continues to fascinate long after you have drained the glass.  Dry, with medium acidity and no tannins, the 13% alcohol ands structure to the body of the wine giving a terrific mouthfeel.  The same aromas return in the flavour but with more depth and also a distinctive pear component.  A excellent length rounds off this very good wine.  This wine as subtle curves - wonderfully complex and sophisticated.
Cassis is the oldest AC in Provance and 75% of their wines are white.
Thanks to Personal Wine Buyer for this fact and picture.

Taltarni Victoria T-Series Shiraz 2006
Latitude Wine (tasted 2  November 2010)

The intense ruby red colour is matched by an equally intense nose full of black and dried fruit and spicy hot hot hot white pepper.  Big tannins and the 14% alcohol bounce around your mouth in contradiction to what is a surprisingly restrained body and flavour: more black fruit and white pepper obviously, but supported by coffee and tobacco. A decent length concludes what is a surprisingly elegant Aussie shiraz.

Monday 24 January 2011

4/10 must try harder

I have been totally underwhelmed recently by the ever increasing number of identikit white wines being offered to the public.  New World sauvignon blancs seem determined to make the same mistake chardonnay producers did ten years ago - taking the characteristics which made everyone fall in love with the wine and than amplifying them to Frankenstein proportions.

The pin-sharp acidity, mineral scree, and citrus fruit structure which made New Zealand sauvignon blanc such a revelation in the last decade has now twisted into the thin yet eye-wateringly tart wines on offer today.  The same New Zealand producers who only five years ago were able to produce good accessible examples of this type are today offering wine which bears no resemblance to those earlier (and far superior) vintages.  No doubt the root cause of the New Zealand fall from grace is over-production,  but there is a worrying trend amongst other new world producers, no doubt eager to benefit from the vogue, to create wines which emulate the current offering rather than those which established the market in the first place.

Of course there are still New Zealand producers out there who remain true to what made their sauvignon blanc great - Saint Clair and Dog Point being two - but there is an increasing number who fall far short of the benchmark.

So what next for the white wine drinker: a return to oaked chardonnay?  A renaissiance of German tafelwein?  Overproduction of Cortese leading to Gavi superseding Pinot Grigio as the 20-something's weapon of choice?

I don't know what move the white wine consumer will take next, but here are some suggestions - Portuguese white receiving the recognition they deserve; some of the lesser known but equally approachable Italian whites making a play; a reappraisal of the Loire; South America finding its signature white; South African chenin blanc finally stepping forward - but no doubt whatever is next to rise to the top I sincerely hope their wines do suffer the same fate as has befallen Australian Chardonnay and New Zealand sauvignon blanc.

Palo Alto Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2010
Sainsbury's £5.00 special offer (tasted 15 January 2011)
Clear pale lemon-green in the glass and clean, youthful greenhouse aromas of geraniums and limes with mineral hints.  It is dry with high acidity, a medium body with 13% alcohol carrying grapefruit and melon flavours, still some floral notes, but the suggested minerality is replaced with more herbaceous notes.  The wine finishes with a surprisingly long length which leaves a slightly upleasent soapy after-taste.

This is a "blah" Chilean wine which hides its sins behind the deep chill it will undoubtedly be served at - it is all points and edges lacking any sophistication.

Quinta de Azevedo Vinho Verde 2008
The Wine Society (tasted 22 Janaury 2010)
Ever so slightly perlant this still youthful lemon coloured wine is all fresh citrus fruits and cut green peas on the nose.  It is dry, with a good level of acidity without any tannin, a light 10.5% body, and the faintest of mousse.  Lightly flavoured with sharp green apple and citrus fruit there is also the slightest dash of tropical fruit, and all finished off with a nice medium length.

Mortaro Orvieto 2008 Classico Secco DOC
Majestic Wines £6.49 (tasted 20 Janaury 2010)
This fruit-bowl youthful pale lemon-green wine brings citrus and green apple aromas.  Dry (the clue is on the label) with high acidity and a matching 13% alcohol, the body and flavours do not have the same intensity - more green citrus fruit which is helped along by some interesting (eucalyptus?) herbaceous edges through the medium length.

Some facts about Orvieto: traditionally the white wines were 40% to 60% Trebbiano Toscano blended with 15% to 25% Verdello and the balance made up of Grechetto, Canaiolo Drupeggio, and Malvesia.  In the 1990s may producers decided that due to commercial difficulties the Trebbiano and Drupeggio should be dropped out of the blend in favour of an increased percentage of Grechetto.  So far, so good, but whilst the blend described on this wine's label includes Grechetto, Verdello, Malvesia, and Drupeggio, it also names Procanio and no Trebbiano...

Procanio is a sub-variety of Trebbiano with smaller berries and bunches.  Thank you Jancis.

Tuesday 4 January 2011

I've got a note from my mum

In 2009 I made 78 separate tasting notes; in 2010 I only made 36.  And lets not even talk about the single blog post.  What was I playing at for the last twelve months?

Lets first clarify what I consider to be a tasting note.  These are made by me, siting at the kitchen table slurping and dribbling, before eventually writing my jottings into my precious black book.  This does not include those taken at wine tastings, or those which were part of my WSET coursework.  Did I mention the WSET?

I am pleased to say that in May 2010 I passed my WSET Advanced level exam, but only at the second attempt.  First time out my palette refused to behave and convinced me that the LBV port was "off-dry".  What was I thinking, because I knew what I was drinking.

But my wine tasting also got a little side-tracked by the sirens of BEER and SHERRY.

I'm happy to admit that sherry has become something of an obsession to me.  The energy, and the patience, required to produce a sherry is truly amazing.  The fortified mosta wine is fractionally blended in a solera and, because of the way the sherry is are blended, there will a tiny percentage of the very first wine run through the Solera in every bottle you buy.  It takes three to five years to create even a simple £7.95 Fino; ten years to produce an Amontillado or Olorosos which you can pick up for £12; and anything up to 25 years for the finest sherries.

When did you last spend £45 on an bottle which was 25 years in making, and part of the blend has been aged for anything up to 200 years?  Sherry is genius.

And then there was beer.

Beer has always been a big part of my drinking, and after the palette gymnastics of the WSET I was glad of the change.  But beer festivals gave way to Belgian trappist ales and other strange brews before I eventually arrived at the pagan altar of home-brew in the latter part of 2010.  And that is when the trouble really started...

I have a feeling that through 2011 the struggle between grape and grain will continue to rage and I will, I'm afraid, be the innocent victim of this eternal war.

Latitude Wines c.£25.99 (tasted 19 December 2009)

A full nose of well developed classic red burgundy wet forest floor bouquet, but still with red-current touches to bring in some freshness.  Dry in the mouth, with decent acidity which promises further aging despite the lightness of the tannins.  Dried fruit and smokey oak vanilla are supported by an herbaceous freshness and the slightest fresh-fruit acidity.  The excellent length and finish rounds this wine off nicely.

A fabulous wine: one-nil to the grape.

Friday 12 March 2010

Don't ask me mate, you already know the answer

I often get asked to recommend wine. I do spend an inappropriate amount of my time reading, writing, and tasting all things wine so I suppose it should be expected, but what does surprise me (and always makes me smile) is the inevitable total rejection of any advice I actually give.

A typical encounter usually goes along the lines of:

Inquisitor (I):You like wine, what's a good wine.
Wine Gums (WG): Well what do you like to drink?
I: White. Can't stand red.
WG: Okay. Okay. What do you usually buy?
I: Whatever is on special at the supermarket.
WG: What did you have last night?
I: I've told you, white wine.
WG: No, where was it from?
I: Asda.
WG: (Sighs) Australian? £4.50?
I: Oh, you've had it then.
WG: Probably.
I: Gorgeous isn't it? Best wine I've ever had. Fact. End of.
WG: A Chardonnay perhaps? Oaked or unoaked?
I: Definately a Chardonnay and it must have been unoaked - it came in a glass bottle not a barrel.
WG: Right. An unoaked Australian Chardonnay. Why not try a petit Chablis? France not Australia, but same grape and similar style yet with more backbone. £6.50 in M&S.
I: £6.50? I'll wait till its on special in Asda.

Okay so maybe I'm being a little unfair (but only a little) but trying to get people to explore wine is a thankless task.   Sophisticated drinkers - with the emphasis on drinkers - are the worst. A lady with a predilection for NZ Sauvignon Blanc once sought my advice regarding which other wines would slake her thirst for dry, mineral riven, citrus fruit driven white wine. My suggestions included:

Muscadet - "I don't like French wine".  This immediately ruled out Sancerre and Chablis.
Picpoul de Pinet - Not revealing the fact that its French, this suggestion was greeted with a long drawn-out "hmmm".
Gruner Veltliner - "Too exotic". Leaving me wondering if Austria ever been considered exotic before or since?
Australian Riesling - "Don't like sweet wine".  By this point the (dry) towel was well and truly thrown in.

"Stick with the Oyster Bay love, its on special at Sainsburys".

When someone now asks me to recommend wine I have one answer: next time you're at the supermarket stand in front of your favourite wine, put your hand on the bottle, count six bottles to the right and buy that one.

Now leave me alone.


Morrisons Supermarket £6.99 (tasted 18.iii-'09)

Clear pale lemon yellow chardonnay wine with a good clean green apple and citrus fruit nose which has a mineral streak running through it. Bone dry and high acidity with a steely citrus lemon palette. Surprising nice length. 11.5% with an artificial cork.

All in all a good example of what you can get from a young petit chablis.

Tuesday 6 October 2009

Buy Smarter and Drink Better Wines

If people are happy with their lot then who am I, or indeed any of us, to comment or pass judgement on their choice of wine? I would much rather help one person who is interesting in expanding their wine experience rather than berating any one group into changing their own lifestyle choices.

I sometime find myself defending MY choices with regard to the wine I drink. Simple things can help: explaining that the actual value of the wine in a £5.00 bottle is about 35p helps contextualise the relationship between price and quality. Also by suggesting people TASTE rather than just DRINK a wine has been known to stimulate a real interest which, if encouraged, can run and run.

Someone once told me that when life gets too hectic tread lightly and feel the ground below your feet. Tasting rather than consuming has similar restorative powers.

For further goodies about these ideas see whats happening over at Wine Conversation who are working with The Wine Gang Live.

Finally, this post was originally drafted in response to this post by Jamie Goode.