Thursday, 23 November 2006

Waveney Hospice Care charity fundraising tasting.

Fifteen wines turned out to be a few too many for this event, probably because I was asked (at the last moment) to make it a tutored tasting. The Beckers' Crémant d'Alsace (out of stock) impressed, as always, as a better-than-most-champagnes-at-half-the-price. Good yeasty character and elegant mousse. The white Rioja Reserva from Bodegas Hermanos Laredo is very much a wine for people who like the flavour of oak although I am convinced this will
soften in time leaving the fruit (quite sweet and robust) to shine.

The two reds from MarcoMaci both impressed: the Barocca is a light red that doesn't knock you off your feet but has a lovely elegance and surprising length - it keeps going long after most wines in the same bracket have disappeared without making any great impression. This one, however, has a lot of food friendliness (it went pretty well with most of the tapas that was being served alongside the tasting) probably because of its apparent (but certainly nor unbearable) lightness. The slightly fuller and richer and lightly oaked Ribò is exactly what I expect from a Puglian wine. Tasted alongside the Corte Barocca it is easy to see the progression and when one wine would be more suitable than the other. Ribò is more of a sit-down-to-eat wine, proclaiming itself a good partner to roast beef, a combination I have yet to try but watch this space!

I think I may have been in a mood for non-French wines during the evening as I enjoyed Domaine du Seuil's New World-influenced Cabernet-based Premières Côtes de Bordeaux 2003 far more than the more traditional Merlot-dominated Chateau Lacroix from the 2004 vintage. The Cabernet had a lovely sweet blackcurrant quality, mixed with just enough traditional Bordeaux character so you knew where the wine came from but none of that early nineties style that drove people down under in their droves. The 2003 Chianti Classico from Il Molino di Grace was tasting better than ever after breathing for an hour or so - when it first opened there were lots of tannins but when these softened up the bitter cherry fruit integrated perfectly with the subtle oak to give a distinctively modern Chianti which took me back to the little pizzeria in the market town of Greve in the heart of the Tuscan wine route where I first came across this wine.

Finally, the Rhône wines, always the highlight of any tasting and the surprise star was the 2002 Châteauneuf-du-Pape from Raymond Usseglio. Given the rains that drenched the region just before this vintage, it is not surprising that this is lighter than the surrounding years but that is not necessarily a fault as this wine so ostentatiously shows. Not in the slightest bit over-the-top it is a perfect food wine. And unlike most of its contemporaries, it can go on for a few more years, developing more classic nuances, I would guess.

Tuesday, 7 November 2006

The Reform Club Wine Pool dinner

To start, a couple of white wines then with the starter(!), Mas de Daumas Gassac, Vin de Pays de l'Hérault 2001 is showing spectacularly well with lots of brambly fruit. Definitely Cabernet but quite plummy at the same time, it fills out the mouth with a lovely warm fruitiness and has quite a dense structure: a meal in itself.

With lamb (the main course) the Bastide Blanche, Bandol 2000 "Estagnol" started out a tannic brute when opened and decanted a couple of hours beforehand but by the time it was served it had softened a lot allowing the fruit to come forward (it makes me want to try the "Fontanieu" again to see how it's shaping up). It has that elegance that mature, ripe French Mourvèdre does so well. The high point of the evening wine-wise, though, has to be Beaucastel's 2000 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, very rich and complex: an experience rather than a myriad of flavours and structural elements.

With the trio of desserts, the fortified red Rasteau Vin Doux Naturel from Domaine des Côteaux des Travers provided a delightful alternative to Port, well-received by the diners who were all keen to experience something new and interesting. I'm still not convinced these wines really go with chocolate but as one of my neighbours at the meal said, what's the point in trying to find a wine to go with something that really doesn't need it?

Wednesday, 1 November 2006

ASDW's second wine tasting

The second ASDW tasting arrives. As usual, I seem to be the only merchant interested in trying others' wines! There is a good Gattinara from one of my colleagues and another has some palatable Australian wines (don't get me started!).

Of my own line-up, the Roussannes from Domaine des Anges and Raymond Usseglio came through superbly as I rather suspected they would and I found Xavier Vignon's "Lili" has really come together: a few months ago the Viognier was knocking everything else out of the picture but today it was working in real harmony with the Roussanne element, the Marsanne providing a good spicy backbone. The real stars for me were Domaine de Cristia's 2003 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, big and beefy and just beginning to drink well now and Luigi Einaudi's stunning 1999 Barolo from the Cannubi vineyard, all oak and fruit to start with but with coffee and chocolate emerging throughout the day (the better-priced 2003 Barbera was rather good too, a mini-version of the Cannubi in many respects). This is a wine to stick away for a decade but it will be astonishingly good when it comes of age.

Other wines that stood out included Marco Maci's elegant 2001 "Duca d'Antene" from Copertino, a very elegant and refined Negroamara wine with a delicate touch of oak and Dominique Rocher's Cairanne 2000 "M. Paul" (out of stock), a superb wine, very pure old-vine Grenache and Syrah with imperceptible oak. It's a real shame Dominique has given up making wine and gone into art (even more of a shame when you see the label!)

Tuesday, 31 October 2006

Il Molino di Grace Chianti

Having been busy putting together a new BRW list as well as a new restaurant list and getting ready for the ASDW tasting tomorrow, there has been too little time to sit back and ponder a wine so we have deliberately stuck to the vin ordinaire - or, at least, as ordinary as it gets round here. Tonight, though, with everything just about up-to-date and an Italian meal looming I have been persuaded that a bottle of Il Molino di Grace's Chianti Classico Riserva 2001 is called for. Pouring a glass on opening it, I am immediately struck by its exquisite perfume. This has to be tasted... real substance to it, quite inky. Probably too heavy for the chicken but who cares? This is one of the best Chiantis around.

Wednesday, 25 October 2006

Raymond Usseglio 2003

Time to start thinking about the ASDW tasting next week - I want
to put out some of the same wines as last time for the new faces but need some
new ones for everyone. Given the 2001 is not at its peak (see 19/10/2006), I
opened a bottle of the 2003 Châteauneuf-du-Pape
from
Raymond Usseglio.
This
is more like it: big, gutsy, typical 2003 except that it is in balance with
great Châteauneuf fruit dominating the huge wine.
Alcoholic, yes, but not overtly so.

Saturday, 21 October 2006

Red and white Chateauneuf - at lunchtime!

Lunch with friends in London; a good opportunity to try out Raymond Usseglio's prestige Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2005 Blanc, a pure Roussanne called, inspiringly,  "Roussane Pur"! It is a stunning wine and would have gone very well with the rich, creamy pasta we ate had it lasted long enough. Everyone agreed it was very reasonably priced (£24).

My host invited me to rummage around his cellar for something else whilst he
cooked and, slightly embarrassingly, every bottle was bought either from me or with me on holiday a couple of years ago. In the end I decided to go with the 1999 Châteauneuf-du-Pape from Usseglio to keep the theme going (and because he had well over half a case left to my three or four bottles). This is a wine which was great when I first tasted it with Raymond back in January 2001 and again back home a couple of weeks later but when the stock arrived a month or so later and I dutifully took a case out of bond and tried it (all part of the job) I was horrified: it tasted like a slightly alcoholic, very lightly fruity drink and not at all like the wine I had invested a reasonable chunk of cash in. I waited several months and tried it again... a slight improvement but not much. By the end of 2002 it was showing signs of recovery... by the end of 2006 it is glorious, confirming my belief (shared by the French but not the British or American critics it seems) that 1999 was a better vintage for many CDP producers than 1998. Now, where are those last few bottles?

Friday, 20 October 2006

A tale of two Riojas

Settled down to a bottle of Miguel Angel Muro's 2004 "Amenital", a new-wave Rioja with a lot of sparkle about it. This is a big red wine with a lot of style. Very young, it really needs another four or five years to get properly started although it went down extremely well tonight. It has the depth of a lot of gran reservas but, whereas they are too often over-oaked for my palate, Miguel Angel has got the balance right for me: I do like a bit of oak character in Rioja (although his unoaked "Joven" makes for an excellent lunchtime red) but I the fruit must take control.

A few days ago we tried Miguel Angel's Rioja 2002 "Seleccionada". I know on paper 2002 is not supposed to be as good as 2001 but the 2002 has bigger, riper fruit and more judicious use of oak, the two key flavour elements of Rioja. Clearly there is American oak here but also some French adding a certain dignity to this wine. This wine takes me back to my childhood: eating vanilla ice-creams whilst picking hedgerow fruits (OK so this combination probably never actually happened but you get the idea).

Thursday, 19 October 2006

Wine tasting dinner at the Riverside, Cambridge

Wine tasting dinner at the Riverside in Cambridge, part of the Cambridge Food Festival so I had a chance to taste half a dozen of the wines and get reactions from around 60 diners. Some really liked one white but not the other one or vice-versa so I was pleased. Better to have a strong opinion and find wines worth buying than just have a neutral reaction to everything because it's bland. Started with Liebart-Regnier's Rosé Champagne which I really like because of the slug of Pinot Noir they use to get the colour. It gives a lovely Pinot sweetness to the final wine and gives it a structure which makes it particularly good with canapés (although at my niece's wedding earlier this summer it was just as good after the canapés ran out). The starters (confit de canard or goat's cheese) came with Domaine de la Tourade's beefy, perfumed Vacqueyras and Xavier Vignon's "Lili", the Viognier proving a particularly good match for the cheese and making an exotic, exquisite alternative to the more usual Sauvignon Blanc. Carrying on the Rhone theme for the rest of the meal, the beef demanded a Châteauneuf-du-Pape so Raymond Usseglio's 2001 was given a whirl. Classy and complex but still a little closed (unusually for CDP, Raymond's wines tend to close down for a while before emerging in outstanding form after another year or so). The white for this course (there was a mushroom-based vegetarian option) was Domaine des Anges' "L'Archange" Blanc, one of my very favourite whites: I am convinced that a well-oaked old-vine Roussanne is the red wine drinker's white wine and certainly every confirmed red wine drinker I know makes an exception for these wines. As always it didn't disappoint. For the tarte tatin I gave up the last few bottles of Domaine Bressy-Masson Rasteau Rancio, a vin doux naturel which comes with the explanation that, as the obscure appellation suggests, the wine has already gone off so if you should happen to open a bottle and leave it under the bed for six months or a year it will still be drinking well. That said, I have no real evidence as it never lasts more than a few days under my bed. It is a glorious wine with Madeira-like qualities but lighter in style. I am told it matched the food perfectly and it was very popular. I will have to go back for more! The only pity about the evening was that I didn't get to eat any of the rather gorgeous looking (and smelling) food.

Thursday, 12 October 2006

Domaine Grand Veneur, Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2001 "Les Origines"

What first struck me, as always, about this wine was the incredible texture of this wine. It's a cliché, I know, but it's like a meal in itself but not so heavy that you can't leave the table: roast beef with all the trimmings but no going back for more. The fruit is there, of course, but it really only sets in on the second glass (or, at least, that's how long it took me to get over the depth of the texture) and its very deep. That seems to be the mot juste for this wine. Given that there are plenty of Tradition cuvées around this price tag, it's something of a bargain to find a prestige label under £20! Or it is if the quality is there which in this case it is.

Sunday, 1 October 2006

Château Lacroix, Bordeaux Superieur 2004

Always slightly apprehensive about trying out a new vintage after arrival regardless of how many times we have tasted it already prior to shipment. Rarely disappointed with any wine from Jonathan Maltus though (unlike some holiday purchases) and certainly not this time. The 2003 was one such example though: the wine was initially quite full on as you would expect from the heatwave vintage but it fell apart soon after becoming extremely disjointed. Fortunately we were still holding plenty of the 2002 so had time to wait it out which, Jonathan assured us, was all that was necessary. He was right and now the 2003 is very good. But the 2004 is a better wine with more natural balance and more classic fruit and none of the green-ness that I found in the 2003 a year ago from under-ripe tannins. This wine is not going to blow you away but it isn't meant to. Instead it will quietly impress with its lovely ripe fruit and soft tannins and understated elegance. It's good to see that Bordeaux is increasingly able to deliver wines of this calibre at this price point.

Saturday, 30 September 2006

Wine and a Chinese Duck

Domaine des Sept Chemins Crozes-Hermitage 2003 Rouge.

Having Chinese food tonight (a few starters plus the obligatory CDP - crispy duck pancakes, as opposed to Châteauneuf-du-Pape!) and for some reason I had a yearning for a red Crozes. Not the most obvious partner and when it came to it I let my head overrule this and I had a bottle of Budwar instead with the starters. With the duck I took charge and sipped at the Syrah. Not the perfect match but certainly not wrong. Those Asian spices you often find in Northern Rhône Syrah must have done their job. Duck aside, really quite a good wine which got better as the bottle was drained - it's all too rare to find good Syrah under £15-£20 let alone under a tenner.

Friday, 29 September 2006

Even Gigondas can drink well young - sometimes

Domaine Brusset, Gigondas 2003 "Le Grand Montmirail". Very young for Gigondas but Laurent Brusset always makes quite forward wines which can go the distance. And, of course, 2003 was very hot so acidity levels are naturally lower and the fruit that bit riper so, potential over-ripeness or dumb-ness aside, I was expecting something I could drink (I haven't tasted this wine for several months so anything could have happened although Brusset's wines don't generally shut down; the 1999 did though). A good, very tasty modern-style Gigondas: lots of fruit, big and heady, unmistakeably Gigondas but tannins not too forceful so ready to drink at only three years old. made me want to dig out some of the older vintages I have lurking around here somewhere. More please.

Tuesday, 1 August 2006

Umbrella's merchants are far from a shower - by Simon Woods

Published: August 2006 in Wine & Spirit Magazine

Type ASDW into Google , and when you've filtered out the pagesof the All Seasons Door & Window Company, you'll find yourself on the site ofthe Association of Small Direct Wine-Merchants -www.asdw.org.uk.

The ASDW is an umbrella organisation for around 20 companies who sell wine
either through mail order or the internet and in quantities that can loosely be
classed as "small" - so no, the Wine Society and Laithwaites are not members.

The group recently held its first press and trade tasting with a dozen or so companies showing off their wares. Though variable, the qualitywas generally high, and four companies stood out from the crowd.

The first was Nick Dobson Wines, a specialist in wines from Germany, Austria, Switzerland and France. Two lovely reds are Bernard Santé's Moulin-à-Vent 2005, a vibrant young red with notes of raspberries, blackcurrants and violets, and Erich Sattler's 2003 Reserve Zweigelt
with its punchy blackcurrant pastille fruit and toasty finish.

Then there's Italian specialist Amordovino. The 2004 Vivallis Traminer Aromatico is a peachy, rose-scented white in a rich but never over-bearing style, while the 2001 Urciuolo Taurasi is a buxom, earthy red packed with brooding southern fruit.

The final two companies specialise in southern French wines: :Leon Stolarski and The Big Red Wine Company.

Stars from Stolarski were the 2004 Les Vignes del'Arque, Vin de Pays Duches d'Uzès, a sappy young red with spicy bramble fruit, and the more profound 2003 Neffiez Cuvée Balthazar, Côteaux du Languedoc, a Syrah-based heavyweight with wonderfully herb-strewn, orange peel, cherry and blackcurrant flavours. Highlights from the latter were Domaine de Cristia's Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc (now 2007 vintage), all honeysuckle, pineapple and peach with a tangy finish, and Domaine des Sept Chemins'Crozes-Hermitage 2003 Rouge with its hints of roasting meats, ginger, plums and berries.

Saturday, 15 July 2006

Wine Choice in The Week

Published: 15th July 2006 in The Week

The Big Red Wine Company was recently featured in The Week magazine. Our wines were described as having "high quality and profound originality". Wines recommended were
JP et JF Becker, Alsace Grand Cru "Froehn" Riesling (now out of stock),
Domaine des Anges Cotes du Ventoux 2005 "L'Archange" Blanc ,
Domaine Brusset, CDR Villages 2003 "Vendange Chabrille" (now 2004) and
Château Lacroix
, Bordeaux Rosé 2004 (out of stock - now renamed as Pezat Rosé).

Saturday, 1 July 2006

Absolutely Cracking Wines from France

Absolutely Cracking Wines from France is the Critics' Choice wine tasting.

Of the thousands of wines from France available in the UK, 65 were nominated by 23 of the UK's leading wine critics as their "Absolutely Cracking" choices within three price categories. In the Rhone section, Xavier Vignon's "Lili" (renamed "Xavier Blanc") was selected:

"A spicy, aromatic and luscious blend of Roussanne, Marsanne and Viognier" (Susie Barrie)

Sunday, 25 June 2006

My Round: Richard Ehrlich cracks two cases of oenological obsession

Published: 25 June 2006 in The Independent on Sunday

Who would choose to go into the wine business? By and large, it remains people who love wine. I've talked recently to two people working in very different areas of the wine industry, and both fit that description to a T. One is a Dutch wine enthusiast named David Bolomey, whose website (http://www.bordoverview.com/) I first learnt about from the excellent wine blog at http://www.spittoon.biz/. David hasn't yet made a penny from his arduous labours. But they have certainly paid off for us wine drinkers - or for those who like to buy the wines of Bordeaux en primeur.

The 2005 vintage has attracted loads of enthusiastic comment from all the people who cover this area. How do you find out what they're saying, without buying every single publication where they're published? By going to David's website. He has assembled a list of the major estates with rankings from most leading commentators. Using a system developed in his work for a Dutch financial consultancy, he has spent countless unpaid evenings gathering data for his database. "I did it because I love buying en primeur," he says, "but used to spend a long time looking for information. So I thought, 'Why not make an overview and search for myself?'"

David is unsure of how he'll make money from his work, adding: "I don't want to make consumers pay for information that should be free." In the meantime, what he's done is not just free but incredibly useful. You can organise the tables by several criteria - recommendations from eight leading commentators, size of estate, AOC, cru ranking, composition of the blend. And the site is updated daily. There's no information about where to buy, but it's still a nifty little labour of love. I hope it eventually makes him money.

Someone who is making money from wine is James Bercovici, a young merchant who abandoned his inchoate legal career to set up The Big Red Wine Company. James owes the change of plans to a dodgy VW camper van. He and his future wife motored around the southern Rhône in the summer of 1995, and the van kept breaking down in vineyard-dense areas. While waiting for the AA to fix it, they tasted. They talked to vignerons. Eventually James realised that it was wine that really interested him. He started BRWC (under a different name) in 2000 with just five growers, all of whom he had met on his travels. Now he has 25 growers in his hand-picked stable, and while the southern Rhône is still his principal interest, he also has a few growers in Alsace, Bordeaux and Italy.

Big Red Wine is still a tiny operation, selling around 2,500 cases of wine a year. Sales have roughly doubled in the last two or three years, and naturally that pleases James and his wife and their three young children. But he insists that he is "not interested in becoming the next big thing" - he prefers "steady organic growth" which allows him to continue to know his producers, their wines, and his customers. "I want to be the kind of wine merchant I would like to buy from. And I want to buy only wines that I wouldn't mind being stuck with, if they don't sell." He also wants to spend time with his children, who sometimes tour the vineyards with him. Vignerons who supply lollipops are greatly appreciated.

Three of the BRWC wines are highlighted [below]. All are of high quality and profound individuality, which is just as they should be from a merchant of this type. To order them, you will have to make a call or send an email: James rejects online ordering because he likes to find out what customers like and guide them to the right wines. This isn't necessarily the way to get mega-rich. But, then again, I don't think that's what James is looking for.

JP & JF Becker, Alsace Grand Cru "Froehn" 2000 Riesling Classic petrol character developing with age; ripe honeysuckle, stone-fruit flavours (out of stock).

Domaine des Anges Cotes du Ventoux 2005 Blanc "L'Archange" A remarkable white from this mostly red appellation. Complex flavours integrated by careful oak treatment.

Domaine Brusset, Cotes du Rhone Villages Cairanne 2003 "Vendange Chabrille" A tremendously powerful Grenache/Syrah blend, but subtle too. One of the best Cairanne I have ever drunk. (Now the 2004 vintage)

Four big bottles from small suppliers - by Tim Atkin MW

Published: Sunday June 25, 2006 in The Observer

When the email arrived, I wasn't sure what to make of an invitation from the Association of Small Direct Wine Merchants. Had a group of vertically challenged importers banded together to stand on each other's shoulders like some vinous circus act? Or were they just referring to the diminutive size of their businesses when set alongside mail-order giants like Laithwaites and The Wine Society?
I was intrigued enough to go along to their first ever tasting. The ASDW was set up last year to protest against some of the anomalies in the 2003 Licensing Act and their effect on small businesses. The organisation has since grown from seven founders to 20 members and has expanded its remit to become a trade association with its own website (http://www.asdw.org.uk/) and an appealingly amateurish newsletter, Grapestalk Most of the members are enthusiasts.
By this, I don't mean the sort of people who bore you witless at parties about the Château Musar they had with dinner last night. These men and women are the real deal: genuine lovers of wine who can't help sharing their passion with other people. The majority of the companies are small affairs - a Tesco store probably sells more wine in an hour than most of these guys manage in a year - but that's what makes them appealing.
As consolidation takes hold, the UK wine market is increasingly dominated by large retailers and producers who tend to serve one another's interests. One- and two-person bands importing wines from small domaines are a welcome antidote to the power of the big boys. Most of the ASDW members know their suppliers personally and, in many cases, are the exclusive importers of their wines. In general they specialise in a single country or area, be it Spain, Italy, Australia, Champagne or regional France.
The ASDW members are a diverse bunch. The majority are part-timers dreaming of wine as a full-time occupation, but a few of them, such as The Big Red Wine Company, Amordivino and the Boutique Wine Company, have already taken the plunge into deeper financial and logistical waters. Others have day jobs as varied as publishing, law, materials and logistics management, IT, land registry and banking.
I wasn't crazy about all the wines at the ASDW tasting, but the average quality was high. More to the point, most of the wines were new discoveries, rather than the me-too brands that occupy so much retail shelf space. All of the merchants have websites and are happy for you to mix and match your own cases from their lists. Delivery charges vary from company to company, so check online.
There were a dozen wines I could have recommended, but eventually I got down to four. From Provence, the Domaine des Anges Cotes du Ventoux 2005 Blanc "L'Archange" is a rich, mealy, honeyed white made entirely from the comparatively rare Roussanne grape, while from further south, the 2003 Neffiez, Cuvée Balthazar, Coteaux du Languedoc is a dense, hauntingly perfumed Syrah with notes of liquorice and black olives.
Country specialists provided my other two picks. Italian-focused Amordivino was showing a complex, robust, pasta-bashing 2001 Taurasi, Urciuolo made entirely from Aglianico, while the Boutique Wine Company had the poised, minty, vanilla-perfumed 2003 Eppalock Ridge Shiraz from a brilliant 2,000-case producer in Heathcote, Victoria. Like the members of the ASDW, small really can be beautiful ... sometimes ...
tim.atkin@observer.co.uk

Sunday, 18 June 2006

Our television debut!

Sunday Lunch Live: UK Food & Drink Channel

Susie Barrie recommended JP et JF Becker's Alsace Riesling (out of stock) from the "Kronenberg" lieu-dit and the 2001 vintage.

Wednesday, 14 June 2006

Praise from Steven Spurrier

One of the UK's most profound palates, Steven Spurrier came along to the recent ASDW tasting and sent me this simple and straightforward email a week later...

"Congratulations on your selection"

ASDW's inaugural wine tasting

In June 2006, BRW participated in the first ASDW press tasting in London. It was well attended and we were pleased to met and spend considerable time with Steven Spurrier (who later emailed me with the kind words "congratulations on your selection") and other leading critics. We were fortunate to have been written up in the following weeks by Richard Ehrlich in the Independent on Sunday and, together with ASDW colleagues, by Tim Atkin MW in the Observer both on 25th June. Susie Barrie also featured one of our wines on Sunday Lunch Live. Other articles appeared later in the year.